Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Brian Ruckley
Artwork: Angel Hernandez, Cachét Whitman
Colours: Joanna Lafuente
Letters: Tom B Long
Release Date: 13th March 2019
Front and centre: this is a damn fine comic. It’s told with ambition and scope, yet from a relatable and recognisable perspective, with punchy dialogue and snazzy art.
Transformers may not seem be to everyone’s taste, but if ‘Bumblebee’ has taught us anything is that there is a real market for a well-written ‘bot story told with heart and humour. IDW have taken a bold risk with this soft reboot of their comics line: after 15 years, it’s certainly a risky step, although one that has certainly paid off. Closely tied to this is the choice of fantasy writer (and local boy) Brian Ruckley at the pen, and he brings us a finely crafted dual narrative from the outset. This is enhanced by subtle shifts in the style between the two artists – no easy feat when the characters are so iconic – tied together with Lafuente’s breathtaking ‘80s colours.
Set in the distant past, the story predates the familiar, in a time before Optimus Prime (still known as Orion Pax) and a time before Decepticons – though the leader of the politically dissident Ascenticons is Pax’s former friend, Megatron. The primary narrative perspective, however, is of Rubble, a newly forged (and yet to Transform) ‘bot whose wide-eyed innocence is infectious, and gives us the perfect view on this world: climbing the mountainous head of a fallen titan to view the Cybertronian vista, only to be hurried along by his handler, a patient (well, relatively patient) Bumblebee.
On their way to meet Wheeljack, who will help Rubble acclimatise, they encounter biological pests and Windblade – much as the animated Transformers Prime did with Arcee, putting a strong (physically and mentally) female ‘bot as part of the core team seems a wise move, bringing cynicism and wit to complete the central trio. Crucially, it doesn’t matter if you are unfamiliar with her character (and for the purists, yes, there seems to be some retconning here), or Wheeljack for that matter – though the personalities are nailed down spot on – as everything is established quickly and naturally. This is brought to life vividly by Hernandez’s snazzy art, with thick lines and bleeding panels that draw you right into the page whilst having a sense of childish, joyous wonder about them and throbbing with Lafuente’s palette of brash primaries (which even rather wonderfully go into 80s dot-printing in places) and pulsing neons.
The other narrative is that of Orion and Megatron, and it’s the inevitable tragedy of what will unfold that makes it surprisingly powerful and effective; the mutual respect and frustration is clear, and the rather more edgy, sharp style that Whitman brings to the art matches this perfectly. It’s very subtle, as you feel unsettled without quite realising why, and Lafuente’s colours provide the necessary continuity. There’s some genuinely funny dialogue too, with a running gag about Prowl (who doesn’t appear) that establishes Ironhide’s character, and his relationship with Optimus/Orion, perfectly (never mind that it tells you everything need to know about Prowl too).
As for the bigger picture, you get a clear sense of the wider world: the Ascenticons with their flag that’s just waiting to be inverted are marching to Tarn, and it doesn’t matter if you are familiar with that in the continuity (it’s another city-state) as it’s clearly just a place they’re going to; there’s references to Termagax, which go unexplained except as some sort of Ideologue (and honestly, that one’s lost on me); and the references to other ‘bots don’t require you to know more than is explained on page.
This really is an excellent opening salvo. With a brace of covers hinting at how the story may develop, and the arrival of another female ‘bot (possibly Chromia? we’ll have to wait and see) teased for next issue, as well as more completely new characters coming down the line, this has jumped right up my pull list. Get it on your stack, surprise yourself, and Roll Out!