Road Trip with the Transformers is what happens when you take a guy who grew up with Transformers (well, Robots in Disguise and the Unicron Trilogy, anyway), who was mildly interested in IDW’s Transformers comics — but too scared to dip too far in — and give him a rebooted Transformers comics line. With this, I’ll be quickly reviewing and then commenting on IDW’s new Transformers comic universe that began in March of 2019! The review will be spoiler-free, while commentary will not. With this, I’ll be chronicling my experience as someone who is a lapsed fan of the franchise from childhood, who has only read a few of the previous IDW Transformers comics. Expect me to forget characters’ names, find it hard to tell them apart and have little to no understanding of references to previous continuities! Does that sound like fun? No? Well, you’re coming along anyway! It’s a road trip! Roll out!
Here it is, Transformers #1! I was way more excited for this than I should’ve been, not helped by a lot of media I’ve been consuming in the past few months essentially pandering to my nostalgia. Anyway, on with the
review road trip! Today, there’s only one issue to look at, though I expect that to change soon enough. For now, we have the first instalment of this brave new world: Transformers (2019) #1!
Transformers (2019) #1
Written by Brian Ruckley
Art by Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman
Colours by Joana Lafuente
Letters by Tom B. Long
Published by IDW Publishing
Cover price: $3.99 USD
Transformers #1 is finally out, and with it, IDW Publishing’s attempt to reboot their expansive universe. While I didn’t know what to expect out of it, Transformers #1 delivers some great world-building and establishes a slew of plot hooks that feel connected, yet far reaching. With art that invokes a sense of wonder and foreboding, this is a Cybertron, and a version of the Transformers, that I can get behind.
Starting a new series is never easy. There’s a world you need to build, characters you need to establish, a tone you need to set up and a story you need to get started. It’s no wonder then that so many first instalments are clunky and wrought with awkward exposition — the good writers are the ones who are able to weave exposition into their stories naturally, or at least engage their audience in some way. Brian Ruckley is one of those writers, using new character Rubble as an audience surrogate who feels just eager enough, and just naive enough, for readers to put themselves into his shoes. Through Rubble and his first venture outside his city, we learn from established characters like Bumblebee and Windblade about the world of Cybertron. It’s a world with unique features, strange biological life and social upheaval. It has its beauty but also its darker sides. But Ruckley only gives us enough to peak our curiosity. With what little of the world is shown, I’ll say this: I’m definitely interested.
Regarding the actual plot, Cybertron is in the midst of social change in the form of the Ascenticons, led by none other than Megatron. A peaceful movement with instances of violent escalations, they are established as a force on the rise, with Orion Pax (a pre-Optimus Prime Optimus, as it were) working to try and maintain peace. Speaking of, there is also The Rise, an entity possibly involved in sabotaging systems that Cybertron needs. These two factions, connected or separate, seem like they will be related to a plot that properly kicks off on the last page of the issue. Without spoiling anything, I think it is a good hook given what this issue was about and, despite a simple premise, will allow for even more world-building from Ruckley, who alludes to just enough deeper history between characters to leave room for further exploration.
Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman and Joana Lafuente deliver some strong art this issue, at its best when depicting the wonder of Cybertron and the adventures of Rubble, Bumblebee and Windblade. Luscious colours and beautiful landscapes and environments make it a treat to look at. The characters themselves look great too, with a clean style that has room for expression, and very humanised characters despite them being giant robots. Hernandez and Lafuente do some really good work here. The same can’t be said of the drab meeting room that Orion and Megatron’s scene takes place in. I think, even more than what was probably intended, the building interiors are just a bit boring. The characters themselves look more stilted and blocky, much more in line with how you’d expect a Transformers comic to look. Whitman’s pencils feel a bit too stilted, the characters too detailed and the panels don’t flow as well. The contrast between the two stories is likely intentional, given how different they are, but I found myself heavily preferring Hernandez’s pages.
Transformers #1 is a good first issue. Establishing an interesting setting, good mythos and a plot to allow exploration of these things, Brian Ruckley’s vision of the Transformers is one I can get behind. Especially with art that works so well with his story. I’m glad I decided to jump onto this series at launch, and I can only hope that this level of quality is maintained.
4/5 – Great
“The World in Your Eyes, Part One”
Here comes the commentary, where I basically give you a much more detailed look at what I think about the issue while somewhat summarising it. Obviously, spoiler warning. And don’t take anything I say here too seriously.
Our story opens with a quote that I’m sure will be very important:
“Your life is yours to shape. In doing so, you owe nothing to those who came before you. But you owe everything to those yet unforged. Let no shaping of yours limit what they, in their turn, might be and achieve.”
We’re introduced to our audience surrogate, Rubble. I like Rubble — he’s in awe at the beauty of Cybertron, having never ventured outside… whatever city he’s from. He’s excited, clumsy and a bit of a goofball. He’s the kind of character you can get behind, and, hopefully, won’t become a pet character, given that he’s Brian Ruckley’s creation.
We’re soon introduced to this universe’s Bumblebee, a character I have no attachment to because the Transformers shows I watched didn’t include him, and I haven’t seen the recent movie (though I want to). Bumblebee serves as a mentor for Rubble, guiding him through Cybertron. It’s a nice brotherly, almost parental relationship.
Rubble runs into some weird organic life that… is weird. I don’t know what these things are, but they’re strange. I get a feeling they might factor more into the plot later and aren’t just world-building… or maybe Ruckley just wanted to let Hernandez do some weird stuff.
Eventually, the duo is joined by Windblade, a character I know is kind of divisive. Me? I like her. I like the design and that she’s a jet. How overtly Asian she appears might be a bit much for some, but as an Asian-Australian, I like that she’s identifiably Asian… even if she isn’t actually Asian because, well, space robot. Also, she gets a nice intro.
After some plot stuff where Windblade reveals that something may be amiss with Brainstorm, the Transformer that Rubble and Bumblebee are off to see, Windblade tags along. Of course, neither Bee or Blade tell Rubble this. It’s possible that some equipment was sabotaged, hence Windblade’s presence. Bee and Blade mention the possibility of The Rise being present… whoever that is. It’s one of those vague sci-fi names.
We cut to… a city that is also not named, because names are for chumps! We see that a group called the Ascenticons are on a march to Tarn, supposedly inspired by Termagax. The proximity of these scenes leads me to believe that The Rise and the Ascenticons are associated somehow, not helped by who is revealed to be the leader of the Ascenticons — Megatron. In this universe, Megatron is old friends with Orion Pax, a detail that I like, since I just like the idea of Megatron being more complex. The two talk and while there’s some posturing on Megatron’s part, the point comes across: Orion wants to keep the peace, Megatron wants to change the world. Given the opening quote, and what I know of the previous continuity, I’d say Megatron has good intentions. I’m curious how he becomes the leader of the Decepticons we all know… not helped by how the Ascenticons symbol looks vaguely like an upside down Decepticon symbol. Ironhide was also there, but I know nothing about him and he doesn’t do much. Also, something about Transformers having a set of really normal tables and chairs is just… off.
Back with the trio who get nicer art, we get a nice visual showpiece as Rubble is in awe of the liquid that is a part of Cybertron that glows at night. Bumblebee reminds Rubble, and informs us, that Cybertron is a living planet. It’s a nice moment that does a good job establishing Cybertron. Also, we learn that a Transformer picks their alternate mode in this universe, which is pretty cool. It’s a good allegory for Rubble deciding on coming-of-age and Rubble deciding what role he wants to fulfill, although that is also brought up — this is also how we learn that you can change your role in society, as Bumblebee used to work with Windblade on security — not sure if you can change your alternate mode, though. Bee says he changed careers, Windblade says it wasn’t entire his choice, but that’s left hanging. So Windblade is that friend, who likes to make things awkward.
As the group reaches their destination, Windblade notices something’s wrong and she and Bee split up to check things out and Rubble is told to sit in the corner like a good boy. Rubble doesn’t listen and promptly stumbles on the corpse of Brainstorm. Probably should’ve listened. I get the feeling that the guy who teaches newly forged Transformers about how to take their place in society might just be someone the Ascenticons don’t want around… but that’ll have to wait until next time, because that’s the end of the issue.
Something I need to mention: The lettering in this issue wasn’t good. As in the speech bubbles themselves, which look like they were printed somewhat out of step with the rest of the comic. It looked like a printing error, but… nope. It’s just how it is, and it is incredibly distracting for me.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this issue. My reading experience was hampered by the lettering, like I said, but other than that, I liked reading this issue. It has some great world-building, fun characters and decent plot hooks. Surprisingly, most of it feels like part of a cohesive whole, while having some stuff set up for the future. Good stuff.
And there we have it, the first leg of what I hope to be a long journey. This is a new thing I’m trying, and I feel like I may make this into a monthly thing and review the comics in order of release, just for the sake of convenience and consistency. Or I might not. It’s early days.
As an aside, wasn’t this series meant to be called The Transformers? I could’ve sworn I read that somewhere…