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!
This entry is super late because university eats my time and energy. The Transformers toy hunt is going well, however! I now know the good spots and the good sites, so my onslaught of Siege toys is shaping up nicely. It’s also a nice way to get some exercise into my life of comics and video games. The problem now is that I need a place to put these that isn’t the corner of my desk. Seriously, this is the most claustrophobic war zone ever!
Moving on, the last issue of Transformers was a sluggishly paced exposition dump. We learned more about this new version of Cybertron, but it was mostly limited to random jargon and factoids. However, we did meet Chromia, Prowl and Wheeljack, whose characterisation was fine as a reasonable authority figure, jerk cop and talkative scientist, respectively, and we caught a glimpse of Soundwave. The Ascenticon rally in Tarn, held by Megatron, was attacked by some unknown entity. We also know that Chromia’s security forces are spread thin, and that The Rise are the prime suspects in Brainstorm’s murder — Chromia has ordered the arrest of every member as a result, which can only turn out well! On the good end of worldbuilding, we know that The Rise want the same things as the Ascenticons, but are just more violent about it. Meanwhile, Bumblebee and Rubble were just kind of laying about. It doesn’t sound like much has happened, does it? That’s because it hasn’t. Hopefully things pick up and there’s less focus on disconnected world-building. Here is Transformers (2019) #3.
Transformers (2019) #3
Written by Brian Ruckley
Art by Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman
Colours by Joana Lafuente
Letters by Tom B. Long
Published by IDW Publishing
The balance between narrative and world-building is a delicate one. Very rarely are they evenly balanced, but a skilled writer can intertwine the two in a seamless fashion, exploring the world as part of the narrative. Brian Ruckley has not done that beyond the first issue; instead, the plot seems like an obligation, one that feels like it will soon collapse under the weight of itself.
The issue’s most problematic aspect is the pacing. This is a low comic, filled with exposition, and the exposition feels begrudging that it needs to come from characters at all. This issue once again feels like Ruckley is more interested in world-building than actual characters. While the narrative has more focus this time around, the characters almost all feel like the same person, with only Windblade being given something of a unique voice. Everyone else feels like the same character. In contrast to, say, Brian Michael Bendis, who makes all his characters speak in a casual voice that detracts from the tension, Ruckley has all his characters (aside from Windblade) speak in stilted robotic dialogue that reads a bit awkwardly at times. Even if the characters are literally robots, they shouldn’t be talking this way. When he does try to break from this habit, it’s just awkward. It truly feels like this narrative would be better served as a Wikipedia entry, because it’s certainly not being told through compelling characters. Which is a shame, because there is some potential here, with the slow escalation of the Ascenticon/Rise/Autobot conflict about to burst and the vying for Energon, which is the core of the usual Autobot/Decepticon conflict. It’s well-established already, but Ruckley feels the need to move even more pieces around, and I don’t think it will be worth it.
Angel Hernandez, who takes the helm on art this time, seems to have gained a firmer grasp on visual storytelling. Characters look less stilted, panels flow much more naturally and backgrounds have more depth. While there are some awkward moments here, it’s bearable. Cachet Whitman’s contributions, on the other hand, feel very weak this issue. Without the emphasis on wonderment and smaller character moments, Whitman isn’t given much to work with, and everything feels a little flat. There’s no vibrancy or warmth this time around, which is Whitman’s best strength as an artist.
Three issues in and it feels like this story should’ve had more happen. The story is a slog, no character feels engaging and the world-building is overriding everything else. It’s admirable to want to build up a multi-layered story, but there needs to be something to keep the audience’s interest as you do so. Ruckley hasn’t provided anything to engage the audience since issue 1.
2/5 – Below average
“The World in Your Eyes, Part Three”
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, most of it is for my own benefit, though I do like to put focus on some moments here and there.
We open with Megatron giving a speech about the assassination attempts from last issue. It’s apparently a video or livestream, and Soundwave introduces the Ascenticon Guard that will protect future Ascenticons in the future: Elita-1, Skytread, Refraktor and Quake. We then get to have a ton of exposition on Quake, who is basically a bloodthirsty soldier who never took to the peace. It’s really not subtle about establishing him as an important player in this plot, despite the abundance of characters already. This is delivered by Froid, who is a therapist and yet another character to add to the pile. At least he has a discernible personality as someone worried about his patients, even if everyone ignores him because of larger concerns. We also get exposition about the Voin; a race of scavengers, and I think the floating head thing we saw in issue 1 before meeting Windblade.
Regarding the actual plot, where Prowl determines that the members of The Rise that were arrested don’t know anything about Brainstorm’s murder, as if they did, they’d have gone into hiding — which he says some members did, the ones involved enough to get a warning. Orion and Ironhide have some pointless dialogue that feels way too awkward, all to establish that Orion doesn’t like The Rise. That and he’s not too keen on his fellow Autobot senators, either.
We jump to Bumblebee and Rubble as Bumblebee shows off his alternate mode. Rubble doesn’t care, however, because he is distracted by the moon from last issue folding its wings. It seems he’s got a bit of an engineering itch, which is nice for making him less of a blank slate. Bee decides to show him Leviathan, a gigantic Transformer that harvests metal ore that Bee says goes into making new Cybertronians. Essentially, they are as much a part of Cybertron as it is a part of them, and change is the nature of everything, which is what Bee’s mentor told him.
As an aside, I like that Ruckley seems to be making a conscious effort to include more female Transformers. The important figures in his world have so far been largely female, which is nice given Transformers hasn’t been so great with female characters in the past. Plus, in addition to Leviathan and Termagax, we also have prominent characters like Windblade and Chromia, and even Bee’s mentor was a woman. Kudos for that.
Speaking of Windblade, she comes flying in and is established as being very casual. She annoys Bee a bit — and the timing of her entrance makes me think that maybe she was his mentor? Either way, she tells him that Chromia wants to speak to him. Bee tells Rubble to fiddle with his wrist until he figures out how to call him and drives off… but not before giving us a very… unique looking image.
Windblade and Rubble go back to his quarters as he fiddles with his wrist. Rubble says he’s concerned that Bumblebee is disappointed in him (something that wasn’t even slightly hinted at before now, so show don’t tell please), which Windblade says is definitely not the case. Windblade mentions that “forgings” are extremely rare, and will remain so lest Ascenticons get their way — though there’s no disdain in her voice for them. In fact, now that I think about it… there’s not much disdain for them at all in the three issues released! That’s kind of neat.
So what I said in the review section, about awkward dialogue? I think, in the case of Windblade, that contractions are used to give her a distinct voice, to establish that she’s more casual than other characters. It’d definitely fit with her entrance. But it just doesn’t work given how awkward some of it is and it’s a jarring shift since she doesn’t talk that way most of the time. Plus, Rubble starts randomly using contractions (and not even common ones) when talking to Windblade… this is either to establish that his identity and behaviour is so malleable at this point that even brief encounters can heavily affect how he acts… or Ruckley wrote this scene like a day after the first two. I legitimately cannot tell you. That or they just act super formal around Chromia and Bumblebee but together they’re really chill, which would be weird for Rubble given that he’s met Windblade twice.
The two finally get back to Rubble’s apartment. Chromia is there waiting along with… ugh, yet another character! This guy is named Geomotus and seems to have some mental condition. He has some 3D shapes that he looks at when in unfamiliar locations and he can sometimes see patterns that no one else sees. Well, things to do with the planet anyway. He’s helping the police. Chromia says that Prowl and Barricade — future Decepticon — are tracking “Risers” (that is a dumb term) and Chromia doesn’t want to be alone with Geomotus so she wants Windblade to come along. Before they go, she gives Rubble a way to contact her if need be, and once they leave, Windblade realises that Chromia put spyware into the download! Chromia says she’s pretty sure Rubble has nothing to do with things, but doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. Also, Rubble thinks he sees a titan and I have no idea why that scene is there.
Finally, we follow Orion as he walks through a seemingly deserted road, filled with strange features like corpses embedded in walls. Finally, he reaches his destination: Codexa — yet another character — who is seemingly alive, yet being consumed by the planet. This is probably what was mentioned before, how some people choose become one with Cybertron and essentially die. And so ends the issue, with the story to be continued in two weeks!
This entry took a while to cram out. I actually started working on it the day the issue came out, but I was having some perceptual problems, plus recapping it was a slog because nothing happens. I genuinely considered putting it out without the recap, which I may still do with future issues, at least on occasion. But I powered through anyway, because there was some stuff I wanted to take a closer look at — especially the presence of more female characters. Which, again, I do appreciate. Anyway, that’s it for now. Hopefully next issue is an easier time.