In 1984 Marvel Comics published the first issue of a four part limited-series entitled The Transformers. Last year IDW Publishing brought their ongoing series to an end with the destruction of Cybertron, the Transformers homeworld, a mere 34 years later. Although the continuity has changed from that initial story, several times in fact, many of the concepts and characters have stayed the same. It’s a story of good against evil and the consequences rippling out from that ongoing fight.
But what happened before the war on Cybertron began? What led up to the fateful day when the Decepticon’s were born out of conflict? These, amongst others, are the questions that IDW Publishing are asking in their brand new ongoing series.
The Transformers are back for a ‘Bold New Era’.
The Scottish born fantasy author Brian Ruckley has bravely taken the reigns for this new Transformers series. Acting as a prequel to all other transformer stories, it isn’t made especially clear if this is a new universe or set in an old one. However, as the giant robots have changed and passed through a number of re-boots, the actual setting is irrelevant to the story. All the reader needs to know is that this is set back before the civil war began, something that Ruckley does from the outset.
The opening sequence introduces Rubble and Bumblebee as they travel through the beautiful world of Cybertron. Instantly the setting shows a world at peace; in a state of tranquillity. Ruckley uses the conversation between the two Transformers to reinforce the visual setting but also explain the basic premise of Transformers to any brand new readers picking this up.
The story becomes conversation heavy at several points in this opening issue but it all feels natural. The flow of speech is normal for these characters and each of the robots have a distinctive voice. The discussion between Windblade and Bumblebee may be mostly exposition but it is also a conversation that these two characters would have. Ruckley uses the newly created Rubble as a way of drawing out much needed exposition from the other characters. This has a rolling effect as it lets the reader get to know the other characters as well.
But not all is peaceful on Cybertron and the onset of conflict is depicted by angry demonstrators marching through the streets. A short meeting is held between Orion Pax and Megatron to assess the situation. Here Ruckley uses the reader’s knowledge of future events to make a seemingly unimportant meeting appear world changing. The weight of history hangs heavy over the two characters and this isn’t lost in the script. The reader is left in no doubt that a monumental moment has just passed.
By focusing on only a few characters in this first issue, Ruckley is able to focus the narrative on character first and setting as a by-product. This demonstrates the kind of story that is going to be told. This version of Transformers is going to be intimate and character driven to start with. A slow build into the waring giant robots that readers have come to know over the years. This first issue has more in common with the recent Bumblebee movie than it does the earlier franchise movies under the helm of Michael Bay. And that can only be seen as a good thing.
Whereas the conversation brings character, it has to be said that the art work brings the setting. Angel Hernandez, who produces the art for the opening and ending of the comic, renders magnificent vistas. Large scale landscapes of the Transformers home world, untouched by war, greet the read as they follow Rubble and Bumblebee across the terrain. A sneaky little plot element sees the two robots walking slowly across their world, allowing Hernandez to draw the scenery as the newly created Rubble might experience it; with wonder and awe.
Cachet Whitman takes over art duties for the urban setting of the narrative. With a heavier design, the Transformers have a machine like quality that Hernandez’ characters lack. Everything is sharp angles and straight lines. This harsher style suits this element of the narrative more because there is a tension between the characters and conflict is that much closer. Harsher art for the harsher story-line.
There is an alien-ness to Joana LaFuente’s colors. The landscapes are awash with shades of orange and pink shifting to machine blues as the night falls. A strange atmosphere is created by these choices of color; it’s almost like she is depicting the moment before a storm. This imposing fate of the Transformers is ever present throughout this issue but not more so than in the coloring.
Tom B. Long uses the, often large amount, of speech to lead the reader through the pages. Broken speech balloons give each page a different pace and the emphasis on certain words and speech balloons to change the beat of the narrative. On occasions this forces the reader to pause and focus their attention on a particular panel. At other times the reader follows the back and forth between characters, building momentum.
It may seem an odd choice to restart a story so soon after the previous years’ long narrative has only just come to an end, however, IDW Publishing appear to have been planning this for a while. The new take on the Transformers universe actually covers new ground that hasn’t been covered before. Flashback sequences aside, the pre War Cybertron is a landscape ripe for new tales and legends to be created.
This opening issue is a great beginning to that journey. It has plenty for long-time fans to get their teeth into but is very much a jumping on point for new readers. It’s very nature is new reader friendly.
And the tone of the comic is spot on. There is the sense of adventure brewing but also of looming catastrophe. It is strong enough to pull the reader in and get them hooked on the mystery and the intrigue. Despite many, many years of Transformer’s comics, there is still an infinite number of stories left to tell. Transformers issue 1 is a great starting point for a new continuity; different yet familiar.