Rebooting the saga from the very beginning.
IDW’s decision to reboot the Transformers comic book franchise no doubt ruffled some feathers among the Transformers fan community. It’s a lot to ask readers who have been following one continuity for the past 13 years to suddenly pivot and embrace a completely new universe. On the other hand, books like the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer show how much there is to be gained by starting fresh with a new canvas, a new creative team and a new storytelling mentality. That’s the same spirit driving the new Transformers series. It’s a comic that aims to give readers a fresh start without simply retreading what’s been done in the past.
The new volume of Transformers doesn’t even necessarily have to be looked at as a reboot. Rather than again rehash the story of the Autobots’ arrival on Earth, this series flashes back to the heyday of Cybertron. As the series opens, future Optimus Prime Orion Pax and Megatron are just beginning to shift from close friends to bitter rivals, while a peaceful society is experiencing the first pangs of civil war. There’s no “robots in Disguise” here, just the story of a glorious civilization slowly spiraling into ruin. Suddenly, the story of shape-shifting robots feels more timely than ever…
New writer Brian Ruckley is instrumental in crafting a new universe with a distinctive feel. Ruckley’s background is in fantasy novels. As such, there’s less an emphasis on the science and technology of it all than the sheer sense of wonder fueling this highly advanced civilization. A lot of that is conveyed through Rubble, a wide-eyed rookie of a protagonist who makes his debut in this issue. Ruckley wisely divides the series between two perspectives. On one hand, you have Rubble, Bumblebee and Windblade as basically the humble beat cops of Cybertron. On the other, you have Orion and Megatron feuding it out and shaping the course of Cybertronian civilization. Much has been made about the desire to get more in touch with the humanity of the Transformers in this series, and so far it appears the book is up to the task.
Visually, the series isn’t quite as significant a departure from the norm. Angel Hernandez’s art doesn’t fully match the tone of Ruckley’s writing. Hernandez succeeds in crafting a very traditional Transformers look – one full of sleek character designs and a slightly cartoonish quality that hearkens back to the classic animated series. It works in that context, but I would have preferred something a little more off the beaten path – something that leans more into Ruckley’s fantasy inclinations and reflects the fresh approach to the franchise. On the plus side, the vivid colors and sterile environments do a lot to bring the world of Cybertron to life. The sweeping vistas capture that sense of wonder while at the same time painting Cybertron as a cold and vaguely hostile planet.
The other main problem is that this first issue is over too quickly. Ruckley’s script establishes the tone and mood and introduces the key players, but it isn’t quite able to establish a strong narrative hook before the end. The fact that this series will be shipping twice-monthly helps mitigate the problem to an extent. It’s not as if readers have long to wait for the next chapter. On the other hand, too many comics these days seem content to use rapid shipping schedules as an excuse to move slower and more methodically than they would otherwise. With the wide-open canvas this reboot offers, there’s no reason not to charge full-steam ahead.