It hasn’t been that long since the last Transformers reboot, but IDW are once again wiping the slate clean with the launch of the first TF ongoing since the property’s long-forgotten Dreamwave days. As a Transformers fan who has had trouble following the parade of interlocked miniseries and one-shots that IDW has produced, this was exactly the excuse I needed to come aboard the franchise.
Set some years after the conclusion of “All Hail Megatron,” the status quo has fallen somewhere rather familiar to anyone who has been following Transformers this decade — yet again, the Autobots have a reason to pretend they’ve left Earth and go into hiding, tracking Decepticons. Still, once you get past the over-familiarity of the concept, the issue functions very well as a soft relaunch — whether you’re coming to the series from the movies, cartoons, or IDW’s own comics, there’s nothing here you won’t be able mostly reconcile with your own preferred version. The stakes are rapidly laid out, and mercifully, by the end of the issue, the Autobots’ situation has already been given an interesting shake-up.
The central characters of the issue are Optimus Prime and Hot Rod — familiar characters to any Transformers fan. Both receive a solid build-up, anticipating the issue’s conclusion, though there are some elements that feel a little too willfully simplified. A reductive take on Hot Rod struggles to mesh with previous depictions of the character and could easily irritate followers of IDW’s TF output this far, but let’s face it — if one-note characterization isn’t your thing, you’re following the wrong franchise, anyway.
Characterization is a comparatively minor gripe. The place where the issue really falls down is, surprisingly, in the artwork. Don’t get me wrong — Figueroa is one of the better, if not the best of the modern Transformers artists, and the coloring in particular has a bright, vibrant look that recalls the cartoons without looking simplistic. The storytelling is good, and I wouldn’t have wanted any other artist to draw this series — but the art is nonetheless the weak link. And let me tell you why.
It’s the new character designs. As with the issue’s setup, they’re clearly designed to approximate various disparate Transformers continuities, but as designs they’ve often thrown the baby out with the bath water, ranging between competent and appalling. Some characters, like Optimus Prime, are as classic as ever and look all the better for it — but Hot Rod in particular suffers a painful movie-style rework, even losing his iconic flame motif entirely. I hope I’m not exaggerating when I say that to Transformers fans, that’s almost like Superman missing his “S” shield.
That aside, it’s easy to get sucked into the TF-verse off the back of this comic, and an ongoing series has immediate appeal compared to the way things have been handled thus far. It’s a new beginning, and I think there’s good reason to be cautiously optimistic about it. Let’s see where this goes.