The current iteration of IDW’s “Transformers” comics is arguably as good as the franchise has been since its ’80s glory days, and if you need any proof of that, the 2012 annual by John Barber, Brendan Cahill and Guido Guidi should provide more than enough.
The story concerns the discovery of a deactivated Metrotitan out in the wastes of Cybertron — a remnant from the old era. As the Cybertronians investigate, readers are treated to a number of flashbacks illuminating the earliest adventures of Nova Prime, tying into the plot of both “Robots in Disguise” and “More than Meets the Eye”.
However, these flashbacks are truly special, not just because of the information they contain, but the way in which they’re done. Barber, Guidi (who draws the flashbacks), Lafuente and Mowry have perfectly re-created the feeling and appearance of ’80s “Transformers” comics right down to the lettering, which lends an authenticity and warmth to the story that unstyled flashbacks would lack. It’s a technique we’ve seen applied to superhero comics regularly, but one that I don’t think we’ve really seen in “Transformers” comics before this month, and all the more charming for it.
But further than that, this is a story that works incredibly well as a “Transformers” tale. It seems as though through the years, many “Transformers” plots can easily be applied to any set of warring factions, and tend to get bogged down with character continuity as a way of disguising their generic construction — but this one is different. Narrator Metalhawk is concerned not just with his position as a neutral party in the midst of an uneasy peace between multiple groups, but about the very nature of Transformers: a race whose ability to change their form is matched by an inability to change their instincts. It’s specific to this franchise in ways that most aren’t.
If you’re going to write “Transformers”, the only workable options are to be completely off-the-wall about the inherent ludicrousness, or deadly serious about it. Barber has chosen the latter, and makes it work spectacularly. Although there are lots of references that fans will get, the majority of the issue is accessible and self-contained, and the changes that occur (both internally and externally) are made clear within the span of 48 pages such that any reader can understand what’s going on.
Admittedly, the book isn’t a perfect proposition as a stand-alone story — it’s heavily rooted in the political wrangling of the ongoing series and narrated by a character who only appeared in Japanese cartoons — but that doesn’t make it impossible to follow. It’s even a rare example of an annual that justifies the increased space. Only IDW’s frankly painful pricing lets it down in any substantial way. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a “Transformers” comic, this is worth a look.