CURRENT TRANSFORMERS COMICS FROM IDW PUBLISHING
Transformers: Robots in Disguise #1
Reviewed by Red Dave Prime
While The Death of Optimus Prime was the starting point for both Robots in Disguise and More than Meets the Eye, issue 1 of RID follows on directly from the events at the end of issue 1 of MTMTE - namely the apparent destruction of the Lost Light.
The splash page at the start of the issue indicates that Cybertron life took some strange paths of development when it branched out into the universe. This is highlighted by the fact that Sky Lynx isn't the oddest looking robot amongst this spread.
Tappet, the graffiti spraying NAIL, alternate mode is apparently Noddy's (yes, that one) car. Of more interest is how he repaired himself from the riot at the end of The Death of Optimus Prime while Soundwave still hasn’t fixed his vocal damage.
Sideswipe's colour scheme has reverted back to a more G1 style (he was coloured in his G2 scheme for TDOOP).
The Autobot and Decepticon forces only make up 7% of the populace according to Prowl. While there is a sense that he is joking a little here, it's possible that he isn't given his love of statistics.
Metalhawk refers to Bumblebee as young at one point - which is odd because 'Bee has been around since when Metalhawk left all those years ago. He may be younger than Metalhawk but he can't be considered young in Cybertronian terms by this point surely.
"Cybertron is alive, again… Alive and Angry" - Bumblebee stresses the fact that his own home doesn’t seem happy at seeing him and his buddies again.
"Bumblebee argued with His "friend" and Rodimus' Starship exploded. Quite mysterious. Hundreds died" - Metalhawk planting a few helpful seeds in the minds of new arrivals.
"I kinda want to see it escalate" - whatever about the follies of using Decepticons as Enforcers of the peace, Sideswipe would definitely appear to be a little too trigger-happy in his role as well.
"Don’t call us Nails. It's insulting." - Metalhawk not too keen on his factions name. He'd better think up something catchy though. Gobots perhaps?
A mild disclaimer if I may be permitted. When it was suggested that I contribute to the comic reviews, myself and Blackjack has a quick conversation over who would review what. It has to be said, neither of us were keen on picking up John Barbers side of the ongoing. As time has gone by, Robots in Disguise has felt like the poor relation to More Than Meets the Eye (at least to some on the forum). However if you look around on other review and transformers sites, there is a lot of love for Barber's work. Plenty of people not only claim it is as good as MTMTE, with some saying it goes one better. So with that in mind I hope I can approach the RID reviews with a certain optimism and see if it reads better when not being compared directly with MTMTE (which, incidentally, gives me the opposite problem of having to rein in my inner-fan boy to give it a fair review).
So onto the first issue and I must say that it gives the same impression now as when I first read it over two years ago. Whatever about how its main plots resolve themselves over time, the first issue of RID is refreshing, mostly intriguing and brimming with potential as something genuinely new to the Transformers comic universe. While Roberts book certainly would have the easier workload, being basically star trek with giant robots, Barbers book might be a tougher sell but it has the potential to be something so much more. Think Sci-fi political tales played out on a universal scale - the West Wing, crossed with Battlestar Galactica and a touch of Deep Space Nine at its epic best. Oh, and with giant robots.
So there are a few plus points. Barber seems to have set up an interesting situation to run stories off. Not only are there effectively three factions inhabiting a very small space on the planet, but the planet itself seems to be aggressively objecting to the return of its former inhabitants. Mixed with the fallout from Chaos and the Police Action storylines, Barber has a nice selection of possibilities to take the series.
It's clear from the start of this issue that as opposed to Costa's, shall we say, minimalist approach to dialogue (and some less forgiving might say plot as well) that Barber is taking the opposite approach. Not only are the characters generally more defined and verbal, there is a running monologue running through the issue. In this issue it's Bumblebee outlining how volatile the situation truly is. In later issues it will pass onto other characters. It's a nice framing device although eventually it will wear out its welcome. But in this issue it works well as Bumblebee's inner thoughts somewhat explain his actions . The execution of Horri-bull still seems a little forced but given that Bumblebees leadership has not had the easiest of runs, it's understandable if the yellow one is more than a little on edge. Once again, Optimus Prime has left him with an unclear and difficult situation. Fighting a war must seem easy compared to keeping the peace between your own troops, your millennia old enemy and now a returning civilian population that outnumbers both forces and has little care for either.
It's the concept of the NAILs that is perhaps most intriguing of the set-ups in this first issue. This mass of unaligned Cybertronians are a new take on the people caught in the middle. In a way, they take the place of humans in traditional transformer stories - they suffer casualties and destruction brought on by a war not of their choice. What's interesting here is why they came back. And it's something that RID will struggle with exploring as the issues go by which is a shame. For now, the NAILs seem to be a bit of a rag tag collective with no unifying identity and self-appointed leadership in the form of Metalhawk.
Despite the tagline of this being the fall-out from the war, RID is still very much a Decepticon vs Autobot story. The main focus in this issue is 'Bee struggling to control his troops and win over the Nails, and the remains of the Deceptiocn force, at this point being commanded by Ratbat. Ratbat is an interesting choice for this role. In the Marvel and DW comics he was generally seen as a schemer who could lead the Decepticons at various points but in the IDW world, he is a disgraced senator who has basically been a somewhat mindless drone for Soundwave. There's a nice pay off to this angle in the next issue but for now, he is over confident and not quite as in control as he would like to believe.
Lurking in the background to the main issues are some other plot threads. Metalhawk seems to be making a play for the leadership of the NAILS while undermining Bumblebees attempts at reconciliation. Prowl is struggling with the effects of peacetime, while still facing various dangers. Starscream is disillusioned with the Decepticon cause. Ironhide is exploring the new wilds of Cybertron with Wheeljack analysing the data he brings back. In short, as a set-up issue, this one nails it. Whether it all pays off… That’s another story.
Hand in hand with Barber is artist Andrew Griffiths. He'll do most of the art for the first series and is mostly a good hand with some nice character designs and his backgrounds work well with Josh Perez's colours. It helps give a distinct style to RID which, a few niggles aside, works well.
So this is mostly a good start for RID. Intrigue, action and mostly good characters bound up in a steady and distinct art package. And as I said, there are some really interesting potential ideas working in the background here. As you can probably gather from some of my points here and there my initial feeling is that the series never lives up to the promise of this issue but maybe a re-read will cast it all in a new light.