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Transformers: Escalation #1 (of 6)
#11 of an ongoing arc
Reviewed by Denyer


As suggested by the synopsis, this is quite an explosive start to our third story arc (the second set on Earth) with IDW. With the increased cast there’s naturally more pace than with issues focusing on just four or five main protagonists, and it seems likely Furman has also taken on-board comments that Infiltration felt slow to some.

With the increased cast also come character moments for Jazz and Prime, the latter who’s still very much active in the galactic war against the ‘Cons despite having come to Earth. I like, very much, the idea that Earth’s not the be-all and end-all of TF operations, as often seemed (and continues to be, for some series) the case in most of the 80s/90s fiction. It’s more of a focus with the super-Energon discovered here, but a busy universe.

As is often the case when I’m talking about things I like, at this point I’m happy to sit back and find out what happens next. I’d be fairly surprised if Sunstreaker is actually dead, unless the Machination has access to Cybertronian tech – remember, Ratchet survived a point-blank shot from Blitzwing in tank mode, not so long ago. Hunter is a different matter. Though there’s been speculation that the smokescreen is part of a ruse to capture an Autobot and leave a shell behind (that the Autobots couldn’t break cover to verify is their team-mate) it’s still possible the human has bought the farm.

Su’s art has moved up a notch, helped by the wider range of subjects in each issue and presumably by having development time between the Earth story arcs to tweak the designs. Jazz in particular has been doing a spot of self-upgrading.

Also of note is that the letters page mentions Zac Atkinson will be taking over colourist duties fully starting next month, and if he’s responsible for a fair chunk of the pages in this issue then I look forward to seeing more. Not wanting to be unduly harsh to Rauch, as it’s my understanding there were other deadline issues to be juggled on Infiltration, but from the non-TF pages of his I’ve seen he shies away from sufficient palette range to really do justice to art on a TF book. Stripping things down to basics and avoiding bright primary colours can be done to the extent that it becomes a fault.


The Machination agents seem confident about ambushing and taking down a Transformer. It appears their employers think enough is likely to remain in a gutted shell to be worthy of study.

Hunter, Verity and Jimmy are somewhat resentful about being returned to their lives; especially Jimmy, whose premises were destroyed.

The Autobots seem confident enough that the Decepticons don’t deal in “petty retribution” to send the humans off without more protection than a short-term escort. They’ve learned some body language for their holo-avatars from the three, including avoidance of creepy fixed smiles. Jazz is pleasant, Ratchet apologetic and Sunstreaker his usual surly self at having to interact with fleshies. Although Sunstreaker has also been ‘friendly’ enough to design a console game to keep them occupied, with himself as the lead character… realistically it’s the type of simulation a sentient robot could probably knock together in a few minutes, and it seems in keeping with his ego, but it is at least a token gesture towards being pleasant.

Megatron is already suspicious that Energon did not appear as a natural progression on Earth, despite not knowing of Shockwave’s seeding project (see Spotlight: Shockwave for more details.) He offers the earthbound Decepticons – except Starscream, who isn’t seen – an amnesty, with no further second chances, after their rebellion in Infiltration.

The other Decepticons are understandably cowed by Megatron.

Optimus calls humans an indigent species and wants the Autobots to maintain a healthy distance (either Furman means indigenous, or Prime doesn’t think much of us…) He’s actively involved, taking conference reports from off-world Autobots.

Ironhide is prepared to cause civilian casualties in an attempt to escape and pursue when he realises they’re being ambushed. Sunstreaker is also ready to open fire on the Machination agents, but hesitates when Hunter mentions civilian casualties.


The rest of the issue suggests the Machination agents use Sunstreaker as their simulation profile, but the car remains on the first page have Wheeljack’s characteristic front bumper.

Ore-13 is five or six times as potent as Energon, and we know from Infiltration and Stormbringer that most Transformers are currently operating using Energon substitutes, as Cybertron is uninhabitable and was the only known source of ‘natural’ Energon. Astrotrain claims Earth has at least eleven separate seams of Ore-13.

Megatron orders “the facsimiles” activated, which current speculation suggests are connected to the desiccated corpse Verity stumbled across in Infiltration. If the Decepticons are capable of cloning and programming humans, any organic character we see in the series could conceivably be a facsimile.

This upgrade to Transformer technology may seem huge, but previous continuities have included Pretender shells and bioengineered Nebulans – and. as a race, Transformers have access to mass displacement, teleportation, interstellar travel and other advances way beyond our means (something that made many older stories irritating when characters who were otherwise intelligent made stupid decisions simply to advance a plot.) We’ve already seen the Autobots make use of holo-avatars to keep their cover on Earth, and facsimiles may be the considerably less ethical Decepticon equivalent; disposable meatbags that can move amongst a population and act to destabilise it (as Ratchet suggested their modus operandi was in Infiltration.)

Sunstreaker is unable to transform quickly enough to respond to the Machination agents carrying scramblers. This probably has more to do with Hunter being inside him than transformation being a slow process.

No preview for another comic in the back of this issue, which actually makes it feel longer. There’s a page of letters, plenty of cross-promotion for other TF books, and the customary cover checklist. Su’s cover for #1 is used effectively as a “next issue” teaser, showing Jazz and Wheeljack on the painful end of Machination electro-scramblers.


Jazz: “Listen, I just wanted to say thanks, y’know, for the crash course in Earth culture and integration. I mean… I never even knew the smile was freakin’ people out!”

Prime: “It’s important we maintain a healthy distance […] Especially when, ultimately… we may not be able to save them or their world.”

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