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Transformers Evolutions: Hearts of Steel #1 (of 4)
Reviewed by Denyer


I wasn't planning on reviewing this series. I wasn't particularly planning on buying it, initially, given some dislike of a few public statements Chuck Dixon's made about the content of comics. I did enjoy some of his work on the Bat- and Bird- books for DC though, so I reserved a copy of the first issue. Then I got a bonus issue for having ordered a bunch of stuff from OneShallStand, and figured a couple more issues (the series having been pared down to four rather than the five earlier announced) wouldn't hurt...

This is just by way of explaining that I don't have a strong interest in crossovers and alt-universe stuff, and the series will be working harder to appeal to me. Hopefully there'll be other reviews for you to compare with later.

Issue Review

Everything looks great. The first three pages were first seen in the IDW Transformers "Free Comic Book Day" issue back in May, and raised speculation as to whether any significant part of the story would take place involving the dinosaurian alt-modes and far-flung past. Guido Guidi knocked one out of the ballpark by supplying two sets of redesigns, and the attention to detail in this issue — particularly the amount of hatched shading work — is meticulous. That may be the biggest selling point of this series; giving a fan-favourite artist opportunity to be paid for his skills and creativity.

The story packs a decent amount of setup in and divides time reasonably equally between Transformers and human characters. Everything takes place in the evening, under blizzards or in caves, in addition to which some panels are rendered in a way that mimics the patina of old photographs — I thought this all very appropriate, particularly the railroad crews working long hours, and captured the feel of an age that had gas lighting, but have seen comments by some people that they felt the issue was too dark.

Anyway... back to the story, which is a bit of an elephant in the room. Four issues is enough to have some Transformers wake in a different time period to the one we're used to, pit them against each other and carry along a supporting human cast for flavour dialogue, and either that's going to interest you or it isn't. Personally I'm interested in history, and don't find that translates too well to historical fiction — being reminded that typical living conditions were a constant trial isn't fun, and having characters act like moderners displaced into the past (everything quite PC, few signs of suffering, etc) tends to strain credibility. Dixon actually seems to find a good balance, with Muldoon forced to wash dishes after being left penniless following the sinking of his sub, and the railroad workers' awe of John Henry — whose strength gets them well-paying track jobs, and who could readily kick their asses — helps to sidestep racism being endemic and the norm for the era.

Other welcome points: it's nice to see the Decepticons making contact with humans and engaging in deception, rather than simply disguising themselves. Twain and Verne are solid choices with which to populate a Transformers book, the former a man who speculated fortunes on inventions and the latter one who warned about the dangers of technology and scientific knowledge in unprincipled hands. (Whether those character traits will come through in subsequent issues, time will tell.)

One large bugbear... Bumblebee reconfiguring himself instantaneously into a steam train after shutting down during the ice age due to low power reserves isn't credible. It makes you wonder why the characters would bother with mechanical transformation at all, and we have the last few years of Transformers cartoons to blame for this dumbing-down.

Also, despite packing a lot in, the read feels short and fairly uneventful. I think it's going to work a lot better as a complete story or a trade paperback. I'd also question whether anything much unexpected will happen over the course of the next three issues, and that — if anything — is likely to be what limits my enjoyment.

Character Development

Bumblebee is the same old overly-curious but friendly and enthusiastic guy even casual fans will remember. His inquisitiveness and desire to help the humans lead him to break orders, again a familiar character trait.

Prowl says that it's "too early for us to interfere", implying that in this universe the Autobots do expect to make contact with alien races and share technology. Shockwave's position, though undoubtedly involving a doublecross further into the future, isn't entirely dissimilar.

This Ratchet is more content to follow Prowl's lead than the one in Infiltration.

Muldoon is quite a sympathetic character, his industriousness and inventiveness restrained in an era that's very much divided into haves and have-nots. (Underscored by John Henry's view of machines as "somethin' to take our jobs" and Twain's dark humour with the brandy.)

Other Details

If the Hearts of Steel world mirrors our own, the story is set in 1867 — the year in which Jules Verne briefly visited the United States.

The back of the issue contains the de riguer advert for Alternators Optimus Prime, some IDW cross-promotional ads and a six page preview of Stormbringer #1. There's also a gallery of the two regular and one incentive covers.

Quotes of Note

Bumblebee: "What if it's not the Decepticons? It'll be 'Silly Bumblebee, you booted us up for this?' I'll see what it is for myself. Just a little peek. Nothing wrong with that."

Bumblebee: "They work so hard to reach their goals. They dream and plan but it's just out of their reach."

John Henry: "The lord didn't give me this strong back and these big hands for nothin' else but to use 'em. I'll go to my reward a'hammerin' and not standin' by a'watchin'. Though it do wear on a man."

Shockwave: "I am the end result of a science beyond your understanding. I am here to serve you in the exploration of all that is possible on your world. I am a living machine. I am an automated lifeform. I am called Shockwave. My kind are called Transformers. And I am here to re-shape the future of your Earth."

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