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Transformers: Stormbringer #1 (of 4)
#7 of an ongoing arc
Reviewed by Denyer

Issue Review

Yay, text explosion! After the calmly-measured reveal in Infiltration of the story from a human point-of-view, we get further gobs of background material for Transformers, IDW style. Had this been the first story arc to be released by the new publisher, no doubt there'd have been a few accusations of War Within Mk II (that also being a series revolving around Cybertronian and non-Earth developments)... However, this is very much in the present, the state of play in the Autobot/Decepticon civil war being responsible for infiltration teams seeking planets with exploitable resources, and the discovery of just such a resource on Earth could be one factor that breaks the deadlock. First, however, the Transformers have to deal with something the war created in their recent past...

This menace is Thunderwing, Decepticon crackpot and global threat. It took an Autobot/Decepticon alliance to stop him last time, and now another deranged group of Decepticons are anxious to bring him and his technology back into the war — as if Cybertron being rendered a barely-habitable wasteland last time wasn't enough. There isn't a lot I can say about the story other than summarise it, save to mention that the narration contains lots of trademark Furman overblown dialogue... if this puts you off, there's a TF 'Elseworlds'-style miniseries out at the moment by Chuck Dixon called Hearts of Steel that might be more to your taste.

Visually, the book is very impressive and the main cover ties directly in to the story inside. There are one or two points where forced perspective doesn't quite work, such as Prime having a huge leg in the last flashback to accomodate a clear shot of Megatron in the background, but overall detail and consistency are great, providing readers with spectacular yet non-grandstanding art. (Whilst there are large panels and bookending splash pages, they aren't there simply as eye candy — as mentioned at the start of the review, there's a lot of text and information being presented.) I particularly like the scuffed and painted look the colours take on when it's appropriate, plus the effective use of light... we could do without the lit robot mode optics, but Scattershot being impaled and the surface of Cybertron panel are magnificent; it's polished stuff.

Another aspect of the title is the redesign work; the Technobots are relatively untouched, just far more detailed than in earlier fiction, but the Decepticons we've previously known as Pretenders have received designs based on a combination of robot modes and their original shells. A touch I particularly love is that (in this appearance*) Bludgeon's design draws on both aspects of his 1980s shell — the robot mode has some samurai styling, and his damaged state is rather skeletal. He'll be repaired at some point, presumably, but this was an appreciated nod. Re: other characters, Megatron is in the Cybertronian mode seen in Infiltration, and Prime is in a mode based reasonably closely on his War Within incarnation...

(*It's on the cover. You can get another look if you check out the issue #2 preview currently on IDW's website, and his broken-down state is also clear on the last page of this issue. The character isn't named yet in-story.)

But it's as a whole that the story and setup shine; whilst these days we might be inclined to take redesigns and rehashes for granted, a fresh start with the Transformers we know active throughout the galaxy (not a faceless G2 empire, not a last-minute matrix quest) is far more interesting than Yet Another Unicron (Or Substitute) Story. Best of all, we're getting some focus on characters that haven't traditionally had more exposure in the TF universe. Hopefully this will continue and we'll see stories focusing on various other characters Furman hasn't concentrated on before, as well as favourites such as the Wreckers — signs are pretty reassuring with regard to this, with Sixshot and Hot Rod character-oriented oneshots slated for the end of the year.

One last point, and rather than bury it in the 'Other Details' section, I'll throw it in here: if you take a look above the barcode on the cover, there's a 7 inside an Autobot symbol, showing the numbering of IDWverse Transformers as an ongoing series. Although retailers have asked for story arcs to be solicited as miniseries, this should help readers keep track of where multi-part stories fit.

Character Development

As you'd expect of a science crew, the Technobots have reasonably wide vocabularies and confer amongst themselves when confronted with an unknown situation. Strafe stands out as nervous (as per his original techspec) and Scattershot as ready to reach for his gun. If anything, the special team members are slighly less militaristic in this new portrayal — but then again they aren't on a battlefield, they've been ambushed.

Optimus is also a wordy sort, and it's possible his civilian occupation long ago in this continuity was as an archivist, as was the case with Dreamwave. He sees himself as "running a bitter war of attrition" and is clearly organising resistance to Decepticon activities on more than a few planets, having to be reminded which system Earth is in. All in all, this Prime is not a particularly happy bunny.

Searchlight appears to be a diligent flunkey, respectful of his superior officer and either has good recall or has recently taken the trouble to brief himself on the details surrounding the report he passes on to Optimus.

In the flashback Thunderwing sees no way to save Cybertron, but has a plan to survive its collapse. He tells the others they can follow his lead "or die in screaming torment". What precisely that plan involved (other than augmenting armour) is as yet unclear.

Megatron is characterised as pleasantly gritty in the alliance flashbacks, without overdoing any badass or godmoding aspects. His steely pragmatism recalls the G2 version of the character.

The Decepticon resurrection cult haven't emerged as distinct personalities yet, their role limited to taking the science team captive.

Other Details

Cybertron has been declared off-limits by Autobot command. The planet is a wreck, its gravity and atmosphere making it unfit for regular habitation by otherwise hardy giant robots. The science team have extra personal forcefields that protect them from the worst of the ambient conditions.

The Calabi-Yau vessel is named for a manifold existing in six dimensions beyond the four that physics tends to deal with. It suggests that at least some Cybertronians are familiar with superstring theory, and probably additional stuff beyond current human understanding.

Despite the factional conflict, there's enough correspondence between scientists to set up a summit meeting. It suggests more research culture exists during the war than has been demonstrated in previous continuities. (Where "science" tended to extend to plot devices to introduce a few new toys.)

The Decepticons on Cybertron wear armour that cloaks them from detection. It also seems to protect them from the particle storm that temporarily incapacitates the Autobots on the planet surface.

Cybertron itself looks a bit like a dead Apokolips, its surface covered with dark intersecting city rings.

In one flashback, Optimus is drawn with the Matrix just about visible in his cracked chest. This may be an insertion by the artist rather than the writer.

The Autobots have constructed a space-station, apparently heavily armed and mobile. It's in orbit around an orange planet, and judging by the crew members and a preview for issue #2 currently floating around the net, this planet could be Nebulos.

Possible error: when Jetfire asks Nosecone if he's sure about the energy trace, Afterburner answers. On an earlier online preview, the reply was correctly (?) attributed to Nosecone, the balloon layout different and smaller fonts were used. This is very odd, unless the layouts as a whole had to be redone for some reason. On a later page, just before the Calabi-Yau explodes, three lines of dialogue are attributed to Afterburner but the middle one seems intended for Nosecone...

Also included is an Alternators Optimus prime ad, a Hearts of Steel ad and eight (!) pages of preview for that, plus an inside-back-cover display of the three covers available for this issue.

Quotes of Note

Megatron: "Prime. Don't die on me. Not yet. You don't get off that easy. The adversary has breached the siege wall. It's now or never. Get up, Prime. And fight."

Jetfire: "All the brilliant, innovative minds we had on tap... and a Decepticon was the first to realize what short-sighted, blinkered gear-grinders we all were."

Scattershot: "Er, unscientific as this sounds, I'd suggest... fire at will!"

Optimus Prime: "Even then it was not the creature that yielded... but Cybertron itself! As if bent on one last, selfless act of sacrifice, it took our sin... and swallowed it whole."

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