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

Issue Review

...and so we have an ending and a beginning. Some answers, with hints of more questions. Just what you want from the second story arc in an ongoing continuity, really.

The large ensemble cast don't get a huge number of lines each, but a surprising number get to contribute something and sound distinctive whilst doing so... Springer is his classic macho self, Jetfire sounds almost like a gawking teenager, the Jumpstarters are reckless as ever, and Divebomb is assuredly cocky, to pick out some more notable examples. Furman's on form, Don's definitely on form, but the one I'll single out is Josh — the splash opening page, the black ionising tendrils of energy and the pastel eggshell effect of Thunderwing's sonic assault are all especially effective. A silhouette panel of Jetfire and Prime running reminded me favourably of painted ABC Warriors strips in 2000AD. On the pencils side, Thunderwing again uses the palms-brought-together attack seen in issue three, not only showing that the attack is carried out in a robotic and detached manner but a nice homage to superhero comics.

My one criticism of the big bad being taken down would be that five banner panels of Thunderwing rocking backwards and forwards on his heels (after Prime barrages him) leaves far more to the imagination than it suggests. Perhaps a clockwise array of overlapping grid panels would've made things a bit more visually interesting? It's a fairly minor crit.

After so much build-up, it's a little disappointing that Cybertron remains at the end of this miniseries. Nuking it would've underscored that this is a very different continuity to those previous, and also make us less inclined to view with suspicion assertions such as the ones Optimus makes in the Escalation preview about ultimately maybe not being able to save Earth. Indeed, there isn't any appreciable mortality rate in the IDWverse at all yet... whilst on one hand we can't have characters dropping like flies because it'd undermine the notion that the TF race has survived to wage war on itself for millions of years, the only consequence so far is that Cybertron is unlikely to be a major location for stories. I hope the hype for Escalation (and proposed title for the arc following it: Devastation) will be a bit more founded in this area of storytelling.

The Escalation preview, incidentally, is the most appropriate yet — short, punchy and directly connected to the story in this issue. In particular, it shows Prime coordinating Autobots in distant systems, including what appears to be a casual setup line for the Ultra Magnus spotlight issue... plus Su and Rauch rendering Prime looks great, and Soundwave gets a mention pretty much out of nowhere...

So... four-and-a-half out of five as a total package, docked a fraction for not really changing the status quo further.

More please!

Character Development

The Autobots display genuinely productive tactics, reprogramming the Centurion drones on the hoof as cannon fodder to wear their opponent down and igniting pockets of gas on the surface when Thunderwing's ionisation of the atmosphere renders main weapons systems offline.

Dogfight's still a wide-eyed youthful military 'bot.

Razorclaw doesn't want to blow up Cybertron for sentimental reasons, and Jetfire and Springer also seem a bit surprised at Prime's resolve to use any means necessary. Is this an early sign that Megatron can manipulate Prime's actions? It'll be interesting to see more of their dynamic, for sure. Razorclaw, whilst afraid of Megatron, also has a lot of respect for the Autobots' finest warriors.

Prime runs the gamut of resolve, despair, asking questions to help the plot along, to a familiar wordiness when facing down Thunderwing. It's clear that he considers the Decepticon scientist to be conscious and at least partly self-aware underneath the layers of twisted tech and multiple burnouts. Either that or he's talking out loud just to calm his nerves. Possibly a bit of both.

Thunderwing... well, it's never clearly indicated that his personality survives inside the armoured shell, but feedback of some of his memories does cause the weaponised carcass to fly into a rage and start destroying.

Other Details

The Decepticon warship Razorclaw's Decepticons arrive in is called Thanatos, a Greek word for death with allusions to a personification of the concept in classical mythology.

A mega-cycle seems to be about an hour, and a nano-klik a bit longer than a second.

Thunderwing displays the ability to charge and destroy Cybertron's atmosphere, cutting through shields, electrically overloading systems and exposing all present to the cosmic radiation bombarding the planet. This devastating power, combined with virtual invulnerability and madness, seems to be what makes the pretender tech so dangerous... others might have the ability to use this killing stroke, but it leaves nothing behind for salvage and attracts a great deal of attention — it's probably not an effective substitute for the infiltration tactics the Decepticons are known for.

It's a little unclear where Thunderwing's ultra mode comes from as we don't see the transformation... but the wings seem to wrap around the chest, the jet engines form new arms, and the lower legs extend a bit. Also: how does the weapon-thing see anything from behind that furnace of a face?

Pretender tech is described as involving a "symbiotic carapace" built from "bodily tissue culled from living subjects"... it appears the still-functioning "neurosphere[s]" of the unwilling victims are patched into the mind of the wearer, hence the symbiotic bit. We aren't given many details, as suggested above, but having an inpenetrable shield to launch attacks from behind must be a battle-winning combination...

Prime confirms that he doesn't know where Thunderwing was sent before it returned to Cybertron.

The 'Predacon' and 'Insecticon' TFs seen here have vehicular alt-modes and (unless I've missed something) aren't referred to by old team designations in-story. They're all Decepticons, minus toy gimmicks — what a refreshing change...

No idea why Ultra Magnus, Sureshot, Highbrow, Brainstorm, Chromedome and Hardhead (plus maybe the Autobot clones) are on the cover, as they have nothing to do with the story. The other wraparound covers have been more connected to the contents of the issues.

It seems remarkably easy to blow up a planet. Also, whilst undoubtedly dishonourable, Razorclaw could easily have nuked both Thunderwing and Prime at the cost of only a few of his own troops.

Quotes of Note

Optimus: "It's got... some kind of secondary ultra mode!" (ironic, considering recent TF cartoon shows)

Roadbuster: "That thing's its own personal ground zero!"

Topspin: "When they ask me, '[why'd] you go one-on-one with Thunderwing?' I'll say... because it was there."

Optimus: "We are all culpable here, all participants in the tragedy that is Cybertron."

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