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Transformers #1 review: A fantastic, fresh lens

A bold new era begins!

Brian Ruckley and Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman
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‘Your life is yours to shape.’

Transformers is at an interesting place at the moment; having just closed the door on the beloved and critically acclaimed IDW era/universe of the last few years (under the careful stewardship of James Roberts and John Barber), the series returns with a fresh start and a brand new place to start reading with Transformers #1. However, it’s not a reboot that feels like it’s throwing everything out for a new spin — it’s a book carrying the spirit and the torch of the last era, albeit in a new way, in a new place, for a broader audience. Carefully put together to work for readers who’ve been following the comics of the previous eras, whilst putting forth enough to be appealing to new readers jumping on board, it’s a curious first issue.

Built by the crew of Brian Ruckley, Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman, Joana Lafuente and Tom Long, the new #1 refocuses the entire property to mark a new beginning. We see the world of Cyberton with a literal fresh set of eyes, a whole new lens, via the character of Rubble. Freshly forged, still very green and under the care of the iconic Bumblebee, Rubble is a lot like the reader.

The tale begins with clever caption work by letterer Long, who stylishly and seamlessly ties together the text with artist Hernandez’s imagery. While the panels begin at the bottom, moving to the top, the captions sit at the top, leading downward, step by step. It’s a fun little contrast and it helps set up the all important message they contain as something larger, more meaningful, hanging over every moment with greater importance. Discarding the typical choice of placing the caption over the image, Long manages to enhance both Ruckley’s words and Hernandez’s visual storytelling. The distance between the captions and the corresponding image also emphasizes each panel further, as a silence pervades them and you pay more attention to the image and linger on it than you otherwise would if the conventional placement choice were made.

The message itself is very much a way to establish the core idea at the heart of the narrative. It’s the ethos upon which all the players of the story perform. While Rubble, learning under Bumblebee, gives this book a new perspective and audience-proxy, on the other end, we’re shown the man who would go onto become the iconic Optimus Prime. Still very much Orion Pax, his identity beyond the role of Prime, he’s a senator. Riots rage on in Cybertron’s streets and he’s called a meeting with the face of the out-roar, another political figure many readers will be familiar with: Megatron.

The book immediately establishes a sense of history between the two figures, telling the reader that they were once good friends. They know each other intimately and they’ve dealt with one another many a time. Differing in political ideals, they now remain at a standstill. Megatron speaks and fights for his Ascenticons, who he feels are oppressed. Orion Pax, on the other hand, is the symbol of Autobot power and authority, in a place of clear privilege. There’s a lot left to learn here, as the core struggle between the Cybertronian people and the state of their politics isn’t made all too clear yet. And that’s part of what Transformers #1 nails: intrigue. It manages to set up its world and characters effectively, while raising intriguing questions about their nature.

Even Rubble, its audience-proxy figure, is a smart play, as he lets us feel the true awe and wonder of Cybertron. It’s a world we’ve known and seen so much and we can take it for granted, but the book reminds us why we fell in love with it in the first place and that it is still, very much, a special place. Ruckley manages to make the the world feel lived-in and carries the spirit and charm of the Roberts/Barber era, whether it be through the dialogue and specific bits of Cybertronian culture or choices in characterization.Hernandez and Whitman, the two artists of the twice-monthly title, bring the entire world and cast to life. Whether it be the little moments of interaction or the gigantic set-pieces on Cybertron, they make them all flow together seamlessly. The reading experience is never disrupted, despite the dual artists, as the two have different casts entirely, which provides clarity.

But beyond that, what they both really have is Lafuente. Boasting a wide range, from illuminating oranges to neon blues or rich maroons, Lafuente blends the entire work with great ease, granting it cohesion and the all important visual flair to top things off. The colors pop off the page when they need to, while also knowing precisely when to hold back.  If Hernandez excels at the big, bright and dynamic bits, Whitman nails every robot argument with perfect framing and body language to sell the emotional context and power. They’re a power combo, with the former cleverly helping transitions to ease things along via the perfectly timed usage of benday dots.

It all very much feels right and true. And although this may be a reboot, moving back from the expansive forward-flowing river of the previous era to examine the core roots of the entire mythology, where it began, how it all gets to where it does, almost in a prequel fashion, is an inspired choice. The time period of the war is ripe for exploration and the tragedy and conflict at the heart of it make for some juicy tales packed with impact.

Transformers is back and it’s a joy, as always. If you’re an old reader, jump in. You’re going to get a look at a familiar era through a new lens. If you’re a new reader, interested or looking to dive in, this is the perfect place to start. You couldn’t ask for a better beginning as you get in on ground-zero for a lot of the defining parts of the mythology. The ride begins here and now, so get on board!

Transformers #1 (2019)
Is it good?
Transformers kicks off a new age with intrigue, charm and great spirit. Accessible for new readers and fun for the old, it's a blast.
The careful, interesting setup and framing of Cybertron, its conflicts, characters through a fresh perspective, which makes it feel all the more special, while simultaneously being accessible
Megatron and Orion Pax's dynamic is intriguing and as the cover implies, is a fun core struggle at the heart of the narrative
The characters all feel true to themselves and the voices ring right. The world's textured and very much feels like one spiritually in line with the one of the previous Roberts/Barber era to an extent
Moving backwards to an era of the past, where it all began, almost akin to a prequel, after the rich work of the previous area that forged forward, is smart.
It's a slow issue that very much fits the book's twice-monthly pace
While it's set to play really well over time, in the immediate, it could use more of a hook beyond the last page to really nail it and get more people in
9
Great
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