Transformers: Dark Cybertron (Vol. 1) by John Barber, James Roberts, Andrew Griffith and Alex Milne – Advance Review [Bellarius]
With the last arc of IDW’s Transformers hitting trade paperback release, Bellarius takes a look at what the volume has to offer.
“Big ideas, big explosions, big impact. Everything a successful Transformers comic needs.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Serving as the latest big WHAM! moment in a long series for the Transformers comics, Dark Cybertron returns once more to the threat posed by Nova Prime’s ambitions. Thanks to the manipulations of Shockwave, the rogue Decepticon now has everything in his power to ravage what little remains of Cybertron’s population. With a new form of energon under his command and his sights set on a massive target, the sheer scale of his plan soon becomes clear. It’s a threat which will require not only the forces stationed on Cybertron but those of the Lost Light and Orion Pax to finally end.
Combining together multiple running titles, the book has the issue of trying to join multiple very tonally different tales. While the events on Cybertron and with Orion Pax were relatively straight faced, the Lost Light’s search for the Knights of Cybertron had a considerable dose of zany in its writing. People died, the threats were serious and all that, but for lack of a better expression it was visibly more cartoonish. Thankfully, the actual events gel together surprisingly well. While hardly toned down, there is definitely a sense of avoiding some of the more overtly different moments. Such as, for once, Brainstorm developing something saner than fourth wall breaking weapons and Magnus being treated as less of a walking joke of a character. This can likely be attributed to the authors working together closely on the project and it’s a rare example of an event comic where nothing feels as if it is out of place or one group is getting short changed.
Multiple characters are given good moments to themselves and many are still offered continuations of their individual storylines. The prophecy behind Starscream and his bid for power serves as a major part of the tale, as do his more underhanded efforts to retain that power. Cyclonus’ history is noted when they are forced to send a scouting into the Dead Universe, with it adversely affecting him. Prowl’s previous ambitions and previous manipulation, Megatron’s previous upgrades, Orion’s doubts of his right to call himself Prime, a vast multitude of characters are given moments which fit naturally into their personal arcs. Rather than abandoning them entirely in favour of the big threat, Dark Cybertron uses them to enhance its own narrative atop of it. It’s honestly good to see and it helps bring about the idea of there being a much bigger universe involved.
This idea of it being a huge universe is actually helped most of all by the art. Along with Andrew Griffith and Alex Milne, the comic featured a multitude of artists frequently used in the franchise. Each of who was given the task of independently drawing a specific section of a tale or location, creating much more of a sense of separation or distance between events.
There’s also a great mix of action and exposition. This is only the first part of the story and there’s a definite effort to make it feel as if there is a huge event going on here. However, unlike other comics it does not simply start with a huge explosion but has more than enough quiet moments or speaking scenes to give the events some weight. Unfortunately it’s here that some of the flaws start to become apparent as it seems a little too focused upon serving as the first act. There are not so much fight scenes as there are moments of action within the comic as the fights we do have are all very brief and hardly detailed. Instead we have a few groups of panels before the fighting either peters out or is dealt with in some way, with the more effective moments coming from the aftermath of the battles or talk.
Furthermore, once the characters do separate out, laving the crew of the Lost Light to themselves, some of that tonal consistency starts to leave the comic, reverting to some of the overly humourous elements which don’t quite fit here. Especially once the Rod Pod is introduced and Magnus is given temporary command of the ship, leading to a few things which feel wildly at odds with the events elsewhere. This isn’t helped by the art itself at times. While definitely a strength overall, some issues featured artwork which either failed to really encapsulate a scene’s feel or led to very strange continuity hiccups which should not have been so much of a problem. Most notably when Orion suddenly loses his faceplate for several issues without any comment upon it being missing or even retracted in any way.
The artwork isn’t the only editing problem either, with some unnecessary elements from the issues being carried over. While certain elements such as the recap pages and lists of characters involved are a very welcome addition to any individual comic, they’re definitely a pointless addition when reading it in trade format. Getting rid of them, except for perhaps the occasional character list, would have freed up pages for something more worthwhile or content unique to the trade.
Finally, the last few pages are definitely dragging their feet. Despite a good build-up early on, it feels as if certain events were stretched out in the final issue of this volume in order to save a pair of sudden reveals for the finale. While not the worst of flaws, after such a consistently steady pace, you’ll likely be left wondering why there was such a sudden drop towards the very end.
At the end of the day, Volume 1 is a good start to the story but it’s definitely lacking in places. It’s definitely not one for new fans thanks to the heavy continuity heavy nature, but it’s trying something very different and is for the most part presenting it well. If you’ve been reading the comics up to this point or are familiar with the IDW universe in general, see if you can find a preview but don’t try to instantly buy it without taking a look at the contents first.