Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wake-Up Call: Robots in Disguise # 33!

FROM the beginning, “Transformers: Robots in Disguise” (“TF: RID”) has been considered good but not as good as its sibling title, “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” (“TF: MTMTE”). Since the resident artists are quite similar in talent and style (Andrew Griffith on “TF: RID” and Alex Milne on “TF: MTMTE”), the difference lies in the books’ writers (John Barber on “TF: RID” and James Roberts on “TF: MTMTE”).

This is interesting since together, Barber and Roberts have ushered in the most critically acclaimed era in TF comics history. But the observation is that Roberts simply knows how to get the best out of the big ideas that have characterized the resurgence.

That’s important to note because Barber is pretty good—just not as good as Roberts. “TF: RID” # 33 is typical of the kind of issue where Barber has something really interesting to run with but doesn't quite go as far as he can go with it.

That being said, “The World of Tomorrow” has some fascinating moments. One of the two best moments comes at the very beginning, when a character thought dead returns to a world that he does not recognize, and Barber plays this up really well.

The character is Wheeljack, last seen kicking the can at the hands of Shockwave in “Dark Cybertron.” He wakes up to a Cybertron where Starscream is in charge, and fembot Windblade is working with the returned titan Metroplex. It isn’t easy to take. Barber portrays Wheeljack as a genius who’s lost his spark because the world around him isn’t one he likes. He goes out to visit Ironhide, who has taken to being by himself in the ruins of Crystal City. He mulls over the task of fixing whatever is wrong with Metroplex (starting with the damaged space bridge), and has a heart-to-heart talk with Windblade.

The other fascinating moment is when Starscream takes Wheeljack to the lab to see the remains of Superion. In this IDW continuity, there were only two gestalts, or combiners, Monstructor and Devastator. Yet while in the wilds of Cybertron, the Aerialbots naturally merged into the being that called itself Superion. “The first spontaneous gestalt in Cybertronian history,” Starscream explains. Somehow, most of the Aerialbots are still alive (Slingshot’s gone, though and needs to be replaced) and Starscream wants Wheeljack to essentially put Superion back together because Devastator (with Prowl in charge) is wreaking havoc on Earth alongside Optimus Prime. “Do you think Prime looks in control of this—this thing,” Starscream asks. There’s a cute throwaway remark here, too as Starscream alludes to the idea of both Bruticus and Menasor when he says, “Over in Blurr’s bar? Even Swindle tried to make one out of the Stunticons, once.”

Of course, this is just Starscream being Starscream—we know he just wants a combiner for himself. “There’s a war coming, and you can trust me on exactly one thing: I won’t let Cybertron fall again.”

In the end, Wheeljack decides, for his own reasons, to begin working on Metroplex—but with Ironhide and Windblade watching his back.

This issue of “TF: RID” takes place completely on Cybertron and feels more like a continuation of the great “Transformers: Windblade” mini-series rather than a continuation of the current human-siding-with-Decepticons arc on Earth. Yet Barber is setting up a lot here. “TF: RID” will soon become just the straightforward “The Transformers,” and the future will usher in the next big event, “Combiner Wars,” and you can see how that is starting out here. Barber juggles a lot of interesting elements here but does just OK. One feels that he’s biding his time and hopefully we’ll see a maximized series soon.

The other reason why this issue feels like a “Windblade” spinoff is because that mini-series’ artist, the inimitable Sarah Stone, replaces Griffith for this issue. We can assume it’s because there’s a lot of Windblade here and nobody draws a better Windblade. It’s refreshing to see the diversity in style that Stone brings. Still, we hope to see Griffith back later on because he is the definitive TF artist right now (Stone should get her own TF series with the fembots Arcee, Nautica and Chromia. Lots of readers will buy that; she will also soon be returning to the “Windblade” sequel series. By the way, it’s also interesting that Wheeljack looks a lot more like his “Transformers: Prime” self here. It is very nice to see him back, so thanks Barber for that.

Along with the name change for “TF: RID,” the entire TF franchise will drop the current “Dawn of the Autobots” banner and instead fall under the new arc “Days of Deception.” Hmm. I wonder what’s going to happen there. I guess we’ll have to stick around to find out.

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