Best Shots Review: FIRST STRIKE #1 'Serious, Tense, & Rollicking'

IDW Publishing August 2017 cover
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: Freddie E. Williams II (IDW Publishing)

First Strike #1
Written by Mairghread Scott, David A. Rodriguez, and John Barber
Art by Max Dunbar, Ander Zarate, Netho Diaz, Walden Wong and David Garcia Cruz
Lettering by Tom B. Long
Published by IDW Publishing
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Credit: Max Dunbar (IDW Publishing)

Saturday mornings get serious in the tense and rollicking opening installment of First Strike, IDW’s latest Hasbro Universe crossover. Bringing together the Transformers, G.I. Joe, ROM, M.A.S.K, and the Micronauts, writers Mairghread Scott, David A. Rodriguez, and John Barber take the contents of your childhood toy box and construct something that feels like a multi-million dollar feature film with the contents, delivering action, high stakes, and an engaging core concept in the process.

Translating the slick heroics and snappy banter of Scott and Rodriguez’s script are artists Max Dunbar and colorist Ander Zarate. Though not as strikingly precise as say Kei Zama’s work on Optimus Prime or as splashy as Giannis Milonogiannis’ G.I. Joe, Dunbar and Zarate lean into the cinematic nature of the script and produce pages that thread the needle between explosive set pieces and expressive character models very well. IDW’s Hasbro books have quietly been some of the more entertaining licensed comic books on shelves as of late, but with First Strike #1, it looks as if the Hasbro Universe is done being quiet and is ready to burst back onto the summer event scene in a big way.

Credit: Max Dunbar (IDW Publishing)

For years now the Transformers’ civil wars have put Earth in the crosshairs and each time humanity has barely survived. Scarlett says it herself early on in this issue, humanity is out of their weight class and no one seems to know just how to even the playing field. No one except Joe Colton, now known as Red Shadows leader Baron Ironblood, and a reborn COBRA, that is.

Which brings us to the titular first strike. Scott and Rodriguez, who provide a neatly succinct primer on the recent state of the IDW/Hasbro Universe and Earth’s new role in Cybertronian politics, prime a powder keg for all the teams involved and then literally blow it right the hell up in the first ten pages of the debut. This bold move not only kicks the story off in a big way but adds a delicious tension to the opening overall. With the Joes’ main squads split between Earth and Cybertron and the Transformers already in a precarious political position, First Strike feels like it has genuine stakes and ramifications for the heroes. This isn’t just another round of action figure fantasy warfare, First Strike #1 starts big and threatens only to get bigger in future issues.

But while Scott and Rodriguez have major plans for the heroes, they don’t let the actual characters get lost in the shuffle. The pair pick up the characterizations laid out by the rest of the Hasbro writing staff from their respective titles and run with them, providing plenty of funny banter and pathos along the way. Scarlett in particular gets plenty of time center stage as Colton’s attack carries both personal and professional stakes for the new Joe commanding officer. Scott and Rodriguez explore this throughout the propulsive plot while giving her plenty of top notch foils like the wry Lady Jaye, scene stealing Quick-Kick, and the ever charming Roadblock. Though Starscream and his minions... erm, allies Optimus Prime, Windblade, and Pyra Magna on Cybertron are a little underserved in this debut as they are mostly on the defensive, Mairghread Scott and David A. Rodriguez state their intent to handle the large cast with care and then make good across their page count.

Credit: Max Dunbar (IDW Publishing)

Speaking of good, artist Max Dunbar and colorist Ander Zarate go for the gusto here, bringing a Mark Bagley-like energy and tone to the Hasbro Universe. Striking a nice balance between emoting and exploding, Dunbar’s characters, even the robotic ones, look human albeit a touch exaggerated. Dunbar’s sense of scale also gets an entertaining work out in the form of Ironblood’s Trojan Horse like attack on Iacon and colorist Zarate keeps pace the whole time, shifting from gleaming chromatic sunshine on Cybertron to LED and plasma screen lit bunkers with ease. While it might be a bit hacky to say IDW has been doing better Transformers and G.I. Joe movies than Hollywood has as of late, it becomes harder to argue once you see an issue like First Strike #1.

Though Matt Trakker, the Micronauts, and the enigmatic Space Knight are absent during the opening, there is still plenty of fun to be had with First Strike #1. When you think of a Hasbro toys crossover comic book, you probably wouldn’t think “political action thriller with themes of paranoid isolationism and paternal honor,” but here we are.

Now get to a comic book shop, soldier. You don’t want to miss the war.

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