Written by Brian Ruckley
Art by Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman and Joana Lafuente
Lettering by Tom B. Long
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
IDW Publishing is looking to kick start a “Bold New Era” for the Transformers line with an operatic and purely sci-fi new #1. Written by Scottish novelist and the man behind IDW’s Rogue Trooper Brian Ruckley, this new debut issue looks to pare down the massive cast of the previous volumes and refocus the title on the ideological divide between Optimus Prime and Megatron. A far cry from the more densely packed runs of old. Only the Primes know if this “Bold New Era” will work in the bots’ favor, but for now, Transformers #1 starts it off on a decent enough note.
Opening before the fall of Cybertron, Ruckley uses the Transformers’ histories and political affiliations as effective worldbuilding. In particular, a new flashpoint involves the Ascenticons, and seeing where Megatron and Orion Pax (a pre-upgrade Optimus Prime) fall on this divide makes for some sharp drama, especially given the Ascenticons’ 'freedom or death' style of violent politics. These scenes of the Ascenticons rallies and their marches make up the B-plot of this opening issue, but very much speak to Ruckley’s very interesting take and focus on the pre-fall politics of Cybertron. Obviously we knew Prime and Megatron will be at odds, but I feel as if this new take is a much more nuanced and personal take on their enmity than just naked antagonism. Ruckley makes fine use of the characters' history with one another and uses it to support their political affiliations, much to the issue’s benefit.
There is also the question of Ruckley’s focus on Transformer identity, which makes up the issue’s A-plot. Newcomer Rubble, en route to his first diagnostic, provides a great entry point for the series, as we learn about his path to picking an alternate form and position within Cybertronian society. In these scenes, Ruckley goes full-on space opera, introducing Rubble and the audience to the weird wonders of the living planet and exploring the idea of what it means to be a new Transformer seeing it all for the first time. Tales of identity are nothing new to the Transformers - the now-canceled Lost Light dealt with this idea wonderfully - but again it is Ruckley’s pathos that makes this plot come to life. By giving us a completely clean slate of a character in Rubble, we are allowed the luxury of seeing how a bot comes into their own from the ground floor as well as seeing Cybertron, a planet with a wealth of narrative potential, in a whole new light.
And while the script is aiming for accessibility, the artwork aims for clarity. Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman, and Joana Lafuente are tasked with presenting this new world, and they thankfully opt for the “less is more” treatment. Though I can see some readers bemoaning the lack of action, Hernandez, Whitman, and Lafuente instead focus on the cast and the gorgeously weird setting. Along with committing to the truly weird turns Cybertronian ecology takes, including a group of primate-like animals whose brains are tethered to a floating orb right out of The Prisoner, or when readers are introduced to the Sleeping Titans, massive starship Transformers that sleep in the stars above the planet, hanging like massive pyramids in space. Transformers #1 may not be the most exciting, but Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman, and Joana Lafuente work overtime to make it beautiful.
By getting back to basics and focusing on the themes and cast, Transformers #1 stands ready to pull in a whole new audience of readers. Brian Ruckley, Angel Hernandez, Cachet Whitman, and Joana Lafuente turn in really solid work here, providing a new and engaging baseline for the property. Not quite a “Bold New Era” just yet, but this is definitely a step on the right path.