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Transformers: Robots in Disguise #20 – Review

By: John Barber (writer), Andrew Griffith (art), Priscilla Tramontano (colors)

The Story: Starscream deals with a lack of respect, the bloodthirsty media, and even sabotage as he leads Cybertron through the first night of his reign. Yes, that Starscream. In charge of Cybertron. It’s gonna be a long night.

The Review: IDW’s Transformer series have come a long way since the days of back to back miniseries, but they’ve rarely been as innovative as they are now. You may have heard good things about Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, James Roberts’ sleeper hit. Its sister title, Robot’s in Disguise, hasn’t received the same praise, but that might change soon.

With Optimus Prime resigned from his post and Megatron captive, Cybertron is finally seeing a sunrise without war, but the long road to rebuilding is just beginning. Though readers of the title have seen Bumblebee’s attempts to maintain order against Decepticon radicals and social division within the populous, all that recently changed when Starscream was declared the chosen one and banished any bot unwilling to relinquish their old alliances.

As treacherous as ever, Starscream is at once a perfect and terrible administrator. John Barber turns the beloved Decepticon backstabber into a pragmatic reformer, determined to better the state of his people, and himself along with them. He’s still Starscream, but he puts in a legitimate effort to channel his traitorous tendencies into something positive.

Barber does an admirable job of demonstrating how foreign this all is to the ex-Seeker. He stumbles as he tries to build common ground, reminding Blurr of how Megatron murdered “my – your – our friend Wheeljack.” It’s almost touching to watch him struggle to be sincere, caught between his own egocentrism and the Autobot’s sense of ownership. We’re also reminded of his less admirable qualities as old Screamer attempts to cut through the pleasantries and convince an old ally in the Decepticon style, only to discover that lies and false smiles are a full-time job when you’re a politician. Indeed, his situation is reminiscent of Kieron Gillian’s Kid Loki, his silver tongue and crafty wit essential to his success but all the more reason for the people to distrust him.

Barber surrounds Starscream with a myriad of characters, familiar and obscure, who illustrate the perils of the new status quo. We even get a major appearance from a well-loved character who you might not have expected. I won’t spoil it but I will say that, though he’s not quite the same as you might remember him, Barber does an excellent job of fitting him into this story.

While the thought put into Starscream’s character is truly impressive, it’s a shame that this doesn’t seem to extend to his voice. In other circumstances it might not seem such a problem, but it’s especially prevalent on the first page and, after all, the story is titled Three Monologues. He’s just a bit casual at times, and it can be hard to hear the voice of any of the various Starscreams when he talks.

The art is strong and well suited to the Transformers style. Andrew Griffith does a great job of rendering the current Cybertronian designs and updating older models.

One of the most important tasks of any artist working on a Transformers comic is imbuing the various robotic characters with life. Thankfully, this seems to be one of Griffith’s specialties. The Cybertronians all walk the delicate balance of moving lively yet still feeling natural as multi-ton mechanoids rather than humans in robot suits.

It’s also great to see that the characters are so distinct. Especially with last month’s break in the action, this is a great time to jump onto this series and it’s kind of the creative team not to pepper Iacon with Transformers based on the same toy mold. Whether it’s Barber’s character choices or Griffith’s talent for filling their faces with personality, it’s easy to distinguish one robot from the other, even for those new to the franchise.

The Conclusion: It might seem strange to think that Transformers: Robots in Disguise #20 doesn’t feature any fight scenes, but Starscream’s efforts to gain control over Cybertron are just as exciting if not more. Michael Bay might be ashamed, but this issue has far more in common with The West Wing than it does with The Expendables.

If you’re interested in that sort of thing, you’ll find a solid issue, full of personality and intrigue. Barber’s ideas seem a little stronger than his writing, but he has a strong grasp on his story and a great naturalistic tone. Andrew Griffith provides gorgeous artwork and keeps the spark in this title.

Whether you can tell me the difference between Rampage (G1) and Rampage (BW) or your only points of reference are the movies, Robots in Disguise #20 is a strong issue. This series hasn’t quite made a name for itself yet, but I think that, like Starscream, its time has finally come.

Grade: B-

-Noah Sharma

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2 Responses

  1. Nice review. It’s good to see that someone will cover the other Transformer title on this site, as I am still trying to catch up on that series.

    It’s great to see that it maintains it’s political course, which is something I have found very well told. Glad to see it still has some quality even after 20 issues.

    • Thanks Hugo.

      I’m also really happy to see that IDW is exploring the political side of Transformers. The brand has become pretty synonymous with mindless explosions and the original series wasn’t exactly brilliant, but Transformers has an odd history of treating the generic good/evil war scenario with an impressive degree of intelligence. Plus, the Decepticons’ backstabbing was always half the fun anyway so a series about Starscream that takes the character in interesting new directions just feels like a gift.

      Here’s hoping that Starscream’s reign is as auspicious as his opening issue.

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