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Transformers: Robots in Disguise #23 – Review

By: John Barber & James Roberts (writers), Atilio Rojo & James Raiz (art), Josh Perez (colors)

The Story: Starscream gets a thumbs down from the Necrotitan as Ultra Magnus gets the universe’s most intense thumbs up from Metroplex.

The Review: Three issues into Dark Cybertron half of the notable Decepticon commanders through G1 history have shown up and many look to be siding against one another. In fact, the Autobots play a fairly limited role in this issue. Honestly, that’s the way I like my Transformers, but that twelve part timeline means we’re still firmly in this story’s rising action. Indeed, while the infighting within the Decepticon cause looks to be a large part of this event, right now we don’t get to see much of it. This issue spends most of its time moving pieces around the board, setting up for the arc’s second act.

Starscream is back in the spotlight this month, but he spends a lot of the issue reacting rather than acting. It’s fun to watch Screamer adapt to his circumstances, but it’s a shame to see him on the ropes so quickly when the premise of Starscream in power held so much potential.

While we’re on the topic of Starscream, I have to mention a weird quirk of the character. John Barber did an excellent job of introducing us to Lord Starscream in the “Three Monologues” issue, however it seems that he’s already retreading some of that ground. Indeed Starscream spends much of his time having candid, unusually casual conversations with dead and mute bots. It was an interesting symbol of Starscream’s inability to adjust to his circumstances last time, but now it just seems like the guy is desperately looking for a therapist.

The other characters share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Though Barber’s cast continues to receive strong, considered dialogue, their actions feel inconsequential. Though Prowl and Bumblebee’s ongoing tension is fascinating and Soundwave’s idealism is well represented, it can’t be said that the outcome of their battle is important. While the writing is strong, only a few moments, including a surprisingly simple one from Blitzwing, manage to feel meaningful against the gravity of a plot that’s simply too big for them at this stage.

The cast of More than Meets the Eye fare a bit better in this regard. James Roberts’ talent for writing comedy does a lot to smooth out his scenes. The brief visits to the Lost Light provide a fine sample of what MTMTE can offer, but generally neither improve nor intrude on RiD’s plots.

Most of the art is the work of Atilio Rojo. Rojo proves particularly adept at capturing big moments, such as crowd shots or some of his battle scenes, however the same qualities occasionally lead to characters looking a little stiff, Starscream and Bumblebee especially. Rojo’s also does an excellent job of imbuing character into our players’ robotic faces and Josh Perez does an excellent job of putting the spark of life into their optics.

Rojo also draws Starscream slightly off model, lacking the two ‘vents’ on either side of his head. While it shouldn’t present a problem for many readers, those familiar with Armada Starscream’s rather boxy features might find it difficult to retrain themselves.

The other artist on the book, James Raiz, handles the scenes aboard the Lost Light. Raiz’ shading and attention to detail can be simply stunning and really brings out the gravitas of the issue. Despite this, there are a couple of serious issues with his style. Though the amount of dialogue clearly boxed him in in places, Raiz seems to fall back on talking heads a little too often. Some artists can make that work, but unfortunately it only highlights one of the other problems with his work.

Though some bots, like Getaway and Brainstorm, look fantastic, others, including Ultra Magnus and Perceptor, look excessively human. Between the uncanny valley effect and the sheer number of questions such carefully wrinkled faceplates raise, it can be a tad distracting.

The Conclusion: Robots in Disguise #23 is an enjoyable issue that sets the stage for some event-worthy turns, but it feels overly subservient to the greater story. Dialogue is solid throughout and the ideas in play are interesting, but we don’t get any resolution this month.

The artists couldn’t be more different but they both prove more than capable. Both do a fine job of capturing the classic Transformers design aesthetic and provide some impressively detailed panels. Still, they may not be for everyone, feeling too stiff and too soft, respectively, at times.

All in all, this is a fine issue, but it feels like a long breath inward. Suspense is great but I can’t wait until it’s time to let that out.

Grade: C

-Noah Sharma

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