By: John Barber and James Roberts (writers), Robert Gill and Livio Ramondelli (art), Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Livio Ramondelli (colors)
The Story: Shockwave proves that you don’t need a face to smirk as Cyclonus makes a new friend.
The Review: “Dark Cybertron” has been full of interesting moments but, so far, it’s moved at a fairly leisured pace. Though the stakes are increasingly apocalyptic, there’s definitely been a sense of preparation rather than action.
With its fifth chapter, “Dark Cybertron” is finally beginning to pick up steam. Shockwave’s plans have been millions of years in the making but finally they begin to come to completion. The consummate master planner, it doesn’t bother the cycloptic Cybertronian one bit when a joined Autobot-Decepticon coalition bursts through his wall.
Though it’s hard to tell what’s occupying some of the bots, especially as Shockwave’s troops are handily outnumbered, the issue opens with a suitably impressive battle scene. The book focuses in on individual conflicts, allowing for good character work and solid storytelling. It even has Waspinator. The team dynamics are strong and familiar, even if I’m getting a little tired of Prowl complaining and Bubmblebee…well, bumbling. Shockwave gets the best of it though, absolute arrogance apparently being eminently logical.
We even get to see a brief Megatron/Galvatron fight, something I expect many fans would be happy to see more of.
Meanwhile Optim- Orion Pax and his team have discovered another holdout from the pre-All Hail Megatron days hiding in the Dead Universe. James Roberts demonstrates the level of thought he’s put into these creatures as Nightbeat, ever the detective, takes us back to where it all began and plays Sherlock Holmes to an unimpressed Cyclonus. It’s a charming way to take the character and one that ensures you’ll read him with abundant personality from that point on. One thing I will say is that the scene is a little long and is not terribly essential, but who knows if it will come into play later on.
Robert Gill brings a different and interesting look to the Cybertron scenes. His positively spindly Transformers are a far cry from the original Generation 1 designs. To some extent the look is intriguing, but the line between interestingly different and wrong is a fine one and when beefy characters like Nova Prime look like creeping shadows you’re reaching. Comics are no stranger to emaciated characters with exaggerated proportions, but I wasn’t expecting it in Transformers. WE CAN’T ALL LOOK LIKE THOSE DELUXE CLASSES IN THE TOY MAGAZINES!
There are also a few places where the Transformers’ motions get very…mechanical, for lack of better word. The sharp angles of Gill’s style can be attractive, but they also run the risk of hurting the illusion of humanity that intrigue us from a technological perspective and engage us from an emotional one and making our heroes seem somewhat flat. Both problems appear throughout the issue, but are probably best illustrated in the largest panel of the first page.
Despite that, however, if you glance just a few inches up to the first two panels of that same page, you’ll find that Gill can draw some extremely lifelike and dramatic Transformer images. In panels like this the polygonal quality of Gill’s art is a blessing, rather than a bane, allowing human-like characters, like Megatron, to still look like an eighty-ton death machine.
Gill’s layouts are strong and he keeps pages lively and clear. He also has some fun with scale and manages to keep his panels detailed and readable at every size from massive to mini-con.
Meanwhile the Dead Universe scenes are handled by Livio Ramondelli who brings a moody darkness to his standard hyper detailed style. There’s really no denying that Ramondelli’s art is gorgeous, especially in the silent wastes of the Dead Universe where there’s nothing but soft starlight to busy his compositions. His characters are on model and the care he puts into them is clear.
If there’s anything to complain about it’s that there are occasional moments of stiffness. Unlike Gill, it’s not a matter of two-dimensionality, however panels like Nightbeat holding up Cyclonus’ arm seem to have subtle problems with perspective. In other instances, the perspective is correct, but simply too tight. Sometimes this is the natural consequence of the layouts Ramondelli picks, but occasionally it’s just his composition. These are fairly rare occurrences, but the talky quality of the Dead Universe scenes make them more noticeable that they might have otherwise been.
The Conclusion: As we end the second month of “Dark Cybertron”, things are finally starting to heat up. Shockwave’s master plan, at long last, seems to be coming to completion, just as Bumblebee and Soundwave arrive to put a stop to it. The battle is satisfying and yet still moves forward at a good pace, pausing only to give us insight on the combatants. Though some elements are a little hard to catch on a first read, John Barber’s contribution is really what the crossover has been lacking thus far.
Meanwhile the Dead Universe continues the slow burn strategy, but does it with tons of charm. Bringing back Nightbeat is a fun addition to this story and the whole sequence looks amazing. By the time the issue ends, this plotline has more than caught up with its Cybertronian counterpart and makes me very interested to see what comes next.
Honestly, it still feels a little like “Dark Cybertron” didn’t need to be as sprawling as it is, but this issue provides the necessary punch. The artists are well suited to their assignments and the writers seem much more in sync than in some previous issues. It’s taken a long time, but if you haven’t been keeping up with “Dark Cybertron”, this is probably the time to jump on.