By: John Barber & James Roberts (writers), Andrew Griffith & Livio Ramondelli (artists), Josh Perez & Livio Ramondelli (colors)

The Story: Well That’s Just Prime or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Matrix.

The Review: As this issue opens, Iacon is infested with a death plague and Orion Pax finds himself at the mercy of Nova Prime. With only one-third of the crossover remaining, this would be a fine time for the climax to begin, or at least for things to finally start happening. Thankfully, that’s exactly what this issue provides, if not quite in the expected fashion.

This is probably the most exciting issue of “Dark Cybertron” so far, but it seems that no one told the writers. Though the content of the issue is a step above, the constant switching between settings feels more than a little artificial. Stepping away from the Orion/Nova showdown mid-punch is a strange choice, especially if it’s only to check in with Ultra Magnus. It also doesn’t help that the artists drawing the two halves of the book couldn’t be more different, but more on that later.

Barber and Roberts cushion the blow by having dialogue trail from one sequence into the next, however this technique is most effective when the dialogue comments on each scene differently and the issue is rather hit-and-miss in that regard.

Still, it should tell you something about this issue that it can grab your attention, even with some awkward stops and starts. A brief interlude with Starscream and Scoop helps to establish the stakes of this battle and remind us of the disadvantage our heroes face as they stare down Shockwave’s Necrotitan. The actual battle is mixed, with the scale simply too large for Ultra Magnus and Windblade to have an impact, but Bumblebee and Megatron make an amazing pair.

Now that the Lost Light crew has finally made its way home to meet the residents of John Barber’s Cybertron, it’s nearly impossible to tell where one writer ends and the other begins. Both of the writers’ voices are still present, but they do an impressive job of blending their strengths into a coherent whole.

But while City-bot combat is nothing to scoff at, the Cybertronian sequences are clearly second to those in the Dead Universe this month. With the final battle against IDW big bad, Nova Prime, drawing to a close, Orion Pax finds himself in a battle for his very identity.

Fight scenes, while fun, should always serve a role in the story beyond visual spectacle – just as all elements of a story should. In truth, the best battles are almost always a physical representation of a conflict of ideologies. Barber and Roberts clearly saw the value in this principle and Orion’s fight against Nova brings closure, not only to his arc since The Death of Optimus Prime, but also to plotlines that have been brewing since mid-2007!

The whole thing is quick to acknowledge just how literally it handles the issues at hand, but there’s a simple archetypal power to the conflict that reminds you that you are reading a comic about cross-dimensional hand-to-hand robotic warfare and that that deserves a “Hell Yeah” once in a while.

After an extended absence, Andrew Griffith returns to handle the Cybertron segments. A lot of artists have collaborated on “Dark Cybertron”, all of whom are very talented, but Griffith is a particularly welcome contributor. Griffith has always been adept at creating the illusion of life without clashing with the Transformers aesthetic. In fact, for better or worse, I think that Griffith might be the artist who has best captured the traditional Transformers feel in his artwork. He brings out what’s unique in a bot’s design and supports it with spot-on expressions and body language. Galvatron, Swerve, and Megatron are notable stand-outs. Even Whirl has expressions.

Combined with Josh Perez’s colors, the inhabitants of Cybertron are distinct and lively. It is worth mentioning that this is a necessity as many of Griffith’s panels are extremely busy. Part of this is simply the massive cast that the crossover has assembled, and many times the dense compositions come out looking great, but there are panels where things end up rather messy.

Griffith also runs into a common problem with city-bots, namely a difficulty presenting both their massive size and their movements. While the detail on Metroplex and the Necrotitan is extremely impressive, too often panels depicting them look static, and that detracts from the power of the fight.

Livio Ramondelli continues to nail the Dead Universe scenes. His hyperrealistic, highly dramatic style is a perfect fit for the mysterious dimension as well as the epic confrontation taking place within.

Last month I publicly wondered if Ramondelli and his writers weren’t being too conservative with his assignments, providing him highly similar conferences and dialogues to illustrate. Well, this issue certainly answers my question. Given the task of presenting the fight between Orion and Nova, Ramondelli proves that he can draw a battle. The combat is not especially fluid, but it’s surprisingly visceral. The blows are palpable and the dark and detailed artwork helps to highlight what a big deal it is when a component comes loose or a chassis chips.

While Ramondelli has translated his style toward combat admirably, certain elements don’t make the transition as well. There are still a lot of very tight shots, which don’t feel quite natural, and the obscuring quality of Ramondelli’s shadows can be felt quite a bit more keenly as you try to keep track of blows. I also don’t know if Ramondelli’s arrangements are the most effective. While the height of his panels varies, every one in this issue runs from one side of the page to the other. I wonder if there were better compositions for this scene.

But for any troubles in stylistic transition, the greater focus on Rodimus provides some of the best expression work I’ve seen from Ramondelli. He also does great work with transformations, if not the ones you might think. Their connection to the Dead Universe comes through clearly and helps one of the issue’s most complicated concepts read as a natural part of the story.

The Conclusion: “Dark Cybertron” has been a somewhat underwhelming event thus far, but this ninth chapter finally starts to turn things around. Of course, in doing so, it admits that the first three fourths of this crossover were sacrificed for what remains. That’s undeniably disappointing, but it does provide hope that this story will find some kick in its final month.

Orion’s inner turmoil and Megatron’s plan provide two exciting stories and a sense of real plot progression makes the issue particularly engaging. Griffith and Ramondelli are two of the best TF artists that IDW has and their skills are on clear display.

I still find the smaller, more character driven stories that Barber and Roberts were telling more interesting, but RiD #26 is a classic Transformers storytelling presented beautifully. The other “Dark Cybertron” issues wish they were this good.

Grade: B-

A Thought:

  • While teasers from IDW have informed us that Optimus and Megatron will be returning to the Transformers brand after prolonged absence, this issue is really the first story in a long while to feature both of them prominently. Looking at the percentage of significant actions that the pair take, I’m excited to see them return, but I also hope that Barber and Roberts will continue to focus on bots who don’t see the spotlight quite as often.

-Noah Sharma