By: John Barber (writer), Andrew Griffith (art), Josh Perez and Joana Lafuente (colors)
The Story: Optimus Prime returns to Earth to find his insistence that “Autobots wage their battles to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons” is not a good enough excuse, not to mention an increasingly hard one to make.
The Review: While it’s not the way that all interpretations have gone, I’ve always seen the Transformers as being something of an inherently progressive premise. After all, the basic conceit of the franchise is that this race of technologically advanced aliens have destroyed their planet through overuse of its natural resources and now must protect humanity from about as literal a representation of a military-industrial complex as you can get and prevent him from killing our planet as well. It may not be accurate to link those values to any one political party, but I think it’s safe to say that Transformers has always valued the consideration of how your actions affect others. Though these themes have been downplayed a little as the story shifted to a newly revitalized Cybertron, a return to Earth brings them back to the fore. As Prowl puts it, “”Cleaning up our messes” has always been a defining Cybertronian trait.”
Flashing back and forth between the immediate aftermath of “Dark Cybertron” and six months later, John Barber sets about detailing the series’ new status quo. The cast is very much different, with one protagonist dead and the other back on Cybertron things have to change for this title, but Barber’s work with Prowl, Jazz, and Orion Pax keeps it feeling like the same book. It’s too early to tell which characters will rise to prominence but it seems clear that Barber has plans for these three, debatably three of the five most prominent 1984 Autobots – Ironhide and Bumblebee being the missing two.
The rest of the cast is made up of slightly smaller names, 86 movie characters like Kup and Arcee, and comfortably middle-tier G1 Transformers, like Sky Lynx, Cosmos, and Jetfire. Interestingly, about half of the crew of the Ark-7 seem to be a separate unit under Prowl’s command. You can believe that that tension will bear some interesting fruit.
While RiD is broadly concerned with examining the changes to Earth and the Autobots, Barber spends plenty of time introducing and endearing us to the new cast. Prowl’s single-mindedness clashes humorously with Cosmos’ crippling loneliness and Sideswipe’s eager nature. At times gags overstay their welcome, as with Cosmos’ need for social iteration or Thundercracker’s high opinion of himself. At others we’re told a bit too much and shown a bit too little. Nevertheless the characterization is generally quite solid.
Two of my favorite exchanges feature Prowl, Barber’s admitted favorite; the first is an ominous exchange with Arcee, the other a fascinating meeting between he and Starscream. Barber clearly loves these characters and knows them inside and out. Readers who have been following Barber’s work will appreciate when Starscream mentions that “my friends tell me that your head is the best part about you, Prowl” while anyone familiar with the Seeker turned politician’s M.O. will see the writing on the wall when Starscream admits that he and Prowl aren’t actually that similar and that Prowl is just “second banana” to a leader with an outdated philosophy.”
Speaking of Seekers, Thundercracker returns to TF after a long absence and immediately steals the show. The Decepticon traitor has been granted amnesty and makes for an interesting third-party in a war that’s supposed to be over. It’s easy and gratifying to laugh at his questionable writing skills, but like the best of his archetype it’s also easy to relate to him. He even has a dog!
Andrew Griffith is back on art duties, bringing his strong storytelling and grasp of the Transformers aesthetic with him. As is perhaps appropriate for the series return to “Eart”, the designs in this season premiere are looking a little more movie-inspired than we’ve previously seen, full of expanding panels and other tricks towards the goal of ‘realism’. As ever Griffith has a knack for drawing dramatic poses in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural and drawing emotion out of even the most opaque faces. Cosmos’ design doesn’t leave a lot of room for expression but without even changing the shape of his visor, Griffith gets very different feelings from him over the course of his talk with Prowl.
While there’s some great work here, this is honestly not the best I’ve seen from Griffith. While Thundercracker is particularly well rendered, the crew from Cybertron aren’t quite as lively as they were before “Dark Cybertron”. It’s one of those moments where there isn’t necessarily that much wrong, it’s just that there’s less of what was right. That said, Griffith doesn’t mesh as well as he usually does with Josh Perez and the desaturated colors of Joana Lafuente’s flashback, while fine in theory, lose some of Griffith’s energy in practice.
This issue is also unique for reintroducing humans to the RiD cast, one very popular human, to be precise. While I love the expressions that Griffith gives our human host and the subdued way he draws her body, her face is a little lumpy. Even in panels where that’s less of an issue, her lips are often very large and her eyes somewhat beady. It’s hardly a crippling weakness, but at the moment it looks like Griffith’s humans aren’t quite up to the same standards that his robots are.
The Conclusion: Robots in Disguise returns for a second season with a slightly more traditional bent and a desire to find new story possibilities hiding within it. The book is much funnier than it has been since I started reviewing it and the characters are brighter and more hopeful. Still, the promise of the series’ trademark political maneuvering lurks behind every turn. Indeed, an impressive double twist does a fantastic job of capitalizing on the issue’s demonstration of Barber’s character dynamics.
The art seems to be incorporating small elements of the Transformers Ongoing, and Andrew Griffith proves that he’s more than capable of handling the new designs. His compositions are still strong and the world he creates remains an eminently believable Transformers, perfectly in tune with the franchise as a whole. Though his humans can’t quite match his robot work and he’s not quite at his best this go around, readers will walk away from this book happy for his presence.
John Barber creates a fascinating new world from the entirety of IDW’s time with the brand, full of intrigue, humor, and heart. His bots have an imperfection, an awkwardness, that makes them feel like real people rather than mere automatons. The war is grander here on earth, but the subtlety and character that defined this series’ first season is alive and well.
- I can’t help but notice that the earthbound Prowl has taken no less than three space-worthy Autobots, perhaps some of the only three, even poaching one from the crew of the Lost Light. While I can’t complain about seeing more of the GLORIOUS Sky-Lynx, it does seem an odd allocation of resources. Perhaps they have a part to play in his plans or perhaps he just doesn’t trust Megatron with that capability.
- SPOILERS – It appears that EDC and Director Faireborn aren’t fans of Megatron, accusing Optimus Prime of “[allying] with the alien murderer called Megatron.” While that’s more than reasonable and actually ignores many Autobot offenses, it seems very strange to find out she’s allied with Galvatron and Megs’ former troops within a few breaths.