A follow up to last year’s fantastic Transformers: Punishment, Transformers: Redemption represents one of IDW’s first true Transformers one-shots since they began their “Phase 2” initiative. Focused on the fan-favorite Dinobots, Redemption earns its independence from the line’s ongoing titles, brining in a new cast and a different sensibility.

There’s no use in being coy; Redemption doesn’t recapture the magic of Punishment.The story is more focused in its scope but it doesn’t make the same use of its 48 pages as its predecessor. The biggest problems for the one-shot is its somewhat episodic plotting and the lack of character development for most of its cast.

Despite ostensibly starring the Dinobots, this is really Slug’s show. In many ways this is nothing new, but with the spotlight so clearly on him, it would have been nice to share a little more. Despite the potential of a Dinobot-centric story, likely a contender for the next  most plausible ongoing series, Redemption follows tradition and gives the commander all of its attention with a small part for sociable Swoop. Fans of Sludge and Snarl will walk away disappointed and those who haven’t kept up will be sad to hear that Grimlock is busy over in Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye. There’s also not a terrible amount of time given to Barricade, a breakout debut from Punishment, or his Camien associates. Barricade and Swift are rather devoured by their budding relationship and the other newcomer, Strafe, gets only light development.

All that being said, you can definitely see evidence of the kind of skill Barber brought to Punishment in Slug’s inner monologue, even if it is a little more loosely connected in this case. Punishment was not kind to the Dinobots. It’s definitely nice to hear their side of the story and see Barber giving them their own morality. Admittedly they can get a little bro-y at times, but even if the water’s aren’t necessarily still, they do hide some monsters in their depths.

You also can’t say that this is a throwaway story. It absolutely is not and one would expect that its ramifications, will be felt on Cybertron for a long time, possibly even before we get any follow up with our primary cast.

Even so, it does feel like the story is treading water a bit, with too much time spent fighting off vague and unthreatening enemies. Once the convoy leaves Iacon things feel rather repetitive and the stakes remain rather low until near the end of the book. You can’t really bring the Dinobots into play and expect readers to fear for them when you’re pitting them against turbofoxes, after all.

So unfortunately there is one last weakness in this story and that’s the villain. While our antagonist answers the need for a threat that could realistically give a Dinobot a run for their shanix, he doesn’t have much in the way of depth. A mention of mad science isn’t enough to grant the classic villain a stage presence, especially as he’s always been more of a religious character,

The art is essentially just what you’d expect. I don’t think Livio Ramondelli has ever turned in artwork that isn’t stunning in its detail and force and he hasn’t started here. Ramondelli was the obvious choice for this issue, as the artist of Punishment, but Cybertron’s primitive wastelands are a fantastic fit for him. His murky, ominous compositions are perfect for the Sea of Rust and the back-alley dealings of Iacon, while the desolate expanse of Preatorus Wharf shows off his ability with subtle strokes. Indeed, especially in this latter scene, Ramondelli’s skill with color is a particular strength of the issue. I also can’t deny that Ramondelli has a knack for the horrific and that comes into play in a pretty big way as the story nears its conclusion.

Despite his natural affinity for the content, Ramondelli’s usual weaknesses are definitely in play. Between stunningly grand images, there are often panels that are either stiff or unclear. Barricade is unfortunately a design that seems to bring this out. While Ramondelli has undeniable talent as a storyteller, his strength is more consistent in single images than in interpanel motion.

Some (Spoilery) Thoughts:

  • While it’s a purely personal judgement and , this story brings back one of my least favorite plot points in recent Transformers comics, the Dinobots’ transformation in Transformers: Monstrosity. The idea that the Dynobots had beast modes, especially beast modes that closely resembled their eventual dinosaur modes, was already an awkward retcon but it also felt very unoriginal to me and replaced the Dynobots’ joyful violence with tired angst. Reintroducing Monstrosity into the main continuity therefore doesn’t do much for me, though a second retcon about what actually changed the Dynobots is pretty clever if we’re expected to belief that they just happened to wind up with saurian alt-modes.
  • I also admit that I’m a little bummed about another related element of the story. I actually think that giving fans a female Dinobot is fan-service genius. Of course, we’ve seen how new additions to the group have failed before, but there’s definitely a greater sense of the status quo already being in flux here. Still, despite my desire to be on board with this, I really wish that they had gone with a different alt-mode. Obviously Barber and Ramondelli wanted to reference Transformers: Age Of Extinction’s Strafe, but I so wish they’d gone with a Scorn instead. Now that it’s been established that Trypticon’s energon grants saurian beast modes, it would have been awesome to get something like the new, monstrous Ibrahim/Sereno Spinosaur reconstruction. It just feels like if the team wanted to introduce a new Dinobot it would have been wiser to have a Dinobot alt-mode. Well worse comes to worse, I’m sure she and Sinnertwin would make a cute couple.

Grade

B-

Conclusion

Most of Transformers: Redemption’s cast are fairly simplistic, and that deprives it of the character relationships that have been the core of many of John Barber’s Transformer gems. The middle of the issue drags a bit and the art isn’t always clear enough, but it manages to hang in there through the strength of our lead and a feeling of scope. At its best, Redemption is a very strong book, but there’s a lack of consistency that keeps it from being a sure thing and the $8 price tag could hold some readers back. In the end, the book makes some big changes to the Cybertronian setting and sets up for some promising stories, but, in itself, it’s going to be a matter of taste.