Retrospective: IDW Transformers

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Posted on: December 24th, 2011

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In a recent interview former Transformers ongoing scribe Mike Costa angered much of the fanbase with a number of select comments that seemed unnecessarily venomous. As much as I lost a certain amount of respect for the man (I was no fan of his ongoing but I had no personal dislike of him) he did have a valid point when he said that Transformer comics tend only to be bought by Transformer fans and are largely ignored and in some cases looked down upon by general comic book fans.

I have to agree with that statement. Case in point: I am a Transformers fan and until recently (thanks to the New 52 from DC and the new Ultimate Comics from Marvel) I only ever bought Transformer comics aside from a trade paperback collection here and there. Conversely I have friends who are huge comic fans and have no interest in the Transformer comic property at all. I admit that this is a grand generalistion and that there are people out there who are both huge comic fans and huge Transformers fans, but I still feel that for the most part its a valid point.

With the release of Transformer: Death Of Optimus Prime this week by IDW marks the start of a new era in Transformers comics that most certainly has the potential to pull the franchise kicking and screaming out of the niche category that it finds itself in. But before we look forward to what might lie ahead let us take a slight pause to look back at how we got where we are…

 

The Furman Era

Make no mistake about it, IDW have not met with overwhelming approval from the fanbase with regards to how they have handled the Transformers comic property. It all started off well enough with the hiring of the godfather of Transformers himself, Simon Furman to write what could best be described as “Ultimate Transformers”. The long time Transfomer scribe took the characters and concepts that are familiar to all Transformer fans and put a completely new spin on things. The oft quoted ‘Robots in Disguise’ tagline became valid again as the Autobots used covert tactics to monitor Decepticon activity on Earth and other planets.

So important a factor was this in the new universe created by Furman that at one point poor medical bot Ratchet was reprimanded at the hands of tactician Prowl for breaking cover. The -ation series (so named thanks to the title of each mini series – Infiltration, Devastation, Escalation, Revelation) was generally well received and enjoyed by the fans. The art by EJ Su even developed its own movement amongst readers as everyone and their granny tried to create ‘-ation’ versions of characters that had not yet been featured in the books.

Some fans believe that the manner in which the -ation series was concluded marked the beginning of bad times for the property. After three miniseries (not counting a forth story set exclusively on the Transformers home world of Cyberton which told of how millenia of war had made the planet inhospitable as well as a number of excellent one shot spotlight issues) Furman was given four single shot issues to tie up one portion of his overall story plus a final mini series to tie up the other. Needless to say that regardless of why this came to be many fans were not happy by the conclusion of what was considered a fresh and exciting take on the franchise.

 

 All Hail McCarthy

The -ation series made way for the overlong All Hail Megatron saga penned by scribe Shane McCarthy. If ever a comic could be described as marmite this was it. The fanbase went crazy at each other and everyone involved in the production of the series as loyalties were split over how they felt it was handled. On a personal note I enjoyed elements of what McCarthey tried to achieve and the artwork by veteran TF artist Guido Guidi made it a little easier to want to keep reading however for the most part this writer feels that it failed to reach its potential.

All Hail Megatron opens in New York city with an all out invasion by Megatron and his Earth based army. It is soon explained that the Autobots are no longer around to keep things in check and the Decpticons are able to easily overwhelm and defeat the US Military forces sent to stop them. Readers hoped to see how the Decepticons reacted having won the years long war but events focused mostly on the Autobots and revolved heavily around the “will he live or won’t he” status of Optimus Prime. Further there was confusion over whether or not this was a continuation of the preceding series, a reboot or something different altogether. Whatever the case All Hail Megatron included narrative threads that outright ignored some of the previous continuity while shoehorning in other elements in what appeared to be a back handed attempt to please the fans.

It did not help that the character designs here did not match those of Furmans run, designs which were met with much delight. Not to take away from Guidi whose artwork along with Josh Burchams colours lifted the title a few pegs above what it might have been but all of the major Transformer characters that had toys at the time all received redesigns based on said toys. The Transformers fanbase can be a fickle one and this sudden change in aesthetic did not sit well with them. To this day fans still do not know why Starscream and the Decepticon Seekers downgraded from F22 fighter jets to older F15s. Fickle, you see!

During this time McCarthy took the opportunity to introduce a character of his own creation, the infamous Drift. Again many fans complained that with a back catalogue of literally hundreds of characters to choose from McCarthy could have used one of those. What further enraged them was the nature of the Drift character, a faction-less, sword weilding nomad with a mysterious past and skills better than most others. Drifts past was explored in what turned out to be an interesting miniseries and went a long way toward redeeming both McCarthy and his creation in the process. With art duties by the excellent Alex Milne it certainly made its way into my collection.

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