IDW Publishing Spotlight #3 "Hot Rod"
Title: Transformers Spotlight: Nightbeat
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Written by: Simon Furman
Art by: Nick Roche
Colors by: Liam Shalldo
Letters by: Robbie Robins
Edits by: Dan Taylor
It's a moon that no one should be able to penetrate, but if there's an Autobot who will try, it's Hot Rod. Riding on a falling meteor, he has turned off all but his most essential systems to avoid detection. At the last second the Autobot jumps off, activates a null field and slams into the ground with sufficient force to knock him unconscious. While his body repairs itself, he slowly flashbacks to why he is here to begin with.
The story alternates back and forth as we flashback to the world of Ki-Aleta where Hot Rod led a group of Autobots to secure an artifact of great power known as "The Magnificence". This source is protected by ancient guardians seemingly made of stone called the Omega Guardians. With the team working together, they manage to get the artifact but are quickly found out. One by one the team members are destroyed except for Hot Rod himself and Dealer. Hot Rod manages to secure the artifact but not before Dealer is captured. Hot Rod makes a command decision and leaves, knowing he has abandoned a comrade.
With his decision haunting him to this day, Hot Rod breaks into a Decepticon prison camp to rescue Dealer. He succeeds but not everything is as it seems. When we finally meet Dealer again some time later, we discover he is really working for the Decepticon Banzaitron who now decides to call him Doubledealer!
"Hot Rod" really feels like a classic Simon Furman tale. There are so many elements in here that harken back to his early days on Marvel UK's Transformers title that I was smiling as I read this issue. It's not that these elements made me nostalgic, it's that they are all elements that work to make a good Transformers tale. The first part that I loved is the use of a team of characters who do not have action figures. Gizmo, Backbeat and Download are really cool looking characters who each present a bit of personality in their brief appearances. During the run of the UK comic book, Simon often used characters of his own creation, sometimes as major characters such as the original Wreckers leader, Impactor. Following this tradition is really cool to see.
Another fine tradition is the use of characters who got little to no air time in either the US comic books or television show. Here we see Doubledealer, Banzai-tron and Gutcruncher, all characters who came out in the latter half of Generation One. What surprised me was the use of "Dealer". The way the story went, I had suspected that Dealer would become the mercenary we know him as because of Hot Rod's actions making him bitter. Instead of taking this predictable direction, Simon delivers a better tale, making Dealer responsible for the failure of the mission to begin with! I enjoyed this twist a lot.
The focus is of course on Hot Rod and his mission. We see the brash, young cavalier that we have come to know and love (or in some cases, hate). However we also see there is a demon driving the young Autobot. It is often necessary for me to remind myself this Transformers universe is not the one we have seen before, but I cannot help but think that Hot Rod's lingering doubts regarding his Ki-Aleta mission will some day come back to haunt him if he ever takes on the Rodimus Prime mantle in this universe, even in a limited fashion. It offers a much deeper look at the character than simply "Rodimus is down all the time because of the responsibility". I did find the appearance of the artifact somewhat distracting as it bears some resemblance to the way the center of the Autobot Matrix looks, and I can't help but wonder if that's tied to Hot Rod somehow down the road and a potential Matrix induced growth spurt, but there I go impressing G1 factors into this story again!
Artist Nick Roche is no stranger to Transformers. What I paticularly enjoyed about this issue was the range it demonstrated with his artwork. Hot Rod's redesign for this universe is very curved and "human" looking. He exaggerates features on Hot Rod's face almost to the degree of an animated show like "Teen Titans". At the same time, he can design original characters very well. Looking at Gizmo or Download, you can almost see in your mind how they would work as transformable toys, and they each have very distinct and interesting designs. Then you have the likes of Banzai-tron and Gutcruncher, whom he manages to draw in a highly detailed, yet straightforward way to make them look just like their toy counterparts come to life.
The color work in this issue is excellent. Flashbacks are done in a brownish, muted style that fit not only the nature of the scenes but also the ancient world the Autobots go to in order to recover the artifact. The scenes on the Decepticon priosn moon are dark, gritty and full of shadows, just as they should be and finally when we see Dealer repaired, it's in the bright, neon lighting we would expect form a Cybertronian landscape. Overall the cbomination of styles works out very well to set the moods in the various parts of the story.
This is a fun issue that does not end so much as it gives us insight into characters in this "new" Transformers universe while also showing a very daring rescue mission and introducing us (briefly) to new characters. A very cool issue that deseves a read by any Transformers fan.