IDW Publishing: "Hearts of Steel" #1

in 2006, Comic Book Review, Generation One

IDW Publishing

General Information:
Cover Price: $2.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Guido Guidi
Colors by: Jay Fotos
Letters by: Robbie Robbins
Edits by: Chris Ryall & Dan Taylor


Cover A Cover B Incentive Cover

Synopsis:
Ages ago the Autobots and Decepticons awoke on Earth, right at the dawn of a great ice age. They fought their wars disguised as the beasts of the day. However, low power reserves and the frigid temperatures soon drove the Autobots underground where they laid dormant for entire epochs.

Long after the ice age that drove them underground has passed, one of the Autobots awakens. It is Bumblebee, and as everyone else lays dormant, he goes to investigate strange noises coming from outside the cave. When he gets outside, he is surprised to discover men working on a railroad track! The entire world has changed, and he is fascinated by what he sees. Bumblebee watches as John Henry, a tall, powerful man drives spikes into the ground with the help of his two friends. John is a hard working man and clearly enjoys his work as he asks his friends to set up the spikes for him to hammer.

San Francisco Bay:
The steamship Enterprise carries two distinguised passengers: writers Mark Twain and Jules Verne. Both are waiting for something - and that something is a small vessel that breaks the surface of the water. A young man steps out as the captain of the ship and Verne look on astonished. Twain is not surprised as he had been expecting this. The young inventor named Tobias Muldoon. He proudly begins talking about his invention - until it sinks! He is rescued but the vessel crashes to the bottom of the bay - impacting several pods, one that is revealed to be holding the body of the Decepticon Skywarp!

Inside the Enterprise, Muldoon is dripping wet and his dreams crushed. He realizes his financers will now back out, and Twain and Verne are not much help.

Later that night, John Henry and his two friends are talking by the campfire. One speculates that a machine should do the job they do, but John will have none of it, indicating God gave him his powerful form for a reason and he will use it to do his work.

Unknown to the humans, they are being watched by Bumblebee, Ratchet and Prowl. The three agree that the world has come a long way, but Prowl and Ratchet don't think it is time to alert the humans to their presence yet. Bumblebee disagrees and before the two older Autobots can say anything, he's run off.

As Bumblebee stalks around gathering information, he manages to get a good look at a locomotive. When John and his friend Cletus come to investigate his presence (thinking he is just a large animal) he quickly reformats his form into a small locomotive. When John and Cletus see him, they are in awe and confused all at the same time.

Back at a hotel, Tobias is trying to explain to one of his financers (and his girlfriend) what happened to the submarine. The man gets angry and winds up having Tobias wash dishes in the hotel to make up for his loss! Humiliated, Tobias later walks around the docks alone - or so he thinks.

A strange voice asks him if he is a scientist and he confirms he is an inventor, familiar with the technology of the time. Suddenly the large ship in the dock transforms into Shockwave, who has an offer for Tobias that may change the Earth forever!

To Be Continued...

Story:
I would be remiss if I did not mention right off the bat that I had a severe bias against this series from its inception. This was not due to a lack of confidence in the concept or any of the writers/artists involved. Rather it is because I had proposed a similar idea to Hasbro in 2004, and at that time was told it was a bit too "far fetched" to work as a mainstream comic book. Of course, this was back when Dreamwave held the comic book license, and different people were in charge back then, but it still kind of irks me. For those who wish to read the story I had worked on with Bob Forward check out War of the Ages in my fan fiction section. That said, I was more than happy to welcome Chuck Dixon into the Transformers writing universe. I have enjoyed his work in the past on titles such as Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Catwoman. Guido Guidi's artwork is always welcome on a Transformers title, so I knew that if anything the book would look good.

The tale of the Autobots and Decepticons coming to Earth has been told (and retold) so many times that it can easily begin to feel stale after a while. Putting the Transformers in a different time frame is a fantastic way of giving us a new window into the world of the Transformers.

From the start this title grabs you. I think it was a fantastic idea to have had the Transformers fight right before the ice age. In many ways it shows what "Beast Wars" would have looked like with G1 era 'bots fighting. Thematically, this also gives us an interesting transition from a "savage" age into mankind's technological age. It helps to emphasize the extreme passage of time better than having the Transformers lay dormant for four million years.

The use of classic characters (both real and fictional) is a nice touch. It helps give the story a grounding in reality (to a degree). Mark Twain and Jules Verne are perhaps the most well known characters here. John Henry is perhaps the lesser known one, and to this day some debate whether he really existed. He was known as the "Steel drivin' man" and you can read more about this folklore figure here. I found Verne's appearance most appropriate considering his work in science fiction. It's obvious Tobias' sub is meant to serve as inspiration for his tale "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". If we go with real life publication dates and assume he has not yet written that tale, this story takes place some time before 1870. John Henry's story is often told as a tale illustrating technology's progress - a perfect theme to go with Transformers.

Quite a bit happens in this issue even though no battling occurs in the "present" day. We are introduced to a wide array of characters, some who have nothing to do with each other. Yet we know all their lives will converge at some point. I was happy to see Bumblebee in the spotlight here since he is my favorite Transformer. His youthful curiosity and impatience came through loud and clear here, and considering the Decepticons are already stalking about, his actions are not just amusing, they are critical if mankind is going to survive what is to come.

Artwork:

In the past few years, Transformers fans have been treated to seeing some of their favorite characters reinterpreted in new forms. "Hearts of Steel" gives long time artist Guido Guidi the chance to not only reinterpret the Transformers for one age, but two. While they only appear briefly, his "Beast" designs for the G1 Transformers is a joy to behold. In the first four pages alone we see radical takes on characters including: Ironhide, Prowl, Bluestreak, Bombshell, Snarl, Slag, Grimlock, Bumblebee, Blaster, Optimus Prime, Cliffjumper, Soundwave and Shrapnel. Many of these redesigns are quite original such as Starscream and Ironhide, who look almost nothing like their G1 incarnations (down to the color). However using small hints (head design, weapons) we see just enough to recognize them. On the other hand, I thought it was very cool to see Optimus Prime as a mammoth, a prehistoric take on the "Big Convoy" design.

Thanks to the cover designs and Shockwave's appearance, we also get a look at Bumblebee and Shockwave in 1800's inspired forms, and they look fantastic. Shockwave's robot mode shows all sorts of details such as gears, screws, bolts and cogs that all give him the appearance of a machine from that time. From the drawing of Bumblebee on the "Cover B" cover, it looks like he too will have similar details such as gears in the legs showing. I love this look and look forward to seeing how other characters translate into the "new" era of this comic.

Jay Fotos does an amazing job of coloring here. All the colors are muted throughout the issue, giving it the feel of an old film reel. Even though many of the Transformers are brightly colored, he brings their body tones down - which offers a wonderful effect when parts of them glow such as the image of Bumblebee, Ratchet and Prowl on page fifteen. Muted however does not mean dull. The scenes of the "beast" battles almost makes you feel cold with its white, light blue tones. The nighttime scenes look dark and mysterious. It's all about conveying mood, and Fotos does an excellent job across a spectrum of emotions.

Final Thoughts:
Despite my initial bias, I was hooked on this title from the first reading on. Several readings later and I am very eager to see future issues. The writing is fun and energetic and the artwork gives us a fresh look at the Transformers. Highly recommended!