IDW Publishing "Spotlight Thundercracker" Comic Book Review
Title: "The Hunting Party"
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publishing Date: January 15, 2013
Written by: John Barber
Pencils by: Chee
Inks by: Juan Castro
Colors by: Ronda Patterson
Letters by: Shawn Lee
Edits by: Carlos Guzman
Editorial Assistant: Thomas Boeing
Long ago in space, the Decepticon vessel Emperion is on the hunt. Captained by Bludgeon, part of the crew led by Thundercracker and Blitzwing have decimated a settlement in an asteroid field. There, Thundercracker finds a piece of metal that leads to a hunch of their prey's location. Their pray is elusive and old: the titan known as Metroplex!
Little do the Decepticons know, they are being stalked by a small Autobot ship with Bumblebee, Nightbeat and Jetfire onboard. They follow the ship to a planetoid with a small colony of about 10,000 people on it. Bludgeon orders an all out annihilation of the colony. Thundercracker protests, but it is a matter of Decepticon policy so Bludgeon's orders stand.
The Autobots see what is happening and watch as the Emperion deploys Blitzwing, Thundercracker, Waspinator, Barrage, Chop Shop and Venom. Bumblebee decides they have to try to stop the Decepticons themselves. They're way too far out to request back up, so they're on their own.
As Thundercracker descends on the colony, he deliberately makes a warning pass to scare the colonists, hoping they will go inside. Thundercracker's agenda is not destruction like his fellow Decepticons, he just wants to find Metroplex! However, the colonists just scatter and become easy targets. Thundercracker leaves them to their fate and decides to head underground to find his target. Before Waspinator can join him as backup, he gets blasted by the Autobots coming down from the sky! The Autobots crash their shuttle into the Emperion, causing the ship to begin to fall apart.
The Autobots fight hard to protect the colonists, who huddle together in vain hopes of finding safety. Nightbeat tells Bumblebee that he saw Thundercracker go underground and Bumblebee gives chase.
Underground, Thundercracker is in disbelief as he stands before his prey: Metroplex! The titan is asleep, slowly absorbing the energy found underground on this planetoid. Before he can decide what to do, Bumblebee charges in and the two begin to battle. When Bumblebee is struck several times by Thundercracker's weapons, a colonist leaps to his defense! Thundercracker is affected deeply by this, and it helps him come to the realization that he did not want Bludgeon and his crew to find Metroplex!
As Bumblebee helps the colonist climb out of the cave, Thundercracker transforms and leaves, causing energy to splash onto Metroplex. The giant awakens - and promtply teleports away to parts unknown!
As the Autobots settle in to wait for rescue, the Decepticons fly away without a ship. Bludgeon tells Thundercracker to return to the battlefront while he and the remaining crew continue their search for Metroplex. Deep down inside, Thundercracker is relieved, but still unsure of what he is looking for...
Thundercracker is one of the more interesting Decepticons from Generation One, but for a long time his role was relegated to being a thug. To quote from his G1 tech specs "Not totally convinced of the Decepticons' cause, but they've persuaded him to continue battling the Autobots.". Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his dedication or a description of a fanatical Decepticon. IDW has done some neat stuff with this, partly by having Thundercracker largely follow his own path and not just be another mindless drone. This tale shows us that his doubts began long before the conflict on Earth, and in a way I almost feel sorry for the character in the sense that he was literally conflicted for millions of years and just kept plugging away blowing stuff up because frankly, he didn't know what else to do or what he really wanted. In heavy contrast, Blitzwing offers up his reason for joining the Decepticon army: to kill Autobots. That's a sharp contrast to draw with Thundercracker and this issue does a good job of getting it out of the way early in the issue but couching it in dialogue in a way that makes it seem like regular banter/complaining. Nicely done.
On the other side of the fence, I found it interesting that once again Bumblebee was in the "lead" position. I'm still so used to him being the "youngest" of the Autobots and the happy go lucky kind of guy that seeing him in a leadership role is odd to me. That said, he does his best here and seems to be the only Autobot of the three that clearly defines what needs to be done and improvises on the rest. In a way, I wish we saw more of this Bumblebee in the current "Robots in Disguise" title.
Going back to Thundercracker, I found his actions really interesting once he found Metroplex. It seemed the mere sight of the titan was somehow a reminder that there is much more to the universe than him. His realization that he didn't want Bludgeon to find Metroplex is fascinating, but a bit vague. I am okay with that since this is Thundercracker from the past, when he was still figuring a lot out. Clearly by the time he comes to Earth, he's still a Decepticon but far more conflicted about his cause.
The only weakness in the story, and I admit I'm nit picking a bit is the hunt to begin with. Just what did Bludgeon think he would do once he found Metroplex? Ask him nicely to hang out? Have him join the Decepticons "just because"? It's not like he could strong arm a titan who could have probably destroyed the Emperion with one shot from his cannons. It seemed like a flawed plan from the beginning, though they could have had some gee whiz bang device to stop him and we just never got to see it.
Of course, this story is not about the logistics of restraining a titan, it's about Thundercracker and his conflict with his own kind so in that respect, it succeeds.
I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the surprising appearance of Waspinator as an Insecticon. I guess if you had to shoehorn a "Beast Wars" character in, he's an ideal choice. Waspinator is almost universally loved among fans of "Beast Wars" and his appearance made sense alongside other "Insecticons". I'm glad his appearance was brief however, as he could have easily stolen the spotlight (heh) from Thundercracker. Indeed, I kind of want a "Spotlight Waspinator" issue now just to see what the deal is with this guy in this universe. It also opens up the intriguing question of whether we'll be seeing other "Beast Wars" characters turn up in the IDW universe!
I'm of two minds on the artwork in this issue. My initial reaction was very positive. There's a graininess to the art that recalls some of the earlier days of the Marvel "Generation One" title. Unlike most comics nowadays, this doesn't look like animation screen captured onto a page (not that there's anything wrong with that, it just doesn't have that look). The way many of the panels are inked and shaded (such as the asteroid and the "flashback" shot of Metroplex) are very dark and imperfect, something that appeals to me, probably because I grew up on it.
Another interesting aspect of Chee's artwork is the lack of consistency. Modern comic book art tries to be as consistent panel to panel as possible. This is a good thing as sometimes inconsistent art leads to difficulty identifying characters or figuring out what's going on in the panels. In this case, neither of those issues come up, however his character designs for the Transformers are definitely not consistent in proportion. I don't think this is a series of errors, rather it's a stylistic choice. One example is the panel where the Autobots are firing at the Decepticons from the air. Bumblebee's feet look absolutely gigantic compared to the rest of him. In another example, Thundercracker's head keeps changing size in proportion to the rest of his body. Being a stylistic choice, I find it appealing in a very retro sort of way. I guess the word would be "charming", however I can see how this type of art would be a big turn off for some fans who demand consistency panel to panel with clean, sharply defined shapes on their robots.
I did find design choice a bit confounding. Metroplex's chest halves are clearly designed to be separate pieces. One becomes a big ramp and the other has two sections, one with a dual barreled cannon and the other with missile pods. However, the way he is drawn here differs quite a bit from his other appearances, with generic lines on his chest similar to those on an office building. It made him a bit less distinctive looking (but no less grand) in my book. It's especially odd when you consider in the panel with the other "titans" they are all drawn correctly. My conjecture is that this was done to distinguish Metroplex from his brethren, but why? It seemed an unnecessary change.
Despite my seemingly relentless nit picking above, I did enjoy "Spotlight: Thundercracker". It's worth a read, but has some oddities that I just couldn't let go.