IDW Publishing: "Transformers '84 #0" Comic Book Review
Title: "Transformers '84"
Cover Price: $4.99
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publishing Date: August 21, 2019
Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: Guido Guidi
Colors: John-Paul Bove
Letterer: Tom B. Long
Editor: David Mariotte and Tom Waltz
Special thanks to IDW Publishing for providing a copy of this comic book for review.
Spoiler Alert: The review below is mostly spoiler free, however the "Continuity and Story Notes" section is filled with spoilers. Be warned!
When The Transformers was published by Marvel Comics in the 80's, it was a different time for the franchise. The very concept of a bunch of robots turning into other things was fairly new (though not exclusive to Transformers) and Hasbro and Marvel needed to quickly lay down a story that kids (and older readers) could understand right away. This led to a very black and white story, where the heroic Autobots were in a running battle with the evil Decepticons. This story was told in both the comic books and cartoon, leading the foundation of what we see to this day. Even the current Cyberverse has shades of this tale including a crashed Ark and Megatron's forces chasing the Autobots to Earth.
Fast forward to thirty five years later, and the tale of the Transformers has been told (and retold) and recycled dozens of times into many iterations. Some lean towards younger fans, others towards older ones. What has happened through all this is an addition of nuance to the Transformers story. What is rare however is going back in time and adding nuance to a story told in the 80's. That is what "Transformers '84 #0" attempts to do.
Set in two different time frames (possibly a third), a mysterious figure tells us the story behind the story of the launching if The Ark as depicted in the first issue of the Marvel Comic book series from the 80's. Long time fans will know that we were shown a war torn Cybertron hurtling towards a field of space debris that would devastate the planet more than the Great War between the Autobots and Decepticons. The Ark was launched to deal with the threat, clearing a path for Cybertron to continue its journey through the universe. However, this issue seeks to tell the other side of the story that was not revealed in that issue. We learn that The Ark was not only launched to deal with the threat to Cybertron, but also (SPOILER ALERT) to lure Megatron off the planet so the Autobots will have a fighting chance to defeat the Decepticons on their homeworld.
This adds a very dark layer to Optimus Prime in particular, who recruits the Autobot double agent Punch to assist him in this "shadow mission". Not only does Punch play a role in ensuring the Decepticons take the bait, he also shows up millions of years later on Earth to ensure The Ark is not uncovered by either Autobots or Decepticons! This means deceiving the very Autobots he leads onto The Ark (including characters like Ironhide and Jazz, two of his most trusted warriors). While this action can easily be interpreted as a very cold blooded (fueled?) action on Prime's part, I think it is more of a move of total desperation. This is an Optimus Prime who has decided he simply cannot win the war on Cybertron and the only move he has left is to remove not only Megatron, but himself from the equation.
The really tragic part of this tale is that despite the events of this issue, Optimus Prime's plans do not lead to Autobot victory on Cybertron, nor does it succeed in destroying Megatron. The Autobots and Decepticons on The Ark do wake up millions of years after their crash with the war beginning anew. If you take the "ReGeneration One" continuity into account, the story ends in terrible tragedy on Earth with dire consequences for the human race. If you stop considering Marvel continuity with the Generation 2 run, the story is a bit more hopeful, but there is a lot of death and destruction before Megatron's rampage is stopped. Either way, Megatron does rise again, just in a different place.
Making things a bit worse, Cybertron never really does fully go back to the Autobots. As we see in issues of G1 where we return to Cybertron, the Autobots were reduced to fighting a guerilla style war against the Decepticons, who clearly still held major power on the planet. While the Decepticons did not fully rule the planet, the world was still a nightmarish shell of its former self.
In many respects, this issue is a very dark shadowing of grey over the more black and white story told in "The Transformers #1" back in 1984. On top of that it also adds a very thick layer of tragedy. The war that tore Cybertron apart was bad enough on its own, but knowing that Optimus Prime had this grand plan that really amounted to failure really speaks to the futility of war as a whole and the desperate measures that are taken to win it.
There is a "B" story in this issue that deals with Fastlane and Cloudraker attempting to find The Ark on Earth 900 years ago. Also in pursuit are the Decepticon Clones and Duocons. This is the most action packed part of the issue, featuring lots of transforming and good old fashioned Transformers action. In this respect this issue does serve as a throwback to 1984. Writer Simon Furman even works in the special abilities of the weapons wielded by the Autobot Clones. It is fun seeing so many of the characters released in 1987 in an issue together, and it is even more fun if you consider all these characters have had a new version introduced in Generations in the past four or so years. For me this was the most fun part of the issue and where it truly felt like a "missing story" from the 80's. I do have additional thoughts about this "B" story and how it relates to the G1 "Man of Iron" story, but see the "Story and Continuity Notes" section below for them as they involve spoilers.
The artwork in this issue is absolutely outstanding. Every page is filled with gorgeous, retro-styled artwork. The original Marvel Comics had a very specific style that often riffed off the toy designs and Sunbow animation models. Due to the intense monthly schedule the original book fell under, sometimes shortcuts would be taken in the art or there would be outright errors made. Artist Guido Guidi manages to take the style of the Marvel title and refine it. The result is a feast for the eyes. Guidi even replicates a few panels from "The Transformers #1" and it is a treat to see them given the modern art and color treatment. His action scenes are full of energy and careful attention is even given to nameless background characters.
Like Guidi's pencil and ink work, colorist John-Paul Bove manages to evoke a color style that looks like it came right out of the 80's. The colors on many panels are more muted, leaning more towards lighter shades of everything from blues to brown colors. There is also liberal use of a single color to paint background buildings or characters, a style that is not used much in comics anymore. There is also the occasional use of Ben-Day Dots, which really brings me back to the 80's! The brightness and richness of the colors in this book are really a stark contrast to many modern day comic books and the book is much better for having them.
"Transformers '84 #0" is both a throwback to another era of Transformers comic books and a modern day style Transformers tale all wrapped up in one. The "A" story is very dark and tragic and the "B" story has some interesting high points but also winds up being dark in the end. If you were looking for a more upbeat or silly story, temper your expectations. This story is less "Car Wash of Doom" and more along the lines of the "Return to Cybertron" two part series (without the hopeful ending). Some fans will love this, others will find it a downer. Personally I find it to be a fascinating experiment in revisiting another time but with darker themes. Between the story and the amazing artwork, this issue was well worth the read. Recommended!
Story and Continuity Notes (SPOILER WARNING):
- John-Paul Bove makes it a point to give characters their distinctive G1 Marvel Comic book colors. A perfect example is Perceptor, who has a blue face in the beginning of the book. Neither the cartoon or toy had this, but he did appear that way in the 80's comic book.
- Micromasters appear to be assisting with the construction of The Ark, but in the G1 Marvel Comics continuity, the Micromaster technology would not be developed until millions of years after this issue (specifically in the story "A Small War!". That said, none of the specific Micromasters shown in that issue appear here, so maybe these are just smaller Autobots who are not specifically Micromasters?
- The mention of Stansham Castle and the year 1017 both directly tie this story to the G1 "Man of Iron" story, the implication being that Fastlane and Cloudraker were the Autobots shown in that story, with Fastlane specifically being the "Man of Iron" while Cloudraker was dormant inside the Autobot ship. However, going along with this story requires throwing out some of what happened in "Man of Iron". You have to first dismiss how "Man of Iron" was drawn. In the original story, both Autobots were a mash up of Megatron and Jazz's G1 bodies with different heads. They looked nothing like Fastlane and Cloudraker in form or color. Sure they could have used the CR Chamber to change their bodies but...why would they?
- If indeed the "Man of Iron" story is to be taken as historical fact, then this issue likely takes place outside of the "ReGeneration One" continuity. In that continuity, both Fastlane and Cloudraker participate in battles. However, the "Man of Iron" story clearly shows both characters being destroyed.
- Ultra Magnus references Optimus Prime wearing "The Visor", which is a fun way to call back to Optimus Prime being drawn with visor eyes instead of his regular "normal" eyes in early issues of the Marvel comic.
- Wingspan's apparent death in this issue also bolsters the theory that this issue is set outside the "ReGenerations One" continuity and instead likely follows its own or the one that led to "Generation 2". In "ReGeneration One", Pounce and Wingspan are both alive and appear at least twice in that series.
- Hound's reference to "Golden Disks" is a nice callback to the significance of Golden Disks in "Beast Wars".
- This was only Punch's second appearance in a Marvel Comics continuity story. His first was a brief appearance in "ReGeneration One", though that appearance is likely out of continuity for this book.