"Transformers #1" Synopsis & Review
Ben’s World of Transformers would like to thank Skybound for providing BWTF.COM with a review copy of this issue.
This review will have full spoilers for issue #1 of Skybound’s Transformers title. If you prefer to remain spoiler free please read the issue before reading this review.
When most people think of Transformers media it is likely their thoughts go to cartoons and/or the live action movies that started in 2007. However, there is a long and rich history of Transformers comic books. In 1984, Marvel Comics published the first Transformers comic book which ran for 80 issues in the United States until its cancellation in 1991. The title would later return as Generation 2 which only lasted 12 issues.
In time, other companies would take on the Transformers license including the long defunct Dreamwave and most recently IDW Publishing. When IDW Publishing lost the Transformers license in 2022, much speculation emerged online about just who would take on the license (if anyone). Finally in June 2023 it was revealed that Skybound would be taking over the license and using it as part of its new “Energon Universe”. The first issue of this new Transformers series was released on October 4, 2023.
Spike is a young man who has seen loss with the death of his brother, Jimmy. However he chooses to move forward in life while his father, “Sparky” drowns his sorrows before going to work. Spike later meets up with his friend Carly to look at the stars at a nearby mountain. Before they can finish setting up, a giant section of the mountain opens up to reveal the remains of a gigantic spaceship! The two humans head inside to discover what looks like a graveyard of robots.
Soon, the Cybertronian known as Jetfire arrives and activates the computer Teletraan-1 which begins repairing the damaged Transformers inside, starting with Starscream! When Starscream blasts the fallen Bumblebee in the head, Jetfire is shocked, unaware that while he has been away from Cybertron a terrible civil war has been raging on the planet. When he protests, Starscream shoots him as well! Soon Optimus Prime and Ratchet are revived and a battle ensues as Soundwave and Skywarp also emerge from their slumber. The Autobots are outgunned so they load up their fallen comrades in Optimus Prime’s trailer and escape with the humans in tow.
The Decepticons try to pursue the Autobots but only Starscream has enough Energon to truly give chase. When Jetfire tries to help the Autobots, Starscream shoots him down, gravely wounding him. The Decepticon falls back when he realizes he is alone. The Decepticons agree that he needs to go and retrieve parts and power otherwise they will not be able to revive the other Decepticons.
Elsewhere, Optimus, Ratchet and the humans hide out in an old quarry where Jetfire apologizes for not saving Cybertron before he (presumably) dies.
Meanwhile, Starscream attacks the power plant where Sparky works. The workers flee but he manages to get his hands on one of them and proceeds to crush him to death!
To Be Continued…
With literally decades of lore, expectations and baggage, it is very hard to not make a lot of assumptions whenever reading a Transformers comic starting over in a new continuity. This comic book clearly takes direct inspiration from the G1 television show including the design of the ship (presumably the Ark, but it is never called out by name) and the character models for the Transformers themselves. However, there are a lot of differences between the traditional G1 continuity and this one. To me, some of the most interesting differences are:
- This story introduces a “new” sibling to Spike named, Jimmy who (presumably) was killed during a military conflict. This serves as the source of conflict between Spike and Sparky (which I assume is short for “Sparkplug”).
- The Cybertronian civil war has only been going on for about a century, according to Starscream, which is quite different than the traditional war which spanned centuries.
- The Ark (I’ll just call it that for now until they call it something else) only seems to have a handful of Autobots and Decepticons in it. Megatron is nowhere to be seen and I doubt all of the original Autobots could have fit in Prime’s trailer so I suspect part of this series will be revealing “new” characters slowly over the course of several issues.
- While the robot mode models largely resemble their G1 animated counterparts, the vehicle modes are slightly altered. For instance, Ratchet is a more modern looking ambulance rather than the more boxy vehicle mode of the 80s.
As I read the issue, I had to keep pushing back certain expectations. Spike and Sparky have a strained relationship due to the death of Jimmy. Spike and Carly appear to just be friends instead of romantic partners (to be fair, there’s nothing stopping their relationship from going in that direction as of this issue) and I did not expect the cast of Autobots and Decepticons to be (mostly) still unconscious by the end of the issue. I’m so used to Transformers tradition where most of a “new” cast is up and running right off the bat that this was a change that took a bit to get used to. Your mileage will vary depending on just how much previous Transformers fiction you have rattling around in your brain.
I did not know what to expect from this issue as I was unfamiliar with any of the creators behind this title. What I definitely did not expect was the amount of interpersonal drama and dangling threads being laid out in this issue. The two that stood out most for me were Spike’s relationship with his father and Starscream’s relationship with, well, everyone around him.
When Spike finds his father, it’s at a bar where he is drowning his sorrows related to the loss of his son. This is a very human and understandable reaction to a loss, and to be fair to Sparkplug, we are not given any idea how long ago this loss was. Did it happen a month ago? A year ago? Spike appears to have moved on so I would guess some time has passed, and different people grieve in different ways. It also appears this title is continuing the tradition of Spike and Sparkplug not having a mother/wife figure in their lives. We have no idea if she has passed, or did she leave Sparkplug (or some other more complex story?). What is clear is that Sparkplug is broken and his son resents it. I cannot help but think their involvement in the Autobot/Decepticon conflict will be the catalyst to them working through their issues. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.
Surprisingly, Starscream becomes a source of both information and significant angst in this issue. We learn he and Jetfire were friends, but that friendship is a term he plays with fast and loose, blasting Jetfire mere moments after being revived by him (echoing their G1 animation dynamic). He blasts Bumblebee while he is unconscious (more on that in a bit), showing us that he is every bit as treacherous and without honor as his G1 counterpart.
What I found most interesting however is his rage. During his rampage on the Ark, he appears angry at well…everyone. He blasts Jetfire (who he calls “Comrade” moments earlier), he is furious when someone brings up Megatron (who is oddly absent) and he describes the Autobot symbol as a symbol of “evil”. The way he is drawn, he is on one long rant. There is none of his sneering, smirking snarkiness that was seen in both the G1 cartoon and comic books. Instead, this Starscream just appears angry and evil. In perhaps his most dramatic moment, he outright kills a human with his bare hands. It is a shocking moment but as I reread the issue I realized his actions were just leading up to that from the moment he blasts Jetfire. Starscream is traditionally portrayed as acting in his own interests and being somewhat cowardly. Here however he is very much at the forefront leading from the center and using aggression to fuel his action. It will be interesting to see how this informs his (possibly temporary) leadership of the Decepticons.
Writer also Daniel Warren Johnson does double duty as writer and artist for this title. His art style is very different than what fans may be used to. IDW Publishing’s title generally featured artwork that often emphasized very clean lines and colors, reflecting the robotic nature of the Transformers themselves. Johnson’s style however is a bit more rough and organic. In some ways, it is also a throwback to an older era of comic books. He makes liberal use of bold line work and shading to reflect the darker tone of the title reminiscent of some of the “gritter” comic books of the 90’s. There is liberal use of words as “sound effects” such as a scene where Ravage bites Prime and the word “CHOMP” appears in the panel which feels very 80’s to me. Sure the actual robot designs are very G1, but the way he uses them is very different than more recent titles and I found it both refreshing and engaging.
Johnson also does a fantastic job of building urgency and communicating motion from panel to panel. His splash panels work to great effect in drawing in the reader. He clearly draws with a movie-like storyboard in mind and it is fun and dynamic.
A Good Start
Transformers #1 is a good start to a new series taking place in a new timeline. It is heavily dependent on G1 as its foundation, but is not afraid to take bold liberties with it. I am very interested in what is going to happen. Will the Autobots retake the Ark? How will they repair their comrades? Where will other characters such as Sunstreaker or Omega Supreme come from (if at all)? Will Spike and his father reconcile? There are a lot of questions left open making you want more, and that is exactly what a first issue should do.