So…one of the events that I didn’t get to discuss during my hiatus earlier this month were rumors that IDW Publishing would be losing the license to Transformers and G.I. Joe, but now that it’s been confirmed I can safely say…I’m happy to hear it. If you were on this site back when I had money coming in and was buying Transformers comics you know I grew increasingly dissatisfied with the direction IDW was taking the franchise, and that’s before the recent universal reboot, which frankly would have been the perfect time to drop out as this was IDW admitting they took their universe as far as they could go, and this new reboot will now be unable to complete its story the way they wanted since at the end of the year it will be going to somewhere else.
Look, if you like what they did, fine. While the following list of my reasons why I’m happy to see this find a new home (rumors suggest Robert Kirkman’s Skybound studios, who usually publishes through Image comics, are in talks and I’ll go over my opinions there in tomorrow’s follow-up article) will contain very huge mistakes, including one longtime readers already know is coming, most of these come down to personal preference as to what I want to see in a Transformers series. I will also note a few things I liked. In fact, let’s start this sort of memorial there.
Before we start I should note that I’m only going over the main series, not the movie or TV tie-ins, the questionable GI Joe crossover they did with artwork that is so not my style, or any of the other spin-offs. (For the record I really did enjoy the Hearts Of Steel miniseries, but it’s not canon though it is too bad we never got more “Evolutions” stories. I did like the concept.) The early stories started out pretty strong, and that’s rare for me to say with Simon Furman’s writing. It may also be the last time I say it, so enjoy it while you can. The new humans of Verity, Hunter, and Jimmy were actually interesting, and I was invested in their stories…until they did Hunter dirty by turning him into a control center for Sunstreaker when he was forced to undergo their version of the Headmaster process, leading to Sunstreaker basically giving him a mercy killing. Verity at least got to continue on as part of IDW’s version of the Wreckers and I don’t remember if we ever learned what happened to Jimmy Pink.
That first storyline also took its time bringing in Megatron and Optimus Prime, making them seem a lot more important when they finally did arrive. I need to go back and see if I reviewed those early IDW comics since I came in around the time of All Hail Megatron as far as comic reviews here at the Spotlight. This is how you follow other Autobots without killing Optimus Prime to take him out of the story. Of course it was Furman, so his terrible take on Prowl was still in effect but watching Bumblebee and Ratchet work to help the humans made for a good story. And there were other tales that I found interesting. Thundercracker’s evolution, the concept at least of Starscream finally getting control of Cybertron, and the aforementioned Wreckers story were all enjoyable.
On the other hand…..I guess we should get this out of the way before getting into my other issues.
I’m sure a few of you came here from TV Tropes, which links to my original article going over this in great detail. Jhaxius got bored and thus Arcee was forced into a female body so he could introduce gender into Cybertronians. Furman is on record opposing the idea of female Transformers as introduced into the series and has never been kind to Arcee, but this was clearly the worst. Unless the editor was demanding her inclusion it would have been better off to wait until Mairghread Scott found a better way to introduce female Transformers. Although I recently learned that they doubled down on the madness via retcon and I have since added an update to that article to reflect it.
Instead of simply ignoring her origins and letting Arcee just be a good character writer John Barber in Transformers: Optimus Prime decided to “fix” things by making her a willing participant in her formerly forced sex change as a transgender robot. Ignore the horrors Jhaxius put her through to make certain groups happy is a further insult to an already terrible idea and they should have just not brought it up at all. You did wrong by letting the story go as Furman wrote it, just acknowledge that and move on. And yet Hank Pym is still considered a wife beater because the artist drew a panel wrong. The illogic escapes me and while a lot of this list boils down to “what I want from a Transformers story” this one is just apprehensible and this does nothing to fix the problem, downplaying the medical assault and emotional damage done to the character.
I also don’t like their take on Megatron’s origins because it ties in to changing the very nature of the Autobots as far as their place in the fiction. Autobots should be the standard of morality, the “good guys” as it were, so that the fall of Cybertronian society is properly tragic. Now you can play with this to a point…you know how much I try to avoid “should” as a general policy…but to have the system itself corrupt, forcing Transformers based on their alternate modes to take on certain roles, just doesn’t sit well with me. Granted, the idea of Megatron rising from the gladiator pits to begin the Decepticons comes from the Dreamwave run, which ordinarily is my favorite run outside of Furman’s work (and yet I thought he did a good job with Armada, but so did Chris Sarracini and that first miniseries in the G1 continuity was terrible so it speaks more to the power of Armada), so I can’t fault IDW for that one. Bringing it back I’m okay with but making him a slave who rose up prior will never work for me because of how it makes the Autobots out to be. We’re supposed to be sorry a peaceful Cybertron broke out into war, not seeing two sides with the same end goal but opposite methodology. Especially considering how that turns out in modern discussion on everything from politics to pizza toppings.
Then there’s the human interaction. With a few exceptions (like the example above) in various one-shot stories, as a whole the relationship between the Autobots and the human race was nonexistent to hostile. I’ve written before about how I think humans and Autobots getting along is rather important and in character with typical Autobot depictions, something none of the comic runs have offered, Dreamwave came close as both sides started to shake off that first miniseries, but never really taking that leap over. At least they had a good excuse after what “Lazarus” did but that doesn’t excuse Buster’s reaction. Meanwhile, IDW had numerous Sector Seven wanna-bes (one of which was run by a mad scientist version of Scorponok), the Decepticons replacing top human leaders to set off the end of the world, Spike appearing to be ready to accept the Autobots only to have that undone by the next writer and having him kill a Construction when he could have been brought in as a POW, and Jazz killing a human carrying a Megatron replica gun that was being distributed as part of a plan to start an Autobot/human war. I prefer my Autobots and humans being friends, and Optimus annexing Earth into some Cybertron empire isn’t it.
I should also note that I wasn’t a fan of their idea to created a shared universe out of Hasbro brands. That might have been Hasbro’s doing since they’re putting extra focus on media as much as they are toys at this point and shared universes were all the rage without understanding how Marvel Studios were doing it (they now seem to be backtracking on that), but ignoring the changes they made to MASK the only crossover that makes sense is the G.I. Joe part, and that’s only out of nostalgia more than anything else. MASK and Rom: Spaceknight just don’t fit for me. Again, this one is totally personal. I kind of want to see the My Little Pony crossover, and IDW will continue with that line and Dungeons & Dragons.
What finally lost me was the end of the war. Like I said, there were some neat ideas for after the war ended. Starscream in charge of Cybertron and learning how hard it actually is, the song and dance with Windblade, the interesting friendship with Bumblebee (and as much as I praise ‘Da Bee because he’s my favorite character, all joking aside he is not the right choice as Autobot leader), not so much Rattrap being Starscream’s stooge, but the fact that they weren’t just sticking to G1 also had possibilities. The introduction of the non-aligned Transformers and the colonies were also beneficial, as it found a less assaulty way of introducing gender to Cybertronians. There are things I could nitpick, like the Titans idea not being my thing but I’ve learned to accept it, or how it broke the idea of Combiners, but most of my issues weren’t with Robots In Disguise (despite the lack of actual disguise since they dropped Earth entirely and moved back to Cybertron) but with the other comic.
Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye is where I sharply divide from a lot of Transformers fans who positively love the series. I don’t hate it but I don’t care for it either. Personally, seeing my childhood favorites become psychologically broken is not what I’m looking for. I’ve seen it done worse, mind you. (I’m looking at you Thundercats: The Return and Thundercats: Battle Of The Planets!) I’m not saying no good stories came from it. I did like Whirl’s and Cyclonus’ character evolution, Trailbreaker’s shining moment, and some random scenes. I’m just saying what I was looking for out of these characters and a Transformers story was the least present in these comics. I wasn’t happy with the character designs either, so it saddened me when Hasbro used them as bases for updating certain characters. Skids just doesn’t look right in IDW form both in the comic or the toy, at least to me.
And don’t get me started on the Decepticon Justice Division. I still considering the worst thing not involving Arcee or Michael Bay because something based on a kids line should not be that disturbing. As for Autobot Megatron…I had already stopped reading IDW Transformers by that point so I can’t really comment. I do love a good redemption story though, but I’m just not invested enough in IDW’s universe to really look into it in the future.
I also didn’t get to read the rebooted Transformers Universe outside of a Free Comic Book Day preview so I couldn’t tell you much about it beyond the concepts. I don’t know if it could have worked though I think the “Rise” was unnecessary when they could have just gone right to “Decepticon”, but given my opinions on what came before I wouldn’t hold my breath I’d enjoy it. So their losing the license I don’t really mind. As far as Skybound and what I hope they’ll do…come back tomorrow and I may have an answer for that.