After the license with Marvel Comics ended, odd given how Marvel was responsible for the entire story of the Transformers in the first place, there were no new comics. Well, no official comics as some pretty good fan comics hit the internet and I think Japan put a few things out, but while the toylines and cartoons continued with Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Machine Wars, and the Car Robot release that was the first Robots In Disguise line nothing licenced in the US was put out. It was an empty time for comic-reading Transformers fans.
Then Wizard did an article where writers were brought in to draw classic franchises in modern art styles, back when nostalgia was considered a positive thing instead of something to be attacked and embarrassed into hiding so the “better new stuff” could take over on the reasoning that it’s new. The big standout was a piece by artist Pat Lee featuring the Autobots and Decepticons, a modern art piece that captured the spirit of the art pieces of the toy packaging but in a more comic style. This led to Lee eventually getting the license thanks to fan support, and thus Transformers returned through Dreamwave
ave Productions, Lee’s new comic studio and publishing company.
Ask me what comic incarnation makes me the most nostalgic and I’ll say the Marvel run, at least during the Budiansky period. Ask me what my favorite is and I’ll tell you Dreamwave. Something about the creators and editors assembled for this project just really worked. Even Furman’s stories I didn’t just not hate but actually enjoyed. That’s a miracle if you saw part one of this series. Even things that annoy me in other runs were just more enjoyable in this one. So why did Dreamwave fail? It wasn’t the work.
There were four main series when it came to Transformers. The first miniseries of “Generation One” was admittedly not very good. You know the writers have an odd definition of mature when your story opens with Megatron grabbing and crushing a dude as he takes a piss. There were good ideas but James Sarracini apparently followed that school that Transformers were made for 80s kids instead of kids in the 80s. The plot is that the Autobots in humans actually formed an alliance, but this being comics it of course happened off-panel. As the Autobots took human ambassadors back to Cybertron along with their Decepticon prisoners the ship exploded. Everyone was thought killed but that was just the humans.
Your typical US shadow government agency within the military saw the potential for the Transformers as weapons against our enemies and tried to fake the Autobots and Decepticons’ destruction so they could reprogram them but a traitor in their ranks, also thought dead but returning under the name Lazarus because subtle is not a word to describe this story, sought instead to rent them out to dictators and criminals. When the Transformers eventually shook out of this Megatron attempts to Cyberform the planet as revenge. The Autobots arrive to stop him but the attacks by the controlled Transformers turned many humans against the Autobots because heaven forbid we get to see the Autobot/human alliance in a comic ever. Long story short because I already reviewed it, the Autobots save the day but Grimlock goes over to the Decepticons, something I’m surprised it took him THIS long to do. The art is not very good. Technically okay but with no life to the humans and the Autobots drawn with poor attempts at imitating Lee’s style…and Lee was working on it.
This was not a good start, but we all preordered it so it did well enough for DreamWave and Hasbro to agree to a full series. Thank Primus things got so much better.
Transformers: Generation One brought on new writers, and they join Bob Budiansky in being some of my favorite Transformers writers. Adam Patyk and Brak Mick, who later dropped that pen name in favor of James McDonough, crafted a beautiful piece of storytelling consistently. Continuing from Saraccini’s story they tried to reform Grimlock but also did good things. They created the Well Of All Sparks, made interesting use of the quasi-magic elements with Sunstorm’s powers, slowly tried to patch up human/Autobot relations, and all made it feel like a better continuation. Shockwave sends forces to Earth insisting all was peaceful and wonderful on Cybertron but it was a trick. Shockwave was slowly trying to convert both sides into his own private army, dealing with an underground movement from the 2005 show cast, and plotting to take over Earth.
There is a really great scene where Megatron keeps trying to point out how suck the human race is like some anime villain, going on about how they do evil things to each other, only for Optimus to essentially say “yes, some do that, but others are helping each other and striking back against the threat, namely you, so they aren’t all evil and that’s why I protect them”. I wish more anime protagonists would call out the “all humans are evil because war so I’m going to kill them all” villains out on that nonsense.
Stories continued to build the G1 Dreamwave universe as Optimus and Megatron were all taken out in a gimmick by Dreamwave to show the world without the bosses and we’ll see that again in the other series. I was fascinated by the tale Patyk and McDonough were putting together when it was cut short and I wish they had told us what their plans were beyond introducing the show’s female Autobots. The art was also way better. That wasn’t the biggest miracle, though.
The War Within
While all Budiansky got the shaft during this run, Simon Furman would get to do a set of miniseries all his own and a second project we’ll get to. I was disappointed since of the two Budiansky made better Transformers stories in my opinion but I went into the first The War Within with an open mind. While there were still changes I didn’t like, such as Optimus Prime now being a data clerk called Optronix (no relation), which has annoyingly become part of Orion Pax’s backstory now instead of the show’s cargo delivery man who backed the wrong side until they came for him. There would also be more “magic” with the Matrix Of Leadership and later with his creation The Fallen in the next series.
On the other hand the story was pretty good. One of Furman’s problems with writing Optimus for Marvel was the reluctant and hesitant soldier, constantly doubting himself despite centuries of growing as a soldier and later Autobot leader. It actually worked better here since it was essentially his first day on the job, and you saw more of that altruistic and compassionate leader he’s known to be instead of a veteran on the verge of cracking so Grimlock could step in and be awesome. The story wasn’t even afraid to acknowledge that Grimlock was a big jerk but didn’t really explore WHY he didn’t join the Cons when he came from the same gladiatorial pits that Megatron was recruiting from.
A lot of Furman’s usual nonsense was actually toned down, not missing entirely but it was like the editors were actually reeling him in a bit and that’s why it worked. Furman has great ideas but doesn’t know when to keep from going overboard in his tales. Here and in the Unicron Trilogy books he did a far better job of that and I have to think it was the editors. Then again, the UT books were kind of amazing in what they pulled off with him and Saraccini. He wasn’t able to finish this story but unlike the present day stuff we do know what he was planning.
Dreamwave was only able to make two of the three lines that made up the “Unicron Trilogy”, closing during Energon and not making it to Cybertron. The deal included the rare occasion in the US of minicomics coming with the toys, though they didn’t seem to be in continuity with the shelf comics. Also, Hasbro did this weird triple language packaging to save time and money and it spread to the early comics, leading to little dialog so the characters could repeat themselves in English, French, and Spanish. They had to adapt Japan’s minicomics for the Cybertron line though.
Meanwhile the store comics were quite good. Saraccini wrote the first story and remembered that at least this was intended for kids. It doesn’t follow the anime’s sequence of events but has the same essential plot. On another Cybertron in a different continuity the Autobots and Deceptions fought over a third race of Transformers, the Mini-Cons. By themselves they were already pretty powerful but after being re-engineered by the Decepticons to Powerlink with a larger Transformers–personally I preferred it when this was a natural Mini-Con ability–they could unlock even more power in the larger robots. Yes, this series also failed to see the Mini-Cons as anything other than power boosters, ignoring the play potential as weapons, armor, and gadgets the toys offered but nobody ever really promoted. It was a big marketing mistake in my opinion.
What Saraccini did do, and Furman actually built on when he took over starting in the second storyline, was giving the Mini-Cons unique personalities. They weren’t just beeping robots that occasionally contributed to the story. They had their own agency, one team even trying to force their kinfolk into being “rescued” and Leader-1 showing PTSD as Megatron’s slave for so long. The only problem were the bullies. Saraccini created his own bully characters, and Furman decided to have Fred and Billy from the show cameo but ultimately all four disappeared and really didn’t contribute much in favor of just Rad, Carlos, and Alexis interacting with the Mini-Cons, which was to the story’s benefit really. Their interactions with the humans were good, and Furman even got to use Unicron–a unique take as a dimension hopping threat that even allowed him to cameo some of his other G1 pet characters. Not every figure got a moment to really shine, but when you’re doing a monthly series it’s difficult to have enough time to really get things going before the next toyline. Furman had to wrap-up the story quickly for the time jump to Transformers Energon.
The Mini-Con concept, despite the toys still being able to Powerlink minus the gimmick modifications, was phased out. The kids from the first series were now adults. The Mini-Cons were replaced by the Omnicons, robots who could manipulate and form Energon into weapons and power boosters for the Autobots. Powerlinking now happened between the Autobots. Ironhide and Kicker were actually better than their anime counterparts. Kicker still had a bad attitude but wasn’t so annoying you wanted to knock him down a mine shaft. Ironhide had a great character arc in a story where he got over his time as a prisoner of war being forced to make a dangerous superweapon by his jailer, Tidal Wave. Sadly this story also got cut short, but we did learn where Furman was intending to go next.
The G.I. Joe Crossovers
This retrospective wouldn’t be complete without discussing the G.I. Joe crossovers Dreamwave did with Devil’s Due, who had the G.I. Joe license at the time. Dreamwave was able to release one full miniseries set in World War II and an unfinished sequel set in present day that apparently I didn’t review while doing the Scanning My Collection reviews of the out of continuity crossovers. Odd. The first one frankly wasn’t very good. The art was dark and muddy so you couldn’t tell what was going on, the story wasn’t terrible but had issues, and the concept was really hurt by that bad art. Divided Front looked to have better art but the company died before they could get past the first issue.
On Devil’s Due’s side however you got my favorite crossover between the Hasbro properties. The first one had Cobra finding the Ark and using the Transformers to start their terrorist group, showing “Lazarus” how it’s done. The second is a time-travel story done right–surprising, I know–and features the should-have-been breakout character Percy The Viper. Seriously, I loved his character. The third story has a unique take on Serpentor as a robot designed on Megatron. Sadly this has Bumblebee’s dying at Serpent O.R.’s tentacles but even that is handled well. The finale is a tribute to both 1980s animated movies as Cobra-La is a bunch of cultists who worship Unicron. Being a fan or at least knowing the history of both toylines and related media is a huge bonus but you can follow along enough to get by if you’ve only read the previous three miniseries. Plus you get to see Optimus Prime whip-slam Golobulus. Prime is awesome in these stories.
There was also a “Summer Special” that teased the possibility of a Beast Wars or Robots In Disguise comic, but neither would ever happen for one simple reason.
The Fall Of Dreamwave
Pat Lee is a moron!
There’s no other way to say it on a PG site, folks. Pat Lee did a very stupid thing. Rather than invest his earnings back into the company until it was large enough to be a big profit source, or even PAY HIS EMPLOYEES AND CREATORS, Lee blew the money on fancy cars for himself and his family and seemed more interested in his supposed modeling career. Not following the industry I don’t know or care how successful he was there. He screwed over his people and on top of that tried to get into the international publishing field without going through the proper legal channels. Despite having this license, a number of Capcom licenses, a license for a loosely tied Ninja Turtles comic to the Fox cartoon, and numerous other licenses–with very little in the way of original owned IPs–the company filed for bankruptcy and shut down…as Lee started a new company called DreamEngine. Methinks he doesn’t know how to make dreams into reality except when his dream is owning an expensive sportscar. So he basically screwed over everybody to give his family stuff.
I also should note that the early miniseries and the excellent attempt at a profile handbook, entitled More Than Meets The Eye, had one huge flaw. I love when a publisher or animation studio has a “house style”. You immediately know what company made it when you see it. Filmation and Hanna-Barbera for example had very distinct styles, as did Disney until the 2000s. DC had one as well but still allowed some freedom for the artists. Dreamwave’s early style was imitating Pat Lee, which meant a lot of squatting like they were using the potty, pointing poses and metal that looked brittle as glass with all the cracks on it. Thankfully this got better as things went along.
It’s sad to see a comic with such promise fail so badly because of one man’s overblown ego, but there you go. Dreamwave ended up being possibly the shorted license in Transformers comics as of this writing but it’s still my favorite because it managed to get Simon Furman to tone down, even got good art from Andrew Wildman as he learned how to draw robots like robots instead of humans in costumes, and was telling two great Transformers stories before the ego tore it all down. It’s a waste of such potential. You can find reviews of all of them here at the Spotlight, though I’m still working through the mini-comics as part of Free Comic Inside.
I do wish Devil’s Due had gotten the license next given what they were doing with those crossovers, with the main G.I. Joe series, and with Voltron after that, but instead IDW would have the longest run to date. That means to conclude this series I’m going to have to do more than one part to keep the article from being too long.