IDW Publishing: "Autocracy" #1 Comic Book Review
Cover Price: $.99 (Digital Exclusive)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publishing Date: January 18, 2012
Story by: Chris Metzen & Flint Dille
Art by: Livio Ramondelli
Letters by: Robbie Robbins
Editor: John Barber & Carlos Guzman
It is the beginning of another day before the Great Wars for Orion Pax as he still adjusts to his new body. As he contemplates his new form, why he has a large gap in his chest and the terror that faces him outside, he also feels a part of him is missing.
In the Torus-City Nyon, Orion Pax leads Ironhide, Hound, Bumblebee and Prowl down the streets of the Rust Narrows, searching for a Decepticon. As Bumblebee questions how the citizens of the area are treated by the government, Ironhide is dead set on a "guilty before proven innocent" policy. Before the discussion goes further, they find their target: a known arms dealer. The Autobots spread out to prepare for their raid.
Inside, the Decepticon Swindle is selling munitions to a group of dissidents. As Pax, Hound and Prowl crash through a wall, one of the Cybertronians prepares to blow up the entire stash of weapons! He is quickly stopped by Bumblebee with a shot to the head. Swindle leaves but his escape is cut off by Silverbolt from above. As he fires wildly into the street, the Autobots manage to subdue him, but his rantings quickly escalate the situation causing Orion to almost lose control and destroy him. Bumblebee stops him before he goes too far, just in time for an explosion to go off!
When the Autobots awaken, the Cybertronian who set off the blast is off and running. Orion doesn't give chase however. The Autobots came for Swindle and they have him. As they head out with their prisoner, Laserbeak watches nearby, hidden away.
This short, eight page story is a first for the IDW Transformers line. I enjoyed the format of a short story told in digital format. Like its spiritual predecessors from the Marvel UK days, this story had to get to the point quickly and make a strong impact right away. On all these counts "Autocracy" delivers. Even before the Great Wars, there were conflicts, and it is in that time frame in Cybertron's history we find a young Orion Pax who still reports to Zeta Prime and zealously believes in the Autobot cause. It has been established in other books that the Decepticon uprising largely came about thanks to the oppression many Transformers felt by classes such as the Autobots. However, instead of the traditional visions of grand armies marching across battlefields firing at each other, this story shows us a grittier perhaps more realistic side of war. Pax and his troops in this issue are reminescent of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan hunting for terrorists in dangerous territory. The enemy is not always right out in front, and often time there are more than two sides (as evidenced by the dissident identifying as neither an Autobot or Decepticon). This is a brilliant way of putting a new light on a war that Transformers fans have seen portrayed in dozens of different ways over the years. This is not a clean or "fun" war in the way the G1 cartoon was, this is a much different animal.
The other gripping story here is Orion Pax's tale. Sure he looks like Optimus Prime and may even have some of the future leader's abilities but that doesn't make him Optimus Prime. This is a key point to recognize and it adds appropriate layers to the character. In the G1 cartoon, we saw a literal overnight transition from a young, somewhat ignorant Orion Pax to a strong, mature Optimus Prime. Clearly the transition here will take a lot longer and that makes the character much more realistic and intriguing. Seeing Orion lose control was a great scene which made perfect sense to me given his recent change into a whole new body and the weight of leadership on his shoulders. The pressure is clearly getting to him, and having Bumblebee serve as his conscience was a fantastic touch. This also punctuated the "shoot first" view that Ironhide holds. That is true to the character, but something very grim and almost shocking to hear from an Autobot.
Livio Ramondelli's artwork is the kind that tends to divide audiences. It is bold, distinct and unafraid to differentiate itself from a majority of comic book art on the market. Since my younger days of collecting comics in the 90's I have always appreciated this style of art be it from artists like Sam Keith or Dave McKean. His art doesn't look bright with sharp, bold lines and little detail. Instead, it is dark, gritty with tons of detail in between edges and his angles are all exaggerated, but not to the point of parody. This is a very difficult medium to strike, but Ramondelli does it well. I'm also very struck by the moodiness in his lighting. Everything is generally dark and foreboding until there are battle scenes where energy literally lights up the panels. This contrast in lighting really helps accentuate the power of battle as it leaps right off the page.
I was very happy to hear way back when that G1 veteran writer Flint Dille would return to Transformers and this project has turned out better than I had hoped for. Short, sweet stories that punch you right in the gut. I really like this book's start and hope to see many more issues to come!