IDW Publishing "Defiance" #1 Review
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: January 21, 2009
Breakdowns by: Dan Khanna
Finishes by: Andrew Griffith
Colors by: Josh Perez
Letters by: Chris Mowry
Edits by: Denton J. Tipton
In the distant past, a lone figure returns to Cybertron. As he transforms and lands we see it is Starscream. The Air Commander is damaged, and first officer Ratchet quickly attends to his wound. As Ratchet repairs Starscream, the Air Commander explains that he encountered a ship in the Eshem Nebula that was definitely not friendly. Ratchet explains that Optimus and his teams are busy uncovering another excavation site before Ironhide meets up with the two. Once the repairs are done, the two head inside to meet their leaders.
Inside, Optimus is explaining to Megatron that during the current excavations, there have been regular energy bursts by the Allspark. No one knows why the Allspark is doing this. When Ironhide, Starscream and Ratchet arrive Megatron joins them from a balcony to head to the excavation site.
In the Eshem Nebula, a lone alien returns to his people in defeat, but alive. He explains to his leaders that he was attacked by Starscream, but he confirmed the Cybertronian comes from the same planet sending out energy bursts. The aliens are armed and ready to attack, so they proceed to Cybertron!
On Cybertron, Cliffjumper and Starscream are guarding the Allspark and talking about joining the Cybertronian defense forces. Bumblebee is impatient so Cliffjumper tries to cheer him up with some conversation. Unbeknownst to both of them, the forces from the Eshem Nebula are getting closer and closer!
At the excavation site, Arcee races to report a newly uncovered artifact. While many have been found broken, this one is actually intact, causing much excitement among those working at the site. Nearby, Optimus and Megatron discuss the energy readings from the site and how it could revitalize Cybertron. Optimus reminds Megatron that all archeological and biological discoveries belong to his science division, not the military run by Megatron. When Arcee arrives and brings them to the artifact, they find a triangular piece of metal with a familiar etching on it: the Decepticon symbol! Megatron wants the item excavated immediately, but Optimus wants to approach with caution. Before their argument can continue, the aliens attack!
Megatron tells Optimus to recover the Decepticon symbol artifact and have it sent to his quarters as he races off to fight the threat. At the city of Metrotitan, the battle rages. Cliffjumper and Bumblebee hide behind cover, not willing to charge into battle without some help. When Megatron arrives, he is disgusted by their cowardice, but is caught off guard by a blast from an alien tank. Though wounded, he manages to destroy the tank before ordering Starscream to destroy all of the invaders.
As the battle rages on, Megatron returns to his quarters, nursing his injury before falling before the artifact. He manages to touch it, and as he does so, something is slowly reborn even as his life fades away!
In the history of Transformers fiction, there have been a few scarce tales told of the days before Autobots and Decepticons were at war. I enjoy seeing stories like this because they're so rare. And despite everything seemingly being okay on the surface, there is a constant underlying tension because you know that whether it is years or days after the story starts, all hell is going to break loose and the two factions will be at war. That knowledge is what makes this story work. The main tension is supplied by Optimus and Megatron, who, despite their sharing Cybertron's leadership roles, are clearly not in agreement over a lot of things. Even as Megatron tries to talk to Optimus nicely and put his claws on his shoulders, you know that he's scheming something not-so-great. Knowing the types of enemies these two will be in the future adds a great level of tension to these scenes which is only broken by the alien attack.
The first couple of pages that show Starscream being rather courteous to Ratchet are fascinating to me. The civility between the two is rather novel, and seems out of character for Starscream. He does get a verbal dig in about the excavation site being a waste of time, but when Ratchet finishes his repairs, he actually thanks him. When greeting Optimus, he actually apologizes for his tardiness, and the way it is written it does not strike me as sarcasm. In contrast, Ratchet's comments about how great it is to have military guys like Starscream around is a sharp contrast to the way he would be after ages of war in the live action movies. What I enjoy about these pages is that these portrayals are totally plausible. There's no saying that Starscream was always evil and self serving and clearly Ratchet is a medic first and a warrior second.
The other personality that is interesting to see is Megatron. He is definitely scheming, and power seems to be his goal. However, he does not seem to be trying to garner power for himself necesarily at this point. From his conversation with Optimus, it sounds more like he wants power for Cybertron, and if power goes to him as well then that is a side benefit. In many ways, he is portrayed as many television shows such as "Stargate" sometimes portray a military having interests that do not necesarily align with those of civilians.
This story also shows us that there are aliens other than Cybertronians puttering around the universe. These (as yet) unnamed aliens are interesting as they represent a threat to Cybertron, but unlike aliens like those seen in the G1 cartoon, they have no idea what Cybertron is or what its people are even called. The irony is that the alien attack won't unite Megatron's forces with 's, but instead it will most likely create an even larger rift than before.
I've been a big fan of Dan Khanna's work for years. He has always managed to draw Transformers in ways that incorporate elements of animation models and toys to make a meticulous and visually interesting piece of art. Here, his skills are pulled in a slightly different direction. While some of the Transformers in this story have "pre-Earth" forms that can be referenced through CGI models and toys (such as Protoform Optimus and Starscream) there are plenty of others that he has to follow previous interpretations of such as Arcee, Warpath and Grindcore, all of whom previously appeared in the "Reign of Starscream" series. In that respect, he does very well using the designs from that series while still putting his own spin on them. With the possible exception of Megatron's head, Khanna's style is to simplify designs a bit and create broder parts on the faces that look more like conventional Transformers seen in G1 or "Energon". One of the prime examples of this is Starscream, whose head has a much more pronounced helmet section than I expected him to. He also exaggerates details a bit more than other artists such as Starscream's huge claws.
The color palette on Cybertron is very different here than it has been portrayed in other stories, mostly because this all takes place during an age where Cybertron still had energy and the Allspark was still on the planet. Things are bright, almost sunny and the various buildings and metal surfaces throughout are not all burned and filled with cracks and damage. It's a very refreshing view of the planet and I think it's great that we get to see locations such as Simfur and Metrotitan before they were turned into dark war zones.
I think my favorite cover out of the three for this issue is Cover B by Josh Nizzi. The render of Cybertron is beautiful and Megatron is intricate and fierce looking. The way his eyes glow look demonic and kudos for including details such as the small bars that run across his eyes.
"Defiance" #1 offers a fascinating look at another time in Cybertron's history. The story manages to create tension even before the Autobot/Decepticon conflict, and of course, we all know The Fallen will appear soon enough. It really sets up the mini-series nicely. Highly recommended!