IDW Publishing: "Drift: Empire of Stone" Issue #1 Comic Book Review
Title: "Empire of Stone" Part One
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publishing Date: November 26, 2014
Writer: Shane McCarthy
Pencils by: Guido Guidi
Inks by: Stephen Baskerville
Colors by: John-Paul Bove
Letters by: Tom B. Long
Editor: John Barber
On an alien planet the Autobot Drift has decided to free the world from its Decepticon conquerors, and after a brief battle he succeeds once he takes down their leader: Grit. Once captured, he takes Grit to the world of the Galactic Council (despite the Decepticon's protests). Once there however, he is confronted by Ratchet. At first everyone is going to head back to Cybertron. However the Autobots learn that there is a whole other hideout of Transformers, and despite Grit's protests, the other Decepticons lead them to this world. However Drift's shuttle is quickly shot out of the sky and crash lands! As Grit, Drift and Ratchet try to get out of the wreckage, they are ambushed by Decepticons led by Vanquish! After a brief battle where they are taken to their leader: Gigatron!
I know I'm in the minority on this, but I really enjoy a self-contained "Transformers" story that isn't completely reliant on over twenty issues of history. Right now, the mainline "Transformers" and "More than Meets the Eye" titles can be a bit tough to jump into in the middle without reading a couple trade paperbacks worth of issues. "Empire of Stone" however is a fun story taking place on the "side" of larger events right now in the main titles, giving it some freedom in what it does and what characters it uses.
I really enjoyed the first few pages of the issue which serve as an exciting opener for the issue and a homage to the Generation One "Victory" cartoon series, where the first episode starts with the hero of the series taking out a couple bad guys. Indeed, the two "generic bots" that Drift takes on here are based on those designs. As the issue progresses there are more and more "Victory" references including the group of Decepticons that ambush the Autobots (based on more animation models from "Victory") and Hellbat appearing in Gigatron's throne room. One of the great things about having long-time fans working on these comic books are obscure references like these that hardcore fans can appreciate but don't interfere with the story at all.
In terms of the story, I really dig the idea of Drift trying to atone for past sins running himself ragged trying to free the oppressed from the Decepticons. I found it a bit random that Ratchet (of all Transformers) was the one sent to fetch Drift, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Ratchet is know for having a good "bed side manner" in G1 fiction and he is, by nature, a healer. And Drift is definitely in need of healing. The way he talks to Drift and reasons with him reflects this. Ratchet is firm, but not obnoxious or overbearing. It's also a nice "buddy cop" type set up, where one partner is gruff and stubborn while the other is more level headed. The result is compelling (whether you are on Ratchet's side or Drift's side) and the banter is fun. I particularly liked the comment Ratchet makes about how Drift talks, and whether it is just to annoy him (the answer is "Yes").
This issue is mostly set up, getting our heroes to where they need to be to commit their heroics. Having Grit as a "tag along" is fun as well. I appreciate that he is smarter than the thugs he is working with, but his efforts seem to constantly get sabotaged no matter what he does. I do like the way Drift's mission just gets progressively worse and worse from getting shot down, to being captured all the way to meeting the "big bad" of the issue! While he is not named, the next issue reveals the Decepticon leader here as Gigatron (the Japanese name for the toy this character is based on). I always found this figure/design both imposing and elegant, especially with his gold accents and sweeping wings. His regal appearance alone makes him beautifully suited to be the leader of this group of Decepticons.
I really enjoyed the artwork in this issue. Guidi is one of my favorite Transformers artists. Hi style is bold and his models are bold and jump out from the page right at you. He's also really good at small details. Baskerville's pencils are bold and Bove's colors are bright and eye catching. In particular I love how ragged Drift looks in this issue. It's appropriate and Ratchet even comments about Drift needing repair. In contrast, almost all the other Transformers shown are in relatively good shape. There is one artistic choice that personally drives me a bit nuts but only because I grew up on "Generation One" and have very odd ideas about it. That choice is making the Micromaster based characters in the issue "full sized" Transformers. Hey, I said this was odd right? After all, other Transformers like Fixit have been shown at full size (yes, it bugged me then too) and frankly, it makes him more "functional" in the context of scenes like the battle in the beginning. Also, "Micromasters" aren't really a well known class of Transformers in the current fiction, so I'm far more attached to the concept than this universe is. It would probably be a bit tougher to take him seriously if he was half of Drift's size anyhow. Perhaps my favorite scene is the part where Gigatron is revealed. It's a very striking scene and acts as a great end to the issue!
I really enjoyed this opening issue. There's action, humor and a bit of mystery along with fun G1 inspired cameos. A fun read that reminds me of why I read "Transformers" comic books.