IDW Publishing Spotlight #9 "Optimus Prime"
Title: Transformers Spotlight: Optimus Prime
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: September 2007
Written by: Simon Furman
Art by: Don Figueroa
Colors by: Josh Burcham
Letters by: Chris Moway
Edits by: Dan Taylor
Onboard the Ark-19, Optimus Prime receives reports from several of his warriors including Ultra Magnus, Wheelie and Springer. While the information pouring in is important, he cannot get his mind off of recent events. Having nearly been destroyed by Megatron during the events of "Escalation", his Spark wandered into the nebulous "Infraspace", where he sensed a presence: a Prime! Instead of being inspiring however, this encounter filled him with dread. He takes the Ark-32 and heads to the Muta-Gaath nebula to meet with someone older than he is: Omega Supreme.
Omega Supreme is found tied to a large network of tubes, maintaining the ancient Transformer as he hides in his base. Unbeknownst to Optimus, he has been followed by a group of six Transformers with a terrible secret!
Optimus explains his sense of dread when detecting Nova Prime's presence. Omega explains that Nova Prime believed Transformers were superior to all other forms and life and sought to push the boundaries of science and research and "enlighten" other races. The original Ark's mission was part of this endeavor, to bring the advanced word of the Transformers to space. Omega Supreme disagreed with this path however, believing true advancement for Transformers could only come through introspection and a slow, steady pace. He agrees that Nova Prime could still be alive, though the ultimate fate of the original Ark is still unknown.
Suddenly, the six warriors make their presence known - combined into Monstructor! Omega faces them and a titanic battle ensues. Optimus tries to help as Monstructor begins tearing Omega apart. In a desperate gambit, he blows a hole in the base and the three Transformers go rushing out of the hole. Omega manages to catch Prime and rocket them to a nearby comet where the two crash. Optimus demands an explanation and Omega relents. He explains that Monstructor is the result of an experiment to combine six minds into one being. In this case the six Transformers Bristleback, Icepick, Wildfly, Scowl, Birdbrain and Slog were given the ability to combine by Nova Prime's chief scientist Jhiaxus. The idea was to create a perfect blend of mind and body. Unfrotunately, the opposite happened and the giant de-evolved. Omega tried to imprison Monstructor in a dimensionally displaced prison, but obviously it did not work. Monstructor does have one weak spot however, and Optimus quickly uses it to dispatch with the giant Transformer, forcing him to separate into his component parts.
Later, a rescue party comes to recover Optimus and Omega. The six Monstructor components are taken prisoner and Optimus asks Jetfire to find a way to help them. Omega is more worried about the combiner/gestalt technology falling into Decepticon hands, warning that if it does, armageddon could ensue!
The truth of Omega's words cut deep, and Optimus Prime realizes that the Primes he revered may not have been quite what he expected. One thing is for sure, deep down inside something in his very Spark has been damaged, and it will never recover!
Optimus Prime is one of those characters that you can really overdose on in the Transformers universe if you're not careful. I mean, let's face it, the guy is everywhere. Due to that fact, I was very relieved that an Optimus Prime spotlight did not appear until this year, allowing other characters to get some face time beforehand. Still, the fear was there that this could wind up being a dull ride if not handled properly. Fortunately wordsmith Simon Furman knows how to deliver a fantastic tale and writes Optimus Prime differently than most.
During Furman's run on the Marvel G1 title, he played with the concept of Optimus Prime being a flawed leader. During the G1 era, Optimus was very much portrayed as the ideal commander, and while he certainly should be strong, compassionate, wise etc. Furman took the chance to make him flawed as well. Over the years we have seen Optimus struggle with many inner demons, often resulting in him becoming even stronger.
It is that type of brooding, contemplative tale that we begin with here. However, what is refreshing is that Optimus is not doubting himself at all here, he is doubting the very "bloodline" that spawned him - the Primes themselves. This set up is great as often figureheads like Nova Prime and Sentinel Prime have been largely names more than characters in the past. Now we see that the Primes were by no means perfect, and that indeed Optimus may be the best of them so far, showing a lineage that is actually getting better over time.
Seeking advice from Omega Supreme is a fantastic touch. Omega was shown as an ancient character in the cartoon show, and this jives with that representation. I liked the idea that he is a titanic force from the past that is reserved for a last line of defense. This was always the original intent of the character, but as the years went on and larger, more powerful Transformers emerged, Omega started fading into the background and quickly became just "another Autobot" in both the animated series and the G1 Marvel comic book. Here we get a true sense of his power and ancient knowledge, both formidable aspects to any character. Through Omega it is fascinating to hear that a Prime once held ideals that edged close to what we expect of Decepticons, especially the part about Cybertronians being a superior form of life. It was also really surprising to see the name Jhiaxus again! While the character is not shown and is in a very different role, it is cool to see that the name can be utilized once again in a Transformers comic (not surprising since Hasbro now owns the trademark to the name).
As I flipped through this issue in the comic shop, I stopped dead when I saw the page with Monstructor jumping into battle. For those who have not followed Furman's work through the years, he has a brilliant way of taking some of the most obscure characters and actually making them into something interesting. Characters like Nightbeat and Thunderwing owe their popularity to Simon's portrayal and now he has done something similar with the Monstructor team. Reminding us again that this IDW-verse has reset the rules, we learn that Monstructor is the first combiner/gestalt Transformer. This is a welcome change from the tired old story of the Constructicons and Devastator being the first. While that story works great in the past contexts, this new universe has turned enough on its head that I have no problem (and in fact welcome) a new take on how combiners came to be. Furman using the word "gestalt" is also cool since fans have used this term for the longest time. While we do not get to know the group as individuals, we see that they are Transformers who feel they have been wronged and want revenge.
The moral play that is shown here doesn't quite work for me however. Does the Monstructor team have a right to be angry? Absolutely. Did Omega Supreme have a right to imprison them? Of course. If they de-evolved and are anywhere near as destructive as this issue indicates, I'm sure the choice to jail them was not made lightly and only after a lot of casualties. Optimus Prime's judgement of how Omega is "no better" than Nova Prime or Jhiaxus seems overly harsh and surprising. Prime himself sees that the giant can't be reasoned with and only dealt with violently. While it is noble of him to see if Jetfire can help the team "get better", I see more disaster down the line than good coming out of this (especially if Omega Supreme's warning comes to pass).
It is not always easy for one artist to jump into another's sandbox and work up impressive looking art. In this case, Don Figueroa is being asked to use some of artist EJ Su's "realistic" designs (mostly with Optimus Prime and Prowl) and work them into a story that has to fit into the more realistic world of the IDW series. I noticed slight redesigns on Optimus Prime from the other books. His crest seems ab it longer, the smokestacks on his arms go to his eelbow joints and he has visor panels over the windshield windows on his chest. Figueroa is wonderful about the smaller details, so we see cracks and wear on Prime's armor that give him a more realistic appearance, especially considering the beating he took from Megatron in "Escalation".
The other prominant characters here look great as well. Don's take on Monstructor totally rocks. The Monstructor toy itself is not the most impressive looking figure to ever come out of Hasbro, yet here it looks amazing. Using the wings on Wildfly to splay out and the arms on Slog sticking out in the combined form are brilliant ways to alter the form while staying true to the figure. His Omega design takes elements of both the animated series and figure. I love how Omega's faceshield comes down to protect him in battle, a nice touch. Also, through the use of angles and the complex tubes hooked up to Omega, Don conveys a strong sense of the character's age and size which leave you breathless even though you've seen the character before.
Don's design of Nova Prime is really cool. It incorporates some War Within Optimus Prime elements along with a bit of G2 Hero Optimus Prime. I'm very fond of the very Gundam-esque wings on him as well, it gives a modern day sensibility to the robot and shows how you can use anime influences without necesarily copying anime.
Figueroa's panel arrangements are fantastic. Never is his action unclear or do the transitions from panel to panel look off. Each transition makes sense and he knows when to use a splash panel and when to just use a simple small transition panel. Some artists get lost in these, Don uses them just right. I'm especially fond of the panel showing the Monstructor team in robot mode with the grid background. That felt like it came right out of the G1 cartoon and looks fantastic.
The coloring in this issue is bright and vivid. The tones of characters such as Optimus and Omega Supreme are very bright, but they pale in comparison to the pastel, ultra bright Monstructor. Yet somehow colorist Josh Burcham manages to use tones that keep the giant from looking silly and he keeps Omega Supreme from looking garish while remaining true to his colors. I'm also very fond of the red to black gradient that fills in the background of almost every page in this issue. Red is of course Optimus' main color so it is more than appropriate, but the black gradient gives us a sense of the darkness in Optimus Prime's Spark as a result of these events.
Optimus Prime's spotlight combines fantastic elements into a fascinating story. While it is titled "Optimus Prime", I can't help but feel this story is so much bigger thanks to all the other characters involved, and that's awesome. Pick this up, it's a fun read!