IDW Publishing: Reign of Starscream Issue #1 Review
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: May 7, 2008
Written by: Chris Mowry and Chris Ryall
Art by: Alex Milne
Colors by: Josh Perez
Letters by: Chris Mowry
Edits by: Denton J. Tipton
Long ago on Cybertron, Optimus Prime executed one last, desperate gambit to keep Megatron from taking the Allspark for himself. Launching the cube into space, Megatron chased after it in his spacecraft mode. As he does this, Starscream tries to stop him, insisting that finishing off the Autobots and then going after the Allspark would be a better idea. Megatron disagrees and pursues the Cube, abandoning his forces.
Optimus' plan has a second component however. The Autobots have prepared a starship to follow the Allspark and return it to Cybertron. Without the Cube, Cybertron will die and Optimus feels guilt already over his chosen course of action. As the Autobots take off in their ship, Starscream mobilizes his forces to follow in their own ship. Dreadwing is already in space tracking the ship. When the Decepticon ship gets close to the Autobot ship, it hits a series of mines left by the Autobots and both the ship and Dreadwing are heavily damaged. This forces the Decepticons to retreat temporarily, allowing the Autobots to leave in peace.
As the Autobot ship passes through the galaxy it deposits Autobots here and there in its search for the Allspark including Earth. Soon, the Decepticons arrive on Earth as well, and the events of the "Transformers" live action movie take place, with the result being the destruction of both the Allspark and Megatron. The only other Decepticon who appears functional is Barricade. Damaged, but alive, Starscream tells him to recharge, repair and then begin his recon activities again. In the meantime, he will go to revive the Decepticon forces. In the last page, as part of his plan he attacks the Sector 7 base remarking that "we all know what conquest is made of"!
There are many character archetypes in Transformers lore, and I think writers have found ways to work with those archetypes and make them fun and interesting but other times boring. In the case of Starscream, he is best known as as an arrogant Decepticon who wants to usurp his leader and take over leadership of the Decepticons for himself. With an entire series focused on him it would have been easy to just write about his attempts to take over leadership from Megatron. Instead, we get something much more interesting than that.
"Reign of Starscream" #1 serves as a "fill in the blanks" issues. Many of the flashbacks in the first "Transformers" film gave us the past history of the Transformers in broad strokes, but we never got to see certain things such as the battles on Cybertron that led to the Allspark being launched into space and the ensuing drama between characters. Like the prequel series, this gives us a look at time frames that fans have often speculated about. Through these scenes we get a much better sense of Starscream's character than the first "Transformers" film and "Revenge of the Fallen" combined. What surprised me is that this is not a Starscream who is chomping at the bit to take over leadership. He's not trying to shoot Megatron in the back whenever he can. Instead, we get a warrior who does his job as second in command, managing the troops on the battlefield and keeping the troops in check even as his leader leaves he battlefield to chase an artifact through space. At the same time, we do see some of his rebellious streak, but it is tempered by his concern for the Decepticon cause overall. This shows itself eary on when Starscream questions Megatron's decision to chase the Allspark off Cybertron. In past scenarios, I could easily see Starscream telling the troops to fend for themselves as he tried to overtake Megatron and get the Allspark for himself. Instead, he stays behind as ordered to manage the Decepticons, and that was a really refreshing thing to see.
Starscream's arrogance is still in place, but like his rebellious streak the way it is portrayed makes all the difference. The way he speaks to his troops is condescending, but he's in charge so they take it. He also presumes to know better than his leader and telling him so right in front of the other Decepticons. While this is consistent with his arrogance, there is something deeper there. He doesn't want the Decepticons to lose as a group, he's not just looking for number one, and that is another nice nuance to add to the character.
In a larger sense, it is cool to see some moments and elements shown for the first time. Starscream's coordination of the Decepticons and the assembling of the Autobots on their starship are all things that have been mentioned or hinted at elsewhere, but it is nice to see the beginnings of each of these plot elements. Even though I enjoyed the first "Transformers" movie, I always wondered about the logic of just launching the Allspark into space and then having Transformers randomly flying around in "protoform comet" modes looking for it. Using the classic "Ark versus Nemsis" set up but playing it out differently creates tension in the midst of events where we already know the ultimate outcome. While he is a minor character in this comic, Optimus' preparation of a starship to chase the Allspark and the use of the mines to keep the Decepticons away show that the Autobot leader did plan ahead and didn't just launch the Allspark into space with no back up plan.
This issue had four covers drawnby various artists, but I would have to say my favorite is the Gabriel Rodriguez cover which pays homage to a classic G1 Marvel cover. On this cover, Starscream is hunched over next to a wall that says "Are all dead", with the "Transformers" logo above it. The Decepticon Shockwave was on a similar cover back in the 80's. I love this homage which is well drawn to boot. All the covers are fairly spectacular, with tons of detail on the James Raiz cover and dynamic action on the Alex Milne cover.
Alex Milne and crew truly do a spectacular turn at the art chores in this comic. This could not have been an easy comic to draw. Unlike traditional Transformers, the movie based Transformers have tons of detail, angles, panels etc. that have to be drawn in. That look gets even more exaggerated when the characters are in their native Cybertronian modes without the benefit of smoother Earth vehicle panels here and there on their bodies. All the scenes taking place on Cybertron are things of beauty. In particular I'm fond of the scenes with the Autobots gathering on the Autobot ship. While not named the ship is clearly based on the classic "Autobot shuttle" design from the G1 Transformers series. It is also cool to see so many familiar Autobot designs inside the ship. Optimus is clearly based on his 2007 movie "Protoform" figure, but we also see some forms that are just reminscent enough of their G1 incarnations to look familiar including Prowl and Cosmos.
On the other side of the coin, we get to see several key scenes from the movie recreated, but again the "blanks" are filled in including just what the heck happened to Barricade (one of the mysteries of the first film that was still not answered on screen by "Revenge of the Fallen"). What impressed me was how much each of these scenes looked just like the ones in the movie down to the camera angles. Often time artists will take scenes from movies and try to put their own "spin" on it, but here Milne stays appropriately loyal to how the original scenes were framed allowing us to psychologically connect this new comic to scenes we've probably seen a dozen times already at this point. It also allows him to show that he can draw machinery of a different style. The art on the vehicle modes of the Decepticons and Starscream's "Earth" robot mode are all much different in aesthetic than the Cybertronian forms, with less angular details and bits jutting out everywhere. They're a lot cleaner in appearance and look fantastic.
The color work on this issue is brilliant. All the scenes on Cybertron are appropriately grim and serious with a lot of "fire and brimstone", resembling the Cybertron seen in the first movie's flashback sequence. On the Autobot ship things are bright and somewhat hopeful while the Decepticon ship interior appears more dark and sinister. Once we switch to Earth, the colorists really worked hard to replicate the color palette of the film with brightly lit scenes and slightly faded colors used on the Decepticons (making bright characters such as Optimus stand out a lot).
"Reign of Starscream" #1 really surprised me. I was expecting a rather hollow story just based on my bias of a rather bland Starscream as portryed in the first movie. However, the writers elevated the story above and beyond what I expected, giving us something interesting that also fills in the blanks on a lot of events that preceeded (and occurred after) the movie. The artwork is spectacular and stays true to the aesthetic of the film and in some cases recreates scenes to great effect. This is an excellent read and definitely worth picking up!