IDW Publishing: "Robots in Disguise" #1 Comic Book Review
Title: "The Autonomy Lesson"
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Publishing Date: January 24, 2012
Written by: John Barber
Art by: Andrew Griffith
Colors by: Josh Perez
Letters by: Shawn Lee
Edits by: Carlos Guzman
*Retailer incentive covers not shown.
The story so far...
Cybertron has been reorn, and Transformers have begun to return to their homeworld. Be it non-aligned, Autobot or Decepticon day by day more arrive. Hoping to seek out the long lost guardians of Cybertron's culture, Rodimus has taken a crew of several hundred Transformers with him into space. However, upon take off it appeared his ship exploded when in reality he was teleported to another part of the galaxy. Meanwhile, Bumblebee and Metalhawk work together to try to hold together a fragile alliance with the Decepticons even as more non-aligned Transformers arrive daily.
As Bumblebee and Metalhawk watch, new Transformers arrive on Cybertron by the ship full. They are a diverse crowd, with body forms very different from the Autobots and Decepticons trying to corral them safefly around the landing zone. As some Transformers arrive they are suspicious of Bumblbee and his followers, wondering if they have come home to a place they truly want to live.
When one of these Transformers takes to defacing a nearby wall, the Decepticons Horri-Bull and Needlenose take it upon themselves to punish him violently. Autobots arrive in time to stop it from escalating, and it is revealed all Decepticons have been implanted with chips that can destroy them if they get out of line. Also, some of their special functions such as Skywarp's teleportation were disabled in the process. The agreement is that they would help with security but still follow Autobot rules, something Decepticon commander Ratbat is not too happy about - and he intends to do something about it!
Keeping the peace is quite the chore, and as time goes by Prowl has taken it upon himself to do whatever he feels is necessary to keep the peace. A mysterious figure helps him do some of the dirty work, but ultimately this is not a responsibility he wanted.
Not too long after the initial incident, Horri-Bull and Needlenose get into trouble again, this time beating up two non-aligned Transformers. Bumblebee and Metalhawk witness this, and despite Bumblebee's warnings, Horri-Bull refuses to stop the violence even after Needlenose has backed off. Feeling he has no choice, Bumblebee activates Horri-Bull's bomb and the Decepticon's head literally explodes! As others look on in horror, Skywarp is hidden nearby and reports that Horri-Bull is dead before teleporting away!
As Bumblebee and Metalhawk stand over the body of Horri-Bull, the future now seems more uncertain than ever.
A couple weeks back I was quite effusive with my praise for the groundwork laid in "More than Meets the Eye" #1, and this book follows it up with aplomb. Truth be told I had lost some faith in the storylines that were running much of last year, but I can say that I am absolutely riveted by this tale. It's a fascinating idea - just what do you do after millions of years of nothing but war? If they do keep fighting, just what are they fighting for? In the IDW universe, the Autobots ran a Dystopia that eventually backfired on them. Megatron led his forces to free those he saw as opporessed, but now that a whole new government is starting, it's interesting to see that the Decepticons have not forgotten the very root of their faction's name. The reveal at the end showing the Decepticons are not as helpless as we were led to think was spectacular and really got me excited to see what would happen next.
On the Decepticon front, it would have been one thing if they had been locked up with the "restraint" chips in their heads, but to use them as brute force and then threaten to blow them up with no middle ground strikes me as very "non-Autobot like" in the traditional 80's sense, but has sad echoes of the Autobots from Cybertron's past in the IDW Universe. Bumblebee has to be very careful not to become the very thing that caused the Decepticon uprising millions of years ago, and the tension created by that conflict is intense. If I were in Ratbat's shoes, I'd be scheming all over the place to get "my people" back to some equal footing. His speech about the Decepticons using their natural abilities and being called on as muscle really made me feel like a set up was being slowly built up for a whole new war to take place any second.
Want to hear the odd thing? I found myself empathizing a lot more with the "NAILs" (Non Aligned Transformers) and the Decepticons than I did Bumblebee. The way I'm reading him, he just seems "broken" somehow (and I don't just mean his silly cane). There is this weariness that isn't part of the Bumblebee we would normally know and love, but given his experiences the past few years that's hardly a shock. Almost every step of the way I found myself thinking "No Bumblebee, listen to Metalhawk!" and when you are that invested in a book, it says a lot about the quality of what you're reading.
The artwork in this series is fantastic, and I think aligns to my current tastes quite a bit. Andrew Griffith really wowed me with the pages that feature the non-aligned Cybertronians existing their ships and milling about as Autobots and Decepticons look on. The sheer diversity of designs (with some cute homages including one to Lex Luthor and another to Boba Fett) was really inspiring to see, yet all the designs looked like these are creatures that could have come from the same planet. It took me back to the "Beast Wars/Machines" era, where Transformers designs became almost experimental in nature. I was also very happy to see the return of many designs based on "Generations" and "War for Cybertron" character models/designs. Bumblebee's design in particular is a cool one and I really liked seeing Ironhide vital and "alive" again. Josh Perez's colors are bright and vibrant and I really appreciate the way he tries to make certain elements on the characters "glow" such as their eyes and faction symbols - a carry over design aspect used heavily in the "War for Cybertron" game.
"Robots in Disguise" is less of an "adventure" book than "More than Meets the Eye". Instead, it's a rarity in "Transformers" fiction - a psychological and political book that reads with machinations that are reminscent of some of the old "Battletech" novels I used to read that combined politics and action into some really fun reading. If you're wondering what else can be done with a "Transformers" story other than having them beat the tar out of each other, this is the book for you. Highly recommended!