Comic Books: "Combiner Wars" Opening Salvo (Issue #39)
Title: "Opening Salvo"
Cover Price: $3.99 (US)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Written by: John Barber
Story by: Mairghread Scott & John Barber
Art by: Livio Ramondelli
Letters by: Tom B. Long
Editor: Carlos Guzman
Note: It's been a while since I've reviewed a comic book in the "Robots in Disguise" series. Since the new cartoon for 2015 has been named "Robots in Disguise", that sub-title was dropped from this title and for now it focuses on "Transformers Combiner Wars".
Following the events on Earth where the "Enigma of Combination" was stolen by Scoop, his ship arrives on Cybertron and he delivers the artifact to the Decepticon.
Elsewhere, the animosities of old arise again as Optimus and Windblade fight off the Stunticons and the Terrorcons. Swindle watches with amusement but soon Ironhide and Chromia arrive to break up the fight. As the Autobots leave Motormaster confronts Swindle quite angry, but the Combaticon reminds them the war is over.
Back at Metroplex, Windblade reveals that his internal Spacebridge has become active. Wheeljack explains that the bridge is unique in that it has the ability to connect to the lost thirteen colonies of Cybertron. These were established before Cybertron's civil war began (including Caminus, Windblade's home world). Optimus realizes that if the bridge is opened to Caminus it could be the beginning of a new Cybertronian Empire. He knows he has to talk about this with Starscream, but declares that if Starscream has betrayed Cybertron he would destroy him himself!
When Windblade and Optimus reveal the Spacebride to Starscream, he is pleased knowing full well this could begin a new empire (even if he won't use the word) but he intends to have Wheeljack finish repairing Superion first so Cybertron is well defended. Optimus knows that the time for Cybertron to be ruled by one person is over and that a group government made up of all the colonies would be best. Starscream's intentions however are much less clear.
Elsewhere, Wheeljack looks over the inert form of Superion, complaining about various things when Alpha Bravo reminds him that he joined the Aerialbots to help Cybertron not hear him complain. Soon Starscream appears with the "Enigma" in tow! Oddly, he also allows Swindle to get his hands on it, and the Combaticon decides to bring it to the Stunticons to "get the band back together".
Soon enough, the chaos begins as Optimus and Windlbade discover Metroplex's Spacebridge has been compromised! On the far away world of Caminus, we see the Stunticons emerge - as Menasor!
At its core, "Transformers" is a toy line and through much of its history the media that backs up the toy line has often served to promote those toys. However, as the IDW Publishing series grew and its audience matured the comic book became less of a toy line promotion and more of a story all its own incorporating elements of the toy line, most often in the form of character design changes. However, with the "Combiner Wars" launch, this has changed (at least temporarily) as this issue shows, the main drive here is to show off upcoming toys and characters. That said, the way in which it is done is very modern and appropriate to the universe IDW has established. Whereas the old Marvel comic book did a good job of keeping "teams" together (example: the Aerialbots often appeared as a group, rarely as individual characters on solo missions) it was also a product of an exposition heavy age of comic book writing. Characters would be introduced with a self introduction followed by some explanation of their abilities. This "Opening Salvo" of "Combiner Wars" tries to play it a bit more subtle. For example, Offroad is mentioned in a quick scene where Dead End tells us he's a new recruit. Powerglide's association with the Aerialbots is established in a scene where he is standing next to Alpha Bravo. When it comes to having to introduce new toys and characters, this is about as subtle as you can get I think without potentially having the character lost in the shuffle.
I will confess at times I felt the issue felt a bit disjointed. Scene breaks happened fairly quickly and a bit unevenly. The most "forced" break in my opinion was the quick cut to Wheeljack complaining and then back to Swindle and the Stunticons. I know that these scenes are absolutely necessary to establish what is to come, and in many ways this issue is meant to serve as a prelude to the rest of the "Combiner Wars" story. You kind of need to dart around and lay down the foundation for future stories and I'd rather they do it this way than try to drag it out over several issues.
What I was very happy to see was the "big story' of the Spacebridge and Swindle invading Caminus with the Stunticons. I was also very happy to see some of the verbal and political maneuvering around Starscream being the ruler of Cybertron. There's plenty of foreshadowing of Starscream's less than straight forward behavior, the biggest example of which is his providing the Enigma to Swindle. Being the ruler of Cybertron and a traditionally treacherous character, Starscream makes for an obvious "bad guy" but I also like to think that in his own, bizarre way he actually thinks what he is doing is best for Cybertron, but that good intention has a very healthy heap of self interest piled on top of it. I doubt Starscream wants to go back to an age where any class is oppressed, so he would prefer to use manipulation over oppression and military might to back up his position. In many ways it is a much more devious and frightening way to rule Cybertron than Megatron's more overt military approach. It's actually cool seeing Starscream doing things his way because it shows how scary he can be outside of being a powerful warrior in his own right.
I enjoyed the artwork in this issue, but I'm a fan of Livio Ramondelli's unconventional style. It reminds me a lot of some of the more experimental comic book artwork I saw in the 90's and early 2000's. While I do love the more animated look of the other "Transformers" titles, Livio's dark, unrelenting style feels like a good fit for a book set on a dark world where dangerous events are coming together to start a new war. His work is very atmospheric and he doesn't tend to go into the more comedic aspects of "More than meets the eye" instead choosing to play moments "straight" and letting the script speak for itself. One example is found in the beginning where Swindle is singing to himself eating a snack as he watches the fight between Optimus, Windblade and the Stunticons. He doesn't over exaggerate any features, he just lets the scene play out and it works well.
Going back to my earlier point about this title promoting the toys, it's interesting to see how several characters are beginning to look more like their "Combiner Wars" toy counterparts. This includes Motormaster and Optimus Prime. Optimus in particular is interesting because his torso is still being drawn like the "Generations" Legends Class figure, but his arms look like the Optimus from "Combiner Wars". On the other hand, Powerglide looks nothing like his "Combiner Wars" toy so I'm interested to see if he changes over the course of the series.
- In the opening battle Blackjack is seen (but not named) along with some unidentified Seekers.
- Mindwipe and Weirdwolf are also seen briefly in the beginning battle.
- Metroplex's Spacebridge bears some resemblance to both the Oracle from "Beast Machines" as well as the transport device from the "Stargate" series.
- The Thirteen Colonies is an interesting choice in number given that there were originally "Thirteen" Transformers created by Primus.
- When Starscream is thinking about his new form, the diagrams he looks at are from (l to r): the live action movies, "Beast Wars the Second", "Generations" Leader class figure, "Animated" and "Prime".
- Offroad is called out as a new recruit, and Wildrider is said to have "taken off" but no other explanation is given.
This issue is a tad disjointed, but it does its job: setting up "Combiner Wars". I enjoyed the art and Starscream was appropriately crafty. Worth reading mostly for the set up.