Friday, September 25, 2015

TRANSFORMERS: WAR AND PEACE #1

"NEW WORLD ORDER"
Writer: Brad Mick* | Pencils: Pat Lee | Inks: Rob Armstrong
Backgrounds: Edwin Garcia | Layout Assists: Ferd Poblate
Colors: Espen Grundetjern, Alan Wang, & Paul Villafuerte | Letters: Paul Villafuerte

The Plot: In Alaska, the Autobots and Decepticons fight over an Autobot pod. The pod's occupant is revealed as Decepticon Scourge, but the fight is soon interrupted by a group of Transformers from Cybertron, led by Megatron's former military strategist, Shockwave. These forces subdue Megatron and capture the Decepticons, but the Autobots retreat, leaving a small force behind, led by Prowl, to monitor Shockwave's group. But Shockwave soon leaves Earth with the Decepticons, and dispatches another force to capture the Autobots.

At Autobot headquarters the next day, the Autobots debate whether to surrender to Shockwave, having been told by him that the war on Cybertron is over. Meanwhile, Prowl's team is ambushed by Shockwave's secondary force. In space, the ever-traitorous Starscream jettisons the unconscious Megatron from Shockwave's starship.

Continuity Notes: This story begins en media res a year after "Prime Directive" ended. Wheeljack, who was apparently killed at the conclusion of "Prime Directive", is seen among the Autobots. Also, Blitzwing, who was shown as an Earthbound Decepticon in an Ark II flashback in the previous story, is now among Shockwave's troops instead.

Grimlock, who, in "Prime Directive", betrayed the Autobots to join Megatron and then deserted the Deceptions as well, arrives in Alaska to aid the Autobots against Shockwave's team, then returns to Autobot headquarters. He's still wearing a Decepticon sigil on his chest, however.

G1 References: Scourge, the occupant of the Autobot pod, was created in the original TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE from near-deceased Decepticons to serve Galvatron, an upgraded version of Megatron. Here, he's his own character, indicating that this TRANSFORMERS continuity will not be beholden to the original animation despite taking several cues from it.

One such cue, however, is Autobot headquarters, which is, as it was in the Generation One cartoons, a golden spacecraft embedded in the side of a volcano. In a piece of continuity pulled from the original Marvel comics, it's explicitly stated that the volcano is in Oregon.

Shockwave here owes his characterization mostly to the Generation One comics, being a coldly logical character who has assumed the mantle of leadership because he believes his lack of emotion makes him the best robot for the job. Shockwave's warriors are all triple-changers from the original TRANSFORMERS series.

Though not seen in full yet, the leader of Shockwave's secondary team, "Security Team Dion", is clearly Ultra Magnus. "Dion", meanwhile, is a reference to the best friend of Orion Pax, the Cybertronian who would become Optimus Prime in the original series episode "War Dawn". Also, Magnus uses the term "breem", which was a measure of time in Marvel's TRANSFORMERS comics.

As the Autobots debate surrender, Bluestreak references his original toy's "Tech Spec" bio, discussing the destruction of his hometown at Decepticon hands.

When Starscream ejects Megatron into space, he paraphrases some of his own dialogue from a similar scene in 1986's TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.

BEAST WARS References: Characters use "cycle" as a unit of time and mention regenerative "CR chambers", both concepts introduced in the nineties' BEAST WARS cartoon.

My Thoughts: Right off the bat -- literally, from the very first piece of dialogue on the issue's splash page, it's clear we've changed gears. Megatron screams, "Prepare for oblivion, Optimus Prime!" and we're off and running. Not a single line from Chris Sarracini's "Prime Directive" evoked the original cartoons in the way this one does. And it just gets better from there. Suddenly everyone is in character, speaking with appropriate speech patterns. I can "hear" all the original voice actors, with no effort, in my head when I read their lines.

Even the continuity feels right. Though we obviously aren't living in the same universe as the original cartoons, all the trappings are there, such as the Autobots inside their gold headquarters, the banter between Ratchet and Ironhide as the former repairs the latter -- and of course there's Starscream's cocky treachery. Too many of the eighties revivals in the early 00s tried to move their properties forward, to grow them up with the audience, to reinvent the wheel. We just saw it ourselves with "Prime Directive". But writer Mick understands the point of nostalgia: it's not to change things, it's to wrap a warm, comfortable blanket of childhood memories around the reader. In terms of tone and style, this is pitch-perfect GENERATION ONE, and all nostalgia trips could stand to take a lesson from it.

The story, on the other hand -- eh. While this one issue is leaps and bounds better than anything Sarracini gave us, it still leaves something to be desired. There's nothing wrong with this idea per se; the concept of Cybertron unifying in the millions of years Optimus Prime and Megatron were trapped on Earth makes a lot of sense (and is, in fact, something Simon Furman explored in Marvel's GENERATION TWO comics a decade or so before WAR AND PEACE was published). But, were it my choice, I wouldn't have gone this big this fast. Mick clearly has some large scale stories he wants to tell, and more power to him, but I would've liked to have seen another mini-series about just the Earthbound characters, but written in this throwback style rather than the depressing tone of Chris Sarracini.

Beyond the increased scope of the story, we also have a sudden expansion of the cast, as well -- and this is just the beginning. "Prime Target" was almost exclusively 1984 characters, and even then pared down its cast by leaving several Autobots deactivated for much of the action. This issue has pretty much all the '84 cast involved in some way or another -- something I'm fine with -- but also suddenly brings in some of the 1985ers. By the time the series ends, we will have seen practically the entire 1985-86 lineups introduced. It's a case of too much too soon.

But we'll cover that as it comes. For now, though I have reservations about the story, I can let them go when the trade-off is seeing these characters written the way they're supposed to be written. In terms of style if not execution, Brad Mick was born to write the Transformers.


* Due to working in Dreamwave's editorial department, writer James McDonough scripted his first several TRANSFORMERS comics under the pseudonym "Brad Mick". My reviews will use the Brad Mick name until the point where McDonough is officially credited by his real name.

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