04 April 2017

Review: The Transformers: Dark Prelude by James Roberts, John Barber, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2013 (contents: 2012-13)
Acquired and read March 2017
The Transformers: Dark Prelude

Written by James Roberts, John Barber, Nick Roche
Art by Steve Kurth & Juan Castro, Chee, Nick Roche, David Daza, Matt Frank, Agustin Padilla
Colors by J. Aburtov, Ronda Pattison, Len O'Grady, Zac Atkinson, Thomas Deer, Joana Lafuente
Letters by Shawn Lee

Dark Prelude collects the last six issues of IDW's The Transformers Spotlight series, which apparently tie into the upcoming Dark Cybertron event. I read it here, between volume 4 of More than Meets the Eye and volume 4 of Robots in Disguise, which turned out to be a pretty good spot to read it, as some of its revelations are brought up in Robots in Disguise, Volume 4.

I previously struggled with collections of Transformers Spotlight issues, finding it difficult to invest in fragmentary stories of robots I knew nothing about. I had a much better time reading Dark Prelude, which we can probably attribute to a few things:
  1. I know a lot more about Transformers, especially the IDW G1 versions, than I did even a few months ago, so I have more context for these characters.
  2. James Roberts, John Barber, and Nick Roche are better writers than Simon Furman and Shane McCarthy.
  3. Most of these stories plug into areas of Transformers history I actually know something about: the Orion Pax story, for example, takes place after the flashbacks in More than Meets the Eye, Volume 3, before Autocracy. Two of the stories take place during More than Meets the Eye itself, which is nice.
  4. Though each of these is a standalone, done-in-one tale, there's an ongoing narrative about the Titans that you can follow. In the first story, the Decepticons learn about the existence of the Titans. The second is about a group of Decepticon Titan Hunters, following information from the first story. The third reveals that the Titan Hunters succeeded, and stolen Titan technology was used to rebuild Megatron. The fourth features Bumblebee dealing with the ramifications of that. The fifth has the same group of Titan Hunters from the second boarding the Lost Light. The sixth takes place simultaneously with the fifth, and also reveals a new perspective on an event from the first. A perfect loop! And all the stuff about the Titans of course ties into recent events in both More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise, where a Titan appeared on Theophany and then Cybertron in turn.
It's also just a set of good stories: nothing here is bad, and the stories range from decent to highly enjoyable.

I guess somewhat predictably, two of the highlights were the ones by James Roberts set during More than Meets the Eye (specifically, during volume 2), both with his trademark combination of character work and humor-- though "The Reluctant Specialist" is perhaps more outright farcical than anything Roberts has actually done during More than Meets the Eye itself, given things like the Rodimus Star, which Rodimus gives out to reward people as brave as himself:
You might ask, "Is Rodimus descending into self-parody here?" and I would reply, "If it's this funny, who cares?"
from The Transformers Spotlight: Trailcutter (script by James Roberts, art by Matt Frank)

"The Waiting Game" has a nice comedy moment where Hoist makes fun of Roberts's own writing foibles:
Keep being quietly competent, Hoist-- it's the best thing you can do!
from The Transformers Spotlight: Hoist (script by James Roberts, art by Agustin Padilla)

But, of course, in the end, Hoist does turn out to have a "crippling psychological disorder," one that in a nice turn of events, allows him to save the day on a landing party gone wrong.

Other than those, I particularly enjoyed Nick Roche's contribution to the volume (which he writes and draws, he's a talented man), where Megatron wakes up after one of his many resurrections (it apparently takes place between two issues of the IDW ongoing only known as The Transformers) and has it out with Starscream over what a terrible job Starscream did running the Decepticons during his absence, picking up from aspects of their relationship discussed in volumes 2 and 4 of All Hail Megatron, and leading into Robots in Disguise, Volume 4, when a resurrected Megatron will once again complain about Starscream's leadership. Roche's characterization of both Starscream and Megatron here is fascinating: Starscream is filled with self-loathing over his failure, to the extent that he needs Megatron to punish him, while Megatron wants Starscream to live up to his ideals, and so bullies Starscream in a way intended to make him "better"-- but actually likes Starscream more than he lets on.

Apparently you become leader of the Decepticons by delivering sick burns.
from The Transformers Spotlight: Megatron (script & art by Nick Roche)

It's great stuff, deftly executed by Roche, and I can already see how it affects their strange relationship after the war in Robots in Disguise.

Overall, this is a nice set of stories, revealing new characters to me (I hope we see more of Trailcutter and Hoist in More than Meets the Eye), and adding extra shades to old characters (like Bumblebee, Megatron/Starscream, and Thundercracker). I look forward to discovering how this sets up Dark Cybertron going forward.

Next Week: Meanwhile, on Cybertron... Prowl's machinations come to a head (lol) in Robots in Disguise!

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