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At first, I thought the concept of Revolution, the five-issue miniseries recently concluded from IDW Publishing, was a little hokey. The idea was to join a number of comic book properties that began mostly as toy lines in the 1980s (owned with Hasbro) and bring them together in a shared universe. IDW’s Revolution brings together Transformers, G.I. Joe, ROM, Micronauts, M.A.S.K. and Action Man. However, the execution of the series is much better than I thought it would be. Though it has its flaws, Revolution is an enjoyable story.
It’s not that hard to see how this idea started. Transformers and G.I. Joe have been two of IDW’s biggest licensed properties for years. At some point, writers brought the franchises into the same comic book universe. At the same time, IDW Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall has been working for years to bring ROM and Micronauts, two properties he quite likes (especially ROM), to IDW. Ryall’s mission succeeded when IDW announced it would be publishing comics for both series in 2016. M.A.S.K. and Action Man, two properties that had their moments but have faded a bit into obscurity, were also slated to have new series from IDW.
Marvel Studios created a monster with their “Avengers initiative” and it’s very popular to have shared universes. Universal Studios is kicking off a new shared universe of their monster properties with the new The Mummy reboot starring Tom Cruise. There is a certain logic in bringing together properties that also began as toys. Additionally, Transformers, G.I. Joe, ROM and Micronauts all had pretty long comic book runs in the 1980s at Marvel Comics. A shared universe could spike interest since many of the properties were getting new series around the same time.
I give much of the credit for what works about Revolution to writers John Barber and Cullen Bunn. There are so many ways that a comic book like this could have gone off the rails. It’s not just like bringing together Superman and Batman. It’s like bringing together Superman and, well, the Transformers. However, there are some elements of these properties that actually work well together. M.A.S.K. features vehicles that turn into other combat operations, not too different from Transformers. Similarly, the evil force in M.A.S.K. is called Venom, which is very similar to Cobra, the evil force in G.I. Joe.
Barber and Bunn make a bold decision in setting up the conflict. The two antagonist forces that have the most name recognition in these properties are the Deceptacons and Cobra. However, the writers do not focus on them. Instead, they select the Dire Wraiths (ROM), Miles Mayhem (M.A.S.K.) and Baron Karza (Micronauts) as the villains. It’s a smart choice because it makes the conflict feel less predictable.
As with many hero team-ups, things do not start with everyone on the same side. At the start of the story, the Autobots are an incredible power on Earth that many people, including G.I. Joe, do not trust. G.I. Joe has been infiltrated by Dire Wraiths, aliens who kill and then take the form of the person. ROM has recently shown up on Earth in hunt of the Dire Wraiths, with a weapon that helps him identify Wraiths. The Wraiths are hunting down Ore-13, which happens to also be one of the Transformers’ central power supplies. Barber and Bunn do a great job of making the disparate elements cohere well together. M.A.S.K. ends up being a secret branch of G.I. Joe, and Venom is an arm of Cobra.
Different properties get their chance to shine. However, with the huge casts of some of the teams, they are only so many characters that can be shown. Some of the most popular characters of these teams are unsurprisingly main figures of Revolution. Optimus Prime leads the Autobots and ends up being a voice of reason and compromise. Scarlett from G.I. Joe is headstrong but a brave leader, who eventually realizes that the integrity of her team has been compromised. Snakeyes “freelances” and ends up building an important link to the Micronauts.
It definitely helps to have some familiarity with these properties, though you do not need to have read recent issues of IDW’s Transformers and G.I. Joe line. I knew most of these characters with the exception of Action Man, but it’s pretty clear that he is like James Bond meets G.I. Joe. A reader without familiarity with most of these properties will not likely be lost, but it might be less enjoyable. After all, a big initial draw for a concept of Revolution is nostalgia. Many children who had Transformers and G.I. Joes played with them together. Revolution puts that into story form.
Still, while nostalgia can motivate fans, it’s a lousy story conceit. Barber and Bunn focus on an alien invasion story, combined with teams/forces at cross-purposes. It is not the most original story of all time, but they throw enough twists for the plot to be compelling. Many of the issues of Revolution show the characterization of the teams. The writers manage to have each team feel different. You understand why they are initially fighting and then why they unite.
Revolution is surprisingly fun, but it does have some problems. The series nicely sets up the players and the conflict over the first few issues, allowing tie-in issues to expand on individual incidents. However, the wrap-up of the conflict, centering on a force linking the Wraiths and Baron Karza, happens way too quickly. The resolution of Revolution #5 feels rushed and a bit unsatisfying. The end of the series segues into a new upcoming title called Revolutionaries, which will feature members of the different properties on the same team. So perhaps IDW wanted to get out of the miniseries quickly.
If you like at least two of the properties featured in Revolution, I think the series is worth a read. Until the end, the pacing is good. There is a nice mix of action and characterization. I haven’t decided if I will check out Revolutionaries, but I won’t rule it out. Considering that IDW crafted a good miniseries out of a suspect synergy move, it’s possible they can extend the magic.