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In the Transformers franchise, it's been clearly established that the Autobots fight for right while the Deceptacons are evil. Since the inception of the toys and animated TV series, the comic books – first through Marvel and more recently published by IDW – have filled in a lot of the backstory, history and character development. Lately, IDW's series Transformers: More than Meets the Eye and Transformers: Robots in Disguise have been upended a lot of what is known about the franchise, culminating in the Transformers: Dark Cybertron limited series. There is a lot to like here, though new readers may find it confusing.
The storylines in More than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise have been elaborate and fascinating. However, there's so much that's happened in these series that I wonder if anyone – like an old Transformers fan – could just pick Dark Cybertron #1 and make sense of what's going on. The issue, written by John Barber and James Roberts with art by Phil Jimenez and Andrew Griffith, continues a great deal of what's occurred previously in the two series I mentioned while also laying the groundwork for the rest of the limited series.
Much of the central story concerns the scheme of Shockwave to bring a Titan (a really large Transformer) to Cybertron as a part of his long-gestating plan to return power to one of the Deceptacons' former leaders. We're talking about millions of years of planning from Shockwave. His cold, calculating nature has been explored lately in Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and it is interesting to see him take the lead in the story because he seems to have worked out everything meticulously.
On the Autobot side, two teams who have been out on different missions finally find each other in space. One group is led by Rodimus Prime and the other by Orion Pax (who was known as Optimus Prime when he was a Prime). They must begrudgingly work with Starscream, who has left the Deceptacons to become the elected leader of Iacon, the last functioning state on Cybertron. Meanwhile, another Autobot team on Cybertron, led by Bumblebee, comes face-to-face with Shockwave's titan.
Even this lengthy description fails to cover all of the layers and subplots that have been established in the two IDW Transformers series that are coming together in Dark Cybertron. At times, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to keep all of the characters straight. Most of the characters are familiar from the original 1980s cartoons and movie, though there are important characters, as well, like Nova Prime and Jhiaxus who some old fans may not know. It's possible the background isn't essential, though. A new reader may be able to figure out the brewing conflict, even if some of the details are fuzzy.
One of the interesting things Barber and Roberts have done in their respective series is mix up loyalties. Some Deceptacons have left their side, including Cyclonus, who's joined the Autobots. Meanwhile, Shockwave and Soundwave, the acting leader of the Deceptacons, have faced their eons-long rivalry, as each has a different vision of the Deceptacons' future. Starscream, self-serving as ever, has found the power he's always craved, though he still lacks the true leadership to know how to use it.
If you prefer your Transformers to look like the original character designs rather than the Michael Bay movie versions, you'll be pleased to find the characters here look mostly like their original incarnations. Jimenez has contributed layouts and a cover, with the finished art being provided by Transformers: Robots in Disguise artist Griffith. His style has a touch of manga influence, but his characters mostly are well drawn and recognizable. While the art isn't groundbreaking, it does serve the story well while also having some standout moments like the double-page splash when the Titan first rises on Cybertron.
The work that's been done on IDW's main Transformers' comics lately has been very good. The intricate and layered storytelling is more about internal struggles for power and compromised deals with enemies than about robots punching and shooting. It's dense, though, so I hope that new readers can figure out what's happening in Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1 because I think the series will ultimately be quite rewarding.