The Transformers wade deep into political intrigue and moral ambiguity with Transformers: Robots in Disguise. It’s part of a new chapter in IDW’s Transformers continuity and one that seems to have a lot of potential as Autobots and Decepticons reluctantly work together to rebuild Cybertron.
The war between factions has ended. A flood of non-aligned Cybertronians have returned home, and Optimus Prime has gone into exile as a gesture that the war is over. Now, it’s up to Bumblebee to lead the Autobots in restoring civilization to Cybertron even though they’re no longer welcome on their own world.
IDW has hit on a really interesting place to take the Transformers franchise. I’m not sure this much focus has ever been placed on the idea that not every Cybertronian took sides in the war or that so many Cybertronians chose to stay out of it instead. Having them all come to what’s left of home and blame the Autobots and Decepticons alike for it all creates an environment that is just rich with potential. Better yet, John Barber seems like he’s very capable of exploring that potential.
Set after the disaster at the end of Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, this issue serves as an overview of the current situation on Cybertron. More non-aligned Cybertronians, referred to as Nails, are coming home to find it a less than ideal place. The Autobots are viewed more as an occupying force than conquering heroes. Bumblebee tries to win the people over but constantly finds himself undermined by their self-professed representative Metalhawk. The Decepticons are now prisoners and chain-ganged into helping keep the peace with Ratbat emerging as their new leader. It’s a complex powderkeg, and Barber does an excellent job at portraying all of the growing tension.
There is some unfortunate baggage left over from the previous series in regard to Bumblebee’s status as Autobot leader. Mainly, it was done poorly. The election of Bumblebee to the role of leader was one of the failures of IDW’s previous Transformers book. It just happened. It never really made sense why the Autobots would need to elect a new leader given their chain of command, and it made even less sense that the majority would choose Bumblebee. Yet, I now like him in the role. In this series, he really works well, and I honestly can’t imagine another Transformer being as interesting as leader in the present situation. The addition of the cane he now walks with gives him an air of maturity that helps sell him as leader too. So I guess it is best to not think about how he got here and just enjoy that he’s here now.
Prowl and Ratbat are developing into really interesting roles as well. Ratbat is a surprising choice as the newly emerging leader of the Decepticons, but his background as a former senator gives it a lot of weight. And Prowl seems like he’s following a character arc that his been in progress for years. He is probably the most developed character in the IDW continuity at this point. It seems like every run has something going on with Prowl.
Metalhawk is making for an excellent series antagonist too. It seems wrong to call him a villain, but he is definitely an antagonist. He’s that type of character you just want to see get punched in the face and laid low. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out there’s more to this character than what he seems.
Andrew Griffith really excels on the art. Besides the main characters themselves, I find myself really interested in his large group shots of the general populace of Cybertron. He puts effort into making sure there are different types of Cybertronians in the mix, which is a really good idea. It makes sense when you think about it. Tribes of Cybertronians took off on their own millions of years ago. Some would have likely evolved very differently. Hopefully, this is something that is going to be explored through the course of this series. It would bring a lot of interesting new conflicts to the mix. If the Autobots did give up power, could the various tribes of Cybertronians even get along with each other?
Even though this is a first issue, it does seem like readers are expected to not be totally new. This follows both the events of Transformers: the Death of Optimus Prime and the first issue of Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye. It may be a bit confusing to try reading this issue if you have no idea what has happened in those two issues.
Having been disappointed with IDW’s Transformers franchise since Transformers: All Hail Megatron ended, Transformers: Robots in Disguise is a very welcome change. The intelligent and character-driven conflict is has brewing is a definite upswing in terms of story, and the potential for more developments is so rich that I can’t help but to want to keep reading to see what happens next.