Release date: April 2002
Cover variants: Autobot, Decepticon, holofoil, incentive, reprint1, reprint 2
Writer: Chris Sarracini
Artwork: Pat Lee (pencils) Rob Armstrong (inks)
Rating: Art / Story
First appearance: Megatron, Spike, Daniel, General Hallo, Hound, Optimus Prime
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
Spike is shocked to discover Optimus Prime has risen from the dead!
Four million years ago the Transformers crash landed on Earth aboard the Ark and lay dormant until 1984 when an eruption revived them and their age old war began anew. Throughout the 1980s the heroic Autobots battled to defend their adopted world from the evil Decepticons who wanted to plunder it, but both factions were feared and hated by humans in equal measure. In the next decade that changed as the governments of Earth came to realise that the Autobots were their allies and the Decepticons were their enemy. On May 4th, 1998 world leaders initiated Operation Liberation, and militarised for a unified assault against the Decepticons. Vast armies were led into battle by the Autobot leader Optimus Prime and the forces of Megatron were defeated, at the cost of millions of lives.
Out of this sacrifice came a new peace and the Autobots were finally free to concentrate their efforts on building a ship to return them to Cybertron. Ark II duly launched on June 24th, 1999 carrying the Autobots, captive Decepticons, and a delegation of human VIPs including scientists and Autobot ally Sparkplug Witwicky. It exploded in mid orbit, scattering the Transformers over the North Pole. The tragedy shocked the world, but three years later signs are emerging that the Transformers may have survived...
Our story begins in a south American jungle during the middle of the night where two poorly disciplined soldiers are supposed to be guarding camp. One talks his pal into giving him a light for a cigarette, ignoring the risk of an enemy seeing the flame, and proceeds to take a leak while talking. Out of the darkness, a huge robotic hand seizes the other soldier and crushes him to death. The peeing, smoking soldier turns to see his friend's battered body hit the ground and then flees in terror - but he doesn't get far before a huge foot stomps him flat. Moments later the entire camp goes up in a ball of fire.
The next day in Cleveland, Ohio, Spike Witwicky gets up for work and goes through the usual motions of shaving and dressing. He is about to leave when his young son Daniel reminds him to take his hardhat, leading to a show of fatherly affection. Spike opens the door and finds General Hallo standing there with a bodyguard and soon they are inviting themselves in. The general explains that Spike won't be going to work today but will be helping them with a little problem they have, everything has been arranged.
In the frozen wastes of north west Canada an open jeep is carrying the mysterious Lazarus, his assistant and Mr Bishop, a terrorist leader who wants to do business. After some chit-chat they disembark to cover the remaining ground on foot and Lazarus assures the customer that he has taken steps to ensure they aren't followed, as behind them we see the jeep transforming into the Autobot Hound. Lazarus escorts Mr Bishop inside his secret lab where he unveils none-other than Megatron! But before we find out what happens we cut to the Pentagon where Spike is waiting to see the general. A cleaner taps him on the shoulder as he's about to go, and warns him to be careful as "more than meets the eye" is going on around there. Spike is shown into a control room and the General brings up the Ark II tragedy, still a painful subject for his guest, and shows footage of Megatron laying waste to the army camp in south America.
Meanwhile Mr Bishop is awe struck by the size and terrifying menace of Megatron - even though his hosts assure him that the Decepticon leader has been reprogrammed to take orders. Lazarus demonstrates by ordering Megatron to raise his left, then his right arms, which he does. But when he is ordered to kneel Megatron strangely disobeys the command, and Lazarus is forced to put it down to a glitch and usher his potential business associate away. Elsewhere General Hallo takes Spike to a compound in the desert called Area 24 and they descend to a secret lab. Spike is told to meet the state's answer to Megatron's threat, and he steps inside coming face to face with Optimus Prime!
It had been close to 10 years since the last Transformers comic hit went on sale and it is fair to say that the anticipation ahead of this one was immense. In the intervening years teenagers who used to buy the Marvel comic grew up and in some cases had kids of their own, but nostalgia for the robots in disguise remained. One of the factors that finished off Marvel's Transformers monthly was that a significant part of the readership had decided they were too old to collect it anymore and had been dropping off in droves. Ironically a decade on a lot of these people were reversing their decision, probably because they were past caring about peer pressures, and legions of younger fans had come through as well and they had been following Transformers via fan sites and Titan reprints. So the timing seemed right in early 2002, and fledgling publisher Dreamwave gambled and won big-time. Advance orders for issue 1 of their six-part mini-series were so strong that it launched them from relative obscurity to top of Diamond Comic's best seller list. As dealers have to order their stocks two months in advance, many found they had underestimated the scale of interest in this comic, leading to a mad scramble by all concerned to get more copies. This lead to a second, then a third reprint and Dreamwave's tactic of releasing multiple covers probably netted them a very healthy return.
But what of the comic itself and does it live up to all the hype? My first impressions were on the one hand, fantastic artwork, and on the other slight disappointment that there weren't many actual Transformers in it. In fact there are only three. Also, being used to a meaty read from the Marvel comic with lots of text, I felt that the Dreamwave approach of art-is-king resulted in the reading experience being over a little too fast. Thank goodness for the background newspaper article at the back to provide greater context, although I would have liked this in comic strip form. Re-reading the comic two years on for the purpose of this review I find I am much more appreciative of it this time around. Maybe I have grown more used to Dreamwave and don't compare it to Marvel as much as I used to. Although comparison is and will always be inevitable as they were the first.
Good points: Almost immediately you realise that this is going to be a much darker incarnation of Transformers than we ever got from Marvel. Forget the old rule of no humans getting hurt (or being seen to get hurt) right at the start we have Megatron crushing the life out of a soldier and stomping on his mate. This hammers home the true destructive potential of a Transformer, and sure, someone like Megatron would be terrifying in real life and the comic captures that. Compare that ruthless approach with the comedic conversations between Megs and Donny Finkleberg (Robot Master) in the Marvel stories and the contrast is striking. The fact that a character is taking a pee is worthy of note, only because I have never seen that in a comic book. It shows an element of realism and thankfully wasn't done in a tacky way.
The story seems to have been calculated to avoid offending fans of either the Marvel comics or the cartoon series. It could quite comfortably sit in either continuity, with Spike and Daniel present to reassure cartoon buffs, and Buster Witwicky's name thrown in as a tribute to the comics. That Dreamwave has left things so open is a stroke of genius on their part: they have maximised their market and navigated the minefield of fan's expectations. In truth Dreamwave is not obliged to follow either preceding continuity but my guess is that they decided to build theirs up gradually. Lazarus is intriguing and I wondered at the time whether he might turn out to be Buster or a back-from-the-dead Sparkplug, as unlikely as it sounds. Hound's transformation after dropping Lazarus and his customer off was fantastic, and for me, really summed up what transformers is about - robots in disguise. Lazarus' client has come to inspect Transformers and never suspects for a minute that he has been riding in one.
Another good scene was the one where Megatron refused to kneel before Lazarus, something that was attributed to a systems glitch, but the readers know better. The page sequence with Spike encountering Prime also looked visually stunning, but the old comic fan in me was disappointed not to see the mandatory surprised speech bubble with "Optimus" and a couple of explanation marks in it. Another criticism is that Pat Lee seems to draw similar faces on all of his characters, but other than that a great start to a new era for Transformers.