The War Within #1
Release date: October 2002
Cover variants: Regular, lenticular
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Don Figueroa (pencils) Elaine To (inks) Rob Ruffolo (colors)
Rating: Art / Story
First appearance: Sentinel Prime, Bluestreak, Skids, Tracks, Kup, Prowl, Shockwave, Gravitas, Darklight
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
The Autobots have a new leader called Optimus Prime!
Sentinel Prime is dead. The Autobots' leader during peacetime was ill equipped for war and has now been slain by Megatron. His passing heralds a new chapter in Cybertron's history - the age of the Decepticons and the civil war! In the distance once-great structures burn as a crimson mist fills the sky.
In the capital city Iacon a diligent archivist named Optimus inputs an endless stream of data and statistics from the battlefront. He views the situation with a cold detachment unlike his newly-enlisted Autobot friend Bluestreak who recently abandoned his life as a merchant. He speaks of a disturbing rumour among the ranks that Megatron personally executed the Prime a diode at a time, but Optimus is trying to work and has no time for such stories. Bluestreak is angry and points out that the situation outside is not just facts and figures, it is deadly real, and the ill-prepared Autobots are losing the war.
As if to illustrate the point a warrior known as Overhaul is blown apart in the trenches by Decepticon fire in the next scene. Ironhide, Skids, Wheeljack and Kup are feeling the pressure, but their unit commander Grimlock is reluctant to sanction yet another retreat. The seeker jets Thundercracker and Skywarp soar overhead and unleash a volley of missiles at a refuge for so-called 'Neutrals' before attacking a position where Bumblebee and Trailbreaker are holed-up. They radio the situation to Grimlock and he punches through a rock face in frustration. The battle for Althihex is lost and the Autobots transform into their new vehicle modes and roll out. The only thing they know is that the new Prime, whenever he is chosen, will need to have some clout!
Soon after Optimus stands before the council of the ancients - a group of beings who maintain a psychic link with the Creation Matrix and interpret its wishes. The will of the sacred life-force is clear: Optimus is to be the new leader and will become Optimus Prime. This sensible, wise Transformer is not lacking in confidence but he nevertheless feels that he is not right for the job. Everyone is fighting for control of Cybertron, whether to restore peace or install a more sinister destiny, but Optimus feels that the planet is not worth all the sacrifice. Even so he steps into a pool of mystic lava, as tradition demands, and begins to receive messages from the Matrix.
Elsewhere in a burnt out husk of ground that was once the town Praxus, its former son Prowl is waiting with Jazz for a rendezvous with Grimlock. They hear the engines of a powerful armoured vehicle and it transforms into Grimlock who is flanked by Ironhide and the others. Poetry is not one of Grim's strong points but he attempts to paint Praxus as a metaphor for the old order of Cybertron now destroyed, and declares that force is the only way forward. If the council appoints the wrong Prime then they will have to remove him from office and take over.
Optimus continues to see images of future destruction wrought by Starscream and Shockwave but it only reinforces his belief that the Autobots should abandon Cybertron and go elsewhere. Sometime later, senior Autobots are gathered in the Chamber of Ancients to witness the Matrix of Leadership being passed to Optimus, and see him grow larger and energised by it. The wheel turns and the cycle continues, say the elders. Suddenly three Decepticon assassins burst in wielding swords and start chopping limbs off the gathered Autobots. A cry goes out to "protect the Prime" but Grimlock holds his followers back, insisting that this is the perfect way to see what Optimus is made of. One Decepticon is blown apart by Kup and Hound and Optimus tussles with the other two. After defeating them he lifts one of the enemy agents up and demands information. But all the assassin will say is that the seeds of destruction have been sown below ground and that he is expendable, then activates an acid pellet in his head and commits suicide by melting his own brain.
The Autobots are impressed with their new leader's fighting abilities but shocked when he declares that they must bow to the inevitable and give Cybertron up for lost. They are to return to their posts and prepare for a planet-wide evacuation. Within the bowels of the homeworld the Decepticon leader Megatron is waiting for a reckoning with Optimus Prime.
As if you couldn't guess, this story takes place millions of years ago (four to be exact), and is different to anything Marvel or Dreamwave has produced before. It explores some virgin territory in-so-far-as nobody has bothered to explore the early pre-Earth days and there is bucket loads of untapped potential here. I can only think of one story that attempted this, which was 'And There Shall Come a Leader' in the 1985 Transformers annual, but this story is easily superior. In a way it is fitting that Furman and Dreamwave should release the War Within in these times because the success of such films as Star Wars has whet the public appetite for so-called 'prequels'.
I can't fault the art or the colouring which in my view are the best of anything we have seen from Dreamwave so far. Don Figueroa has put a lot of time and effort into designing Cybertron modes for familiar characters such as Prime and Grimlock etc. and it really shows. The detail is such that the transformations look perfectly natural and you could well imagine, if Hasbro were to release a War Within line of toys, they would transform exactly as depicted in these pages. Optimus Prime's origin story has been touched on before, in Marvel issue 1 and the 1985 annual where he was depicted as a soldier who emerged from the ranks to take command, and notably in the cartoon when the Aerialbots travelled back in time and witnessed Orion Pax being recreated as Optimus. Here he is a hard working behind-the-scenes kind of a bot, who is thrust on to the front line. He clearly has ability as demonstrated when he despatches the assassins, and has the guts to take unpopular decisions such as abandoning Cybertron, but hasn't quite got the common touch at this point that he is famous for. I would have liked to see more of an insight into Prime's thoughts and personal conflict. Does he find his new role daunting and is self-doubt creeping in? As I have said elsewhere it doesn't seem as though Dreamwave goes in for thought bubbles so the only clues you get are in direct speech. This doesn't always tell the full story.
Megatron is absent from the issue apart from the last two pages but his presence is felt throughout. He is the instigator of all the bad stuff that unfolds, and the fact that we don't see him only creates more impact when he does eventually appear. Grimlock, meanwhile, is thrust into a prominent role and this is probably because he is one of Furman's favourite characters. It was Simon who brought him back from the sidelines and into the forefront in the later Marvel issues following the Unicron war (1991). One regret I have is that we don't get to see what Sentinel Prime looked like, only his bashed up arm. Long-time readers will remember the name from the Matrix Quest stories that Marvel did around 1990 and, rather like the mention of Buster in G1 volume 1, I like these little tie ins. The comment about Prime looking bigger after placing the Matrix in his chest compartment is a clear reference to the scene in TF: The Movie when Hot Rod becomes Rodimus. Overall though, a great start to the series and full marks to Simon and Don. I can't wait to read more.
Note: This issue is available to buy.