Sideswipe dives into battle, eager to prove himself the equal of his former tutor Sunstreaker.
Sideswipe has been itching to get to Earth ever since he learned of Sunstreaker's capture by the humans. Most think it is because he shares a strong, almost brotherly bond, with his former instructor. But the truth is Sideswipe simply wants to save Sunstreaker's sorry hide and step out of his shadow forever - and to this end he now throws himself into battle with dead universer Grindcore.
Grindcore, who is in China mining Ore 13 energon with Lord Straxus, throws a boulder at Sideswipe who shatters it. Sideswipe commands Hound and Fortress Maximus to secure the Cybertronians' space bridge while he risks life and limb to hold the pair off. His commanding officer, Hound, concedes that while Sideswipe is usually a pain in posterior at the moment his brand of all-out action is just what they need!
Meanwhile Ultra Magnus informs the Autobots scattered across the galaxy of the threat they are facing. The twisted scientist Jhiaxus has created three 'Nega-cores' which will shortly detonate, accelerating the spread of the Benzuli Expance (dead universe). It will soon bleed into the wider universe forcing two into one and dooming a lot of life in the process. Shutting down the cores won't be easy, especially as they are being guarded by the Jhiaxus-controlled Thunderwing, Monstructor and Sixshot. Luckily Jetfire has a box of spanners to throw in the works. He's creating an 'axis cradle' to block Jhiaxus' mental control and has assigned the Technobots to create Pretender shells for a group of Autobots so that they may infiltrate the Benzuli Expanse without being instantly necrotised.
Jhiaxus activates Bludgeon (who is captive aboard Jetfire's ship) and sends him against Jetfire, and on Garrus-9 the prison planet, Optimus Prime does battle with his predecessor Nova Prime, who has since been corrupted by the 'darkness' at the heart of the Benzuli Expanse and turned into Nemesis Prime. Optimus realises why Nemesis needs him dead, for otherwise the darkness will follow the succession and move to possess Optimus, making Nova/Nemesis obsolete. Ultimately Nemesis is destroyed by the darkness, which attempts to gain control of Optimus, but Prime passes it to Galvatron before throwing him into a solar pool.
Jhiaxus, meanwhile, is holed-up on Gorlam Prime supposedly coordinating the plot. But Magnus has dispatched Arcee (who's got old scores to settle with Jhiaxus) to attack him, and with help from a near-zombiefied Hardhead she defeats Jhiaxus and keeps on punishing him. With his control broken the Negacores and vulnerable and the Autobots are able to remove them and transport them (possibly via space bridge technology) to the edge of the Benzuli Expanse. There they are picked up by the Autobot Pretenders who dispatch Cyclonus and then fly the cores into the expanse and detonate them. The anomaly closes, hopefully for good.
Back on Earth Sideswipe wins an unlikely victory over Grindcore and Straxus. He realises that Sunstreaker's disapproval doesn't matter after all and what's important is that he has proven himself. With that he takes his leave of Earth, leaving Sunstreaker to his fate.
The crisis is past and things begin to get back to normal for the Transformers. On Gorlam Prime though nothing will ever be the same again - for the once-organic inhabitants have been turned into robots by Jhiaxus' experiments. They have forgotten their past and no longer call their world Gorlam Prime... they now call it Cybertron!
High octane action, a huge cast, battles on multiple worlds, old scores settled, gestalts, galactic doom, and a new take on familiar characters. By any yardstick this supercharged issue is packed to the rafters with stuff going on. Obviously this is a necessity, as IDW in its wisdom has taken an axe to this particular storyline (unjustly in my opinion) and the writer has been tasked with wrapping-up three years of plotlines in this issue. What's more it all has to be done with the constraints of the Spotlight format. No small task you might think, and surely doomed to failure, but against all odds Simon Furman yet again shows his pedigree and succeeds magnificently.
In this era where comics are visually stunning but take all of three minutes to read, it makes a welcome change to have a comic where so much is going on. It's a slightly double-edged sword, as there are certain events that cry out for more pages, such the titanic battle between Optimus Prime and Nemesis Prime, the 11th hour shutdown of the Nega Cores, the Wreckers versus Monstructor, or even Bludgeon's return. But under the circumstances things are handled as well as can be expected and are at least resolved to some satisfaction.
The debut of the Autobot Pretenders was unexpectedly enjoyable, given that the team has in the past been pretty turgid. At last we have an intelligent reason for why giant robots would need to don 50ft humanoid synthetic suits - they are vital armour to protect the wearer from the necrotising effects of the Dead Universe. This is a lot better than the bizarre Pretender debut in the original Marvel comics, where for some odd reason the Autobots thought dressing up a 50ft humans constituted an adequate disguise. Worse still, the Decepticon Pretenders fell for it!
With so much going on, including even the long-awaited reckoning between Arcee and Jhiaxus, and cameo from a living dead Hardhead (is there any way back for him now?) it's easy to forget the subject of this comic, the titular Sideswipe. As spotlights go this is a pretty minimal focus on the character, but despite the brevity it still manages to deliver on this score to a decent degree. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker have up-until-now been interpreted as brothers-in-arms, if not brothers of the related kind. Each share a passion for the fight and are a partnership of equals - or so we thought. Now, all of a sudden what we thought we knew of their relationship is out of the window. Sideswipe, in this new continuity, is a former pupil of Sunstreaker and is forever in his shadow. He carries a chip on his shoulder from all the put downs and desperately wants to prove himself to Sunstreaker in particular. He throws himself into battle, fists first, but amazingly his boldness pays off and he ends up defeating the Dead Universe pair of Straxus and Grindcore. It's a surprise to everyone, not least Sideswipe, but gives him confidence it seems, so that Sunstreaker's opinion no longer matters. I'm not sure Sideswipe's comrades understand him or see past the prickly facade he's created, but we the readers are in a privileged place.
Finally it would be remiss not to mention the art, for it's very different this issue. At first I thought this painted, almost 1980s Transformers annual appearance, was the work of a new artist. But no, it's actually by EJ Su, who of course drew the first Transformers Infiltration comic in 2005 and its fitting he should draw the concluding part too. I'm not sure who did the colouring but it was a brave move to try something so different and I think it pays off. That's not to say I'd want this watercolours style art every time but its good in moderation.