Transformers Ongoing #1

Released: November 2009
Publisher: IDW
Number of covers: Two regular, three incentives
Cover price: $3.99
Writer: Mike Costa
Artwork: Don Figueroa
Rating:

Characters: [Autobots] Ratchet, Prowl, Wheeljack, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Drift, Hot Rod, Ironhide [Decepticons] Breakdown [humans] Spike Witwicky (plus numerous other Autobots and Decepticons in flashback)


Synopsis:


Prime surrenders himself to the humans in the hopes of brokering a peace.

Two years have passed since Megatron was defeated and the Decepticons were driven from the Earth. Mankind is rebuilding its cities and has found new ways to defend itself against the Transformers. The Autobots under Optimus Prime remain on Earth in disguise, lest the scattered Decepticon army should return, but there has been a cost; several of their number have been captured by Skywatch (the US agency charged with rounding up Transformers) and energon levels are as low as morale.

The peace is disturbed when the Stunticon Breakdown attacks a power plant in a desperate bid to refuel himself. Major Spike Witwicky, who now commands Skywatch, deploys 'crash suits' (robots piloted by Skywatch agents) to immobilise the Decepticon with a device which locks him in vehicle mode. Prowl, who is observing in police car mode, fears a fellow Cybertronian is about to be executed, and transforms to robot mode - revealing himself to Skywatch - to go to the Decepticon's aid. As a result he too is paralysed and captured.

Back at base Wheeljack has devised a way to shield the Autobots from the paralysing effects of Skywatch's weapons, and Optimus orders him to upgrade everyone. Hot Rod openly criticises Prime's decision to remain on the Earth when it's clear humanity neither wants nor needs their protection. Prime is forced to give some ground and agrees to a mission to rescue Prowl which Hot Rod will command. However he instructs Ironhide to go along and ensure Hot Rod stays out of trouble.

Hot Rod succeeds in rescuing Prowl but there is a terrible price to pay. Ironhide, seeing Hot Rod about to get gunned down by the humans, throws his body in the way and takes a blast square in the chest. The Autobots retreat but Ironhide cannot be saved. Grief-stricken, Optimus Prime tenders his resignation as Autobot leader expressing his wish that his followers find new and better leadership. Then he drives to Skywatch headquarters and offers his surrender!

******

Review:

By Omega Steve

This is Mike Costa's first full issue writing Transformers and he's off to a cracking start. There are no signs of the snail-paced plotting or pages wasted with repitive panels of talking heads that would typify later issues - instead we've got a serious attempt to build on what has happened over the last year or so and shake things up still further. Costa has the temerity to kill off a mainstay character (Ironhide) in the first issue, and makes this the catalyst for Optimus Prime's shock resignation and later surrender. Both are very bold moves and are good sign of exciting things to come.

The Ongoing was launched in November 2009 and followed 12 months of the All Hail Megatron storyline and four months of AHM 'Coda' stories. AHM, while a bold idea, had started to drag by the end. Perhaps it was too long, or a departure too far from the status quo Simon Furman has built, and I was kind of glad when it wrapped up and the writer changed again.

Costa has inherited a set-up where the Earth is recovering from life under Decepticon rule and the signs of devastation are all around. The Decepticons and have not been seen for two years or so, but there are still remnants of their army scattered around the Earth, and the Autobots remain (despite being unwanted by humanity) to provide protection should it ever be needed. In a sense the book has turned full circle back to the early years, where TFs were 'robots in disguise' to ensure the natives were unaware of their infiltration. Now they are reliant on their vehicle modes to hide again, except this time it is to avoid being hunted down by mankind.

It might have been tempting for Costa to rush the Decepticons back and resume a more traditional Bot v Con scenario, but instead to his credit he is building on his inheritance and replacing the Decepticon threat with a new dynamic - a powerful anti-robot assault team, in Skywatch. Agent Red and his bungling brigade are out, and in his place is Major Spike Witwicky, hero of the uprising who famously 'assassinated' Megatron. Now they have the hardware to do real damage, especially as their Transformer victims are low on fuel and isolated and outnumbered. The tables are turned on the Transformers.

Killing off Ironhide certainly grabbed the attention and sparked some furious discussion on fan boards. To some it will have been outrageous for a new writer to kill off an established character in only his very first outing as writer, but arguably, creating a response and getting people talking about the book is what it is all about.

Likewise, Prime's surrender will have also divided opinions. Is this 'in character', the height of foolishness, or a bold attempt to change the rules of engagement by Optimus. My view is the latter; Prime has sacrificed himself, as he has on so many occasions before, to reach out to the humans and convince them that the Autobots are on their side. The best way to do this is to make a bold gesture and to influence them from inside the camp, which he can do once taken prisoner. It also allows the Autobots to elect a new commander, who may be better suited to lead them in the post-Decepticon era. However this is risky in the extreme - because for all he knows the Autobots could turn to Hot Rod, who would insist they leave the Earth, or to some similar firebrand who might escalate the situation further.

Prowl's compassion for Breakdown - viewing him as a fellow Cybertronian and worth sacrificing himself to save - was unexpected and maybe a little out of character if I'm honest. Let's not forget that this is the same Prowl who, sneakily in the AHM Coda story 'Everything in its Right Place', manipulates the mind of the recovering Kup to suit his own purposes. Now he's big hearted enough to care about the fate of a Decepticon. I like the idea of an Autobot going to the rescue of an enemy Transformer but perhaps Mike should have selected a different character, Bluestreak maybe, or Bumblebee.

Likewise, Hot Rod seems a different character to the one who we followed in the Simon Furman stories or in AHM. Costa's Hot Rod is insubordinate, arrogant and mutinous; perhaps the explanation for his militancy is the two years being grounded on Earth and getting shot at.

So, story-wise it's a new direction and it's all change on the art front as well. Don Figueroa is back after a long absence and he is experimenting with some radical new designs for the Transformers. In earlier arcs EJ Su brought the bots and cons from 80s to the present day, and Don has taken it further still. Now the TFs have more exposed parts and resemble the Movie robots more (probably deliberately in an attempt to pull in fans of the films) and while that may be fair enough, a line has been crossed with the faces. Their traditional face plates have been dumped in favour of faces made up of several parts, meaning of course they can now move or show expression, but with the severe downside that they look cadaverous or skeletal.

The faces would continue to be a real bone of contention for readers and overshadow the otherwise sterling job Don is doing on the art. It would be many issues before the feedback is taken on board, and the re-designs softened. All in all though, a really positive first issue of the Transformers Ongoing with lots to comment on a opening up many exciting possibilities for where the plot goes from here.

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