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Editorial - IDW's Revolution: The Golden Age of Transformers Comics Comes To An End?
ExVee - Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It took me a while to develop trust with IDW's Transformers titles. After all, Transformers hadn't had the most consistent run of quality in its first six or so years. But it turned out that the splitting of the Transformers ongoing in to two new books at the start of 2012 resulted in not only two titles that brought a strong game to their debuts, but were able to maintain that level of quality month after month. They made me a fan of the Transformers comics. And now, more than four years later, I fear this era is about to see its end.

This article is the sole work and opinion of "ExVee". The statements, beliefs, and opinions expressed are his alone and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views or opinions of or any of its staff. ExVee can be reached on Twitter @chrisrtxv

IDW's Revolution event announced today is designed to throw together a pile of Hasbro properties and establish that they all exist in one fictional universe together. And you know, I don't think that is an inherently bad idea. MASK and GI Joe, or MASK and Transformers, or MASK, GI Joe, AND Transformers could have some good, interesting fun all brought together for a shared adventure, given the right creative team with the right mindset of the whole thing. And that's just a small subset of the combinations possible if these and more characters and worlds share the same space. That part of this I completely get and find myself behind as a concept model. No, it's the other part of this announcement, that by bringing in those and Action Man and ROM and Micronauts that the status quo of the fictional world must be changed. That could be taken as just marketing speak to try to get attention, and in the greater world of comics, that often is what any of this boils down to.

But IDW isn't most comic publishers, from what I've been able to see. And when you end up, on the other side of the major continuity-shattering event, also having your affected existing titles revert numbering to 1, that's where I start to interpret major warning signs. Now, I won't even say maybe here: We HAVE been very lucky these past several years to get a Transformers comic book product that has stayed as true to itself through the work and vision of its creators as The Transformers and More Than Meets The Eye have. Because they have also been lucky. Lucky that Hasbro has been, by all accounts, incredibly laid back about the handling of the Transformers license. Things like Dark Cybertron and Combiner Wars are held out as mutual story developments, not content mandates from the IP owners. Especially with Combiner Wars, that permitted The Transformers to roll right back in to its own story course after the event was wrapped up. But it never came to the point of starting the numbering over.

I feel like I need to pause here and take a moment to be completely up front about something. Where we are today, I'm not as fully satisfied with the comics as I used to be. More Than Meets The Eye is a particular sticking point for me these days. I feel like it's in a rut in more ways than one and needs some major shakeup to either get it back on course or to change direction to something that will pull it out from the wheel spinning it's felt like it's been doing for most of a year now. Especially since the end of Combiner Wars I've acutely felt the disparity in storytelling between it and The Transformers. I'm not gonna lie, it has made it very hard to love MTMTE at times. And if MTMTE were the only thing to take in to consideration with this, I think I'd feel different about Revolution as it's being explained right now.

But that's not the only thing in play. The Transformers, that is, the former Robots in Disguise, has found I think some of its strongest footing since its original launch in 2012. John Barber has spent a lot of effort to create greater and greater depth to the Transformers. Through post war politics as a major theme, and using that to facilitate explorations of culture - or maybe more accurately the rediscovery of culture after an epoch-long war - and the struggle to figure out how to simply live at peace, the substance of what the Transformers are has been enriched. And at the same time, he's constantly framing out larger events and mythos for the entire IDW Transformers continuity to play in, explore, and help evolve. These are things I have followed with great interest for years, and things I want to see carried on. But I'm honestly fearful of what may have to be thrown away as a result of this crossover. And it's not just The Transformers or Barber's overall work on building out the universe I have concern for.

Windblade Vol.2 felt like a complete victim of Combiner Wars. It launched in support of that event, and in doing was denied its chance to reassert an identity for itself, and once the event was over with, the remainder of that title's brief lifespan likewise felt fully put to service setting up other things and never living out its own existence. While the circumstances are a bit different, I now fear a similar fate for Till All Are One. While it does get a short time on its own, the early part of its existence still has to make it through an internal event, Titans Return, as well as Revolution. It's a lot of strain for a brand new title to endure. And with all this, it may take it close to a year to actually manage to get a meaningful amount of its own story told that isn't directly in service to something else. It leads me to worry about this book. I've been looking forward to it since it was announced last year, and I really want to see it get a fair shot.

And I want to touch quickly on what Revolution may have already done. Transformers vs GI Joe, a title its creators said could go for a hundred issues, which survived an incredibly irregular publication schedule which I typically would only attribute to fan-subtitled TV shows ("It'll be released when it's ready.") and never a licensed publication - it was abruptly announced to be ending with issue 13. But why would it? Because it's not compatible with the new order. It always existed on its own, not fictionally tied to any other Transformers or GI Joe book under IDW. And because it was a separate continuity, one that could never be rolled in to the greater aggregate whole being planned, it looks very much like it was simply shut down. Though I never found an enjoyment of that series, I know many others who loved it a great deal for being what it was, and it bothers me that it might have been a victim of this.

I feel like this is the most visible and substantial instance of corporate meddling in the IDW comics since I began reading. We should all be aware of Hasbro's cinematic universe initiative, which seeks to develop many of the same properties that are involved in Revolution and have them share a fictional existence for the purpose of the movies. Seeing such a similar thing happen with Hasbro's comic license holder simply cannot be coincidental. It comes off as Hasbro trying to start reigning tighter control over its media outlets. As I noted earlier, we have been lucky to find Hasbro as hands off as they've been, letting the comics develop with minimal levels of input and influence. But I'm worried that we're looking at the end of that era.

While nothing will ever appeal to everyone at once, and there are detractors, many agree that this is the best run of Transformers comics we've had, ever. I think that is in no small way due to people like John Barber and James Roberts being given the latitude to tell their stories in the way that's consistent with their own visions of them. But that's about to change. A "new status quo" is being treated like a selling point for the aftermath of Revolution. It's being presented as an exciting and positive thing to look forward to. Now let me tell you how I see it. Stories and story elements that have been in planning, with foundations and build up being laid in over an extended period will have to be changed, perhaps even discarded entirely. Maybe some of them can be wrapped up and resolved before that - a happening that we've already observed recently with More Than Meets The Eye, in fact - but not everything is going to make the jump to the new numbers 1 later this year. And going forward these writers, Barber, Roberts, and Mairghread Scott, as well as whoever should follow after them down the road will likewise be beholden to the forced change of conditions to the world. And, if this case of prominent executive meddling turns out to not be an isolated instance, but the tipping point to a new order of things on the real world side of this, they may also experience substantially less freedom to tell the stories they want to tell, the kind of stories we've gotten used to reading from them.

See, this is not so much about my fear that the precise shape of a fictional universe will not persist and that I'll have to adjust to a new normal for everything. This is about a fear that the best time in Transformers comics - the time in which the reigns were let slack and some truly excellent writers were given the freedom to tell their stories and rebuild the world in to an incredibly interesting place - is at its end. So far I count it lucky that it has not yet been announced that an all-new creative team will be the ones taking the Transformers titles in to the new status quo. While my outlook on this as it's represented right now is rather pessimistic, I think I'd be ready to wash my hands of the comics entirely if everything was being handed over to new people after Revolution happens. As it is, my knee-jerk reaction to this is to say that the Transformers titles are going to have a pretty brief window in which to earn my trust back once the crossover is done. I'm too old at this point to stay with something I don't enjoy out of some sense of fan-duty or other obligation.

Do you think I'm over-reacting to this? It's possible, and my response and feelings toward this may soften with time. But one thing keeps coming to the forefront in my mind as I consider this: They say this is not going to be a reboot, but the move from the Furman era of IDW Transformers comics to All Hail Megatron wasn't technically a reboot either.

It was just a significant change in the status quo.

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