2014 In Review: The Best Of Transformers Comics

IDW is delivering some of the best written and engaging Transformers fiction in years, some may even argue it's the best we've ever had. Accompanied by a very stable group of artists bringing the stores to life, and it's hard not to become a fan of Transformers comics today. RAC and ExVee take a look back at the highs of IDW's comics in 2014 ...and some lows. Keep reading!


2014 in IDW's Transformers comics has seen dramatic changes. Dark Cybertron concluded, ending with the loss of two very prominent Transformers characters. Megatron declared himself an Autobot, the Transformers returned to an Earth that was prepared for their arrival this time, and Starscream somehow managed not to lead Cybertron to utter ruin. It's been a strange year, and that's even before the Angry Birds showed up! There's been a lot of comics shipped this year, and with different focuses, story concepts and artists, it's safe to say that there has been something for practically everyone this year - including some things we may never have even known we wanted!

Best Storyline of 2014 - More Than Meets The Eye, "Don't Open The Coffin"

I'm assigning my own name to the block of issues covered in the Volume 6 trade paperback, including the storyarcs "World, Shut Your Mouth," "slaughterhouse", and the single bridging issue between them. This storyline covers a lot of ground, as MTMTE tends to do, giving us a progressive backstory of Megatron's trial after his declaration as an Autobot and surrender, our first look at him as "co-captain" of a relaunched Lost Light, and the first major event to cross their paths. This event would see a mysterious duplicate Lost Light, long since destroyed, and the disappearance of the original ship and most of its crew.

This story jumped from a strong character focus as everyone was seen in the midst of adjusting to the reality of the former leader of the Decepticons now being their commander and heading up their mission, to a heavy sci-fi angle which in turn was used to drive a different direction of character development. The sci-fi bent really gets me attached to the story, because with years of experience in the genre I could understand a lot of the hints being dropped, and with the fandom at large chipping in to fill missing details, the process of discovering the truth behind the mystery felt like it was happening in real time for me as a reader as it was happening on page for the characters. It was a very engaging experience that let me feel a strong connection to the story events, and even as we're seeing this story was itself a great deal of setup for what would follow, it stands out particularly for not only a memorable read, but a great experience.


Best Single Issue of 2014 - Robots in Disguise "The World Of Tomorrow"

When Robots in Disguise was solicited as returning to stories set on Earth, we were more than a little concerned. The first half and a bit of the series was setting up a surprisingly interesting political situation on Cybertron, ending on the unthinkable: Starscream was the chosen leader of the planet. Then Dark Cybertron happened, and the story focus was moving away, and it felt like an incredibly rich and interesting direction was being tossed aside. Issue 33, "The World of Tomorrow" brought us back to Cybertron under the Starscream Administration, through the eyes of Wheeljack, who had been incapacitated through all the important happenings that led us here.

It was a great way to see how the planet was getting along from the perspective of someone new to the entire idea, and it satisfied our desire held from the start: to find out what's happening on a world run by Starscream. Add in that it was a very smooth introduction to what are expected to be the core concepts of the upcoming Combiner Wars event, and that we were treated to an issue of Sarah Stone art, and you've got a solid package and easy choice for best single issue this year.


Best Character Development That, Against All Odds, Failed To Be A Cheap Event-Comic Gimmick - Megatron Becomes An Autobot

It certainly had every chance of being exactly that- Megatron, an Autobot? Gasp! -as it was presented at the end of Dark Cybertron. But in the pages of More Than Meets The Eye and in the hands of James Roberts and Alex Milne, Megatron's decision to become an Autobot became a believable turn in the life of a person who became so sympathetic and believable that you could almost forget that he was Megatron. But more importantly and better still, you didn't.


Best New Artist - Sarah Stone

Sarah Stone was a "discovery" of Windblade writer Mairghread Scott some time before the idea of the Windblade miniseries was even a thing. We feel we're very fortunate that when that book came up, Sarah was asked to come on and do the art, because she has brought a completely new style of art to the Transformers books, and it's stunning. Her digital-paint art is wonderfully stylized in a way that gives every character a lot of emotive presence, and maintains the clarity to still follow the visual side of the story being told, even with packed action scenes. Her coloring style is vibrant, and has a fantastic command of lighting to bring a scene to life. She joins a pool of other highly talented artists working on Transformers now, and we're really happy to see that her work did not end with the conclusion of the first Windblade title.


I'll Never Really Miss You When You're Never Really Gone

It's a fact of comic books that you're not going to like every artist who works on every project. And while the regular crew of artists on the Transformers titles largely have agreeable art, or at least technically impressive art such that it offsets complaints about the style, there are some that keep turning up that really display neither. One topic we've been barely dancing around through the year is Livio Ramondelli. Some people are fans of his works, and of course tastes vary, but we're just not feeling it. Back in the early days of Robots in Disguise when the first Syndromica story was published, both of us were having our first taste of the art style, and it was neat and different, and an interesting one-off. But it kept coming back. Every time we would see that art in subsequent books, more and more peculiarities of the art became obvious until it stopped being a feeling of novelty and instead one of dread.

Particularly with Dark Cybertron came a great number of extra artists working on the Transformers books, and while Ramondelli was used in a way that at least notionally suited his style of art, he was still by far our least favorite contributor to the project. Dark Cybertron also indicated that there are a number of other artists that can pull fill-in work from time to time, and we really wish more of them would get the chance. But Ramondelli seems to be our most frequent returning guest artist whenever some quick substitute art is called for or a side project needs done. We'd love to see some others get more chance at this, and I'm sure there are other places Ramondelli could be assigned where his style and skillset might even be a better fit. But please, can we see some new, or at least different people doing fill-in work for a while?


Most What?! - Any Given Page Of Any Given Issue Of The Transformers Vs. GI Joe

This may seem like a copycat move after USA Today voted the book "Most Insane Read of 2014," but the book is just that weird. This is a book where General Flagg turning Bumblebee's corpse into his personal space-bike was only deemed important enough to occupy the smallest panel in the middle of a funeral-turned-warzone. It's a book where Green Beret Joseph Colton, the original GI Joe, was reimagined as a crazy wizard and space-warfare prophet. In Issue #1! The Transformers vs. GI Joe is truly a book where anything can happen, and will happen in a way that has not been seen before. And above and beyond all that, this book somehow secured the blessing of a multinational toy corporation as an okay way to depict its multibillion-dollar flagship property. Even if the Silver Age stylings aren't to your taste, that's an achievement to be respected.


Most Satisfying Ending (For All The Wrong Reasons) - ReGeneration One

Longtime Transformers Writer Simon Furman returned to the original Marvel comic universe... sort of... to pick up where he'd left off... sort of... and bring things to a definitive ending... sort of. Basically the evil twin of GI Joe writer Larry Hama's revival of his signature Marvel book, Furman elected to begin with a time skip and go forward from further development of his vague 20 year-old memories of what he'd intended to do with the book. In the end, the book could never quite decide whether it was writing for trades, story arcs, or individual issues, and only started to pick up near the predetermined #100 deadline. The ending itself at least defied our early predictions, but once ReGeneration One was over - finished - it was more of a relief than anything else.


Most Likely To Make Back Issue Bins A Confusing Mess - Robots In Disguise Becomes The Transformers

Ex-RID's name change served a twofold purpose: to establish the comic as the "main" IDW Transformers comic in a time when the universe is expanding and diversifying... and also to avoid confusion with the Robots In Disguise animated series set to begin this year. Especially since it appears that RID2015 will ultimately have its own tie-in comic. The RID name is pretty ingrained after nearly three years of use, and even though it's still the same comic as brought to us by John Barber and Andrew Griffith it still takes some adjusting to think of it as just The Transformers. Then there's the fact that this is the third book to go by that title in the 21st century, and the second by IDW. There's only a 3 issue numbering gap between where IDW's previous Transformers ongoing left off and where RID becomes The Transformers. For people who still peruse physical back-issue bins, this could be kind of a shock.


Most Down-To-Earth (But Is That A Good Thing?) - Robots In Disguise

There have been a lot of Transformers stories about the Autobots fighting the Decepticons in secret on Earth. It's exaggerating to follow that up with "like all of them," but not by very much. Robots In Disguise was a very notable exception to that rule pre-Dark Cybertron, in an extended story arc and style we like to refer to as "Robot Politics." But after the upheaval caused by that crossover, writer John Barber chose to take RID back to Earth and deal with the consequences of previous Cybertronian visits to the planet.

The problem is the Earth-based setting has proven largely superfluous. There is nothing inherent to what we've been shown of Earth on this trip that dictates that the setting needed to return here, nor are any of the supporting human players thus far proving themselves to have an objective narrative value. They're reduced to set pieces and plot devices that are enabling a story to be artificially moved between points in a change of venue that has done little but feel forced from the outset. The biggest highlight has been the return of Thundercracker to some degree of focus, because his lack of a wartime mindset harks back to some of the more interesting developments and directions we were exploring back on Cybertron. But of course, that isn't something that RID's return to Earth brought to the table either, as it dates back to All Hail Megatron.

Perhaps the only really new direction of characterization is in Soundwave, who appears very genuine in professing to have abandoned the goals of conquest and war, and instead only wants to give the Decepticons a place to live free and peacefully. This angle is being used well... when it's being used. There's so little of this taking focus, that outside of exceptional situations like the opening scene of issue 36, it can be hard to perceive at all what Soundwave's real motivations are. And it's a shame because this is a deep well to be tapped.

Otherwise, the result to date has largely been Prowl (and the Transformers), and Prowl is admittedly one of Barber's strongest and most interesting characters. But we left Cybertron in the hands of Starscream, and by popular decision no less. How can you just leave that hanging? Luckily, you can't entirely, and we've gotten some good looks at the Starscream Administration in the Windblade miniseries and in the one-off "The World of Tomorrow" which helps serve to set up Combiner Wars. Prowl is interesting, sure- but we're getting echoes of his Robot Politics characterization, which turned out to have extenuating circumstances. Except now it's in a less compelling setting, and we've already been trained to anticipate the magic reset button that absolves Prowl of all responsibility. There's a pervasive feeling that, ultimately, none of this may matter.


Best Year For Transformers Comics To Date - 2014

This was the year that Transformers comics expanded to the point that choosing a best book, let alone a best issue, nearly became an exercise in happy futility. There was truly something for everyone this year, from kids (Angry Birds Transformers) to the fandom's old guard (ReGeneration One, Primacy), to fans of big-picture event comics (Dark Cybertron),  to supporters of women in comics both on paper and behind the scenes (Windblade), to lovers of independent, experimental comics (The Transformers Vs. GI Joe) and even people up for some psychological, scientific, and sociological heavy-lifting (More Than Meets The Eye). As a demonstration of all the places Transformers can go and all the things it can be, IDW's output was itself a fitting celebration of the 30th anniversary of the characters and their worlds.


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