Story: Simon Furman. Art: EJ Su. Colours: John Rauch.
Between 2001 and 2004, new Transformers comics were published by a Canadian company called Dreamwave. In 2005, they went into receivership in acrimonious circumstances having failed to pay artists and writers. One of the companies that subsequently bid for the license from Hasbro was IDW Publishing.
IDW have actually expressed an interest in publishing conclusions to storylines that were left hanging by the situation, out of consideration for fans. For their own new titles, though, they're going back to basics.
Ultimate Transformers, if you will.
For those unfamiliar with Marvel Comics' publishing lines, here's a quick explanation of that analogy: an 'Ultimate' title offers an updated storyline set in the present, without the baggage of old continuities and without an intention to simply retell bits of old stories.
It's about being selective. If you strip Transformers down into concepts, you have two factions of sentient robots from another planet. You have them warring for resources and survival. You have them arrive on Earth at some point, and disguise themselves as everyday machines and vehicles. That last concept didn't last very long into the Eighties and Nineties, as Hasbro shifted towards Transformers with more futuristic alt-modes...
Disguise and infiltration are what IDW and Simon Furman are taking us back to for the beginning of their new series. I've thoroughly enjoyed this preview #0 issue, and if you don't want to read on, grab a copy and see for yourself. Should cost you a quid or less. What you get for the price of admission is a 16 page strip, plus another 6 pages of introductions/interviews for the creators to fill you in a bit on what they have planned, and a back-page ad that's making me consider getting another copy to put on the wall.
Our main characters are Verity Carlo and Hunter O'Nion (yeah, he isn't all that fond of his name either.) Both are fairly young without being kids, and it's from their perspective that we experience Transformers as alien, mysterious and dangerous. Hunter is a geeky conspiracy nut, driving out into the middle of the desert in hopes of finding confirmation of invading extraterrestrial robots. Verity is a petty thief with wanderlust, filching a portable computer from a salesman on a coach, unaware that someone or something is anxious either to have it in their possession or to keep it from prying eyes.
The story is placed firmly in the here and now: there are references to laptops and coaches having GPS; Transformers we glimpse have appropriate modern vehicle modes (close to the originals, but not anachronistic) and Decepticons seem to employ hardware similar to the short-term memory loss device seen in Men in Black. The fact we get this hint in dialogue rather than a bludgeoningly unsubtle flashback is great, and there are equally unobtrusive cameos right from the first page, in keeping with the disguise theme. Transformers are also shown to employ holographic drivers to avoid suspicion.
The script is peppered with other nice touches; when Verity is hitchhiking and Hunter picks her up, she gives a false name. Their conversation holds shades of meaning that older readers will grasp whilst kids just pass over. (Not sexual. I know my descriptions are vague; I don't want to give too much detail for prospective readers.) Basically, the dialogue is realistic, in ways humans in past series have rarely been, and makes for two likeable characters who aren't Transformers, again an unusual reaction for me to have.
Su's art is strongly grounded in realism, with occasional flourishes of manga in facial features for dramatic effect. It's a far cry from the grandstanding poster art offered by Dreamwave mainstay Pat Lee, and tells the story effectively. Characters don't suffer from the Friends-syndrome of being abnormally attractive, and thought has clearly been given to body language and use of panel arrangement and layering to lead the eye through each page. We do get one two-page splash image, but it's far from gratuitous; instead it creates the effect of a lone Decepticon with real threat and lethal intentions.
Verity: "What are you doing?! If you're– I knew it was too good to be true! That innocent 'I-wouldn't-know-what-to-do-with-a-girl-if-I-had-one' act..."
Hunter: "Would you believe... giant robots? I run this web site, see. And it supports a theory—widely held—that two or more years ago we were invaded..."
It's a $0.99 issue, with the cheapest it's been spotted at in a UK comics store being 65p. Even at a quid, you're getting very good value, whilst for those who like to collect cover art there are several pics to choose from. The normal retail price for the ongoing series starting with #1 in January will be $2.99, cheaper than IDW's usual $3.99 for books and offset by regular variant covers being offered for collectors and fans of particular artists.
Friendly UK online retailer:
Cover gallery is available here: