Jumping into an ongoing comic book a year in is never an easy task, but a lifelong familiarity with the world of Transformers, and in particular the IDW Publishing relaunch of the brand, makes this an easy task.
IDW have been running various monthly series since 2009, following four years of miniseries and one-shots, and Optimus Prime is the rebadged Robots in Disguise, focusing on the world-weary leader of the Autobots as he adjusts to life as the defender of his adopted homeworld – Earth.
As with all IDW Transformers titles, it runs within their ever-growing continuity, which to summarise contains the following highlights:
- a Decepticon occupation of Earth that is eventually repelled by the ‘bots and the newly-established Earth Defense Command;
- a group of Autobots setting off on a mission into deep space to find the fabled Knights of Cybertron (chronicled in Lost Light AKA The Literal Best Thing In Comics Today);
- Optimus ‘retiring’ after a war to reclaim a repopulated Cybertron, heading off on his own jolly into the cosmos (not THE Cosmos);
- and plenty of crossovers, most notably G.I. Joe (or ‘Action Force‘ for UK readers) who are a regular player in the new comic lines.
If that sounds confusing, don’t worry – it is, and you’ll become a regular visitor to resources like TF Wiki where much more knowledgeable fans explain things in irreverent but accurate fashion.
The comics have been deep diving into the world of the Transformers for many years, expanding and developing the mythology by showing us events like the roots of Megatron’s revolution, exploring Cybertronian society at economic, political and spiritual levels, showing us the universe beyond touched by the Great War, and an exhaustively detailed look at the mechanics of Transformer physiology, psychology and even relationships.
So where are we with Optimus Prime at this stage?
Having fought off a potential invasion of Earth by the Junkions, all under the threat of the imminent return of ubervillain Onyx Prime, Optimus now has long-standing ally Marissa Faireborn acting as a unified Earth’s representative to the Council.
After a pep talk from reformed ‘con turned advisor Thundercracker, Marissa heads through Autobot City’s space bridge (and yes, we all know it’s basically a Stargate) to her first meeting with the Council. As usual, the religiously-minded Torchbearers and Optimus’ fanboy new recruits are bickering about their almighty leader – a ‘bot so noble he once blew himself up for losing a computer game – as seeds of discord continue to grow amongst the Earthbound ‘bots.
A sudden explosion (chronicled in the mini-series First Strike) and loss of contact with Cybertron has everyone on the base panicking – Prime cultist Gimlet tries to attack the handful of G.I. Joe personnel, suspecting another trap similar to the hatchet job TV interview Jazz narrowly escaped. Prime’s close ally Aileron takes command, organising the various ‘bots into a rescue effort while trying to keep tempers from flaring.
Meanwhile, through a series of vignettes we’re shown rising tensions on both Earth and Cybertron as they try to make sense of the space bridge disaster, both sides finding creative new ways to blame the other for escalating violence. It’s the closest the issue gets to political commentary and “fake news”.
She takes a crew out to Mexico City to find Jazz, currently in hiding after his recent PR disaster, but after the populace take up arms to drive them back, Aileron retreats to devise a fresh plan. She has to once again deal with the clashing ideologies of her group, each with their own vibro-axe to grind, before they locate Jazz – surrounded by armed humans and in big trouble!
With the vibrant – occasionally garish – colour work by Josh Burcham bringing chaotic life to eccentric artist Kei Zama’s pencils, Optimus Prime‘s artwork feels scrappier and less focused than sister publication Lost Light, where Jack Lawrence’s organised approach helps keep the bewildering colour clash of the Transformers separated.
Continuity guru John Barber’s script moves at a great clip, but its flow is hampered by having to operate completely independently of the events of tie-in First Strike. This does emphasise the confusion of the Earth-side characters as they try to work out what happened over on Cybertron, but doesn’t make for a smooth ride for the reader.
It’s an increasingly frustrating assumption by comic book publishers that we readers have deep enough pockets to indulge every crossover, one-shot and miniseries event, when all we really want to do is get a self-contained narrative from our chosen titles without the hassle (and expense) or keeping up with other titles and events.
Overall, however, #11 does its best with the scraps of plot left over from First Strike, and continues the well-worn writing tactics of continually making life as hard for your characters as possible.
Have you been reading the Optimus Prime comics? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.