There’s a lot going on in this latest trade collected edition from IDW, covering the epic Dark Cybertron event, five issues each of Robots in Disguise (now known as Optimus Prime) and More Than Meets The Eye (also rebadged to Lost Light) and the four-issue Windblade spin-off.
I would need many hundreds of words to cover everything in this semi-official celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Transformers, so let’s blast through some edited highlights of when Shockwave returns to decide hey, nice universe you got here, be a shame if somebody darkened it.
Dark Cybertron had a long gestation period, bubbling away quietly in subplots throughout the initial runs of RiD and MtMtE before the 2012 Spotlights one-shots were used as stealth seeding for several key concepts (and some nifty new toy lines).
Shockwave is a villainous Transformer unfamiliar to many UK fans, as his toy never enjoyed an official UK release, but he’s best summarised as the universe’s premier Machiavellian sociopath. “All life is equal. I merely assign it a value – zero,” as his best-known quote runs.
His master plan, literally millions of years in the making, is the Regenesis Program – an ambitious plot to seed planets with ore derived from different fusions of Energon, each allowing him to harvest powers to control time and space. If you’re immediately thinking Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet only with robots, then yep, that’s pretty much the game here. Just don’t tell Disney’s lawyers.
Shockwave sets a series of dominoes tumbling around the galaxy, the emotionless tactician manipulating Orion Pax – AKA Optimus Prime, temporarily resigned from Prime duty – into recharging a Metrotitan hibernating on a distant world. If you remember Fortress Maximus, Metroplex or Trypticon, you know the score – a city-sized Transformer with multiple modes and a colossal amount of power (and most likely a toy that your mate at school swears his dad is bringing back from America soon). Shockwave zombifies the Titan into the imaginatively-dubbed ‘Necrotitan’, using it to contact the ‘Dead Universe’.
Even the Transformers have their version of the afterlife, and in the Dead Universe resides countless deceased Transformers including Shockwave’s two targets – Cybertronian founder turned heavy metal bad boy Nova Prime, and Galvatron, differing in IDW from his movie counterpart by simply being an ancient, brutal warrior with the same penchant for disintegrating fools.
Shockwave can’t rescue his two allies without a space bridge, and the only place to find the outlawed technology is within the body of Megatron – who is currently incarcerated in the Cybertronian capital of Iacon, awaiting trial for millennia of crimes against the universe. Shockwave unleashes the Necrotitan’s robot zombie voodoo to send a ‘death plague’ down to Iacon, nabbing Megatron in the chaos that follows.
A story highlight comes from the epic battle between Shockwave’s loyal troops and the combined Autobot and Decepticon armies, headed by Bumblebee and Soundwave, making for the kind of dream team-up mash-up that even the best-stocked toy collection of 1985 would struggle to recreate.
Nova Prime remains trapped but Galvatron escapes, while Orion Pax narrowly avoids being dragged into the Dead Universe by the timely arrival of our favourite misfits, the crew of the Lost Light. Taking a team on a dangerous mission into the void to try and stop Shockwave, Pax encounters fan favourite ‘bots Nightbeat (an Autobot private eye and one of the most wonderfully eccentric characters around) and Kup, blasting Nova Prime to scrap and resuming his classic title of ‘Optimus Prime’ as a result. It’s magnificent, gods versus monsters stuff, with the showdown between Nova and Pax providing thrilling splash panels and fireworks.
The Lost Light takes over as they’re steered towards the badly-damaged Metroplex, the titan and his all-girl companions Windblade, Chromia and Nautica soon needing the Lost Light’s help to repel a fresh wave of Shockwave’s minions. They bring Metroplex back to Cybertron, and Megatron teleports a missing chunk of the titan back into place so he can defeat the Necrotitan. His thumb, in case you were wondering.
If you found Nova and Pax’s intense, personal battle thrilling, then the glorious pages of two Metrotitans duking it out while their allies go to war all around is the kind of artwork that should be framed and savoured. Probably with a speaker playing an endless Judas Priest solo next to it.
Unfortunately, this is all part of Shockwave’s plan, having successfully played all sides to his own ends. He needed Metroplex back to access the Energon ore in his body, and Nova Prime defeated to loosen his influence on the Dead Universe. Shockwave has a final phase of his plan worthy of the Master himself – using a chronal drive to bend space and time to his will, collapsing reality itself into a singularity that he’ll use to power Cybertron for all eternity.
That means it’s team-up time once again, with the battered, combined force of Autobots and Decepticons crashing into Shockwave’s Crystal City base and confronting his army of Ammonites. The diminutive transformers can endlessly combine and assume any shape, and it takes a heroic sacrifice by Metalhawk (another rare Transformer in the UK) to destroy the power source feeding the entire Ammonite swarm.
This is where the major names start falling, and the last ditch assault on the near-godlike Shockwave sees the ever-reliable Bumblebee taken apart by the crazed villain as he tries to save Megatron. Inspired by the Autobot’s sacrifice, Megatron takes a step that blows the IDW continuity wide open – he dons the Autobot symbol, rejecting at last his evil past and confronting his former second-in-command as a changed ‘bot.
Shockwave is thrown into confusion, losing control of the temporal energies he’s trying to contain, and in the maelstrom his original, buried personality comes flooding back. Like Megatron, Shockwave was an unknowing victim of ‘shadowplay’, an illegal personality-altering operation practiced by the corrupt Cybertron Senate to silence all dissent. Horrified at his actions, the now rational Shockwave orders Prime and Megatron to kill him – the only way to destroy the chronal drive.
It’s a beautiful, noble moment, even without the revelation of government-approved brainwashing that has huge ramifications up and down the Transformers universe. Seeing Megatron shoulder to shoulder with Optimus and bearing the Autobot symbol is shocking enough, and it set up a slew of great plots across all the IDW titles in the months that followed.
The cosmos-moving battles and revelations of Dark Cybertron would be more than enough to justify the purchase price, but the handy addition of the Windblade limited series sweetens the whole deal.
Windblade is the first ever fan-created Transformer, her characteristics gradually selected over a series of weekly online polls, leading to an honourable swordswoman blessed with the rare talent of ‘cityspeaking’ – being able to communicate directly with Metrotitans.
Her series follows her first days on Cybertron as the dust settles, nursing the battle-stricken Metroplex and butting heads with Starscream, the ruler of Iacon. Everybody butts heads with Starscream. He’s an asshole. Suspecting foul play as she works to repair the Titan, she recruits a team of rogues to investigate Starscream’s true intentions and uncovers a plot to sacrifice Cybertron to restore a lost planet she once called home.
It’s a suitable palate cleanser after the behemoth of Dark Cybertron, and the first official Trasnformers comic with an all-female creative team.
At almost 400 pages containing enough callbacks, shout outs, references and thick continuity slabs to have you scrambling for TF Wiki every few pages, is Volume 6 worth your time?
100% yes. Unlike several other crossover mega-events, Dark Cybertron was focused almost entirely on the two mainline IDW series, meaning no endless parade of one-shots and spin-offs dividing up the good stuff across a dozen smaller titles. You can lose yourself in the strong characters and vibrant artwork from a long roster of talent for many happy hours – the comic book equivalent of marathoning the best season of your favourite show.
Dark Cybertron written by John Barber and James Roberts; art by Phil Jimenez, Brendan Cahill and Andrew Griffith; colours by Josh Perez
More than Meets the Eye written by John Barber and James Roberts; art by Atilio Rojo, James Raiz, Livio Ramondelli, Nick Roche, Robert Gill, Alex Milne and Brendan Cahill; colours by Josh Perez, Livio Ramondelli and Romulo Fajardo Jr
Robots in Disguise written by John Barber and James Roberts; art by Atilio Rojo, James Raiz, Robert Gill, Livio Ramdonelli and Andrew Griffith; colours by Josh Perez, Livio Ramondelli and Romulo Fajardo Jr
Windblade written by Mairghread Scott; art by Sarah Stone