Compiling three separate mini-series into one, Transformers: Redemption of the Dinobots has a lot to pack in but maintains the continuity of writer/artists pairing Barber and Ramondelli to keep things on track. I’ve spoken before about how Ramondelli’s grungy metallic aesthetic and claustrophobic panels work better for flashback sequences than present day affairs, but the darker storylines within are a good fit for his moody, noir visuals.
Punishment is the opening five-part story, following Optimus Prime post-Dark Cybertron as he returns home to Cybertron and finds himself playing cop once more, this time to investigate a string of Decepticon homicides. Prime’s suspicion of the new order under Starscream contrasts with the social injustice he witnesses being suffered by countless displaced Decepticons. Modern IDW Transformers often spices its plotting with social observations, and here we’re using our bots as a means to examine how soldiers struggle to re-integrate into society post-conflict, even more so when considered the ‘losing’ side.
What keeps the story rolling is the detective side of it – Prime was a pretty good cop before assuming leadership of the Autobots, and while this is the kind of murder mystery you’d usually see Autobot PI Nightbeat investigating, Prime’s strong moral compass and reactions to the difficult post-War Cybertron he encounters make for compelling stuff.
A galaxy-spanning conflict that lasted literal millennia was never going to wrap up in a neat bow once it finished, and Prime’s meeting with embittered black ops soldier Sandstorm further muddies the waters. How are these two opposing sides meant to coexist any more? Prime having to break up a beatdown between the vengeful Dinobots (currently sans Grimlock) and Firecons highlights his delicate position, and before long Prime is confronting the Dinobots of being behind the spree of murders.
The IDW Dinobots are presented in a multi-faceted light – extreme warriors sent in to do the dirtiest of dirty work, and vilified by their own comrades for their bloodthirsty actions as a result. We’re light years away from ‘Me Grimlock Smash’ here, and despite Optimus’ accusation soon being revealed as a feint to draw out the true killer, there’s truth in his words when he calls them ‘the worst of what Cybertron has to offer’ – and they know it.
With the killer’s cries of wanting ‘justice’ to clear his troubled conscience sounding like something we’d hear a captured gunman announce at his own trial as justification, Prime delivers the closing words of optimism despite the long road to peace that lies ahead.
It’s brave, dark stuff, with the killer’s reveal unsettling even if not ultimately surprising, given the limited pool of suspects. The story is less about who did this than why, answering questions, the IDW ‘verse would expand on over the next few years’ worth of stories.
That leads us to second story Redemption, which focuses more squarely on the Dinobots and plays well into their strengths as characters – all suffering from a ‘bro’ overload of machismo to hide their deep-seated conflicts around their wartime actions. Many a serving soldier will relate to this duality – of covering the horrors you’ve seen with a solid facade of bravado – and when Slug ends up in jail, he’s made a tempting offer by Decepticon lawman Barricade.
The job seems simple enough – take an artefact across the Cybertronian wilds to the city of Alyon, without anybody knowing about it. Unbeknown to Barricade, Slug plots with his Dinobot brethren to doublecross him and keep the cash, because why the heck not, right?
Unfortunately, Slug peeks into the shipment en route and finds they’re transporting a dozen sparks – proto-consciousnesses that will evolve into brand new Transformers – and has an attack of conscience just as the Cybertron cops show up. The Dinobot convoy survives a wonderfully creepy attack by zombified Sweeps out in the Sea of Rust – vistas perfectly suited to Ramondelli’s weathered, metallic artwork – unaware they are being watched by Bludgeon, a former Decepticon Big Bad and one of those reliable ‘we need somebody worse than Megatron’ villains that IDW has a healthy reserve of.
The story takes its lurch towards the actual endpoint when the convoy finds the frozen body of monstrous Decepticon base Trypticon – essentially a gigantic robot dinosaur that turns into a city, similar to Metroplex and the other Titans – and Slug shares an awkward moment with Barricade’s partner Strafe along the way. It’s a comic sequence, but again digs into the conflict at the heart of the Dinobots – they know they’re ‘bad’ good guys, and the weight of what they’ve done weighs heavy on all their souls.
Nearing their destination, the convoy is attacked by first the Cybertronian police once more and then Bludgeon, making his move amidst the chaos as the Dinobots try to save the sparks they’re transporting from the doublecross they themselves set up. Bludgeon overpowers them and destroys the sparks, but when he mutates Strafe into a violent new form (something that happened to the Dinobots not too long ago), Bludgeon is dispatched and the convoy escape with their lives.
This leads to a wonderfully redemptive coda in which the Alyon ‘hot spot’ reignites – meaning new sparks will grow there of their own volition. You can feel the burdens lifting from the Dinobots – Slug in particular, very much the de facto leader of the group now – and the team welcoming Strafe into their ranks as they depart to hunt down the wounded Bludgeon. They pull the old The Dark Knight ending, concocting a cover story that exiles them but allows “the heroes to be heroes”, as Slug puts it.
Salvation is the sequel to this story, starting from a great point as we’ve established cruel Decepticon scientist Bludgeon as our antagonist, and the Dinobots as recently-converted reluctant heroes with a score to settle. A neat in media res opening flashes forward to a titanic battle still to come, and the story jumps back and forth throughout to varying effect – sometimes creating brilliant cliffhangers, others killing the momentum by taking us away from something more interesting to a far less engaging conversation.
Starscream is immediately back to his Machiavellian best, keeping the existence of the Alyon hot spot secret until he can decide how best to take credit for it, and releasing former Wrecker (Autobot black ops – yes, they had a lot of those sorts of teams because – gasp – they weren’t always very ‘good’ good guys) Sandstorm from the clink to hunt down the errant Dinobots, as the only ones who can rumble his scheme. While IDW Starscream is infinitely more layered and interesting than the snivelling backstabber of the cartoons and movies, it’s still nice to see him being a bastard now and then.
Slug is the first casualty, sniped by Sandstorm just as the Dinobots find one of Bludgeon’s abandoned labs – full of grim imagery, made all the more sinister by Ramondelli’s art adding an organic, unsettling twist to ruined heaps of metal. In hot pursuit of Bludgeon, the Dinobots find him busily reanimating Trypticon, the story taking a swing towards the mythic by having Bludgeon brandish a replica of an ancient artefact supposedly wielded by one of the five ‘Gods’ of Transformers lore.
Trypticon marches on the Cybertronian capital of Iacon, with Starscream employing the gestalt Devastator to mount a defence. The Dinobots manage to enter the Titan’s body, with Strafe confronting Bludgeon inside Trypticon’s brain chamber. Bludgeon plans to conquer the galaxy in the name of Cybertron, an eloquently-worded but typically batshit plan worthy of IDW’s answer to Skeletor.
Sandstorm and Swoop catch up to the action, and a nicely-played trick allows the team to free Trypticon from Bludgeon’s control, serving some justice in a satisfyingly explosive manner. Trypticon decides he’s going to become a force for creation, not destruction, and departs with countless new sparks gestating within his body for parts unknown, ready to return one day at the head of a new generation of Cybertronians.
It’s a great conclusion to an epic, sweeping story, and completes a terrific arc for the Dinobots from traumatised warriors right the way back round to saviours of countless new Transformers, protecting them from the horrors they suffered through.
But then it wouldn’t be IDW without a final twist, and it’s to show Starscream with both Slug and Bludgeon’s recovered bodies, and a corrupted spark from Bludgeon’s experiments, ready to try a little science of his own.
Redemption of the Dinobots is more of a two-story adventure with an extended prequel than a true trilogy, but it resets the Dinobots into grizzled antiheroes with renewed purpose, freshening up their place in the IDW ‘verse and setting up several handfuls of new plots for later stories too. Redemption and Salvation alone would make this worth reading, but I’m a sucker for a good Optimus story and Punishment is a damn good example of what my favourite ‘bot can do with a meaty plot. Definitely worth your attention.
Transformers: Redemption of the Dinobots is now available from IDW Publishing.