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Trade Waiting- Transformers: Optimus Prime Vol. 1

Written by SuperginraiX on Thursday, August 24 2017 and posted in Features

Trade Waiting- Transformers: Optimus Prime Vol. 1

Good book, bad Prime.

OptimusPrimev1Cover.pngTrade Waiting is a new (ish) series where Super buys a new (ish) release trade paperback on Amazon and then decides to publish his reviews here instead of over there (on Amazon).

This time, it's Transformers: Optimus Prime Vol. 1. Here are the publishing details:

Collects: Transformers: Optimus Prime #'s 1-6 (originally published between December 2016 and April 2017)
Number of pages: 152
Release Date: June 20, 2017

Creative Team Info:
Writer: John Barber
Artists: Kei Zama & Alex Milne (Issue #4)
Colorist: Josh Burcham
Letterer: Tom B. Long
Series Editor: Carlos Guzman
Collection Editors: Justin Eisinger & Alonzo Simon

There are going to be spoilers ahead so, y'know, SPOILER WARNING.

Transformers: Optimus Prime is the continuation of the story from the Transformers ongoing series after it went through the Hasbro-verse Revolution blender. It has pretty much the same cast and John Barber continues on as the series writer.

If you're wondering, the Transformers ongoing is no longer being published. If you're looking for it, this is your book.

"...I had a mouth and it was weird."

Despite the title, it's not a solo book. Transformers: Optimus Prime is still about an ensemble cast of characters focusing on what the Transformers are doing on Earth. Mostly, Optimus Prime is still trying to bring the Earth into Cybertron's Council of Worlds even if Earth's population isn't really sold on that. Since this takes place after Revolution, Prime's relationship with Earth's local governments is no longer antagonistic but they aren't BFF's or anything, either.

Add to this mix a copious amount of Junkions and Sharkticons, stir vigorously, and see what happens.

To center the focus more on Optimus Prime, this book features an ongoing flashback story that runs along side the present day tale. In the flashback, Orion Pax (Optimus's pre-Prime iteration) is Cybertron's most famous cop investigating a case of police brutality and Decepticon gunrunning on a pre-war Cybertron. I say "pre-war" but this takes place after a Decepticon uprising ended with Megatron killing Sentinel Prime. Sentinel has been replaced by Zeta Prime, an ally and friend of Orion who has taken some baby steps to address some of the Decepticon's societal complaints but is already on his way to becoming a maniacal dictator.

And if that doesn't give you an idea of the continuity you're going to run into... well, this thing is DEEP into continuity. Writer John Barber is known for his ability to gently massage past stories into a cohesive past narrative. Those talents are more fully utilized in his Revolutionaries book where he's taken on the task of combining all the disparate bits of Hasbro-verse continuity. However, if you're reading a Barber book, it's probably going to have a lot of minor continuity tweeks (and nods) going on even if it isn't the backbone of the stories he's telling.

OptimusPrime2.pngIf has five heads, kill it on sight!

Transformers: Optimus Prime is a dark book where the Autobots aren't necessarily the good guys and the Deceptions aren't necessarily the bad guys. They're just people, each capable of great heroism and/ or great villainy. The best example of this is Soundwave. He's currently building a Decepticon colony near Jupiter that espouses his version of Decepticon ideals but also serves as one of Optimus Prime's strongest allies.

The worst example of this is Optimus Prime.

You probably have an image of Optimus Prime in your head. If you grew up with the eighties cartoon and comics, it's probably of a heroic, kick-ass Autobot leader who is loved by his allies and feared by his enemies. Maybe if you focused more on the comics, you'll know him as being a little bit of a navel gazer, questioning his role in the never-ending war that has consumed his people, but even there he comes across as a capable leader who almost always does the right thing.

If you watched the live action movies, you might picture Optimus as a blood-thirsty murderer with an iconic voice. If that's the case (and only in that case), Barber's Optimus Prime is a better version of the character.

IDW's Prime usually comes across as the ultimate hero doing unswervingly badass things while inspiring his soldiers. Unless John Barber is writing him. Under his pen, Optimus Prime comes across as a middling, ineffectual leader who is questioned by his enemies and allies alike. If Optimus goes into battle, you rarely feel like he's doing the right thing. Most of the time, his friends and allies' concerns are fully warranted. Some of this can be explained away by him having a LITTLE bit of Prowl's thoughts floating around in his head after Combiner Wars. This hasn't been addressed in a while, though, and it's not like Optimus was behaving much better BEFORE that incident.

Mostly, you just wonder how this guy could have inspired the Autobots to fight a war. For four million years. And not lose it in the first ten hours.

I will grant that Barber does a better job with Optimus in this collection than he did in the Transformers ongoing but the issue remains. I guess I'm just not a fan of a multi-faceted look at Optimus Prime. I like him acting more like a proper Silver Age hero even though we was created well after the Silver Age was over. At the least, I want him to look WAY more competent than he's portrayed here.

OptimusPrime3.pngThis book would be 100% better if this was Transformers: Thundercracker.

That being said, the story told in this collection is pretty great. It helps that this is actually an ensemble book disguised as a solo feature. Every other character in this book shines. Heck, even Prime has a good moment here and there. The G.I. Joe cast members that appear in this book are... they're actually better than the ones that show up in the new G.I. Joe book.

Yeah, this book has it's own G.I. Joe cast. Most of them are characters from the previous ongoing that are now part of a G.I. Joe task force focusing on the Cybertronian city that Prime has set up on Earth. Zilong Qian and Sanjay Bharwaney make the jump as Talon and Hi-Tech respectively. Spike Witwicky joins up as... Spike. These three are joined by G.I. Joe mainstays, Flint, Mainframe, and Chameleon.

OptimusPrime4.pngBut does it have lights and sounds?

There are a lot of moving pieces in the book but it holds together fairly well.

But enough about story, what do I think of the art team?

HOLY CRAP THE ART. Kei Zama is an inspired choice as main artist on this book. Her illustrations have a retro vibe that reminds me of what I probably thought the original Transformers book looked like but never was, if that makes sense. The Cybertronians are well detailed. The shadows are nice and black. It's not the clearest art in the world. Some panels are hard to make out on first viewing. Even so, there's so much going on that it's fun to go back and see what little details you might have missed.

Filling in on issue 4 is Alex Milne. Milne is an even better treat for me. The regular artist for Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye has come a long way from his days at Dreamwave. I remember back then that his art was great but unfocused. Nowadays, the veteran Transformers artist has a slick, detailed style that is very clear to read. It's sad that he isn't working on More Than Meets the Eye's follow up title, Lost Light. The world needs more Alex Milne Transformers comics.

Pulling all of this art together is colorist, Josh Burcham. Burcham is probably my favorite colorist in the industry and he does some incredible work within this book. The colors are similar to what he did on More Than Meets the Eye and Sins of the Wreckers, helping to pull characters out from the background while doing a great job establishing a mood for the book. The textures applied to the colors give a retro feel to me but, again, it's so much more detailed than the comics from my memories actually had. Absolutely beautiful work by the entire art team.

OptimusPrime5.pngIt's hard to tell the difference between humans and Galvatron, Pyra Magna.

The only quibble I have is that it would have been nice if a different color pallet had been used to differentiate the flashbacks from the present day scenes. The scenes from the past seem to have darker colors but if so, it's too subtle for easy identification. Regardless, it's a minor thing and doesn't detract from the book's quality.

As far as extras are concerned, you get cover art. It's a LOT of cover art, though. Two pieces are used to separate each issue/ chapter and there are sixteen more at the end of the book. Some of them are beautiful and some are... less so. I guess that depends on your own artistic taste and inclination.

The bottom line is that the Transformers titles have made it to the other side of the Revolution in a pretty good position. Some of the other titles in the new (ish) Hasbro-verse line of IDW books are floundering post-Revolution but Transformers: Optimus Prime is NOT one of those books. If you're a Transformers fan, this book is highly recommended. If you're a Hasbro-verse fan but not a Transformers fan... um... do you actually exist? That seems like a weird thing to be. Anyway, you should try this book out, too. It might be deep in continuity but that is an area where John Barber thrives. You won't get too lost on the deep end of this particular pool.

OptimusPrime6.pngWhere else are you going to see a city-sized robot take a screwdriver shaped spaceship right to the groin?

And the book is so pretty that even if you're lost, at least you get to look at some very nice art.


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About the Author - SuperginraiX

SuperginraiX is the biggest sap on The Outhousers' payroll (wait, we get paid?). He reads every issue of every crappy Marvel crossover so you don't have to. Whats worse is that he pays for his books, thus condoning Marvel's behavior. If The Outhouse cared for his well being at all, they'd try and get him into some sort of rehab center. But, alas, none of us even know how to say his name. For a good time, ask Super why Captian America jumped off the Helicarrier in Fear Itself. Super lives in the frozen wastland that is Minnesota with 15% of the state's population living under his roof: a wife he makes wear an Optimus Prime mask, two gremlins, and his mother-in-law.


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