Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mike's Top Twenty Favorite Transformers Comics

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Transformers and the release of Age of Extinction, Fanholes is doing a month of nothing but Transformers-related material.

This is a list of my top TWENTY favorite Transformers comics of the past thirty years. I did a top fifteen list some years ago, but I've revamped, restructured, and rewrote it for the world of tomorrow! Or today. Whatever.


20. Beast Wars: The Gathering # 1

Just before Dreamwave imploded, they had promised a Beast Wars comic, written by Simon Furman and drawn by Don Figueroa. At the time, it seemed like a dream (ha!) come true. Beast Wars was less than a decade old at the time, and everyone was itching to return to that era. Furman and Figueroa were the A-team as far as TF comics were concerned at the time. Tantalizing hints of the story-to-be were dropped, and preview art began pouring in. I was excited. Everyone was.

Of course, before anything could be released, Dreamwave died and the dream (ha!) died with it. Flash-forward a few years later, and IDW has the Transformers license. And they announce Beast Wars: The Gathering, with Furman and Figueroa still at the helm. We got a second chance at that promised awesomeness that slipped away.

The story was altered somewhat from Furman's original treatment (the first script of which IS available somewhere on the net) to mostly excise the show cast and focus on the Beast Wars characters that had existed as scarcely anything but toys and bio cards up until this point. And a great many would agree that The Gathering and its follow-up The Ascending certainly did not live up to the hype.

Still, this first issue of The Gathering makes it onto the list because the promise of a Furman-Figueroa Beast Wars comic was dangled in front of us...cruelly-snatched away, and then returned to us. Perhaps lesser than it would have been, but still finally ours to behold.

And don't get me wrong either; for whatever else IDW did with Beast Wars, this is a pretty good inaugural issue. Don Figueroa showcases his reliable talent and really makes those toy-only characters come alive on the page. Furman crafts a competent and menacing villain in Magmatron and an unlikely protagonist in Razorbeast. Who'd have thought that ugly little warthog toy that everyone passed by would be so compelling under Simon's pen and look so dynamic under Don's pencils? I myself took from these books another new favorite character in Razorbeast. He seemed to me to be “Bumblebee done right”- an espionage agent too focused on being damn good at his job to worry about being anyone's “little brother”.

So yeah, The Gathering # 1 makes my list. For being a solid issue, for introducing a new favorite character of mine, and most notably...for returning from the grave.

19. “King of the Hill!” (Marvel US # 27)

What kid doesn't like dinosaurs? Let's take that a step further; what kid wouldn't like ROBOT dinosaurs? Okay, one more step...what kid wouldn't like robot dinosaurs fighting an even LARGER ROBOT DINOSAUR???

Basically, that's what the cover to this issue promises, and it delivers. We get Trypticon's debut, and he fights the Dinobots...now THAT'S marketing! This was my first and strongest impression of Trypticon- not as the clumsy Godzilla-like dolt from the cartoon, but as an intelligent, sadistic war machine who actually is quite charming in how he goes about his destructive business. I'm happy this take on Trypticon was retained for War Within: The Dark Ages, and the War For Cybertron video game.

This issue is also a nice character piece for Grimlock, who undergoes a convincing change of heart regarding humans and the Autobot cause in the end. Unfortunately, all that growth is thrown out the window in the very next issue, but contained just within this story, it is very nice.

18. Stormbringer # 3

This is mostly an action issue and I love it because the action is very well-executed.

We get Thunderwing totally ruining the Decepticon infiltration unit on Nebulos, Darkwing and Dreadwind’s amusing and totally in-character self-preservation plan aside, and the Wreckers clearly being the team of professional badasses they are always sold as for about…oh, the very first time ever.

There’s also Bludgeon’s new clothes, Prime and Springer’s “Picard and Riker” back and forth, and a very nice, understated moment where Prime offers a hand of comfort to the dying Iguanus.

And top that off with a jolting cliffhanger. All bagged and tagged with beautiful “Classic” Don Figueroa art.

17. “Chaos Theory, Part 1” (IDW Ongoing # 22)

This issue was eagerly anticipated as James Roberts' first solo work on a Transformers comic. I was already a big fan of his epic “Eugenesis” fan-novel, and his work on Last Stand of the Wreckers with Nick Roche was also greatly appreciated. The fanbase was decidedly-split on Mike Costa's then current run on Transformers; some liked it, but I'd say the majority were quite dissatisfied with it. We all hoped Roberts, whose enthusiasm and love for the property was all too apparent, would “rescue” the book from itself. Heck, even Mike Costa later claimed that he assumed the more verbal fans would “have to like it” because Roberts' name was on it.

And we did. This is a great first part to a great two-parter, and a nice tease as to the level of quality and depth we would come to expect from Roberts on Transformers: MTMTE. I've never been a huge fan of Optimus Prime or Megatron as characters, but Roberts explores their relationship here in a way that is very compelling. He also seeds a bunch of plot elements that would later become important in MTMTE and fleshes out the IDW Transformers universe in so many ways in the span of just one issue.

Alex Milne also makes a strong showing handling the art duties here. While I had felt his previous IDW work on Megatron: Origin and the Drift mini-series had been kind of weak, he began showing marked improvement in my eyes, starting with his work on the ongoing. He would go on to become one of my personal absolute favorite Transformers artists for his work on MTMTE, showcasing an adaptability that he had perhaps not been allowed to fully-exercise until that point.

So this issue is important and on the list for not only being a great issue, but for formally solidifying Roberts and Milne as the “team-to-beat” on Transformers comics for the following few years.

16. “Rhythms of Darkness” (Marvel US # 67)

I love “alternate universe” one-offs where everyone dies. And this is pretty much the quintessential Transformers one.

Awesome cover by Jim Lee (Yup, THAT Jim Lee) and what is probably Jose Delbo’s best interior artwork on Transformers all-around. Galvatron strutting about narrating to himself and screaming at Rodimus Prime’s corpse like a loon as the Pretender Monsters nervously walk on eggshells is a treat. And of course, the doomed final attack by the resistance where near everyone gets killed and which is essential to every alternate universe one-off tale. But hey, my main 'bot Prowl lives through it at the end!

It also ends on a somewhat hopeful note, although one wonders what three Autobots and a pack of humans are going to do now against the rest of the Decepticon army.

15. War Within (Vol. 1) # 5

Lots of great moments packed into this issue; Grimlock’s infamous “Me Grimlock badass!” discussion with Kup, Shockwave downing two Omega Sentinels with one shot, Prowl giving an actually GOOD and rousing motivational speech to the troops, and Optimus and Megatron’s realization that they’ll be dancing their dance for a looooong time to come.

An excellent penultimate chapter to War Within by Simon Furman and Don Figueroa. Furman always excels at “penultimate”, in my book, even if his record of conclusions is a bit more spotty.

14. “Interiors” (More Than Meets The Eye # 6)

More Than Meets The Eye had already proven itself as the Transformers comic every fan never knew they wanted by this point, but issue # 6 is what I think is the best representation of it and James Roberts as a whole.

One of the opening scenes in Swerve's bar, focusing on many of the main characters simply...chatting over drinks showcases Roberts' particular brand of humor. The mood swiftly turns to shock and terror as the unhinged, PTSD-suffering Fortress Maximus goes on a shooting spree. We then get possibly our first take on a Transformers hostage situation as Max barricades himself in Rung's office, holding the psychiatrist and Whirl at gunpoint.

Whirl had always been a character I liked even before Roberts began writing him, just based on his unique design. So it was very nice to see his backstory to be fleshed out further here and to show that he was more than just “quirky psychopath”. And of course, Rung gets to shine as he gets to the root of Fort Max's problem and acts as the voice of reason and compassion.

Proving twice in the same issue that he's the master of mood whiplash, Roberts ends the hostage situation in the most tragic way possible- with the accidental and apparent death of Rung. By this point, we know Rung managed to pull through, but when the issue ended it seemed to everyone who had read it that he was irreparably dead. I was initially impressed that Roberts killed his “own” character off after building him up as one of the main cast. And even though it turned out to be a big misdirect, I couldn't really hold it against Roberts, because Rung had already become a likeable and developed character in a short time. The fact that Rung would be sticking around totally outweighed any possible “cheated” feeling I may have had. That's what I call good writing.

And of course, this issue ends on quite the cliffhanger, with Red Alert discovering the monster in the Lost Light's basement; Overlord. And things would only go on to get crazier from there. This issue is the best representation of James Roberts' solo pro work in my opinion, and another winner in the art category with Nick Roche's signature pencils and Josh Burcham's vibrant colors.

13. “Starting Over!” (Marvel UK # 261)

I love this little story that kicks off the “Earthforce” era.

We’ve got Prowl and Wheeljack walking around in the desert, complaining about how complicated the war has become and listing all the dumb gimmicks that have come to prominence since they’ve come back online. Then they are attacked by Long Haul and Mixmaster, and are completely elated to realize “We know these guys!”, before defeating them.

While wondering what the Decepticons are up to at the top of a mountain, Wheeljack speculates that a “Microheadtargetmaster with a Pretender shell” is behind it. They find out it is Megatron, who gleefully explains to them his extremely overwrought plan to launch a rocket into the sun to accelerate the polar ice caps melting, which will help create more Energon. Far from being horrified, Prowl and Wheeljack are simply glad things are “back to normal” and leap into action.

Classic. Pun intended.

12. “Totaled!” (Marvel US # 41)

This is one of those issues that I loved as a kid just because there’s a massive battle with dozens of toys being thrown at each other. It still remains a sentimental favorite to this day, and there’s a lot of good stuff in it anyhow.

We get the first meet-up between Fortress Maximus’ Autobots and Grimlock’s Autobots, the return of Blaster, Grimlock’s hilarious and continuous mangling of Fort Max’s name (Fruitloop Multipuck!), and two favorite characters of mine- Prowl and Onslaught, getting minor but visible moments of coolness.

Also, there was the long awaited fight between Blaster and Grimlock, and a dramatic ending line from Fort Max that always stuck with me- "For amid the smoke of the battlefield, it suddenly became clear to me that whatever future the Autobots have...lies encoded on a single magnetic disk labeled 'Optimus Prime'.

Just a fun issue all around, and Jose Delbo’s art wasn’t even that shabby.

11. “Worlds Collide, Part 3” (DW Armada # 16)

Another Furman-Figueroa classic, another dense action issue with some nice quirks tossed in.

The centerpiece of the issue is the fight between (Armada) Megatron and (G1) Galvatron, and it is pretty intense. Megatron had just steamrolled over the Autobots easily and suddenly he’s on the losing end of a fight, with Galvatron relentlessly, remorselessly coming at him. The intervention of the Air Defense Team, giving Megatron an edge in the form of the Star Saber was a great moment, and one I didn’t expect upon the initial reading. Most readers had assumed that with the Armada comic transitioning into Energon soon, Megatron was on his way out. So it was a legitimate surprise ending when, with the Star Saber on his side, Megatron managed to kill Galvatron.

We’ve also got Jetfire’s Autobots on Cybertron versus Bludgeon, which was a pretty neat fight. Plus, there’s the amusing “This is bad!” joke that runs through the issue.

Simon, you are just a cutup.

10. Last Stand of the Wreckers # 5

Obviously, Last Stand of the Wreckers was an oasis of depth and quality during a time when most were dissatisfied with IDW's Transformers output. The Costa ongoing and Bumblebee mini-series garnered a lukewarm response at BEST. Those books seemed more concerned from the get-go to grasp at the mythical “new” readers, ignoring previous comic continuity and borrowing elements from the then-popular first Bay movie.

But Last Stand was aimed directly at the diehard fan, not just of IDW- but Transformers comics in general. Nick Roche was already a reliable and fan-loved entity at that point, and James Roberts being brought on as co-writer excited those who were familiar with his fan-works. And you know what else worked in its favor? The fact that Last Stand of the Wreckers ended up being a GREAT COMIC SERIES. Its conclusion sealed the deal, providing both a sterling ending to the immediate story and filling fans with hope for stories to come.

Pyro's denouement, the TRUE story of what happened on Pova, and Overlord's three-tiered defeat by Ironfist, Verity Carlo, and Impactor are all standout moments. But the aftermath of the story really sticks with you too, particularly when you learn that Ironfist died on the way back from Garrus-9. This was quite the gut-punch, considering that the page before made it seem that the likeable audience-surrogate had managed to survive the entire harrowing series.

The final scenes, which revealed the real reason for the Wreckers' mission and the extent of Prowl's involvement also work perfectly. While he had only been mentioned in passing and limited to a brief cameo before the last three pages, Prowl suddenly seemed like a part of the proceedings from the outset, simply having remained in the shadows. How utterly right for the character- especially as Roche and Roberts tend to portray him.

In the final summation, a great conclusion to a great story and well-deserved of its accolades.

9. “Primal Scream” (Marvel US # 61)

This is a fairly significant issue; the first US comic to introduce the Primus/Unicron mythology. It was also the first time I saw Geoff Senior’s art, and was duly impressed by its simple expressiveness and dynamism. Not that the man can’t do detail- the design for the Keeper is awesome, and the whole Primus/Unicron tale is illustrated and told with appropriate weight.

Plus, this is a great issue besides all that. Great fight between Bumblebee and Bludgeon’s teams in the Primus chamber. Grimlock’s utter refusal to believe the Keeper’s story, Bumblebee overcoming his doubt in his abilities as a leader, Bludgeon being schooled by Jazz, then Bumblebee, then Seawatch in short order, and finally Primus’ explosive reawakening and the subsequent reveal of Unicron...

So much awesomeness. And Furman was really just getting started at this point.

8. Spotlight: Shockwave

The Spotlight series has always been one of, if not THE best idea IDW’s had for their Transformers comic line. And it started off cracking with this “everything old is new again” style story.

There are some really familiar beats here- Shockwave fighting the Dinobots on a prehistoric Earth being the most obvious one. But Simon manages to make it seem just as fresh as it was when Budiansky wrote it a few decades before. This issue also formally introduced me to the art of Nick Roche, who rapidly graduated to my second-favorite Transformers artist of all time. This issue also pretty much sold me on IDW’s Transformers universe in general, and for a long time after it, they could do virtually no wrong with me.

A scene I’d like to highlight is when Shockwave is traipsing around Earth, seeding ore for his Regenesis project and noting the plight of the indigenous species that are just coming out of the Ice Age. A wooly mammoth keels over and dies, and Nick Roche actually makes me FEEL SORRY for it with his art. Amongst all the classic Transformers stuff in this issue, the fact that this scene sticks with me is a testament to Nick’s talent as an artist.

7. “Time Wars, Part 5” (Marvel UK # 203)

This issue has some sentimental value for me; when I was about ten, my older cousin had procured for me a few of the original large Marvel UK Transformers comics and this was one of them. I didn’t get to read the whole Marvel UK series properly until much, much later, but this little bit of Time Wars impressed on me the need to somehow find the rest of the series some day.

We’re right in the middle of the action here and as a kid, the thought of Megatron and Galvatron teaming-up was mind-blowing to me. Even though I didn’t quite understand it at the time, having no access to the surrounding issues, comic book violence is a universal language for ten year olds. And this is a pretty violent issue (although ironically not as violent as the previous and following issue).

We get Sandstorm being blown to pieces by Galvatron, Roadbuster shearing off half of Galvatron’s face with the Pathblaster before dying in an explosion himself, and Cyclonus’ desecrated corpse hung on a wall. The opening scene with Scourge confronting the shattered and gibbering Shockwave is great, as is Carnivac’s change of heart regarding Springer.

Dan Reed will never be my favorite Transformers artist, but his style was essential to convey the grit and violence of this issue and sear it firmly in my mind. And even though Roadbuster died in the attempt, his Pathblaster shot on Galvatron cemented him as one of my personal favorite Transformers characters.

6. “The Worse of Two Evils!” (Marvel US # 6)

One of the first issues I ever received as a kid and some of the earliest Transformers fiction I’d ever read. This issue made me a lifelong fan of Shockwave and Transformers in general.

Shockwave totally owns this issue, destroying G.B. Blackrock’s oil drilling platform in the beginning. A convalescing Megatron can only fume as Shockwave proves more adept at leading the Decepticons than he is. It culminates in the centerpiece of the issue- Shockwave and Megatron’s first and best fight with each other. Kicks off with an excellent moment (“Shockwave, you are relieved of command.”) that sends Shockwave hurtling out of Mount St. Hilary by way of fusion cannon. And the way that Shockwave easily and coolly takes advantage of Megatron’s still-healing wounds, earning him the victory firmly made him one of my favorite characters.

And great art from Alan Kupperberg and a good cliffhanger to boot!

5. “A Rage in Heaven!” (Marvel US Generation 2 # 12)

The conclusion of the short-lived but excellent Gen 2 series, I just wish so much of it wasn’t drawn by Manny Galan. But even he manages to put in a tolerable performance, even if that just might be a knock-on effect of Geoff Senior’s pages dragging his up a little.

Anyhow, this is an epic conclusion to the series, and Simon has always had a bit of trouble with conclusions. There’s no faltering here though; the stakes are appropriately high, no one is safe, and boy does Furman run with that. This issue hits almost all the right beats (except for Nightbeat; he’s killed off rather unceremoniously for such a memorable character) as the Transformers fight for their very existence against both the Cybertronian Empire and the encroaching Swarm.

Geoff Senior’s art is as always, a pleasure to behold. Optimus Prime being consumed by the Swarm is one of the most beautifully-rendered scenes in Transformers comic history. And the ending, with the Autobots and Decepticons apparently on the verge of actual sustained cooperation and possible peace was rather appropriate and satisfying.

Of course, IT NEVER ENDS, and Simon covers his bets with another cliffhanger epilogue, introducing the Liege Maximo and teasing the reader with what could have been. It's a shame the comic finished here, but at least the conclusion was a great one.

4. “All Fall Down” (Marvel US # 66)

The conclusion of the Matrix Quest storyline, and yet another strong Geoff Senior-drawn issue.

As a kid reading this, the idea of a Decepticon using the Matrix as a weapon was pretty darn awesome to me. And I hadn’t seen “Burden Hardest to Bear” yet, so Thunderwing was the only one who I thought had done it at that point. This made Thunderwing distinctly awesome to me and he remains a sentimental favorite character to this day (obviously).

Beyond that, this is a great issue anyhow and another suitably-epic conclusion on Furman’s part. Lots of great moments- Landmine’s horrific death, Prime’s verbal and physical thrashing of Thunderwing, Thunderwing’s struggle for control with the corrupted Creation Matrix, and Nightbeat being generally awesome in word and deed.

3. “War Without End!” (Marvel US Generation 2 # 1)

This is not your father’s Autobot! Hoo-boy, they weren’t kidding!

Around the time this issue was released, I had been making regular stops to the comic shop and buying up handfuls of Transformers back issues. Then one day I notice there’s a NEW Transformers comic on the rack! It was this issue and I think I may have had my first fangasm that day. Above and beyond that, this is a great start to a great series.

While it took me awhile to get used to it, Derek Yaniger’s art has stuck with me (joints made of wires!) and there’s a lot of iconic imagery to be found here. We’ve got Sideswipe being an actual badass and not an imaginary one, Grimlock being consistently awesome (as per usual Furman Grimlock), the introduction of Jhiaxus and the Second Gen Cybertronians, and the overall set-up of some really cool stuff that will actually pay off in the next eleven issues.

Of course, the 90s grit and EXTREME!-ness is on full display here, but it actually makes sense in context of the story. At the time, Gen 2 # 1 showed me that Transformers were still alive and kicking and that’ll always make it a personal fave of mine.

2. “The Pri¢e of Life!” (Marvel US # 70)

This issue has one of the most memorable covers in Transformers comic history. Maybe not as memorable as “All Are Dead”, but in all likelihood it is the second most. The sight of a horrifically-fused Megatron and Ratchet, holding up a simple sheet of notebook paper that reads “Help Us”, actually gave me nightmares back in the day. Hell, I can recall being wary of actually opening this issue and reading the contents! But I’m glad I did, because this issue is a gem.

Grimlock’s hunt to find the Nucleon well on Hydrus Four is an entertaining side-quest, but the meat of the issue is the Megatron/Ratchet situation. Back when Optimus Prime’s moral hand-wringing wasn’t tiresome and played-out to me, it was rather gripping to see him struggle with what to do about the Ratchet/Megatron creature. As a great counterpoint, we get Kup up in Prime’s face about the danger the creature represents. And an amazingly-intense scene where Kup tells Prime that he’ll relieve him of command if he doesn’t do something about the creature immediately.

The scene where Prime is about to execute the creature, only to back off yet again always gets me. Particularly the part where the creature grabs Prime’s gun and press it to its forehead, pleading for Prime to kill it. Of course, Prime doesn’t and makes another decision of dubious merit when he tells Fixit to save both Ratchet and Megatron’s lives. But this was very consistent with Marvel Optimus Prime’s character, a dude who killed himself over a VIDEO GAME.

This issue is also what I personally think is Andy Wildman’s very best work on Transformers- he completely sells both the horrifying and piteous nature of the Megs/Ratchet beast, Kup’s anger, Grimlock’s frustration, and Prime’s inner conflict and anguish.

1. “On the Edge of Extinction!” (Marvel US # 75)

The most epic battle ever portrayed in a Transformers comic book and easily the best depiction of a battle with Unicron that has yet been portrayed in Transformers fiction.

While the sense of scale is never quite consistent from page to page, everything is so full of impact and weight that it barely matters. The Transformers initially react appropriately to a giant planet-sized robot attacking them; they crap their collective robo-pants. Then when they finally find their bearings, they begin throwing themselves at Unicron in earnest, trying to topple this seemingly unfathomable foe.

Many moments of awesome here; Unicron redefining “finger food” with Brainstorm, Shockwave’s inability to logically comprehend the situation, Galvatron’s ballsy attack on his creator, “Blasted youth element!”, Highbrow’s doomed charge, Scorponok’s character arc ending beautifully with his very touching death scene, Grimlock punching Unicron in the face with the Ark, the corrupted Creation Matrix versus Unicron, and finally Optimus Prime’s ultimate (well, second really…well, not ultimate really…) sacrifice.

Even the Neo-Knights feel like a key part of the story, although Circuit Breaker giving Unicron pause is a little hard to swallow for some. Geoff Senior’s art is perfectly suited to the story and Furman caps what he’s been building to for the last fifteen or so issues off perfectly. And then once again, because IT NEVER ENDS, he gives us a cliffhanger epilogue to keep us around. Heh-heh.

While there may be more satisfying endings to stories in Transformers, maybe more dramatic ones…this is by far the most epic. And it is my favorite Transformers comic of all time.


Mike P.

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