With yet another Transformers movie hitting the big screen this week, there’s never been a better time to dive into some Transformers comics. So I decided to pick up the Transformers Phase One Omnibus off the shelf, sitting unread for waaaaay too long, and give it a review. After reading them I can say that these comics, written by Simon Furman and art by E.J Su, are some of the earliest Transformers comics published by IDW Publishing and are a great way to get a taste as a new reader.
The Transformers Phase One Omnibus collects three of the earliest published miniseries – Infiltration, Escalation and Devastation – in a chunky collection and reboot what Transformers fans call the G1 continuity. Furman and Su take the opportunity to give readers something familiar, starting by establishing the conflict between Autobots and Decepticons and continue by reintroducing familiar characters and motives – in particular Starscream’s.
As for who’s back, there are many of the favourites on both sides including, but not limited to: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Hot Rod, Megatron, Starscream, Astrotrain and Sixshot. As the series progresses and different plot threads begin to take place we are reintroduced to more characters with your favourites popping up.
So what are the comics about? For an undisclosed amount of time the Autobots and the Decepticons have been waging a secret war with each other on Earth. None of the humans know that they exist, but that all changes when three teenagers are thrown into the conflict when they accidentally come across important Decepticon intel. Rachet, an Autobot who can change into an ambulance, saves them and they’re introduced to their world.
By including these humans and having them thrown into the deep end like this allows Furman to introduce the reader to concepts on a need to know basis, without having to do an exposition dump or grind the story to a holt.
As I said earlier, the war has been waged in secret, with the Decepticons opting for infiltration through a series of stages. Although, that plan seems to go out the window when there is a leadership challenges on the Decepticon side. This in turn causes a escalation of plans and their secret war no longer becomes so secret to the rest of Earth.
Furman introduces some interesting ideas into these Transformers comics which gives the franchise more of a science fiction flavour, and elevates it from a simple good vs evil robots hitting each other scenario. We’re introduced to concepts like holomatter, holographic avatars which allow the Autobots to blend in further with humans; the Decpticon’s cloning program, which allows for human puppets; and a secret government organisation who want to use the Cybertonian’s for their own personal gain.
The early Transformers had an interesting release structure in which it was succession of miniseries, that were released one after another. While each miniseries had a distinct storyline, which moved the overarching narrative further, they also had a number of subplots which would not be resolved until later. If you were reading these independently or even out of order you’d probably be very lost, but with these three miniseries together it makes a more cohesive package. Although, there are a few plot threads left hanging, which you’ll need to track down Maximum Dinobots to find out what happens next.
One issue with these early Transformers comics the story is not always contained to the miniseries, with references character-centric one-shots, known as ‘Spotlights’, littered throughout. This is not always an issue, with many of these side stories not essential to understand the overall plot. Although, once you get to Transformers: Devastation these become more required. There are references and characters introduced in the Sixshot and Galvatron spotlights which then bleed into the main story, with little explanation. I was a bit lost, but since I have the Transformers: Spotlight Omnibus Volume 1 sitting on my shelf I can go and fill in the blanks. That being said, it would’ve been nice if there was a bit of information given to readers who hadn’t read them, especially since they are not in this collection.
A common complaint about the Michael Bay movies from fans is that the Transformers do not look like the classic Transformers fans know and love. With this batch of comics that is not an issue, and Transformers fans will really enjoy E.J Su’s art. They look like Transformers should. Su’s designs honour the classic designs, but modernising them at the same time.
In the classic cartoon the Transformers looked like a dozen boxes put together into a robot shape. In these comics, Su takes time to give the robots more detail through bevelling and rendering the joints in between. It’s embellishment like these that make the Transformers more aesthetically pleasing, but also more personality. These extra touches allow for more expressive Transformers, which leads to greater body language and facial expressions. You connect with the characters more, both Autobot and Deception, on a deeper level and you find yourself more invested in the narrative.
While the Transformers look great, Su weakness is the way he draws humans. While his manga influenced style people are serviceable most of the time, expressing the emotions needed in the script, it can be inconsistent. Some pages have people that look a bit off and not up to the same standard as other pages. This isn’t a major issue, as the reader is for robots that change into vehicles, but it can look a bit odd at times.
While it has its flaws, The Transformers Phase One Omnibus is a good taste for anyone interested in the IDW Transformers comics. It introduces readers to characters and concepts while staying true enough to the comics and cartoon from the 80’s, but introduces enough new as well to make it feel fresh. Although, due to the way the comics are structured it begins to rely on additional issues to get a full picture, which can be really frustrating for some readers, but easy enough to fill the blanks with the Spotlight Omnibus. The way IDW has chosen to collect these comics is a little odd, with many of the sub plots left unresolved, making this not a self-contained read. That would be okay, but considering I have been waiting for The Transformers Phase One Omnibus volume 2 for a few years means you’ll need to get your answers in another format.
As a result, I would say pick up The Transformers Phase One Omnibus to see if you like them. If you do, track down the the ‘Compendium’ or ‘IDW Collection’ editions, which collect a far greater amount of content, including content which was published later but comes chronologically beforehand.