Spoiler Review – Transformers: Unicron #1

The end is here, 13 years in the making (appropriately enough), as the Chaos-Bringer himself descends on IDW’s Transformers universe. But will it come with a bang, or with a whimper? Read on for our SPOILER review from Allspark staff Jo and Callum!

The Transformers: Unicron #1

Main Story: Written by John Barber, Line-Art by Alex Milne, Colors by Sebastian Cheng

Backup Story: Written by Chris Ryall, Line-Art by David Messina, Colors by Alessandra Alexakis

Letters by Tom B. Long, Edits by David Mariotte

Jo: In principle, Unicron has a lot going for it – writing by one of the most prolific Transformers writers in history, art by the man who defined the look of the modern era of Transformers comics, and colors by… er, a very good colorist; and it’s a story that has been hinted at and built up to for years, centered on one of the most impactful characters in Transformers history. But, of course, that also means it’s got a lot to live up to. So, Callum, what were you hoping for out of this issue?

Callum: Generally, I think I was just hoping for something that would get me nice and engaged in the event! It’s been a thing with some past events – Dark Cybertron comes to mind – that the first issue pretty much amounts to just setup, and it can kind of put a damper on the big #1 you’ve been waiting for. So yeah, I think I wanted Unicron #1 to go big and get me excited for this finale. And how it did!

Yeah, while issue #0 was essentially a self-contained little story to introduce readers new and old to the premise, this one jumped in with both feet – not unlike Revolution #1, a previous crossover written by Barber. I think it says a lot about the story they’re telling that they’re not building up to the big attack on Unicron over the course of six issues – it happens in issue #1, and it doesn’t go well! The tone of this one is decidedly bleak, which you’d think would be expected for a Unicron comic, but it’s still pretty disarming.

Mm, I was genuinely pretty surprised by how things went down in this issue. A lot of times when Transformers fiction does Unicron, you get a slow-and-steady “Unicron is coming!” build-up and then at the very end, our heroes do battle with him and win. This mini is kinda flipping that on its head, having the first issue open with a grand army already amassed to face Unicron, which then loses pretty decisively! It totally defied my expectations, in a really good way.

The big splash page of the army amassed did look amazing under Milne’s pen – though I am a little disappointed, even now, that this series essentially looks to be a finale to Optimus Prime rather than the big reunion of characters from across the Hasbroverse. Minor characters like Javelin cameo, but on the whole this is entirely characters who’ve been significant under Barber. (The one exception – and the only non-Transformers character present – being Rom, something I suspect is down to Transformers fans being more fond of him than of any of the other properties.) Similarly, while the cameos in the beast army are cool, it’s sad that fan-favorites like Optimus Primal and Beast Wars Megatron are being relegated to mooks for Unicron.

It does feel like a more “obvious” approach to ending this universe would’ve been to conclude Optimus Prime and Lost Light, and then run a Unicron event – perhaps done as a Barber/Roberts collaboration a la Dark Cybertron – after that, as a bringing-it-all-back-together finale. You have to assume that somebody at IDW decided that keeping everything concurrent for a big double-shipping bonanza was the more marketing-friendly approach, and in that case, Barber’s less “narratively isolated” corner of the universe makes the most sense to use for Unicron. I do think it’s a pity we couldn’t at least get Unicron tie-in one-shots for some of the other franchises, although we do get a small nod in that direction with the backup material, which we can get into in a bit.

Quite – though, if certain theories about Lost Light‘s mytharc are true, this issue might not be entirely devoid of links to it; and I’m reasonably sure that we’ll get to see other franchises join the fray once the action reaches Earth, if only in a small way. Some of the few characters drawn from other series don’t come off too well, though – Starscream does seem to have unfortunately backslid on his past character development for the sake of being, well, Starscream.

Not untrue, although I’m interested in seeing exactly what the connective tissue between his most recent appearance in Optimus Prime #20 and this issue is. It perhaps feels like Barber has his own idea of what Starscream’s endgame will be, and has massaged him back into a place where that can play out. The aforementioned missing link, though, brings me nicely onto the fact that Unicron #1 is being released ahead of Optimus Prime #21, which concludes current arc “The Falling”, a story which has turned out to be a bit of a stealth prelude to Unicron. (Rather like how Barber’s Revolutionaries #8 was released after the start of First Strike, the event it lead into!) No huge shocks or reveals are spoiled, but the reader is left with a reasonably clear picture of where the pieces will fall at the end of that arc, along with some new details on Shockwave’s current motivations. Not anything that’d ruin the story, but if you’re not reading weekly, definitely read Optimus Prime #21 – out in one week’s time – after this one.

It’s really a shame – after IDW seemed to have sorted their release scheduling out, they manage to mess it up just in time for it to start having an effect on the storytelling again!

Though the plot is well-crafted and brings up some intriguing mysteries, it’s not the deepest thing around, “first chapter” as it is – but the art is bringing its A-game right from the off. With the beautiful, ruinous environments inside Unicron – not to mention his twisted body-horror “immune system” – it’s clear why Alex Milne was chosen to render it, and Sebastian Cheng brings a more muted version of his vivid colours that make this feel like a moment of true importance.

Yeah, this does feel like a bit of a spiritual successor to the last time Barber and Milne worked together, on Rom vs. Transformers, at least in terms of imagery! On those notes, one mystery that particularly intrigues me comes up during the journey through Unicron’s interior – namely the mystery of the thirteenth colony! It had been noticed by fans recently that we now know twelve of Cybertron’s thirteen “colonies” (some more literal colonies than others), with the final spot seemingly being taken by the unnamed planet with which the thirteen original Primes made first contact. We saw a number of Omega Sentinels on that world in Optimus Prime #18, and now we see the remains of one of those giants inside Unicron, suggesting it may have already been consumed. And at the end of the issue, Bumblebee highlights the question of the thirteenth colony, making it clear this is a question we’ll be returning to. Much of Barber’s excellent recent work on Optimus Prime and Revolutionaries has had a strong mystery element, so I’m glad to see that continuing here.

It’s definitely an intriguing question – though I also note that we don’t know what planet serves as the host to Carcer’s ore, as that spacefaring Titan didn’t have a permanent residence. I’m also curious as to whether the planet of Garnak-like aliens with its own spacebridge seen briefly in Combiner Wars will come up – though if that and the first contact planet are our remaining two “colonies”, that presumably means that the other obvious options for colony worlds (Junkion and Regalis IV) are just red herrings.

This issue’s other big mystery, beyond the history of Unicron himself, is why the Maximals have sworn allegiance to him (though it presumably has something to do with their ship, the Nemesis, implied in this issue to be Unicron’s eyeball). I do find it a little hard to believe that there’ll be a satisfying explanation enough to offset seeing all these beloved characters as silent goons – and call me cynical, but I feel like we’re probably going to get a Dark Cybertron-esque mass death for the Maximals…

Yeah, personally, I’m not too bothered by the use of the Beast Warriors here, but I can definitely understand people’s grievances with it. Although I do yet hold out hope – perhaps foolishly! – that big names like Optimus Primal and Megatron might get some dialogue scenes down the line…

The aforementioned backup story in this issue is “Ad Infinitum”, the first in a series of tie-in codas for some of the non-Transformers Hasbro franchises. This time, it’s Rom’s turn, and thanks to his status as a major player in this event, his story is reasonably open-ended, seeing the Space Knights react to Elonia’s destruction in Unicron #0. In a nice touch, the four-page story pays homage to 1983’s ROM Annual #2, paraphrasing Rom’s speech about the duty of the Space Knights and recreating the dramatic final splash page. Regular ROM contributors Chris Ryall, David Messina and Alessandra Alexakis all return for this story, making it a fitting bookend to IDW’s stories with the characters, with an appropriately hopeful ending.

It’s a nice reference… albeit one a bit lost on me, since I still haven’t read Marvel’s ROM. (Sorry, Daniel!) Q’b’s little temper tantrum seems a bit contrived and added in to pad the pagecount, but it’s still an enjoyable little tale – and, though Christos Gage couldn’t make it in as a writer, he still gets a cute shout-out in the credits. It’s not particularly deep, but it feels like an appropriate enough epilogue to Rom’s adventures in the IDW universe as it comes to a close.

As well as the backup story, we get interviews with the original Infiltration creative team, Simon Furman and E.J. Su; and while they’re not exactly full of surprises (Furman likes Grimlock, what a shock!) it gives a nice insight into the thought processes of the original creators.

It’s nice that they’re going back to touch on some of the older material, to make things a proper send-off for the whole universe. The “artist hall of fame” approach being taken with the series’ RI-A covers is neat in a similar way – this issue, it’s Andrew Griffith, next issue Casey Coller, etc. It’d be nice if some of the future interviews were with creators from some of the non-Transformers properties, but given this is being branded as a Transformers book, I’ll understand if not.

Yeah, I feel like they might touch on Mike Costa’s G.I. Joe work if they get him on to talk, but otherwise I think it’s unlikely. (And, really, do IDW want to get Chuck Dixon or Aubrey Sitterson back to be interviewed, considering all the drama that would inevitably result in?)

So, on the whole, I thought this issue was exactly what anyone could have wanted from IDW’s take on the Chaos-Bringer – a genuinely intriguing and new take, beautifully rendered under Alex Milne’s pen, with a couple of genuinely affecting character deaths and a real emotional core to it. I suspect you feel much the same way, Callum, but is there anything else you want to add?

Oh, yeah, I totally agree with all of that. That we’re getting a distinct IDW take on Unicron is a huge positive – it would’ve been a shame for the universe to go out on a wholly-derivative The Transformers: The Movie homage! Based on what we see here, Barber is continuing his hot streak of deftly balancing both plot- and character-driven storytelling, and I’m really properly, excited to see where he and the art team take us with this!


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Callum

Callum

Callum somehow managed to avoid Transformers during his actual childhood, but then the live-action films piqued his interest, Animated suckered him in, and IDW's comics made sure he stuck around.
Callum

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