Optimus Prime #25 – Spoiler-Free Review and Retrospective
It’s finally here – the final issue of Optimus Prime, which brings an end not just to John Barber’s Transformers saga, but to the IDW Transformers universe as a whole. In light of this truly momentous occasion, several of the Allspark’s staff have come together to share our thoughts on the issue, and look back on the series that led up to it.
Optimus Prime #25
Writer: John Barber | Line-Artist: Kei Zama
Colorist: Josh Burcham | Letterer: Tom B. Long
Back in 2012, when I was getting into IDW Transformers, I could never have predicted that all this time later, I’d consider John Barber’s seven-year story, spread across various titles, to be the definitive Transformers story, held nearest and dearest to my heart. A large part of that admiration has developed over the course of the Optimus Prime run, as well as Barber’s various companion series published alongside it, and issue #25 sees the comic end on top form.
While Unicron #6 was Barber’s big, flashy finale, Optimus Prime #25 is the quieter, calmer epilogue. Appropriately, this goodbye issue makes space for all the varied aspects of the book that have made it so enjoyable – from long-term character journeys, to goofball humour, to contemplative “big question” material, and even a few last bits of continuity fun. The one-page-vignette format pays off excellently, allowing for focused spotlight moments for the present-day cast, as well as a staggered tour through the history of both Optimus Prime himself and IDW’s thirteen-year Transformers continuity as a whole. While this is primarily an issue about Barber’s cast, it’s nice that the final story in this universe serves as something of an overall epilogue too.
Any discussion about this issue must of course also discuss the stellar art team of Kei Zama and Josh Burcham. After a series of guest- artists and shared issues, it’s great that regular series artist Zama has the full final issue to herself, and it’s fantastic work. The visual storytelling is excellent – from character emotion to staging to layout – and Burcham’s saturated retro colour palette – a visual trademark that has kept the book feeling consistent even under guest artists – complements the line-art as well as ever.
Sweet and sentimental and understated, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better epilogue for Optimus Prime than this issue. It pitches its character endings perfectly, closing the book on the cast’s current stories, but moving them forward into new adventures and new chapters of their lives. And as for the titular character, his years-long character under Barber’s pen is brought to a definitive, satisfying conclusion.
I’ll miss all these characters, and for many of them, it will be a strange experience seeing future incarnations of them, such are the unexpected and delightful places Barber has taken them. But I don’t mourn that this universe is ending. In a licensed property like Transformers, any one writer’s take on a character is fleeting, to be changed as is seen fit during the next soft reboot to come along. An ending – a loving, careful, considered ending like we’ve been lucky enough to receive for this universe – preserves these characters forever, in the happy ending that has been earned over thirteen years of stories. It’s the end… but it never ends.
It’s hard to know where to begin summarising my thoughts on Optimus Prime #25, and the meta-series of works it belongs to. I shared some on Twitter just after Unicron #6 was released, but in truth, they barely scratch the surface of what I love about these comics, all of which is reflected in this final issue.
After the grand and sweeping conclusion of Unicron, this much more subdued epilogue focuses in on the characters and what becomes of them after such a world-altering event. In contrast to the final issue of Lost Light, which went for a deliberately bittersweet tone, Optimus Prime #25 dares to dream that tomorrow can be better than today, and that we can have hope for a better world. The characters coming from the great tragedy of Unicron and finding their place in the new world is shown through a series of one-page vignettes, each of which is beautifully rendered by the series’ main artist Kei Zama – something very welcome after several fill-in artists drew for the previous issues.
From the start, John Barber envisioned Optimus Prime as less the story of its titular character, and more the story of his effect on the world around him, and I think this issue exemplifies that better than anything else. It looks back on the IDW universe and how Optimus affected it, and though it doesn’t have any easy answers to the question of good intentions versus controlling actions, it doesn’t need to. The important thing is less the answer, and more the willingness to ask the question. Indeed, much of this issue is centered around the question of what does, and does not, matter in a story – and though plenty of fans will be disappointed with its lack of willingness to answer certain questions, in my mind it answered all the ones that were important.
At the end of the day, I can’t express how much this series means to me. For the last few years, Transformers has been my biggest interest, and the “Robots in Disguise saga” has been my Transformers. There’s so many things I could point to – how meaningful Arcee and Aileron are to me as a transgender lesbian; the depth given to Soundwave and his redemption arc that brings him from misguided revolutionary to protector of humanity; and my passionate love for IDW’s Action Man and his friendship with Kup. But none of these pieces can truly capture my love for the whole, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to. All I’ll say is that, though many might dismiss it in favour of More than Meets the Eye, John Barber’s work has been a true gem that I hope history will give the vindication it deserves.
If you had told me 13 years ago that this is where IDW’s Transformers universe and characters would end up, I’ll be honest, I would have laughed at a few things and not believed many others. To think that what started as your typical heroic Autobots versus evil Decepticons war story has evolved into such a complex web of revelations, truths, deceptions and character evolutions in directions that seemed downright impossible for certain heroes (let alone villains) is impressive to say the least.
As has been said, most every ending in serialized comics is there to conclude the current adventure, until the next beginning comes along. Few ever get the chance for the kind of resolution and conclusion the IDW universe is getting. After the cataclysmic events of Unicron #6, to have this massive epilogue that brings together what was, what is and what will be for this universes Transformers, is a treat. The art is beautiful, the writing is both goofy and poignant when it needs to be. IDW’s run has certainly had its fair share of rocky moments, yet Barber has been able to bring his grand plan to completion.
Whatever comes next, the personalities and personal evolution of characters within this universe, like Thundercracker, Soundwave, Starscream, Arcee, Prowl, Optimus Prime and many others, will be hard to match.
I’m sad to see it end, yet happy to see it given an ending like this.
Rom is in it, 10/10.
…okay, I can try a bit more.
For anyone who has listened to Callum and I talk, it won’t be much of a surprise to know that much of my thoughts align with his. Over the past couple years, the saga that John Barber has crafted across Robots in Disguise, Transformers, Revolutionaries, and Optimus Prime has become not only my favorite Transformers story, but one of my favorite runs in all of comics. And part of what makes it so great is how Barber crafted a story that redefined what Transformers can be.
The characters and stories presented in these works will not be the definitive takes on the Transformers mythos. Soundwave as an individualistic revolutionary. Arcee as a bitter warrior that grows to love. Thundercracker as a pet-loving screenwriter. Shockwave as a total drama queen. And, of course, Optimus Prime as a warhawk leader doomed to fail in peacetime. These takes will probably never be seen again, but that’s only because Barber’s takes are so unique that they can never be replicated.
And I’m glad for that.
The IDW Universe has always stood out because of how it bucks the traits of traditional Transformers stories to craft something new. Even when making the deepest of deep cut references, the Barber run has ensured to always push the stories towards new directions and into the future.
Optimus Prime #25 exemplifies this theme better than any issue. The universe does not end with the big battle of Unicron #6, but with the people who fought continuing on and forging ahead after the battle is over. After seven long years of uneasy peace on Cybertron, thirteen years of conflict with humanity, and two centuries of distrust with the Solstar Order, three different cultures have united against a common threat and now work together to build a common future.
Not everyone will love this issue. Some readers will want answers to long-standing questions. But in the end, it’s not about the details. It’s about the story of Optimus Prime. A story that ends the only way it can.
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