Spoiler Review – The Transformers: Unicron #6
Today marks the release of The Transformers: Unicron #6, final chapter of the climactic mini-series and the penultimate issue overall in the original IDW Transformers continuity. Once you’ve read it, check out what The Allspark thought about this landmark issue in our review – beware of major spoilers below!
The Transformers: Unicron #6
By John Barber, Alex Milne, Sara Pitre-Durocher, Andrew Griffith, Kei Zama, David Garcia Cruz, Joana Lafuente, and Tom B. Long
“All of Cybertronian history, good and bad, has led to this moment… just as this moment is a link in the chain leading to the rest of history.”
Callum: Unicron #6 is the climax of not just a six-issue mini-series, but a six-year story begun with 2012’s The Death of Optimus Prime. The success of this issue – and make no mistake, it’s a storytelling triumph – comes from the fact that it’s built on years of plot development, character arcs and big-picture thematic questions. This is an issue that’s lifted up by everything and everyone that has come before, and it’s only fitting that the same idea is core to the in-universe narrative as well.
Following last issue’s setup, Unicron #6 opens with the final stand against the Uncreator already in motion. This issue is truly cinematic in scope and intensity, and the 40 pages of story allow for pitch-perfect pacing, fast but never rushed. Jo, how did you find the issue’s opening act?
Jo: Well, first of all, I want to say: I told you that Razorclaw had survived! After a year and a half, I’m finally vindicated!
In all seriousness, though, from the very first page this issue has a real sense of finality – the grim feeling that, no matter the outcome, this is the end of an era. Though John Barber’s trademark comedic stylings add a little levity, this is, ultimately, the sincere and emotional conclusion to all the arcs that have been running through the Cybertron- and Earth-based Transformers titles since “Phase 2” began, from character arcs like Starscream’s shaky path to redemption and Slide’s inability to let go of her anger to the greater themes of faith, the cycle of destruction and the legacy of Cybertron itself. Appropriate for the ultimate climax, Unicron #6 makes sure to touch in on characters from across the IDW universe, and even brings four of the most prominent artists from Phase 2 together!
C: Yeah, while Unicron is first and foremost the finale to John Barber’s stories, it’s also a last hurrah for the continuity as a whole (in a way that Lost Light’s “Crucible” story wasn’t), so it feels very fitting that series regular Alex Milne is joined on this issue by Andrew Griffith, Sara Pitre-Durocher and Kei Zama, the regular artists for Robots in Disguise, Till All Are One, and Optimus Prime respectively. All four are on fine form, and unlike some other cases of multiple artists on the same issue, pages are assigned very effectively, fitting both the structure of the story and the characters involved. For instance, Pitre-Durocher’s pages include the demise of Starscream, the issue’s first major death and a touching final act for a character whose arc has revolved around his struggle to overcome his selfish instincts. Meanwhile, Griffith’s pages include the similarly emotional death of Ironhide, and the heartfelt reunion between Thundercracker, Buster and Marissa.
About a third of the way through the issue, Optimus Prime leaps into the black hole at the heart of Unicron, which marks an in- and out-of-universe transition into the story’s climax. From there onwards, the story builds in a crescendo to its conclusion, and it’s an amazing ride. Long-seeded plot elements and character journeys collide together, leading to a rapid-fire series of climactic moments. First, Slide’s arc – often a source of complaints in some fan circles – comes to a head with her choice to break the cycle of her hate and unite with the Torchbearers, a nicely emotional moment that mirrors larger themes in this issue. And then, the story of Soundwave – one of the most consistent presences in Barber’s stories – similarly reaches a conclusion, and what a conclusion it is! Jo, what was your reaction to “Operation: Absolution” and this ending for Soundwave?
J: Soundwave’s death wasn’t the only heroic sacrifice in the issue, but it may well have been the most powerful. As perhaps the most empathetic and spiritual of the Optimus Prime protagonists, the biggest turning point of his arc was the realisation of the value of non-Cybertronian life, and – with his embracing of the true meaning of “‘til all are one” here – he truly pays that off, spiritually uniting everyone together, be they human or Cybertronian or Elonian, alive or dead, and allowing Optimus to reach out to the man at the heart of the monster. As a character who has struggled with the atrocities he has committed in the past in the name of Cybertronian supremacy, I don’t think there can be any truer redemption – and that sacrifice ties in intimately with the central thread of the sins of the Transformers’ past.
The aforementioned death of Starscream, meanwhile, feels bittersweet and fitting – his sardonic reflection on his friendship with Windblade was one of the best lines in the issue – but on top of the moment having very little room to breathe, I’m still not convinced that the path Starscream has taken since the end of Till All Are One was necessary to set it up. It doesn’t break the story for me, but I am left with a sense that Screamer could have been taken in a direction that felt a little more faithful to Mairghread Scott’s work with him.
C: During this climactic action, we also see the downfall of Shockwave, which very fittingly comes at the hands of Rhinox, one of the many servants he has manipulated over the eons. And perhaps surprisingly, although Prowl arrives shortly afterwards, both logicians live through the issue! If I had to pick one element in this issue that’s not as satisfying, it’s that Prowl doesn’t really get a concrete final note here, but hopefully he’ll be among the characters that get a send-off in Optimus Prime #25’s epilogue story. Shockwave’s arc, meanwhile, reaches an excellent end, with a perfectly-timed exclamation of “Oh” underscoring his realisation that his twelve million years of planning means nothing in comparison to our heroes’ simple belief in good.
These scenes lead directly into the heart of the issue – the infraspace confrontation between Optimus Prime and the last Antillan. This scene, intercut between events in the real world, is the plot, emotional, and thematic core of the issue, and takes us through to the grand finale. Jo, what did you think of this sequence?
J: Optimus’s confrontation with Unicron’s creator is, in many ways, what John Barber’s Transformers saga has been building to ever since Orion Pax reclaimed the title of “Prime” back in Dark Cybertron, even if it wasn’t always planned to end in this way. The questions of when to let go of past grudges and whether the ends justify the means have been a consistent thread throughout Robots in Disguise and Optimus Prime, and in choosing to lay down arms and apologise for his people’s past actions, Optimus brings his own arc to a close, rejecting his history of manipulation and control in the name of the “greater good”. It’s much more emotionally and thematically satisfying an end than using the power of the Matrix or a battle to the death would have been, and though it’s not the first time the rejection of hate has been used to defeat the Chaos Bringer – the climax of Transformers: Armada comes to mind – I’d say it’s definitely the most satisfying.
Optimus’s appeal to the Antillan’s love for his family over his hatred and grief ties into many other characters’ arcs – Arcee finding new meaning for her life in Aileron, Rom and Livia rediscovering love outside of their endless war, and Slug’s choice to sacrifice himself so the Earth-born sparks will be able to grow up unburdened by the past – but perhaps none more so than Slide, who has been one of the most contentious characters in Optimus Prime (and not without good reason). Callum, what did you think of the conclusion to Slide’s story?
C: Before this issue, I’d have had a hard time predicting where Slide would end up by the conclusion of this story, but having read it, it now feels like the most obvious thing in the world, and the perfect ending for her. I touched on it briefly above, but her decision to break the cycle of hate and go forward in unity makes for a lovely mirror of the issue’s larger themes, and I’m very glad that she gets a “learned a lesson” conclusion rather than the kind of narrative punishment that some of her more ardent detractors in the readership have been calling for. It’s been a pattern in this mini-series that the crisis around them has driven the cast to be the best versions of themselves, and it’s only fitting that the same is true of Slide.
From there on out, we head into the touching final pages of the issue, establishing in brief the happily-ever-after that our heroes’ efforts have won. While many of Barber’s main players will no doubt receive proper send-offs in Optimus Prime #25, several secondary characters receive goodbyes here, including a sweet moment for Sunstreaker, remembering his brother, and for Rom and Livia, who find both a new meaning in their oath to protect Elonia and a chance to finally reconnect as individuals, not warriors. While “till all are one” can at times feel played out as a catchphrase in Transformers fiction, its use in this issue, championing the unity that our cast find in each other is touching, and brings us full circle from John Barber’s first arc in this continuity, where the phrase had been reinterpreted as a dread warning. Any more thoughts on the bold new future that this issue leaves us with, Jo?
J: While I will always think it a shame that the cast of Lost Light will, apparently, never reunite with their long-distant friends on panel, as a finale for the casts of Optimus Prime and Till All Are One, I don’t think there could be anything more fitting than everyone coming together to build a new future for everyone on Earth. While it remains to be seen what Optimus Prime #25 will bring in terms of an epilogue, the darkest hour of the IDW universe is ending with a bright new day – and really, what more could you ask for than that?