IDW’s latest reinvention of the Transformers in comics is, above all else, ambitious. A complete look at the start of the Autobot-Decepticon War, this fourth major comics incarnation of the original Robots in Disguise has defined itself by its commitment to providing a glimpse at prewar Cybertron as a galactic power, however, the main series has struggled to introduce us to this new setting while also playing out out a political drama that paves the road to war. Enter Transformers: Galaxies, a new series, seemingly in the spirit of the previous IDW continuity’s Spotlight issues. Instead of being limited to a series of one-shots, the new take opts for a rotating anthology series, starting with a four-part arc detailing the rise and fall of the Constructicons.
Famous for being the first Combiner in the Transformers franchise, the Constructicons occupy a special place in the massive catalogue of robots that make up the brand. Despite this, the individual characters have usually taken a backseat to their combined form and the plot relevance of a crew of construction robots. That’s not the case here, writer Tyler Bleszinski brings all six Constructicons to full, clearly defined life, straight off the bios on the back of their original packaging. Perhaps because the individual Constructicons have been so underserved, there is a bit of hammering their unique trait home in a fashion that’s actually a little more 1986 than most of IDW’s takes on the Transformers, but with six protagonists and a couple of supporting characters, it’s not overly obnoxious. In fact, on rare occasion, I found myself wishing that the Constructicon’s voices were more identifiable.
Transformers regular Livio Ramondelli provides the art on this issue and it should surprise no one that the overall effect of his work is powerful. Ramondelli has always had a knack for making these metal giants feel huge and ancient, with a slew of lighting effects and material filters. There’s a textured, epic quality to his work and its very much apparent here. Ramondelli’s detractors would say out that the dust and scarring he lays over his scenes merely distract and his untouched linework is angular and sometimes awkward when its not being presented front and center. Personally, I don’t find it hard to tell what’s going on this issue or notice many awkward panels, however, Ramondelli’s strum und drang approach exacerbates a natural problem of a Constructicon story: namely that it can be hard to tell them apart.
Now there are Transformers fans who have known these characters since birth and could identify them by their kibble, but for most casual fans up to even those die-hards who aren’t especially familiar with the Constructicons, their uniform paint jobs, similar designs, and abundant close-ups can make it exceptionally hard to tell who’s Hook and who’s Bonecrusher (hint: Hook’s the one with the chin ornamentation, while Bonecrusher’s got a weird robo-neckbeard). Longhaul and Mixmaster are generally easy to identify, but four of the six bots share the same head flap, another four have essentially the same optics, and most of the basic ways to tell a Transformer apart are similar or identical between at least two of the team’s members. Traits of Ramondelli’s that are otherwise harmless — the darkness, the closeups, the obscuring dust and debris — combine with the general similarity of the Constructicons’ heads to make this issue much harder to follow than the art style or the script would imply.
But for those who know the Constructicons or power through until they can identify them reliably, the characters prove fairly charming. As is often the case, Scrapper and Hook get a lot of the screentime, giving the sense of a tense but trusting friendship, but, while they could stand to see a little more development, Scrapper, Bonecrusher, and Mixmaster will likely come out of this issue with more fans than they went in with. They’re fun in a realistically dull sort of way. It definitely helps convey the blue collar grunt vibe that Bleszinski is going for. The issue is quiet but there’s an Office Space frustration building underneath it that’s revealed in a very nice and subtle fashion.
The structure of the issue is a weakness though. There’s a lot of jumping back and forth between past and present, often just for a minor comment by Scrapper or Hook before returning to the main event way back when. I can see why Bleszinski decided to employ this style, as the two lengthy sequences could drag without the crosscutting, but it sometimes feels unnatural and like its exists mostly to artificially provide tension. My hope is that this issue will lessen in future issues, now that we’ve laid the foundation.
As is often the case for side stories in sprawling worlds like this, Transformers Galaxies already feels a little freer than the main series. While the continuity between Galaxies and Brian Ruckley’s series is tight, with Termagax making several calls forward to concepts discussed during The Transformers‘ first two arcs, there isn’t the same pressure to establish the world. The result is a more character focused and welcoming feeling. Though Ruckley’s transcriptions of Termagax’s writings have been a lovely addition to the main series, I don’t know that she’s ever made so much sense in context or worked so naturally as her own character as here, trying to help Wheeljack see the flaws in his traditionalist thinking and raise up the next generation.
I was bored with the Enigma of Combination last continuity, so seeing it again is tiresome, but Hasbro was always going to request that, so there’s no use griping or blaming Bleszinski. Indeed, while the Enigma is quite a bit of phlebotinum, the sense of power and majesty that the issue grants the as of yet unnamed Constricticon combiner is wonderful. There’s even an appearance by another, far more underused, combiner that already has me excited. Like much of “IDW2”, Galaxies would probably benefit from either further embracing or completely forgetting the previous incarnation, but there are worse things to riff on than IDW’s handling of Monstructor.
Turning back to the art, I think it was a natural fit to put Ramondelli on this arc. There’s no one who makes Transformers look old and beat-up the way he does, and there are likely few Transformers who deserve to look that way more than the rough and tumble Constructicons. The moody lighting in Mayalx brings out the Constructicon colors, burdened with the scars of megacycles of neglect, abuse, and toil. The visual contrast between these run-down Constructicons might have been stronger if Ramondelli had toned down his signatures a little more on Cybertron, but the difference is still substantial.
Ramondelli can also really draw a combiner! The once and future Devastator looks great and intimidating. Construction work is messy and dangerous sometimes — these bots tear things down with fists, plows, and acids — and Devastator gives a sense of how heavy these materials are by the very nature of being required for this work. There are a lot of great little shots of the Constructicon’s alt modes crushing stone and moving rubble and it reminds you of the difficult, yet (initially) fulfilling work they do.
There is one moment at the end of the issue’s that’s a little unclear. We close the issue unsure if someone has been injured or actually died. The writing seems to imply the former, but it seriously changes our protagonists depending on which they’re reacting to. Ramondelli’s dramatic composition certainly could be a death blow, but it doesn’t read clearly either way. I personally hope it was, as it reveals a dark fold in the story, hitherto unseen, but it would have been better if it weren’t so ambiguous.
Some bots can also look a little geometric at times, Wheeljack especially, but the alt modes are all pretty slick, Wheeljack especially, ironically enough.
Overall I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly strong or weak issue for Ramondelli, delivering the sense of grandeur and scope that one would expect without serious blemishes. However, there’s perhaps a sense of playing it a little safe for this debut issue; Ramondelli is an artist who can produce panels that stay with you long after the issue’s over and he doesn’t really accomplish that this time. Nevertheless, especially when launching a new series, I’m happy enough to take consistency over uneven spectacle and there’s still plenty of awe in these panels.
Transformers Galaxies gets off, appropriately enough, to a workmanlike start. There’s a lot to cover in this single issue and Constructicons Rising loses a little bit of time and footing establishing and differentiating its sizable core cast. The jumps in time and lack of telling interactions between the Constructicons also hold this issue back, however, we come out of the first chapter with a powerful launch pad for the arc. Hints that something went wrong on Cybertron undermines the utopian premise of the main series and encourages readers to read on to see what the Cons did and how that path turns them from the preeminent builders of Cybertron into a beast called the Devastator. Ramondelli’s art strikes hard and fast, imbuing the series with awe and the core relationship between Scrapper and Hook provides a throughline that gets me thoroughly excited for what’s to come.
Though this issue has a number of factors that keep it from greatness, we leave issue #1 with a wonderfully set stage and some intriguing hints of things to come. Transformers Galaxies spends its first issue establishing a sturdy foundation on which to build its narrative. It’s only a solid base for the moment, but an attention to character, attractive artwork, and simmering resentment at the heart of the story make me excited to see how it combines with subsequent issues.
Transformers: Galaxies #1 is currently available in comic shops from IDW Publishing.