[This review comes from Doug Glassman:]
IDW’s current Transformers series is broken up into a series of six-issue mini-series, making for easy collection into trades. Between “Infiltration” and “Escalation” came a four-issue arc called “Stormbringer” that took the story away from Earth and back to the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron. Many fans were eagerly awaiting the story because of the promise of “No humans.” “Relatable human characters” are often inserted into Transformers stories. At times, they work, such as Sam Witwicky in the recent live action film. And sometimes, they don’t work, like the annoying kids in the Unicron Trilogy of shows (Armada, Energon and Cybertron). Humans were also prevalent in “Infiltration”, and some fans thought that they were incredibly intrusive. Can Transformers work without relatable human characters?
I’ll admit up front that part of the reason Stormbringer appealed to me was one of its starring characters: Jetfire. This character made it to the original show only in the altered form of Skyfire because he was based on the Valkyrie toy from Macross/Robotech. Something about his inhuman face, his neat alternate mode and his pursuit of science appealed to me, and they all transferred across to his new form in Stormbringer. Though he’s a bit clueless here, the Jetfire action did not disappoint this Jetfire fanboy.
For those that are completely new to the Transformers franchise, Stormbringer might not be the best book to start with. Its countless cameos and somewhat convoluted plot rely on some old franchise stand-bys such as Pretenders and the Wreckers. Because Simon Furman, the long-time Transformers comics author, wrote this arc, Bludgeon and Thunderwing are featured characters. (I’m personally amazed that Grimlock didn’t worm his way in, though he does make an appearance in Beast Wars: The Gathering). All of the IDW Transformers stories connect to each other to form a weaving story that emulates the original Generation One but introduces a number of new concepts. Surprisingly, you don’t have to read the preceding arc, “Infiltration,” to understand what is going on. I read Stormbringer first and understood it perfectly. The only real interaction with the previous arc is the explanation of where Optimus Prime is arriving from at the end of “Infiltration."
Speaking of which, Optimus is the main character of Stormbringer despite its early focus on Jetfire. This is a compromise of sorts: Prime is here while Megatron is on Earth during “Infiltration.” The two interact in Stormbringer only through flashbacks. One might be surprised by the amount of armament Optimus packs in this arc. Other famous Transformers appear throughout, such as Springer, the Technobots, Thrust and the Predacons, along with Thunderwing himself for the Marvel UK faithful, though he has little to say.
All of these characters are illustrated by Don Figueroa, who in my opinion is the best artist IDW has on hand. My nickname for him is the “George Perez of Transformers.” He can draw massive crowd scenes and make every character stand out. More importantly, he has a gift for designing transformation schemes and Cybertronian alternate modes. (For the Transformers newbie, they are “Cybertronian” in the sense that they are the alternate modes that the Transformers had before they reached Earth). This is actually the second time he has done a great number of Cybertronian modes; he had to redesign some of his War Within creations to avoid trademark issues. His designs are “toyetic”—they can easily be turned into action figures, and some of them already have. In fact, his design for Jetfire made its way to retailer shelves as the Jetfire toy in the Classics line, and all of the figures in the sadly cancelled Titanium line were designed by Don.
Sometimes it takes clean artwork to see some of the design genius. Stormbringer, like a majority of the IDW trades, has a sketch section in the back showing off Figueroa’s handiwork. There are also the covers, which feature the majority of G1 characters, many of whom never show up in the book. He even explains the hard-to-see final transformation of Thunderwing. Yes, all this great design work comes at a price: Figueroa sometimes has difficulty conveying the action. But that’s mostly because of the awkward panel layout later on in the book. You can work it out after a few reads.
Is Stormbringer for the brand-new fan coming off of the film? No. It’s a fun “fight the monster” story made entertaining by the high number of obscure Transformers cameos. A newbie would be better off starting with the “Spotlight” issues, which take closer looks at individual facets of the IDW continuity. Or you could start with the weaker “Infiltration,” which, while a decent introduction, suffers a bit from the humans involved. Still, Stormbringer is at least worth flipping through for the design work alone.
[Contains sketch pages, cover gallery, sketch pages. $17.99.]