PUBLISHER: IDW (2011)
WRITERS: DAN ABNETT & ANDY LANNING
ARTIST: ULISES FARINAS
For the umpteenth time IDW began to realise that their Transformers comics and their writers weren't actually going down too well and a rescue mission was needed. The solution to the ongoing's issues was to parachute in chair-sharing duo Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who were sort-of the British Jeph Loeb in that they simply survived in the industry for a couple of decades and were arbitrarily elected as hot for a little while because no-one else was really doing much new either. Dan of course had cut his teeth writing out scripts for Simon Furman on the old British Transformers weekly before pairing up with John Tomlinson for the aggressively awful Knights of Pendragon series. His later partnership with Lanning had yielded runs on Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova for Marvel and Legion of Superheroes for DC, which was enough for IDW's online shills to act like Kurt Busiek had rocked up. They turned on them soon enough naturally as both are still just that bit too famous to do conventions but anyway, onwards. The pair first handled IDW's idiotic Infestation crossover before getting a four-issue follow-up mini named "Hearts of Darkness", with the plan being then that they work with Costa on the ongoing. How all three would squeeze on a chair I don't know.
As said, "Hearts of Darkness" was built around the cross-property Infestation event which happens more or less concurrently and threads through this story towards the end. The main crux of the Transformers contribution was the return of Galvatron, who had been rapidly defeated back in "Revelation" as Furman desperately tried to make as much mess as possible before IDW forced him out of the airlock. It's an interesting change of focus considering the recent output's focus on Earth and a deserted Cybertron, to be back out in space and back in touch with the Dead Furmanverse. While the latter was a rampant plot tumour if something was salvaged that'd be nice.
Galvatron and to a lesser extent Cyclonus and Scourge are among the best points of the series, with the former calm, rational and perceptive. Similarly the returns of Hardhead (albeit ridiculously overpowered) and Jhiaxus are well-handled and even Arcee is less of an annoying psycho-bitch-chick that she was under Furman. While in a way it would be nice if the trio had been cauterised and left but it's IDW and Transformers, they were always going to be brought back because there would be a new toy or because the fans can't deal with closure on certain trademarks applied to plastic action figures and this is a good a time and place as any.
The problems are basically everything else. The whole tone is weird. The IDW material so far had largely opted to abandon fantasy in favour of attempted realism and pretensions to sci-fi but "Heart of Darkness" largely eschews this, instead going for a bright, cartoony feel, something not helped by Ulises Farina's cheerful art or the violent colour palette. It's all funny creatures, alien ruins and pink clouds. Considering Abnett & Lanning have clearly done some reading of Transformers both past and present it's amazing how little this feels like any Transformers comic written since dear old Bob was wheeled out of Marvel strapped to a stretcher ranting about Big Top and the Mechannibals.
Meanwhile the villain of the piece being built up is D-Void, who was clearly meant to be Unicron until someone at editorial pointed out everyone was still digesting the guy's Dreamwave era overexposure and he wouldn't be ready for reintroduction until 2023 or until James Roberts picked him up as a woobie because he was trying to shift the toy on ebay, whichever happens first. So we have D-Void instead, who's basically Unicron but with the sort of name a fat balding middle class comic writer or two would give a hip-hop artist in a wince-inducing attempt to get with the kids. It's a shame as actual use of Unicron would actually be justified since the story is going down the "big existential bad guy who forces an Autobot/Decepticon alliance". Yeah, it would be derivative of the big Unicron saga from the later days of the Marvel comic but it's Transformers, most of it is derivative.
Even aside from the basic odd shape there are some bizarre passages. There's an incessant need to explain basically everything and much of the story is taken up by people standing around explaining things to each other by flashback. It's necessary considering the jumps made perhaps but it really adds to the shapeless feel. Another really strange passage comes when Galvatron is trying to locate deactivated recruits with the Heart of Darkness itself (the old Darkness now harnessed as a life-giving force because, just because). There's an extended sequence with some funny alien pirates who are saved by Galvatron's mob because their ship contains the dormant form of Thinkbox, a Transformer. He's given life and joins the cause but Abnett & Lanning clearly suddenly realise this is going to take forever and within seconds it turns out the whole thing was happening just above a planet of wrecked Transformers who he resurrects. The lesson to take from Furman's material was not pacing, chaps.
Despite its' many, many, many, many, many flaws though "Heart of Darkness" is actually a respectable read. It's unpredictable, which is a first for IDW, even if it's just because no-one seems to actually know where this story's going. You end up reading just to find out how far from the rest of the series the thing's going to wander off to and the overall change in direction from near-relentless serious business would probably be appreciated if it had been done on purpose.