WRITERS: JOHN BARBER, JAMES ROBERTS
ARTISTS: ATILIO ROJO, PHIL JIMINEZ, JAMES RAIZ, LIVIO RAMONDELLI, ALEX MILNE, BRENDAN CAHILL, NICK ROCHE, ANDREW GRIFFITH
It's that time again! The big IDW big plot big clusterfuck in which the poor hapless writers again try to live up to the hype generated by the company's psychotic PR as once again the lives of the Transformers and/or Cybertron will be CHANGED FOREVER or at least for another 12 months or so. While the storyline ran through both Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye (not to mention bracketed by a pair of one-shots, like a proper comic event) with both the usual writers handling whatever they usually did "Dark Cybertron" feels much like "Chaos" did - the story of one writer (in this case John Barber) with script input from another (James Roberts). In theory this set-up should work - Barber can plot almost as well as a proper comics writer while Roberts is more suited to a smaller soap style.
The result however is an almost unmitigated disaster from start to finish - a dozen chapters (ignoring the staggering six part prelude) of every IDW cliche imaginable in a cavalcade of retreads and tired gestures. It's all here - fake-out deaths, inescapable traps for key characters that prove escapable thanks to gigantic plot devices, sacrifices undone, characters undermined, big schemes coming into play simply because it's a big crossover - a culmination of eight years of largely shit comics taking place in a universe that's basically fucked. "Dark Cybertron" is so sloppy, unfocused and plain unreadable that it's actually difficult to focus on any particular points, good or bad. Where do you start? Where do you start on The Lady in the Water, on Tarkus, on Bottle Boys? It's just so fundamentally terrible, such an obvious monument to bad craft that you have to step back and step back again to get the sheer scale of how bad Dark Cybertron is into focus.
The big problem is Barber's approach, which can be good fun. But he cannot resist trying to save some dreadful concept or another and the result is yet another link-up with the dead universe - so more of Nova Prime, Galvatron, Jhiaxus, Nightbeat, Kup... It's a gigantic unnecessary yawn adding more baggage to what otherwise might have been a nice supervillain plot from Shockwave. Instead we get a thread that was horrible the first time and has already been closed off twice. If the sole motivation was to resurrect the characters trapped there it surely could have been done in a neater fashion. The scenes there (the sensible recipients of Livio Ramondelli's lush artwork) do have one of the few moments of genuine impact in the form of Hardhead's sudden and unsettling death at the hands of Nova Prime; it shows the consistent work done on such a supporting player by a succession of writers and while it will no doubt get retconned it makes for a superb visual. On the other hand on top of its' tired and needless central thread the passages contain one of the most insulting moments, when Orion Pax and Rodimus are TRAPPED FOREVER in the Dead Universe only to escape through the use of Kup as a giant plot device.
Not that the Cybertron material is much better, largely a sequence of various factions - Soundwave's loyalist Decepticons, Bumblebee's Autobots, Starscream and Rattrap - having a crack at Shockwave and getting beaten back. Repeat until boring and then keep repeating. In addition to all of this Barber takes the boring, obvious and too easy decision to kill Bumblebee off, having never really found a proper purpose for the guy while the beleaguered writer also has to handle IDW's publicity grab of having Megatron choosing to side with the Autobots, the comic cover and PR blurb obviously being too good to pass up. Though maybe sales would level out if the comics didn't rely entirely on short-term stunts.
Talking of which it's worth remembering that our dreamweaver contributes to this as well. However, it's crystal clear that Roberts has no time for this shit and certainly isn't about to waste much A-material on a crossover that's royally fucking up his road trip to nowhere and so the More Than Meets the Eye Bant-O-Matic gets dusted off and the Lost Light crew are the same bunch of holding pattern walking jokes they were for the first dozen issues of the title. This despite being immediately largely sent on a mission to find Metroplex and delaying any interaction with those nasty common other characters.
Amusingly when the two groups do cross over it's totally underwhelming as while Barber's made a big deal of the Lost Light crew being dead and missed Roberts has - like his readership - refused to acknowledge the existence of anything that's not from More Than Meets the Eye. Two other foibles are we get to see how utterly dreadful Roberts is when his licenced toy comic has to deal with some licenced toys when he hammers out an intro for Crosscut that would make Bob Budiansky wince and that every now and then Barber tries to write one of his characters. Somehow Barber managed to avoid a fatwah being issued but the only conclusion to be drawn from his awkwardness is that while he makes it his business to read all past Transformers characters for aborted plotlines he can hang an 18-part epic story on he obviously just skim-read Robots in Disguise's sister title.
Considering loads of other new points - such as more female Autobots - are chucked in and thanks to Hasbro's requirements for promoting their abysmally titled Thrilling 30 line (a selection of Generations figures which collectively used less paint than a loaf of bread and had similar structural integrity) every now and then someone like Dreadwing or Crosscut will get unwarranted focus. An absolute unreadable disaster from top to bottom that does little but cause further problems for an already implausible and tainted universe.