Saturday, 6 May 2017

Comic Review: Transformers - Robots in Disguise, Volume 3


The third collection of Robots in Disguise again suffers from the difficulty IDW had from lining up trades properly with the writers; why they haven't gone for a fixed six-issue trade length with the creative teams free to divide each block up as they see fit I don't know. Money, money, money I guess, unless there was some demand for multiple pages of sketches that pushed the stories down readers' wishlists. The third trade for RID is possibly the most fractured volume yet - containing the Annual, a one-shot catching back up with Orion Pax and another part of "Combiner Wars".

The other side of the IDW Summer Annual event saw Robots in Disguise effectively catch the Titan lobbed off into space at the end of the MTMTE counterpart book, completing the Primus story. It's fitted well with the intrigue on Cybertron by throwing a major spanner into the works of the already spanner-clogged Autobots but it shows off John Barber's weaker areas. You get the impression Barber has very little interest in the history of Cybertron or the Transformers, certainly not to the level of cultural and religious minutae that James Roberts delights in exploring. Here Barber's take on mythical history is blunt and prosaic, feeling very out of kilter with the legends and rumours that fuel the partner book. Some joy is provided by Guido Guidi's art for the flashback sections, though - he drew Marvel 1980s-inspired stuff for his sections of the MTMTE book but it's much more prevalent here and Barber plays the dialogue to the hilt but again it feels like events best left as mysterious are being transcribed as immutable fact.

The second story is a catch-up with Orion Pax, Hardhead, Wheelie and Garnak following on from their fun return before, complete with Livio Ramondelli returning on art duties. However, this time the set-up takes a tumble and it's again due to another of Barber's foibles. He's the continuity king of Transformers and has patched up innumerable plot holes without making it feel like that was the sole purpose of the story so perhaps one fumble can be forgiven; while it nominally follows the Shockwave/Jhiaxus/Bludgeon trail set up previously it's sadly clear the main reason was to solve how Reflector's components could have died way back in history during the events of Spotlight: Wheelie and turn up alive in All Hail Megatron. The problem being that no-one really cared; the Reflector robots played no significant part in All Hail Megatron or any other stories so only the most anal of fans really needed that one solving. The chopped-up narrative isn't much fun to read despite some nice nightmarish art; it's possible to sit down at the end and piece the thing together but the story just doesn't warrant that sort of effort.

Finally there's a single normal issue catching back up with the serious intrigue on Cybertron as Starscream continues to grow in popularity with the populace. His real motives are still just that bit opaque but once again Barber writes the balance brilliantly and the only side he seems particularly on is that of the planet's, with some nice uncomfortable encounter with a small conspiracy of Decepticons headed by Shockwave. Indeed, he's certainly more sympathetic than Prowl, whose very grey actions continue to make things difficult for everyone. Metalhawk and Bumblebee largely hover in place for the issue as bases are touched with Arcee, Swindle and Dirge before a final cliffhanger setting up what will - hopefully - be a few straight issues to round out Combiner Wars, because putting the whole story in one trade would be mental.

Really though it's by far the weakest batch of RID issues to date. The annual story is little more than unenthusiastic padding for the most part building up to Starscream's endorsement by the Titan, which few bar the Seeker himself believe and thus changes little to the overall plot as he was gaining in popularity anyway; the Pax issue does much the same, wasting time changing little. Only the final part has any of the title's usual pace and drama.

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