Justice, bolts, and gears: Optimus Prime #1 (Review)

Dec 15, 2016

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Optimus Prime #1
IDW Publishing

Written by: John Barber
Art by: Kei Zama

In first grade, I brought the metal Optimus Prime to show and tell. It even had the trailer and rover. In 1993, I purchased issue #1 of Transformers Generation 2. The first three issues are bagged and boarded and in my collection still. I owned both a VHS copy of the Transformers the movie and the original soundtrack decades before buying them again when remastered. For all that fandom over Transformers, I have never been able to get the Transformers comic universe. The backstory, mythos, and characters all seemed dense and difficult to follow. Optimus Prime #1 reduces that barrier to entry.

IDW’s summer/fall Revolution event left Cybertronian settlers (transformers) here on Earth. Optimus Prime and a small group of veteran transformers, including Jazz, Arcee, and recent ally Soundwave, are on Earth to protect it and to help foster diplomatic relations with Earth and Cybertron. There is a whole lot more to the back story and set up than meets the eye, but Optimus Prime #1 works so well because it is not essential. Veteran Transformers writer John Barber constructs a narrative that is approachable for casual fans, but meaningful for readers steeped in Transformer lore. Barber has received praise for his ability to tie together various pieces of lore and stitch together continuity issues into meaningful plots. With Barber at the helm, Optimus Prime is in solid creative hands.

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The issue balances two plots, one that occurred in Cybertron’s past and one regarding the present state of human - Cybertronian relations. The plot provides context for readers about the dynamics of the current Transformer team around Optimus Prime, the challenges of dealing with humans, and the new potential threat. That new threat comes in the form of a classic corkscrew shaped Quintesson cruiser. The references to the Quintesson cruiser tie back to the comics and cartoons of the 1980’s and demonstrate Barber’s comfort and confidence in weaving together the long and sorted history of the Transformers. Barber’s second plot set during Cybertron’s history works both as world building around the legacy and leadership of the Primes, but also as a timely reflection of public distrust and challenges to authority. While there is not direct social or political critics here, Barber’s ability to draw parallels to modern society successfully allows readers to identify with the struggles of Cybertron and effectively humanizes the robotic characters.

The artist team deserves special praise for the work on this issue. Artist Kei Zama has drawn the Transformers before, but here there is a weathered and tangible weight to the characters. Colorist Josh Burcham deserves extended praise for this issue. He has created an environment that ties back into that same 1980’s legacy that Barber is drawing from. The colors feel pulled from the comics of that era. Burcham masterfully uses a pop art dot style for many background that echos that budget printing of early 1980 newstand comics. Any lapsed Transformers fan will feel at home in the world that Zama and Burcham have created.

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Optimus Prime #1 is the successful combination of an approachable story that respects the rich history and an art style that pays homage to that same history. Barber’s story and the art of Zama and Burcham create the first Transformers comic that franchise fans, old and new, can be excited about. Readers that have struggled to feel welcomed into the comic world of the Transformers have a excellent starting point in Optimus Prime #1.

Optimus Prime #1 is structured in a way that honors the backstories fans have followed, but reduces the barrier to entry for casual fans of the franchise. This is a successful start to a new and exciting series for this long running franchise.

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