Indie Comics Spotlight – Transformers Dark Cybertron, Alex + Ada and Unity


by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1

“Please Shockwave–continue what I began!”

If you think that being able to transform from a giant, combat-ready robot into a jet, truck, tank or anything else you’re right: it is very awesome. That awesomeness comes with a cost though, as you have to contend with time travel, dead areas in space and dwindling robot societies. There’s also the occasional mega-robot being summoned for whatever bad thing you can think of, prompting all of the above to come together in an effort to stop it and save Cybertron. Get ready for Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1 from IDW Publishing.

The issue is written by John Barber and James Roberts, with layouts by Phil Jimenez, finish art by Andrew Griffith, prologue art by Brendan Cahill, colors by Josh Perez, prologue colors by J.P. Bove and letters by Tom B. Long.

It’s been a long time coming, but the crossover event joining the casts of Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye is finally happening in Dark Cybertron. Shockwave’s plan is finally being set into motion, much to the joy of both he and his mentor Jhiaxus. The plan involves the Dead Universe, a bumbling assistant named Waspinator and a dead Metrotitan. His plan is set parallel to Rodimus’s Lost Light searching the Knights of Cybertron, who coordinate with Orion Pax (formerly known as Optimus Prime) and receive a distress call from Starscream, the freely elected leader of the new Cybertronian society. And–of course–both Nova Prime and Galvatron aren’t content being absent from the land of the living, both of whom are poised to come back in a big way.

Barber and Roberts teaming up are offering up a massive Transformers story and the good thing is that you don’t have to be steeped in the comics to this point to fully enjoy it. Yes, there’s been a lot of build-up to this point getting the story here, but even if you don’t know that Starscream is ruling Cybertron, Bumblebee is exiled and Optimus has a new name. Shockwave has always been an understated genius within the Transformers universe, so it’s nice to see him finally getting his due. Star scream still isn’t above begging when it suits him, which makes his character so maddeningly lovable. And it’s not Transformers without Optimus…Orion Pax, who offers the same even-keeled approach that’s afforded him the opportunity to lead the Autobots for so long. This series is poised to go off in a big way and it offers a good mix of story and comedy. Swerve even has Orion’s distress signal as a ringtone!

The entire artistic team does a strong job with illustrating the Transformers. Gone are the days of “color-coding” the Autobots and Decepticons; now, it’s just all Transformer and the illustrations support that. Jimenez and Griffith do a very powerful job in presenting the Transformers as organic and natural looking, forcing the readers to remind themselves that these are robots. There are some great full-page panels as well of characters like Starscream that really show off their form. Drawing robots isn’t an easy thing to do and there are some pages where there are upwards of eight of them on page at the same time, giving readers a great look at the rapidly diminishing conditions on Cybertron. The rise of the Metrotitan is truly terrifying as well, offering such a scale that shows the Transformers themselves being dwarfed by comparison.

Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1 is portending a ominous future for the Autobots and Decepticons. All the big players are back and interacting in ways that are both dedicated to the cause and amusing at the same time. The art is beautiful, offering rather sweeping views of the Transformers in various stages of alarm and dismay. The storyline here has the potential to truly shake up the Transformers universe at IDW and it’s off to a very promising start. Barber and Roberts team up very well together and offer complementing styles that really help flesh out the storylines more efficiently and the duo is backed some very strong artwork that reminds you these are big freaking robots. Even they have problems they can’t always get out of easily.

Transformers: Dark Cybertron #1 is in stores now.

Alex + Ada #1

“Alex…time to wake up.”

Today’s world is chock full of technology. Smartphones, Google Glass, tablets…you name it. All of them serve a purpose in connecting individuals to one another wirelessly, often at the sacrifice of personally. Image Comics is launching a brand new book called Alex + Ada #1 that tackles that issue in a rather unique way. The first issue is written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn and illustrated by Luna.

Imagine a future where AI has become so advanced that it’s no longer “artificial” in many ways. That’s the world Alex lives in, a world where he can control many facets of his life with his mind. It’s not a superpower; rather, it’s him embracing the latest wave in robotic technology. Despite his newfound abilities, he still finds himself alone and wanting more. He never considered that more to be finding potential love in an android, a concept he was previously very much against for whatever reason.

If there’s one thing Luna and Vaughn have captured exceptionally well, it’s the isolation that one feels at a certain point in their life. The thing is, Alex’s situation is further exacerbated by his choice to constantly live in his thoughts all day as a means of controlling the world around him. The writing duo do a brilliant job conveying to the reader just how alone Alex–and by extension most of us–is in the grand scheme of things. This is especially true now, as many of us choose to surround and immerse ourselves in technology, often at the expense of real, personal relationships. Alex’s hesitance to embrace going further down that rabbit-hole and “dating” an android is very poignant, as it speaks to an innate desire to share a life with someone other than himself who’s real.

Luna’s art is equally up to the task of presenting a fantastic story. His illustrations are very clean and well-defined, offering some very beautiful pages that manage to make Alex feel even more alone. Luna populates all the pages with an abundance of robots, androids and technology all around him, yet Alex’s isolation still shines through. The panel layouts are very formalized and keep that theme of robots controlling and organizing life. Character outlines aren’t very defined, which allows them to blend in well with the backgrounds and make the work feel more natural. There’s also a very organic color palette chosen for the work, most of which use light and dark shades to convey the open and closing of days.

Alex + Ada #1 is off to a very promising start. It offers a compelling narrative of finding love wrapped in finding oneself. It moves rather gracefully between crushing loneliness and tidal waves of dialogue and interaction. The contrast between the two is very well done and the end of the first issue really sets up the next issues to be full of intrigue. Alex makes a very powerful decision and it’s likely that his reasoning will be made clear down the road. In the meantime though, the first book is a very enjoyable start to what has the potential to be a very promising series.

Alex + Ada #1 is in stores now.

Unity #1

“It is not safe here. You should leave.”

Valiant Comics has been carefully revitalizing the brand, offering readers quality books on a monthly basis that all seem to be better than the previous month’s releases. All of those offerings have focused on a select few characters, all of whom seem to share encounters with other characters from the same universe. Now, Valiant is teaming a bunch of them up against a common enemy in Unity #1. The issue is written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Doug Braithwaite.

Aric’s prowess as a warrior is proving to be ridiculous, prompting Harada to bring in the big guns in Gilad. Gilad doesn’t seem to be very impressed with the team Harada has assembled to go after X-O Manowar, but Harada has a trick up his sleeve in Ninjak. Considering how this is a centuries old warrior with an immensely powerful suit, things don’t go as expected when facing off against him. This prompts Harada to look to his bench for yet another combatant to trout out and face him. Things are only going to get worse before they get better it would seem for everyone not named Aric.

Valiant has spent a lot of effort in rebuilding its universe in the past couple of years. Introducing new readers to old characters with different storylines. Many of them seem to have revolved around X-O Manowar and his sheer ability to wreck any army facing him and that’s what Kindt capitalizes on in Unity #1. His tale unfolds very methodically, with Aric being shown as a hero first before being shown a villain. Harada is pulling out all the stops to take down Aric, regardless of the costs to him and his team. It’s a story that really gives X-O Manowar all the cards and really makes the reader wonder if there’s anyone or anything that stands a chance of taking him down.

While the warrior is wrecking shop though, Kindt takes a moment to stop and smell the roses. The page near the beginning where the photographer describes how he smells and sounds is particular powerful, as it connects with the reader on a different level. Comics typically only offer sight, so Kindt making it a point to describe to the reader more about X-O Manowar physical presence really goes a long to way to generate in the reader a sense of pity. Aric has been through much in his ordeals surrounding the suit and it’s a great way to really make the reader question who the real villain is in the confrontation: Aric or Harada (Harbinger fans might say the latter).

Braithwaite definitely holds his own on the artistic front as well. Aric looks very stoic in the X-O Manowar suit, deflecting all manner of attack while keeping his cool. The opening pages do a great job of immersing the reader into the action alongside the equally as surprised photographer and Braithwaite captures that mayhem very well. All of the characters wear the emotion on their faces very well, informing the reader of the gravity of the situation they’re faced with. He also does some great work in stacking the panels on various pages dependent on the action being portrayed and not many can pull off a flaming head being catapulted across the page.

Valiant is wagering big on Unity and after the first issue it looks like that wager is paying off. Kindt is crafting a very solid story that’s not rushing to hit any milestones or major events. Instead, he’s offering up a character in Aric who’s so devastatingly powerful that it’s really going to take everything and then some to stop him. Braithwaite’s art is a great pairing with Kindt’s script, bringing the action to the pages in a very beautiful manner that emphasizes the strengths and weakness of all the characters. The first issue established that this will be an epic battle that will continue for quite a while.

Unity #1 is in stores November 13.

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