Review: Transformers: The Death of Optimus Prime

"It's been done," you may cry, but this is in not what you think it is.  It's much, much better. 

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Transformers: The Death of Optimus Prime

Well, Mike Costa is no longer writing Transformers, and he left with some choice words for the fans of the robots in disguise.  Considering the amazing promise of Prelude to Chaos that completely dissipated in Costa's disappointing conclusion of Chaos, it would seem that Transformers enthusiasts have plenty of choice words for him as well.  The most common will likely be 'good riddance.'

Now that all that is over, as well as the entire war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, Prelude to Chaos writer James Roberts is back in the saddle, alongside co-writer John Barber, and with Transformers: The Death of Optimus Prime, marking the 125th issue IDW has published in their Cybertronian pantheon, we see that they're pushing full-steam ahead with the fascinating socio-political intrigue that characterized what was so amazing about the Prelude

In case you didn't read Chaos, or had as much trouble figuring out what was going on as some readers did, thanks in part to the art from Livio Ramondelli – which started out really good but eventually got too dark and muddy and confusing – the Decepticons have mostly been wiped out, Megatron is missing, the Matrix is empty and Optimus Prime was thought dead after disappearing into Vector Sigma, the big mysterious glowy computer dealie-ball.  We're left to think he's dead, but instead he wakes up three weeks later, wandering a completely changed Cybertronian landscape – which is now primordial with a new geography, but at least it's some kind of life on a planet that had been a barren husk for far too long.  What's even more complicated is that when Prime finds civilization again, he learns that Vector Sigma sent out a beacon, and all of the non-affiliated Cybertronians who left to escape the ravages of war have all come back to reclaim their homeworld, and they don't distinguish between Autobots and Decepticons.  They see only warmongers.  Instant societal tension and anti-Autobot protests.

The divisions run deeper within the Autobots themselves.  Once Perceptor and Rewind (yes, he's an archivist and kudos to Roberts and Barber for knowing these specific details about our G1 heroes) manage to uncover some new secrets about the Matrix – namely, an ancient map that's supposed to lead them to the location of the fabled Knights of Cybertron, pseudo-religious figures that many believe to be nothing more than myth – Rodimus wants to go after them, believing them to be the key to a peaceful Cybertron.  Bumblebee, however – still in a leadership role which no amount of character development will ever likely justify to stodgy curmudgeons like me – is more concerned with managing tensions between Autobots and the "NAILs" – Non-Affiliated Indigenous Life-forms – and moving forward with rebuilding their world.

Yet, it's Optimus Prime who makes the grand gesture that starts everyone on the right path.  He realizes he has become a figurehead, symbolic of the entire horrible war itself and the source of all the tension, and the only way peace can begin to take hold is if he exiles himself from Cybertron forever.  So that's what he does, handing one half of the empty Matrix each to Rodimus and Bumblebee, and going about his way – free of all responsibility for the first time in his life, and he recognizes that this perceived sacrifice is as much selfish as it is a form of martyrdom.  Thus, the Death of Optimus Prime is symbolic – the shedding of the existence of the warrior and general, and the rebirth of his old self, Orion Pax. 

Marvel's Transformers comics were the first comics I ever collected.  As a longtime fan, James Roberts looks to be the writer we've all been waiting for, to raise the bar for our beloved sprawling cast of characters for the forseeable future.  Simon Furman elevated them above the toy commercials they could have been, and now Roberts looks to carry that torch further and deepen the mythology into something with depth, breadth and, dare we hope, hard science-fiction genius.  The ideas that Costa apparently struggled with seem to flow freely from Roberts, and I'm excited to see where they lead.

It's possible I'm overcrediting Roberts, given that he co-wrote with Barber, but given how much this feels right in the vein of Prelude, I don't think I am.  The test of that will be in the near future, where IDW launches two new ongoing series in the aftermath of this issue.  Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye will be written by Roberts and drawn by Nick Roche – who does fantastic work in this issue, by the by, making all his characters recognizable, clear and alive – and it will follow Rodimus, Drift and Ultra Magnus as they put together a crew to head into space and find the Knights of Cybertron.  Transformers: Robots in Disguise will be written by Barber and drawn by Andrew Griffith, showing us Bumblebee's continuing struggles to forge a lasting peace on Cybertron between the Autobots, the NAILs, and what's left of the Decepticons. 

For those that are tired of G1 rehashes, this is uncharted new territory for our beloved characters.  For those who have craved seeing this realm of great concepts mined a little deeper than usual, this is the ground floor where you want to check in.  Normally, I have difficulty recommending Transformers to new readers, because if you're only passingly familiar with it, the sheer number of characters makes it daunting to try and pick up.  However, I think Roberts and Barber could really be changing all that, and I, for one, couldn't be happier.