If Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye didn't exist, Transformers: Robots In Disguise might get all the praise in the world as the best TF book ever. It's got heaps of political intrigue and tackles the hard issues of just how frustrating it is to manage a post-war society – not stuff the general public expects from the battlin'-robot saga. I'll keep shouting it until people pay attention (and some folks have, if you saw our Creators Pick The Best of 2012 piece) – these books are really great.
Here's what's been happening in writer John Barber's story – The Autobots, led by Bumblebee, have been the interim government in this transitional period between four million years of brutal war and the peaceful new Cybertronian civilization they are trying to establish. Some Decepticons have been branded war criminals, but many of them have been allowed to try to integrate back into the society, due to pressure from the N.A.I.L.s – Non-Affiliated Indingenous Lifeforms. Basically, the neutrals. Megatron has vanished, Optimus Prime is exiled, and in their absence, it's been Starscream's time to shine. He's always been the guy about guile and cunning, so political machinations are where he excels – which has always been his counterpoint to Megatron's brute force anyway.
Over the first year of the series, Starscream has maneuvered himself into a primo position – he's distanced himself enough from his Decepticon past, ingratiated himself enough with the general population, and basically talked a good game to be one of the candidates for prime minister (or president or whatever it's going to be called) once free elections are held. Bumblebee doesn't trust him, natch, but he can't delay free elections without looking like a dictator. Making matters worse, there's been a weird encounter with a massive, mysterious, ancient "metrotitan" entity which seemed to name Starscream as the chosen one to unite Cybertron – adding a mythical, superstitious anointment to his premiere status. Everything was going according to plan – finally, Starscream was where he belonged.
Then Megatron reappeared, and everything's going to hell for him.
The Decepticon tyrant was greeted with open, brutal hostility from Bumblebee's regime, blasted apart and taken into custody. But his former legions, seeing this as their chance for ascendancy once again, have begun rioting in the streets, and Starscream's distancing hasn't won him any favors in their camp. Even the fact that he struck a deal with Prowl, the most ruthlessly logical of the Autobots, doesn't seem to be paying its proper dividends, as it seems Prowl beat him to the betrayal punch. However, by the end of Transformers: RID #13, it seems there's a lot more to what Prowl's doing than meets the eye – and a lot more to his betrayal than just Starscream.
In this issue, the Decepticon rioters move with a purpose – to free Megatron from holding while the Autobots scramble for countermeasures. Prowl's even more ruthless right hand wo-mech Arcee appears to be selling him out, Starscream is flailing in frustration at Megatron's ruining his ambitions for the umpteenth time, and Bumblebee is starting to realizes the failures of his leadership. Then, at the very end, the most stridently anti-Decepticon voice appears to have actually joined them.
That surprise reveal brings up a load of questions, and it could turn out to be very cool or sadly undercutting everything that's been built so far. If this eventually degenerates back into open warfare between Autobots and Decepticons, I'll be sad for what we've lost. Getting the two figureheads off-panel and letting the secondary characters have the spotlight was much of what made this so intriguing. The 'where is Megatron?' issue did have to be dealt with eventually, though, and it seems he's been an active player from the shadows for quite some time. It will really hinge on Prowl's motivations. He may be playing the long game and working undercover, or he may be under some kind of mental manipulation – given that he's standing inches from Bombshell, the 'cerebro-shell' guy. The next issue will make or break everything.
Andrew Griffith's art is perfect for this book. I'm constantly amazed at how IDW has managed to get artists who were seemingly born to draw Transformers to work on these books, and I'm thankful that these folks have the passion enough for these awesome robot dudes to knock it out of the park with such amazing regularity.
MTMTE tends to be the more entertaining book, possibly because it has the luxury of focusing on a raucous group of vagabond adventurers on a quest throughout the galaxy, and thus has the freedom to be funnier. RID has the heavier weight of being analogous to real-world sociopolitical problems in tense, fragile societies in the Middle East. Sure, it's about giant robots, but treating them like real people has been key to the success of these two IDW books, and while RID might not be as flashy, it's still a really great factor in the evolution of this franchise beyond just toys and shooting.