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Transformers #1 (2023) review

So is this finally it?

Yep, we’re here! A brand-new Transformers # 1 after nearly ten months of no new Transformers comics! With Robert Kirkman’s Void Rivals having launched Skybound’s new Energon Universe, noted writer/artist rolled-into-one Daniel Warren Johnson takes the reins on what will likely be the linchpin of this new initiative.

In this inaugural issue, we’re introduced to many familiar concepts to longtime fans- a crashed ship, human allies, an awakening, conflict, death, the hunt for resources, and of course… ROBOTS IN DISGUISE.

So we’ve seen this before, have we?

Yes. If you’re remotely familiar with Transformers as a franchise, either from the cartoons, movies, or previous comics, you’re gonna recognize a lot of beats here. Thankfully, Daniel Warren Johnson’s kinetic pencils mean that these moments pack the appropriate punch. Complimented by Mike Spicer’s colors, Johnson’s style is certainly a distinct one and something that gives this book much of its identity. I was not particularly familiar with his previous work, but happy to see an artistic take on the franchise that seems to bear the original Sunbow cartoon and Marvel comics in its DNA. It was somewhat surprising, considering Johnson had previously professed his affection for the Dreamwave era of Transformers comics, but his work is thankfully not as rigid as that.

Story-wise, again… if you’re a vet, you know what the score is. The initial cast is mostly restricted to the first year of characters, with new takes on Spike, Sparkplug, and Carly as the initial human line-up. I mentioned Dreamwave… the tone of the story very much draws from their initial works, trying to do a more serious and grim take on the original G1 mythos. That may sound pleasing to some and cringe-worthy to others, but it’s early days and I’m more than willing to see where this goes. Warren Johnson makes some bold, confident moves in both art and story and time will tell if they pay off.

So should I give this a chance?

Look, straight talk… this relaunch of Transformers is clearly an effort to reach a different audience- your regular comic-reading audience who just think of Transformers as a toy property or trash movie franchise. I’ve heard and read several other early reviews of this issue by people who weren’t necessarily fans of the property to begin with and a common theme seems to be thinking that Warren Johnson’s take will “legitimize” Transformers in the eyes of the larger comic-reading audience. Most diehard Transformers fans would laugh at such an assertion, and it is probably an outsider’s perspective that is difficult to imagine for those of us that have read Transformers comics for years. However, Transformers fans are all too familiar with a near-yearly fictional reset of the property, so I’m confident most will be able to roll with the punches.

There’s stuff in this issue that I’m sure Daniel Warren Johnson felt was impactful and “shocking”, but I mostly thought “oh yeah, seen that trick before, seen THAT trick before.” There’s even a relatively high bodycount already, but death is pretty cheap for Transformers and doubly-so for comic book characters. His art is certainly the most striking thing about this issue and if you don’t fancy it, there may not be much else going on here to stick around. As stated above, I’m belted-in for the ride… but Hasbro had their hooks in me long, long time ago. I came for the Transformers, but I guess Skybound is hoping other people will be coming for the Daniel Warren Johnson.

Daniel Warren Johnson spells Laserbeak as “Lazerbeak”…that’s weird, right?

Def weird.

So where’s the cube at for this?

New beginnings always demand a wide berth, although that may depend on the individual taste of the reader. There was nothing in this issue that absolutely offended or turned me off, and there’s certainly enough intriguing elements in play already to keep me interested in the next installment. I just hope DWJ’s got more in his bag than just “nostalgia, but GRIM AND GRITTY!” because while he pulls that off much more tactfully than Dreamwave did, he’s gonna need more than that to keep Transformers fans’ interest. Buuuuut… it might be enough for NON-Transformers fans… for now.

Much like the Autobots and Decepticons in this issue, the cube needs a little more juice, but hopefully it’ll get there shortly.

Pick up Skybound’s Transformers # 1… TODAY!

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