On the planet of Cybertron civil war has broken out. The Decepticons lead by Megatron began an attack out of nowhere taking the populace completely by surprise, and their attacks have lead to the assassination of officials and complete annihilation of cities. The Autobots are attempting to fight back, but the war has not been going in their favor. What is Megatron after exactly? And will the Autobots be able to avoid annihilation? -summary
I have always been a huge fan of the Transformers in both their animated and comic book runs. I can safely say that I have so far enjoyed a majority of their comic book incarnations especially, because they had an edgier and darker feel to them not always seen in the animated series. Under the Marvel Comics banner, The Transformers enjoyed a very good run from the mid 80's to the early 90's. The book took the series to new heights with some truly excellent stories. Unfortunately, the series eventually folded until 2002, when the now defunct company Dreamwave Productions picked up the franchise, and continued it with Transformers Generation One written by Chris Sarracini. Sarricini went on to deliver some very good stories I will admit, but later on, the series would be given to whom I believe to be the best Transformers writer to ever touch the series, Simon Furman. He already had experience with the series, and when I heard he was picking up writing duties again, it no doubt made my day because he is clearly a fan of the series and it shows. Transformers: The War Within written by Furman, is a 12 part prequel broken into two parts that takes place four million years before the Transformers brought their war to Earth.
Simon Furman crafted an engrossing story that is a lot more than just Autobots vs. Decepticons. It has the feel of a Coming of Age story that examines themes of knowing one's self. The story begins with the Autobot's under heavy pressure from a Decepticon attack, and fighting leaderless due to their original leader Sentinel Prime being killed by Megatron. The High Council seek out a new leader, and they choose a statistic clerk, who would go on to become Optimus Prime. Prime shocks the entire faction when he gives the order to evacuate Cybertron, because he feels if Megatron wants Cybertron bad enough to kill for it, then just let him have it.
Although the focus is on a handful of characters; Prime, Grimlock, Starscream, and Megatron, they are developed very well with the former two stealing the show, at least in the first story that is. The reader gets to know them well enough, and as a fan, it was something else to see Prime in that reluctant leader state, something that was only familiar to Rodimus Prime in the animated series. Grimlock may speak dimwitted, but he's far from his overly stupid self from the series. He's actually planning to kill Prime if necessary and take leadership by force in order to win the war. And speaking of the war itself, there is plenty of action going down through hand to hand and plenty of shoot outs. The first half of the story is by far the best, and ends things on a high note.
An unknown amount of time passes to start the second story, that begins with Prime and Megatron disappearing through a Space bridge leaving both armies leaderless; as a result, the two groups broke up into different factions. Prowl takes over leadership of the Autobots, Grimlock forms the Lightning Strike Coalition, and Springer forms the Wreckers. Shockwave now leads the Decepticons, Starscream forms the Predacons, Ratbat assembles the Ultracons, and Bludgeon put together the Chaos Trinity. While the armies are divided, a being calling himself The Fallen befriends Bludgeon's group and puts together a mysterious plan.
The second story takes awhile for a solid plot to come into fruition, and at times, it feels pretty plot less with lots of mindless fighting and other subplots thrown out there. For the most part, it all comes together and begins to make sense later on. I was pretty interested in this portion, mainly because of the segregation involving the Autobots. Decepticon vs. Decepticon is nothing new, but watching the Autobots not trusting each other with Grimlock not caring what happens to Prowl's faction, in addition to trying to kill Jetfire for treason is kind of new.
As a fan, I enjoyed the large amount of fan service and homages to the original series in both animated and comic forms, and seeing season one and three robots sharing the same pages never gets old. Furman lets us all know he's a fan in some way, and he gives a lot to the fans. It was cool picking out the various robots in their modes that clearly differ from the animated series and toy specs. Unfortunately, here lies some of the problem though. Now I do believe casual fans will enjoy the artwork and the action, but outside of several names tossed out there, everyone will feel like faces that are just there. I do not believe at all new readers will enjoy this as much as vets.
Something else that also bothered me a little is this story being a prequel. If you're familiar with the series, then you already know there aren't going to be any major deaths, so there goes predictability thrown into the mix. I also had an issue with some of the dialog, such as some robots claiming they're "bad ass". The Transformers haven't been to Earth yet, so there's no way they can pick up human dialect. The biggest flaw to the series is that it's unfinished. The second story has an ending, but you know there's more to it. The third chapter was scrapped when Dreamwave Productions went belly up due to seriously poor money management, so this story was picked up and reprinted by IDW only for fans sake.
Don Figueroa's artwork and Elaine To's inks are to die for in the first chapter. Everything has a glossy and magnificent look with lots of detail. The character designs aren't plagued with an over abundance of lines, something you will see in later books beginning with Transformers: For All Mankind. Fans of the series will recognize plenty of the characters. The robots have this bigger than life feel about them, and the action panels can sometimes be hard to follow but then on occasion they can bang on, with faces being smashed with blows, plus robots taking big blasts straight through them. The backgrounds look just as great with vivid coloring, plus there's an obvious consistency. The second half couldn't follow up on the greatness here and it feels like a serious disappointment. The artwork isn't bad, but the first chapter would will probably have all readers completely spoiled.
Although I've seen some Transformers fans claim this is a book that even casual and newbie readers can get into; I just have a hard time agreeing with that. There are far too many characters and other subtle things going on that will mainly appeal to knowledgeable fans, plus I have a personal problem with recommending unfinished work. If anything, the artwork and development of central characters will be enough to grip the curious. Personally, if you're new to Transformers it would be a better idea to start out on the more modern reboot TheTransformers: Infiltration, which can be found in Transformers: The IDW Collection Volume One. Hardcore fans of the series who missed this should give it read, because you will no doubt find value here.