It's been heavily teased for the last few months and now the first issue of Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers comic for Skybound is here. Thankfully, it lives up to the hype.
This opening issue wastes no time in re-introducing us to the robots in disguise, ditching the continuity of both the Marvel comics and the more recent IDW years and opting for a winningly back-to-basics approach that will feel familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the franchise.
That's not to say that it doesn't have a couple of surprises up its sleeves. One in particular deserves a big old...
Transformers #1 opens with an intriguing page that juxtaposes several events key to this opening instalment. Military helicopters. A crashing starship. A dead or dying man. Optimus Prime's broken face. A doomed space shuttle launch...
Then we're with Spike, a familiar character from the '80s animated series, given a different and far darker backstory here.
In the TV show 14-year-old Spike worked happily (if probably illegally, given his age) with his father on an offshore oil rig. The version we meet here is older (he's planning to study at Berkeley) and is dealing with both the death of his brother Jimmy, killed in that disastrous shuttle launch, and his father's descent into alcoholism following the tragedy. Spike wants to be an astronaut too, but that's a difficult subject to bring up with the old man right now.
Hanging out with Spike is Carly, another familiar character given a bit of a refresh here. She's broke, but hoping to go to art school. But then the ground opens up beneath them and their world is changed forever.
The pair fall into a derelict spaceship, just in time to witness its inhabitants slowly come to life.
Jetfire is the first of the Transformers to come around, and he soon sets about reviving the others. Next up is Starscream - and this is where the first big surprise of the issue takes place. Before any Autobots can be revived, Starscream shoots a prone Bumblebee in the head, seemingly killing him outright. He then turns and fires on Jetfire, before Optimus Prime intervenes.
Cue a fairly spectacular run of pages as Optimus Prime and the revived Autobots first fight and then flee from Starscream and Skywarp, two Decepticons on a murderous rampage. The Autobots escape, but Jetfire is too badly wounded, becoming the second of the issue's surprise casualties of war.
This is what you're hoping for when you hire an artist like Johnson to both write and draw a book like Transformers. His action scenes have a real physicality, lending both weight and motion to the Autobots and Decepticons. A chase sequence that sees the Autobots in vehicle form racing to escape is breathless and thrilling. At the same time, Johnson and colorist Mike Spicer lean into a cartoonish look for the book that's all bold lines and primary colors.
The focus on Spike and Carly is also welcome, both in terms of adding depth and humanity to a story that's otherwise about robots hitting each other, and in giving us a necessary sense of scale to the action beats. A climactic scene where Spike's dad watches Starscream tear up a power plant before crushing one of his colleagues in his fist is genuinely unnerving for both its implied violence and the way the Transformer towers above the humans.
There's no doubt that Johnson is playing the hits with this first issue, at least to a certain degree. His Transformers is aimed at new readers and at anyone who grew up loving the animated series and, particularly, the 1986 movie.
And while we know that the book is directly tied into Robert Kirkman's outer space-set Void Rivals (which featured Jetfire in its first issue and brought back another classic Transformer recently) and the upcoming G.I. Joe title, for now at least, it feels pleasingly self-contained. You can read this without knowing a single thing about the Energon universe, or any previous Transformers titles. Hell, you don't even need to have seen any of the mostly terrible live action movies.
At the same time, there's a subtle darkness here. Not in a tiresome edgelord way - you could happily give this book to your kids or younger siblings and not have to worry about them seeing anything nasty - but in its hints of a troubled family life for Spike and a certain weariness in Optimus Prime when he reflects on their troubled homeworld, Cyberton. "Much has changed since you left our planet," he tells the dying Jetfire late in the issue. "All for the worse."
These hints of emotional depth combined with powerful action sequences and Johnson and Spicer's terrific art add up to a real crowd-pleaser of a comic - and it's only just getting started.
Transformers #1 is out today from Skybound.
Find out more about Daniel Warren Johnson's plans for Transformers with our exclusive interview here.