May 23, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Spotlight: Optimus Prime

Shadowcon Reviews: IDW Transformers Spotlight: Optimus Prime

So here we are, nearly a month after posting my last review, and now launching full throttle into summer! My focus this summer for these reviews is obviously the Transformers IDW comic book universe. Like my later Prime reviews, these will focus on art and character analysis, rather than a synopsis of the story, as that takes up time that could be better spent pontificating about how badass a character is! Also, these won’t utilize my usual grading scale that I normally employ. Instead, these comics will get a stamp of “Must Read”, “Recommended”, or “Avoid”. Those may be broad, but I just want to shake things up, and we’ll see how it goes from there!
I’ve been putting off looking at the IDW Transformers title for two reasons. First, I don’t know how good I will be at reviewing a comic book; there’s only so much space in its pages for in-depth character study, and with comics now using more and more space for large battles or onomatopoeia, the dialogue is usually sparse. It also doesn’t help that, unlike individual episodes a television series, individual comic books are about a sixth of a forty-minute show, or a third of a twenty-minute show, so the stand-alone issues will be very hard to look at, without feeling like I’ve been cheated or I myself am missing something in my analysis of the issue. Also, imagery is a huge part of a comic, and being that these are text-based reviews, I’m not sure how well my point will come across if the art is a key factor in making my point clear. So, the format and structure and tight space in a comic presents me with unique challenges that I will hopefully work around as this wagon gets going.
Second, the IDW Transformers series is huge. I mean, it’s massive. There are about a hundred different characters running around, and that’s only the ones who have gotten individual issues devoted to them, or have had substantial roles in a series; there are about a hundred more characters who have been drawn from Transformers fictions from all over the place, and those guys get bit parts here and there. The plots are interweaving and multi-faced, the motives for characters are always changing (sometime very inconsistently), and the teams and roster of the “main cast” is always shifting around. You’ll have a solid arc that comes out, and then a year later, you’ll have a one-shot that fills in plot points that were left dangling from that one out of oh-so-many story that you didn’t even realize were left, because you’d just finished another huge story!
So, obviously, covering the entirety of the IDW Transformers story would be implausible for me to do even in an Overview, and even if I were to get that done, there would be the question of where I should stop and how much information I should leave out to get the general story across. Luckily, Transformers tend to have “phases” that allow a reader to jump off or on at a clearly defined point, which is nice; often times in comics, particularly Marvel or DC comics, you’ll have an arc that is only six or seven issues long for one book, but then it’ll tie into half a dozen other titles that are necessary to read if you are to understand the full scope of the story, and the implications of that story are need-to-know info to get going with the next story. The IDW Transformers does that, but not to the degree that Marvel does; luckily, the IDW Transformers also don’t just up and reboot their continuity every week like DC does either, so they sit relatively happily in the middle of continuity soup!
The issue that we’ll be looking at today, though (for fear of turning this review into my IDW Overview; I actually erased and moved three pages of text from this review into my Overview just because I was getting so off point), is Transformers Spotlight: Optimus Prime. This Spotlight attempts to focus on Optimus dealing with his legacy as Prime, and how the lineage of the Primes is actually pretty corrupt. I like this take on Optimus. He’s the leader of an army that is supposed to stand for truth and freedom, and yet those who came before him were just bent on expansion and conquest.
The point that the comic attempts to make is that Optimus isn’t comfortable with everyone playing god with other civilizations. This is interesting, because both Optimus and Megatron do the same thing; they dictate which worlds would be suitable to conquer or occupy, while giving little to no thought to the matter of the local populace. So Optimus’ actions could be seen as ironic when he questions his role as Prime, or indeed, Optimus himself could be considered a heretic by some who know of the Prime lineage’s major screw ups and see Optimus performing the same thing. Optimus preaches peace and freedom, yet is powerful enough to dictate who lives and dies.
On the flip side, we have the revelation that Optimus’ people are, in fact, also somewhat in league, or at least align their actions with, those of Nova Prime’s. Omega Supreme, whom Optimus sees as the only person that he can talk to about his burden of safeguarding a universe and managing a war, is actually morally grey. While his sanctioning of the banishment of Monstructor to a hell dimension would seem okay in the eyes of most Transformers fans, being that Monstructor in the past has always been a Decepticon, here, he’s treated as six people who unwillingly had their consciousness’ merged into a single mad one, and Optimus of course would and does find it morally detestable that Omega Supreme would make such a decision without first talking it over with Optimus.
In the end, Optimus overrides Omega’s decision, and instead orders that Monstructor be taken back to a penitentiary where he would be able to receive help. I think it also neat that not a few pages earlier, we saw Optimus defend Omega from Monstructor, yet now seeks to help the savage. Optimus is painted as a morally “right” figure, which is interesting because his lineage is presented as morally “wrong”, and we see Optimus performing similar actions to those of his predecessors. Yet, I don’t think that this is bad character management. Rather, I think that we are supposed to infer that Optimus is seeking to atone for his processors’ actions by keeping his moral compass in line with good while still trying to practice the ideas of the other Primes and showing the universe that their application can be for good and not for corruption.
             I would give this comic a stamp of “Recommended”. It definitely has some large topics and moral questions within its pages, but I think it fails to utilize all of their potential; we have to have room for our obligatory action sequence after all! Optimus as a character is given some much-needed dimension, which we will continue to see throughout this summer’s look at the Transformers IDW series! So, what do you guys think of this review style? Do you like my analysis, do you like how these are constructed (I know this one is pretty short; most of the Spotlight reviews will be)? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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