Written by James Roberts and John Barber
Art by Atilio Rojo, James Raiz and Livid Ramondelli
With Colors by Josh Perez
Published by IDW Comics
Imagine you’re attending a low-key dinner party at a friend’s place and exchanging polite conversation with their friends. At first you find yourself chatting with a perfectly inoffensive ,but also entirely bland corporate accountant, and before long you start wondering how quick you can make an early exit and go home and do something more exciting like put up some drywall. But then the boring accountant has to use the bathroom and up sidles an interesting, well-spoken barista who’s just working his way through college and working on his standup career and suddenly all thoughts of amateur masonry and possibly binging on those maple bacon chips you discovered are forgotten. But then the boring accountant comes back and scares the barista off, and the cycle repeats itself, turning the evening into a blur of inconsistent enjoyment levels resulting in a bland mush neither exciting not tedious. Congratulations, you’ve just correctly simulated the effects of reading Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye number 23, part 2 of the “Dark Cybertron” story, on top of sitting through an overly-long intro paragraph to pad out a review for a comic that really doesn’t have much to be said about it.
Picking up right after Dark Cybertron #1, the issue spends most of its time flitting back and forth between about three different sets of characters and situations. There’s Bumblebee and the other exiled Autobots on Cybertron standing around being under-characterized and not actually doing all that much, then Rodimus, Orion Pax and the Lost Light crew discovering the nature of the Dead Universe and being well-characterized and exchanging snappy dialogue, and finally Starscream wandering around, not doing anything much important besides having exposition spouted at him and being under-characterized. Notice the pattern?
The difference in writing quality and style between John Barber and James Roberts isn’t exactly hard to miss, and when we make the shift from one to another it’s like being in the shower when someone turns on a tap in the other room, to draw out another metaphor.
The jarring shifts between writers isn’t helped by the similarly jarring shifts between artists, because someone at IDW thought having three artists work on one issue was a good idea, it seems. During Barber’s sections the art comes courtesy of Atilio Rojo, who favors a boxy, clean style for his ‘bots, a tad sparse on detail but nothing if not serviceable. But then James Roberts takes over and suddenly we’re looking at the detail-heavy art of James Raiz, who favors more cramped panels with ‘bots who look like they’ve spent an hour inside a clothes-dryer full of gravel for all the nicks and scratches on them. Then in the end things switch again to Livid Ramondelli’s usual muted colors, heavy shadows extremely boxy character designs. The inconsistency between the styles of the two writers and three artists working on the issue really takes a crowbar to the issue’s kneecaps and doesn’t stop swinging.
Sure, when James Roberts is clearly flying the ship everything’s fine, even if his lack of creative control is apparent and stifling, but then John Barber comes back from the bathroom and it’s back to characters with interchangeable personalities hiding behind accents and daydreaming about how much you need to grout your bathroom tiles. The sudden shift between artists, all of whom are good in their own ways, only serves to exacerbate the already disjointed feel of the issue, which taken from a writing standpoint is only sometimes good.