“Optimus Prime” #3’s plot may be unfolding at a slower pace than readers may expect, but the series has seemingly found a nice groove with quiet-but-interesting character interaction. Author John Barber’s Transformers tends to have a sleek, more restrained writing style, but the last issue of the series introduced a brand new faction of Transformers that spiced up the entire issue. While this comic is focused on the continuing adventures of the most famous autobot of them all, the sprawling cast of the issue pulls attention away from the lead. Prime may not be the book readers have expected, but in this issue Barber utilizes the page space for fleshing out one of the most interesting supporting cast members of them all: Soundwave.
Written by John Barber
Illustrated by Kei Zama
“An uneasy peace between Optimus Prime and the newly arrived Junkions is threatened by Soundwave’s discovery within their massive ship…”
The series’ flashback sequences seemed entertaining but largely inconsequential in the first issue, but Barber finds his footing in these chapters. Watching Optimus Prime as a lowly police officer earning his Prime rank adds a surprising layer of depth to the sequences. Interspersing the flashbacks with captions from Soundwave touches on his harsh conversion to the Autobots. Soundwave’s past and present are both explored in this issue, giving a comic book about robots transforming into cars more depth than I could have ever imagined. Transformers live for millions of years so changing sides and reaching back into the history of the franchise is a great way to mine story potential. However, the origin story of Optimus Prime does not yet have a clear way to tie back to the main narrative. This is an ongoing series and the payoff could be coming future issues, but this additional, more focused part of the comic is currently the most compelling aspect of the series and shines the spotlight back on Prime.
Kei Zama’s pencils are wonderfully suited to the series. Zama’s linework is incredibly detailed for each robot in the panel. Josh Burcham’s unique approach to coloring in this comic makes Optimus Prime stand out amongst other titles in the Transformers line. Burcham’s colors are very bright in the lead story, but the artist smartly cloaks the noir-influenced, cop-infused flashback scenes with more shadows and a black backdrop. Zama’s figure work with human characters is stiff and strange, with those individuals not expressing as much emotion as the Transformers characters. Zama’s backgrounds are also very sparse in this comic but with such detail on even the smallest Transformer on-panel, overlooking the art team’s slight blemishes is easy.
This issue sees the Autobots getting ready for war, calling for a slight shift in approach for the art team. Scenes during the day have a foreboding sense of unease hinted at in the way that the art shows the Transformers in stiff, unnatural poses. Zama’s work with Arcee in this issue is also particularly awe-inspiring. The hero has been has been very much out of the spotlight but makes her presence known as she lurks in the backgrounds of panels. This issue teases also darker side to the title than ever seen before and Zama shows in this issue that he is able to adapt his pencil style to many different genres of storytelling.
Ever since Optimus Prime annexed Earth, Barber’s series have opened up to include a strong tie to “Revolution,” the IDW crossover event that merged several Hasbro properties together. The post-Revolution status quo for the Transformers books includes welcoming several G.I. Joe cast members to the books. The change has added interesting political implications for the comic, making this book more than several action figures duking it out. However, the plot of this story, especially in this issue has slowed down to include the huge cast of this comic and the Transformers line. A scene in this issue has Optimus asking how to take on a new threat with the robots of Cybertron. The scene is after he has addressed both the G.I. Joe and his local Earth team. On top everything else mentioned above slowing the plot of the book down, the flashbacks take up a lot of time from the plot of this issue comprising of almost half the issue. However, the final few pages in the comic sped up the plot ever-so-slightly and earned back some goodwill needed for next month’s issue.Continued below
As for Soundwave’s journey in this issue, the hero might just be the most fleshed out character in the entire saga. Fans haven’t gotten much backstory on how one of the Decepticons most instrumental in slaughtering a legion of Autobots saw the light and switched sides since the conclusion of the last “Transformers” series. Barber nicely touches on this really complicated change of heart and starts tapping into Soundwave’s new state of mind briefly with caption boxes and interactions with the different Autobots here. The fact the character is still a Decepticon even though he renounced his past deeds makes him even more complex.
Readers of “Optimus Prime” that are among the dedicated few who care about G.I. Joe and the Transformers stationed at both Earth and Cybertron will find something in this comic, but the series so far isn’t the solo, action-packed Optimus Prime action movie that you might have expected.
Verdict: 7.0 – “Optimus Prime” finds a solid groove but forgets to push the plot forward.