July 22, 2020

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Debut Issue Review: Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1


I often joke with my friends that I have a special fondness for things that are better than they have any right to be. The central conceit is the proverbial artistic distance from the concept to the content. My go-to example for this phenomenon is Tom Taylor’s Injustice, ostensibly a digital first videogame tie-in that managed to become one of the best DC stories of the 10s.  

If there is a franchise, though, that epitomizes the most profound of these disconnects, it is Transformers. Now, I don’t mean to say that the idea of Transformers is inherently pedestrian or anything like that. No, I mean to say that the world of Transformers content is remarkably far beyond that of simply a line of children’s toys. On paper, the original Transformers cartoon was nothing more than a 25-minute commercial to sell said toys, but that cartoon and the original Marvel Comics series proved that you could elevate the concepts. More importantly, they showed that what was being marketed to kids didn’t have to be drivel. There was an audience who took the content seriously, and they’d reward you if you did as well. 

The original Marvel Comics Transformers series is a great example of the growth of this phenomenon. What could have easily stayed a four-issue throwaway toy and cartoon tie-in became an 80-issue series that outlived the original animated series. Much of the credit for the elevation of that comic series belongs to Simon Furman, whose eventually migrated the heightened sensibilities of his Transformers UK strip to the U.S. series. Furman added mythology and scope to the world of the Transformers, and he permanently established a standard for Transformers comics. 

Furman joins with veteran IDW Transformers artist Guido Guidi this week to launch a new miniseries set in the original Transformers comics continuity. However, this isn’t the first time the pair have been down this road, as Guidi provided art for some of the later issues of Furman’s first return to the original G1 comics continuity, Regeneration One

Transformers ‘84: Secrets and Lies spins out of the Transformers ‘84 #0 one-shot that arrived mid-fall of last year, but you don’t need to have read that issue to jump into this series. The issue opens almost immediately before the original comics series and features Autobot double agent Counterpunch (AKA Punch or Spacepunch) recalling a story from undercover work within the Decepticon ranks. Counterpunch was a character on the original animated series, but didn’t see inclusion in comics until the Dreamwave series (thanks TFwiki.com). 

Furman uses Counterpunch to provide a firsthand Autobot perspective of the Decepticon agenda prior to landing on Earth. He uses this story to provide additional impetus and rationale for why the Transformers originally left not only their home planet, but their galaxy as well. We’re all familiar with the power dynamics within Decepticon army, and Furman creates a vision of chaos, with Megatron already on the verge of “mad-king” territory and Shockwave manipulating his own shadow campaign.  

So, yes, Furman easily establishes the tone and direction of this series. He’s the perfect man for the job. He knows these characters, and he creates a feel for this world that allows him to tell a thirty-year-old story with a fresh feel. But what sells the series is the art team. Artist Guido Guidi and colorist John-Paul Bove work an aesthetic that transports the reader back to the glory days of the original Transformers comic series. There is a grittiness to the art. Guidi has worked on various Transformers properties, and seems to be able to adapt to the source material to determine whether sheen or depth is most needed for the script. Here, he finds a perfect mix of detailed yet bold designs that recall not only the look of the original series, but serves as an homage to artists like Herb Trimpe or Geoff Senior. Bove’s color work is equally on-point. He makes Guidi’s sharp lines and jam-packed pages work with colors that recall 80s comics before digital coloring techniques opened the door for new tricks. Bove’s colors add the extra bit of depth to Guidi’s lines that truly sells this series as a lost artifact from the original run. 
TRANSFORMERS 84 SECRETS & LIES #1 (OF 4) CVR A GUIDI     Transformers: Classics Vol. 4
On the left, Guidi and Bove combine to bring an authentically nostalgic aesthetic to Transformers '84. On the right, Guidi shows his versatility with a more modern, shinier version of Starscream from a Transformers Classics trade.

Transformers ‘84: Secrets and Lies is an extremely solid debut issue of a new story from classic Transformers canon. Serving as a prequel to the events of the original series, Furman, Guidi, and Bove transport us back to the mid-80s with a gritty tale of espionage and in-fighting. I highly recommend jumping into this series.  

TRANSFORMERS 84 SECRETS & LIES #1 (OF 4) CVR B COLLER
Transformers '84: Secrets and Lies #1
Written by Simon Furman
Illustrated by Guido Guidi
Colored by Jean-Paul Bove
Lettered by Jake M. Wood
Cover B by Casey Coller
Published by IDW Publishing