So! You’ve heard that the IDW Transformers comics are fantastic and want to get into them, but aren’t sure how. This particular universe has been around for nearly ten years, and there’s a lot of possible entry points. I’d be glad to elucidate and pleased if you’d give them a shot. I promise that they’re nowhere near as convoluted as any given five years of X-Men comics, and the act of reading them is rewarding.
Best Possible Starting Points
Much ado has been made about Sarah Stone and Mairghread Scott being the first Transformers creative comics duo to both be women. Even beyond that factoid, the book itself is great. Beautifully illustrated by Sarah Stone through digital painting, the four issue miniseries has been printed in trade paperback form and is available on Comixology. It takes place two years after the creative relaunch of the IDW universe with new creative teams, a decision more akin to the Marvel Now label than the New 52.
It stars a female Transformer named Windblade who has just arrived on Cybertron, the birthplace of the Transformers race. She interacts with her fellow new arrival and bodyguard, Chromia, and learns more about the planet, the society created in the wake of the Great War, and the people who survived. Windblade does this all while being a valiant and brave woman who refuses to kill and shows great strength in the face of the tyrant king Starscream along with the problem of a decaying sentient city in need of serious maintenance. Windblade knows roughly about as much as a new reader does, so the things she learns are learned at the same time as someone checking out the universe for the first time.
While I have my own scruples about the comparison, this comic has been equated to being the Transformers’ version of Watchmen. As a five issue standalone miniseries, this is a story about little used or obscure characters without much previous fiction, who are given a chance to have personalities as solid and loveable as the most famous characters in the Transformers canon. A violent and dark story in the IDW universe, it’s co-written by Nick Roche and James Roberts, and co-illustrated by Roche, Guido Guidi, Andrew Griffith and Josh Burcham.
The best of the best Autobot fighters in the team known as the Wreckers have to save Autobot guards from a prison that’s been taken over by the Caligulan ex-Decepticon named Overlord. At the same time, they have to deal with strife among their ranks, internal turmoil, and shocking revelations about the Autobots’ morality. Although gruesome and not for everyone, it’s a wonderfully illustrated story with great characters that never gives in to complete and utter darkness. Horrible things happen to good people, but they move forward. You’ll find yourself growing attached to people with surprising depth who could have remained nobodies for another twenty five years.
Available digitally on Comixology and Kindle, the collected issues are also available in trade paperback and hardcover form on Amazon. The hardcover has the most content in it, with the character profiles of the single issues, the bonus prose story and other features of the trade paperback, and additional art and writing you can’t find anywhere else.
The two current sister ongoings of the IDW universe start here. MTMTE vol. 1 has the important Death of Optimus Prime one-shot in it, and MTMTE #1 takes place before the first issue of RID. Both series have completely different tones from one another, and different executions of the same basic theme of political strife and responses to upheaval. Robots in Disguise, written by John Barber, starts out as a relatively grounded political thriller that shows an Autobot government trying to manage the needs of a ruined Cybertron and its populace of distrustful neutrals, oppressed Decepticons, and disgruntled former Autobots who dislike how the people who’ve put themselves in charge handle things now that the Great War is over.
Meanwhile, More Than Meets the Eye is about a bunch of loveable misfits who go on a quest to find the legendary Knights of Cybertron to restore the planet to its Golden Age. Though the elevator pitches for the two series couldn’t really be much different, both focus on misdeeds of the Autobots in response to the Decepticon rebellion, and both use science fictional allegory to get people to think about our own modern day culture. They’re smart, funny, and illustrated by an array of fantastic artists to the point where you question how they can remain so consistent. The low points are few, and the high points are incredible. Worth noting: The RID banner has been retired for that ongoing, and is simply titled “The Transformers” as of issue #35 to avoid confusion with the upcoming 2015 Robots in Disguise cartoon.
You can simply read the first five volumes of RID and MTMTE, read the two Dark Cybertron crossover trades or the collected Dark Cybertron hardcover, and then move onto the volume six trades for the ongoings. The trade paperbacks for RID will change the title to The Transformers starting with the seventh volume.
Chaos Theory Parts 1 and 2
Located within The Transformers #22 and #23 issues of the 2009-2011 ongoing, they’re written by James Roberts and illustrated by Alex Milne and Joana Lafuente, all current members of the MTMTE creative team. This story is about how the war started and is the first part of Roberts’ “Cybertronian Trilogy,” and is about the relationship between Optimus Prime and Megatron. Captured by the Autobots and separated from his Decepticon forces, Prime and Megs reminisce about their multi million year rivalry and relationship. It’s brilliant character work that makes Megatron more than a tyrant, and makes Prime more than a paternal figure.
Spotlight: Kup and All Hail Megatron #15
Written and drawn by Nick Roche, both stories give depth to the ancient Autobot Kup, one of the stars of Last Stand of the Wreckers. Showing his progression from deathly ill to unstable but capable, these early efforts also set up some moral ambiguity to the Autobots, especially AHM #15. It is worth mentioning that Nick’s Kup story only makes up half of AHM #15, so keep that in mind if you want to hunt it down.
Yet another story illustrated by Nick Roche, this one’s written by Transformers’ Chris Claremont equivalent Simon Furman. Furman was the initial architect of the IDW universe, and this story sets up much of the events of Robots in Disguise and the Dark Cybertron event. It is completely free on Comixology, and it’s worth reading if only to see Nick Roche drawn Dinobots fight the one eyed Decepticon scientist known as Shockwave.
Dwelling on Megatron’s crueller side, this is yet another story written and drawn by the legendary Nick Roche, this time colored by Len O’Grady. If you read only one story of the six in the Dark Prelude trade paperback, make it this one. It illustrates the relationship between Megatron and Starscream, and justifies why Megatron keeps the treacherous snake around.
A collection of six stories by multiple writers and artists in the IDW stable, it gives more characterization to members of the Lost Light, members of the Autobot government on Cybertron, and Decepticons who would find themselves elsewhere in the present day. In addition to doing all that, it gives even more context to the Dark Cybertron event.
A collaboration between John Barber and Livio Ramondelli, it’s a 48 page one shot that was originally a digital comic. A story about Optimus Prime investigating murders on Cybertron, it continues the theme of the moral ambiguity of the Autobots and Decepticons, and shows what’s happening on Cybertron after RID changes its focus from Cybertron to Earth after the Dark Cybertron event.
I’m not as much a fan of these, but they’re worth noting.
Simon Furman’s Miniseries and Spotlights
Multiple miniseries and one-shots effectively comprising an ongoing, the IDW universe starts with the Infiltration mini. Establishing the framework from which subsequent comics would work within, available in chronological form via the first four hardcovers titled “The Transformers: The IDW Collection,” you can also find the first three of his miniseries in a newly printed trade paperback titled “The Transformers: Phase One Omnibus.” Presumably, more larger collections of Phase One will follow.
You can follow the rest of Phase One with the other four hardcovers of The IDW Collection, but I don’t recommend it. I’m personally not a fan of All Hail Megatron, the 2009-2011 ongoing, the various stories about Drift outside of More Than Meets the Eye, or Abnett and Lanning’s contributions to the IDW canon, but you can make your own decisions if you’re interested in the entire story.
When in doubt or confused about a story plot point, consult the Transformers Wiki, a tongue in cheek archive of 30 years of Transformers fiction and toys. Even the creators of the IDW team use it for research, in addition to looking at past source material. Beware of spoilers.
Something Completely Different
If you have the tolerance for Silver Age inspired creativity, read Tom Scioli’s The Transformers vs GI Joe. One of the most subversive comics on the stands, it remixes every single piece of Transformers and GI Joe media into something completely new as filtered by a Jack Kirby-esque imagination. Knowing prior lore will only help you understand references, but it won’t give you the ability to predict what will come next or how a character will be interpreted. Nobody is safe from drastic changes. It does not take place in the main IDW comics universe, nor should it. It is gloriously absurd and just absolutely amazing.