So now we've reached the other side of Phase 2 with the sister series of More Than Meets The Eye. The start of a long trek toward giving Barber's work a better chance than when I initially read his work, only out of obligation to complete the entire continuity. Robots in Disguise and its follow-ups were always living in the shadow of MTMTE/Lost Light, but I still think there's a ton of great things in store from Barber's side of this continuity.
Already we're off to a good start here. This first issue does a good job in tackling multiple voices for each character. I still find Metalhawk to be a miserable prick even more so than Prowl, who at least is honest about his motives to those around him (Bumblebee, Ratbat, and Arcee). There's no doubt that's intentional though, it's meant to stir up tensions in the already messy climate at Cybertron. I also like Barber's use of first-person narration to have us understand and emphasize with Bumblebee, since he's in a rough spot as leader. What I don't understand is why he keeps the cane though, because it makes him look silly!
The art by Andrew Griffith is pretty strong, although the way he draws lips is kinda weird for me personally, and some of the borrowed designs from the War for Cybertron/Fall of Cybertron games make certain characters (most notably Bumblebee) a lot more...chunkier than they should be. There's also good work done with the coloring by Josh Perez.
Overall not much to say since this is just the first issue, but it'll be nice to finally re-read all of this and hope I'll change my mind on the direction Barber takes with this series.
Ah John Barber. I mostly considered him the other guy, and I only cared about Robots In Disguise/The Transformers volume 2 in how it related to MTMTE. Back in 2017 (when Comixology still existed) I got his run while it was on sale and read it all in a single day. It was okay.
Right then, second time’s the charm. Here we, here we, here we fucking go! With what is arguably the more important of the ongoing series.
Now I say that not to be facetious, or because I’m some sort of Barber fanboy (although I am), but because this is the solid, “sensible” (relatively, anyway) series that needs to be run in order for MTMTE to really work. Whilst that other series is indeed the one with most of the plaudits (and not wrongly so), if it was the only series running it would have made the Transformers universe something of a weird, odd place, with all its irreverence. As with any double act, a straight man was needed, and RiD fulfils that role admirably. And it’s also a much better look at the post-war politics of the Cybertronians’ world (which is something of a surprise given Roberts’ own political musings).
I'll have to apologise up front, because I'm afraid to say that I'm going to be mostly positive about Barber’s run here. Whilst I can’t really argue with the criticisms levelled at him, his thing of making stories out of abandoned or forgotten details is something that I really like - provided that those stories are good, of course - and that’s why I’m a big fan of his writing. (And I do indeed consider the majority of his run to be good - with a couple of exceptions, that we’ll get to.). So I’ve been looking forward to this as much as I have the MTMTE reread.
I won’t deny that this issue doesn’t perhaps “zing” as much as the first issue of MTMTE, but what it lacks in whacky characterisations and absurdities it makes up for in solid scene setting and a sense of tension and intrigue. Given the whole thing at the time was that the series was now going to be about the post-war world of the Transformers, this issue really sets the scene and makes it a world I want to explore.
The conflict between the characters, both within the same camps as well as without, is really good to see, as clearly everyone has an agenda and they’re all different. Much as ‘Bee isn't the most capable of charismatic leader the Autobots have ever had, you do also feel like he's trying, in what seems to be an impossible situation. Metalhawk, on the other hand, being the reasonable centrist that he is is, really isn't helping to keep tensions down. Gods, he's a dick. And Prowl's also trying, in his own way, so we'll see how that goes. But as I say, there's certainly plenty going on, and plenty of interest.
What's really noteable is Starscream's absence from this issue. And that's something of a surprise, given what a key player he becomes later.
Griffith's work is also great here. He does, sadly, not get the same accolades as his peers over on MTMTE, but he is nevertheless a good, solid artist, and what he excels at is giving scenes a sense of scale - which is something that this new, slightly terrifying Cybertron needs.
So here we are then, both (main) series kicking off, without a sign of Optimus Prime or Megatron, and a new status quo in place. Both issues are a huge success, and both leave you waiting to find out what happens next. So let's go find out!
*sees what's on the schedule for next week*
While Roberts is always serving up some weird exotic dish, Barber is more the "meat-and-potatoes" writer, coming from a Marvel background and being pretty spot-on with continuity and characters. His work is comforting in that regard, although I do feel all his characters has some underlying layer of anger to them. Prepare to count the times someone just randomly snaps and throws a punch or outburst as the series progresses.
I will say, jumping far ahead, I left Roberts' entire body of work feeling exasperated, and I left Barber's complete body of work feeling invigorated. Right now though, Roberts is just far more exciting and new than Barber, and I think that led to some undue backlash against RID going through its first "season."
Stuart Webb. Who knows everything about nothing and not a lot about that.
Action Force/G.I. Joe