Find out why IDW Publishing’s Revolution made our “Worst of 2016” list.Read More
By Dustin Cabeal
I’m sure when a lot of people heard that MASK was coming to comics they were excited. I mean, it’s one of the few 80s toy franchises/cartoon series, to not having its corpse mangled and rebooted in the modern era. Even setting aside the fact that IDW was in charge of the comic reboot, the first thing everyone should have asked is, “Why’d it take this long?”Read More
By Mike Badilla
Let me start by stating that I'm not old enough to have played with or been a part of the original M.A.S.K. In fact, I may not have ever heard of the original series had it not been for my cousin, 6 or so years older than me, that had all the toys and would let me play with them when we would come to visit. I was instantly hooked on the idea of these different guys and girls getting these cool helmets and driving these cool transforming vehicles.Read More
The third issue of a comic book sometimes feels like the hardest issue to write about—maybe even worse to review. The average comic reader knows by the end of issue two whether they’re going to keep up with something and, in a market driven by five-issue story arcs, the third issue typically has the least going on. There’s no excitement of a new premise as in issue one. There’s no familiarization with characters as in a second issue. We’re a stone throw’s away from any dramatic plot twists of a fourth issue and even further from a satisfying conclusion of a fifth. The third issue then becomes a type of storytelling buffer—this repetition of character and story beats intended to build towards the actually exciting chapter. Yet despite these issues' stagnant nature, without these narrative safety nets, you get a glimpse of the true quality of the story being told.
This has been a long way to simply say: I’m worried about the future of IDW’s Rom series.
We pick up a couple seconds from where the last issue left off—Rom’s been momentarily captured by the Dire Wraiths but this time with a new ally—Camilla Beyers, a human now half-corrupted into a Dire Wraith. Camilla’s pretty new to the whole Dire Wraith-Spaceknight conflict so as the Wraiths have them captured they propose a new narrative to this story.
See, the Dire Wraiths are really the victims here—they’re refugees of a galactic war and who came to Earth when they had nowhere else to go. They’ve lived here in peace for centuries alongside the humans and these casualties and deaths have only happened because Rom’s brought the war back to them.
Elsewhere, the former soldier Darby is found and taken back to civilization by who she believes are humans. Only Darby learns she can never go back again—not with this new knowledge, not with this constant paranoia in whether people are who they say they are.
This alternate narrative proposed by who are traditionally the series villains is an attractive one. There’s a straightforward morality to the nature of the past Rom canon. He was a character driven by his morality—this unconquerable rightness in his patriotism. After all, in that iteration his people were pacifists before the Dire Wraiths and the Spaceknights were a reaction to the attacks they suffered.
But maybe here Rom’s people were the not utopian society of Mantlo’s story. Maybe here, we as readers are missing something fundamentally important to understanding the nature of this war. As Rom recruits Camilla and Darby to his effort against the Dire Wraiths he openly acknowledges it as enlisting. He openly tells Camilla that he wants to turn her into a spy for him instead of curing her of a fatal disease. The Rom here is more alien than ever before and that makes it more questionable whether he’s really the good guy here.
These aspects are interesting, even exciting on a conceptual level in how you adapt and reinvent the story of Rom for modern day but there’s something lost in the presentation.
Rom #3 carries on primarily two different modes of storytelling—an action panel and a dialog panel. While two pages in the issue break this mold and succeed, the majority is dominated by fight scenes and exposition. When the Dire Wraith explains their side it is nearly impossible to believe in part because we're being told this by a terrifying lizard wizard but also because it’s largely done through speechifying.
The original run of Rom Spaceknight featured a very similar story albeit on a smaller scale. One Dire Wraith, grown so tired and fearful of the drawn-out war, decided to desert it and hide on Earth. You could feel the genuineness of his character as you watched him try to seek acceptance from locals, fall in love, and experience the worried fear of raising a child. Mantlo drew upon the imagery of draft dodging during the Vietnam War and created a parallel with someone finding a new life in a foreign country out of fear.
There’s moment of humanity like this in Rom #3. A quick two-page scene where Darby, boarding a bus, imagines everyone on it secretly a Dire Wraith and, as the bus pulls away, she tries to determine the moment her family was killed. The scene here plays out like a subtle processing of the character’s own post-dramatic stress disorder and dealing with a delayed sense of loss. This moment is convincing and human but lost between the intergalactic stakes of the story.
An issue like this one makes me wonder if why I liked the original Rom Spaceknight is ultimately different from why others did. As it stands, I’m getting worried about IDW’s new version of Rom. The story here almost feels lost within its inter-connected world and its intergalactic conflict—more interested in big set-pieces and big stakes than thematic and character elements.
Rom barely feels like a character in his own story—there is little personality and history to him outside of talking funny and not knowing stuff. And that problem feels endemic to this comic as a whole.
Once we dive into Rom #3, there’s a distinct lack of something at its narrative center—a human heart to balance out its strange and elaborate exterior.
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Rom #3 Writer: Chris Ryall Artists: David Messina and Michele Pasta Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $4.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital[/su_box]
Rom: Revolution chronicles the Space Knight's contribution to IDW's hero-on-hero crossover event. Like most superhero events, this one is predicated on supposedly adult protagonists refusing to be mature or reasonable. There's a lot of fighting and very little discussion. Even within that framework, one can tell a rollicking story. This issue doesn't manage it, though. The story here, apparently set before the events of Revolution #1, operates on the premise that technology is magic. A mysterious ore just works with completely unrelated in-development power armor. A special mental interface that doesn't work suddenly does after a week of unspecified tinkering. It's something I could forgive if the rest of the book would carry its weight. It doesn't really. Rom's spoken lines read like an inner monologue. He comes across as a bit dense at times. But that's somewhat endearing. It works for the noble, other-worldly throwback. It works less well in the mouths of contemporary humans. Two people working on the same project probably shouldn't have to explain said project to each other. And it's probably a bad idea to, as a third party, introduce yourself to members of said party by subverting their security. And it's definitely a bad idea for the heads of the project to immediately capitulate to the supposed military reps who simply ooze false trustworthiness. Things progress through the graces of convenience. Further, the writing suffers from frequent and needless flashbacks. They may give you a better understanding of the issue's antagonists, but they don't fit neatly into the flow of the story's battle. These flashbacks interrupt the centerpiece of this issue with very little impact outside of interruption. The scrambled, nonlinear storytelling really hurts the issue. That's not to say this would be a good read if told in a more straightforward manner. A straight line from beginning to end would probably benefit the story, creating a more stable presentation.
The comics medium allows for scenes of action that actually earn the “epic” description. Unfortunately, Rom: Revolution #1 doesn't fare well in that regard. The action feels strangely muted, confined by mundane settings and tepid banter. The art is fine if more than a little messy. Every panel is a little too heavily inked for my taste. The fights are certainly illustrated decently and with enough clarity that they are never confusing. Rom: Revolution's main problem comes from its structure. Rom tries to avoid a Wraith fight; Wraith eggs him on; Rom reluctantly fights Wraith while struggling to understand his opponent. It's repetitive to a maddening degree. Coupled with the non-linear structure of the plot, the repetition is difficult to settle into. Or care about. Or recommend.
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Rom: Revolution #1 Writer: Chris Ryall, Christos Gage Artist: Ron Joseph Colorist: Jay Fotos Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital
In truth, this review doesn’t matter. The sales for this series were decided three months ago, and they were dictated by the fact that there’s nineteen covers in all. That is how you make a successful crossover event. Nineteen covers. The content at that point doesn’t matter because the shows are invested in selling the variants and sure the $3.99 priced regular cover to fans of these Hasbro franchises that continue to buy and support everything IDW does with them. Which is why this story is so weird. Why take Transformers, arguably one of their biggest titles with the most offshoots, and slam it together with G.I. Joe? Something that has failed recently and has sat on the sidelines waiting for this event. In reality, I’m sure that was just the excuse not to relaunch the title yet again after soft sales on the last two volumes. Then there’s unproven titles like Action Man which just made it to its fourth issue and ROM, which has two issues shipping at the same time. The question becomes, will a shared universe help these brands or hurt them?
I point to Transformers vs. G.I. Joe which has had I believe five or six volumes and yet I bet if I pressed the biggest fan of the crossover they couldn’t tell me anything that happens in the story other than “Transformers vs. G.I. Joes.” Even the first series done by Dreamwave was average at best and relied on variant covers that were little more than fan art.
Why all this excess in a review? Why am I breaking the most obvious review rule in that I’m talking about anything other than the issue? Because I’m genuinely interested in how the fans will receive this book and if the brands will be damaged due to the shared universe. That and I want to give the haters an easy reason to write off my review when they rush to the bottom to see the score.
Spoiler, it’s not good.
This book is only slightly better than the zero issue prelude that they released. If you missed that issue, don’t worry, it’s at the back of this issue to pad the page count and “justify” the price tag. In it, we learn that some bad people are in charge and that they have the head of a Transformer hanging from their wall talking like a light-censored toy bass.
This issue establishes, through a lot of exposition, that the Transformers may or may not be taking over the world, and that energon (which is given a different name for some reason, probably a legal one) is exploding which is jacking up the earth and leaving the Transformers hungry. The issue and series make the mistake of starting off with Action Man. It’s a mistake because it’s terribly boring, but then at the same time shows just how out of place the character is. It’s hard to imagine anyone “popping” for Action Man in this series.
The rest of the issue is just the classic misunderstanding storyline. ROM’s villains are the villains of the series and all of the time is spent with the good guys fighting each other and coming across as unlikable dicks. I am supposed to like the Transformers, G.I. Joe’s and ROM right? The only person that isn’t a dick is Action Man, and I have no reason to like him because he just shows up and watches a man die. I did like General Colton because he was clearly evil as fuck, but then ROM shows up and just blasts him into oblivion. If ROM’s actions weren’t so out of place and lacking explanation, I would probably have cheered for him killing people. Unfortunately, you have to read his one-shot tie-in issue to understand his actions as they’re never explained in the main crossover, and he leaves after seemingly killing innocent people just trying to fight against our robot overlords. I did laugh when the G.I. Joes mistook ROM as a “little Transformer” which is kind of what he looks like.
Speaking of the G.I. Joes… I hope you like Scarlett because she’s the only Joe outside of Colton that you’re going to see. Is the state of the Joes that bad that there’s no one else that’s worth a damn? There are a few others during the battle, but their appearance was strictly for a nameplate saying their name. Outside of that, they don’t contribute to the story in any way. The Joe’s, in general, are a far cry from their former selves and make me long for the days that Devil’s Due had the licenses and made me like and care about someone other than Snake Eyes. Oh and Cobra? Not even a mention or an appearance. Same with the Decepticons. Nothing.
The art is good but wasted on a story that’s all exposition. The Joe’s pointlessly fire their guns at the Transformers that are in the middle of helping sandbag a flood. Again, it’s really good art, excellent coloring and none of it stands out because of how poor the story is. That and after Dreamwave and Devil’s Due set the bar so high for the Hasbro titles it’s hard to truly impress with the art for these franchises. You have to come in at par or don’t even bother. It makes par, but no birdies.
As I said, this review is mostly pointless. The sales have been decided. Comic fans have long ago decided to support anything IDW does with these franchises. I will not be continuing with the series. I have it one and a half, and that’s all I can muster. It’s more of the same from a publisher that has excelled at selling variants for these brands. While they’ve managed to do some interesting things with Transformers, the rest of the properties they touch feel more like a slap in the face for anyone expecting more than just nostalgia to be dulled out to them.
Now if you’re still reading this and very angry with me for bashing your beloved IDW crossover event you’re probably wondering “Then why did this asshole even write the review?” Well as a friend recently pointed out to me, to be the dissenting voice. Because I know that others out there are reading this event and wondering why they didn’t enjoy it. It’s not the “you’re killing my childhood” argument because I’m a fucking adult, and no amount of retooling and rebooting will spoil my enjoyment felt as a child because it’s protected by the untouchable wall of the past. If this is something you enjoy, congrats. You like average crossovers and variant covers. If you didn’t, at least you know you weren’t alone. I’ll be watching this from afar. Watching the sales, waiting to see the effects this will have on IDW because if it does fail, I won’t be the only wondering why they took all these individually successful brands and mashed them together so that they could be like other publishers when IDW has thrived by not being like other publishers. Why else would people continue to pay those prices?
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Revolution #1 Writers: John Barber, Cullen Bunn Artist: Fico Ossio Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital