Battaglia’s Drawing Board: A Review Of Daniel Warren Johnson’s ‘Transformers’ Run Thus Far
For me, I think Daniel Warren Johnson is one of the most exciting ‘mainstream’ artists working in comics today. I think he takes the frenetic action storytelling and style from manga, blending it rather perfectly with a western story and pacing sensibility.
The Transformers series showcases his chops in making well-crafted single issues. Each floppy is satisfying on its own, holding enough hooks to keep you on the monthly train instead of just trade waiting.
His runs on Wonder Woman and Beta Ray Bill showcased his ability to tell stories using pre-existing characters without losing his creative voice and without being forced to kowtow to the constraints of continuity. I’d also add that, in almost all his stories, DWJ deals heavily in themes of family and redemption; his books have a certain ‘religious-ness’ to them that I think lends a morality that is often lacking in today’s entertainment.
These qualities make him a perfect choice to revive the Transformers comic series. While his book is undoubtably aimed towards adults who read the old comics or played with the toys, it is still mostly suitable to an adolescent audience who has no affinity for the older series.
Daniel Warren Johnson opens this arc up by letting us know that we’re re-setting everything. The Earth he introduces us to seems to be circa 1980. Sparkplug is a Vietnam veteran (or at least he’s dressed as such) but there are a few references to the internet as well. His Transformers designs are all ripped out of the cartoon, but his brush lends them some more roundness and fluidity that, I believe, really sells the action and gives them some more emotional range.
From the jump he lets you know that he’s playing for keeps, and things won’t necessarily go the way you expect them to. Like the cover of that first G2 comic said, “This is NOT your father’s Autobot.” The violence is more visceral and things are more permanent-feeling than ever before. Some recognizable favorites are treated the way all the G1 favorites were in the original movie.
The core human cast of Spike, Carly, and Sparky works well. Carly and Cliffjumper share some nice scenes together, and I believe Sparky and Optimus will become an interesting pairing; both war veterans who keep losing people/robots they care about.
Spike shares a scene with Optimus where they reflect on the fragility of life in the midst of the Autobot leader giving Spike a little backstory. It’s a good scene and it reflects the greater emotional depth on display in this particular take on the Transformers.
I’d rather not spoil any of the plot points or cool moments, so I’ll just say I highly recommend you check this out if the titular robots in disguise ever meant anything to you. I believe this series has done the nostalgia play correctly.
Daniel Warren Johnson with Mike Spicer and Rus Wooton have updated the Transformers to today — they’ve made it adult and relevant to someone like myself in a way that previous attempts didn’t. It’s what you remember the old show being but it never actually was, it just seemed that way when you were only but a child.
A few more notes on art and storytelling. I’ve made no bones here in previous columns about how much I like Johnson’s artwork, but something that I think deserves a ton of praise is how absolutely dynamic he has made these books. It’s a given with his art but, when compared against the ‘house style’ that seemed to develop on the IDW run, it’s extremely refreshing.
What has frustrated me about some of the recent Transformers comics has been the style looking way too rigid and static, like they’re constant tracing off 3D models or ruling out every line to make it all read ‘mechanical’ — a shortcut to lifelessness.
Daniel Warren Johnson’s art has none of that; the characters are brimming with personality and, because of his organic brush line, they move fluidly. For this reason, the panels never suffer that static feeling that comes from overly rulered designs.
It’s been recently announced that Daniel Warren Johnson will be stepping down from being series artist with issue #6. Jorge Corona will be taking over with issue #7, while Johnson focuses on his role as series writer. Corona has huge shoes to fill and I wonder if I will stay on the series.
So much of what has made previous Johnson books successful for me is his writer/artist combo; his pure vision is what works, so I’m not sure that his writing will match as well for me with a different artist.
Will the things that I enjoy about his stories come across as corny with someone else drawing it? Will the characters be as full of life with Corona’s art? As I’ve really enjoyed having a reason to go to the comic shop again to pick up a single issue series, I hope Jorge can handle it.
So much of what I’ve been reading are graphic novels, and this series has gotten me hooked again in the way that only monthly comics can.