The original Transformers animated series recently celebrated its 35th Anniversary – here I take a look at what the franchise means to me, as well as cover two very good Transformers comic series from IDW.

I’ve always been a Transformers fan. My mind was truly blown when I saw an ad for the toys for the first time; vehicles and weapons that could turn into warring robots? Sign me up!

My interest only got stronger when I saw the cartoon for the first time (some may say that was little more than an ad for the toys too!). I couldn’t get enough of the Autobots and Decepticons. It’s weird then, to realise that I didn’t actually own an actual Transformer until I was almost 40 (poor, deprived child that I was!). I owned a few knock-offs over the years – including a metal Go-Bot that transformed into a Porsche and barely had a head – but never an Autobot or a Decepticon. Why is that, you ask? Well, they weren’t cheap and my parents simply couldn’t afford to buy me any. I’m surprised that, as an adult, I’ve been restrained enough to still not buy any myself – the one I did receive was a birthday present from my Mum (so she got there in the end!).

Though I didn’t own any of the toys, I still couldn’t get enough of Transformers, whether that was from the cartoon, the eventual movie – 1986 did feel far off at one point, honest – or the excellent UK and US comics (both of which ran simultaneously at one point, with vastly different stories in each).

My passion didn’t translate to many of the cartoon reboots, but I was excited for the first Transformers live action movie at least. It was…ok. Everything that followed was an absolute dumpster fire though, at least until we got Bumblebee and its beautiful Gen 1 Cybertron scenes, as well as a story that had a lot of heart and soul, unlike Michael Bay’s ‘efforts’. Transformers animated shows have also been great in recent years, with Transformers Prime and Robots in Disguise being very different, but also both really enjoyable.

IDW have published some astonishingly good Transformers comics in the last few years too, with the parallel series More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise (unrelated to the cartoon of the same name) being fantastic explorations of post-war Cybertronians finding their way in the universe. More Than Meets The Eye concerns the hunt for the possibly-mythical Knights of Cybertron in a fun and often surprisingly touching jaunt across the universe, whereas Robots in Disguise at least begins its run with a heavy dose of political intrigue, with the fight for the hearts and minds of Cybertronians – Autobot, Decepticon and Non-Aligned Indigenous Lifeforms (NAILs, as they’re derogatively referred to) – being an absolutely riveting story with some very surprising twists.

Both series deal with some surprising themes in a mature and often matter-of-fact, non-judgemental way; love, loss, PTSD, xenophobia, same-sex relationships, mortality and more. Both series, published between 2011-2016, are incredibly well done, particularly for a franchise that was born in order to sell toys.

Though the conclusions to each series feel a little rushed, with a bewildering array of plot points coming to fruition that had been scattered throughout earlier issues, they’re still astonishing in their scope – if a little difficult to follow at times thanks to the sprawling cast list. Both are best when telling intimate, character-based stories – and suffer somewhat when coming together for an all-action crossover, which feels far too busy. Robots in Disguise takes an awkward diversion to Earth towards the end, too – with focus coming away from the political situation on Cybertron – and it is, unfortunately, poorer for it.

That said, both series are all the more remarkable for making me genuinely care about a lot of characters that were previously minor afterthoughts, both Autobot and Decepticon.

If I had to choose a favourite from the two series, it’s close but More Than Meets The Eye has the edge for me. Despite the aforementioned issues with keeping track of who’s who – given such a vast, rotating list of characters are involved in the stories – there’s a number of standout characters with some amazing stories to read and some jaw dropping storylines involving major characters on both sides of the Autobot/Decepticon divide (which isn’t so clean cut, post-war).

So there you have it – a quick overview and recommendation of two brilliant and important series that demonstrate what depth can be given to sometimes thin source material; you should only need basic knowledge of the franchise in order to enjoy them (given that so many characters here were new to me, even as a fan) but if you’re a fan of Transformers in general they’re absolutely unmissable.

I’ll be back soon with more Transformers content, with a look at the visually striking, easy to play Transformers Trading Card Game. Tune in again shortly – for now, time for me to roll out!

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