Like all good franchises, Transformers has split one book into two, with differing ideologies providing the impetus for change. This, the second of the two, stars Bumblebee, Ironhide, Wheeljack and certain other “first season” characters as they stay on Cybertron to re-integrate the Autobots, Decepticons and NAILs (Non-Affiliated Indigenous Lifeforms.)
Off the bat, it’s quite different from its sister title. Where “More than Meets the Eye” was a mixture of bombastic comedy and adventure, “Robots in Disguise” is a sober and gritty political narrative. It may seem strange to apply such labels to a Transformers book, but it is undeniably so. The focus is heavily on Bumblebee’s near-impossible burdens as leader, and the stresses that arise from appearing to favor one community over another.
As a narrative, it’s perhaps not as immediate as “More than Meets the Eye”, and it’s certainly more complex in its goals. The events are tense and sometimes morally ambiguous, as Cybertron’s various factions attempt to find some kind of equilibrium. The end of the story brings these ideas to a head, and suggest that the book isn’t going to give the characters an easy way out of this mess. Indeed, the only real problem with the premise is that it’s painted as so unachievable that it’s tough to seriously root for Bumblebee and the Autobots.
A little more compelling is the question of Cybertron’s metamorphosis. There’s a strong through-line in this issue about characters being more than a little perturbed that the planet has been fundamentally altered somehow, so it’s clear that it’s heading somewhere. Exactly where is anybody’s guess at this point, but in a book otherwise spun out with conventional (if well-executed) social dynamics, this vaguely-supernatural possible-threat is a welcome diversion.
Griffith’s pencils are far more “classic” an interpretation of the Transformers than recent incarnations. Nowhere near as stylized or exaggerated as his predecessors and contemporaries, he relies heavily on body language and facial expressions (where possible) to get the message across. The results are generally good; there’s an insane amount of detail in the environments, and while it does occasionally get a little cluttered, at least you could fairly argue that that’s the point, as Cybertron experiences a massive influx of new and returning settlers.
It’s tough to say which of the two Transformers relaunches is stronger, but such difficulty definitely stems from them being equally different takes on the same material, in much the same way as the two X-Men titles differ. In this case, I perhaps favor the wackier, less straightforward take, but it’s understandable that some might not. With each as technically strong as the other, Transformers fans are spoiled for choice.