While the Transformers live-action films and cartoons have left older fans starved for content with some substance, the IDW comic universe has picked up the slack and delivered a number of exciting new adventures featuring our favourite Autobots and Decepticons. This review isn’t about their growing pedigree however; instead we are talking about the precursor to IDW, Dreamwave, and their cancelled series Transformers: The War Within. Originally written back in 2002, The War Within is a unique tale many fans of Transformers have yet to experience because it rarely gets reprinted. Now the 12-part miniseries is being published by IDW in a new omnibus for any curious bot fan to purchase.
Transformers: The War Within is a prequel to the original G1 cartoon. While certain details and characters have been added or tweaked to spice up the narrative, the book serves to introduce readers to the origins of the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, and how he dealt with the never-ending war on Cybertron. I really like the approach that writer Simon Furman decided to take with the character by making Prime question whether he should continue to fight a war for his dying planet or forgo the battles and evacuate the surviving Autobots to find a new home. It establishes that Optimus wasn’t always the courageous leader we know him as and adds a layer of weakness that we rarely see him exhibit.
Prime is not the only character that stands out in the spotlight though. Surprisingly the brutish Dinobot, Grimlock, is one of the key characters throughout the story. While Grimlock was created on Earth in the original show he makes an incredible presence in The War Within. He still remains as headstrong and battle-obsessed as ever, but with no Dino based architecture to make him sound like he has the brain of a peanut. He continuously clashes with Optimus about what makes an ideal leader and due to his straightforward virtues, helps Prime figure out his new identity and role as leader of their team.
Megatron and his Decepticons return as the opposing force, but there’s not much character to speak of that fans of the series have not experienced before. Megatron remains a ruthless tyrant, Starscream is always looking for an opportunity to usurp him and even though Apple may have ditched the headphone jack, Soundwave still supports cassette tapes in 2016. After the conflict between Optimus and Megatron is finished halfway through the book, we then enter The Dark Ages storyline that focuses on an ancient Decepticon known as The Fallen. While the absence of the two feuding leaders really hurts the second story, it does give a chance for you to grow closer to the other Autobots— particularly Jetfire and Prowl—as they combat a challenging foe.
Unfortunately, The Dark Ages story leaves readers with a cliffhanger that will never reach a conclusion. Due to Dreamwave going bankrupt in 2003, The War Within will never be a complete tale; instead it serves as a trial run for what would grow into IDW’s comic universe. What kind of irks me about this omnibus is that it doesn’t contain all of the published issues. Before their bankruptcy, Dreamwave published three issues of the next War Within storyline, The Age of Wrath. I just feel it would have been best to give out the entirety of the run and encapsulate it as a piece of history.
Transformers: The War Within Omnibus is not a book I can recommend to a wide audience because it is not a complete narrative. The only people who will find true value in it are the readers of the current run of Transformers comics curious enough to purchase the precursor. The artwork by Don Figuera, Andrew Wildman and Joe Ng continues to be some of the best Transformers art ever, but because they are currently involved with IDW, readers aren’t missing out on anything by not picking this up for something more realized instead. For readers looking to get into the Transformers IDW comics, I wholeheartedly recommend the prequel trilogy, Autocracy, Monstrosity and Primacy, which borrow many elements from The War Within but flesh them out even further.