The Transformers are best known for starring in cartoons and blockbuster movies, but since the ‘80s, the robots have been consistently appearing in comic books published by both Marvel and IDW comics. These books have been the inspiration for many of the popular cartoons and movies despite the lack of respect they receive. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon hitting big screens today and signaling the end of Michael Bay’s trilogy, we're getting the word out on the best Transformers comics on the market so you can get your 'bot fix after the credits close on the last movie.
What it’s about: This is where the whole phenomenon started. Back in the '80s, Hasbro Toys hired Marvel Comics to come out with a line of Transformers comics that would flesh out the characters’ backstories and make their toy line more viable. Comic legends Jim Shooter and Denny O’Neil hatched a story revolving around the toys that existed in the mainstream Marvel Universe.
Classic Transformers introduced what is now known as the Transformers mythology that created the likes of Optimus Prime, Megatron, and other characters that fans everywhere now love. These original Marvel comics have been re-released in a six volume series titled Classic Transformers and they pack the same punch now that they did in the '80s. Stories like this are more reminiscent of the original cartoon as opposed to the Michael Bay films, but what they lack in real-world grittiness they make up for in campy, robot fighting fun.
What it’s about: This handsome hardcover collects the Transformers move over to IDW comics in 2005. The stories told here are a bit more toned down than the '80s versions of the characters and provide much more depth for Optimus Prime and Megatron.
The first hardcover volume recounts the history of the Autobot/Decepticon war and features spotlights on characters such as Soundwave, Shockwave, and Cliffjumper. The real star of the book, though, is a story titled The Transformers: Megatron Origin. It recounts the early years of the series’ main baddie and details his motivations and what makes him tick. The story takes its inspiration from real historical figures and adds some much needed gravitas to the Transformers mythology.
Portraying the characters as much more than just battling robots, IDW has done a great job of handling the Transformers in a respectable way that completely ignores the racial stereotypes and toilet humor of the feature films.
What it’s about: Designed as a prequel to everything that came before it, Transformers: The War Within recounts the civil war on Cybertron that split up the Autobots and Decepticons. This is set millions of years before the 'bots ever arrived to Earth and gives a true backstory to everything that followed.
This book is not for people new to the Transformers world, however. There is a ton of backstory that needs to be known before you jump into this story and it requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the Transformers universe in order to truly appreciate all that's going on. Everything from supporting characters, to Transformer politics, to the history of Cybertron itself is shown off without much room for exposition.
If you fancy yourself a 'bot expert, then by all means pick up this book; it’s a fan favorite for a reason. But if you only know of the films and wish to dip your toe in the water, then perhaps the IDW volumes would better suit you.
What it’s about: Set in a world where the Decepticons have laid waste to the Autobots, All Hail Megatron envisions a dystopian world where Megatron is the unrivaled ruler of Earth. It turns out that the Autobots were defeated due to a traitor within their ranks and the remaining 'bots have been forced into exile on Cybertron.
In the meantime, the Decepticons have invaded NYC and engage in an all-out war with humanity. It’s a pretty dreary premise and this story closely mirrors the tone of the movies more than any other book on this list. These issues are collected in four easy-to-find volumes; however, only the first two volumes are necessary. The other two feature backup stories that expand upon things slightly but aren’t needed unless you’re a hardcore Transformer fan.
What it’s about: Focusing on a special-ops team of Autobots sent to neutralize a Decepticon prison, The Last Stand of the Wreckers is a much more visceral and violent Transformers experience than any other book. It’s also steeped in rich character drama and grounded emotions.
The thing that this book accomplishes that others haven’t is the ability to portray these robots as actual characters as opposed to two-dimensional killing machines. After a while you will forget the over-the-top concept of the Transformers and just get immersed in the heartache of their war. It’s a relatable story and has plenty in common with other emotional war stories.
It might be time for movie studios to give comics like this a closer look when the inevitable Transformers reboot hits theaters.