Title: Transformers Drift: Empire of Stone
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Shane McCarthy
Pencils: Guido Guidi (additional pencils by Marcelo Ferreira, Ch. 4)
Inker: Stephen Baskerville
Colorist: John-Paul Bove
Letters: Tom B. Long
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
In Drift: Empire of Stone, Drift’s creators return to their sports car samurai to deliver an enjoyable character study that looks great. Your mileage will probably vary on this one, though. I’ve read most of IDW’s Transformers offerings, and I’m a huge fan, both of the franchise as a whole and the IDW comics. What’s more, Drift is tied with Grimlock, everyone’s favorite robot T-Rex, for my favorite Transformer. As is often the case with IDW’s licensed properties, I can’t recommend Empire of Stone if you’re unfamiliar with the tapestry of what’s come before. Empire of Stone is less dependent on continuity than a lot of Transformers miniseries, but unless you’re attached to Drift from reading previous comics, I can’t say how much you’ll get out of it.
That said, Guido Guidi has turned in some truly impressive work that I think anyone can appreciate. We see a different side of Guidi in Empire of Stone. Normally his style is smooth, and it usually makes me think “classic,” but Stephen Baskerville’s inks and John-Paul Bove’s colors transform those clean pencils into something rougher. We’ve never seen Drift looking so dinged and dulled. He’s scuffed, scratched, a bit dirty. It’s clear he’s had a tough go of it since being exiled from the Autobot ranks during the More Than Meets the Eye ongoing. When Autobot medic Ratchet tracks him down, he asks Drift when he last went in for repairs. Drift replies that nothing’s wrong with his ship, surely knowing full well that Ratchet didn’t mean the shuttle. Drift’s first appearance in the mini is a panel of him crashing into the ground, which gives us plenty to guess what the rest of his exile has been like.
I love the way Guidi draws Transformers. His Cybertronians are facially expressive while still keeping the blocky look of the original cartoon. This applies to their body language, as well. Even though they retain that G1 feel, even in their sci-fi Cybertronian vehicle modes, they also have a level of detail G1 could never have reached. Lights illuminate lines and hollows along their bodies. Antagonist Gigatron has armored plates that look riveted to his body, and his two-headed dragon mode is positively awe-inspiring in its first panel. A prodigious conflagration rages around him as he breathes fire from both mouths.
This is one of many silent panels that showcase Guidi’s skill at conveying ideas and actions in his images. McCarthy knows when to let the characters stay quiet so Guidi can speak for them. Splashes of energy abound, and they feel energetic, just like the movement of the characters. Guidi plays up Drift’s slimness a little, and it gives him a sleekness that adds to his agility and speed. The whole art team contributes to making machine people look visceral and even bestial. Tom B. Long’s sound effects and yelling make themselves known, but they don’t intrude.
Now, while the story is good, I did find it a little uneven. I most enjoyed the exploration of Drift’s character as he reflects on where he’s been and where he is. Following his exile, he set his sights on the far corners of the galaxy, where unaffiliated beings suffer from the fallout of the four million-year Cybertronian civil war. He devoted himself to hunting rogue Decepticons who struck out for less-defended pastures after they lost the war. Drift has always searched for a place where he can belong, at first finding it among the Decepticons before learning that there was a way other than their murder and brutality. He wants desperately to atone for the atrocities he committed as a Decepticon, so helping sentients caught in the crossfire of the Cybertronian war is fitting. It even retains the convention of Drift associating with Transformers from the Japanese TV series. Gigatron is from Car Robots, and his treacherous lieutenant Hellbat is from Transformers: Victory. By the end, Drift learns that even if he isn’t always sure that he’s doing the right thing, he feels like he can at least make a difference, which is enough for him. As always, his interactions with Ratchet are amusing, and even Hellbat, who makes his first appearance in this story, has interesting motivations. He modifies a magical stone army in order to “kill everything,” believing that to be the grand Cybertronian purpose. Why else would they be immortal? Why else would they have been at war for millions of years?
Still, I found it difficult to be entirely invested in the conflict. Gigatron refuses to believe the war is over, and he plans to win it using a stone army in the fortress he’s commandeered. Drift, when he was the Decepticon Deadlock, led Gigatron to the planet, but we only see a brief flashback of Drift landing there years ago. If the story had had another issue, the creative team might have been able to expand on the flashback segments and further explore Gigatron’s relationship with Drift and Hellbat’s traitorous nature. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the dialogue, which felt a little bit loose, like some of the scene transitions. But again, the writing’s strength is the character study of Drift, which I feel is very in-line with how he’s developed since McCarthy and Guidi created him in the 2008-2009 maxiseries All Hail Megatron.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the Empire of Stone collection is a long interview in the back about how IDW’s writers and artists have worked with Drift over the years. Even though I had some quibbles about the plot, I still enjoyed Empire of Stone, because this is a story for Drift fans. McCarthy notes in the back that he thinks Drift has followed a different path than he originally imagined, but I think the core of nobility he gave Drift has absolutely remained intact, and both he and Guidi are still in touch with it. If you want more Drift, if you wait for the trades and miss him as a regular cast member in MTMTE, this book can tide you over until he returns to the main titles.