Not too long ago, event comics used to get the community excited. Sure, there were always naysayers, but stories like Civil War, Secret Invasion and Infinite Crisis used to elicit a very different response than they do now. Even the most diehard fanboys are starting to feel the effects of “event fatigue.” Whereas these stories used to feel organic and meaningful to the characters in them, now they’re obligatory cash grabs. DC is focusing on September gimmicks (with one foot back in the event game) while Marvel pumps out a couple events with boatloads of tie-ins every year. For as good as Infinity was, the follow-up left a lot to be desired. There’s a reason “Pre-Crisis” was coined. There was a line. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a game changer. Civil War was a game changer.
Dark Cybertron is a game changer.
Writers John Barber and James Roberts, along with a rotating team of the greatest artists to ever work on the heroes and villain of Cybertron, crafted a perfect “event comic.” It was the culmination of the events of both ongoing titles, Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye. It reunited both casts in an effective and impactful way. The stakes were higher than they’ve ever been. Heroes died. Alliances were shattered. Megatron abandoned the Decepticon cause! For readers of these books, there is an absolute dividing line for these characters pre- Dark Cybertron and post-Dark Cybertron.
The story mattered to every character involved and its ending will impact them for years to come. This is the first time the two ongoing series crossed over in nearly two years. With completely different casts, both books have been wholly unique from one another. Post-Dark Cybertron, the casts have shaken up, but they’re still separate. Optimus Prime isn’t going to somehow be on the Lost Light and on Earth. That’s one of the things that made the crossover so impactful. It felt big in every way and not like a cheap gimmick or a ploy to just sell more copies. Sadly, sales on both series remained mostly unchanged from March 2013 thru March 2014, holding steady at just under 10,000 copies. Both of these series deserve more eyes on them, which brings us to one of the most intriguing bits of cross promotion this industry has ever seen.
In an unprecedented move, IDW and Hasbro partnered up to include pack-in comics with the current crop of Transformers Generations figures. The first wave shipped with one-shot character spotlight issues that were basically created to go with the figures. After that, they were single issues of one of the ongoing titles that could be considered mostly standalone. The most recent waves, however, have included issues of the then-currently ongoing Dark Cybertron story. Over three waves of figures, the entire 12-part story will be packaged with new toys relevant to the ongoing fiction. That’s pretty astounding. Comic book pack-ins aren’t a new innovation on their own, but they’re usually decades old and mostly irrelevant. This is the first time toys have been shipped with comics you can go buy on the shelves that same day (even though they may have been recently moved to back issues).
The one problem with this delivery method is that the individual issues packaged with the toys aren’t specifically labeled as “Dark Cybertron Part X of 12.” There’s nothing indicating that these issues are related or what order they’re meant to be read in. The fine print on the inside cover includes the “originally published as” notice, but even then, it doesn’t specify where it goes in relation to the other books. If someone were to buy Skywarp, Scoop, Starscream and the Minicons in the current wave, they would struggle to put the four comics in order. They absolutely go in order. That’s the rub. Otherwise, it’s a revolutionary piece of cross promotion across the Transformers brand.
Shockwave didn’t kill the Watcher. An evil Optimus Prime didn’t freebase energon. There weren’t dozens of ancillary tie-in issues. It didn’t plant seeds for the next inevitable crossover event. Instead Dark Cybertron affected all the core characters in the ongoing narrative in an organic way and set the stage for their continuing adventures. It honored years of continuity and blazed a new trail forward. In short, Dark Cybertron is a perfect comic book event crossover. If you’ve ever loved the Transformers, go back and catch up with the trades.