BIG SPOILERS AHEAD!
So, here is it, Robots in Disguise issue 4, the comic that is currently dividing the Transformers readership.
RiD has some big boots to fill. More than Meets the Eye is a great comic; light hearted, colourful and fast paced and Autocracy is beautifully rendered, focuses on the franchise's most famous characters and has a story that we all know the conclusion to, so it falls to RiD to be the bigger of the three and bring new stories that are grittier, darker and more involving and this is not an easy thing to do when your subject matter is giant shape-changing space robots, especially with such limited scope.
Unfortunately this leaves little room for middle ground, and whilst I already know many will disagree with me on this, it's a good effort but for me it just isn’t working. In the past, Prowl has previously been depicted as a fan favourite’s character, with honour and integrity working from behind the scenes as the manipulator, not afraid to go behind people's backs to do what must to get the job done. Spotlight: Kup and AHM:15 are amongst the best examples of this, even if the aftermath wasn’t quite what everyone expected (See Infestation: Transformers #2). Here, the pressures of securing an entire rebuilt planet seem to have got to him, and in his pursuit of the Autobot philosophy any kind of honour has been stripped away leaving just the oft referred to ‘cold and calculating’ part of his personality which just ceases to make him the same likeable character, and Arcee’s influence throughout just appears to make it worse in her role of 'secret enforcer'.
Art wise, my reservations from the last issue continue. Cybertron herself is crisp and clear but character detail once again overwhelms us one minute and is gone the next, and some character updates stand out from their other 80s-looking peers but for all the wrong reasons. Starscream (and his type) is a prime example, but the one thing that confuses me the most is that one section of the Seekers has lost its genre-defining lithe shape that invoked speed and manoeuvrability in favour of this bulkier almost movie-style physique, whilst Dirge – the last remaining Conehead - retains an older-style (possibly due to his early expulsion from Earth) but looks so much better for it, probably up there as one of my favourite Seeker designs. Why the different body types? Where’s the consistency? Adding to the confusion, Bombshell and the Constructicons all look near cartoon-perfect. And then of course there is Arcee... I’ll just let you decide on her amongst yourselves, my opinion is already out there and this does little to change it.
Aside from my misgivings about the Prowl/Arcee dynamic and the art, the writing for this issue is still good. Barber has taken a world without the easy options of Prime, Megatron, Magnus and even Rodimus to solve the its ills and woven an involving and complex story and really grasped Prowl as a lead in this (still) dysfunctional government making pre-emptive decisions in the name of Cybertron security, even if it does take him in a very different direction, but it does feel a little heavy handed at times. The premise for this story – Bombshell seeding chaos into the Decepticon ranks as the planet becomes more and more divided - is engrossing, a character with an exceptional skill is finally being put to use in a well thought out and effective way, but the ending is blunt and seems a waste of such potential just to showcase this new 'Prowl' archetype even further.
This issue had the potential to be great noir-style detective story or a bad cop/good cop action epic and falls short on both, mainly depicting Prowl on a murderous rampage meltdown and for many this will make him a thoroughly unlikeable character. One must wonder where they are planning on taking this, especially with the effective removal of a well-loved Decepticon group, and if there will be any 'bad guys' left in the only comic of the two ongoings that fully involves characters that the purple-badge wearing fans have any interest in as Barber boldly wields the machete of character death with reckless abandon.
Fans of the bigger picture will appreciate this comic more than others, but with no clear story mapped out by the 4th issue, RiD is becoming an increasingly difficult read. Pick it up for the well scripted action scenes and enlightening character interactions, but be wary, whilst this is still of a higher standard than some of IDW’s previous runs, it is also still the weakest of the three series available.