For the uninitiated, the two series are IDW’s mainline “Generation 1” continuity series, unrelated to any of the tie-ins with the live-action movies, the Prime cartoon, the recent Fall of Cybertron video game, or their throwback series, Regeneration One. Basically, IDW’s cranking out lots and lots of Transformers books these days, and you’d be forgiven for having a hard time keeping track of what’s what.
Robots in Disguise began at the beginning of 2012 when IDW’s ongoing Transformers series ended the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and follows the trials and tribulations of those ‘bots trying to work out a peaceful existence on Cybertron alongside former enemies and a slew of neutral characters who returned when they heard the war was over. It has been a series of political entanglement and questionable morals, and really interesting for it, though some readers might find it a bit slow. This annual picks up a lot of recent plot threads, providing a few clues about the force that drove the Dinobots crazy in #7-#8 and introducing an interesting wrinkle in the ongoing political struggle between the uneasy triumvirate of Bumblebee, Starscream, and Metalhawk, in a meaty 40 pages of story, plus some obligatory extras at the back to pad out the annual a bit.
A good chunk of this issue is flashback – way back – executed as homage to Marvel’s Transformers series, which ran contemporary with the original cartoon and is responsible for establishing much of enduring Transformers mythology. Even the writing feels very 1980s Marvel, and the team on Robots in Disguise executes it well. Scripts of the first few flashback pages, included in the issue along with some art, reveal that even the panel layouts are throwbacks to the first issue of the Marvel series. On a side note, for my money, if you’re going to throw in these sorts of extras as part of annual content, scripts are a superb choice.
The Robots in Disguise Annual is, fundamentally, an extra-long issue of the main series; it does not stand on its own very well, and if you are trying to keep up with Robots in Disguise properly, you’ll be missing some major plot points if you don’t pick up the annual, as well. As an entry into what continues to be an interesting, less-shooting-more-brooding take on the Transformers franchise, it lays the groundwork for what is to come in some unexpected ways, and should find a space on the pull list of followers of Robots in Disguise.