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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gullickson

Song of the AllSpark: Appreciating Daniel Warren Johnson's 'Transformers'

With the sixth issue complete, we reflect on the Energon Universe's first Cybertron saga. Thank the Metal.


Transformers 6 Daniel Warren Johnson

Welcome to Serial Spoiler, our new recurring column in which we dissect a recent comic book storyline. You've been warned. Read Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers before venturing any further.

 

The AllSpark is not a thing in the Generation 1 Transformers cartoons. Michael Bay needed a MacGuffin to keep his first Transformers film simple, and AllSpark sounded legit enough. The original animated series mostly preoccupied itself with the Matrix of Leadership (the handle-barred orb residing in Optimus Prime's chest) until it finally unveiled the Quintesson alien race and their greedy path to Trans-Organic creation. However, after finishing Transformers 6, maybe we could incorporate the Cinematic device into our comic book canon. Or, at least, some version of it.


We've yet to read a Daniel Warren Johnson comic that keeps our cheeks dry. Murder Falcon, Beta Ray Bill, Do A Powerbomb! These books go for the heart and give it a proper squeeze. They're stories of connection, people seeing each other and finding wholeness as a result. Affirmation via Kaiju warfare and Deathlyfe tournaments. That's the DWJ trick: pulling the reader in with obvious, undeniable visual badassery and then giving them a monstrous hug they didn't even know they were craving.


Transformers' first page of its first issue (colored brilliantly, as always, by Mike Spicer) immediately connects Optimus Prime to Sparkplug "Sparky" Witwicky. It's five panels. We see military helicopters crossing a sunset, the Ark plunging toward Earth, Sparky atop a dying soldier, Optimus Prime broken and defeated, and a shuttle carrying Sparky's son Jimmy to his doom. In the captions, we hear Sparky's other son, Spike, commanding his father to "Wake up!"


With a wife and son in the ground, Sparky doesn't see much reason to spend time away from the bar. He's got a job and at least one friend in Davey, but he's haunted and self-medicating. On the second page, he balks when his youngest explains his plans to stargaze with Carly. Looking through the telescope reminds Spike of his brother, and Sparky can only respond, "Why would you want to remember?"


The cruelty being that Sparky's lost in remembering. It's how we meet him and how he pushes himself through the rest of the comic. Flashback panels refuse to stay away from the drunk, and it's only when he embraces their contents that he makes the decision to save the day. Even if it's one day, it's a day worth trading and an exchange he's been wanting to make for years, probably decades.


Transformers 6 Sparky and Prime
Image Credit © 2024 Skybound Entertainment

Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers: The Fallen


Optimus Prime awakens on Earth adrift. He barely remembers a time when war didn't ravage Cybertron, and now the conflict has taken him to a shockingly fragile planet populated with the tiniest of creatures. He doesn't witness Starscream obliterate poor Bumblebees' noggin, but he's there for Jetfire's slow demise, and his final words stab into Prime's optimism. "Is there any hope, Prime?" The Autobot leader can't even fake a response. He does not know.


The first Earthbound conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons is nonstop, frenzied, and chaotic. With Megatron rotting away somewhere (see Cobra Commander for details), Starscream desperately scrambles to make his claim as leader. He needs his soldiers up and at 'em and lots of Energon to do it. He might achieve leverage in the fight if he can cause enough violence and manipulate his opponent's empathy toward the squishy humans.


Every person he pops, though, creates a ripple, and in some cases, we're still waiting to witness the consequences in their totality. Real American hero Duke has his universal understanding forever altered after his encounter with Starscream—poor, poor Frosting. And Davey's demise pushes both his daughter Carly and his pal Sparky into an offensive.


Both humans want their share of blood. Carly hopes to get it riding shotgun with Cliffjumper, who also seeks revenge for his clan's death. Sparky relies on his training and collects a locked and loaded militia. He's a big proponent of shooting first and asking questions later, and such a philosophy quickly results in a stray bullet tagging Spike.

In what must be the narrative's defining moment (from Transformers issue 3), a one-armed Optimus Prime bends gently toward a fallen Spike and, in the process, imagines the dead deer he accidentally crushed when he first stepped off the Ark and onto Earth. The two panels of Spike and the deer, side by side, halt the reader. We're forced to sit in Prime's perspective, to consider how close life is to its end at all times.


Optimus Prime lifts the child into his cab, and Sparky continues his path with the gun, raising a pistol at the Autobot, screaming impotently. He knows no other options. Prime shows him another way. They can save Spike together.


Transformers 6 Deer
Image Credit © 2024 Skybound Entertainment

Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers: Jetfire Was Right


The choice to care is Optimus Prime's ultimate appeal. He sees us and is curious. More than curious, he's in awe of what makes us different from him, and that awe demands that he protect us and treat us as he would any member of his family. Sparky is baffled by Prime's reverence for humanity. In issue 4, he looks up at Prime and calls him a god. Prime responds that he could say the same thing about Sparky. Tallness doesn't interest the tall; smallness does, and how such "might" can come from it.


Starscream doesn't share the admiration. For him, bigger is better. Unable to take it over the top in his battle with the Autobots, he cannibalizes Skywarp's Energon and resurrects the Constructicons. Almost immediately, he gives them the order to merge into Devastator. Optimus Prime has upgraded himself with Megatron's arm cannon, but even such badass biological blasphemy surely cannot defeat the Decepticon's colossus.


Transformers 6, once again, opens with five panels connecting Sparky and Optimus Prime. The memory of Jimmy tells Sparky not to worry. We see Jimmy's shuttle mid-explosion. Sparky looks in horror. Prime drags Ratchet to safety. Devastator brings his gargantuan fist down upon the fleeing Autobots.


Prime cannot hold his own against the monster. When he's not dodging Devastator, he fends off Starscream's goons and shields Sparky from crossfire. Snatched, whipped, and dragged across the mountain, Optimus Prime is given his chance to contemplate his end. He's in Jetfire's seat, catastroph-fantasizing about a future without him, a future where he failed.


Despair swirls in his last words. "I am sorry," he says. "I thought we still had...hope. It's why I led us here, away from Cybertron. To find another way. But I see now Jetfire was right."


His last action is to pull the Matrix of Leadership from his chest and hand it off, but he dies before the relay, and the orb clangs on the ground. And here it is, where Sparky finds his fate. He is small, but he is mighty. He can turn the tide with a choice. Sparky does what Jimmy did, what his military comrades did, and what Spike did. He puts himself in a place where another could fall. He trades his life for hope, for a future for others.


Transformers 6 Arm Rip
Image Credit © 2024 Skybound Entertainment

Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers: Til All Are One


By stepping into the Matrix, Sparky Witwicky becomes life. He's all the spark that is required, the embodiment of faith that this alien will protect what he holds dearest. Human and Autobot become one. There is no difference between them. There never was, and there never will be.


Optimus Prime roars into action, and you know the song that plays to his Devastator beatdown. He's got the touch. He's got the power. Yeah!


We wait for the next chapter in Daniel Warren Johnson's Transformers. Issue seven will see him step away from art duties, passing that blessing to The Me You Love in the Dark's Jorge Corona. We have zero doubts about whether or not the artist will deliver.


In the final panel of the first arc, Spike escapes his coma. How will he react to his father's decision? Will he look upon Optimus Prime and see his dad? Or will Spike resent Prime for being there in his dad's place?


Both Spike and Carly are now fatherless. They seemingly teetered upon a romantic relationship before the Ark swallowed them up. Returning to that state will likely prove impossible. Carly's final moments in the first storyline saw her disappointment in Cliffjumper, who failed to pull the trigger on Starscream, ending his sniveling tyranny. She's still looking for a choice, an action.


The kids have many reasons to be angry, but anger is not the destination Daniel Warren Johnson strives toward. His love for Optimus Prime beats through every page of Transformers, and that love grows from hope. Optimus Prime is as bright as he is strong. He looks around, and he sees wonder, and that wonder has touched him. Prime lives because of it. He has the AllSpark; he is the AllSpark.

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