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Apr 16

Review: Windblade #1

TF_Windblade01_cvrAIt was kind of a given that I’d like Windblade #1. With Mairghread Scott and Sarah Stone making it the first Transformers comic outside of fanzines and message boards with an all-female creative team, with it introducing a new female Transformer who’s not only pushing IDW to diversify their cast but pushing Hasbro to diversify their toyline as well, it would have taken some epic blunders for me to dislike it.

Despite all it has going for it, Windblade could have still been as mediocre as so many other comics on the shelves today and in the past decade. It could have been a great idea bogged down with a bland story and muddy, unreadable art. It could have failed to hold a candle to the other excellent Transformers comics currently running, More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise. It could have challenged my desire, my need to like it.

I’m happy to say that’s not at all the case.

Spoilers ahoy!

Windblade #1 isn’t our very first introduction to the character, but it’s our first chance to get a real feel for her. When she appeared in the latter half of “Dark Cybertron” as one of a trio of ostensibly female Transformers, her personality came across as little more than “the serious one”–it was Nautica, easily the most extroverted of the trio and therefore best suited to stand out in an ensemble cast, who stole the show. It’s not unreasonable for a quiet new character like Windblade to get a little lost in the middle of a story about dozens of characters thrown into a massive, universe-threatening event. But here we finally get a chance to know her.

Given a whole mini-series with Windblade’s name on it, writer Mairghread Scott gets to define this new character with all the sharp, immersive focus of a Spotlight story. We see the character fully for the first time: Serious because of the burden of her role as the Cityspeaker for the last habitable place on Cybertron, troubled and frustrated because of the constant maintenance problems that Metroplex can only explain cryptically at best in a language only she can even attempt to understand, and ultimately terrified and vulnerable as her ideals, her faith in the basic decency of others, are broken.

All of those elements make for a likable, relatable, interesting character. Windblade is a rare character in Transformers fiction not just because she’s female, but because she’s a civilian, and it’s that latter element that really comes into play here. Her home of Caminus was founded by Cybertronians who left the planet before the Autobot/Decepticon rift, and while she describes her homeword as “struggling”, it’s clear she hasn’t lived the kind of soldier’s life we’re used to reading about. Camiens–who it’s implied simply adopted gender as part of their culture in their time away from their homeworld–fought to survive, but not against each other. They clearly practiced martial arts, but there’s a massive difference between a competitive martial arts mentality and genuine warfare. Their leaders rose to their positions through at least some degree of merit and the survival of the community was of paramount importance.

She’s not ready for Starscream.

The fact that it takes most of the issue for her to comprehend just how terrible Starscream is isn’t a commentary on the pace of the story, but on the depths of Windblade’s innocence. It is so inconceivable to her that Cybertron’s leader could be that utterly corrupt that it takes an entire bar of people on both sides of the old red/purple divide and, finally, an assassination attempt for her to truly accept it. And while the conflict isn’t presented as overtly gendered, Starscream’s abuse echoes every man who has ever tried to emotionally tear down a woman to get what he wants. He envies her power over Metroplex, power that she attained not out of ambition but out of a religious calling, and so he blames her for failures that are out of her control–failures that, by the end of the issue, are almost certainly caused by Starscream himself. He is actively undermining not only the public’s confidence in her but her own self-confidence as well. And she is so unaccustomed to such vile behavior that, for a while, she even believes him. And while none of this is presented as having anything to do with gender, it’s a sickeningly universal story boiled down to two individual characters in a sexless robot race. It hits home, hard. Whether personally, professionally, online, in our own fandom…how many women haven’t dealt with someone like him?

Having her friend-slash-bodyguard Chromia along helps to keep Windblade from feeling like a token character. Though Chromia is also Camien, she’s sturdier in body and spirit, and she distrusts Starscream from the start. Her seemingly complicated feelings about Ironhide, whose self-searching exploration of the Titan has made him a useful resource for Windblade, are a nice little callback to her original G1 cartoon appearance. I don’t want the introduction of multiple female Transformers to also force heteronormativity on the setting, but characters reacting emotionally to one another is always nice to see.

Ah, and art! I’ve apologized before for my meager discussions of art in my reviews, but never specifically to Sarah Stone, so let me confess again that it’s my own limitation – I can’t art to save my life, so while I can write for days about plotting and characterization, my thoughts on art tend to boil down to “Pretty pictures yaaaaay!” But her art is absolutely gorgeous here. There’s always a concern with a new artist from whom we’ve primarily seen only pin-ups and character designs that they may not have the best grasp on sequential storytelling, but Windblade #1 puts any doubts of that to rest. Her art is both beautiful and easy to read. It stands out from the other series’ regulars, Andrew Griffith and Alex Milne, whose art is excellent but not as highly stylized. Stone colors her own art with a painted feel over limited line-work, and that paired with her character designs is pure eye candy. It’s a bold look that carves its own distinct place in the history of Transformers art alongside Derrick Wyatt and Geoff Senior.

Windblade #1 is a story with the narrative intimacy of John Barber’s RiD and the emotional depth of James Roberts’ MTMTE, with art that stands apart from everything else. I find myself hoping in its aftermath that Windblade can make it through the other side with some of her innate decency intact. I may be a little smitten.
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