‘Revolution’ #1 And The Challenge Of Building A Foundation [Review]
More than anything else I can think of in recent memory, IDW's Revolution is a comic book that suffers from the crushing weight of expectations. In a lot of respects, it's also the easiest sell to come down the pike in a long while, taking most of Hasbro's toy properties --- with the notable exceptions of My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, and Dungeons & Dragons --- and combining them all into a single universe, bookending it all with the return of Rom, the Space Knight. The thing is, in doing that, it's not only attempting to create a new foundation for a shared universe that will involve all of those properties interacting with each other and also pursuing their own storylines, it's competing with everyone who grabbed two different action figures at once and banged them together as a kid.
That puts a ton of pressure on Cullen Bunn, John Barber, Fico Ossio, Sebastian Cheng, and Tom B. Long, but they've found a pretty elegant solution: Just straight up overloading the reader with action in a first issue that opens with a mountain exploding and ends with one of the more surprising deaths in recent memory.
Even on that front, though, they're dealing with some pretty stiff competition. Revolution and its big, world-shattering crossover comes hot on the heels of Transformers vs. GI Joe, which is arguably not only the greatest comic to ever have that premise, but probably the best comic that it is possible to make with that premise. No matter what Revolution brings to the table, it's going to be working in that shadow --- especially given that its premise is based around the Transformers more or less invading Earth, and all of the other factions starting off arrayed against them.
Admittedly, Optimus Prime isn't quite invading. From the Transformers' point of view, they're basically heading to Earth on a humanitarian (cybertronitarian?) mission that's designed to raise Earth up into the larger galactic community and keep us from being a vulnerable target. The problem, of course, is that the last time the Transformers came to Earth, it was an invasion force led by Megatron that resulted in something like a billion casualties, and that's the sort of thing that tends to leave people with a little bit of anger.
Incidentally, Megatron is now an Autobot, and for the people of Earth, that pretty much just means that he and Optimus Prime are now on the same side. Throw in the fact that Earth is also host to a Cybertronian superfuel called Ore-13 --- which has been at the center of Transformers stories over the past few years --- and it's not difficult for anyone who's looking to find an ulterior motive for Earth's new truckish overlords.
And on top of that, there's an actual alien invasion going on from the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths, which has brought the cybernetic (but not Cybertronian) Rom the Space Knight into the story. Those are the central conflicts that we have going on here at the start of things --- and that's only half of the players we have on the stage. Action Man's in there, too, and MASK and the Micronauts haven't even shown up yet.
But even though it's missing that crucial Matt Trakker element that really got me excited --- because seriously, I've wanted MASK to be a canonical part of the GI Joe universe for as long as I've wanted Rom to make his return to comics --- Revolution is by no means a slow build. And that's what makes it work.
With the combination of franchises that have been completely distinct from each other up to this point, there's a real temptation to just set aside a few pages to explain how it all fits together. You could even argue that it's necessary, if only to make sure that readers are all on the same page --- if you've only been following GI Joe, odds are pretty good that you have no idea what Ore-13 is, and if you're just showing up because you've heard that MASK is coming back, you may not have any interest in Rom and the Dire Wraiths, or the context necessary to know what's going on with him. But here in this first issue, that explanation never comes.
Part of that, I'm sure, is because a lot of that groundwork was laid down back in Barber and Ossio's Free Comic Book Day issue --- which, it should be noted, is conveniently reprinted at the end of #1. But the fact remains that in the main story itself, all of that exposition has been replaced by action.
This is a story that moves, and in that respect, it feels like exactly what you want it to be --- that same banging-the-toys-together idea that some readers have had in mind since they were kids is right there on the page, and while we've seen the Transformers go up against the Joes a couple dozen times over the past 30 years, having Rom take on Scarlett, or sending the relatively unknown Action Man on the trail of a conspiracy that goes right to the top of the newly established Hasbroverse? That's new stuff, stuff that we haven't seen before, and it's all driven by action.
When you get right down to it, though, that's the easy part, and in a lot of first issues, simply dropping characters into fights that they have been legally forbidden from having for at least two decades would've been enough. But while that exposition is never front-loaded into the script itself, it's still there, informing the action and shaping what happens around it. It's a book that lets you know what's going on through conversations that make sense, through characters who are called on to justify their actions --- and when they can't justify them, that just leads to more of the conflicts that drive the story.
And really, that's what's more important. The big appeal of the crossover is great for this series, and the twists and turns that lead to the unexpected death that caps off the first issue are absolutely ticking off the boxes of what readers expect from a Big Event and making for an extremely compelling read. But if Revolution is going to fulfill its promise of laying down a foundation for an entire line of comics to build on as we go forward, there has to be strong structure underneath all that action. And Revolution #1 delivers.