Transformers: Evolutions Hearts of Steel Paperback – Jan 9 2007
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Some of the weaknesses are minor even though the mistakes themselves are obvious: for example, the Decepticons never use flying technology and the entire plot is based on them building a railroad line and reaching New York City in their "Astrotrain", thus tapping the electricity that has just begun production.
More severe is the lack of character development: of the Transformers characters, only Bumblebee and Starscream are written in such a way that we can identify with their motives and characters. The humans get a slightly better treatment although even the main human, John Henry, a railroad builder befriended by the Autobots, does little other than be a noble character. The story ends very abruptly with no real wrap-up.
Given the promise of the original premise, I hope we see more series like this in the future, but Chuck Dixon is probably not the right person to write them. Machines that transform into robots are not enough to make a story: the Transformers have always been popular because writers managed to breathe life into them. A change of century alone won't do it.
Upon finishing the comic I am left... mixed in feeling. On the one hand, it's a great concept with good artwork. On the other hand, it feels badly mishandled and rushed, with an ending that leaves me feeling as if the story was left unfinished.
"Hearts of Steel," as stated beforehand, is an alternate universe continuity that has the Transformers waking up in the late 19th century instead of the modern day. As such, our favorite giant robots don't turn into cars or planes, but trains, steam drills, ironclad warships, and old-fashioned (if somewhat anachronistic) flying machines. On the heroes' side, Bumblebee ventures out of hiding to befriend railroad worker John Henry... while on the villian's side, a down-on-his-luck inventor has a chance encounter with Shockwave and becomes the Decepticons' unwitting pawn. Soon it becomes a race against time as Bumblebee, Henry, the young inventor, and Mark Twain (yes, THAT Mark Twain) struggle to stop the Decepticons, led by Starscream and a greedy railroad tycoon, from reaching New York City and launching a takeover.
The comic's greatest strength is the artwork. I LOVE the new designs for some of our favorite characters -- who knew Transformers would look so good rendered in steampunk manner? Starscream and Shockwave in particular look fantastic in their new designs, with the former looking almost bat-like in appearance and the latter decked out like a Civil-War-era ironclad warship. The Autobots look good as well, each outfitted to turn into a locomotive or train car. We also get tantalizing glimpses of how Optimus Prime and Megatron might have looked in this new universe in a "bonus feature" section in the back of the book, which shows concept art and design sheets for many of the characters. And the entire look of the book feels "old-timey," with gray and sepia tones that give the entire thing an aged feel that fits the story.
Sadly, the book feels like "style over substance," with great art but a substandard story to go with it. Character development goes out the window in favor of confusing chase scenes and overcomplicated intrigue, and at times it feels as if there are pages missing as the plot jumps from one scene to another with little transition. The climax in particular feels rushed and ridiculous -- shouldn't the Decepticons, whose greatest strength was their ability to fly, have a better way of getting to New York City than by train? (Evidently the book's ending WAS rushed, as the comic was cancelled and had to be squeezed into four issues instead of the planned six... and sadly this shows.) And of the Transformer characters, only Bumblebee, Starscream, and Shockwave get any sort of characterization -- everyone else is just for show, it feels.
Also, don't go into this book expecting to see steampunk Optimus Prime and Megatron in action -- we only get one glimpse of an in-stasis Optimus Prime, and Megatron is only mentioned in passing. We see potential designs for both characters in the back of the book, but that's it. And frankly, that left me feeling rather cheated.
The binding of the book also bears merit -- it fell apart after a few months. IDW comics in general seem to have weak binding, and I wish they would address this issue. Some of us actually read our comics...
I can't complain too much, I suppose -- the art is pretty to look at, and it was awesome seeing old-fashioned, steampunk looks to some of my favorite Transformers. That, and Mark Twain fights Ravage at one point. And it's as ridiculously cool as it sounds.
All in all, this wasn't a terrible comic, but it's probably only one that will interest hardcore Transformer fans. A newcomer to the franchise will most likely be lost reading this, though I'm sure they'll still appreciate the character designs.
P.S. Hasbro, where's our Hearts of Steel toys? You're missing the boat here...
More than half of the story is wonderful. About the last third however the book totally runs out of steam (bam, did it again). It's right around the time the character referred to the whole book as "Mr. Twain" is introduced to another supporting character as "Sam Clemens" then is referred to more times as "Mr. Twain". I assume that must have been some type of editorial error.
There are a number of times the art seems out of step with the script. Like the penciler didn't know a character was saying something bravely and drew a timid expression on the speakers face.
I could probably complain about inconsistencies in the plot but truthfully I really kind of lost track of who was trying to do what. The "climax" of the story had me flipping back and wondering if I had missed the page that explains what the hell happened.
The coloring of the book (or lack of) is so dark I found myself squinting and wondering why the whole story takes place in the middle of the night. I don't understand why the book uses so much greyscale instead of color. They describe Bumblebee as being yellow a couple of times. Would it have killed anyone to actually make him yellow?
Ironically, the book is printed and bound on the nicest paper I've ever seen. The book just feels expensive. The cover has a multilayer gloss effect that's marvelous. Also, the book features a thick "extras" section with sketches and concept art. All of which is quite a bit cooler than what they decided to put in the book.
All in all I really get the feeling that the book was a great opportunity that was just mismanaged. Enough money or time or something else was not provided to make this the great story it could have been.
This is similar to the G.I.Joe crossover so well done by Dreamwave in recent years before their bankruptcy. Alternate timeline Transformers is, fortunately, here to stay.
This book has a good setup, plot, great choice of characters, and good art you can clearly see (my one problem with the Dreamwave Joe book is it is cast mostly in shadow, though also a good choice at times). It is short of course but given four issues to tell the story was a bit of a rush. The true failing of this book is the lack of an ending. It ends abruptly with no explanation of what happens between the last page and the page before it. If you can look past that and just watch the neat new versions of classic 'bots, you'll do just fine.