This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Transformers brand, and as part of the celebratory push, Hasbro launched a poll last year for the first fan-designed Transformers character. This new character would be added into the long-running IDW comics line, complete with an introductory miniseries, and be made into a figure in the Transformers Generations anniversary series. Through a series of separate polls, fans voted on the faction, alternate mode, weapon, gender, color-scheme, function, and name of their new collective character. The final result of all those small elections was Windblade, a female Autobot jet wielding a giant purple energy sword. Shortly afterwards, the Windblade miniseries was announced as one of the titles to pick up the pieces after the lengthy “Dark Cybertron” crossover between the main Transformers titles, with Mairghread Scott, a member of the Transformers: Prime writing staff, at the helm, with Sarah Stone handling the art.
Windblade kicked off this April, to great reviews, by introducing us fully to Windblade: an off-worlder from a long-forgotten colony of Cybertronians who’s stayed behind after the fall-out of “Dark Cybertron” to help with the reconstruction efforts. Windblade is a city-speaker, one of the few Transformers who can communicate with the Metrotitans, massive Transformers whose alternate modes form entire metropolises. More specifically, she speaks with Metroplex, the oldest Titan, who currently forms Cybertron’s only unleveled city. She endeavors to repair the injured behemoth, damaged, battered, and aged to the point that his health is rapidly fading, before it’s too late. Her main obstacle is Starscream, the untrusting and untrustworthy leader of post-war Cybertron.
As for a review of the comic itself, the art is gorgeous. Sarah Stone works an astonishing amount of emotion into these metal faces, everything reads clearly, the colors are bright and bold, the panels get appropriately hectic during the action, and the colors go extra intense during the suspenseful parts. The plot itself is a fairly standard whodunit, which may disappoint many, but it’s mostly a vehicle for a character interaction piece anyway. And the characters themselves are very well-done. Ms. Scott’s work on the Transformers: Prime show and comics definitely shows with Starscream. His well-received Prime incarnation receives a partial reprise here, with a Starscream in power, whose whispered and implied threats are delicately bone-chilling. Starscream always works best when relying on his silver tongue, and that’s on full display here. Windblade herself, by contrast, is naïve. She’s bold, but she’s inexperienced enough to believe the best even of Starscream. Her interactions with her more aggressive and cynical partner/bodyguard/best friend Chromia are a joy to watch. The other minor sideplayers only get a few lines of dialogue each, but they all make an impression, with a gag based on two separate toys being named Tankor being especially fun.
But aside from how good it is (pretty good, y’all), Windblade is an important book for the Transformers franchise. Ever since the start, Transformers women have been extremely rare and, by and large, terrible. Nightbird, the first one to ever appear, was a remote controlled ninja who existed mainly to drive a jealousy wedge between Starscream and Megatron. Generation 1 Arcee, probably the most famous one, existed just to fulfill the Princess Leia role of flirting with the male leads. There have been some exceptions over the past 30 years (Beast Wars Airrazor, Prime Arcee, and anyone named Blackarachnia in particular) but they’re too few considering how lengthy the franchise is and how many hundreds of characters it contains.
Until introducing the characters for Windblade, the IDW continuity itself had only one female character, Arcee, with the stupendously offensive origin of a mad scientist forcibly trans-gendering a “non-gendered” Transformer just to see what happened. And of course being a woman made her insane and prone to fits of violent hysteria. How progressive. Part of this has to do with the general Transformers fandom’s odd hang-ups about gender. Even ignoring the ones who just wanna sex up some robots (which is fine, if that’s your thing) there’s a huge segment that gets outraged every time a female character is introduced because they don’t see why giant alien truck robots would even have genders. To them I say two things: 1) Transformers is as far from ‘hard’ sci-fi as you can get, don’t be so serious about it. 2) Every single other Transformer is clearly male. They use male pronouns, they behave with typically male behavior, in shows and films they have male voices: they’re male, alright? They’re not some default nongender robot thing. They’re male, and male is a gender. What they do not have, unless Optimus is hiding a titanium turbo-dong behind those headlights, is a sex. But they already have gender, and if you accept that Megatron is a guy, then accepting that Arcee is a girl shouldn’t be any more difficult.
Windblade, as a character, is a solid, multi-dimensional character who manages to avoid the typical Strong Female Character archetype who always spouts Whedon-style witticisms and kicks people and also has a great butt. She falters, she makes mistakes, she misjudges. But she always keeps pressing forward; she’s resourceful, clever, and brave. Too many writers make their “strong female characters” flawless and perfect, but that’s not a problem here. There’s nothing stereotypical about Windblade or Chromia, nor is there anything so deliberately unstereotypical that it kind of ends up stereotypical anyway.
The Windblade series is also an important milestone from an out-of-universe perspective, as it’s not only the first female creative team in thirty years of Transformers comics, but the first mainline Transformers comic to be written by a woman as well. This is a major step for the franchise, and considering most of the past thirty years has been written by the same guy, hired in turn by every single company to have the license or people who grew up reading him, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air. Even outside the franchise, a female creative team is a rare thing. It’s growing more common every week, but it’s still far from being equal. With half of comic readers being women and girls, it’s important that they have teams like this to show them that they can get into this industry. Locking them out cuts out half the new stories that can be told and half the new characters we can meet, and no one wants that. So read Windblade. Give feedback on it. Encourage more comics that are this gorgeous and fun. Encourage more female creators. Encourage more really cool action figures.
Overall, Windblade represents a strong move forward for a franchise that can often get stuck in its own past. They’re a bright, beautiful, change for the better, and as fans of The Transformers, isn’t that the one thing we’re all in favor of?
Change. (?before your eyes?)