If you've been watching the great animated series Transformers Prime on Ye Olde Hub, you may get a weirdly distorted image in your mind about who Wheeljack is if it's your only exposure to the Transformers pantheon. On that show, Wheeljack is a hard-bitten battle-tested lone-wolf super-soldier badass (or badaft, if you want to get into robo-parlance) who swaggers like a cowboy and does crazy ninja tricks with swords. It's hands down the most inexplicable character choice made on that show, because that is so not what Wheeljack is supposed to be, and it so IS what about 50 other Autobots ARE supposed to be.
Thankfully, writer John Barber knows the real deal in Transformers: Robots In Disguise #3, and gives us the Wheeljack we love – the egghead trying to figure out how to solve everybody's problems, and not always doing the best job of it – and the guy who was cool because his ear-things lit up when he talked. On the old G1 TV show, he was the mad scientist who created the Dinobots, and subsequently got a lot of crap for how dumb they were. In the more serious setting of TF: RID, though, he's tasked with figuring out why the newly reborn planet Cybertron is having growing pains that result in sudden, massive, fatal explosions on its surface randomly. Not an easy thing to do when the tensions in the tenuous post-war society breeds suspicion that the detonations are part of a Decepticon plot – revenge for the ruthless Autobot Prowl covering up his assassination of Decepticon figurehead Ratbat (as part of thwarting a coup attempt, to be fair) by labeling it a suicide – which nobody believes.
While Wheeljack is trying to navigate this problem, we also see Starscream thriving in his element – weaving webs of lies and playing one side against the other to better his own standing and make himself indispensible. So often, he's depicted as the snivelling coward to Megatron's stern authority, but with Megs out of the picture for the forseeable future, it's going to be the Starscream show going forward, and he's all about being deliciously cunning – and the best part is that we never know where his true loyalties lie, beyond to himself. He could be telling the truth, and he could actually be working towards the greater good, and we'll trust him just about as much as the Autobots do. By the end of this issue, Bumblebee – or "King Bee" as he's been nicknamed to his chagrin – has to let him into the provisional government, and as soon as he's in, Starscream rubs it in his face that he's likely going to regret it in a very backhandedly honest way – and truth be told, he already does, thanks to the Aerialbots being none too happy with that call.
This is good stuff.
I keep saying this, but it's true. Transformers comics right now are the best they've ever been. They're dense, they're full of complex plotting, the characters are compelling, the agendas are intriguing and there's just so much going on that you want to read and re-read each issue to make sure you're catching everything. Barber is keeping up greatly with the breakneck pace set by James Roberts over in TF: More Than Meets The Eye, juggling a huge cast of characters with aplomb. Andrew Griffith's art is fantastic as well, and he even manages to give Wheeljack some glow-ear action, too.
Long live IDW's Transformers universe. This stuff is great, and again, not just 'great for Transformers.' These are great comics, period.