I'm a well read grad student who's bluntly honest about all things, although I try to be most honest about myself.
The art is better. Not crazy about Bendan Cahill, but a good chunk is done by Livio Ramondelli or Guido Guidi. I'm more fond of them.
Buuut... the writing? This is where I find it to be weakest - at least so far - in this series. I'm just not crazy about the annual, which goes back and forth in time. Yes, it ties into the ongoing side story with Orion Pax and Wheelie, and yes, it reflects what's going on in real time, or at least somewhat ties into the political discord. It's just not enough of a tie-in for me, and has left me sort of cold both times I've read it.
It's not as gleefully done, not as bright as the rest of Barber's work. I'd probably be less hard on it if I hadn't seen how brilliant the rest of Barber's work is; it's only a let down in comparison. The truth is it's a fairly solid story, it's just missing something, some spark, that the rest of the stories have.
And again, I find the first Pax-centered story boring - Orion Pax/Optimus Prime has never been my favorite Cybertronian - and I don't really get what it's doing there, at least not yet. I'm pretty sure it's laying some ground for Dark Cybertron, but it doesn't work for me, at least not yet.
I'll soldier on, however, especially as I've read number four so I know I'll like that one.