Prisoner of War

The Decepticons have made Sparkplug Witwicky their ‘Prisoner of War’ and put him to work converting earth fuels for their consumption. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of the lesser-seen character Gears… and the Amazing Spider-Man himself!

Generally, I’m not a fan of crossovers. They usually stretch the realms of credibility (even for comics) and feel super contrived. All too often they fail to match up to the hype, for example the 2007 Avengers vs Transformers, though GI Joe and the Transformers arguably had some success in marrying their two properties. While Prisoner of War and the Last Stand (which features the Savage Land) establishes The Transformers as part of the Marvel universe, the two will shortly diverge and remain separate for the rest of the comic’s seven year run.

On paper there’s no reason that Spider-Man and the Transformers should make comfortable bedfellows but incredibly it works! In fact, this is one of my favourite stories from the early years. It has humour, much improved art – Frank Springer is hitting his stride and now drawing the bots more like their cartoon forms rather than the toys – and the action is fast paced and exciting. Fans of Spider-man will not be disappointed and may also be encouraged to continue picking up The Transformers, which is of course the publisher’s intention. Marvel is pulling out the big guns in the form of their most prominent superhero to give the TF comic a big boost at this point.

The action picks up where the previous story left off, with Starscream having abducted Sparkplug in the midst of a battle with the Autobots in the Witwicky auto yard. The humour rolls from the start with Sparkplug protesting to be let out and Starscream pointing out that at the altitude they are travelling at this be most unwise! They arrive at the Fortress Sinister, which has been constructed in super quick time by the Decepticons from machinery they salvaged from the Harrison Nuclear Plant only the previous issue.

Sparkplug is informed by Megatron that he will make fuel for their cause or die. He realises that, for all of their advanced technology, the Decepticons are out of their element when it comes to adapting to a more primitive world such as Earth. Cue another laugh-out-loud moment where Sparkplug, having rattled off his rank like when he was previously a Korean prisoner of war, is hoist upside down by an impatient Megatron!

As before Starscream’s actions are shown to be highly political. He exploits his role in capturing the human as a showcase for his suitability to command. Megatron praises him but thought bubbles reveal he is biding his time to deal with this would-be assassin. In fact that reckoning will come, but only for UK audiences in Simon Furman’s debut story for
The Autobots are really on the backfoot at this point. After their exertions in battle they are dangerously low on fuel and can barely make the return journey to the Ark (sending a motorcycle traffic careering off the road with the ‘there’s no-one driving’ recurring gag). Prime orders that several Autobots including himself are refuelled, including Gears, who will feature prominently in the rest of the story.

Laserbeak’s shows off his precision eye beams to put the heat on Sparkplug, who agrees to cooperate. Obtaining a lab and a gasoline source is a small matter for the Decepticons, who demonstrate that they have the size, ability and power to take literally anything they want.
The US army massing outside the Fortress Sinister is the response you would expect if alien robots showed up on Earth, so it is a little strange how everyone is content to leave the building alone once its abandoned in subsequent issues. Naturally word of alien arrival is a major media story too and this provides an opportunity Spider-Man’s alter-ego, press photographer Peter Parker to be dispatched to the scene.

Unsurprisingly the military is no match for a Decepticon aerial onslaught and are soon driven back. Gears, now refuelled, arrives to observe and, after transforming to robot mode, is tackled by Spider-Man. He proves his good intentions by catching a tank that has been propelled in the direction of a group of humans by Skywarp. Again, we’re treated to a fun skirmish between the Autobots and Decepticon troops, with Sunstreaker taking out Skywarp with a missile, and Brawn punching out Rumble before succumbing to Frenzy’s sonic power.

The eye-catching cover to Transformers US issue #3 featuring Spidey
The eye-catching cover to Transformers US issue #3 featuring Spidey

The cantankerous Gears and wise-cracking Spider-Man form an unlikely double act. They really rub off well as they maraud their way through the Decepticon HQ dispatching a series of foes with lively humour throughout. This issue is a great platform for Gears, though sadly he would be destined to fade into the background again under successive writers. The cover of the US edition features Megatron being webbed by Spider-Man. This actually happens (it’s always good when covers depict actual events in the story rather than an exaggeration) as Spidey and Gears infiltrate Megatron’s command centre. Of course, the webbing is insufficient to bind the mighty Decepticon leader. He promptly and blasts a hole in the floor to dispatch the intruders. Spider-Man catches Sparkplug with a line of webbing, but the heavier Gears falls seemingly to his doom!

Later, Gears recovers under Ratchet’s auspices just long enough to deliver the devastating news that Megatron ‘got what he wanted’ from Sparkplug. Awkward. It’s another great cliff hanger that ramps up the tension with Autobots now majorly disadvantaged in this war.

A couple of other things of note: Ratchet’s mention of a discovery in the Ark’s memory banks will prove majorly significant in the next issue, and Prime, interestingly, doesn’t feature much at all in this issue. Though early in the series the writers are already confident enough to put more minor characters like Gears forward, or perhaps it was easier with Spider-Man providing the big name draw. This story will be the first and only time a Marvel hero or villain appears in Transformers. From here on the super-powered guest stars will be home grown, in the form of Circuit Breaker, the Neo Knights and The Mechanic.

TF UK #6 has a Megatron fact file and a feature on Sieve Head, a robot from Saturday Superstore (a kids TV show of the era). A reader writes in to demand a Transformers annual and is told that one is in the pipeline for 1985 – a sign perhaps that even at this early stage Marvel UK had realised it had a long-term success on its hands.

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