Raiders of the Last Ark

I’m tempted to say the best thing about ‘Raiders of the Last Ark’ is the title. That’s not quite fair as the story does have some good moments. In general though, Transformers UK comic is treading water at this point with two months still to go before the sequel to the US story ‘The Last Stand’ lands.

Once again Simon Furman is on writer duties – this is only his second Transformers story in fact, so if it’s a little underwhelming that is perhaps understandable (he’s still finding his feet). Though I think the problem is more about the reduced format which is spreading stories thinly over twice as many issues. It increases the pressure on those smaller instalments to pack more punch.

I read elsewhere (via Stuart Webb’s excellent and entertaining blog) that the plan had been for Steve Parkhouse and Furman to alternate, but Parkhouse quit Marvel and they obviously decided to pad the comics out with more filler (i.e. poor backup strips) rather than double Furman’s workload.

The story’s title derives (obviously) from the 1981 Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, whose sequel The Temple of Doom was released in June 1984 around a year before this comic hit the shelves. Last Ark follows on directly from the events of The Enemy Within, and sees the Decepticons thirsty for revenge and launch a surprise assault on the Autobot base, the Ark.

First we have a re-telling of the familiar events which brought the Transformers to Earth – the Autobots went into space aboard the Ark only for the Decepticons to board the ship and attack – only there’s a twist. We knew Optimus Prime put the ship on collision course with the Earth but we now learn that the Ark’s computer core ‘Auntie’ presented Prime with this option, having assessed this as the best way to win.

History now repeats itself as the Decepticons gather atop of Mount St Hillary and again breach the Ark’s hull. Laserbeak and Buzzsaw are first in and surprise the unprepared Autobots. Prime literally disintegrates Laserbeak with his laser rifle before (uncharacteristically) berating his troops for their ineptness and orders them to arm up. Laserbeak will be back soon enough, but to see the damage he takes here, its hard to see how. The poor guy is literally in pieces!

Some very average art of the two armies doing battle is lifted for TFUK#18’s cover, which seems kind of lazy but is the custom for the comic at this time. We find out Soundwave’s armour and weaponry are the more effective in battle against Jazz – but Sideswipe is physically superior to Rumble. Windcharger versus is Ravage is a more interesting contest. Windcharger deploys his unbelievably powerful magnetic powers, launching his opponent some distance. But Ravage can manipulate electro-magnetic fields (usually to avoid detection) and in this case can counter Windcharger’s ability. This is an early hint that these two will be central characters in this story (in fact, this is pretty much Windcharger’s only moment in the spotlight as he’ll be a background character for the rest of the comic’s run).

Part two sees Prime step away from the battle to attempt to reactivate Auntie and her powerful defences. Interestingly, until now the Autobots have relied on basic computer functions. We don’t know why this is and I would speculate its possibly connected to their lack of power/fuel situation. Megatron, sensing Optimus is up to something, follows him and blasts a hole in the computer screen. It’s enough to ensure that when Auntie wakes – her huge golden holographic face filling the room – it’s quite an entrance!

Her power within the Ark is incredible and the fighting Transformers are suddenly magnetised helplessly to the walls as Auntie puts its defence procedures into operation. In her damaged state, Auntie seems to have morphed into Hal from 2001 crossed with Judge Judy – she remarks oddly that “nobody built her” and thus no loyalties any longer, but she will decide the Transformers’ fates after hearing both arguments.

In part 3 we learn that Ravage and Windcharger are immune to Auntie’s magnetism and have had to form an ‘unholy alliance’. Neither is particularly happy at teaming up with the other, which I think makes for a fun dynamic. Ravage expertly avoids a field of lasers (he’s showing off now) and then disables the weapon. The pair are then attacked by electricity and momentarily subdued.

Elsewhere, the trial is not going well for both leaders. Optimus manages to convince Megatron that Auntie will destroy them both unless she is shut down. Perhaps Windcharger and Ravage can get to her core? We then get another significant moment as Auntie deploys her ‘last line of defence’, the muscle-bound bruiser known as Guardian!

The Ark’s bouncer – he certainly looks like he can do some damage. Sadly not on this occasion as Windcharger is able to defeat him fairly easily in Part 4 – quite a disappointment, but perhaps inevitable given the constraints on page count. It will not be until Furman’s sequel story Wrath of Guardian that we’ll see the full potential of this opponent (cue hundreds of letters to the comic asking what Guardian transforms into – the answer is nothing, he’s a droid used for menial tasks and defence).

For the first of only two occasions in the comic, Megatron draws on his rare and incredibly unstable ability to summon anti-matter from a black hole, in an attempt to escape Auntie’s magnetic clutches. It isn’t necessary as Ravage pounces into the computer core and destroys Auntie. Both factions are released and Windcharger generates the largest magnetic field he can muster to repel Megatron through the Ark’s roof and into the sky. At this point you’re thinking Windcharger must be the most powerful Autobot ever, until his systems overload. Even so you wonder why he’s so little used going forward.

Later Optimus Prime says prophetically that the Decepticons will be back (which leads us nicely back to the shocking events of The Last Stand, which is continuing next issue). Given the long hiatus the UK comic reprints that gob-smacking last page of TLS with Shockwave blasting the surviving Autobots. The stage is set for the most eagerly awaited continuation in the comic’s short history at this point.

Other things to mention: The Transformers are still being drawn to their toy forms with sometimes comical effect, such as Megatron with a trigger for a waist. There’s a back page advert for the Decepticon jets which has the names all mixed up. Dirge is captioned as Starscream, Ramjet is called Dirge and Starscream is called Ramjet! What a mess. It looks like the person who prepared the ad didn’t have the first clue. The fans spotted it though and I seem to remember a letter being published in Soundwaves (the name for the letters page from TFUK#22) to rub it in!

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