Two decades before Simon Furman’s War Within prequels made Cybertron’s early years cool – came this first attempt in the 1985 Transformers Annual. It marks a turning point in the Transformers’ civil war, where one individual stepped forward to make a difference.
And There Shall Come a Leader, written by Simon Furman and with John Stokes on art duties, is the second strip in the 1985 annual. Though 10 pages shorter than Plague of the Insecticons, it is in my opinion the better story. Partly this is because it doesn’t upset the apple cart by messing with current stories (introducing characters that shouldn’t be there etc) but mainly because its setting is on the Transformers home world in the early years of their civil war. This is an undiscovered country of stories, rich in potential that would be largely untapped until Furman returned to the theme in his three War Within mini-series (published by Dreamwave from 2002-04).
The narrative informs readers that the story is set millions of years before the Transformers began their exile on Earth. In this time, Cybertron’s capital city Iacon is under siege and on the brink of falling to Megatron’s invading Decepticons. The council of Autobot Elders meets to discuss the dire situation. It’s suggested that their ineptness in trying to exert central control over the fightback is what has hastened the end.
This is our first introduction to Emirate Xaaron, a wily Autobot leader who Furman invented for this story and would continue to feature almost throughout the comic’s seven-year run. Xaaron alone has the foresight to see that they must entrust command to a warrior general and empower him to make the decisions that are required to defeat the Decepticons. He has someone in mind – a natural born leader (and if you said Optimus Prime go to the top of the class!).
Xaaron refuses to accept defeat – his leaping from his chair and exclaiming “never” is reminiscent of Megatron’s defiant reaction to being given an ultimatum to surrender – both characters are similar in nature, if worlds apart in their values. He persuades High Councillor Traachon (another never before-seen character with double a in his name) to use his veto to “free the Autobots” according to Xaaron’s plan.
On the battlefield, Optimus is issuing orders to a host of unfamiliar names – Pulsar, Tempest – and some we do know such as Hound and Ratchet. Interestingly, he’s already called Prime, suggesting that this is not a title which was bestowed upon him being given leadership of the Autobots. Does he have the Matrix yet or is that received after he becomes leader? We don’t know.
Prime suggests that, thanks to the Council, his hands are tied, and he must watch his comrades fall, however we also learn that Bluestreak and (another new character) Fusion are engaged in a race against time to bring them a supply of shatter bombs. Cut to the aforementioned duo, who are racing towards the Autobot lines across one of Cybertron’s many high-elevated bridges. They are under aerial attack from Decepticons resembling Earth jets (rather than the triangular forms that appeared in the cartoon’s origin story). If this seems a little unimaginative, it’s also disappointing that Bluestreak looks an Earth car except with a rocket booster rear. Fusion, on the other hand, is at least more alien – we only see him in vehicle form, which resembles to the mobile cannon that Optimus Prime transformed into in the first issue of Transformers.
There’s an unwritten rule that any character who is not part of the Hasbro toy range is expendable and likely to suffer some grisly fate in short order (it’s like the Transformers equivalent of the red-shirted extra beaming down on Star Trek). In this case poor Fusion can see the writing on the wall. Bluestreak clears a missing section of bridge with panache, while Fusion provides covering fire. He takes out one of the jets before being blown to bits. Bluestreak (who thankfully is in the toy range) can do nothing but swear revenge and go full speed ahead.
In Iacon, Prime is called away from the battle to receives word from Xaaron he has been granted control of the Autobot army and the war effort is now in his hands. He’s relieved, also hearing that Bluestreak is back with the bombs they’ve been waiting for.
Megatron, arriving in Iacon is briefed by Soundwave (who seems to have a very different head than usual – either intentionally or by mistake) informs him that the defeated Autobots are regrouping. Soon enough his passage is blocked by Optimus Prime, in what is possibly the earliest meeting of the two leaders in a Marvel Transformers comic. A fierce battle ensues with casualties on all sides. Below, Gears prepares to use Bluestreak’s bombs to detonate the bridge where the battle is raging. The Decepticons triumph by virtue of superior numbers and Prime finds Megatron standing over him preparing to savour his victory. He orders his troops to retreat moments before the bridge explodes – causing the Decepticons to come crashing down together with the debris (clearly, they don’t have flying abilities in robot mode, unlike the cartoons). Meanwhile, Prime is plucked to safety thanks to Windcharger’s legendary magnetic abilities. No-one could have survived they think, but of course Megatron does and, emerging from the rubble, he vows to have his revenge. Thus, the stage is set for the rivalry between Prime and Megatron that is central to the Transformers story.