Plight of the Bumblebee

Feeling unwanted, Bumblebee decides to go it alone, only to become a target for human car thieves and the Decepticons, in this two-part story from April 1986 by stand-in US writer Len Kaminski and art by Graham Nolan.

April 1986. Marvel UK’s Transformers comic has printed six weeks of stories from its US counterpart and has two more to go before kicking off with a seven-part epic introducing the new combiner teams. Plight of the Bumblebee is unusual in that it is the first US story since issue #8 to be written by someone other than Bob Budiansky. It could be that Bob took some time off or needed a little extra help to get ahead of his deadlines.

Whatever the reason, a young Len Kaminski was handed the writing cudgels for his one and only Transformers credit. According to his TF Wiki page, Kaminski joined Marvel in 1984 and was 23 when he wrote his Bumblebee story. He stayed with Marvel eight years before going freelance and is best known for his work on Iron Man and Ghost Rider. The artist tasked with bringing his script to life is Graham Nolan of similar age – this is also his one and only Transformers story.

Both do a solid job but its fair to say that the story is fun but forgettable. Recent issues of Bob’s such as Megatron controlled by a human gangster, Hoist at a rock concert and Robot Master, have been slightly silly and off the wall but have made their mark in ways this story doesn’t. To be fair, I suspect Kaminski is doing his best to avoid treading on Bob’s toes in terms of any plot threads he’s been developing, so the events in this issue largely stand alone. It’s just a shame for the UK audience that its fairly similar in concept to the second part of Crisis of Command where Bumblebee also faces the Decepticons alone.

Having abandoned their captured oil rig and aerospace plant, it’s unclear where the Decepticon base is these days. Nevertheless, the story begins ‘deep within a makeshift fortress’ where Shockwave (unaware of the recent events in the Wyoming coal mine, see last issue for Megatron’s return) is unveiling his latest plan against the Autobots. This time it involves capturing and controlling a member of the enemy camp, and their data suggests Bumblebee is the perfect candidate. Has Bumblebee been targeted as he’s the weakest Autobot or have they something specific in mind? We don’t know.

At the Ark, Wheeljack and Prowl are receiving maintenance from a recent skirmish which must have occurred ‘off camera’. The TV news which Prime is watching refers to ‘yesterday’s robot battle’ with the editor’s note suggesting this means the events of last issue (where the Autobots took a pounding from the human armed forces at the coal mine).

Bumblebee, watching through the window, is suffering a bout of low confidence making him believe he is not pulling is weight and that the other Autobots would be better off without him. As I say, this works fine in isolation, but in context of recent stories with Bumblebee leading the new recruits in Rock and Roll Out and accompanying Prime on the mission to recover Megatron last issue, there’s been no sign of him being undervalued or any way a liability, so this lack of esteem on his part is rather out of the blue (not to mention that Prime took on the whole Decepticon army to rescue Bumblebee a few issues UK back).

His decision to head for the hills and feel sorry for himself is happily coincidental for the Decepticons, who have been looking for their opportunity. Laserbeak sights Bumblebee and tips off the others. Within minutes Shockwave and the other flying Decepticons attack – and Nolan shows his skills in capturing the shock on Bumblebee’s face and the violence of the attack against the mini-Autobot.

Bumblebee survives and, though losing power, drives on to the freeway, taking evasive action under an aerial volley. It’s apparent that the pursuit is risking the lives of the other motorists. Knowing he can’t possibly outrun the Decepticons, and with his communicator damaged, Bumblebee drives into a nearby filled car lot and shuts down. With the signal lost the Decepticons pull back but remain ready to pounce when he reappears. As yellow beetles are not especially common you would have thought one of the jets would have spotted the parked-up Autobot, but apparently not.

That night, two men climb into the car lot and decide to steal Bumblebee, thinking there’s less chance anyone will be bothered by the loss of a Volkswagen! Unaware of the dangers ahead they take off at speed. While back at the Ark, footage of the Decepticons firing on Bumblebee is aired on the TV news, prompting Prime and the others to strike up some suitably dramatic poses and vow to rescue their missing colleague before it’s too late!

A couple of trivial points… the UK editor has changed the ‘maneuvers’ in the TV reporter’s speech to the UK spelling manoeuvres – and misspelled it. Oops. To be fair it’s not the easiest of words. Page 8 is numbered at the top and the bottom too, which is a little weird.

In part 2, as the Autobots and the Decepticons search for Bumblebee, his two joyriders Ernest and Waldo (whose names sound like they ought to be a couple of pensioners rather than young thrill-seekers) are causing all sorts of commotion uptown. Bumblebee seems oddly happy to help his passengers show off, even when they are driving up pavements and forcing pedestrians to flee for their lives. Could it be that he’s getting a confidence boost out of being adopted by the two humans? Bee is even happy to help the pair show off by pushing 200 in a race against a challenger in a sporty car. He’s leaving the guy for dust until his engine blows and he splutters to an embarrassing halt.

One of the men tries to make head or tails of Bumblebee’s damaged alien engine and as luck would have it, succeeds in reconnecting damaged power lines. Ernest and Waldo ride again but are soon under fire from the skies – in the shape of the Decepticons. Hilariously the two car thieves are baffled as to why the Air Force is after them for ‘pinching a lousy Volkswagen’ – and they are even more confused when their car starts driving on its own (Bumblebee has no choice but to take control to protect his passengers from the Decepticon bombardment). Pretty soon the police are on their tails and the US Airforce has been scrambled. You get the impression the Ernest and Waldo will be wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into.

Shockwave and his warriors might light work of the Air Force. Usually we’ll see the pilots ejecting (to keep the story family friendly) but no sign of that in Kaminski’s story. Bumblebee, cornered at last, transforms to make a final stand in defence of his human ‘friends’. Suddenly, Jetfire soars into view, taking out Buzzsaw, but getting himself shot down by a Decepticon jet. It’s great to see Jetfire in action but disappointing that he’s already a shadow of the awesome ultimate warrior that he was billed as at his introduction.

Events then move to a rapid conclusion. In the space of a single page, Bumblebee rescues the two humans from a collapsing bridge, is confronted by Shockwave… and the Autobots, police and Air Force arrive, forcing a hasty Decepticon retreat. The two Humans have a lot of questions to answer with the police, while Bumblebee recognises that the Autobots came to his rescue and he was wrong to question his place in the team.

Some closing thoughts: it’s not a bad story, if largely inconsequential to the wider plot – fast paced with a decent chase at the end. The art is also suitably dramatic. Probably the weakest element is Shockwave’s plot to capture Bumblebee, which we never see put into action and just feels like a device to ensure that Bumblebee is a Decepticon target while out on his own. The best bit for me is the way Bee takes his two human abductors under his wing – he’s completely cool about them stealing him and wants to help and protect them. It’s a good illustration of the parental way that Autobots look on humanity.

The UK covers of two instalments are also ace. John Stokes draws a wonderful, toy-realistic version of Shockwave (including leg springs) and Herb Trimpe’s cover for issue #58 (which is also the cover of the US version) offers the mouth-watering prospect of Bumblebee against impossible odds.

For the next issue, it’s back to the UK stories and the return of Buster Witwicky.

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