Ancient Relics

Transformers comic joins with Action Force as the elite counter-terror team investigates a deadly giant robot loose in the sewers under London.

Transformers crossovers. There’s sure been a lot of them over the years! It seems that every franchise from The Avengers to the Justice League, the crew of starship Enterprise, the X-Files, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and even My Little Pony, have encountered the Autobots and Decepticons on the printed page at some point. Most of these are throwaway fun and I tend to think best avoided.

A handful have been very good and integrated well into Transformers. I’m thinking here of the GI vs Transformers title that Dreamwave that was set in an alternative World War Two and the Marvel story Prisoner of War which saw Gears team up with Spider-Man to rescue Sparkplug Witwicky from Megatron’s clutches and is one of my favourites. In more recent years IDW attempted to forge an shared Hasbro universe which included having the transforming from its MASK reboot being made possible by plundered Cybertron tech. And even Death’s Head’s encounter with Doctor Who in the 1988 Marvel UK story Crossroads of Time counts, I would argue, as a crossover with the Transformers universe.

The point is that there have been many, many attempts at crossovers and most have never warranted more than a one off novelty. GI Joe (Action Force as they were known in the UK) is more enduring and has spawned crossovers via a number of comics publishers over the years, but it started with Marvel in the 1980s. In the US there was a four issue mini-series. A piss poor tale that was thankfully ignored by the UK continuity, though later reprinted as a back-up strip when material ran short in the late 200s but on the understanding that it was not part of the regular continuity.

That uninspiring US mini-series in 1987 set-up the destruction of Bumblebee and his rebirth as Goldbug and meant Simon Furman had to write an alternative for the UK comic, which was that Death’s Head destroyed Bumblebee and fellow time-traveller Wreck-Gar reconstructed him (events from the Wanted Galvatron saga). This was necessary to explain why Goldbug would appear in the comic going forwards. And whereas I suspect the US crossover was motivated by the desire on Hasbro’s part to shift toy product, for Marvel UK crossover between its flagship weekly title Transformers, and the still fledgling Action Force title, was in the hopes of generating more readers for the latter. It didn’t work as ultimately AF folded in 1988 and was absorbed into Transformers as the back-up strip.

So it was that, just as the Blaster/Goldbug/Scraplets story was getting interesting, the UK comic hit pause and whisked off to London for a one-week interlude (in issue #125) to kick off the Ancient Relics crossover story, from Simon Furman and with art by Geoff Senior, that would continue into #24-27 of Action Force. Young collectors would need to fund two comics for the month that followed, and obviously Marvel hoped it would be for longer after that. In my case, I was happy to collect both Transformers and Thundercats but Action Force never appealed that strongly.

In the streets under the Capital is a network of undiscovered Roman tunnels – that is undiscovered until recently. Susan Hoffman – a character modelled on the Bangles singer Sussanna Hoffs – and her three companions are hoping to uncover fascinating relics for their heritage society. Their flashlight catches a glimpse of something metallic; not a building as first thought but a battle-damaged midrift. Next their torches illuminate a terrifying and deformed, though recognisable, robot face! A huge fist punches the wall causing the ceiling to collapse as the humans run for their lives. Hoffman escapes the falling debris – just! Her companions are buried. Had this been the US comic the whole party would have survived but the Marvel UK comic tended to have a grittier ‘2000AD’ edge, as Simon Furman has said.

Across the pond in Oregon USA, Autobot commander Grimlock is not a happy bunny (or T-Rex). He called a meeting of all available warriors and nobody turned up! He strides into Wheeljack’s workshop in the Ark where the engineer is just completing repairs to Centurion (previously ripped to bits by Galvatron). Senior’s Grimlock is twice the size of Wheeljack which may not be consistent with past appearances but makes him appear more imposing and leaderly. While Centurion, who now sports a humanoid face as opposed rather than his much better and more distinctive visor, is bigger than both of them.

Bob Budiansky made Grimlock a tyrannical, petty, obsessive, narcissistic oaf of a leader in his stories – a kind of Donald Trump without the fanbase – but Furman to his credit presents a more mature and agreeable characterisation without undermining Bob. The crown has been ditched (thankfully) and Grimlock’s obsession with finding Blaster and Goldbug is more an insistence on not tolerating failure (or running away after failing).

Wheeljack is surprisingly flippant in his remarks to Grimlock, chastising his leader for tasking the Autobots with fools errands such as the Centurion repair. If Grimlock is as dictatorial and intolerant of dissent as Budiansky presents him, then Wheeljack would not have dared to speak so disrespectfully. It’s a nice nod to Wheeljack’s later role in the US stories as a sidekick whose working against Grimlock.

The mention of Blaster and Goldbug is a nice tie-in to last week’s story Crater Critters as well as upcoming stuff. It shows us how their split is being viewed in the Autobot camp and that Grimlock is not taking it lightly. This helps the build up for eventual reckoning in the US storyline. Centurion is presumably still being controlled by Professor Morris but there’s no mention of that. My guess is that Furman was thinking about the Action Force readership here and didn’t want to muddy the waters with complicated backstory at this point. So Centurion would appear to recent readers as just another Autobot.

Wheeljack brands him an ancient relic (harsh considering he was constructed a year previously) and taking up time that he could be spending repairing fallen colleagues. Centurion looks forlorn but says nothing. Grimlock points out that this mechanoid is a personal friend and of his and that should be enough to prioritise him.

Blades radios in that he has picked up a Transformer life signal beneath London and Grimlock is convinced it is his fugitives. Despite there being any number of Transformers it could be, it makes sense to him that the pair would want to put as much distance between him and them as possible. He orders Wheeljack to ready a shuttle and place Centurion aboard – hands-on leader Grimlock will go to London to settle business personally!

Blades transforms and lands in the Docklands. He too is deeply unhappy that Grimlock has got them all hunting for two fellow Autobots rather than fighting Decepticons. If he finds Blaster or Goldbug, should he bring them in or join them? It’s a fascinating dilemma, though interestingly not one he seems to grapple with in a few issues time when Blades and his fellow Protectobots do actually encounter Blaster.

Enter Action Force – Flint, Scarlet, Bazooka, Airtight and Barbecue – who are accompanying Susan Hoffman back to the Roman tunnels to find her mystery robot. Considering the traumatic experience that Susan has been through its to her credit that she would step foot in there again. And Scarlett is remarkably unsympathetic that this lady has lost her colleagues, even alleging that she made the whole story up. Flint does a good job of reigning in the fiery personalities and keeping them focused on the task.

A robotic shape emerges from the tunnels. It’s Blades, still wrestling with his loyalties, and stumbles into the line of fire as Action Force unleashes on him! Blades is struck by rockets and flame and becomes enraged, firing a burst of blinding light against the humans. Whatever Blades might say, it’s clear that Grimlock’s negative opinions of humans is rubbing off on him. Thankfully he comes to his senses before he can do any serious harm and he declares that he bears Action Force no malice.

However, the comotion has drawn out the mysterious transformer from earlier. A familiar looking cannon emerges from the shadows. The hated Autobot insignia is sighted, and the Transformer opens fire, striking Blades in the back and sending him crashing to the ground. Hoffman recognises the attacker as the one who killed her friends earlier – and as Flint scrambles to find out “what is it?” the answer comes back – Megatron!!
Phew! It’s fair to say that most fans would have sussed out who the Transformer was from the first couple of clues, in particularly the mangled face which was clearly the one Megatron was left with after his battle with the Predacons. At the end of Gone But Not Forgotten, a mentally ill Megatron blew up the Space Bridge with himself on it to escape from Optimus Prime, who he had convinced himself was coming to get him.

It appears that the Bridge transported Megatron to London, where he’s been lurking in the underground tunnels ever since. This is a huge risk that Simon Furman is taking in using Megatron. There is every chance that Bob Budiansky would have reintroduced Megatron at some point and had him reappear on Cybertron in direct continuation from the events on the Space Bridge. In depositing him to London for the Ancient Relics story, Furman achieves his aim of having a big nemesis for the Autobots and Action Force, but he will at some point have to put right the big continuity rift that he’s opening up.

Indeed, Megatron will return in the 1989 US story Back From The Dead, showing up in the Dead End of Cybertron after his accident. Furman ironically will be writing the US comic by then and will come up with the explanation that the Megatron in London was a duplicate created by Straxus in case his attempt to take over Megatron’s mind went awry. Okay, but that doesn’t explain why the London Megatron has the battle scars that the real Megatron picked up in his battle with the Predacons some time after the encounter with Straxus.

Up until this point Furman has been masterful in weaving original UK stories that seamlessly intergrate with the US master continuity but this will be a departure too far. Though it wouldn’t become evident for a couple of years yet. For now let’s kick back and enjoy Megatron versus Action Force and Grimlock as the story continues.

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