This is the story of what happened, millions of years ago on Cybertron, when Swoop went looking for the Decepticon who stole his name
Ah Swoop. My favourite Dinobot in the comics, even though ironically he was the worst of the toys. I’ve had a soft spot for the poor bugger ever since he got beaten to a pulp by Guardian, recovered, then was engulfed by a massive explosion as he flew the aforementioned bomb-laden mechanoid away from the Ark. He’s also been bashed up by Megatron, had his mind taken over by the human scientist Professor Morris, and had a huge hole blasted in his wings by Trypticon. Swoop is probably the most unlucky Dinobot of the lot, and yet he’s also a great survivor, always battling back from whatever scrape he’s involved in.
One of two Shakespearean titled Transformers stories from Simon Furman (the other being Purchase to Dream, in 1990), What’s In A Name? is arguably the standout story in the 1987 Transformers Annual. At five pages its short and sweet but so much better than the vast majority of the Earthforce stories of the later run, many of which were turgid.
So, what is in a name? Quite a lot as it turns out. In fact a stolen name, taken by an enemy who bested Swoop in battle is the catalyst for a bitter rivalry spanning millions of years. To explain, in Transformers UK #45, Simon Furman included a throwaway line about Swoop having been known as Divebomb back on Cybertron and that he’d been part of a stuck-up elite flying corps of Autobots who resented the authority of commander Optimus Prime. Furman couldn’t have known (or at least I don’t think it was planned) that Hasbro would actually release a Predacon called Divebomb in their toy line up a year after that story was published. So, Furman takes advantage of that awkward development to weave a really compelling rivalry, that of Swoop versus Divebomb. It would play out in the 1987 story Grudge Match (where the Dinobots and the Predacons clash) and this short annual story is the warm up act.
It’s drawn by Will Simpson, whose work I like a lot, and is a real treat to see Swoop’s pre-Earth aerial mode. (In many ways the story is like a dry run for the hugely enjoyable War Within prequels that Furman wrote for Dreamwave from 2002-04). It starts with Swoop as a sleek, agile jet (a mode he says he much prefers to his current pterodactyl form) trespassing deep into Decepticon territory in direct defiance of his orders.
He’s looking for one Decepticon in particular: an airborne foe who’s real name he never found out, who bested him in combat and then adopted the name Divebomb as a consequence of winning their fight. Swoop had been humiliated and faced taunts from the other flying corps members (with friends like them, eh?) and so he’s coming looking for rematch. He doesn’t have long to wait…
As Swoop skulks around in robot mode, Divebomb spies him from the air, and sweeps past in a lightening quick strafing run, throwing off Swoop’s aim. He taunts Swoop ‘if he wants the name back he’ll have to fight for it’. Both take to the air and there is a clash of wings. Divebomb is supremely confident – he’s either stronger or just the better fighter. He unleashes a fragment rocket which makes contact with Swoop and sends him spiralling to the ground with smoke trails billowing from his engines.
Divebomb lands and transforms, a little disappointed that Swoop didn’t put up more of a fight. He closes in for the kill and is ambushed by Swoop’s afterburners, full-force in his face. Divebomb careers backwards, but is quickly able to counterattack with a blast from his sword. Swoop ends up at Divebomb’s mercy and this time he knows he is finished. Or is he? Suddenly Divebomb is cut down in a burst of laser fire from none other than Optimus Prime! Swoop’s life has been saved by the commanding officer he despises, and now his humiliation is complete.
Fast forward four million years to Earth. Prime is now dead, succeeded as Autobot leader by Swoop’s Dinobot colleague Grimlock, and the truth of Swoop’s defeat has died with him. However, Sludge shows Swoop TV footage of the Predacons rampaging on Earth, with Divebomb among them. Not as dead as he’d lead the Dinobots to believe. Grimlock joins Sludge outside and, on seeing Swoop striding away, asks what’s going on. Sludge replies that Swoop had looked like he was about to confess some secret about his history with this Decepticon but in the end all he said was “He’s still usin’ my name”. A great closing line.
It’s a neat little story which gives a good insight into Swoop’s big problem, his sense of pride. Having made it into an elite team, he feels he has to live up to the macho image and it eats him up when he falls short and is humiliated. That to Swoop is worse than death and revenge becomes an imperative. Instead he ends up making matters worse by having to be saved by Optimus Prime, who once again shows his great humanity and care for his warriors (even those who detest him) by sparing Swoop the further shame of disclosure. Rather than being grateful to Prime, Swoop appears to have only resented him more.
Divebomb, in turn, is in a league above Swoop either through training or strength, I’m not sure. But he has an almost affection for this plucky Autobot who is desperate to challenge him and can’t quite measure up. He rather admires the way Swoop won’t accept defeat I think. It makes the otherwise humdrum existence of never-ending warfare that bit more interesting and more so when Divebomb is posted to Earth and homesick for Cybertron.