Legacy of Unicron (Parts 1 and 2)

Death’s Head corners Cyclonus and Scourge on the Planet of Junk, where the all three are forcibly enlisted into an insidious plot hatched by the dismembered head of Unicron!

In January 1988, Marvel UK’s flagship comic, The Transformers, was ushering in a new year… except the one in question was 2008 – twenty years beyond the publication date! Yes it’s another story set in the post-Transformers Movie future, which will take the comic up to and beyond its milestone 150th issue.

Lee Sullivan’s cover for issue #146 depicts a wonderfully maniacal-looking Death’s Head poised to execute poor, battered and wretched Cyclonus, with a Junkion springing up all-jolly and shouting “G’Day!” Since Junkions use popular culture references for communication, I’m wondering whether the greeting is riffing off the Crocodile Dundee movies or maybe Aussie soap Neighbours, as that was taking off in the UK at the time.

The corner box also features Rodimus Prime raising a toast to the new year, which is a nice touch.

Ever since Target: 2006 proved a runaway success, Simon Furman has known there is a rich furrow to be ploughed in Transformers the Movie and post-Movie tie-ins. Not only are these popular with the readers, but they offer freedom from the comic’s usual constraints.

Back in the day a lot of the UK material consisted of the Marvel US stories. In fact the American material was the main canon and the home-grown British stories supplemented and expanded on these. Simon would take care not to do anything that might inadvertently contradict an upcoming US story (and for the most part was successful). However, future stories could be taken in any direction the liked, even killing off main characters, i.e. Shockwave, as we’ll see.

Issue #146’s Transformations page tries incredibly hard to tease the main story without giving away the title or the identity of the big threat. It’s fun to see how they fill a couple of hundred words saying without giving anything away, although I reckon most fans would have guessed the big reveal from the clues, I know I did at the time.

The story picks up the threads of 1987’s Headhunt, where Rodimus Prime paid Death’s Head an advance to hunt down the troublesome Cyclonus and Scourge. As 2008 dawns, that pursuit is entering its final stages in the skies above the Planet of Junk.

Scourge is hit with a blast from Death’s Head’s ship and goes down in a trail of smoke. His calls for Cyclonus to help fall on deaf ears, as apparently his partner-in-crime is in an ‘every man for himself’ mood, or is it a trick? (Ironically, the tables will be turned in the story Dry Run later that year). Scourge manages to style-out his crash-landing by transforming and aiming a blaster at Death’s Head’s ship, now hovering a few feet from him.

Scourge is obviously confused as to why he’s not under attack but quickly starts scanning around for a fuel tank he can blast. Death’s Head shows up, having been on the planet all along and operating his ship remotely. I particularly like the scene with Scourge on his knees feigning a plea for mercy (which Death’s Head regards with utter contempt) as Cyclonus swoops down to attempt a reverse-ambush and a surprise bombing run.

Death’s Head is a class act and manages to get clear of the explosions. He takes out Scourge and sticks a heat seeker on Cyclonus’ tail, forcing him to revert to his more vulnerable robot mode, where he too is quickly subdued. When you consider that Cyclonus and Scourge are two Unicron creations and elites (one hundred Autobots could not best them, Galvatron once said) all this underlines Death’s Head’s badass credentials. He’ll soon have his own Marvel UK monthly title, so the story is undoubtedly a showcase for the character.

Then, as per the cover, a Junkion rises from beneath a pile of debris. He’s more solemn than on the cover and implores Death’s Head to help free his people from the mental control of a being of vast power (a big clue there). Death’s Head doesn’t do freebies but is assured the Junkions are “among the richest traders in the galaxy” (not that you would think it to see the state of their planet) so this could be a profitable diversion.

He’ll need Cyclonus and Scourge to help with the operation, but he makes a mental note to double-cross the pair afterwards and kill them anyway. To not deliver on a contract would be bad for business after all. You’ve got to love him.

In a quick interlude, we see Rodimus bidding farewell to Wreck-gar who is heading back to that great fly-tip pile he calls home. There’s a genuine fondness between the two unlikely allies, perhaps because Wreck-gar has been at Prime’s side since his ascendance to the leadership. Wreck-gar departs in a shuttle, piloted by Smokescreen and the lesser seen Inferno, with Prime offering an appropriate farewell: “May all your programmes be sequels”.

Back on Junk, the attack goes badly awry. The Junkion, who was meant to be laying explosives, is discovered and quickly dispatched. Then powerful will commands Death’s Head, Cyclonus and Scourge to stand to attention. Artist Geoff Senior is on top form with a splash page making the big reveal – yes, it’s Unicron! No doubt there will have been genuine shock and excitement from the fans and the certain knowledge this is about to get epic…

Some quick thoughts on part one: Unicron is back as a head and is being reassembled by an army of Junkion slaves. Surely, they will have to keep hoisting him up to add layers, and it would be far easier to do the rebuilding in space. When last seen, Unicron was doing a slingshot around Cybertron and either entering into orbit or heading for deep space. You might expect that the Transformers would have kept tabs on their mortal enemy but apparently not. Junkions evidently have no long-range warning capabilities.

In the second instalment readers were assured, “if you thought last week’s episode was shocking, you are not going to believe what’s in store for you now!” They were not wrong. In fact, Shockwave’s demise in issue #147 is one of the best deaths of a main character I’ve ever seen in the comic. Truly unexpected and impactful.

The curtain rises on the Decepticons’ stronghold on Cybertron. It’s depicted from the outside with a couple of moons in the night sky behind it. Not that I spotted it at the time, but re-reading 33 years later it occurs to me that both of Cybertron’s moons were consumed by Unicron in the Movie – oops!

Commander Shockwave, flanked by his bodyguard, is on his way to the throne room to receive Death’s Head. The bounty hunter has returned out of the blue seeking compensation for Cyclonus and Scourge messing up the hit on Rodimus Prime. If as it turns out Death’s Head has executed the pair, he’ll have done Shockwave a favour. Ever cautious, he orders Soundwave to monitor from behind the scenes.

I have to admire Death’s Head’s gumption. He was hired by Shockwave to kill Prime and he failed. However, he still wants a pay out as it was two of Shockwave’s warriors who got in the way and messed it up. Rather than telling him to get lost, Shockwave agrees to pay up as he might have need of Death’s Head in the future.

First, he wants to be convinced that Cyclonus and Scourge are dead. Soundwave, monitoring from another room, scans for minds… the guards, Shockwave, his bounty hunter guest… and, surprise, surprise the not-dead-after-all Cyclonus and Scourge! With that Death’s Head turns and fires at the throne, disintegrating it but finding Shockwave gone. The Decepticon leader pops up to return fire, showing himself to be a wily (and worthy) opponent.

Elsewhere Smokescreen, Inferno and Wreck Gar find the Planet of Junk deserted. The absence of a welcome party is a concern and it doesn’t take long before they stumble across the horrific scene of Unicron being rebuilt by enslaved Junkions. So, now the Autobots are aware of Unicron’s return, but can they get word back to Rodimus Prime?

Meanwhile, Death’s Head pursues Shockwave deeper into the labyrinthine Decepticon base and comes across a target range with effigies of Prime and key Autobots. Its reminiscent of the final showdown between 007 and the Man With The Golden Gun in the film of that title.

We learn that Death’s Head can still think for himself but Unicron maintains a subliminal control and the ability to punish (much like the hold he retained over Galvatron in the Transformers Movie) and as a result Death’s Head’s senses are dulled. This is an edge for Shockwave, as is the advantage of facing his adversary on home turf.

As Death’s Head contemplates whether the real Rodimus would be laughing if he could see the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter “killing for free”, the Prime effigy rolls forward propelled by Shockwave. Death’s Head gets the jitters and blasts it, coming under attack by Shockwave and incurring a blast wound to his leg. Shockwave is on fine fighting form here it must be said.

Then he gets overconfident and steps out into the open – fatal. Another Autobot target rolls forward and Shockwave thinks Death’s Head is trying to trick him with his own tactic. Little does he realise that Death’s Head is hiding behind the target and opens fire at close range leaving the Decepticon leader badly damaged and spewing circuitry from his chest wounds. The defeated Shockwave sinks to his knees and Death’s Head (turning away in self-disgust) blows him to bits. Praising Shockwave as a worthy adversary, and promising to avenge them both, Death’s Head reaches into the Decepticon’s skull and crushes his brain module. Wow – there’s no coming back from that it would seem.

Meanwhile Menasor has pounded in the throne room doors and Cyclonus and Scourge are on their knees about to be executed (so much for the warriors who are superior to one hundred Autobots). Death’s Head arrives to save their bacon. He announces that Shockwave is dead and Cyclonus and Scourge will be the new leaders, and if not, he’ll let go of his hold on an explosives trigger and blow the fortress sky high. Soundwave would rather like to kill the lot of them and take over himself, but he’s not about to call Death’s Head’s bluff and responds by hailing Cyclonus and Scourge as the new joint commanders.

On Junk Unicron’s eyes glow with pride as he realises the first phase of his plan has been achieved. Cyclonus and Scourge will instigate a suicidal attack on the Autobots which few will survive, he declares.

So, in closing… wow. It’s not often we see a major character destroyed in Transformers (with the exception of Optimus Prime, naturally!!) but Shockwave’s death in ‘the future’ does not preclude him from appearing in the regular continuity. Indeed, as we’ll see in later stories, past Shockwave will learn of his future counterpart’s death and lose his mind over it.

I had thought that Transformer brain modules were globular. That’s the case for Skids when Circuit Breaker extracts his brain in issue #94. Shockwave’s vital components are rectangular and suggest that internal components can vary from robot to robot. Also, Menasor shouldn’t be here because one of his component parts, Wildrider, was executed by Megatron in the Earthforce stories. This suggests he survived somehow and was rebuilt.

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