Toy Soldiers

The Throttlebots survive a public execution after their brains are transferred to remote controlled toy cars, but surviving the Predacons and Ratbat may prove to be altogether more difficult!

Toy Soldiers was published in the pages of Transformers #154 and #155 from Marvel UK in late February/early March 1988. It was the first US material to feature that year and comes off the back of eight weeks of strong stories from the UK team.

Personally, I was pleased. The variety is good, and I always enjoy a good Bob Budiansky tale, even off the wall stuff like Autobots transplanted into toy cars. Plus, we readers get to see what happened to the Throttlebots following their capture by Walter Barnett and Triple III some three months earlier. It’s felt like a long wait.

Toy Soldiers is classic ‘Uncle Bob’ with a wacky concept of the toy car Autobots and comedy element of them running rings around the lumbering Predacons, juxtaposed with the quite shocking and brutal way that the Throttlebots are car crushed to death in a TV execution. This is a story with light and shade and sets us up nicely for the big event of the year, the arrival on Earth of the Headmasters and Targetmasters.

Bryan Hitch provides the covers of both UK issues, with the sketch of the junked Throttlebots being the better of the two (even though they don’t actually end up in a scrap yard as depicted). Transformation page in issue #154 talks up the story as another of those ‘humans strike back moments’ that occasionally come along. There’s also a non-subtle plug for Death’s Head’s appearance in Doctor Who Magazine 135, which I’m sure will have put on a lot of sales for that issue of DWM.

The story begins the Predacons raiding a chemical storage facility. US readers won’t have seen the team since their debut in Gone But Not Forgotten, although Simon Furman featured them in the UK story Grudge Match, so this is a good way for Bob to remind us that they are still around. They seem to enjoy the outing and the chance to skirmish with the humans, but the resistance is so feeble that you wonder if this is suitable work for the Decepticons’ elite hunter cadre.

The Constructicons, another rarely seen team, are also helping themselves to raw materials. Interestingly they are labelled as a quintet, with Mixmaster is missing for some unexplained reason. I do enjoy the way Blitzwing shows up and nets Longhaul, flying him back to base. It shows some coordinated Decepticon teamwork even if it’s difficult to believe that Longhaul could have been carrying enough materials to build very much. Overall, the picture is of the Decepticons running rampant and humanity powerless to do anything about them.

Watching developments with growing concern is Triple III, the appalling and incompetent US agency tasked with tackling the robot menace. This terrible outfit previously ripped off the comic character Robot Master to con the public into thinking the Transformers were an Earth-grown menace, they only ever succeed in capturing Autobots and their leader Forsyth refuses to acknowledge the existence of the warring factions. You would think that learning the nature of the enemy they face would be essential to their work.

Walter Barnett is sent to interrogate the six captured Throttlebots, who have been drained of fuel to prevent their escape and can now be reactivated and switched between robot and vehicle modes by their captives. Goldbug reiterates that the Decepticons are responsible and he’s rather surprised that the Autobots don’t seem to be containing them much these days – little does he realise that Grimlock has whisked the Ark off to space. Barnett tows the line, that the notion of two warring camps is unacceptable to Triple III but he clearly has come to believe that Goldbug is speaking the truth. Actually the scene rather reminds me of when Galen would go to see the captive Autobot heads of Fortress Maximus and the others in the Headmasters saga.

Barnett gets a work visit from his wife and young son, which seems a bit unreasonable when he’s working until Mrs B reveals that its Sunday and this is the only way they get to see him. Barnett’s son has brought along not one but six toy cars which is somewhat excessive, however it’s a significant detail as these are of course the cars that Barnett will use to smuggle out the Throttlebot brains.

That night he’s home at last when Forsythe appears on TV to warn that the next act of robo-terrorism will result in the destruction of their six Transformer captives. This is an open invitation to the Decepticons and sure enough more attacks follow. Termination of the Autobots is set for 6pm, in time for the evening news, and Barnett realises he must work fast. So, he leaves home at 4am, much to his wife’s annoyance and has a pre-dawn discussion with Goldbug…

Next comes the main event of the story. As evening falls, each Throttlebot is magnetically hoisted aloft and dropped into a car crusher, getting compressed and emerging out the other side squished as a block. This is as brutal takedown of a Transformer as we’ve seen since Optimus Prime was detonated by Ethan Zachary.

Luckily Barnett has saved the day. As he’s driving home, we learn that he recovered the brains of each Throttlebot and has inserted them into the six toy cars. They are connected to the battery to allow them to speak and (if that sounds implausible) their optical fibres are attached to the car headlamps to allow them to see! Goldbug thinks they’ll need help to get into the Ark – only one human can do it and that’s his old friend Buster Witwicky.

At this point we haven’t seen good old Buster in the comic since the awful 1987 story The Carwash of Doom, and as we drop in on the Witwicky auto workshop we find Buster feeling miserable about the apparent death by car crusher of his old friend Bumblebee. Even the news that his brother Spike is returning from college fails to lift his spirits… This news of another Witwicky son is of course a very big revelation. For over 150 issues we’ve been led to believe that Buster was the comic version of Spike from the Sunbow Transformers cartoons, but it turns out that wasn’t the case.

The second part begins with the Predacons launching an assault on Triple I headquarters. Forsythe orders all units to repel the invaders, with the RAAT assault vehicles making a reappearance and getting swatted aside. Tantrum and Headstrong beat a path to the heart of the compound where they locate the Throttlebot cubes.

It transpires that Ratbat is leading the missing and he’s been in Divebomb’s maw in his cassette mode. At his instruction, Razorclaw tears into one of the carcasses and is satisfied that their enemies are indeed destroyed. Ratbat is not so sure and soon spots the absence of the brains. It’s cathartic to see Forsyth getting pounced on and for the penny to drop that there are indeed warring factions of Transformers, like he’s been told all along. Luckily for him, Ratbat has detected a scent from the brains, and they all clear off leaving Forsythe to fight another day.

Walter Barnett finds Sparkplug and Buster and convinces them (with help from Goldbug) that national security is at stake – Buster must escort them to the Ark. They set off in the Witwicky pick-up with the Predacons arriving moments later and collapsing the garage on top of poor old Sparkplug.

Buster and Barnett stop at a mall to pick up batteries for the Autobots. Buster, for contrived reasons, is carrying around his cassette deck rather than leaving it in the car. Soon the mall is breached as Ratbat and Divebomb shatter the glass roof and Headstrong, Tantrum and Razorclaw trash everything in their path. Terrified shoppers run for cover, and in the melee Barnet drops the suitcase of Autobots allowing them to spill out and lead the Predacons on a chase.

Ratbat goes after Buster but is thwarted when Barnett brings a security gate crashing down on the Decepticon and pins him. Out of the reader’s sight, Ratbat is able to transform and insert himself into Buster’s ghetto blaster, while the latter was replacing Goldbug’s batteries. They take off, leaving Barnett and the other Throttlebots and complete the hours long journey to Mount St Hillary – only to find the Ark and a bunch of discarded machines left behind.

As luck would have it, among the junk is an intergalactic transceiver, which Goldbug uses to send a distress call to Cybertron. This is, we’re told, the message that Hot Rod detected on Nebulos. However, before they can leave Ratbat flies into the cave, crushes Goldbug with a talon, and is poised to attack Buster! It’s a case of ‘to be continued’…

On the letters page, Grimlock responds to a kid who claims to have found Sky Lynx on sale in the UK by asking to be sent the box. Was this Marvel wanting to warn their Hasbro buddies about erroneous imports or possible fakes, i.e. I managed to pick up a Shockwave toy in grey and different packaging at a market. Meanwhile the next week box talks up the next big event, the arrival of the Headmasters.

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