Space Pirates (parts 1, 2 and 3)

With their home-world coming apart at the scenes, the Quintessons launch a desperate plan to conquer Cybertron, starting with an assault on Autobot City

Simon Furman’s Space Pirates saga was published in issues #182 through to #187 of the Marvel UK Transformers comic, in September/October 1988. It’s another of the writer’s future epics using the cast and characters from the fan favourite Transformers animated movie. It’s one of the weaker future stories as far as I’m concerned, but after the truly terrible Big Broadcast of 2006 US story which preceded it, Space Pirates at least suggests a return to normal levels of story quality.

After 100 or issues since the last redesign, this was a moment for comic itself to ‘transform’. Out went the familiar page 2 design with the circuit board style border (which I really enjoyed) and a neat looking columns design which looked fresh. The masthead was enlarged, and the contents section done away with – but as the comic was only 24 pages anyway, how much use was it really?

The coming attractions half page has a redesign and Grimlock is out as the letter answerer, to be replaced by ‘Dread Tidings’ presented by one of the new Decepticon Powermasters, Dreadwind, and his Nebulan sidekick Hi-Test. He’s not an obvious choice, unlike say Soundwave, but on the other hand there’s something to said for having a bad guy as the letter answerer, some fun replies are to be expected.

The ‘handover’ from Grimlock to Dreadwind is satirised in a one-page Robo Capers special by the talented Lew Stringer (just like last time). And six pages of Lew’s Combat Colin strips are used as a stop gap in issue #183 until Marvel was ready to kick off the new (though quite temporary back-up strip) Visionaries. I think because the Visionaries comic had closed suddenly without completion. For me, not being particularly a fan of Action Force, I was happy to see a change of back-up strip. And Visionaries is a great 1980s cartoon, from Sunbow who also animated Transformers.

Story-wise, Space Pirates attempts to salvage a coherent narrative out of the nonsense that was BB2006, in which the Quintessons hypnotised half the universe to buy space for them to search for a canister on Junk. We never found out what the canister’s value was, so Simon has decided it contained secret plans for conquering other worlds. And the reason the Quintesson need a new home world is because theirs is suddenly and rapidly being torn apart by strange gravitational forces.

If plans had been transmitted across space by Quintesson agents and then stored in a canister, why not send them the rest of the journey by transmission? It makes no sense to encode them in a physical object that will take time to travel across space, particularly as the clock is ticking on Quintesson.

The story is set in 2008 (still futuristic destination for the readers of 1988) and the opens views of the Quintesson homeworld coming apart. Panic and desperation have set in on the planet, and given they’ve spent their time capturing and executing space farers over the years, one assumes they have little allies they can call on.

Whereas in the Movie the Quintessons were one-dimensional villains with a perverted idea of justice, the comic at least presents them as more of a regular state with scientists, military, and political leaders. One general called Ghyrik is dispatched to attack and secure their “primary target”, Autobot City, Earth, while General Jolup is to assemble the main fleet for an assault on Cybertron (their preferred choice for a new home world).

The Junkion leader Wreck-Gar, who we saw at the mercy of torturer last issue, remains their prisoner. He’s hauled into a court where a huge six-faced judge presides and where a previous defendant is being devoured by Sharkticons. Wreck-Gar has no wish to share this fate, and overpowers his guard, throwing him into the murky waters where the moronic Sharkticons rip him apart not realising he’s on their side. Wreck-Gar picks up a blaster from somewhere (it’s not clear where) and fights his way outside, escaping by boat. But while he’s navigating the rust sea hordes of Sharkticons attack the vessel from below the water.

Wreck-Gar, still talking TV, is engulfed by robotic carnivores as the Quintessons close in on Autobot City, ending the first part. Interestingly, there are no Transformers in this instalment at all, just Wreck-Gar and the Quintessons, I think this may be a first for the comic.

Part 2 opens with Arcee, rendered like a catwalk model by artist Dan Reed. She’s bored and decides to desert her post preferring a country drive to tedious guard duty. Naturally, this is just the time that Ghyrik launches his surprise attack. A ‘hi and die’ character called Hopper is blown to bits and Perceptor enquires as to whether Chase is still functioning following the attack (trouble is Chase has been coloured as Rollbar – oops). Sharkticon warriors breach the city walls and overpower the Autobots, with Blaster also gunned down before he can manually activate the city defences.

Back on the Quintesson Wreck-Gar repels his Sharkticon attackers with a burst of electricity, and Wheelie arrives overhead in a shuttle and pulls him aboard. With Wreck-Gar speaking TV and Wheelie’s entire dialog being spoken in rhyme, I can imagine the pair are challenging characters to write.

Part 2 concludes, predictably, with Arcee returning to the realisation, to her horror, that the city was attacked while she was goofing off. Rather than flee and raise the alarm she compounds her error by planning a surprise attack only to be cut down and captured. She is to be bait in a trap for the Autobot leader Rodimus Prime!

A couple of observations: it’s nice to see Arcee making her debut in the regular title, as well as Wheelie (previously both only appeared in the Movie adaptation.) Blaster appears in his TF Movie communications centre again and uses his line from the film, “they’re blitzing Autobot City”. Blaster is missing his trademark visor and for some reason seems a different character to the one Bob Budiansky writes so brilliantly. I feel like Simon can’t quite capture him.

Part 3, with a decent cover by Jerry Paris, is drawn by Dougie Braithwaite. The style is okay and very good in places – the final scene with the strung up Autobots for example, but Dougie’s faces are a bit cartoony for my tastes.

Rodimus has a frustrating call with the Junkions who have not seen hide not hair of Wreck-Gar and are still speaking in TV slogans (I can well imagine that gets irritating in a crisis). In recap, we learn something of why Prime is such close friends with Wreck-Gar, who he feels indebted to for helping them defeat Unicron not once but twice. The last Prime heard, Wreck-Gar was inbound, with news of a Quintesson threat to countless metallic worlds so top secret that he dares not speak it over an open comms channel.

On Earth, Ghyrik enjoys the views from Autobot City which are all the more sweet in light of his conquest. On Cybertron, phase two is in progress. A Quintesson agent had approached Decepticon commander Soundwave for help against the Autobots attacking their home world. Soundwave, falling for the ruse, decides the Autobot base on Cybertron will be vulnerable and rallies his key lieutenants for an assault, much to the pleasure of Lord Kledji on Quintesson, who sees the plans coming to fruition.

The only wildcard is Wreck-Gar, who has fled into hyperspace in a battle-damaged ship, which may yet blow up in his and Wheelie’s faces.

The issue ends with a surveillance droid relaying images to Prime and company, en-route to Earth, of their colleagues strung up on the walls like some medieval or biblical scene. This moment is up there with Shockwave’s ‘slabs of beef’ treatment of the Autobots way back in The New Order, and the decapitation of Cyclonus which is coming up. At this point the story seems to be warming up nicely.

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