Space Pirates (parts 4, 5 and 6)

The Autobots and Decepticons team-up to repel the Quintesson invasion of Cybertron, and Metroplex is awakened to fight them on Earth

In 2008, the Quintesson home world (Quintessa?) is being torn apart by gravitational forces, making it necessary for them to expedite an invasion of Cybertron. Fearful that the Matrix of Leadership could thwart them, they have laid waste to Autobot City Earth and set a trap for Rodimus Prime, who is of course the bearer and keeper of the Matrix in this post Transformers Movie era.

Transformers #185 from Marvel UK, published in the Autumn of 1988, contains part 4 of Simon Furman’s story. Dougie Braithwaite is again credit with the art. His style is not quite to my taste but has its moments. One such scene is the defeated Autobots hanging from the city walls like a medieval or biblical display (the dead bodies of criminals being hung up as a warning). It’s one of the standout moments of Space Pirates, which is otherwise quite average as far as Furman’s “future” epics go.

The next phase of the Quintesson masterplan is underway as the Decepticon commander Soundwave leads his airborne army into a trap. He’s normally a wily operator but has been completely fooled by the Quintesson’s fake plea for help, claiming that the Autobots were attacking their home planet. Soundwave should have known something was suss, as attacking worlds is not something Autobots do, but instead he saw an opportunity to strike at the Autobot base while the bulk of their forces would be absent.

Aboard Astrotrain with his team leaders, Soundwave is boasting of his impending success, pride before a fall and all that. Just in the Movie, Astrotrain can massively increase his size when is in plane or train mode, enough to accommodate numerous colleagues with room to spare.

They are attacked by Quintesson tridents and forced to bail out (Astrotrain reverts into a normal sized robot and joins the counterattack), it dawns on Soundwave that he has been played. Elsewhere, Wreck-Gar and Wheelie continue to deal with a heavily damaged ship and set a course for a remote asteroid. Both are still being as annoying as ever, talking TV and in rhyme. As I’ve said before, it must be a real pain for the writer to come up with their dialogue.

On Cybertron, Ultra Magnus and Blaster’s cassette, Eject, receive a distress call of unknown origin, which is of course from Soundwave. This suggests the two enemy camps are likely to join forces to repel the invading Quintessons. Surely there would have been ample Decepticon reinforcements to call on though? Their base may have been pinned down, but it’s a planet full of Transformers! The Quints should be massively outnumbered.

Part four ends on a decent enough cliff-hanger, with Rodimus arriving on Earth and whopping out the Matrix to heal the battered up Arcee, only to get ambushed by the Quintessons and one of them to fly away with the sacred bauble. With it out of reach, Prime shrinks and reverts to Hot Rod! A bad situation has got massively worse.

Elsewhere in the issue, there’s an opportunity to win one of three Trypticon toys (usually only available in the US). It’s a nifty prize and of course I entered the competition back in the day. Never won of course.

Lee Sullivan takes over the art for the final two instalments, depicting a very toothy Hot Rod and pliable faces for his robots, which I didn’t care for much at the time (the style has grown on me since). The final splash page with Metroplex is among his best work however and still looks very cool today.

Hot Rod and Arcee burn rubber away from hordes of Quintesson soldiers, bringing the ceiling down to cover their escape. General Ghyrik is scene watching various monitor screens, with the Matrix dangling from his pincher arm.

In need of reinforcements, Hot Rod and Arcee abseil down to the stricken Blaster (still unconscious and suspended from the city walls) and recover his cassettes. We previously saw Rewind, Ramhorn and Steeljaw in the 1986 Transformers Movie and it’s an exciting ‘fanboy’ moment with them making their comic’s debut.

On Cybertron, the Decepticons are still getting their asses whooped. Soundwave himself nearly falls foul of a Quintesson trooper sneaking up behind him, when Ultra Magnus arrives and blows the would-be assassin away. Salvation has arrived apparently, even though the ‘reinforcements’ only appear to comprise of Magnus, Eject and three of the Technobots (hardly a game changer).

Wreck-Gar and Wheelie bail out of their smoking shuttle on to a large asteroid where other Junkions are waiting with a transmitter, presumably to warn the universe of the Quintessons’ plans. To be honest it only really involves the Cybertronians and they have by now got a pretty good idea that they are under attack.

After some nice panels of the cassettes in pitched battle, part 5 concludes with Hot Rod successfully awakening the sleeping giant at the heart of Autobot City (and the reason it can transform) – with Metroplex bursting out of the ground. I dare say at this point, Hot Rod seems to be a much smarter and more effective than Rodimus was, which is a bit ironic.

The elements are all in place for a major Quintesson rout in the final part, which unfortunately takes the tension out of the story. Metroplex has apparently woken from his five year slumber like a bear with a sore head (usually a long sleep produces the opposite effect), and swats the invaders like insects.

General Ghyrik watches aghast, but he still has the Matrix, and this could yet give him a winning advantage. He goes off to retrieve it with Hot Rod following, fearful that the Matrix could be ‘perverted’ to the cause of evil (considering it would not open for Galvatron, a Decepticon, this seems unlikely).

Ghyrik gets a power boost from the Matrix and beats up Hot Rod, who is suffering from a nasty case of self-doubt, ‘wondering why the Matrix chose him’ until he predictably snaps out of it, snatches back the sacred talisman and restores himself as Rodimus Prime. He throws Ghyrik off the roof of Autobot City and leaves him a spectacular mess on the floor below!

On Cybertron, Magnus, now annoyingly drawn to the same proportions as Soundwave (when toy-wise he’s twice the size) work together to mop up the invading forces. Soundwave’s moment in the aftermath, where he considers that the two factions could perhaps reconcile, is a fascinating moment of what if. But he concludes that it would never work, there’s too much water under the bridge.

Finally, Wreck-Gar and the Junkions broadcast the Quintessons’ invasion plans to all of their would-be targets, leaving this soon-to-be extinct race without a card to play (all of which seems pretty vindictive). Finally, Quintessa is torn apart, with Lord Kledji threatening revenge (this would be the last time they appear in the comic though). We learn that Autobot scientists will soon discover that the planet’s demise was the result of a ‘rapidly expanding rift’ in the fabric of time and space… setting the scene for the next epic, the 1989 year’s opener Time Wars.

It’s interesting to note the clues as to the state of the comics market evidenced in Transformers #187. The first and last four pages are on the regular paper, and the rest of the book on what I would now call recycled paper. It’s a cheaper type and suggestive of the rising prices of paper, pushing up costs in the market.

At the same time, it appears that Marvel UK’s rapid expansion is coming apart. The weekly Action Force title has folded, followed by Visionaries (who’s final stories are being concluded in Transformers in the back up slot) and an advert for the Thundercats comic reveals it is amalgamating/absorbing the doomed Galaxy Rangers title. Elsewhere there’s plugs for Doctor Who Magazine, Dragon’s Claws (both of which I collected) and an upcoming Death’s Head title.

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