Firebug!

A gremlin-like creature with a fondness for arson arrives from space and sets a human town ablaze, as Inferno, Broadside and Sandstorm investigate

“Shorter but no less shocking,” is how the introduction to UK Transformers #188 describes it’s 11-page story, Firebug. It appeared in print in October 1988, straight after Simon Furman’s Space Pirates saga which culminated with the colossus, Metroplex, stomping on Sharkticons and the Quintesson planet blowing up!

After that, whatever followed was likely to be more sedate, regardless of the comic’s claims to the contrary, but a change of pace is no bad thing.

The first thing to notice about this issue is the dip in paper quality. As a guy in my school rather crudely put it: “It’s been printed on bog roll!” He had been collecting since the early days like I had but gave the comic up soon after. He had probably grown out of comics, but the recent run of poor stories wouldn’t have helped.

For whatever reason, being busy or just bringing forward new talent, Furman is credited with the plot and has delegated the actual writing duties to newcomer Dan Abnett. It’s the first time Simon has not been credited as the writer of a UK story in the weekly comic since I think Mike Collins did Crisis of Command in 1986.

It’s a gentle easing into franchise for Abnett, with a fairly throwaway tale about a space gremlin who starts fires and provides a challenge for our resident fire engine Inferno (last seen meeting his making in an exploding spaceship in 2008, this is his earlier ‘present day’ self). The Firebug character has not appeared in Transformers before and won’t do so again, so I suspect he was just brought in this one time as an obvious nemesis for the big red fire engine Autobot.

On the plus side, it’s nice that Inferno is finally making appearances in the comic. He was part of the 1985 Hasbro toy line, very much yesterday’s news for the toymaker which has moved on to Headmasters, Powermasters, Pretenders and the like, so it’s good that this older character has featured.

Sandstorm and Broadside are his companions, and Broadside seems to spend chunks of the story being bickering with the other two, despite being the team leader. Following an intro page where a meteor impacts near Mt St Hilary in Oregon (naturally) overnight, the Autobot trio landed the following day.

They’ve been sent by Emirate Xaaron, the elder and commander of the Autobot forces on Cybertron to set up a permanent reconnaissance post (you would think Xaaron has enough on his plate on Cybertron without worrying about Earth). They cloak the ship and make a joke about remembering where they parked, which feels like it’s been nicked from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Inferno teases pokes fun at the Wreckers’ last visit to Earth to take down Galvatron which turned into a disaster when they materialised in a human settlement (this time it’s old-fashioned travel by spaceship). Broadside getting touchy and squaring up to Inferno is not a great look for a unit commander. Sandstorm intervenes.

The orange triple-changer then goes off to investigate smoke in the distance. Even though they are not permitted to get involved in human affairs (sounding even more like Trek) he’s itching for some action. Inferno isn’t going – once you’ve seen the “molten heart of a star” Earth fires are minor league. Nice point.

Sandstorm finds a small town ablaze and a major emergency in progress. Broadside agrees they will have to step in. This gives Inferno an opportunity to do the firefighting he’s well equipped for, until Broadside catches a glimpse of something in a burning building. It turns out to be Firebug, a native of Furnacia, who feeds on high temperatures and likes combustible matter (Earth is rich pickings).

There’s a bit of humour from the writer about the nomadic Firebugs having ended up on an ice world “with predictably disastrous results,” Inferno notes.

This Firebug is fast and easily evades the Autobot trio’s clumsy attempts to capture him. I did laugh at the frames where Sandstorm fires his Silica Gun and melts a Ford Fiesta (not too many of those in Oregon I’d bet, though they were common to the UK back then). After dodging fireballs and bumping into each other, the Autobots team up to pin the Firebug down and extinguish his flame.

But what to do with their captive? They resolve to stuff him in a message pod (no radio messages then?) and blast him off to Mercury where the surface temperatures of 400 degrees C prove to be just the ticket. All’s well that ends well, and to fair to the Firebug, he’s not a villain but is just doing what his race does to survive, that’s burning things! In summary, not a bad little story but not destined to be a classic. Dan Abnett will get a chance to sink his teeth into something more consequential in the next story, Dry Run, which features the return of Megatron.

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