The mysterious Z Foundation assembles a human mercenary team called the Roadjammers, with Sizzle, Fizzle and Backstreet as their first victims…
On revisiting the Transformers story Ca$h and Car-nage for this review, I was reminded of the first time I read it in November 1988. Back then, the UK Transformers comic had started the year on a high, with great stories like Desert Island of Space and City of Fear but by the end of the year the story quality had a taken a dip (Big Broadcast of 2006 being the nadir, and Space Pirates somewhat disappointing) and mirrored by a downgrading of the paper quality itself.
Bob Budiansky’s Ca$h and Car-nage, from TFUK #192 and 192, seemed to be following than downward descent, introducing another set of annoying human adversaries that no-one called for, in The Roadjammers. Where previously we had The Mechanic who wielded stolen TF technology, or Circuit Breaker’s mastery of electricity, the USP of this latest threat is an ability to ‘jam’ or paralyse a Transformer, rendering them incapable of transforming.
Like The Mechanic, Circuit Breaker, and Robot Master from the early days, these cocky human enemies are irritating enough that part of me would like to see them get stomped on by Megatron! At the end of the story the Roadjammers are set-up for a return, but for whatever reason this never happens, either because Bob lost interestin them or more likely because he left the comic a few months later, but they turn out to be one-off wonders which does rather render the story a bit pointless.
All that said, on approaching the story after 35 years, I found it a lot more enjoyable the second time around. It’s no classic but neither is it as bad as I remember.
Stephen Baskerville provides a suitably engaging cover for TFUK#192, presenting an element of mystery as to who the ball-and-chain wielding human is that is preparing a hit against Sizzle and Fizzle and newcomer Backstreet.
Interestingly the former two are presented in their Hasbro toy colourings and referred to as Sparkabots as opposed to ‘Sparkler Mini-bots’ as UK writer Simon Furman has called them previously (I am unsure why Simon deviated from the Hasbro naming or colour scheme only to have to align later, as there seems no logic in doing this). The story is also the US debut of the Sparkabots, Firecons and Triggerbots.
The action begins at a county fair, where a Schwarzenegger/Terminator-esque guy in a trench coat, calling himself Burn-Out, steps up to a ‘Reck the Robot’ attraction and pulls out a massive shotgun. He blows a fake robot to bits, but rather than triggering a stampede from panicked spectators (and a police firearm squad deployment) he’s approached by the stallholder and offered an opportunity to do some “real” robot hunting for $50,000. Music to the ears of the facially disfigured Arnie-lookalike.
At a demolition derby elsewhere, a motorcycling maniac called ‘Roadhog’ swings a ball and chain and destroys a bizarre looking Transformer vehicle. He wins the ‘Z-Foundation Challenge’ and is also offered a chance to pit his skills against real life robotic opponent. And geeky bounty hunters ‘Felix’ and ‘Skunge’, who use their gadgetry know-how to get an edge, are recruited via a poster from the Z Foundation offering a reward for the capture or destruction of a Transformer.
The recruits all wind up in New York City two days later, at the Z Foundation’s corporate headquarters. Burn-out and Roadhog look like coming to blows but the other two are a calming influence and you get the impression that if they work together, they might be greater than the sum of their parts.
Incidentally the $50k reward is clearly some sort of industry going rate. It’s exactly the amount Donny ‘Robot Master’ Finkleberg was paid to betray Skids, and the cheque ‘Big Steve’ from the Used Autobots story got for turning in the Throttlebots.
The Roadjammers are greeted by three suited flunkies, Mr B, Mr L and Mr K who all work for the mysterious Mr Z. The team are given a set of jamming devices that will even the odds against a Transformer and will be paid for every robot they are able to decommission. They go on their way and B L and K report back to Mr Z (who despite being in silhouette is pretty obviously going to turn out to be Lord Zarak, the Nebulan companion of Decepticon commander Scorponok).
The scene then switches to Cybertron where the Sparkabots and Triggerbots are rotting away in a Decepticon prison camp. Their jailers – the Firecons Cindersaur, Flamefeather, and Sparkstalker – put down a mini-rebellion and march Sizzle, Fizzle and Backstreet away for an energon bath and to be sent over the space bridge to Earth. It appears they will be offered up as an opportunity for the Roadjammers to demonstrate their abilities, and soon after the three Autobots emerge on Earth and quickly run into the team on the open highway.
As a footnote, the version of the story which published in the States had text Sizzle and Fizzle speaking like it was their first time on Earth. The UK editorial team were obliged to change this to have them update Backstreet that they had been here recently to battle Galvatron.
Issue #193 opens with Roadhog motorbiking alongside Sizzle in a backwater part of New York State and using his jamming device to render the Autobot inert. Though helpless, Sizzle uses internal radio to warn his comrades about the menacing humans and their unorthodox weapons.
Backstreet is soon confronted by Skunge and, after being frozen and captured, is able to plant a seed that they are being set up by the Decepticons. Fizzle encounters Burn-Out and tries unsuccessfully to reason with him. He reiterates the warning just before taking a shot-gun blast to the windscreen and having a jamming device tossed into his front seat. But later the Roadjammers mull over the situation and decide they are being manipulated.
However, instead of concluding that the whole Z-Foundation is crooked, they decide that it’s probably just their three handlers and if they dob them into Mister Z, they can still get paid (optimistic or just daft, you choose). With that, they pilot the captured Autobots back to the basement of the Z-Foundation building.
Once there they encounter the headless bodies of three Decepticons sitting in the parking lot – none other than new Headmasters Horribull Fangry and Squeezeplay. Misters B, K and L arrive and rip off their suits ‘Superman style’ to reveal their robotic armour underneath. How they ever fit this under their clothing is quite the mystery. The trio then transform into the heads of the Decepticons and attach themselves, but not before Felix is able to make use of the signal splitter he devised to jam these three new robots. Gotcha!
B, K and L, aka Brisko, Kreb and Lokos, could be human recruits but most likely they are Nebulans who accompanied Zarak and his team and have been binary bonded to a new wave of Headmasters later. This fact is never explained so we can only assume.
Mr Z emerges from the shadows to congratulate the jammers on their ingenuity and rip off his suit as well to reveal himself some oversized armour. Yes, he was Lord Zarak after all, and announces he has created an anti-jamming device which will be fitted to all Decepticons. The Roadjammers were needed to test the jamming devices and now they can hand them over if they want to live.
To back-up the threat, Scorponok emerges on cue from the shadows (quite how you hide a gigantic robotic scorpion is probably even more incredible than Zarak concealing his armour). The jammers flee in terror, but smart guy Felix remembers they have six Transformers under their control, and he programmes them to attack the Decepticon leader.
Under heavy assault, Zarak is forced to activate the anti-jammer to release the Decepticons from Felix’s command, even though it also frees the captured Autobots, who promptly collect up the Roadjammers and hightail it out of there.
A safe distance from New York City, they ask the jammers to hand over their devices to be destroyed as payment for the rescue. The Autobots then disappear into the sunset leaving the jammers to count their hard luck. Felix is upbeat and reveals that he is already building his own jamming device, and with other groups out there would pay hard cash for captured Transformers, they’ll soon be back in business!
This is a fair point, as we know Triple I are always looking for an opportunity to capture a Transformer, and possibly Cobra too. To be nitpicky I do wonder how Zarak and co were able to settle in on Earth so quickly, learning the language and establishing a business HQ and the money to pay $50,000 rewards.
It might have been interesting to see what would have happened if the Roadjammers had returned but it was not to be. We also don’t find out how Guzzle or the remaining Triggerbots got out of jail, but they’ll all appear in later stories.
Overall, Ca$h and Car-nage is an enjoyable ride, interspersed with action and Bob’s usual humour and ingenuity, while seamlessly introducing new characters. Scorponok’s crew are steadily establishing themselves as the new Earth-based Decepticons and will in a few issues time absorb Ratbat’s crew into their ranks. Next issue it’s the return of the original Decepticons and one of Bob’s most bizarre TF stories to date – Club Con!