Jesse and Blaster go undercover posing as holiday makers at Club Con – why exactly have the Decepticons opened their island base up as a vacation resort for human holidaymakers?
Club Con is Bob Budiansky’s most offbeat and implausible tale since the infamous Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom. Essentially the set-up is the Decepticons have decided to commercialise their tropical island base as a summer vacation spot and are busy welcoming holidaymakers to their shores.
At this point in the Marvel comics run (December 1988) the Decepticon HQ was a vast undersea structure with an island façade up top and capable of transforming into a huge spaceship as and when the need required.
It’s fair to say that this island is more appealing holiday destination than the Decepticons’ former base, the Wyoming coalmine, but you would still have to be batshit-crazy to want to take your family to a resort run by giant alien robots that have been in the news for all the wrong reasons for four years.
As with the Carwash of Doom story from the previous year, Bob is asking readers to suspend their incredulity and just enjoy the ride. That’s fine as it goes but it takes a lot to get past the incredibly silly concept. Thank goodness it features my favourite Autobot, Blaster, and for the US audience there’s the debut of the Seacons (they already showed up in the UK in Enemy Action, where they battle Galvatron).
One of the hallmarks of Bob’s work is humour. He doesn’t take Transformers too seriously and will try a story that is tongue-in-cheek whether it’s a Decepticon holiday resort or Skullgrin forging a career in the movies. At his best he’s delivered stories like Warrior School and Prime Time and has earned the right.
Another indulgence is the cover. For the first and only time, Bob provides the cover image of Jesse fleeing the jaws of the Seacon shark Jawbreaker/Overbite – and it’s a cracking image, some real talent there.
The story opens with a TV commercial for Club Con with Starscream, now back in the Decepticon fold as Ratbat’s number two, transforming and landing outside a typical American home to collect and transport a family. Sandy beaches, fine restaurants, and a friendly staff (of Decepticons) await.
As I said, it requires a suspension of disbelief. In reality resorts need accommodation, bookings, chefs, supplies, room cleaners, pool cleaning, etc, plus of course someone with the know-how to book TV ads, assuming the Decepticons have money. Getting picked up by a robot calling itself ‘Starscream’ should ring the odd alarm bell as well.
Aboard the Ark, which we assume is orbiting the Earth once more, Optimus Prime is now installed as the Autobot leader and has Fortress Maximus and Grimlock as his senior team. They are watching the advert with interest and incredulity, and with Prime coming across a bit of a dick telling Grimlock to “shh” and pointing out the glaring obvious to Fortress Maximus that Buster Witwicky – who is billed on the ad as the island’s ruler – is the brother of Spike, Max’s human component, and not Max himself.
Perhaps Prime is concerned by Max’s lack of objectivity where Buster is concerned, which had nearly disastrous results on a previous occasion (see the Desert Island of Space). Most likely though, the narrative is explaining Max and Buster’s connection to any new readers who may be unfamiliar.
Grimlock comes across as he frequently does in the US comics as a moron – exclaiming “goody goody! Grimlock want to bash Decepticons.” Prime decides instead that they will send an agent undercover to infiltrate Club Con and find out what is really going on. Cue Blaster, who is currently being put through his paces by his “Auto-buddies” which includes Outback (not sure he should be here) and what looks like the Decepticon Runamuck (who definitely isn’t supposed to be here).
Back on Earth, Sparkplug Witwicky is fixing a car to take his mind off the fact that his younger son has been a Decepticon captive for several months (bear in mind Sparkplug was Megatron’s prisoner for only a few days in the early comics and it was traumatic) and to make matters worse, his older son has effectively become a Transformer, having bonded with Fortress Maximus.
Buster’s girlfriend Jesse is keeping him company. This is the first time we’ve seen her since the infamous Carwash of Doom story and Club Con is, I’m pretty sure, her last appearance in the comic. It’s nice that she gets to play a leading role at last.
A large metallic egg falls from the sky and pops open to reveal a tape deck which transforms and grows into Blaster. He’s seeking Sparkplug’s assistance to sneak him into Club Con but Jesse points out that someone “as mature” as the older Witwicky might stand out, so it’s better for her to accompany Blaster.
Two days later Starscream is discussing with Ratbat on the progress of their “operation” which we learn that it is of great importance to the Decepticons on Cybertron. Starscream is flippant towards this Cybertron bean-counter who usurped Shockwave’s leadership, Ratbat, telling him he “worries too much” and neglecting to call him commander. He quickly covers the faux pas as a hangover from his long time in an Autobot stasis pod, but we can assume he’s no fan of Ratbat’s and will be scheming to replace him (as he has every other Decepticon leader).
Blaster and Jesse have arrived. I rather like his nick name for Jesse “soft-skin” showing an affection but also that TFs still find creatures of flesh quite a novelty from the machine lifeforms they are used to. Blaster is quite paranoid about Jesse’s safety, and rightly so as they are deep in enemy territory, but she’s far more daring and gives Blaster the slip under the guise of going snorkelling but she’s fishing for clues as to the reality of Club Con and where Buster might be.
Sneaking past a Stunticon ‘lifeguard’ she dives deep (without the use of an air tank!) and is terrified to see an enormous shark swimming her way! It turns out to be the Seacon Jawbreaker (Overbite as he’s known in the US comic and in the toy range) and he hasn’t seen her. Jesse observes the amphibious Decepticons swim into a hidden entrance.
Elsewhere in the comic, Dreadwind and Hi-Test are hitting their stride on the letters page and reveal that the Deluxe Insecticons are featuring in the upcoming Time Wars epic (these characters have been skipped entirely by the monthly TF US comic) and a kid from Milton Keynes has seen Devastator on sale – quite a rarity in the UK where we had more comics but unfortunately the reduced toy range. There’s also a page ad for Death’s Head’s new monthly title.
In the second part, Jesse reports back to Blaster about the undersea base. He’s concerned she’s taking too many risks, but she is having none of it and sticks him in a waterproof bag and swims him down to the underwater entrance (once again demonstrating an inhuman ability to hold her breath for a very long time).
As Jesse and Blaster sneak aboard, they go unseen by Dragstrip and Vortex who are walking by, and Vortex is telling his pal how he put a Constructicon in his place. Some Special Teams rivalry there between the old and the new!
They very quickly find a human-sized door and Buster inside. He’s pleased to see Jesse and seems rather frisky! Okay so Jesse is looking great in her bikini, but surely the top priority is to escape? As it happens, Buster is tethered around the ankle and the room is too small for Blaster to transform into robot mode and rip the bonds.
Buster will have to wait a bit longer for freedom. He can at least let them know what’s going on and tells them that something unknown is “heading for Earth”, and two Autobot cassettes called Raindance and Grandslam were sent from Cybertron to Earth to warn about it. They crash landed a couple of centuries ago and wound up in a pirate treasure chest that sunk aboard a galleon. So now the Seacons have been searching for the cassettes and the holiday operation is a big ruse.
Interestingly (or not) in Buster’s recap we see Defensor alongside Beachcomber. I’m pretty sure this is meant to be Perceptor but an error on the part of the artist.
Right on cue, the Seacons have located the treasure chest and present it to Commander Ratbat. While team leader Snaptrap is milking the moment (to Ratbat’s annoyance) Jesse swipes the two cassettes and scarpers, leaving a trail of wet footprints for the Seacons to follow.
She gets back the beach in quick time but the Seacons surface and start shooting at holidaymakers (a questionable strategy as I don’t see how that recovers the stolen cassettes, and it might even destroy them). Blaster breaks cover and transforms in order to battles the six heavily armed Decepticons. His only advantage is that, they are less effective on land, and he has his trusty Electro Scrambler gun to mess them up.
When a child gets in the firing line Blaster protects him and takes a direct hit. Weakened, he has no option but to spit the cassettes into the ocean and then revert back to tape deck mode as the Seacons dive in search of their missing treasure.
Jesse thinks she’s messed up, but thanks to her Blaster has accessed the data and learned the Decepticons’ plans… and she got a tan, so the trip wasn’t a total loss.
Club manager Starscream is left to apologise to the departing holidaymakers and to ask them (forlornly) to “come again” – he’s really taking his host duties more seriously that he needs to. Jesse climbs aboard a Decepticon jet bound for home, with Blaster promising a return visit sooner than the Decepticons think.
Some closing thoughts. The version of this story that was published in the US labels it part one of the Underbase Saga, a four part story. The UK treats it as a standalone. I think perhaps because the instalments will be interrupted by a Christmas issue. Jesse is fantastic in this issue as the main heroine, what a shame we won’t see more of her in future issues.