On Cybertron in the year 2510, the last Decepticon falls, but can the Transformers’ war ever truly end?

Of the four stories in the 1988 Transformers Annual, the simply titled Peace is the standout favourite for me; in just six pages of story, it manages to be both profound and disturbing, posing big questions about how war corrupts the soul.

Unusually for once it is not Simon Furman writing the story, but newcomer Richard Alan, but the characters and set-up are closely knitted to Furman’s future-verse that I wonder if he had a hand in the edits. Robin Smith is the artist, with a tendency to ignore the fact that some robots (like Ultra Magnus) are larger than others and draw his robots in uniform, with small bodies and larger heads. The style is okay but niggles with me a bit.

Peace is set on Cybertron in the year 2510. War has raged for thousands of years, but this is the day the ‘last Decepticon has fallen’. It is a bold opening and cannot fail to command the reader’s attention; after all this is a comic series with a civil war between Autobot and Decepticon at its core. We’ve never stopped to consider what the end of the war might look like.

Well, perhaps not strictly true. The uber classic The Smelting Pool from 1986 had presented a Cybertron where the Decepticons had won the war, but even then, there was an active resistance movement. This time the last Decepticon has literally hit the floor, courtesy of Springer and his Wreckers team.

At a battered looking Autobase, Blurr breathlessly reports the good news to Autobot leader Rodimus Prime: “the war is over, the war is over”. There’s no joy or jubilation from Prime, relief and disbelief perhaps, but he looks like he’s about to pass out.

We’ve seen Rodimus doubting himself in previous stories like Wanted Galvatron and beating himself up for mistakes. It is a tough gig to follow in the footsteps of a legendary leader like Optimus Prime, but the Rodimus of 500 years hence is robot who is browbeaten and weary, probably suffering from severe post-traumatic stress and has literally nothing left in the tank.

Ironically, this is the very moment that his leadership is most needed. He now has a heavily armed warrior force that is devoid of a purpose or an enemy to keep them together. What follows is almost predictable but no less shocking.

Rodimus convenes a meeting of his warriors to confirm the rumours sweeping the planet that the war is over. The gathering looks like a cast of the key people from the 1988 set-up – Ultra Magnus, the Autobot triple changers, fellow Wreckers, and the Technobots. He announces that he will be standing down as Autobot commander with immediate effect and passing the Matrix and the mantle of leadership to the hero-of-the-hour, Springer.

Here’s where things get interesting. In the crowd is Triton, a Decepticon spy who has been lurking in the Autobot ranks undetected for 90 years. He faces the failure of his mission (and race) unless he can do something to upset the Autobot victory, even at this final stage. He takes his opportunity, stepping forward to question Springer’s suitability to lead in peacetime and suggesting Ultra Magnus, a previous Matrix bearer, is the better choice. He has a point on this to be fair.

This triggers Whirl who asks where Triton’s precious Magnus was when Springer was achieving the great victory. Triton punches Whirl, causing Roadbuster to raise his weapon, and Scattershot (a Magnus loyalist) blasts Roadbuster in the face leaving a smouldering pile of wires and circuits where the latter’s head was. Wow!

Rodimus can see the situation collapsing around him but is powerless to stop the car crash events from unfolding.

Sandstorm opens fire on Triton and in moments two Autobot factions are shooting at one another. Out of eyeshot an Autobot badge slips off the fatally injured Triton to reveal the Decepticon insignia underneath. It is the day the last Decepticon fell… and the war began again!

If that isn’t a kick in the pants, what is? You like to think that the Autobots would come to their senses and realise that they have been manipulated by a Decepticon troublemaker. But it’s like everybody is so traumatised by the centuries of fighting that they’ve lost the ability to think straight and know no other way than to keep running the same program.

Peace is dark, pessimistic, and massively ironic, as the Autobots win only to lose, and they become the warmongering race they initially took up arms to defeat. It begs the question of what will happen next; will a strong leader emerge to quieten everything down? Will the population end up locking up or banishing their once mighty warriors who don’t have the ability to stop?

We don’t find out as no sequel was ever produced. But the story does throw up many interesting and unanswered questions.

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All in the Minds!

Highbrow is ambushed by Scorponok and the Decepticon Headmasters, who want to use him as a weapon against the Autobots.

If you go down to the woods, you’re sure of a big surprise… in this case a nightmarish Scorponok, his powerful pinchers reducing a tree to wood filings as he rampages through a forest in pursuit of Highbrow.

This is the dramatic opening to All in the Minds, an 11-page Simon Furman tale, illustrated by Dan Reed, in the 1988 Transformers annual.

The story has a very simple premise: Highbrow, the Autobot Headmaster, has been lured into a trap by humans under the psychic control of Mindwipe. He’s been ambushed by Decepticon leader Scorponok and will be deployed as a weapon against the Autobots unless he can escape.

If the story feels familiar it’s probably because the 1987 story Worlds Apart also featured a duel between this middle ranking Autobot and the larger more powerful Scorponok (depicted by Reed with monstrous fangs).

It might be that Scorponok has developed an unhealthy fixation on Highbrow after that earlier incident, perhaps as a revenge for his defeat at that earlier encounter. Or maybe Highbrow was just unlucky enough to fall into the trap.

The action is pretty much constant. I like the panel where Scorponok punches the gun from Highbrow’s hand, causing major damage to the weapon. He then pummels Highbrow’s face, which you would think would cause serious injury to Gort (the Nebulan who becomes Highbrow’s head).

Scorponok is wearing his shield, which is rare in the comic, but familiar to kids who owned the Scorponok toy. In fact, I still have mine today, although it’s a little worse for wear having been passed down through the family.

Highbrow thinks fast, jamming Scorponok’s pincher with a log – a short distraction. And then finding his damaged gun, he sets it to overload and magnetically attaches it to Scorponok’s chest where upon it explodes spectacularly.

As Scorponok sinks to his knees cursing, Highbrow comes under attack from the air by the Horrorcons (Apeface and Snapdragon) in the aircraft modes. He transforms into a helicopter and does some fancy flying through the woods causing the less accomplished Apeface to collide with trees. Snapdragon, transforming into dragon mode, starts tearing up trees looking for his quarry.

Highbrow doesn’t get far as he runs into an airborne Mindwipe (in bat mode) who unleashes his hypnotic scare. This is an ability which is rarely seen in other TF stories but showcased quite nicely here. It reveals Mindwipe to be a powerful adversary.

Scorponok tears off Highbrow’s Autobot insignia and as he wakes up the two Decepticons try to convince him they are all comrades. The plan seems to work, until the pair transform their heads into Lord Zarak and Vorath, and Gort emerges from Highbrow. Gort as we know, never properly integrated his mind with Highbrow, and in this case has escaped Mindwipe hypnosis.

He attacks Vorath but Zarak is able to recombine with Scorponok. Gort’s only chance is to reunite with Highbrow and risk falling under the Decepticon spell once more.

Readers assume this is what has happened, until Highbrow reveals his compliance is an act (Gort was able to take control after all) and he rips Scorponok’s head from his shoulders, rendering both body and head comatose.

It’s the result of the head detaching without the proper mental commands apparently. I thought that was quite a neat way to exploit a Headmaster’s weakness, even one as powerful as Scorponok.

The story ends with Highbrow trudging off into the sunset carrying Scorponok’s head as a spoil of war. We would find out what happens next in the second part of 1989’s year opener, Time Wars.

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Cold Comfort and Joy!

It’s Christmas and Optimus Prime returns to Earth to rediscover his connection to the planet, and the Powermasters investigate a robotic rampage.

The iconic image of Optimus Prime in a Santa outfit on the cover of Marvel UK Transformers #41 established the tradition of the ‘Christmas issue’. That was in December 1985 and the festive edition became an annual thing thereafter.

Each year the comic’s regular writer Simon Furman would conjure up a different scenario where a Transformer would discover the ‘meaning of Christmas’. This was not in a religious sense (that might be a bit misplaced in a comic about warring robots) but on the theme of ‘peace and goodwill to all men’ and with lots of snow!

The first time we had Circuit Breaker halting her attack on Jazz after Buster Witwicky drew her attention to the sound of Christmas bells. The next year Buster gave Jetfire the ‘gift’ of perspective. And in 1987, Starscream learned to do a good deed! As you can probably gather these stories were fluffy feel-good tales, containing a bit of action and humour, plus sentimentality bordering on cheesy.

The average reader would have been boys and young teens for whom Christmas would be a special time of year, and the comic wanted to be a part of that. Fair enough.

Cold Comfort and Joy, from December 1988, follows the established pattern. This time the cast are the Autobot Powermasters and the new look Optimus Prime – all of whom were headlining the toy range at that time. And unusually, not a Decepticon enough.

Optimus has returned to Earth for the first time since his resurrection on Nebulos but is not quite the robot he once was. There’s also a mystery about a giant robot ‘attack’ on a human settlement that the Powermasters set off to unravel, and finally a resolution for Prime’s malaise.

Optimus Prime not being his old self is one of the more interesting aspects of Furman’s story. The great Autobot leader was of course fatally wounded following his encounter with Megatron in the multi-world (see the 1987 classic Afterdeath!) and his essence preserved on disk by Ethan Zachary. After existing for a time as a games character, Prime was eventually retrieved and downloaded into a new and upgraded body by the Nebulan scientist Hi-Q (who went on to become his Powermaster engine and binary-bonded partner).

But it’s an interesting question whether this Optimus Prime is the same being who led the Autobots previously, or a clone copy. I prefer to think he is one the same, but it would be understandable if this resurrected Prime was missing some of the memories and learned insights that defined and shaped the old Optimus (I mean, how much data could Ethan really have saved, especially on a single floppy disk!!).

This new Prime knows how important the Earth was to his former self. But standing amid the snow-covered landscape he is struggling to remember what he ever saw in the place. Hi-Q is “enchanted” by the winter wonderland (do they have snow on Nebulos? Maybe not) and Prime thinks their bonding may have changed him. My theory is the missing data, but anyway…

There are echoes of Furman’s earlier classic, Crisis of Command, where Prime was restored to the leadership after a period as a dismembered captive of the Decepticons and suffered a crisis of confidence – did he still have what it takes to lead? This time Prime is unsure that he can still prioritise the protection of the Earth over doing what is militarily necessary to end the Decepticon threat.

Andy Wildman, the artist who would become a close Furman collaborator, provides the cover and the internal artwork. Some people will like the fact that he draws his robots with human like expressions and rubbery faces, but I’m not keen. I prefer the sharp lines of the Geoff Senior approach. And the three Nebulans on Andy’s cover all look like the same person.

That said, the cover works well as a teaser for the story, with Hot Wire, Lube and Rev telling the reader that “they said” (they being the Autobots) they would teach them all about “peace and the spirit of goodwill” but instead the Autobots are in the background involved in a big scrap. What’s going on? Readers will surely pick up the comic to find out, especially as the opponents look very much like the Autobot triple changers Sandstorm and Broadside.

With this being a Christmas edition, Furman and Wildman have a bit of fun with the story. We get Slapdash watching TV and referring to Miami Vice as “Miami Metal Clamp or something like that” and learning a kick from the show. And later, in the flashback to the Ark rebuilding a Transformer, there’s blueprint on screen for a toaster!

The story begins with a nice splash page of Optimus Prime walking the Earth once more, and its Christmas day. He’s lost in thoughts, wondering what’s changed and why he no longer feels the same affinity for the planet that he once sacrificed his life for (maybe it’s the cold and the snow?).

The Powermasters are waiting for him in the shuttle. Joyride is worried about their leader, while Slapdash just wants the door closed to keep the draft out (fair enough). His TV viewing gets interrupted by a newsflash of a giant robot rampage through Border Flats, a nearby settlement. The Powermasters link up with their Nebulans and roll-out to investigate.

Prime reviews the early days on Earth, from the first battle with Megatron in Sparkplug’s scrapyard, to the battle in the Ark four million years previously, which resulted in the fateful crash landing on Earth. He remembers now – it was his decision to force the crash, intending to take Megatron and the Decepticons with them, and the civil war on Earth is his responsibility – the “sins of the Autobots” as Prime puts it.

This idea, that Prime deliberately sacrificed them all to try to end the war, would be developed further in Furman’s Transformers ’84: Secrets and Lies mini-series in 2021.

The Powermasters roll through the devastated town, convinced that they are witnessing Decepticon handiwork. They standout like you would expect (one is a yellow racing car after all) but nobody seems to spot the lack of any drivers. Joyride is pissed that those responsible have “crushed the spirit” of the townsfolk.

When they spot large footprints, they race after them and pounce on the trio – Slapdash even uses a kick he learned from Miami Metal Clamp! It turns out their opponents are in fact the Autobots Sandstorm, Broadside and Inferno, and they had been trying to get close to the festive celebrations when they sparked a panic and busted up buildings. Oh dear.

Optimus arrives to apply some perspective: the incident has reminded them that they do not belong on the Earth and have a duty to safeguard it. Joyride observes that Christmas is for sharing and giving, but all the Transformers have given is war.

And Prime vows to do something about that, starting with clearing up the town. The snowstorm is clearing, but with so many Decepticons still at large, Prime observes that the real storm is still to come.

And of course, he’s not wrong, as 1989 is to begin with the hotly anticipated Time Wars – where a rift in space and time is threatening to destroy Earth and Cybertron. It’s touted in the ‘Next Week’ feature as seven issues that are “destined to be the finest comics you’ve ever possessed”. That’s a bold statement.

Lastly, on the Dread Tidings page there was a form inviting readers to send off for the Transformers Universe (a book of profiles on each character) for the amazingly low by modern standards price of £1.99. Of course I sent off for it and it was a fantastic purchase.

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