Kup’s Story

Centuries ago, Kup lost his fighting edge and exiled himself to deep space rather than become a liability to his fellow Autobots… and that was how he met Hot Rod and Blurr.

Kup’s story, from September 1987, is a rarity for the Marvel UK Transformers comic in that it’s a single edition story in a sea of mostly two-parters. Although later in the run the UK material mainly be standalone strips in black and white (while Simon Furman was focused on writing the US comic) at this point in the comic’s evolution single stories were mostly reserved for the Christmas edition.

Still, as the saying goes, sometimes less is more, and this compact story by Simon Furman and with atmospheric art by Dan Reed is a gem. It’s an origin tale for Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr, the three ‘future Autobots’ who were first introduced to us in Target: 2006 but it is so much more than that as we’ll discuss shortly.

Thanks to the Headmasters saga in the UK comic’s back-up strip, readers have learned that Kup and his two close buddies are not future Autobots after all. They were not born out of the events of Transformers: The Movie like the ‘future Decepticons’ Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, but have been around for centuries as members of the Fortress Maximus led resistance on Cybertron. In Kup’s case, he’s been around for a very long time before that. (This makes sense when you think about it, as his character in the Movie is that of an old veteran Autobot with a seemingly unending array of war experiences).

At the point in his life where Kup’s Story takes place, he’s burned out, has lost his fighting edge and become a liabilty to his fellow Autobots. Kup is suffering from ‘combat fatigue’ according to the medics. No doubt it’s the psychological impact of millions of years in the firing line and this is where I think the story breaks new ground. We’ve seen that Transformers are pretty much immortal. Other than extreme circumstances like being melted down (like Scrounge in The Smelting Pool) or blown-up so that their brain modules are destroyed, as happened to Prime in Afterdeath, they can usually be repaired and recover from most traumas. However, what about those of a psychological nature? Just as armed forces and the police can succumb to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, leading to medical retirement, Kup has the Autobot equivalent.

Rather than shutting himself down, as Cerebros tries to do in the Headmasters Rebirth cartoon, Kup has elected to exile and has ‘ridden off’ into the sunset, or in this case boarded a ship and set course for deep space. As we join him for the opening page, he’s sat in a command chair on his bridge feeling sorry for himself and remembering the good old days when he was a hero for the cause and accounted for more than his share of Decepticon casualties. These days, the most he can hope for is a swift and painless end.

It isn’t to be. His ship is rocked by shockwaves cascading out from a space battle nearby. From his view screen he sees a small craft being pursued by two larger insect-like vessels. The pursuers are prolonging the chase for the enjoyment of it. This reminds Kup of sort of thing the Decepticons would do and for a moment he’s about to lend a hand, but then he checks himself and remembers that in his condition he could easily miss and blow the pilot out of the sky himself! The aliens close in until finally Kup open fire, crippling one of the enemy vessels and causing the other one to flee.

He teleports the pilot aboard, in what looks very much like a Star Trek reference, and is shocked to discover that a fellow Autobot standing in front of him – Hot Rod!

Kup’s guest explains that he and Blurr had been exploring habitable worlds for Fortress Maximus (a suggestion that Max may have been looking for a place to escape from Cybertron’s civil war for many centuries before he settled on Nebulos) and they got captured by the Tyroxians. Hot Rod got away in a stolen shuttle and is hoping that Kup will accompany him back to the planet to recover Blurr. That is out of the question as far as Kup is concerned: he is a retired Autobot and long past such daring do. Still, he can’t help but admire Hot Rod’s boldness and it reminds him of someone.

Later, while Kup is reclining, the proximity alarm sounds. They could not have arrived at Cybertron already and yet they are in orbit of somewhere. Kup realises that Hot Rod had changed their course to Tyroxia and has used a pod to go down to the planet to attempt a rescue all on his own, with no back-up or plan. That has to be the stupidest thing he’s ever seen, but also one of the bravest… and Kup realises it’s something he might have done back in the day. Suddenly he wants his old life back and, with Hot Rod in mortal danger on the planet below – being confronted by a magnificent four armed and axe-wielding giant, he finally has the impetus he needs to re-join the battle.

Hot Rod is bounced off several walls and is about to be chopped into tiny pieces when Kup bursts in through a window and opens fire (using one of the generic chunky blasters that is a Reed trademark) and shouting his defiance at the doubters. Hot Rod stops him and points to the smouldering guard on the floor in front of them, it looks like he got the message!

Things wrap up quite quickly with Hot Rod and Blurr back aboard Kup’s shuttle and thanking him for the rescue and saying they’ll let him get back to his retirement. Kup is having none of it: he’s going with them. If these two are standard issue these days, the Autobots will need all the help they can get, he declares. This also begins the young versus old, youth against experience dynamic of Kup and Hot Rod where the two tease and antagonise one another but are actually very fond of one another.

Interestingly, earlier in the story Kup talks about living out his ‘remaining years’ in isolation, suggesting that Transformers might have a finite lifespan. James Roberts runs with the idea in his novel Eugenesis (written some years before his work on IDW) that brain modules eventually burn out and therefore it is possible for Transformers to naturally die.

In closing, this is a nice Kup tribute and a forerunner to Nick Roche’s Spotlight Kup for IDW in April 2007, which shows the character in the grip of a psychosis. We now have the explanation of how Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr come be on Nebulos to become Targetmasters and all that remains is to find out how Cyclonus and Scourge are there too. All will be revealed in an upcoming story, Grimlock hinted on his letters page. And so, from the past we jump to the future for the next story, back to the year 2007 and more from Rodimus Prime and Death’s Head.

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Ring of Hate!

Frustrated by the never-ending war on Cybertron, Fortress Maximus and his Autobots leave for a new life on the peaceful world of Nebulos, but their arrival is met with fear and hostility by the native Nebulans.

In September 1987 readers of the Marvel UK Transformers comic were introduced to a new species of Transformer – the Headmasters and Targetmasters. Simon Furman’s two parter, Worlds Apart, whet fans’ collective appetites for these unique new Autobots and Decepticons who are bonded with natives of the planet Nebulos who become their heads and weapons.

Furman’s story in issues #130-131 was a fun throwaway introduction, but the real meat in the sandwich was a four issue mini-series in the United States, written by Bob Budiansky, which established the origin of these new Transformers. That series was serialised in the UK Transformers comic via the back-up strip, so for 16 weeks in late 1987 readers were spoilt rotten with cover to cover Transformers stories.

‘Uncle Bob’ was instrumental in creating and defining the original Transformers characters on behalf of Hasbro in the early eighties. In 1986, as regular writer of the US book, he introduced the dystopian Cybertron where the Decepticons are in control and the heroic Autobots are reduced to scattered pockets of resistance (see the iconic Smelting Pool story). So Bob is the perfect writer to be tasked with mapping out the backstory of the Headmasters and Targetmasters, the Nebulans and a whole host of other characters. It’s a tall order to accomplish that while weaving a coherent story, but Bob does it with aplomb.

The mini-series tackles some big concepts, like love and sacrifice, betrayal, greed, revenge, and how war takes its toll on the characters.

Right off the bat we know we’re on to something interesting, as Scorponok shows what a cruel and sadistic bastard he is by unleashing his scorpion’s sting against an Autobot prisoner who is marching too slowly – possibly executing the poor soul. These survivors are being marched by Scorponok and his henchmen towards a slow and painful death in the Smelting Pool. (Whether this is the Straxus pool or Scorponok has his own, we don’t know).

Salvation arrives in the shape of Autobot leader Fortress Maximus – nemesis of Scorponok – who sets his army against the unsuspecting Decepticons leading to a fierce battle (told over two pages to give it a sense of epic). Fort Max is one-robot engine of destruction laying waste to the enemy while lambasting them as “evil stains” on the world. There’s a nice line from Scorponok of how the cowardice of his men “desecrates the name Decepticon” but their “destruction would serve no purpose” – so he signals a retreat, showing that he is smart enough not to waste resources in what is a long game. The enemy may win a battle but not the war… as the saying goes.

The Autobots return to their base in the Manganese Mountains jubilant. However, Fortress Maximus is no mood to celebrate (and bawls out Kup and Hot Rod for their triumphalism). He is weary of the war and has come to view Autobot and Decepticon as equally culpable in propagating the cycle. Max’s solution is for them to leave the battlefield and he has just the place… the planet Nebulos, a Saturn-like world he has observed for centuries, which has been at peace for thousands of years. With Cybertron passing closing to the Nebulan system, his intention is to leave for an exile on the planet. His followers can come with him or they can stay. Everyone is shocked but gradually the Autobots are convinced by Max’s argument and agree to follow him.
The slightly out of place reference to Optimus Prime (as a previous leader who disappeared and was never seen again) lets us know that Ring of Hate is set before the arrival of the message from Earth during the Smelting Pool story in mid 1986.

The Autobots devote their efforts to the rapid construction of the star ship Steelhaven and, as word spreads, comrades come from far and wide to join the exodus – the Technobots and Monsterbots among them – and soon they are warping away from Cybertron perhaps never to return. Once in orbit of Nebulos, the Autobots waste no time in disembarking. They find the planet to be a lush paradise full of organic life.

Max entrusts Highbrow with a device containing a message for the Nebulan leadership to announce their arrival and peaceful intent. Highbrow quite quickly stumbles across Gort, his youthful future binary bond partner, locked in an embrace with girlfriend Marita. It’s all a bit cringe-worthy as the cerebral Autobot geekily observes that they must have been engaged in data transfer (Bob always does a good job of showing the Transformers as alien and clueless as to the ways of humankind) but Highbrow only succeeds in startling the pair and causing Gort to fall and hurt his head. He departs with an earnest comment about hoping Marita’s companion “can be repaired”.

The plot moves fast, with the planet’s ruling council of peers meeting in the capital Koraja the following day to discuss their response to the Autobot message. When you consider that the Transformers have been on Earth for three years at this point and their presence has never been properly acknowledged by the US government (other than through the Robot Master hoax). Headmasters is already breaking new ground in terms of first contact.

Among the Nebulan senators, Lord Zarak is one of hawks who regards the Autobots’ arrival as the greatest threat to his people and urges them to rearm. Gort’s injuries are cited as evidence of the aliens’ ill-intent, despite Marita’s attempts to interject from the gallery. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and hated by Zarak, argues that they hold true to their values of peace and understanding and hear the aliens out. So, the Autobots’ emissary Blurr is permitted into the Nebulan capital the following day to deliver his message of peace.

Krunk, acting on orders from Zarak, aims a magnetic polarizer gun at Blurr causing his arm to be drawn to a fountain monument of a Nebulan globe, knocking it from its moorings and sending it into the crowd. Pandemonium breaks out and Blurr is forced to flee from a volley of fire from Zarak’s personal militia. The ambush of Blurr by Zarak’s forces was a spectacular success, proving that luck is on their side and against the Autobots. They could not have known that Blurr would stand at exactly the right distance to the globe or even know that his body would react to magnetism.

This causes a dilemma for the Autobots. If attacked do they fight back? Fortress Maximus is adamant: absolutely not. Little do they realise that Galen has been instructed by the council to unlock the armoury containing the Nebulans long-abandoned machines of war. Galen and Duros are soon leading an armada of war machines against the Autobots. Kup returns fire and is confronted by Max who tells him they will never convince the Nebulans of their peaceful intent if they fight. If Kup wants to battle the Nebulans he’ll have to go through his own leader. He backs down and they flee into the woods and swamp where the cumbersome vehicles cannot pursue.

Kup’s willingness to challenge authority is not a side of him we’ve seen before but it will surface again, much later when they are on Earth and Kup has serious misgivings about Fortress Maximus’ new headmaster partner Spike Witwicky, and later still when Optimus Prime proposes that the Autobots surrender to Scorponok to forge an alliance against Unicron.

It must be something about human nature (admittedly these are Nebulans but they certainly looks and act like Earth people) that a tradition of peace for ten millennia can be so easily cast aside the minute they feel threatened. It’s frankly a miracle that they have had peace for so long, especially considering the suspicious and manipulative ways of some of their number. While the noble Galen fears he may have betrayed his countrymen by acting in such haste, Zarak believes his manipulation of Galen has been necessary to manoeuvre the Nebulan leader into doing the sensible thing.

The Autobots are in a bind. They cannot return to Cybertron and the war, but neither can they risk igniting a new conflict. Fortress Maximus decides to take another of his bold risks. Accompanied by Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm, Highbrow, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Sureshot, Pointblank and Crosshairs, he advances on the Nebulan capital and pleads for peace. Zarak implores Galen to order the attack, and so to prove his good faith, Max offers the most he has to give… his head. In a macabre gesture he removes his head from his shoulders and surrenders it to the Nebulans. Hardhead, Chromedome, Highbrow and Brainstorm do the same. The others were a bit more sensible and merely surrendered their weapons!

Galen comes to his senses and realises that a moment of distrust can destroy 10,000 years of peace. He declares they will work with the Autobots and there will be no war this day. From the look on Zarak’s face its clear that he is not done yet.

The saga continues in the second instalment Broken Glass.

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Worlds Apart

The Headmasters make their UK Transformers debut in a Simon Furman story where Highbrow must learn to work together with his Nebulan partner Gort to save themselves from the pinchers of Scorponok!

September 1987. The Marvel UK Transformers comic goes head over heels for Headmasters! For several weeks leading up to issue #130 readers were promised a big celebration to mark the arrival of this new breed of Autobot and Decepticon and pulls out the stops with a free gift dataset (a sliding card thing dedicated to the new characters) and giving away 250 videos as competition prizes; but best of all as far as I was concerned as a 13-year-old fan at the time, was the mouth-watering prospect of ‘wall to wall Transformers stories’ as the the back-up strip was a Transformers story for the first time.

In fact for the next 16 weeks the comic would be reprinting the US Headmasters mini-series and it all started with Ring of Hate this issue – the story of how the Transformers brought their war to the peaceful planet of Nebulos.

I’d become aware of the new toys in the summer of ’87 after stopping by a local toy store and eventually collected all of the first wave of Headmasters with the exception of Fortress Maximus, who was never released in the UK, and the Horrorcons. I had Crosshairs from the Targetmaster range too. Admittedly the name ‘Headmasters’ is a little awkward for a UK audience. It’s the word kids would associate with their head teacher and that might make the new characters just a little less cool! In the US (Hasbro’s main market) the name probably had no such connotations as their schools are run by principals or deans, right?

These toys were the figure major revolution from Hasbro since the introduction of the Special Teams and it was inevitable they would debut in the comic to considerable fanfare.

With the back-up strip dealing with the origins of the Headmasters/Targetmasters, Simon Furman’s World’s Apart story acts as a segway into the world of these new Autobot and Decepticons who dwell on the distant planet Nebulos. It’s not entirely clear where the story sits within the Headmasters continuity. I’m guessing its somewhere in between Zarak setting the Autobot Headmasters free and their actual departure for Earth. In the US story that seemed to be a fair rapid sequence but perhaps it was more drawn out than is apparent. Worlds Apart is notable for the absence of Fortress Maximus, the Autobot Headmaster leader who is not part of the UK toy range, and this leaves for a nemesis for Scorponok which is filled somewhat unexpectedly by Highbrow.

We’re introduced to Nebulos, a ‘lush beautiful world whose inhabitants knew only peace, happiness and prosperity’ and told that the calm has been shattered by the sound of an age-old conflict. Enter the four Autobot Headmasters – Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm and Highbrow – dodging laser beams and explosions.

Chromedome notes that their ‘simple rescue mission’ has gone pear-shaped. They are attacked from the air by the jet forms of Apeface and Snapdragon, and ambushed on the ground by Weirdwolf and Skullcruncher. Mindwipe shows off his unusual and effective ability to hypnotise an opponent – in this Brainstorm – to crash into his colleague Hardhead, who transforms to robot mode holding his head. However, Chromedome shakes off his pursuers and has time to transform and shoots the Horrorcons down. He’s about to end up in Snapdragon’s jaws when Highbrow intervene with a well timed blast. The Autobots recover and score an unlikely victory as Mindwipe stages a fake retreat.

We start to learn a bit more about the Headmasters’ personalities as Highbrow establishes himself as serious and cautious, and a source of irritation for the more gung-ho Hardhead, who dismisses talk of a trap. We find out that the team were on their way to rescue their Targetmaster colleagues, Sureshot, Pointblank and Crosshairs, from the Decepticons. They have no choice but to push on, trap or not.

Highbrow gets interrupted in mid sentence as his Nebulan partner Gort reasserts himself. The head detaches and transforms into Gort in a robotic exo-suit, who speaks to Chromedome’s partner Stylor and bemoans his lack of compatibility with Highbrow. Furman has spotted some potential for that essential story ingredient ‘conflict’ in the Highbrow/Gort partnership, and how they overcome that is the crux of Worlds Apart. It’s predictable – you know they’ll overcome their differences and work together to save the day – but it’s still an enjoyable journey. We also learn at this point, via flashbacks, that the Nebulans had agreed to partner with the Autobots, sharing a united mind, to save the planet from the impending arrival of the Decepticons – and we get our first glimpse of the Nebulan leader Galen.

The group arrives at the Decepticon’s notorious Fortress of Despair (which sounds to me like something out of a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon episode). They find the doors open – all very suspicious – and proceed with caution. In a main chamber they find their Targetmaster comrades suspended above.

Sureshot, miscoloured in purple and magenta, shouts a warning for them to get out of there – it’s not the Targetmaster process the Decepticons are having trouble with, it’s their Headmaster conversion. These three are the bait… and right on cue a bulkhead is blown apart and the Decepticon Targetmasters file in accompanied by feared Decepticon leader, Scorponok! (He has no mercy you know…) Interestingly you can see Cyclonus and Scourge in silhouette. No doubt their presence will have been confusing for readers but we’ll find out in the 1988 Legacy of Unicron epic how they came to be here.

Part two begins with another great Lee Sullivan cover (of Highbrow trapped in Scorponok’s pinchers) to accompany Will Simpson’s pencils on the strip. The story resumes, this time from Scorponok’s eye view as the Autobots below him are in shock at his sudden arrival. However the Decepticon leader is not here to do battle. He requires an Autobot Headmaster to dissect, which suggests Scorponok is possessed of scientific abilities as well as deadly strength and stature, and chooses Highbrow as his unlucky victim.

He scuttles away with the Autobot in his pinchers, leaving the Decepticon Target Masters – Cyclonus, Scourge, Triggerhappy, Slugslinger and Misfire – to dispose of the others. It’s five versus three but the Headmasters quickly even the odds by freeing Sureshot, Pointblank, Crosshairs (curiously their Nebulan companions have been imprisoned alongside them and are able to quickly become their weapons). The Autobots now have the numbers advantage.

A short distance away Scorponok taunts Highbrow, who appears to have given up, to fight back a bit for goodness sake. When Highbrow speaks it is with two contradicting voices. Scorponok understands in an instant that his captive is about as far from an ideal specimen as he could find, however perhaps he can learn something here after all?

A quick flashback to the battle sees the Autobots making light work of their Decepticon opponents – and with Cyclonus and Scourge easily also disposed of (so much for these two being the match for one hundred Autobots as Galvatron boasted in Target: 2006). Chromedome sets off to rescue Highbrow.

Meanwhile, Scorponok transforms to robot mode. He understands now that the Headmaster process itself is sound but the problem lies in the pairing. Match the cerebral and aloof Highbrow with cheerful and brash Gort and they can’t get along. Now Scorponok will put them both out of their misery – or will he? Chromedome arrives in the nick of time and battles the giant Decepticon, opening fire, throwing sand in his face and dodging rocks and pincher blows. As he fights he tells Gort how he and Stylor are very different but are united by a common cause. Gort pulls himself together and bonds with Highbrow. As one, they fight with renewed vigour and Scorponok is caught by surprise. He flees to plan anew, calling the other Decepticons to his side.

Finally it seems that Highbrow and Gort have found some common ground with which to move forward. They may be ‘worlds apart’ in their thinking but they know that they can be a force for truth and justice. And that, says Highbrow, is what being a Headmaster is all about.

In summary, this issue is a turning point in the saga of the Transformers, heralding the biggest influx of new characters since the Special Teams. In addition to the Headmasters and Target Masters we have the new leaders – Fortress Maximus and Scorponok. Truth be told, Worlds Apart is enjoyable but feels less consequential that the back-up storyline which is the real meat of the saga. Ironically, it’s more significant than it appears as it establishes the Scorponok/Highbrow rivalry which we’ll see more of in the 1988 Annual and the later story, Time Wars. The Headmasters and Targetmasters have arrived and Transformers won’t be the same again.

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Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom!

One of the most bizarre Transformers stories of writer Bob Budiansky’s reign sees Buster Witwicky uncover a plot by Ratbat to steal gasoline by hypnotising motorists in his Wash and Roll car washes!

Simon Furman titled one of his early Marvel UK Transformers stories Raiders of the Last Ark and in 1987 it was the turn of US writer Bob Budiansky to run with the Indiana Jones theme. His story, Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom is one of his most off-the-wall and rather sounds like the title came to him in the shower one morning and he decided to craft a story around it.

On the up side it’s got Ratbat as a main character, offering us a chance to enjoy more of his obsessive penny pinching and complete absence of morals – and it’s a welcome return for the Buster Witwicky (who saves the day without help from any of his Autobot friends). On the downside its a stand-out silly story that even the UK editorial team are struggling to take seriously and raises questions about whether Bob was starting to get a bit bored with the book by this point.

Car Wash has been a few issues in the making. Bob introduced us to Ratbat an his role as Decepticon fuel auditor and bean counter in chief in the Trypticon story. Crater Critters established that he’d sent a mysterious cargo to Earth and in The Cure, Astrotrain darted GB Blackrock with a brainwashing microchip that allowed him to be manipulated for what’s to follow. At this point in the US run, readers last saw Buster at the end of the 1985 story Prime Time where he returned the Matrix to Optimus Prime and returned to a normal life. In the UK Buster returned a couple more times, not least in a major way for the Special Teams debut story Second Generation, but even this side of the pond he’s been absent for a good nine months. And what an infamous story to return to!

The story is printed in the UK in the pages of Transformers #128, with a cover depicting Shockwave setting his ‘dogs’ (Ramjet, Thrust and Vortex against a Blackrock tanker). I like it a lot. Now, Blackrock must be one of the most unlucky billionaires there is! Literally every time the Decepticons target a rig or a plant its always one his, never a competitor. (Having said that Blackrock did comment in UK#123 that tankers were going missing so perhaps the Decepticons have been targeting indiscriminately). On this occasion one of Blackrock’s tankers is attacked in a bit of piracy on the high seas by the Conehead jets, Vortex and the Insecticons (all fairly recent additions to the Earth Decepticons’ ranks).

Before too long the vessel is seized and the crew rounded up. Bombshell hits one poor soul with a mind-controlling Cerebro Shell in order to have the man direct them to the control room. It’s a waste of a good shell as Kickback suggests – he’d have rather used his own powers of persuasion! – but Bombshell reveals their effectiveness is being tested. This being a family comic, the crew are put to sea in lifeboats rather than be executed (which might have been easier). The ship is towed to a small uncharted island, or rather the Decepticon’s undersea base which is concealed below. Commander Shockwave and the newly arrived Ratbat fly out to it.

Shockwave is smugly content that the operation went flawlessly, thanks to his “infallible logic” (naturally). But when Ratbat sinks his fangs into a pipe line there’s red faces all round – the tanker is empty!! It appears the tanker had already delivered its cargo when the Decepticons attacked. Shockwave is furious, immediately laying the blame with his warriors! Ratbat makes sure to rub it in by calculating the units of lost energy. The dynamic between the two is highly amusing. Clearly there’s no love lost between them but Shockwave has to be on his best behaviour to avoid Ratbat pulling the plug on the Earth operation. It’s difficult to imagine Megatron controlling himself and not roasting Ratbat with his fusion cannon and the first sign of condescension.

Ratbat suggests that they ought to be making use of the planets natives. Shockwave has little time for the idea and warns Ratbat not to bother – but Ratbat reveals that he already has plans in place…

Back on the mainland, in Portland, Oregon, Sparkplug Witwicky’s auto dealership now has a vulgar-looking Wash and Roll car wash adjacent (presumably this would have required months of applying for planning permission or perhaps not). Business seems to be booming with a queue formed on the forecourt. Sparkplug arrives to take over filling the customers’ tanks from Buster, mentioning that he also wants to fill his own tank – very strange as it was only filled an hour ago. Suddenly Buster’s girlfriend Jessie arrives on her bike and invites Buster to join her for a drink. He is forced to decline as another customer pulls up. Jessie shows Buster the local paper reporting a feared fuel shortage in the north west. Could it all be linked?

Elsewhere, at his corporate headquarters, GB Blackrock holds a press conference to reveal the success of the Wash and Roll – the “cleansing experience for both car and driver” – and reveals his plans for Wash and Roll mark two. After the reporters leave, Blackrock’s mind turns blank like he’s been hypnotised. He removes a tiny cassette from his inside pocket, which transforms into the fearsome form of Ratbat – his plan working perfectly.

Later that evening, Buster is sweeping up the forecourt when a final customer pulls up – Jessie! Her brother’s car needed a wash, and Buster reluctantly accepts her invitation to join her through the Wash and Roll! As the car slowly moves through, various flashing lights and heavy metal music blaze out, but Buster spends every day at this place so he’s not too excited. She decides to cheer him up another way – i.e. jumping on him! All of a sudden a light flashes into Jessie’s eyes, and the effect is instant. As the cycle soon finishes, Jessie tells Buster she has to go and then drives off zombie-like. Buster is confused and concerned and decides to follow her for an hour’s drive until she turns off the highway into a Blackrock fuel depot…

Elsewhere in the issue, we’ve got our first advert for the Hasbro Headmasters toys, and Grimlock defends the decision to conclude the Wanted Galvatron saga in the annual. It seems the marketing gimmick is not to everyone’s liking, though I would have thought most Transformers fans would want to pick up the annual anyway. We’re also at the start of a long an enjoyable Robo Capers saga with King Nonose and the Inventor on Earth’s moon.

In part two (UK #129) Buster uncovers the Decepticon plan. He follows Jessie into the Blackrock depot wondering whether she has a night job that she hadn’t mentioned before. He sees her ‘fill up’ her tank before driving off again and blocks her path with his car. Jessie doesn’t seem to acknowledge him until he flashes his headlights, snapping her back into reality. Suddenly Laserbeak swoops down and blasts at Buster’s car. He hasn’t been recognised the human as an Autobot as first thought, just a human who is out of line
The cons are actually siphoning fuel from hypnotised motorists before sending them on their way.

Presumably there is an art to leaving just the right amount of fuel in the tank or there would be a lot of folk breaking down on the drive home? Ratbat’s plan seems very inefficient compared to just stealing the oil directly as per Shockwave’s approach. The only justifiable reason for the laborious process of stealing gasoline from drivers must simply be down to its discreteness, but then you can only wonder how long people would take to notice their partners constantly staring into space and going on late night drives. Plus spending all the household income on petrol!

Buster and Jessie climb to the roof of an adjacent building where they can see Blackrock, flanked by Ratbat, addressing the crowd. He helpfully explains (for the readers – it’s difficult to imagine why the hypnotised crowds need to know) that Astrotrain zapped him with a hypnotising chip and he’d witnessed the Decepticon’s cargo transform into the first Wash and Roll car wash. Blackrock then instructed his organisation to begin mas production of the washes. The only problem is that the hypnosis quickly wears off – however Wash and Roll mark II will be a lot more permanent. He selects someone from the crowd to test it out, and picks on Buster’s dad Sparkplug (who oddly gives his name as Irving Witwicky and not William as he did previously in Prisoner of War – Bob probably forgot).

Buster must act right away, and after sending Jessie to find help, he speeds his own car into his dad’s path. The brainwashed humans soon surround him, leaving Buster no choice but to flee into the Wash and Roll (not the most sensible escape route given that it washes brains!) and Ratbat follows him, jumping onto Buster’s bonnet, and draining the cars fuel vampire-like. Buster rolls out of the door, covering his eyes, and gripping a tyre iron. He kicks a water pipe, splashing Ratbat in the face who releases him. Suddenly Jessie comes speeding in and shunts Ratbat (she couldn’t leave Buster to face this monster alone, she says). Buster decides there is no time to call the Autobots, this must be ended now.

He smashes the neon Car Wash sign with a throw of the iron, creating a big flash that wakes everyone from their trances. The crowd bombard the Laserbeak and Ratbat with spanners forcing the Decepticons into a rather pathetic retreat. Buster has saved the day and is congratulated by his dad and GB Blackrock (amazingly this is the first time the two have met considering they are both so closely linked to the Autobots). Blackrock vows to dismantle all the Wash and Rolls and Jessie thanks Buster with a big smooch.

In summary, the infamous Car Wash of Doom is not one of the best examples of the Marvel Transformers run, which is a shame seeing as it sees the welcome return of Buster, Jessie and Sparkplug. The story has its moments, in particular the moment where the Decepticons discover the tanker they went to all the trouble to hijack is empty! It’s odd to think that an operation run by the calculating Shockwave could be incompetent. Mind you Ratbat may not be in a position to criticise after this, now that his ropey scheme to hypnotise people into handing over their fuel tanks has literally run out of gas. Why not capture a rig or demand fuel in return for not destroying a city or something? Bizarre.

Next issue we go off-world for our first glimpse of the planet Nebulos, home of the most unique Autobots and Decepticons yet – the Headmasters!

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The Cure!

Ratbat dispatches the Throttlebots to Earth on a mission to meltdown any Transformer infected with Scraplets – which is bad news for our heroes Blaster and Goldbug!

Crater Critters and its sequel The Cure are two absolute favourites of mine from the Marvel Transformers comics of the 1980s – Bob Budiansky at his best. In the first story we were introduced to the Scraplets – and infestation of tiny creatures that feast on robots – for a Transformer it’s difficult to imagine a more deadly menace.

Our intrepid Autobot deserters, Blaster and Goldbug, had gone to investigate a crash-landed Decepticon freighter, encountered the Decepticon Triple Changers – Astrotrain, Octane and Blitzwing – and had become infected by Scraplets, along with the Decepticons. The story had ended on a gut-wrenching note with Goldbug having had to flee in order to find a cure for the Scraplets in order to save Blaster, and his friend thinking Goldbug was a coward who had run away and left him to the mercy of the Decepticons.

And to top it off Goldbug had become infected too, and ran out of steam in the middle of the desert. Truly desperate times for the mini-bot and his new human friend Charlie Fong.

The sequel provides an opportunity for Bob to introduce the latest of Hasbro’s 1987 releases – the Throttlebots! I had all six of the toys, and mostly off the back of this fantastic debut for the team. You could pull them back and release and they would propel across the floor with decent pace. Their leader was Rollbar and we see him in action, battering poor Goldbug with a wooden beam, in Lee Sullivan’s excellent cover.

Rollbar and Wideload are coloured with a spray paint effect (like Sullivan’s brilliant Runabout and Runamuck cover that kicked off the year) and finished off with a pink background and Ratbat silhouette. It’s an iconic image that relates to actual events in the story (a great thing about covers in those days) and is one I like a lot.

The story starts with a welcome return to Bob Budiansky’s Decepticon-ruled dystopian Cybertron. The Throttlebots were raiding a fuel depot and now find themselves having to repel a full scale attack from Decepticon droids. They level of resistance is far in excess of what they were expecting and is a sign that something else is a afoot!

A couple of things: In the UK version the opening page has been extended, and if you look carefully you can see Rollbar’s feet have been added later. We see an example of ‘Earth culture’ as the fuel storage section is helpfully signed in English. Nel Yomtov, who coloured the story, seems to be completely unable to tell one Throttlebot from the next, so we’ve got Chase, Freeway and Searchlight all out of sync with the dialogue. Insofar as we can ascertain their personalities, Freeway seems to be the joker (black humour), Wideload is vain and worried about picking up dents, while Rollbar is their serious no-nonsense commander.

Just recently it seems that every Transformer on Cybertron has made their way to Earth and so it is with the Throttlebots this issue, joining the Triple Changers, Predacons, Insecticons, Decepticon jets and probably some I can’t think of. At the moment Ratbat seems to be the only prominent Decepticon on the homeworld and even he will be packing and going soon. The idea of the Throttlebots as a gang of terrorists works well and I would have enjoyed seeing some back stories of their exploits.

They encounter a huge Decepticon – a ‘titanium class destruction drone’ – and are offered a chance to live if they surrender their weapons. It’s unexpectedly generous considering they are at the Decepticon’s mercy. Soon the team are presented before Ratbat, their hands bound, and watch on screen as Astrotrain updates Ratbat on the desperate situation on Earth – without the Scraplet cure, they will all die, putting the Decepticon’s secret plan in jeopardy. After the link is cut, Ratbat dismisses talk of a cure and reveals that he is prepared to destroy all life on Earth if it means preventing a Scraplet epidemic from spreading.

The Throttlebots are told that if they want to avoid that, then they must travel to Earth and destroy anyone who is infected. They arrive on Earth via the Space Bridge, where Chase discovers tracks leading away from the crater. Rollbar thinks they must assume that whoever they belong is infected, and so he and Wide Load transform into their new Earth modes and follow into the distance.

Goldbug is of course the Transformer who escaped from the crater along with his human scientist friend Charlie Fong. He is now so heavily infected that he is unable to drive and so Charlie is slowly pushing him across the Arizona wilderness in the burning afternoon sun. It’s amazing they’ve travelled 108 miles! Suddenly he hears the sound of a car and discovers not only a road but a Blackrock filling station! A huge relief.

Charlie pushes Goldbug onto the forecourt, where one of the service station workers kindly gives him a drink of water, accidentally splashing some on Goldbug. Charlie watches in amazement as the wet Scraplets begin to rust and fall off dead. It’s the cure! It’s a beautiful irony, that something so abundant on Earth as water is the remedy for the Scraplets. Surely though there is water of some kind on Cybertron? It certainly looks that way in the 1990 story Primal Scream.

So, now Charlie wants to hose Goldbug, but he’s restrained by the garage staff. Water is hard to come by out here and is not to be wasted on wrecks! As they try to calm him, Rollbar and Wideload arrive. Ignoring the fact that their quarry is a fellow Autobot, the pair transform and prepare to dissolve him with corrosive acid.
Back at the crater, the Triple Changers realise they’ve been encircled by Autobots. Blitzwing transforms to jet mode, but can barely get airborne, he’s so weak. Scraplets detach from his nosecone and transform into an array of freakish looking robots who start to advance on the Throttlebots.

Back at the garage Charlie shouts a warning to Goldbug who who just manages to transform and jump out of the way of the acid blast. Rollbar rips off a garage roof and uses a beam to deck Goldbug (as per the cover). Charlie really is a good friend to Goldbug. In order to save his friend prove there is a cure, he throws some Scraplets on to Wide Load.

On the letters page for issue #126 Grimlock answers a question from Christopher Johnson of Woodbridge about who the Targetmasters are – saying we’ll soon be seeing rather a lot of them, and the Headmasters, when they feature in the main strip in issues #130-131 and in back-up strip. Exciting stuff. Another kid – Andrew Grant of Croydon – says he has to read Transformers in secret because he gets teased by the other kids at school. I remember what that was like, although would never have let such peer pressure stop me collecting. There’s also a full page advert for the 1987 Transformers Annual which had gone on sale. August does seem early for a book that is traditionally a Christmas purchase.

Robin Smith provides the cover for issue #127 depicting the Scraplet monster and the Throttlebots. It’s not as good as the previous issue. Chase is being pulled by the arm in a stance that reminds me of a reluctant toddler getting dragged around a supermarket. The story, however, remains gripping. Picking up from last time, Charlie Fong had just infected Wideload with Scraplets and now chucks a bucket of water over him, proving that there is a cure and no need for them to acid-melt Goldbug. Amusingly Widload is more concerned about the damage to his “finish” than the miracle he’s just witnessed. Thankfully Rollbar gets it.

Goldbug gets a hosing and recovers some of his strength. The trouble is that they are in the desert and water is hard to come by, so what to do? Goldbug quickly comes up with a plan and puts in a call to GB Blackrock (with his receptionist hilariously introducing him as Mr Goldberg) and arranges for GB to have tankers filled with water and sent to the crater. It’s this quick thinking and local Earth knowledge that will see Goldbug in a pre-eminent role in the Throttlebot team going forward, even is Rollbar is still nominally the leader.

Nearly 10 hours later, Ratbat’s deadline is almost up. Wideload and Rollbar rejoin their fellow Throttlebots at the crater rim, towing Goldbug behind them. As Goldbug calls down to Blaster – he has a cure and is preparing to spray it – and the Triple Changers perk up at the prospect of knowing that they too will be cured. Blaster wont be the cause of any Decepticons living on and insists they unleash the acid. Reluctantly Goldbug accepts, but after learning of their imminent demise, the Scraplets have plans of their own…

Suddenly a giant form rises out from the crater, the Scraplets have combined to form a huge and hungry monster!! It’s a lovely twist from Bob, and while some might find it a silly idea, I think it’s a lot of fun (and let’s face it, they make an easier target). The creature is extremely agile for its size, and easily avoids the Throttlebots’ attacks by manipulating its body shape. It hurls one of their two water tankers across the canyon before laying into the Throttlebots.

Goldbug realises the futility of the struggle, he must cure Blaster and the Decepticons because he needs their help. Water rains down on the four of them and they quickly regain their strength. The powerful Decepticons fly up and attack the Scraplet monster with fire, ray guns and swords. The tide begins to turn, and the weary monster stumbles in front of Blaster, who crashes down the second water tanker drum on top of it.

With the Scraplets destroyed, Astrotrain decides that GB Blackrock (who arrived with the tanker convoy) is perfect for their next plan. He fires a tiny mind-control microchip at him unnoticed before joining his fellow Decepticons back inside the crater. As Blaster thanks Goldbug for rescuing him, he is sorry for thinking that he had been abandoned. Every malady has its cure, it seems. Suddenly they look up as the Decepticons fly off with the space freighter’s huge and mysterious cargo.


In closing, yes it’s hard to believe that the Throttlebots have never heard of water and after reading Crater Critters you could interpret that the Transformers had simply forgotten the Cure was water over the ages. The Decepticons recover perhaps a little fast for my liking. They go from decaying wrecks to full power in mere seconds. All in all, one of Bob’s best and most memorable stories – which is just as well, as we’re about to go straight into one of his worst!

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Ancient Relics (parts 2-5)

Megatron has returned and is loose within the tunnels under London. It will be up to Action Force and their Autobots allies to stop him – if they can!

If you live in the UK you’ll probably have seen TV adverts that are obviously American but the voices have been dubbed over by actors with English accents. The syncing is not quite right and there’s something a little inauthentic about it. That’s how I feel about the decision to repackage GI Joe for the UK market as ‘Action Force’. Their Marvel UK comic maintains the fiction that the team and Cobra are Europe’s counter terror squad and terror squads, with battles set on Salisbury Plains and now London.

Trouble is that the US stories that were reprinted in the weekly Action Force comic (from 1987 to mid 1988) were very obviously set in the States. And there are characters like Wild Bill who is your quintessential mid-western cowboy type and a former Vietnam vet to boot, who the UK Action Force comic tried to pass off as coming from Hull! Sheesh.

The thing is, it’s all rather unnecessary as British audiences are not deterred in the slightest by a series being set in the US. We grew up watching American TV shows and films for goodness sake, plus Marvel and DC superhero comics, and 99% of the stories in Marvel’s flagship Transformers are US based. It’s a non issue. That said, as a London native it is nice to see a story like Ancient Relics set on this side of the Atlantic.

Ancient Relics, for the uninitiated, is a five part story that began in the pages of Marvel UK’s flagship Transformers comic (in issue #125) and played out over the next four issues of the Action Force comic (issues #24-27). The intention was to introduce Transformers readers to the sister comic and hopefully convert them to regular subscribers. I can’t say whether the Action Force readership was significantly boosted, but if so it wasn’t a long term success as AF folded a year later. It rebirthed as a monthly but that was also short-lived.

As I mentioned in the review of part one, there have been all manner of Transformers crossovers and most suck to a greater or lesser extent. This, by the dream team of Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior, is one of the better ones.

In the first instalment, Blades tracked down a Transformer life signal beneath London. He radioed it in to Autobot commander Grimlock who figured it was the deserters Blaster and Goldbug and is en route. Action Force also investigated the sighting with archaeologist Susan Hoffman, who had barely escaped the sewer creature with her life. To cut a long story short it turned out to be Megatron, and now Autobot and human alike are in big trouble!

Part 2 starts with a monologue from Flint, the Action Force commander. He knows when to stand and fight and when to withdraw. As a mangled-face Megatron, looking truly monstrous, advances towards them, this qualifies as one of those times to get the hell out of there! Previous events are recapped, including Megatron’s swift dispactch of Protectobot Blades and they clamber to the surface to be confronted with yet mechanical monster – Grimlock in T-Rex mode and flanked by the formidable looking Centurion.

Grimlock has a low opinion of humans at this point in the story and fighting side by side with Action Force will prompt him into a grudging respect. Whether he’s aware that Centurion is controlled remotely by Professor Morris, a human, is unclear – and certainly Centurion gives no indication that he’s anything other than a non-transforming mechanoid allied to the Dinobot cause. Suddenly Megatron breaks free and he’s soon launching himself at Grimlock. It’s good to see the new Autobot leader cutting it up rough with the erstwhile Decepticon leader, a right of passage I’d say – and he’s holding his own just about.

Scarlett fears the battle could destroy the whole of Dockside, which I think was still to be redeveloped at that stage. Flint summons Dragonfly helicopters and the Mauler tanks for a bit of needed toy product placement but also to show that Action Force has heavy artillery at its disposal. Wild Bill commands the fleet to open fire on Megatron who reels in pain. He curses the fleshlings and promptly unleashes a fusion cannon blast, setting up a suitable cliff-hanger as Wild Bill’s rotors are disintegrated and he’s plummeting to earth!

Part 3 – Blades leaps from the Thames and lands on the pier. It’s a great couple of panels from Geoff. The Protectobot is no fan of getting wet but unfortunately a trip through the river was required in order for him to escape from the underground tunnels. Cue a quick recap of his encounter with Action Force and getting blasted by a mystery Decepticon. Blades climbs to the surface to witness a scene of carnage: Grimlock and Megatron in battle and Centurion running to catch the falling chopper of Wild Bill.

Blades takes to the air, just as Bill bails out and the Autobot catches him mid-air. Flint, however, thinks his friend perished in the fireball that results from the crashed helicopter and Scarlett has to hold him back from running into the flames. Emotion gets the better of Flint and he orders the Mauler tanks move in and hit Megatron with everything they’ve got.

Wild Bill arrives with Blades, who seem to have become immediate friends. He warns Flint that they call off the maulers fast. All they’ll do is succeed in making the already demented Megatron even more mad!

Sure enough, the cover for Part 4 depicts the giant hand of Megatron crushing a Mauler. The instalment switches perspectives between the key characters, starting with Megatron who remembers the satisfying feeling of tearing a foe limb from limb. It’s how he earned his justified rep as the most feared Decepticon of all. Now, however, he’s left to pull apart human tanks and propel one – on fire – at Action Force.

Flint remembers allowing emotion to cloud his judgement, with the Maulers paying the price. Whether the crews lost their lives is unclear. He’s at a loss to work out what to do next to stop Megatron and even Blades and Centurion seem powerless, while Grimlock is unconscious, having taken a beating from Megatron.
Centurion remembers his previous battle with Megatron stateside where he’d been properly roughed up, and punched through a building no less! He’s been beaten again now and even saving the life of Wild Bill had proved beyond him. Perhaps Wheeljack had been right to call him an ‘ancient relic’, he thinks (even though he was only constructed a year earlier right?).

Grimlock rallies and remembers… a time not long ago when he’d have happily left humans to their fate. Action Force has given him cause to reconsider his opinion of mankind as weak, helpless and undeserving. In fact their interventions against Megatron may well of saved the Autobot leader’s life and Grimlock does not take such debts lightly. With savage fury he renews his attack, charging into Megatron’s back and clamping his powerful jaws on Decepticon’s fusion cannon, snatching it away from the Decepticon. The pair of them battle through a fence into a gas works plant… I think we can see where this is going to end up.

Lastly, Wild Bill remembers… a mission to South East Asia on a last-ditch rescue mission. They’d rescued six men and Bill was prevented from going back for the seventh by his commanding officer. It’s an interesting backstory for the man from Hull, North East England!! Now Flint gives the order to blow the gas tanks, sacrificing Grimlock to take out Megatron. Flint can’t help remembering about that seventh man!

Part 5 sees the story racing towards an explosive finale. It’s been action packed so far, if perhaps a little too drawn out over five weeks. This would have made a good two part story over the standard 11 pages per issue I think.

It’s not stated who drew the cover for Action Force #27 but it’s a nice one of Blades and a rare cover appearance for him. I can’t think of another time outside of Ancient Relics where he appeared solo on a cover. More AF product placement as the sky strikers jets zoom dip beneath the clouds over London. Wild Bill continues to protests to Flint about taking out Grimlock along with Megatron. It’s the sort of tough call that a leader has to make and Flint proves his mettle here. Centurion, meanwhile, seems frozen to the spot, paralysed with indecision or fear. Wild Bill and Blades figure they can’t count on him and set off to help Grimlock alone. But then Centurion has a plan.

It involves Blades flying Centurion in and allowing him to drop-kick Megatron and get off a few punches. The distraction allows Blades to drag Grimlock clear as the sky strikers unleash their deadly missile payload. Centurion grins and moments later a gigantic explosion engulfs them. Flint and Wild Bill catch sight of what looks like the two robots falling out of the conflagration and into the Thames – but Flint refuses to believe anything could have survived it. That’s likely to be a lot of Londoners without a gas supply for a while!
Later Blades, Flint and Wild Bill gather at the water’s edge, with Blades paying tribute to Centurion’s remarkable sacrifice. Rather than an ancient relic, Flint describes him better as an old soldier and as such Action Force salutes him.

So ends the first of many Transformers/GI Joe crossovers and this is one of the best ones I reckon. The characters are likeable, particularly Flint, who is in the Optimus Prime or Autobot leader mould and the two franchises fit together rather well with each getting roughly equal airtime. Some may lament the absence of Cobra but Megatron is more than enough for all of them to handle and certainly would not have needed the help. This will be the last we’ll see of Megatron and Centurion for a while until they are fished out of the Thames by none other than Richard Branson in the 1988 story Salvage!

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Ancient Relics

Transformers comic joins with Action Force as the elite counter-terror team investigates a deadly giant robot loose in the sewers under London.

Transformers crossovers. There’s sure been a lot of them over the years! It seems that every franchise from The Avengers to the Justice League, the crew of starship Enterprise, the X-Files, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and even My Little Pony, have encountered the Autobots and Decepticons on the printed page at some point. Most of these are throwaway fun and I tend to think best avoided.

A handful have been very good and integrated well into Transformers. I’m thinking here of the GI vs Transformers title that Dreamwave that was set in an alternative World War Two and the Marvel story Prisoner of War which saw Gears team up with Spider-Man to rescue Sparkplug Witwicky from Megatron’s clutches and is one of my favourites. In more recent years IDW attempted to forge an shared Hasbro universe which included having the transforming from its MASK reboot being made possible by plundered Cybertron tech. And even Death’s Head’s encounter with Doctor Who in the 1988 Marvel UK story Crossroads of Time counts, I would argue, as a crossover with the Transformers universe.

The point is that there have been many, many attempts at crossovers and most have never warranted more than a one off novelty. GI Joe (Action Force as they were known in the UK) is more enduring and has spawned crossovers via a number of comics publishers over the years, but it started with Marvel in the 1980s. In the US there was a four issue mini-series. A piss poor tale that was thankfully ignored by the UK continuity, though later reprinted as a back-up strip when material ran short in the late 200s but on the understanding that it was not part of the regular continuity.

That uninspiring US mini-series in 1987 set-up the destruction of Bumblebee and his rebirth as Goldbug and meant Simon Furman had to write an alternative for the UK comic, which was that Death’s Head destroyed Bumblebee and fellow time-traveller Wreck-Gar reconstructed him (events from the Wanted Galvatron saga). This was necessary to explain why Goldbug would appear in the comic going forwards. And whereas I suspect the US crossover was motivated by the desire on Hasbro’s part to shift toy product, for Marvel UK crossover between its flagship weekly title Transformers, and the still fledgling Action Force title, was in the hopes of generating more readers for the latter. It didn’t work as ultimately AF folded in 1988 and was absorbed into Transformers as the back-up strip.

So it was that, just as the Blaster/Goldbug/Scraplets story was getting interesting, the UK comic hit pause and whisked off to London for a one-week interlude (in issue #125) to kick off the Ancient Relics crossover story, from Simon Furman and with art by Geoff Senior, that would continue into #24-27 of Action Force. Young collectors would need to fund two comics for the month that followed, and obviously Marvel hoped it would be for longer after that. In my case, I was happy to collect both Transformers and Thundercats but Action Force never appealed that strongly.

In the streets under the Capital is a network of undiscovered Roman tunnels – that is undiscovered until recently. Susan Hoffman – a character modelled on the Bangles singer Sussanna Hoffs – and her three companions are hoping to uncover fascinating relics for their heritage society. Their flashlight catches a glimpse of something metallic; not a building as first thought but a battle-damaged midrift. Next their torches illuminate a terrifying and deformed, though recognisable, robot face! A huge fist punches the wall causing the ceiling to collapse as the humans run for their lives. Hoffman escapes the falling debris – just! Her companions are buried. Had this been the US comic the whole party would have survived but the Marvel UK comic tended to have a grittier ‘2000AD’ edge, as Simon Furman has said.

Across the pond in Oregon USA, Autobot commander Grimlock is not a happy bunny (or T-Rex). He called a meeting of all available warriors and nobody turned up! He strides into Wheeljack’s workshop in the Ark where the engineer is just completing repairs to Centurion (previously ripped to bits by Galvatron). Senior’s Grimlock is twice the size of Wheeljack which may not be consistent with past appearances but makes him appear more imposing and leaderly. While Centurion, who now sports a humanoid face as opposed rather than his much better and more distinctive visor, is bigger than both of them.

Bob Budiansky made Grimlock a tyrannical, petty, obsessive, narcissistic oaf of a leader in his stories – a kind of Donald Trump without the fanbase – but Furman to his credit presents a more mature and agreeable characterisation without undermining Bob. The crown has been ditched (thankfully) and Grimlock’s obsession with finding Blaster and Goldbug is more an insistence on not tolerating failure (or running away after failing).

Wheeljack is surprisingly flippant in his remarks to Grimlock, chastising his leader for tasking the Autobots with fools errands such as the Centurion repair. If Grimlock is as dictatorial and intolerant of dissent as Budiansky presents him, then Wheeljack would not have dared to speak so disrespectfully. It’s a nice nod to Wheeljack’s later role in the US stories as a sidekick whose working against Grimlock.

The mention of Blaster and Goldbug is a nice tie-in to last week’s story Crater Critters as well as upcoming stuff. It shows us how their split is being viewed in the Autobot camp and that Grimlock is not taking it lightly. This helps the build up for eventual reckoning in the US storyline. Centurion is presumably still being controlled by Professor Morris but there’s no mention of that. My guess is that Furman was thinking about the Action Force readership here and didn’t want to muddy the waters with complicated backstory at this point. So Centurion would appear to recent readers as just another Autobot.

Wheeljack brands him an ancient relic (harsh considering he was constructed a year previously) and taking up time that he could be spending repairing fallen colleagues. Centurion looks forlorn but says nothing. Grimlock points out that this mechanoid is a personal friend and of his and that should be enough to prioritise him.

Blades radios in that he has picked up a Transformer life signal beneath London and Grimlock is convinced it is his fugitives. Despite there being any number of Transformers it could be, it makes sense to him that the pair would want to put as much distance between him and them as possible. He orders Wheeljack to ready a shuttle and place Centurion aboard – hands-on leader Grimlock will go to London to settle business personally!

Blades transforms and lands in the Docklands. He too is deeply unhappy that Grimlock has got them all hunting for two fellow Autobots rather than fighting Decepticons. If he finds Blaster or Goldbug, should he bring them in or join them? It’s a fascinating dilemma, though interestingly not one he seems to grapple with in a few issues time when Blades and his fellow Protectobots do actually encounter Blaster.

Enter Action Force – Flint, Scarlet, Bazooka, Airtight and Barbecue – who are accompanying Susan Hoffman back to the Roman tunnels to find her mystery robot. Considering the traumatic experience that Susan has been through its to her credit that she would step foot in there again. And Scarlett is remarkably unsympathetic that this lady has lost her colleagues, even alleging that she made the whole story up. Flint does a good job of reigning in the fiery personalities and keeping them focused on the task.

A robotic shape emerges from the tunnels. It’s Blades, still wrestling with his loyalties, and stumbles into the line of fire as Action Force unleashes on him! Blades is struck by rockets and flame and becomes enraged, firing a burst of blinding light against the humans. Whatever Blades might say, it’s clear that Grimlock’s negative opinions of humans is rubbing off on him. Thankfully he comes to his senses before he can do any serious harm and he declares that he bears Action Force no malice.

However, the comotion has drawn out the mysterious transformer from earlier. A familiar looking cannon emerges from the shadows. The hated Autobot insignia is sighted, and the Transformer opens fire, striking Blades in the back and sending him crashing to the ground. Hoffman recognises the attacker as the one who killed her friends earlier – and as Flint scrambles to find out “what is it?” the answer comes back – Megatron!!
Phew! It’s fair to say that most fans would have sussed out who the Transformer was from the first couple of clues, in particularly the mangled face which was clearly the one Megatron was left with after his battle with the Predacons. At the end of Gone But Not Forgotten, a mentally ill Megatron blew up the Space Bridge with himself on it to escape from Optimus Prime, who he had convinced himself was coming to get him.

It appears that the Bridge transported Megatron to London, where he’s been lurking in the underground tunnels ever since. This is a huge risk that Simon Furman is taking in using Megatron. There is every chance that Bob Budiansky would have reintroduced Megatron at some point and had him reappear on Cybertron in direct continuation from the events on the Space Bridge. In depositing him to London for the Ancient Relics story, Furman achieves his aim of having a big nemesis for the Autobots and Action Force, but he will at some point have to put right the big continuity rift that he’s opening up.

Indeed, Megatron will return in the 1989 US story Back From The Dead, showing up in the Dead End of Cybertron after his accident. Furman ironically will be writing the US comic by then and will come up with the explanation that the Megatron in London was a duplicate created by Straxus in case his attempt to take over Megatron’s mind went awry. Okay, but that doesn’t explain why the London Megatron has the battle scars that the real Megatron picked up in his battle with the Predacons some time after the encounter with Straxus.

Up until this point Furman has been masterful in weaving original UK stories that seamlessly intergrate with the US master continuity but this will be a departure too far. Though it wouldn’t become evident for a couple of years yet. For now let’s kick back and enjoy Megatron versus Action Force and Grimlock as the story continues.

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Crater Critters

Blaster and Goldbug encounter the Decepticon Triple Changers and pick-up a nasty infection of Scraplets!

‘Trouble times three!’ declares the cover of Transformers #123 alongside spiffy art by Lee Sullivan depicting the Decepticon Triple Changers – Octane, Blitzwing and Astrotrain – in a Charlies Angels pose.

It’s a great cover and feels like trio are making their comics debut. In one sense they are. Their appearance in this issue’s story Crater Critters is their first in an American storyline, and their first time on Earth of course. However, UK readers will have seen them in action already in the totemic Target: 2006, and Octane famously made a cowardly run for it in Resurrection.

When you consider that Bob Budiansky was constantly introducing Hasbro toy releases as new characters in his stories, its perhaps surprising that he took so long to feature these three (and he would never get around the the Autobot Triple Changers at all!). Blitzwing and Astrotrain were part of the 1985 Hasbro toy line and Octane was released a year later, so they’d been around for a while when this story came out in mid 1987.

As good as the cover is, it’s a little misleading as this is not a story with the Decepticon Triple Changers as the main characters. Instead they are supporting cast and the Autobot deserters Blaster and Goldbug are focus. At the end of Mechanical Difficulties, having failed again to capture the Mechanic and recover the stolen Autobot tools, the pair had made a major life-changing decision, seemingly on the spur of the moment and born out of frustration, to repudiate their tyrannical leader Grimlock by quitting the Autobot army.

As we join them in this story they are attempting to carve out a role as a Decepticon-fighting dynamic duo and in order to survive they need fuel – hence why they go to G.B. Blackrock seeking help. They’ve had a bit of time to reflect and perhaps take in the ramifications of their choices, and it’s interesting to see a change in Blaster’s personality in this story. He’s more snappy with Goldbug and is on edge. He’s fearful that his companion, who he hasn’t properly got to know yet, might drop him and run back to the Autobots. And of course Bob engineers a situation in the story where those doubts are brought to the fore.

Blaster was, lest we forget, something of a loner and a rebel on Cybertron. He disliked the methods and caution of resistance leader Perceptor and openly questioned his orders, even disobeying them when it came to rescuing Scrounge. This may have impacted his standing with his fellow Autobots but there was no suggestion of punishment from Perceptor, however Grimlock is a different kettle of fish, and Blaster knows it. Goldbug appears more level headed and has walked into the situation with his eyes open.

Crater Critters begins with a spacecraft crash-landing in a barren part of the American South West. As the dust settles over the huge crater which results from the impact, a barely functioning mechanoid claws his way to the rim before falling backwards. A nut detaches from a hole in the robot’s hand and appears to partially transform to reveal a head with gnashing teeth! It’s our first glimpse of a Scraplet… and unlike the fat overalls-wearing Mechanic, this new menace is a far more chilling threat to the Transformers. They literally eat robots from the inside out!

Goldbug and Blaster stake out a very exclusive restaurant hoping to spot the oil tycoon GB Blackrock. Sure enough the billionaire soon appears with a snooty young lady on his arm and sees the familiar-looking yellow/gold Volkswagen pull up behind his limo. Cue some comedic scenes as Blackrock invites the Autobot to take a hike and Goldbug insists they talk by part running over poor GB’s foot, then ruining his evening when he’s forced to suggest to to his dinner date that he’ll drive her home in the VW rather than the limo!

Later at a Blackrock petrol station, Goldbug receives a top up of fuel and introduces GB to Blaster, revealing that they are now operating independently of the Autobots. Their new leader Grimlock is a “mechanical moron” as Blaster delicately puts in. GB is unsure whether to trust the pair, after all he’s never met Blaster and ‘Bumblebee’ looks different to before. Cue Blaster losing his getting in GB’s face and aggressively protesting that he’s not soft on Decepticons, backing this up with a recap about the sad death of Scrounge.

It’s all a bit odd and erratic, and would normally ring a few alarm bells. Goldbug doesn’t help matters by expresses surprise that Blaster allowed a fellow Autobot to die. Blaster insists that he would not allow the same fate to befall Goldbug – but if his colleague doubts that then he is welcome to turn-tail and run back to Grimlock. Ouch.

It’s quite possible that hanging around with a smaller yellow Autobot is bringing back painful memories for Blaster of his last partner in crime, who of course met a tragic end in the fires of the Decepticon smelting pool (a fantastic story and well worth a read).

Blackrock informs the pair of the strange radio signals coming out of the crater! Thinking this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, the pair immediately roar off to investigate, leaving poor GB Blackrock stranded at his own petrol station in the middle of the night!

Light-years away on Cybertron, the Triple Changers are summoned to the office of the Decepticon fuel auditor Ratbat and informed that an important package, sent via low energy cost space freighter, reached Earth but there has been no word from the pilot. In the circumstances Ratbat is compelled to reactivate the spacebridge and send the triple-changers to Earth to find out what has happened and bring the secret cargo online. The mission will involves enlisting the help of wealthy and high profile human, preferably connected to the automotive industry. No prizes for guessing who that might be!

Budiansky’s Ratbat is a show stealer. He talks in management speak and is obsessed with the bottom line cost of each mission. Far from being just another Soundwave cassette as he could have been, Bob is taking the character under his wing (pun intended) as he’s done with the likes of Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster and Skids previously, and will make him a main character, even installing him as the next Decepticon leader. Few will have seen that coming.

At the Arizona impact site, a team of scientists from the federal government are there to investigate. Scientist Charlie Fong is aching to get down there and is admonished by a superior for his impatience. A bright light heralds the arrival of the space bridge and the Triple Changers take to the sky in plane modes and order the humans back. Next they land on the crater floor and approach the barely functioning pilot. They ignore his pleas for them to stay back, intending to meet out some punishment, but then Blitzwing cries out in pain as bolts strewn across the floor attach themselves to his foot!!

A few hours later, the National Guard have sealed off the area, and Charlie Fong thinks he will have to wait even longer to begin his research. He passes a VW Beetle which speaks to him. Charlie is then amazed when Goldbug and Blaster transform. His scientific curiosity prevents him from running away and the Autobots are able to convince him to help them get past the army blockade. He does so with a very silly explanation that the cassette deck Blaster is actually an adapted this seismometer to detect the robots’ movements. Incredibly, as its very obviously a tall story, the gullible troop allows them through even praising Charlie (in his thought bubble) for his bravery and selflessness.

The next week box and the cover for Transformers UK #124 gives the game away as to what’s coming next: Blaster is about to get a nasty dose of Scraplets! Will Simpson and John Burns produce another quality cover with a battered looking Blaster with a Scraplet shown in magnification. You can see it below right, and it’s interesting that the team could simply have recycled the cover from the US version but chose for some reason to do their own, although somebody must have liked the big green Scraplet as they’ve redrawn him on the UK version.

At the crater rim Blaster, Goldbug and Charlie quickly come under attack from the Triple Changers in the airborne modes but a few zaps from Blaster’s electro scrambler gun sends them into a spiral. Somehow Blitzwing succeeds in blasting out the cliff out from under Charlie and Goldbug moves swiftly to catch his human friend. The pair end up on the crater floor where they encounter the freighter pilot. He reveals that he’d been hired by the Decepticons to transport some cargo to Earth and had passed through what he thought was a dust cloud (actually the space-borne Scraplets) and got infected him. Moments later, in horror film style, his head promptly topples off his shoulders.

Charlie notices thousands of tiny creatures advancing on Goldbug. Since they are not interested in his organic life, he’s able to kick and swipe them away but there are a lot of them!

Back at the battle, the Triple Changers revert to vehicle modes and the tank Blitzwing (my favourite when I collected the three toys in the 1980s incidentally) opens fire, alerting the US army nearby. Considering its three against one, Blaster is holding his own. He heroically leaps clear as the charging Decepticons plough over the cliff, but a shot from Blitzwing’s cannon crumbles the cliff beneath Blaster sending him tumbling and into contact with Scraplets. Astrotrain reveals that they are all infected and as good as dead!

We find out that Scraplets have the ability to resemble harmless nuts, bolts and screws but are in fact the most deadly disease known to mechanical life forms in the galaxy. Octane reveals that the last outbreak on Cybertron, thousands of vorns ago (a vorn being 83 Earth years remember), was ended by the discovery of a cure, but its a very rare chemical on Cybertron which has been forgotten over time.

Blaster secretly radios Goldbug – in their weakened state they should be able to take the Decepticons on his signal. Goldbug agrees but Charlie argues that they must instead look for the cure or otherwise Blaster is dead already. Goldbug makes the painful decision to leave, and just hopes that Blaster will understand. But as Goldbug disappears up the side of the crater, Blaster (incandescent with rage), brands Goldbug a coward, and vows that after finishing these Decepticons he will come for him next.

Goldbug stops to look back, seriously conflicted a fearing he is leaving Blaster to die. At that moment a single Scraplet jumps onto Goldbug’s foot! Charlie desperately tries to pull off but can’t. Suddenly it splits in half creating two Scraplets – it is spreading!!

Hours later Goldbug is in desperate need of help, his bodywork riddled with Scraplets he admits that he can’t go on much further – but Charlie tells him to hold on, surely a town is nearby…. Half an hour later and Goldbug lets out a plea for help, his body is devastated, and begs not to be left to die in the middle of nowhere, especially not with Blaster thinking he was betrayed. Charlie has no answer, and offers no reassurance – he is silenced by despair….

In summary, it’s a shocking cliff-hanger as Blaster and Goldbug look doomed. Even a healthy Goldbug would have a job to find a cure with no clue as to what it might be. In his present state it looks like an impossible task. Unfortunately readers had wait an agonising TWO weeks for the next instalment as the Marvel UK comic’s Action Force crossover would provide an interlude in the following issue.

Despite some strange characterisation (Blaster really is a rogue figure these days), this story seems to have that special touch which has been missing from some of Budiansky’s recent work. The carefully introduced Scraplets really are a unique and original idea, and quite a fearsome prospect for any unsuspecting Transformer. It all amounts to one of the better US stories overall, and together with the sequel The Cure one of my favourite Blaster outings since the glorious Smelting Pool.

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Mechanical Difficulties

The Mechanic returns, more audacious than ever as he uses his stolen Autobot technology to power a one-man crime wave; can Blaster and Goldbug can stop him, and what punishment awaits them if they fail?

It’s July 1987 and the Wanted Galvatron saga has drawn to a close (albeit to be finally concluded in that year’s annual) and with the future Autobots and Death’s Head now departed its time for the comic to resume normal service. As previously mentioned, the Galvatron saga had felt over long so I was pleased to move past it and excited to see the latest imaginings from the furtive mind of US writer Bob Budiansky. His latest story Mechanical Difficulties is reprinted in UK issues #121 and #122.

Bob recently installed Grimlock as the new leader of the Autobots so we’re waiting to see how that is working out. And in the story before that he introduced readers to the Transformers’ latest human foe, The Mechanic. He’s an engineering genius and car thief who, on his debut, brazenly infiltrated the Ark and stole Autobot tech. Like Circuit Breaker and Professor Morris he suffers from being ever so slightly annoying. In Circuit Breaker’s case she’s constantly picking on Autobots over the real enemy, and The Mechanic is a cocky git who you want to see getting a good slap and locked up in a police cell. Sadly its not to be.

Bob must be pleased with the character as he brings him back for a second outing – along with sidekick Juan – so soon after his introduction. In the US its a matter of two issues later but in the UK some 10 weeks have passed. Just like Joey Slick (the down on his luck gangster who found himself in possession of Megatron) Nestor Forbes aka The Mechanic is able to use his brush with the Transformers to propel him into the big leagues.

Budiansky’s story, drawn as usual by Don Perlin, opens late night at Portland International Airport where the control tower personnel watch in amazement as a lone figure walks off with one of their huge radar dishes below. It’s The Mechanic using the stolen Power Booster Rod which has the ability to render even the most heavy equipment light as a feather. A truck then crashes through the perimeter fence, driven by his sidekick and the radar dish is placed in the back. Airport security show up but are stopped in their tracks by Ratchet’s former cryogenic spray and laser scalpel which The Mechanic wields as laser guns. The pair of crooks take off at speed – another successful operation.

Several miles away at a run down Industrial section of Portland, we find Goldbug parked up outside the Mechanic’s old garage headquarters. Blaster sits on his dashboard in cassette deck mode. The two Autobots have been waiting for days, under orders from Grimlock to recover the stolen equipment. As Blaster tunes into a rock station he catches the attention of two passing deadheads. One punk takes a crowbar to Goldbug’s passenger door, which the Autobot obligingly opens and then promptly slams shut. The pair are spooked and decide to just break the window with a brick – with Goldbug speeding forward a few metres to avoid contact. They thieves make a run for it, into the waiting arms of detectives Altman and Greco who are assigned to the Mechanic case.

What I thought was little more than a comedy moment has actually prompted Blaster and Goldbug to break off their surveillance and return to base. They find Grimlock trying on crowns (seriously?! This leadership business seems to have gone to his head). When he hears his warriors have come back empty handed Grimlock furiously crushes the crowns and questions why they didn’t simply destroy the humans that got in the way of the mission? So much for humility Grimlock seemed to have learned after the Trypticon incident. His behaviour and leadership style are a major red flag already and shows a staggering lack of awareness of Autobot values. It’s a quick way to lose the trust of the troops. Or perhaps Grimlock thinks the way to make his mark is with being tough and racking up successes?

At the Portland Police department, Detective Greco chats to his boss about the two punks he hauled in earlier and their story about a car that drove off by itself. Greco’s chief has heard about the giant robots can disguise as everyday vehicles and figures that they may be involved with the The Mechanic’s elevation from small time car thief to stealer or hi-tech equipment. They set a trap by leaking word of a high-tech computer coming in by road and the cops will be lying in wait. The important thing to remember is that if any robots show up, then they become the Prime target!

On the outskirts of Portland in an abandoned canning factory, the elusive Mechanic addresses one of Portland’s many gangsters over his new franchise. The customer Mr Bigalow seems unconvinced about the Mechanic’s car modifications, and at 50,000 dollars a time would rather just take his car and leave. Juan takes the car apart using robot arms and his boss throws Mr Bigalow and the remains of the vehicle out the front door and into the river using the Power Booster Rod – The Mechanic doesn’t like time wasters! Wheeljack is able to lock onto the rod’s signal and Blaster and Goldbug are once again dispatched. Grimlock warns them that failure will means much punishment!

The vehicle carrying the so-called super computer with its 256 megabyte capacity is forced to a halt by a tree laying across the road. Juan holds the driver and his friend up at gun point and The Mechanic steals the wonder computer. My first PC in 1989 had a 10MB hard drive so perhaps this one is impressive but I’m feeling underwhelmed.

The cops close in on one side and Blaster and Goldbug are on the other – The Mechanic appears to be trapped. However, the guy who ran away in a panic when he heard police sirens in the Ark, has been replaced by a far more cock-sure fellow who promptly uses the rod to hoist the fallen tree trunk and swing it into the two Autobots as though it were a baseball bat. They make off with the truck and its precious cargo, icing the road behind them to prevent the cops from following. Blaster raises his Electro Scrambler to stop the accelerating truck, but his aim is thrown as a police trooper blasts his arm with a rocket. The Mechanic would probably have been captured if not for the intervention of the police. Sheesh! Detective Greco get a lucky shot on Goldbug’s rear tire, forcing Blaster to repair this ‘flesh wound’ by fitting the spare (who knew Autobots carried spares?).

Later, at The Mechanic’s hideout, what appears to be every crime boss in the North West is assembled for a preview of his car upgrade service. Like every auto mechanic there’s a steep price to be paid; in this case it’s 50,000 dollars to drive off with a car kitted out with an array of firepower and armour. Outside, Goldbug leaves Blaster a distance from the building and goes ahead to spy on The Mechanic. Juan notices the gold beetle and figures it’s not the sort of car one of their wealthy clients would drive!

As police helicopters approach, the Autobots fear the officers will be easy prey for The Mechanic’s arsenal. Blaster transforms, revealing himself to the cops, and warns them of the trap they are walking into. Like Greco, he’s been given lousy orders from a superior but perhaps they can work together to stop the Mechanic.
So, as Goldbug enters the factory via a rear door and is seized by Juan’s production line machinery, Greco waltzes in carrying Blaster in cassette deck mode. He whips out his badge, and switching off the music is the signal for the cops to swarm the building. Blaster transforms and sprays the Mechanics modified cars with his Electro scrambler, causing the vehicles to turn on each other. With the crime bosses being rounded up, Greco orders Juan to stick ’em up and he’s arrested, saving Goldbug from the disassembly line. However, in the chaos The Mechanic slips out of the exit.

Later, Greco thanks the two Autobots for their help, even if it did mean disobeying orders. Blaster and Goldbug realise that their mission has ended in failure and Commander Grimlock will care little for the success achieved with the humans. With the Ark behind them to the East, the pair speed off west…

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) this story marks The Mechanic’s last appearance, despite the unfinished business with the Autobot tools. The story was clearly left open for him to return (and it is even mentioned on the letters page that he will), but with the US book being monthly and the ongoing pressure to introduce characters Budiansky just never got time to do it. A UK story would have sufficed but this never happened either. Grimlock later seems more obsessed with capturing Blaster and Goldbug than the Mechanic! Still this is a good twist having two Autobots become deserters and fans will be intrigued to see how this one pans out.

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Vicious Circle!

Ultra Magnus must make one final attempt to stop his arch nemesis Galvatron from harnessing the power of a live volcano – but will it be end of one or both them?

The Wanted Galvatron saga ran for eight weeks from May to July 1987 (through issues #113-120). After a strong start, picking up threads left dangling from Transformers The Movie and introducing us to the badass space mercenary Death’s Head (a character who would go on to command his own monthly Marvel comic) the story switched to Earth’s past for a long and drawn-out battle with Galvatron that feel overly padded, despite moments of quality.

By issue #120 I was ready for some closure. I would have been perfectly content for Galvatron to have been whisked away on Wreck-Gar’s time vortex but it was not to be. He had successfully uncoupled himself from the time-jump trigger and was able to remain in 1987, with only Goldbug left to stop him. It was quite a cliff-hanger and like most readers I was curious as to how the mini-Autobot would be able to survive the predicament – but we knew he would survive as he starred in the issue #121 story Mechanical Difficulties.

The answers and the resolution to Wanted Galvatron (finally) would be found in the pages of the 1987 Transformers Annual, courtesy of a further 11-page story Vicious Circle (the story I’m reviewing here). At the time the comic cost a very reasonable 32p and the annual was £3.75 so some young fans may have been peeved at a further raid on their piggy bank (or an expense for mum and dad) but no big deal for me as I would have bought the book come hell or high water. I suppose you can’t fault Marvel on a clever marketing ploy.

This final instalment is penned by Simon Furman (who else) with art from regular Jeff Anderson. It begins with Ultra Magnus clings to inside of Mount Verona. He had been chucked into the volcano by Galvatron at the end of issue #119 and the encounter looked pretty fatal at the time. However, no-one would seriously have thought Magnus was gone for good and sure enough, here he is clawing his way out (saved by a convenient ledge apparently). Magnus notes via the narration that it is as if he and Galvatron are trapped in a ‘vicious circle’ that can only end with one of their deaths… prophetic words.

Several panels are given over to a recap of previous events, which again feels like padding but is justified in this case as it’ll have been three months or so between issue #120 and the annual’s release, longer if kids got the book for Christmas, and maybe they missed the weekly issues anyway. Magnus provides the recap of events that led to him being unceremoniously dumped into the volcano by Galvatron. Once again the luck of the gods had saved him from death. A familiar yellow hand helps him the final way to the surface… it is Goldbug looking very much alive considering where the story left off.

Goldbug updates Magnus on the dire situation. The future Autobots are gone and only the two of them are left to try to prevent Galvatron’s mad plan to erupt Mount Verona and destroy most of the US West Coast. Why they don’t radio the Ark for reinforcements I’m not sure? Now would be a good time particularly as Magnus has run out of fight and cannot summon the strength for yet another confrontation with Galvatron. Goldbug calls the Autobots’ greatest warrior ‘pathetic’ and vows to fight on alone. Magnus can only mumble apologies.

Goldbug finds Galvatron surveying the fiery volcano below and awaiting the eruption that will power him up to god-like levels. Goldbug enters the siphon’s control room and fires off a few rounds at Galvatron before getting dropped by a single blast from the Decepticon’s particle cannon. Previously Galvatron had spared Goldbug as he deemed him insignificant and not worth the effort of killing him, but now he’s earned a painful demise.

As Galvatron warms up for a fatal blast he hears the familiar voice of Ultra Magnus and he cannot believe that his Autobot rival has survived yet again. What must he do to destroy this pest? Galvatron pounds Magnus with his fists. Magnus fights back. He lifts a huge piece of machinery like a boulder to squash Magnus but Magnus rugby tackles Galvatron. He gets thrown through a window but again clings to a rail rather than fall into the pit.

As Goldbug comes to help he spots that the siphon has become damaged in the battle. With it malfunctioning there will be nothing to contain the eruption and all of them will be destroyed! Magnus orders Goldbug to get clear and moments later there is a huge explosion. Thankfully and ironically the structure at the mouth of the volcano contains the worst of the eruption. It is hours before the lava cools sufficiently for Goldbug to return to take a look. There is no sign of Magnus or Galvatron, it appears their circle is finally broken.

In summary, Vicious Circle makes the most of its limited cast of three and actually provides a satisfying conclusion (as well as a decent battle between Ultra Magnus and Galvatron, two hot properties in the toy range at the time). Magnus’ psychological dilemma was not unexpected – it’s a narrative that Furman often employs to have a character overcome their self doubts. Goldbug plays the role of Magnus’ conscience and sets the example of courage which outstrips his diminutive form. The menace was resolved simply in the end by the siphon exploding and bury both the leaders under molten ash. If only Rodimus and company had thought of that four of five issues back instead of messing about? An air strike from Aerialbots might have actually saved everyone a lot of bother.

Anyone who doubts it will be the last we see of Magnus or Galvatron has only to turn to page 44 of the Annual for the story Ark Duty which features a very much alive Magnus. In fact both characters will return before the year is out, in the 1987 story Ladies’ Night.

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