Used Autobots

Hunted by the Combaticons, RAAT and the Protectobots, the Throttlebots hide out in Big Steve’s auto dealership – but how far can they trust a guy with morals lower than a snake pit?

By this point in the series (Marvel UK’s Transformers #139) I’d grown quite fond of the Throttlebots. Since they arrived to purge the Scraplet plague and then teamed-up with our favourite deserters Blaster and Goldbug they’ve made a credible unit operating independently of Grimlock’s Autobots. It would have been nice to see them notch up a few more successes against the Decepticons, really making a nuisance of themselves and a target for the bad guys, before fate caught up with them. Alas Used Autobots marks a (rather premature for me) parting of the ways between them and Blaster.

The story opens on a California highway with the team under fire from Vortex in his helicopter mode. We’re told via the Transformations page that the Combaticons are fuming after they were prevented from completing their mission to destroy Mount Verona and Galvatron (and from executing the pesky fleshlings that caused them so much trouble). The US audience will not have seen the events of Ladies Night, as it was a Transformer UK story, so presumably for the majority of the readership, Vortex’s attack is a random thing, literally a case of him spotting six Autobots and using them for target practice.

Although its seven against one, the advantage is with Vortex as the Throttlebots are stuck in the traffic and unable to retaliate. Blaster, hot headed as ever, has no qualms about returning the fight. He ejects from Goldbug’s dashboard, transforming to robot mode and straddling Chase and Rollbar as he aims his electro scrambler at the airborne pest, while on the move. The moment is captured on the cover to issue #139, published in November 1987, with a rather constipated looking Blaster riding the cars with no context – and a tree lined highway (in the story he actually on a river bridge). It’s not one of my favourites.

As Rollbar is forced to swerve, Blaster takes a tumble, but holding on to bridge, he’s finally able to zap Vortex and send the Decepticon spinning away with his circuits running haywire (the good old Electro Scrambler strikes again). The Throttlebots have had a lucky escape but they are low on fuel now and must find a Blackrock garage to top up their tanks.

Things get a bit daft at this point as our old friends RAAT (Rapid Anti Robot Assault Team) are up to their old tricks hunting Transformers, Autobots mainly. Having figured out the link between the Transformers and Blackrock they are staking out his garages. Now when you consider how many petrol stations there must be in California, this is a pretty major labour intensive operation, and not to mention the wisdom of having a pitched battle on top of highly flammable petroleum!

As misfortune would have it, RAAT are waiting in ambush at the very station that the Throttlebots pick, and emerge from a garage in an Action Force/GI Joe style tank type vehicle with a detachable small plane. Again, Blaster leaps out to save the day, but his gun is out of energy. He’s forced to do things by uprooting the Blackrock sign and giving the tank a might whack. It demolishes a pump and creates an eruption of gasoline – which the plane’s shooting ignites. Blaster frees the RAAT troopers from the overturned tank and shields him from the resulting explosion. The RAAT plane is sent crashing to the ground, but not before it inflicts a nasty wound on Rollbar’s rear chasis.

Having expended even more fuel, and with a trail of destruction behind them, the Throttlebots make their escape. Unbeknown to them, Vortex is monitoring from above.

Back at Mount St Hillary, home to the Ark, all of the UK writer Simon Furman’s efforts to pass Grimlock off as a tough for shrewd Autobot leader and once again massively undermined by US writer Budiansky’s portrayal of Grims as a massive egotist and dimwit. This Grimlock is still wearing that embarrassing crown and seems oblivious that he’d tasked Wheeljack with solving their fuel problem. In fact Wheeljack has come up trumps by building a geothermal generator which taps heat from the volcano core to generate Energon Cubes. They’ll no longer be dependent on humans like GB Blackrock for fuel.

Rather than praise his engineer for this significant step forward, Grimlock goes on a mini tirade about “taking” he needs and humans being weak and unimportant. He shows a complete lack of awareness for the obvious discomfort this will cause his troops. It can’t be in his interests to undermine his own leadership this way. It’s just moronic and I’ll bet Simon Furman cringes to read the dialogue – its difficult for him to square the circle between his Grimlock and the US one at this point.

Slag informs them of radio reports about Autobot sightings, and suggests it might be Blaster and Goldbug in trouble. Grimlock orders Hotspot to gather his Protectobots and bring them in, adding ominously “they’ll be in trouble no more”.

The Throttlebots, still concerned about the injuries to Rollbar and their fuel situation, decide to lay low to consider their next move. Goldbug leads them into what they think is a car park full of “abandoned vehicles”, but is actually Big Steve’s used car lot. As morning comes we meet the unscrupulous slippery Steve. He’s visited by a couple of cops who leave him a piece of literature about six vehicles the authorities are looking for (yep, its the Throttlebots) but he takes no notice at this point as he wants the police off the premises before they scare the customers away.

Steve then establishes his credentials as the ultimate cliche car salesman, pressuring a poor unsuspecting couple with bogus claims of a special offer. His assistant Clifford goes to work on an old car, knocking 100,000 miles off the clock, and marking it up by a thousand dollars. Big Steve palms the vehicle off on the young family and retires to his office light up a fat cigar.

Clifford shows him a cassette deck (Blaster) he found in one of the new vehicles that have magically appeared in the lot. Steve says he can keep it (he’ll deduct from Clifford’s next pay cheque) and inspects the new cars. He’ll try to “make a few bucks” off them, even though he has no idea where they came from, whether they are stolen, and has no paperwork!! However, Steve wants Rollbar junked as an obvious embarrassment.

At this point the Throttlebots decide to brake cover by transforming and taking Big Steve into their confidence (bad move). All they want is a refuel and they’ll be gone by nightfall they tell him. Blaster, communicating with the team through internal radio, cautions Chase that “humans often act out of self interest”. Sure enough, Steve’s now reviewing the letter that the cops delivered which promises a $50,000 reward per Autobot, and dispatches Clifford to buy a vat load of extra sugary soda pop. He’ll stick that in the Throttlebots’ tanks and disable them.

Walter Barnett of Triple I soon arrives in combat fatigues leading a RAAT convoy of tanks and a car transporter. The Throttlebots are unable to move and are sitting ducks!

At this point the Combaticons come crashing into the yard. Onslaught transforms and stakes his claim to the stricken Autobots. Hotspot and his team arrive to complete the stand-off. Big Steve hilariously suggests a bidding war (rather than an actual war that might make a huge mess of his cars). Stupidly the parties consider this, with Onslaught even suggesting the Decepticons could “steal” whatever money they need!

Swindle, who is the obvious candidate to hold such an auction (and in fact is depicted on the cover inviting bids for Big Steve) is oddly out of the picture. He’s got Big Steve in his sights and is preparing to open fire, perhaps a distraction that the Combaticons can take advantage of? Blaster leaps out of Steve’s office and seizes Swindle, throwing the surprised Combaticon into a parked car.

The Protectobots and Combaticons go at each other and RAAT take the opportunity to load the Throttlebots onto their transporter (amazingly none of the transformers notice this happening). Still, it’s nice to see First Aid in one of the panels, proving that he made it back safely from being mass-displaced to Limbo by the time travelling Death’s Head (back in issue #114).

Blaster saves Hotspot from being shot in the back by Brawl and generally turns the tide, with Onslaught forced to signal a humiliating retreat. Big Steve is aghast at the site of his wrecked inventory but at least he still has Walter Barnett’s cheque for $300,000 – or does he? A zap from Blaster’s Electro Scrambler sees the paper disintegrate before the crooked salesman’s eyes. Blaster tells him its bad enough he lost his friends saving Steve’s life, he won’t allow him to get rich off it. At this point you’d think Steve would be calling back Barnett to ask for a new cheque or even for funds to be deposited in his account – and not to mention calling his insurers.

We then get one of the best cliff-hangers of the year, with Blaster turning to Hotspot and saying he’ll skip thanking the Protectobots for showing up, as they need to get after RAAT while the trail is warm. Hotspot’s men circle Blaster with their weapons drawn – Grimlock didn’t send them to affect a rescue, but to arrest Blaster for desertion and to bring him back to the Ark for trial and execution! Crikey.

A couple of nit picks: Vortex is drawn twice as big as Streetwise, and Blast-off is similarly out of proportion to Hotspot. You’ve also got to say that it doesn’t say much for Autobot justice that execution is the preordained outcome here. What about presumption of innocence? Why have a trial at all? It’s all very ‘un-Autobot’. With Goldbug being on Grimlock’s wanted list also I’m surprised the Protectobots would not want to retrieve him from RAAT as well, plus the rest of the Throttlebots for aiding and abetting the fugitives.

Next story
Previous

Love and Steel

At the mid point in the mini-series the Autobots have become Headmasters and gained the upper hand over their Decepticon enemies but their fortunes on Nebulos are about to undergo a dramatic reversal

Headmasters started life in the US as a four issue spin-off from the main Transformers title, in 1987. Its job was to introduce fans to a new cast of Autobots and Decepticons (and Nebulans) and the novel concept of transforming heads and weapons. The story hopped over the pond into the Marvel UK Transformers comic where it became that rarest of things, a back-up strip with the power to outshine the main story.

Most of the secondary stories up to that point had been pretty run of the mill, with a few exceptions like Machine Man of 2020, Action Force (the anglicized version of GI Joe) and my personal favourite Hercules. Having wall-to-wall Transformers stories for 16 weekly issues was a huge deal back in the day and as a reader we felt suitably blessed.
The Headmasters saga is the Transformers US writer Bob Budiansky on his A game, and if the purpose is to push a toy line that doesn’t detract from what is thought provoking (and entertaining) story. On the face of it, the set-up is familiar; it’s giant alien robots unleashing their civil war onto an unsuspecting human world, with the Decepticons intent on conquest and plunder and the Autobots struggling to protect the planet’s inhabitants (and mostly being met with fear and misunderstanding).

Earth in this case is substituted for the pacifist world of Nebulos. That’s thousands of years tradition of peace is not the only difference though. In regular Transformers, the concept of robots in disguise is quite apparent. The Transformers are blended into the background of society, and while they often break cover and get written up in the press, there’s been government attempts to dismiss them as a hoax (e.g. Robot Master) and life goes on generally speaking.

Whereas on Nebulos, the Transformers’ presence is acknowledged off the bat and is front and centre. From Highbrow’s clumsy first contact with Gort in the forest, Nebulos life is completely upended. Their parliament debates the Autobot presence, and Blurr arrives in a very public (and disastrous) way. The people are on the streets protesting and rioting! Public pressure is such, that the Nebulan leadership even abandons it’s tradition of peace in order to wage war on the Autobot refugees. It could be that Bob was saying something profound about human nature here (albeit they’re Nebulans) that fear and misunderstanding quickly descends into hatred and violence, and we’re all susceptible.

Love and Steel is the third instalment of the saga. We’ve previously seen the Decepticons arrive and the Autobot leader and four of his allies bonded with Nebulans to become Headmasters in order to repel Scorponok. From this point on the balance of power is about to shift decisively…

The story begins in Splendora, a city of “prosperity and beauty”, that is being laid waste by the Apeface and Snapdragon (the Horrorcons) and the combiner team known as the Terrorcons. The names say it all pretty much, and the panicked citizens are fleeing for their lives. Presumably, although we don’t see it, the death and casualty count is high. For the Decepticons the attack is just about relieving their boredom. In the words of Blott: “I bet when you stomp on them they make squishy sounds”.

The cavalry arrives in the form of the Technobots, who are led into battle by the Nebulan-controlled Autobots Hardhead and Brainstorm. I think there is a deliberate attempt by the Nebulan leader Galen to reassure the public by having Nebulans involved whenever the Autobots mount a defence, not that it is very successful.

The Terrorcons combine into Abominus, whose scale is utterly awesome. He’s able to demolish tall buildings with a swing of one of his mighty arms. The Technobots merge into Computron, who deploys a well placed shot and batters Abominus into his component parts with a huge metal girder. In his enthusiasm, Computron manages to give the impression of being as big a menace as the Decepticons. The Horrorcons are no match for the sharp-shooting Hardhead and Brainstorm, whose aim and abilities has improved exponentially since teaming up with Nebulans. (I’m not really sure why this should be the case, but perhaps it’s the old saying of two heads better than one…).

Brainstorm and Hardhead detach their heads into Nebulans Arcana and Duros to calm the public and assure them that the crisis is passed. As per usual they get zero gratitude. Peer Soriza, part of the Nebulan ruling council, simply questions the wisdom of Galen and his followers in “involving robots” in Nebulan affairs. The benefits should be pretty blooming obvious I would have thought, as the Decepticons would still be rampaging if not for the Autobot intervention.

At the Decepticon’s temporary base, Lord Zarak – who very unwisely reached out to Scorponok to seek his help in ridding Nebulos of the Autobots – is getting his just desserts by becoming a caged prisoner. For some reason, Scorponok is choosing to keep them as laboratory animals (showing his keen interest in mad science that would surface in the future and more so in the IDW comics of the 2000s). He’s created a bubble machine an elaborate trash disposal system for dumping Nebulan dissidents into the oblivion of outer space! Hmm.

The overweight Nebulan Monzo is selected as a test and quickly floats off, courtesy of Skullcruncher’s anti-gravity gun, before the bubble bursts at 50ft. Luckily Mindwipe transforms and catches the poor guy before he goes splat (no sense in wasting lab materials).

Zarak is pretty feisty for a caged captive. He warns Scorponok that a “thousand Nebulans will rise up” to take the place of any killed (hollow words perhaps from a society which has no concept of warfare) but he sees an opening when Apeface and Snapdragon return to report their defeat at Spendora, and are on the receiving end of Scorponok’s wrath – is he afraid to admit there are advantages to working with Nebulans, Zarak challenges.

Scorponok smashes the small prison and seizes Zarak in his pinchers. Yet the condemned Nebulan shows no fear – his death is a small matter if his world is to be conquered by Decepticons or Galen’s allies, he says. Perhaps it’s the scientist in Scorponok, or his desire to vanquish the enemy, but he agrees to share his power. However, he has a telling word of warning for Zarak: once possessed of the savage strength of Scorponok all other considerations become insignificant, perhaps even Zarak’s beloved daughter.

Later, at the Headmaster’s temporary headquarters, Galen and his men are visited by Soriza (still as miserable as ever) and a delegation. They find Galen and his men working on the Autobot weapons in what is undoubtedly the early stages of developing a Targetmaster process. As usual their preoccupation with war-making hits all the wrong notes insofar as the observers are concerned. Gort and Stylor are miscoloured as each other in one of the frequent art and colouring blunders with bedevil the series – thank goodness Bob’s storytelling makes up for this.

The Council has decided to send a delegation to accompany all of the Autobot missions. Galen agrees because he’s a stickler for the law, but he reinforces Duros’ point that the battlefield is no place for “headline hunting politicians”. Zarak’s daughter Llyra arrives looking like she’s stepped out in her negligee. She’s still giving poor Galen the cold shoulder for abandoning his peace loving principles, and has come with a very dubious video of Lord Zarak, apparently smuggled out of captivity, appealing for Galen and the Autobots to rescue them from the Decepticons. Galen readily agrees.

He tries to insist on Llyra not accompanying the political delegation and putting herself in harm’s way, but apparently she has inherited her father’s council seat in his absence – showing that they have an elitist hereditary system of politics on Nebulos rather than a democratic popular vote that you might expect from this highly evolved society.

The Headmasters roll-out to effect a rescue. Fortress Maximus, through Galen’s prior dealings with Zarak, ought to have known of the possibility for a trap and taken Autobot reinforcements along. Instead the five of them show up to take on an entire base full of Decepticons. They are met by Scorponok and five other Decepticons who emerge headless, with Zarak and the Nebulans now wearing robotic suits. The situation has “changed dramatically” says Zarak, before they bond with the Decepticons and attack the Autobots. Watching from above the politicians are appalled by the violence and Llyra cannot believe Galen is involved in it – despite him risking his life to rescue her beloved father – the same dad who’s now bonded to Scorponok!!

Zarak, now part-Scorponok, experiences power the likes of which he could never have imagined. Plucking Brainstorm from the air he feels like he could rip him in two; luckily, Fortress Maximus propels Skullcruncher at the Decepticon to prevent this happening. The inner conflict between Zarak’s love for his daughter and his home-world, and his lust for power and petty jealously, which is now magnified though his bonding with Scorponok is a really fascinating aspect of the story. With the Decepticons now ascendant, that inner turmoil is the only chance the Autobots have at a saving grace.

Apeface throws a boulder at the Nebulan observers’ floating craft, damaging a stabiliser and causing it to crash land (his bonding with Spasma doesn’t appear to have engendered any more sympathy towards Nebulans) and for Llyra and the others to spill out. Scorponok orders Mindwipe to create a distraction (except Scorpy has been drawn as Fortress Maximus, which is a shocking error by the artist) and Mindwipe uses his hypnotic gaze on Llyra to make her lead her fellow Nebulans into the trap of the Decepticon bubble machine. With Scorponok tearing a hole in roof, the bubbled-captives begin to float skywards and the Autobots have no choice but to break off the fight and focus on trying to free everyone.

Scorponok’s conflict at seeing ‘his daughter’ floating away is fascinating, although at this point the Decepticon side is stronger – there is no time for trivialities when he has a world within his grasp. Fortress Maximus frees Llyra and catches her (again, another artist blunder as Max’s head has been drawn as Cerebros – how does the artist get the main character of the saga wrong three issues in? It’s bizarre). The Autobots are sitting ducks and quickly cut down by a barrage of Decepticon fire. They heads detach and revert to unconscious Nebulan forms.

Zarak takes great pleasure in the defeat of his hated foe Galen – “you tried to intimidate me with your power” he says, showing a petty jealousy that underlines why he is the lesser man than Galen. However, in Llyra’s eyes Zarak is the hero of the hour. In her daze she thinks Galen and the Autobots were shooting at them, and despite dumping Galen for his decision to bond with Transformers to save Nebulos, she holds her father to no similar standard.

The instalment ends with the Autobots vanquished and Zarak vowing that Galen and his kind will never threaten Nebulos again! Harsh. As a reader the unfairness of the situation is brutal, however it’s certainly dramatic and you’ll be back for the concluding instalment Brothers in Armour to find out how the situations resolves.

Next story
Previous

Ladies’ Night

Susan Hoffman is on the brink of the greatest find of her archaeological career – the fossilised remains of Ultra Magnus and Galvatron!

Transformers is and has always been a bit of a sausage fest. Not that giant alien robots have a gender either way, at least not officially. But in appearance, personality, voice and behaviour they’ve always been depicted as male. That was certainly true in the 1980s when the Marvel comic was on sale, and the arrival of Arcee (the first Autobot of female Autobot) in the 1986 Transformers Movie only cemented the idea that the rest were male.

So, the premise of Simon Furman’s 1987 story Ladies’ Night – that the sisters are doing it and taking centre stage in the fight against the Decepticons – was something of a novelty. Is it sexist? I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. The dictionary definition of sexism is prejudice and discrimination based on gender and I don’t think that’s in play here. But take a look at the cover with the ‘fellas’ Rollbar and Goldbug being shocked at being relegated to the side lines by the three ladies and there’s a whiff of something patronising and gender stereotyping, that looks a bit antiquated these days.

That said, the story is pretty good and advances the Ultra Magnus and Galvatron plot a little, as well as the rivalry and paranoia of Shockwave in relation to the threat that he perceives Galvatron to be to his command. We catch up with the human characters we haven’t seen in a while and the story provides a plausible explanation for the Combaticons’ pursuit of the Throttlebots which would be the plot of the next US story Used Autobots. But mostly for me, the highlight of the entire story is Dan Reed’s rendition of Magnus and Galvatron petrified in stone. It’s a kind of nightmarish Pompeii meets Han Solo in Carbonite.

The tale begins with Susan Hoffman, the archaeologist we met in the Ancient Relics story earlier in 1987. You might have been forgiven for thinking her specialism was Roman architecture given that this was what she was investigating under London.

However, in Ladies Night she’s half a world away in Southern Oregon about to descend into Mount Verona to uncover the secret of its sudden and mysterious eruption recently (and the presence of metal debris at the volcano mouth). We’ll just have to suspend our belief and go with it. She doesn’t have to descend far before she lands on something. A spotlight quickly illuminates what it is – Galvatron’s shoulder! Susan has found the fossilised remains of the future Decepticon leader and his greatest enemy (in this era at least) Ultra Magnus.

Incidentally Simon Furman later confirmed that Susan Hoffman was modelled on Susanna Hoffs, lead single of the 80s the band The Bangles, who he evidently had a crush on.

Fast forward a week and Goldbug is helping Rollbar get acquainted with Earth but parking up outside an electronics store that has closed for the night. They are watching TV with Blaster on hand to intercept the sound at source and provide the volume. As he notes, it’s “sorta inconsiderate” of the shopkeepers to turn the sound off on the sets! A news broadcast catches Goldbug’s attention – it is Joy Meadows, the investigative reporter who got involved in the Transformers war when she attempted to uncover the Robot Master hoax with help from the Dinobots – and she’s broadcasting her Ladies Night show from the summit of Mount Verona. Joy is interviewing Susan Hoffman about her amazing find and Goldbug is shocked to see a close-up of the petrified Magnus. He’d thought his friend had perished along with Galvatron but evidently not. (It’s that old rule of comics that nobody actually stays dead for good).

Elsewhere Cindy Newell, the student who befriended Ultra Magnus during the Galvatron saga, is suffering a recurring nightmare about the monstrous Galvatron. Its fair to say that coming up close to a being that powerful and evil, coupled with the loss of her friend, probably has left some post traumatic stress. Incidentally the scene looks really reminiscent of Buster Witwicky in his bedroom, with Cindy even wearing Buster’s trademark colours of pink top and blue jeans. I digress, she wakes from her dream to sees the face of Galvatron on her TV screen!

The Decepticons have seen the broadcast too. Soundwave, who monitors human channels routinely, flags it up to his commander. Shockwave’s response is not to order Soundwave to accompany the Combaticons to Mount Verona, not to free Galvatron but to finish him off. It’s a risk for Shockwave and one that will come back to haunt him later, but no doubt his logical mind has concluded that he would be unable to withstand a leadership challenge from Galvatron so he must take advantage of his rival’s current helplessness.

With the key players mobilised, the story flips back to Mount Verona where the US military is keeping guard (with several tanks and jeeps securing the scene) as Hoffman and Meadows talk post-interview. There’s a scuffle as Cindy attempts to reach them and has her way blocked by a soldier. Joy appeals for her to be let through but she’s wittering on about Magnus and not making a great deal of sense.

Suddenly an explosion rocks the area, as Combaticons arrive and lay waste to the military. (I particularly enjoy Brawl verses a tank. It’s actually something of a relief to see him functional again after the particularly gruesome way that Megatron squashed his head back earlier in the year (in Gone But Not Forgotten). With the humans in retreat Soundwave instructs the Combaticons to proceed with the plan to destroy Galvatron.

Nearby, Goldbug and Rollbar and watching and listening. When you consider that they were watching the TV news from 200 miles away they’ve wasted no time in getting there. However, on learning that the Decepticons are there to rub out Galvatron, Goldbug concludes that they would be wise to withdraw and let them get on with it.

Cindy confronts Goldbug and appeals to him to rescue Magnus. He rightly points out that if the Autobots did that, Magnus’ original sacrifice would be in vain, and tells Cindy to go home. She insists that, on the contrary, the fight has only just begun!
On the letters page Grimlock confirms to reader Andrew Jackson that the Terrorcons and Technobots will feature in next issue’s Headmasters instalment and Runabout and Runamuck are still at the bottom of New York harbour. Going back to what I was saying about TFs never truly being dead, you have to wonder at this juncture whether anyone will be coming to fish them out (they will eventually). And a letter from Christopher Millwood asking for Transformers reprints as the back-up story would sadly become rather prescient as the comic cut corners in its latter years! In the Robo Capers strip, one Margaret Thatcher makes a cameo (with the banned spook memoir Spycatcher in her bin!).

Part two begins with a great splash page by Geoff Senior of Swindle planting an explosive just as a flaming jeep comes bearing down on him. He can’t react in time and takes the impact full on. He turns, angry, to see who has dared attack, only to see a tank approaching. Next thing he’s hit square in the chest with a projectile and collapses backwards bemoaning his resale value in true Swindle/Ferenghi fashion.

It turns out that Joy Meadows operated the tank. The Ladies Night edition she did with a female tank driver surprisingly provided all the training required. Hmm.

The trio are jubilant at taking first blood and we get an insight into why Hoffman and Meadows are helping Cindy. In the former’s case its protect the Decepticons from destroying the greatest find of her archaeological career and for the later it’s the prospect of a great news story.

Nearby Soundwave completes his work priming the detonator, while the Combaticons are wondering why Swindle hasn’t returned. Soundwave sends them to find out while he remains to guard the detonator. Elsewhere, the Throttlebots and Blaster are concerned that the humans might be attempting to tangle with the Decepticons and implore Goldbug to rethink his earlier decision to step away. It’s the first time that Goldbug has appeared to be the defacto leader of this group, even though Rollbar commands the Throttlebots. I suspect its because Goldbug has the most experience of Earth while the rest of relative newcomers and he’s also a fairly switched on chap most of the time (and in fact in the IDW verse Goldbug’s alter ego Bumblebee would enjoy stints as an Autobot civilian leader).

Finding Swindle unconscious, the Combaticons look for signs of the perpetrators. An empty jeep rolls down the mountainside towards them. Only when it arrives do they notice the explosives. Onslaught orders them to scatter but they are too late – as Cindy and Joy fire a tank shell at the powder keg, catapulting the Decepticons into the air. Debris from the explosion lands in the volcano, cracking the solidified lava around Galvatron!

The blast is also enough to upturn the tank and both women crawl out dazed. Onslaught seizes the unconscious Susan Hoffman in his palm. He’s mad enough to squish her but then relents. Cindy and Joy realise why when they spot four Throttlebots present with their weapons drawn. Onslaught withdraws, smarting from the humiliation.

From a safe distance, Soundwave transmits the detonation signal only for there to be no ensuing explosion. The Autobots could not have defused the bombs in time he thinks. The explanation, as if we couldn’t guess, is Blaster in radio mode jamming the signal. This might be the one and only time Soundwave and Blaster have competed, though not in battle more’s the pity. There’s a nice satirical conclusion with Goldbug chastising the girls for trying to take on the Decepticons. That said, he notes they “did pretty well for mere…” and Meadows, triggered, jumps in expecting him to say “mere women”. In fact Goldbug was going to say “mere humans”!

Magnus and Galvatron have been present throughout the story without actually playing an active role. It’s fitting that they have the final scene with the rock around Galvatron cracking and his eyes returning to life. A story for another time we’re told…

In summary. This Ladies Night is an enjoyable two parter that shows that’s that a bit of human ingenuity can actually be a match for a team of heavily armed and dangerous Decepticons. The execution is good and doesn’t stretch the boundaries of belief too far. Onslaught declares that, after their intervention, the Throttlebots will become their primary targets which ties in nicely to the US story arc that starts in the next issue.

Next story
Previous

Grudge Match

Swoop goes looking for Divebomb to settle an old score and stop a humiliating secret from his past from becoming known… and their respective teams, the Dinobots and the Predacons, are close behind

Forget Rodimus Prime versus Galvatron or Blaster and Goldbug locking horns with the Mechanic… or even Buster Witwicky’s soapy showdown with Ratbat in a car wash (as if we could), the big fight of the year 1987 is, insofar as Simon Furman is concerned, the Dinobots versus the Predacons! According to the Transformers UK comic, fans have been demanding that the two teams meet in battle. While I’m not so sure of the claim myself, in those pre-internet days it would have impossible to disprove. In any case, in October 1987 this is what Furman (and artist Jeff Anderson) was poised to deliver…

The pre-text for the big fight was a throwaway line in the (much) earlier story, The Icarus Theory, about the Dinobot Swoop being known as Divebomb when he was on Cybertron as a member of the Autobot Elite Flying Corps. He’d resented Optimus Prime’s authority back then and, in the story, Prime is able to leverage this to force Swoop’s personality to reassert itself and override Professor Morris mind control.

So, when Hasbro subsequently brought out an actual Decepticon toy called Divebomb, Furman had a problem. He explained the discrepancy away by saying Swoop had lost the name due to being defeated in combat. The Annual story What’s In a Name? explains all this and sets up the events of Grudge Match rather neatly.

The story opens at a circus big top in Florida where the ring master whips up the crowd for a night of surprises… He’s not wrong. Moments later the Predacon Headstrong charges through O’Connor’s Circus scattering performers and spectators alike and crashing through the side of the tent. Nearby, a boy is pestering his father to see the big cats, and right on cue Razorclaw and Rampage pounce on to assembled funfair and trample the amusements. Rampage tosses a Big Wheel in the direction of Tantrum, who presumably was supposed to catch it but instead manages to shatter it into so many pieces. What’s the purpose of all this? Nothing really, it’s just a bit of mindless mayhem that the team have been needing since relocating to Earth. As Divebomb, who is nearby but finds the idea of tormenting lesser creatures beneath his status as an elite hunter, notes that things had started well: Optimus Prime and Megatron had been worthy quarry but since then Earth has been deadly dull.

Despite not having seen Swoop in four million years, Divebomb’s thoughts turn to his old sparring partner and wondering what happened to him. Does he know that Swoop is also on Earth and now part of a team? If not its mightily coincidental that Divebomb should be thinking of this memory from his long distant past on this very night.

Through Divebomb’s dialogue, are reminded that the Predacons combine to form Predaking (which is as well as the gestalt is sadly absent from the story – a missed opportunity perhaps?) and we cut to the Ark where the Swoop and Sludge see the circus rampage on the TV news.

Sludge finds it all very funny for some odd and inappropriate reason, but Swoop is visibly shocked at Divebomb’s reappearance. Sludge doesn’t understand his colleague’s strong emotional response, after all they’ve all lost battles before so why does this one matter? For Swoop, the fact that he got beaten by Divebomb and only survived due to the intervention of Optimus Prime, is a source of eternal shame. He thinks he’ll be disgraced if the truth comes out and he must silence Divebomb. It’s a massive overreaction but it speaks to Swoop’s emotional personality which we’ve seen lead him into trouble so many times before. Rather than come clean to his fellow Dinobots, Swoop explains his reaction with the immortal line: “he’s still usin’ my name.”

Shortly after, Divebomb is circling the Florida swamps in bird of prey mode. Suddenly a missile clips his wing and he spins around to see Swoop gunning for him. Divebomb is overjoyed! This is exactly the sort of excitement he’s been craving, and he wastes no time in getting stuck in. Unfortunately, it appears that the years since their last encounter has not shifted the balance in Swoop’s favour – he’s still weaker and less accomplished in battle than Divebomb. Pretty soon he’s dumped in the swamp and Divebomb as transforms and lands. Swoop is not done yet. He too reverts to robot mode and the pair are settling old scores with their fists when suddenly they are distracted by a noise off panel… the other Predacons have arrived (to the displeasure of both winged warriors) but that’s especially bad news for Swoop.

The second half begins with Swoop getting a good beating from the Predacons, with leader Razorclaw delivers the blows. Divebomb is taking no part in the punishment. This battle with Swoop is personal and he doesn’t appreciate his Predacon teammates muscling in on his fun, but neither does he say as much, it’s left to his actions. Interestingly, Swoop’s internal monologue still thinks he would have avenged himself against Divebomb had the other Predacons not arrived. I’m not sure that even Swoop is convinced by that.

As Razorclaw bends down to pick up his sword, the huge foot of Grimlock steps on it. The Dinobots look after their own, declares Grimlock, before booting Razorclaw aside. Slag and Snarl waste no time in squaring up to Headstrong and Tantrum and Divebomb goads Swoop with the threat that he might just tell the other Dinobots about Swoop’s disgrace. “I’ll kill you first,” is Swoop impassioned response, which is of course music to the Predacon’s ears. They take to the sky for round four.

Despite the billing, this does seem to be a one-sided fight. Grimlock is making light work of Razorclaw, despite the latter being a supposedly deadly predator, while Slag is just softening Tantrum up before exposing him to his fiery breath; while Headstrong is feeling the power of Snarl’s tail and Rampage will soon be worn down by Sludge (who is too stupid to admit defeat – a great line). If there was ever a time that the Predacons needed to pull their combiner trick it’s at this moment, but it never comes.

Swoop and Divebomb continue their battle in the skies above. He’s holding his own, but for how long? Swoop calculates a way to win through deception – he places himself in the firing line to Grimlock to make it appear that Divebomb has unleashed a missile attack against the Dinobot leader. Grimlock responds in typical fashion by using Razorclaw’s sword to clip the Predacon’s wings. Moments later, Grimlock is throttling Divebomb with his bare hands and Swoop only feels even more wretched.

Divebomb, naturally, attempts to save his skin by telling Grimlock that he is being played by Swoop and then spills the beans about the events on Cybertron. Grimlock listens attentively before dropping Divebomb and hoisting a huge boulder aloft. The Predacon cowers as Grimlock reveals that he’s known all about the incident for ages – since he became Autobot leader and had access to all of Prime’s unlogged reports. He doesn’t care because Swoop is a member of his team, and Dinobots look after their own. This is welcome characterisation from Furman, showing that Grimlock is a lot smarter than the crown-wearing oaf that the US stories make him out to be. His response to Swoop’s predicament is measured and proportionate and he’s looking out for someone under his command by keeping the secret.

As Divebomb cowers, awaiting the impact of the boulder, Swoop steps in to spare him. It’s time he stopped letting others fight his battles, he says. Grimlock understands that this is Swoop’s battle and is content to go along with how his colleague chooses to resolve it. The upshot is that the Predacons are allow to walk away, albeit humiliated (so much for the Decepticons’ elite hunting cadre). Swoop decides it’s time to come clean to his teammates about what that ‘certain battle on Cybertron’. Meanwhile, Razorclaw offers Divebomb a pistol and suggests that he “take out Swoop and scarper” (somewhat odd language for a Transformer but I digress). Divebomb declines: for the first time in a while he is finally starting to have fun – his playmate is back, and he intends to enjoy himself.

It’s a strong end the story and sets up the prospect of further encounters. Sadly, Simon Furman would not get around to giving us the rematch these two deserved and we wouldn’t see much of the Predacons from this point on, save for an appearance in the 1988 story Toy Soldiers (chasing Throttlebot brain modules in remote controlled cars) and then reduced to background cameos thereafter.

Next story
Previous

Broken Glass!

The Autobot presence on the planet Nebulos has triggered a wave of panic and protests and matters are about to get worse when the Decepticons show up!

I’ve got a lot of love for the Headmasters saga. It was published by Marvel as a four comic spin-off series in 1987 and reprinted in the back pages of Transformers UK.

It’s writer Bob Budiansky at the top of his game in my opinion. His task is to provide a story vehicle to introduce a large array of new Transformers toys and characters (Autobots, Decepticons and Nebulans) that has Hasbro were releasing that summer. And to provide a plausible reason why Transformers would wish to join forces with humanoids as Headmasters and Targetmasters.
Bob ably rises to the challenge and weaves a story of heroism , tragedy, sacrifice, love and treachery, with compelling lead characters in Fortress Maximus and Scorponok and their Nebulan counterparts Galen and Zarak.

It’s a testament to the story that it does not need to rely on big name draws like Optimus Prime or Megatron to sell it (in fact the only established characters to appear are Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr, Cyclonus and Scourge, and even then as bit players) and so it succeeds under its its own steam.

In the first instalment, we met the noble Fortress Maximus, an Autobot leader in the Optimus Prime mould, who had grown weary of the never-ending cycle of civil war and realised the Autobots were equally culpable of propagating the conflict as their enemies the Decepticons. The only way to break the circle of violence was for his side to leave Cybertron forever. Their logical destination would be Nebulos, where peace had reigned for ten thousand years. However, the arrival of giant alien robots in their midst proved so destabilising that the Nebulans reactivated their long dormant weapons of war and attacked the newcomers. Fortress Maximus surrendered his head as the ultimate gesture of peace, as did four of his followers, while six others disarmed. Crisis was averted temporarily.

So, as we pick up the story in Broken Glass! the Nebulan capital Koraja is in a state of civil unrest with protestors waving anti-robot placards and climbing on the globe monument to burn an effigy. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and a member of the ruling council, watches the situation with alarm. He feels responsible because it was his decision to accept the surrender of Fortress Maximus and allow the other Autobots to remain. Evidently public opinion does not share his assessment that these robots do not pose a threat.

Lord Zarak is an intriguing character. We see him at this point, standing alongside Galen as a fellow council member. The dovish Galen and hawkish Zarak have very different political perspectives but for now they are nominally on the same side. Zarak is of course, responsible for first contact between Blurr and the Nebulans going so awry in the last issue, and he’s busy stirring the pot even now, with hired thugs in the crowd to ensure the protests erupt into violence. Galen appears not to suspect the lengths Zarak will go to. And matters are complicated by the fact that Galen’s lover, Llyra, is Zarak’s daughter. She also seems to dismiss her father as a harmless crank.

So what are Zarak’s motives here? On the one hand it would seem to be power grab, by using the crisis to bring down Galen and advance himself. On the other, maybe he’s looking for an opportunity break up his daughter’s relationship with this guy he despises. We can only speculate what it is he dislikes so much about Galen: could it be Zarak finds Galen’s nobility intolerable as it reveals his (Zarak’s) own failings as a man and leader? Or maybe he detests Galen’s flamboyant choice of clothes, i.e. the bright red outfit with the slightly naff green globe on it. What we can say with some certainty is that Zarak’s daughter is smoking hot!
It’s interesting to see how Earthlike these Nebulans are in terms of their actions and passions. It’s no wonder that they can come to Earth later on and integrate pretty seamlessly. Perhaps this is a missed opportunity on Bob’s part to create something more alien (that said the cartoon’s answer was simply to make the Nebulans green).

As a fight breaks out and Galen leaps into the crowd to break it up (let’s skirt over the fact that he was two storeys up and would have broken his legs) only to be punched out by one of Zarak’s goons. Nebulan security forces step in and Llyra rushes to the aid of her love, who has just been punched in the face by a protester. Galen insists on taking the blame and says the man should not be arrested. Bad judgement I think – what sort of precedent is that setting if a mob is allowed to physically assault a leading politician without consequence? Zarak is soon trying to poison Llyra against Galen, saying the deal with the Autobots is Galen’s way of seizing more power. She won’t hear of it.

Later we see what has become of Fortress Maximus and the other surrendered Autobots. Their heads are in an abandoned munitions warehouse along with their bodies and weapons. The head of Fortress Maximus has become a wise counsel to Galen and is growing ever more extreme in his selflessness as time goes on. Not only is he prepared to accept life as a decapitated prisoner, he now urges Galen to destroy them all if it will maintain the peace on Nebulos. Galen feels that would run counter to all his stands for (luckily).

Lord Zarak, meanwhile, keeps up the pressure with a speech in the Council urging his fellow law makers to listen to the voices of the people. Galen is losing the argument but Gort comes to his aid. Having recovered from the injuries he received at the forest encounter with Highbrow, he takes the platform and explains to councillors that he was not attacked at all – his fall was an accident. The speech proves to be a game changer and tensions ease a little.

So much so that Galen, Zarak are soon leading a delegation to meet Kup, Blurr, Pointblank and the other Autobots to see how construction of their forest base is going. Hot Rod is establishing one-way contact with their old base on Cybertron so that they can listen in on events happening on the homeworld. The Autobots will not broadcast to Cybertron in case the Decepticons should learn of their location. Zarak’s assistant Vorath secretly records the location of the Cybertron base, and later in a powerful observatory Zarak transmits a message to Cybertron asking for help in ridding Nebulos of the Autobots.

That message arrives, with perfect timing, as Scorponok and his Decepticons have infiltrated the deserted Autobot base on Cybertron to try to find out what has become of their regular sparring partners. When an unintelligible message starts broadcasting out of a console they activate translators and hear Zarak’s appeal for assistance against Fortress Maximus! Soon his his army is setting course for Nebulos to crush the Autobots and conquer the planet!

Natural justice demands that Zarak should be locked up for a very long time as a traitor to Nebulos for exposing his people to such danger, but that’s not what happens. My other thoughts are around Scorponok’s motives. They supposedly fight to conquer Cybertron, and with the Autobots gone that goal becomes more achievable, but Scorponok would rather up-sticks and follow Fortress Maximus. For him and his troops, conquering the enemy has long become the primary goal. In a real sense they are in a symbiotic relationship with the Autobots and are lost without them.

In one of the panels, Scorponok is meant to be speaking to Cyclonus. Instead, artist Frank Springer has drawn one of the Nebulan robots. Rather than open up a can of worms that would get readers writing in, UK editor Simon Furman simply replaces the name Cyclonus with Krunix. It won’t be the only mistake Springer makes (drawing Cerebros’ head in place of Fortress Maximus is another glaring one) but I can only imagine the number of new character specs to learn was overwhelming. It’s sloppy but is forgivable only because the standard of art is good overall and the story is of a high standard.

Before too long Scorponok and his followers arrive on Nebulos in force. Zarak is alarmed by the numbers of them and more so when Scorpnok announces they will ignore the Autobots in the forest for now and attack the city where Fortress Maximus is being held. It should be pretty apparent to Zarak that he has messed up in a major way, particularly as Scorponok makes plain that he’ll deal with Zarak and his cronies when he returns.

Galen is woken by security chief Duros, who tells him ‘robots are attacking’ apparently in contravention of their agreement. Galen gets dressed and rushes outside, where it’s quickly apparent that these are the enemies of their allies the Autobots. As the Decepticon assault on the city begins, Galen convenes with the head of Fortress Maximus, who warns him that Scorponok would interpret any surrender of the captive heads as weakness and destroy the city anyway.

Since they cannot reconnect the Autobots to their bodies without violating the promises Galen made to the Nebulan people, another way must be found. Remote controlling the Autobot bodies will not be enough to counter a heavily armed Decepticon attack and so Fortress Maximus suggests a way for the Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots and control their bodies. It’s a novel idea and makes you wonder whether Max dreamed it up or there has been previous instances in Transformers history where the Headmaster process has been attempted.

Arcana, an expert in bio-engineering is summoned. He quickly advances the plan to allow Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots, allowing them to ‘take control’ of the robotic bodies and fight back against the Decepticons. When I say quickly, I mean insanely fast. An engineering feat like this, which has never been attempted before, would surely take months or years to design and test, and yet here is Arcana creating the process in a matter of hours, while the city is under siege. Plus, he volunteers to be one of the five being operated on, so while he should be overseeing the crucial stage of the experiment he’s actually going on the operating table for a very risky physical process (which, when you consider involves replacing joints and strengthening bones, you would think it would take the volunteers a long time to recover from such surgery).

Gort, Duros and Stylor step up and Galen will be the fifth volunteer. He is implored by Llyra not to do become a man of war, but he feels he must lead by example if he is to save Nebulos. An operation that looks and reads like something out of a Frankenstein horror, gets underway. It is a stunning success. Finally, the five emerge from the operating theatre in robotic suits, not quite Autobots but now more than Nebulans. They fold up and transform into the heads of the Autobots and thus the Headmasters are born!

Duros’ men have fought valiantly but perimeter defences have been breached (presumably many Nebulans will have died, though this is not addressed). Skullcruncher can’t wait to start stomping organic creatures. Scorponok feels that won’t be necessary, as iron doors open to reveal Fortress Maximus (his head drawn as Cerebros, annoyingly) and fellow Autobots. Scorponok is expecting their surrender, but instead they are hear to fight.

A great battle ensues, with the five warriors now sharper, faster and more agile than before. The Decepticons are soon on the run, despite having the superior numbers. Scorponok sounds a general retreat and the Autobots do a victory march into Koraja. Many Nebulans are fearful of the ‘monstrous’ newcomers and aren’t sure if they have traded one set of conquerors for another. To ease their fears, each Autobot head disconnects and transforms back in/to its Nebulan component. They are quickly mobbed.

Llyra is aghast that Galen went ahead with this. She gives no credit at all to the fact that he has just saved the Nebulan capital and its people from destruction at the hands of a murderous alien robot mob. To be fair, Galen doesn’t help himself by speaking in terms of ‘the Autobots’ power being theirs to control’. It’s really the worst thing he could say as it makes Llyra believe that her father was right about Galen all along – he is power hungry and now longer the peaceful man she fell in love with. Ouch.

So ends Broken Glass. The title is meant to relate to the fragility of the peace on Nebulos and the civil unrest but it could also relate to Galen’s own situation. His relationship is now shattered and he may not be able to piece it back together. Even if he could, he has extensively surgically altered, a freak essentially, and it is naïve to think he can just slot back into his old life and things will be as they were.

Next story
Previous

What’s In A Name?

This is the story of what happened, millions of years ago on Cybertron, when Swoop went looking for the Decepticon who stole his name

Ah Swoop. My favourite Dinobot in the comics, even though ironically he was the worst of the toys. I’ve had a soft spot for the poor bugger ever since he got beaten to a pulp by Guardian, recovered, then was engulfed by a massive explosion as he flew the aforementioned bomb-laden mechanoid away from the Ark. He’s also been bashed up by Megatron, had his mind taken over by the human scientist Professor Morris, and had a huge hole blasted in his wings by Trypticon. Swoop is probably the most unlucky Dinobot of the lot, and yet he’s also a great survivor, always battling back from whatever scrape he’s involved in.

One of two Shakespearean titled Transformers stories from Simon Furman (the other being Purchase to Dream, in 1990), What’s In A Name? is arguably the standout story in the 1987 Transformers Annual. At five pages its short and sweet but so much better than the vast majority of the Earthforce stories of the later run, many of which were turgid.

So, what is in a name? Quite a lot as it turns out. In fact a stolen name, taken by an enemy who bested Swoop in battle is the catalyst for a bitter rivalry spanning millions of years. To explain, in Transformers UK #45, Simon Furman included a throwaway line about Swoop having been known as Divebomb back on Cybertron and that he’d been part of a stuck-up elite flying corps of Autobots who resented the authority of commander Optimus Prime. Furman couldn’t have known (or at least I don’t think it was planned) that Hasbro would actually release a Predacon called Divebomb in their toy line up a year after that story was published. So, Furman takes advantage of that awkward development to weave a really compelling rivalry, that of Swoop versus Divebomb. It would play out in the 1987 story Grudge Match (where the Dinobots and the Predacons clash) and this short annual story is the warm up act.

It’s drawn by Will Simpson, whose work I like a lot, and is a real treat to see Swoop’s pre-Earth aerial mode. (In many ways the story is like a dry run for the hugely enjoyable War Within prequels that Furman wrote for Dreamwave from 2002-04). It starts with Swoop as a sleek, agile jet (a mode he says he much prefers to his current pterodactyl form) trespassing deep into Decepticon territory in direct defiance of his orders.

He’s looking for one Decepticon in particular: an airborne foe who’s real name he never found out, who bested him in combat and then adopted the name Divebomb as a consequence of winning their fight. Swoop had been humiliated and faced taunts from the other flying corps members (with friends like them, eh?) and so he’s coming looking for rematch. He doesn’t have long to wait…

As Swoop skulks around in robot mode, Divebomb spies him from the air, and sweeps past in a lightening quick strafing run, throwing off Swoop’s aim. He taunts Swoop ‘if he wants the name back he’ll have to fight for it’. Both take to the air and there is a clash of wings. Divebomb is supremely confident – he’s either stronger or just the better fighter. He unleashes a fragment rocket which makes contact with Swoop and sends him spiralling to the ground with smoke trails billowing from his engines.

Divebomb lands and transforms, a little disappointed that Swoop didn’t put up more of a fight. He closes in for the kill and is ambushed by Swoop’s afterburners, full-force in his face. Divebomb careers backwards, but is quickly able to counterattack with a blast from his sword. Swoop ends up at Divebomb’s mercy and this time he knows he is finished. Or is he? Suddenly Divebomb is cut down in a burst of laser fire from none other than Optimus Prime! Swoop’s life has been saved by the commanding officer he despises, and now his humiliation is complete.

Fast forward four million years to Earth. Prime is now dead, succeeded as Autobot leader by Swoop’s Dinobot colleague Grimlock, and the truth of Swoop’s defeat has died with him. However, Sludge shows Swoop TV footage of the Predacons rampaging on Earth, with Divebomb among them. Not as dead as he’d lead the Dinobots to believe. Grimlock joins Sludge outside and, on seeing Swoop striding away, asks what’s going on. Sludge replies that Swoop had looked like he was about to confess some secret about his history with this Decepticon but in the end all he said was “He’s still usin’ my name”. A great closing line.

It’s a neat little story which gives a good insight into Swoop’s big problem, his sense of pride. Having made it into an elite team, he feels he has to live up to the macho image and it eats him up when he falls short and is humiliated. That to Swoop is worse than death and revenge becomes an imperative. Instead he ends up making matters worse by having to be saved by Optimus Prime, who once again shows his great humanity and care for his warriors (even those who detest him) by sparing Swoop the further shame of disclosure. Rather than being grateful to Prime, Swoop appears to have only resented him more.

Divebomb, in turn, is in a league above Swoop either through training or strength, I’m not sure. But he has an almost affection for this plucky Autobot who is desperate to challenge him and can’t quite measure up. He rather admires the way Swoop won’t accept defeat I think. It makes the otherwise humdrum existence of never-ending warfare that bit more interesting and more so when Divebomb is posted to Earth and homesick for Cybertron.

Next story
Previous

Headhunt!

It’s back to the future where Death’s Head latest target is none-other-than the Autobot leader of 2007, Rodimus Prime. That is unless the bungling Cyclonus and Scourge don’t get in the way.

What happened to Death’s Head and Rodimus Prime after they were forcibly returned to their own time (2007) at the conclusion of Transformers UK #120? That’s apparently the big question on the minds of readers in the Autumn of 1987, and Headhunt is the story with the answers!

To be fair, there’s not much mystery involved – we all worked out that everyone got transported back to their point of origin. The desire for a sequel on the part of fans is really in order to see more of Death’s Head. Why? Well, to put it simply he’s an money-loving, badass space bounty hunter, with an assortment of plug in weapons and hilarious eccentric quirks. What’s not to like?

So, we’re back to 2007, which was an exciting prospect for a 13-year-old kid reading in 1987. Dan Reed returns on art duties with Simon Furman (natch) writing and, as the comic opens in Death’s Head’s private eye office on the planet Scarvix (weird name) we’re also introduced to the Terrorcon Blott, who’s making his UK comic debut. Blott has been sent by the Decepticon leadership to offer Death’s Head safe passage onto Cybertron and intel on Rodimus Prime’s movements, such that he can avenge himself by killing the Autobot leader. Big mistake! Death’s Head is not interested in revenge – there’s no profit in that. He responds to cold, hard currency and Blott quickly finds himself with Death’s Head’s mighty hands clamped around his throat. He decides it’s best to make an offer: ‘kill Prime and 10,000 Shanix is his’. Finally, he is talking a language Death’s Head’s understands.

When we see Rodimus, he’s melancholic and depressed. The burden of the Autobot leadership is weighing heavy and he longs for simpler times, when as Hot Rod the war had been a source of excitement. For a time he had a sidekick, his Nebulan Target Master companion Firebolt, who we learn had died on Earth some time before 2007. His loss a particularly painful memory for Rodimus. It is a natural story thread for Furman to develop at some point – how did Firebolt die – but alas it was a story that would remain untold as Furman never got around to it.

As Rodimus begins his tour of First World War inspired trenches, we switch to Decepticon HQ where Shockwave is sitting pretty on the throne and enjoying the discomfort of Cyclonus and Scourge, who are fuming that Death’s Head has been hired for the Prime hit. The pair are still smarting over their previous run-in with this particular bounty hunter, and Scourge still bears the physical scars. Clearly the appointment is an attempt by Shockwave to humiliate them. How they long for Galvatron’s return. Again Shockwave taunts them: Galvatron is content to remain in Earth’s past, he says.

This Galvatron situation is a nonsense when you start to think about it. He travelled to the 1980s, and assuming he stays for 20 years, he would have caught up with 2007 eventually. So he ought to be still around and a threat to Shockwave’s command. The only explanation for his absence is if Galvatron is in a parallel universe or he dies in Earth’s past. In fact that’s pretty much exactly what happens when, in the 1989 story Time Wars, Galvatron is swallowed up by a rift in time.

However, Shockwave participates in those events, so you would assume his 2007 self would remember those events. If he does he would also have to be aware of his own death, since it was knowledge of his own demise that prompted 1980s Shockwave to have Cyclonus executed and which triggered the space-time rift.

Anyway, getting back to the story… Rodimus continues his inspection, escorted by a couple of chumps who are so useless as body guards, they are silently snatched as they walk and decapitated. Death’s Head throws down their severed heads, causing Prime to duck and cover, thinking its a bomb. Death’s Head closes in for the kill, only for Prime’s extraordinary jamminess to kick in, as the ground collapses under them, and they fall into the sewer system. However, part one concludes with Prime on his knees, about to be put out of his misery by a shot from Death’s Head’s titanium blaster. There’s an explosion, a kill shot perhaps? But we know that it’s very probably not the end of Rodimus Prime and something else has happened. Still, it’s a good cliff hanger and sets-up the next issue nicely.

(Just to add that issue #133 has an extra four pages, carrying a competition to win Transformers the Movie VHS videos, there’s an AtoZ entry for Defensor and Devastator, and a page advert for Marvel UK’s Thundercats #30 comic which was a landmark issue for that title. At the time I was collecting both at the time but no prizes for guessing which I always read first.)

Geoff Senior returns to art duties for the second instalment, following an excellent atmospheric cover by Lee Sullivan depicting a menacing Cyclonus and Scourge which (as it turns out) is at odds with their comedic bungling in the story itself. As we kick off the second act, the pair are squabbling. Having snuck up on Death’s Head, they only had to wait for him to finish off Prime and they could have ambushed the bounty hunter and claimed his kill as their own – the Decepticon leadership could have been theirs for the taking.

Instead, Scourge blundered in and shot Death’s Head BEFORE he’d opened fire. So, now we know that there was ‘more than meets the eye’ to Prime’s apparent demise in the last issue. It’s amusing to see Cyclonus tug his friends’ beard as he berates him, and Scourge defends his actions by pointing out that Death’s Head blew a big hole in his chest and had payback coming to him. Scourge has a rather nifty scar to show for it, which is interesting in itself as I would think a medic would have replaced that chest plate for a new one. There’s no real reason for a Transformer to bear battle scars unless they want them, right? And of course, while the pair are squabbling they Prime a chance to sneak off. Doh! They then compound matters by pursuing without finishing off Death’s Head. Double doh!

Rodimus soldiers on, weary and still conflicted. Part of him would welcome the release of death but as a Matrix Bearer he his survival is imperative. As a figurehead his demise could tip the balance of the war in the Decepticons’ favour. Cyclonus and Scourge open fire in a tunnel, only to find that Prime has alluded them again. He’s hiding in a drain below their feet, and showing that he’s finally snapping out of his debilitating haze and starting to use his brain to outsmart his pursuers.

Prime coughs and splutters after emerging from the ‘water’. Remember, the Scraplets saga established that water is something so rare that Cybertronians doubt its existence, so you have to wonder what is slushing around the underground tunnels of Cybertron. It certainly looks like H20.

Cyclonus and Scourge, bungling from one mistake to the next, run into Death’s Head, who is very much alive and spoiling for a fight. They flee rather than face him, running into Prime and bypassing him to save their own skins. So now its Rodimus’ turn to face Death’s Head, which he does by impaling the bounty hunter with his own shield. He then scrambles up a ladder and through a hatch. Death’s Head follows and finds himself inside Autobot HQ and with several guns point at him. Rodimus has the upper hand but decides to make Death’s Head an offer: kill Cyclonus and Scourge and earn 10,000 Shanix. Death’s Head readily accepts, setting up a showdown which will culminate in the 1988 year opener, The Legacy of Unicron.

In closing, it’s a relief to see Rodimus recovering his form. He’s been quite a disappointment of late. Having made a strong start in the Movie, defeating Galvatron and ejecting him into space, he got bested at their rematch and has been wallowing in doubt and depression ever since. His confidence may have deserted him but his luck certainly hasn’t.

And so, after foray into the past and then the future, it’s back to the present (well 1987 as was) for the big fight of the year between the Dinobots and the Predacons, but first its over the annual for the back story of Swoop versus Divebomb.

Next story
Previous

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.

Next story
Previous

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.

Next story
Previous

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.

Next story
Previous