Target: 2006 (Parts 3 & 4)

Galvatron inflicts a humiliating defeat on the leaderless Autobots, after they are deserted by Ultra Magnus in their hour of need. While on Cybertron, the Wreckers question their involvement in Operation: Volcano.

Defeat – an ‘ugly word that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth’. So says Ironhide, our narrator for part 3 of Target: 2006. The issue starts with the big red Autobot shifting boulders in the aftermath of momentous events, which we are about to hear about courtesy of flashbacks.

It’s October 1986 and Simon Furman’s 11-part time-and-galaxy-spanning epic Target: 2006 is in full swing. Previous instalments have shown us glimpses of the god given power of Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, and in this issue, we see them in combat with the era’s Autobots. Trouble is that this is just what Galvatron wants. Having captured Jazz, he taunted the Autobots to “come and get” their comrade, goading them into a hasty attack that would allow him to inflict a crushing defeat on them, and so it proved.

Jeff Anderson is the artist for Part 3 and again demonstrates his technique of applying a coloured border to differentiate between past and present events, which works perfectly here.

Ironhide’s flashback begins with Jetfire telling him to focus as they are about to arm up and set off after Galvatron. Jazz’s life is at stake and they have no time to lose. Quite why Jetfire is in charge is unclear. Prowl, Jazz and Ratchet were the established deputies to Optimus Prime and all are unavailable, so it might be that Jetfire is filling the void by virtue of his status as one of the more powerful Autobots, or maybe his emotions are running high and others are falling in behind his driving force.

Hound sounds a note of caution about Galvatron’s power. It’s clear they need the strength of Ultra Magnus, and Jetfire reluctantly agrees to extend him an invite. For some reason, Jetfire has taken against him, even though Magnus saved Hound from Cyclonus; his arrival so soon after Prime’s departure is a little close for comfort.

There’s an uncomfortable moment when Magnus is forced to decline to help because his time-limited mission to locate Optimus Prime takes priority. Magnus’ fact file (in TFUK #81) tells us his only failing is “once he has accepted a certain task, his singled-minded purposes sometimes blinds him to other things” which sounds like it refers to this moment.

The battle itself starts badly for the Autobots. They are subjected to heavy aerial bombardment and Jetfire seems to be considerably weaker than Cyclonus when the two clashed in the air. Scourge dodges enemy fire with before landing and inviting the Autobots to attack him. With the henchmen seemingly under control, Jetfire takes Ironhide, Tracks and Smokescreen with him to take down Galvatron, four versus one. This is incredibly foolhardy and overconfident. Four Autobots wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to challenge Megatron, and from what they’ve seen of Galvatron so far he is in that league – plus they know he’s protected by the Constructicons.

This is where Galvatron demonstrates his dominance so utterly. He points out the Constructicons, Cyclonus and Scourge all stood down at the side lines and invites the Autobots to do their worst. They unleash enough firepower to level a small city, only for Galvatron to soak it all up and laugh throughout. Then beat the four of them to a pulp! All of which brings us back to the beginning where it’s revealed that Ironhide is digging up Megatron and Soundwave!

The epilogue shows a fist breaking out from confinement in the Ark. We’re not shown who but it’s likely to be one of the Decepticons captured after their defeat by Omega Supreme. Are they being reactivated to join an alliance? The answers would have to wait, as in TFUK #81 the focus switched to Cybertron, providing a week’s interlude from the main events.

Ron Smith takes over art duties for Part 4, which explains more about Operation: Volcano and introduces several new characters, among them Whirl, Topspin, Twin Twist, the Decepticon triple changers, Rack n Ruin and Fang. Generally speaking, a character that is part of the Hasbro toy line can be expected survive whilst the made-for-comics characters will usually meet a grisly end (in the finest Star Trek red shirt tradition).

The Wreckers’ now familiar battle cry ‘Wreck and Rule!’ is heard for the first time in the comic. It chills the oil of the Decepticon killers who hear it, we’re told. Impactor and his men bearing down on them.

Shrapnel is the first victim – speared through the brain module by Impactor’s harpoon. His electrical emissions running wild, he can be used as a weapon against Octane. Whirl draws Decepticon fire, allowing Rack n Ruin to get close to pummel Thrust. Topspin, the glory seeker, takes on too many foes, but is saved by Twintwist and Roadbuster who emerge from below ground to evaporate Dirge and Ramjet. This is brutal stuff!

Of course, going back to my point about toy line characters, it’s pretty obvious that the slain Decepticons are not properly dead, and sure enough it soon becomes apparent that these are Facsimile Constructs – fake Transformers. These doubles are being used by the Wreckers to practice for Operation: Volcano, which is now less than five days away.

The team is anxious. They know if Ultra Magnus does not return from Earth in time, they will be overrun by Decepticon reinforcements, making the mission a suicide. They agree to pull the plug and Impactor will deliver the news to Emirate Xaaron, while the rest take five.

All told this is probably my least favourite instalment of Target: 2006 because it feels like a distraction from the main story. But I can see why Furman thought a full issue’s story was needed to properly introduce the Wreckers, Impactor and the Volcano aspect of the plot. One of the fun, quirky aspects of the story is Maccadam’s Old Oil House, the rowdy place black market oil bar, which Roadbuster, Twin Twist and Whirl frequent.

It’s interesting because it’s a neutral space where Autobot, Decepticon and neutrals can coexist (if they stay out of trouble). It’s also one of the rare times we see Transformers engaged in social activities. Could Maccadam’s be a place where Autobot and Decepticon double agents exchange information or enemies can come together as friends, albeit briefly? In this case, our three Wreckers are there to drown their sorrows. As Whirl wryly observes, he’s seen “cheerier” Decepticon badges than the other two.

Suddenly, a gigantic Decepticon bully called Fang, enters – he’s so big he practically cracks the doorframe – and he decides to pick on the Transformer with the piano alt mode who is supplying the bar music. Fang attacks the poor fellow with his sink plunger for a fist before giving him a good kick.

Twin Twist, enraged, wants to get involved. Roadbuster tells him to leave it, saying “it’s not out fight” in echoes of their earlier judgement on Operation Volcano. Instead with a ‘Wreck and Rule’ cry, Twin Twist sucker-punches Fang courtesy of a strike to the knees, that severs his lower leg and sends his upper torso crashing down. Fang winds up as a pile of metal debris. He looked like he would have put up more of a fight.

However, the incident is catalyst enough to persuade the Wreckers to change their mind about Volcano. So much so, that when Impactor – who has been outsmarted into reconsidering the mission by the wily, experienced politician Xaaron – asks for volunteers he gets a full show of hands. The Wreckers return to practice, taking it from the top…

In closing: The Wreckers make a strong impression on their team debut and are destined to be fan favourites. These ‘return to Cybertron’ stories are a good way for writers to get the extended toy range into the comic, for example the Jump Starters who had been out for well over a year and I hadn’t expected to see. Also Whirl and Roadbuster and the long overdue Decepticon Triple Changers.

How has the Autobot resistance got the resources to build so many working facsimiles of their enemies? You’d imagine they’d be better off investing more Ultra Magnus or Omega Supreme warriors. Next issue its back to main plot (horay!) as the Autobots form an unholy alliance with their worst enemy Megatron – a case of better the devil you know!

Next Story
Previous

Target: 2006 (Parts 1 & 2)

Galvatron Cyclonus and Scourge make their presence felt on 1986 Earth and Ultra Magnus undertakes the perilous journey from Cybertron – on a mission described as ‘critical to the future of the Autobot race’.

Target: 2006 is an exciting title for a story – alliterative and memorable, but for kids growing up the 1980s, also incredibly powerful. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 2000 AD comic, it conjured up images of the 21st Century, which at time that felt like a very long way away. Would there be flying cars, weather control, hundreds of TV channels – the future seemed filled with possibilities. Best of all, here was our favourite weekly comic promising to give us a glimpse of the future (at least as it applies to the Autobots and Decepticons). However, the action is mostly set in 1986, which at the time of publication was the present day.

In the prologue we met Galvatron and his righthand men, Cyclonus and Scourge, and in parts one and two it will be the turn of Magnus. John Higgins’ cover for Transformers UK #79 announces ‘The New Leaders are here’, with the commanders depicted in front of a fiery galaxy of stars. It looks reminiscent of the Hasbro box art – and if it feels like a toy advert it’s because to an extent it is. The new leaders are Hasbro’s flavour of the moment in summer 1986 and were being widely promoted and hinted at in the comic.

Galvatron’s arrival unleashed a powerful thunderstorm (appropriate as metaphors go) and his talk of ruling Earth and Cybertron in the future certainly sounded ominous. As part one opens, we see the newcomers backing up their claims of all-powerfulness.

Cyclonus is introduced by writer Simon Furman, as a ‘sleek, deadly killer, whose only interest is conquest… whose only pleasure is mayhem’. And Scourge as a ‘remorseless, implacable hunter, without emotion or mercy’. It’s quite a billing! Jeff Anderson’s art, showing the pair in full attack-mode really looks the business.

Their targets – a passenger train and a petrol station – don’t stand a chance. We learn that Cyclonus and Scourge are being given an opportunity to test out their new alt modes. Usually this means a Transformer has adapted to an Earth vehicle mode but not in this case. The reference is likely to be the new forms that Unicron gave them, suggesting their time jump was very soon after their ‘creation’. Galvatron is in the cockpit of Cyclonus in gun form and no seatbelt, so I’m idly wondering why he’s not thrown around with all that ducking and weaving.

With the testing done, it’s time for the trio to announce their arrival to Megatron… who at this moment is briefing the Constructicons at their coal mine base, on a new weapon the Autobots have called – Omega Supreme. Looking at them they certainly appear to be a depleted force, particularly with Ravage also missing and Shockwave off elsewhere. Jazz, Smokescreen, Ironhide and Hound sneak up and observe from the rim of the crater (luckily the perimeter defences are not operational) and they believe the Decepticons must have been behind the shocking disappearance of Prime, Prowl and Ratchet. Though Smokescreen likes the idea of ‘sic’ing Omega on them’ the idea goes no further as ‘reinforcements arrive’.

Galvatron introduces himself and his lieutenants to a sceptical Megatron in what is a very key encounter, with many hints as events that are due to unfold in the story and the upcoming Transformers Movie. Soundwave’s inability to read their minds raises further suspicions. This is one of many improvements made by Unicron, it’s revealed (in what is the first mention in the comic of this god-like being).

In response to Megatron’s question about whether they were sent across the Space Bridge by Straxus, Galvatron appears to question the name briefly, before announcing he remembers him. (Given that Straxus would later attempt to take control of Megatron’s body, he should have left more of an impression you might think).

In what is possibly the most foolish admission he could make, Galvatron boasts of being the Decepticon leader of 2006 and asks Megatron to loan him the Constructicons so that he can put in place a plan to destroy all their enemies in a single move. Megatron immediately sees him as a rival and reacts accordingly – putting Galvatron on the receiving end of his fusion cannon. Cyclonus and Scourge’s comment that Megatron shall die for defying them is met with incredulity by Galvatron, and no wonder.

Instead the pair shoulder charge Megatron and Soundwave and Galvatron, in cannon mode, buries them under rocks. Laserbeak’s quick acceptance of Galvatron and the latter’s observation “appearances may be deceiving to some but not you”, certainly got my school friends and I speculating at the time that Galvatron might be Megatron. All the clues are there in this telling scene.

As the Decepticons depart, Jazz decides that Hound and himself will follow them from a safe distance, while Smokescreen will report back to the Ark.

Meanwhile on Cybertron, Xaaron and Impactor make their way through underground sewers (presumably the liquid they are wading through is not water, which doesn’t exist on Cybertron) and discussing the extinction of the Matrix Flame. This might indicate that Optimus Prime died without passing the Matrix on. They meet Ultra Magnus who declares that, although he dearly wants to Operation: Volcano to succeed, this new emergency requires that he must travel to Earth!

This is of course very exciting news for fans, but it is not clear why Magnus should be the one to undertake the mission. It does of course set up the tantalising possibility of Magnus versus Galvatron!

In part two, Will Simpson takes-up the art duties and the main story shifts location to Northern Oregon where the Constructicons are hard at work building an enormous solar weapon. Jazz and Hound, watching from a distance, are not sure if it’s a weapon or a communications tower. There’s also the question of why Galvatron travelled 20 years into the past to build it. As they prepare to withdraw, they’re attacked by Cyclonus who blasts Jazz full square in the chest. Hound is distraught (with Prime, Prowl and Ratchet gone and now acting leader Jazz downed, it’s not hard to see why). Cyclonus delights in his victim’s despair, naturally.

Nearby, salvation is arriving in the form of a ball of energy in the sky that deposits Magnus to Earth. This very painful mode of travel is based on Spanner’s prototype space bridge. I imagine it would make for an intriguing story of how the Autobots stole the tech, but we’re not to find out. We learn that Magnus has 120 hours to locate Optimus Prime and get back for Operation: Volcano – if not that all important strike against the Cybertron based Decepticon leadership could go badly awry.

As Cyclonus bounces poor Hound off various trees, he drops further hints about his origin. For example, he was once near death and rebuilt from what looks like the remains of an Insecticon. A shot from Magnus disarms Cyclonus, who reels back and momentarily thinks he’s under attack from the Ultra Magnus of 2006 – how could have known of Galvatron’s plan and followed them? Then the penny drops that this is the Magnus of 1986 – still, he isn’t due to arrive on Earth to take command of Autobot City for many years. (It’s another intriguing reference to the Transformers Movie).

With impressive reflexes, Cyclonus hurls Hound into Magnus with and escapes. Evidently, there was enough time for Magnus to get kitted out with an Earthen alt mode, as he’s able to transform into a car transporter and carry the wounded Hound back to the Ark. It’s the beginning of a bit of hero worship on the part of Hound towards the larger Autobot.

Later, Grapple tends to Hound’s injuries (standing-in for the missing Ratchet it seems) and Jetfire appears to have stepped up into the command vacuum left by Jazz. Being relatively young and inexperienced still, though one of the larger more powerful Autobots, he’s keen to lead an assault on Galvatron to recover Jazz. Magnus makes it clear that his priority is to locate Optimus, which causes friction between the pair. Jetfire, somewhat irrationally brands Magnus as part of the weirdness that has been going on lately – the stress is showing.

Galvatron, meanwhile, has concluded that the arrival of Magnus could make the Autobots a threat to his plans. He will lure them into a trap and inflict a defeat so crushing that they will stay out of his way. Jazz is the key – and now flashes up on the Ark’s monitors hooked up to torture equipment and writhing in agony.

In conclusion, the action is already hotting up with Galvatron’s plan advancing at pace and – having dispatched Megatron and Soundwave – he’s quickly establishing himself as a nemesis of the Autobots. In the next issue its Galvatron and his henchmen versus the Autobot army – without Magnus!

Next story
Previous

Target:2006 Prologue

Possibly Simon Furman’s finest story for the Marvel Transformers comic – Target:2006 spans the future and the present, Cybertron and Earth, tying in with the eagerly anticipated Transformers Movie and introducing a host of new characters. It begins with a shocking departure and an arrival.

“G’day cobbers!” announces the Transformation/welcome page for issue #78 of the Marvel UK Transformers comic. It’s early September 1986 and the UK’s premier comic has just gone on sale in Australia too. Whether Aussie readers would have appreciated the cliched and slightly patronising references to ‘cobbers’ and ‘sports’, I’m not sure. Perhaps people were less sensitive then? In any case it’s a good jumping on point for readers of whatever nationality. The comic has been enjoying a fine run of form in both its US and homegrown stories of late, and Target:2006 is about as good as it gets.

I have a vague memory of walking back from my local newsagent with this issue in my eager hands. It will have been the last week of the summer holidays, just before my second year at ‘big school’ and I remember being surprised and concerned by Alister Pearson’s cover (Prime, Prowl and Ratchet engulfed in entropy) and corresponding scenes inside. It felt like the comic was delving into unfamiliar territory, which can turn out either good or bad, and I was concerned that Optimus Prime might not feature in this much-promised epic 11 issue storyline. As it happened, Prime would be absent, but this would add to the sense of desperation and drama in the Autobot camp – and certainly made things more interesting – while also creating an opening for Ultra Magnus to step in as a new leader (as he’s described in the toy ads).

Jeff Anderson, who would illustrate some of the great T:2006 moments, is on board for the prologue. It opens with Optimus barging his way through woodland, felling trees and sending squirrels scurrying for safety. Prowl orders the Autobot leader to stop and take note of the damage he is causing. Prime is instantly remorseful about losing his temper. He doesn’t do it often but in flashbacks we find out that the Dinobots had wound up the pair of them by refusing to explain the battle they had just been involved in (and lost) or the presence of a non-Transformer mechanoid (Centurion).

Grimlock is drawn quite a bit larger than Optimus, which feels like a mistake (unless Prime is stood further away). I get the impression that the Dinobots are frustrated at taking a pasting by Megatron, Soundwave and the Constructicons and are feeling a bit embarrassed. They particularly don’t like losing face in front of Optimus Prime.  It’s interesting to see the Dinobots are now a faction within a faction – fighting for the Autobot cause but on their own terms. They’ll be off goodness knows where for the next few months, resurfacing in issue #101 in time for Galvatron’s second visit.

On Cybertron – recently reintroduced to readers via the US stories The Smelting Pool and Bridge to Nowhere – Emirate Xaaron wanders through the devastated ruins of Iacon, at one time the planet’s capital city. The Autobot elder previously appeared in the 1985 annual and is making his debut in the main comic here. He activates a lift that descends him into a secret Autobot base deep underground. There are shades of Perceptor’s resistance cell and their subterranean hideout here. He is met by Skater, a green an orange robot with a blue face that now reminds me of an Andorian from Star Trek. He warns Xaaron that Impactor (another made-for-comics character) is being difficult.

When we meet Impactor, he’s just as prickly as we’ve been led to expect. On behalf of his elite squadron, the Wreckers (great name), he wants assurances that Ultra Magnus will be ready to assist them in something called Operation Volcano. We can assume that this is a major strike being planned by the resistance against Cybertron’s Decepticon rulers. There’s no sign of Magnus himself yet, which adds to his mistique.

In Polyhex, the province we were introduced to in The Smelting Pool, an Autobot suffers at the hands of Shrapnel. To save himself he offers information in exchange for sparing his life. Shrapnel agrees and learns of plans for a secret meeting of Xaaron and other Autobot resistance leaders in Iacon. Shrapnel is pleased – his superiors will reward him handsomely for the information (presumably they are more grateful than his old boss Straxus?!) – and now for the Autobot’s reward – a fatal dose of electricity!

There’s a great line from the unfortunate wretch, “Wha – ? Noo! You Promised!” and Shrapnel’s gleeful retort, “I lied!”. In recent years there’s been a blurring of the lines in Transformers, making Decepticons not altogether bad and Autobots not all good. For example, Thundercracker befriending a dog in IDW’s Optimus Prime title and the ultimate expression of that being Megatron joining the Autobots in More Than Meets the Eye/The Lost Light. As good as those characterisations are (and Megatron was written extremely well) – I’m a bit of a traditionalist in the sense that I like my Autobots to be heroic and my Decepticons to be evil. I find one-dimensional bad guys like Megatron and Straxus quite fun, and therefore Shrapnel’s ruthlessness in this moment also raises a smile – what a bastard he is! Lol.

Roadbuster, another debutant, is watching from the side lines. He’d leaked the information to the deceased robot and, though he is sickened at the sight of even a traitorous colleague dying at the hands of “scum” like Shrapnel, it means that Operation Volcano is on. Evidently a trap of some kind for the Decepticons with Xaaron providing the bait. Intriguing.

Back on Earth the Autobots gather in the Ark for a pep talk from their leader, Optimus Prime, flanked by his two lieutenants Prowl and Ratchet. He’s interrupted in mid-flow by sudden pain and becoming engulfed in antimatter. There’s a burst of light and all three are gone. The Autobots are shell shocked, and on Cybertron the Matrix Flame (described as the living embodiment of the Matrix) flickers and dies. What is the Matrix Flame and what does it do? Can it be used to give life to new Transformers like the actual Matrix? We don’t find out. Suffice to say it’s a device to ensure that the Cybertron-based Autobots are clued in that something has happened to Optimus.

On a cereal farm in Oregon the stillness is broke as three unknown Transformers materialise, provoking a sudden and violent thunderstorm. We only see a glimpse of their feet and various body parts, but any fans who know their toys (which will have been the serious readers) know this is Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge. Three humans in rain coats arrive with torches expecting to find a plane crash or worse. Instead they are confronted with three powerful Decepticons. Galvatron demands to know the year and is pleased to learn it is 1986 and within their target date. Galvatron reveals they have travelled from 20 years in the future – a future where humans and Autobot kneel before him… As it is in 2006 so shall it be in this time.

In summary, it’s an intriguing opening part that poses many questions – the whereabouts of Prime, Prowl and Ratchet (are they now in 2006 having traded places with the three Decepticons?), what will happen with Operation Volcano, and why has Galvatron travelled to present day Earth? Anticipation is building for the Transformers Movie and T:2006 will link into it in a major way we’re told. Galvatron looks a bit too close to his toy model on the splash page but is drawn better later and I’m not sure I quite realised at the time, what a significant character he would become. At this point fans had no idea of his origin as Megatron so there would be some surprises in store.

Next story
Previous

In The National Interest

In August 1986, Marvel UK’s flagship Transformers comic itself ‘transformed’ with a fresh new look and a four-part story starring the Dinobots, taking on the deceitful Triple I and the Decepticons, in order to expose the Robot Master lie.

As much as I enjoyed going on summer holidays as a kid there was a major downside – my parents didn’t own a video recorder until I was mid-teens, so I’d miss my favourite shows and would have to hope the newsagent saved me whatever comics I happened to be collecting. Such things seemed to matter a lot at the time and is very different to today where favourite entertainments are available wherever you go thanks to the internet.

So it was that in August 1986 I was spending the week in a caravan off the southern coast of England, aged 12, when Transformers transformed. I caught a glimpse of the new format (which started in issue #74) in a shop at the campsite but, having asked the newsagent back home to save me a copy, I decided to wait to buy it. I have to say it was well worth the wait.

While outwardly the comic looked the same – Alister Pearson’s cover of the Dinobots ‘cutting loose’ was cool but along familiar lines – the Transformation page had a great new look. The panel was bordered by a circuit board design, with an image from the story appearing in viewscreen-shaped panel (making it feel like you were getting a proper preview of the contents) and brightly coloured new headings. The main strip itself, drawn by Will Simpson (whose work I’ve always liked) appeared more striking and creative in terms of its arrangement. And of course, it helped no end that we were being treated to the first four-part story with the Dinobots in the driving seat (as their normal selves, rather than malfunctioning savages in the Dinobot Hunt). The team were, and would continue to be, firm fan favourites. And, continuing the theme, Grimlock was replacing Soundwave as the letter answerer, as revealed on a full page Robo Capers (it was also great to see this feature getting more prominence – it was always so much better than Matt and the Cat).

The title ‘In the National Interest’ refers to the justification cited by the diabolical clowns in the fictional US intelligence agency Triple I, for their decisions to cover up at the Transformers presence on Earth. They’ve concluded the American public cannot handle the idea of alien robots, so they concocted a fantasy about a terrorist leader called Robot Master who commands the machines. The fact they stole the concept of a comic book and paid its writer (Donny Finkleberg) to put on the Robot Master costume, is real Stan and Ollie stuff. Bob Budiansky, writer of the Marvel US Transformers comic, wrote the Robot Master stuff as a kind of parody, but in this Simon Furman four-parter, Triple I come across as something far more sinister.

The story begins with TV reporter Joy Meadows, hinting that she will blow the lid on the Robot Master hoax. Any half decent reporter would put out their exclusive immediately rather than tip off the competition and risk getting scooped, but Meadows seems happy to wait until next week’s edition of Between the Lines. (Presumably rival stations/programmes will now be scrambling around to find out what she knows and broadcast first.) This buys a little time for Triple I who conclude she must be stopped… permanently if need be… because it’s in the national interest of course. They will need to accelerate the completion of Project Centurion!

In a courtroom in Portland, Oregon, Professor P. Morris stands trial for the murder of a security guard (whom he killed while in control of Swoop in earlier story, The Icarus Theory). The doors are flung open and masked gunmen storm in – gas Morris – and carry him off, making a swift getaway. (This would also be a very big story in media world).

At the Ark, the Dinobots are working out (despite not having muscles to tone). They have been confined to base for weeks due to their conspicuous Earth modes and are pent up and frustrated. Sludge rushes in holding a TV (tiny in his huge hands) with the frozen image of Joy Meadows on it. The ‘beautiful golden human’ who ‘cared’ for him when he was ill still lives!

Meadows is driving along a windy mountain road towards Mount St Hillary, where her contact GB Blackrock had suggested she would find proof of the Robot Master Hoax. Her car looks suspiciously like the Stunticon Dead End and she’s violently rammed into the barrier by Triple I’s masked men. They approach with guns drawn, as the Dinobots arrive from the other direction. (The team had decided to find Meadows and help her, as it is a good enough excuse to get out of the Ark as any). Sludge immediately charges into the hail of bullets and the gunman flee – after giving Meadows’ car a kick over the cliff. Sludge is distraught. Thankfully Swoop had reacting in time and caught the vehicle in mid fall.

Part one ends with Morris being into Triple I’s top security lab, where his mind control equipment has been reassembled by the agency and he is introduced to his new charge… an awesome foot thick titanium titan known as Centurion!

Part two opens in downtown Portland. It’s 5:23pm, the aftermath of chaos. Furman then winds back the clock four hours to the beach at Talon’s Point, where Meadows and the Dinobots confer. Grimlock and Swoop explain about the civil war with the Decepticons, that Robot Master has nothing to do with – Optimus Prime, who Swoop starts to say “our leader” before correcting himself and saying the “Autobots’ leader” (a nice touch that shows how the group considers itself separate from the Autobots) believes he’s a fake, created by the US government. Meadows, initially disbelieving, realises this makes perfect sense. She’ll need an interview on camera, and lovesick Sludge could be the bot for the job. However, first Swoop will need to airlift Meadows’ film crew to the beach.

And what of the Decepticons, who we’ve not seen in the story until now? At their coal mine base, Megatron is anxious about the disappearance of Robot Master (evidently Ravage failed to recapture the human – last issue) and his leadership rival Shockwave will use this as ammunition. Soundwave is monitoring the airwaves and picks-up a call from Meadows to her film crew.

Morris meanwhile has been mind-linked to Centurion. Agent Grady reveals they’d planted evidence to exonerate him, intending to have him work for Triple I all along, but plans had to be brought forward. Morris, presumably, could use Centurion attack Triple I at this point, but he seems to be playing ball, however reluctantly.

3:57pm. The camera crew are waiting for the “unexpected”. A green construction truck is parked opposite them. Naturally, it is no ordinary vehicle, and neither is its occupant – Megatron! The Decepticon leader springs out of Mixmaster’s cab, transforming to robot mode and seizing the humans. Swoop launches a surprise attack but Megatron soon recovers and slams him into a wall. Then Centurion bursts out of the ground – finally an opportunity to repay his past debt to Swoop – and wrestles with the Decepticon leader. Joy’s camera crew figure out the unconscious Swoop had been sent to pick them up and they are in all sorts of trouble!

Issue #76, which contains part three, has an article headlined ‘Hot stuff from Hasbro’ which describes Hot Rod as coming from Earth’s future but “here now in all good toyshops” – and reveals that a 6ft 6ins Hot Rod will be touring British toy shops during the summer. He’ll be talking to customers and organising free giveaways. Exciting stuff for young fans. I remember our local toy store, Zodiac (in Hounslow High Street) was visited by Darth Vader and Skeletor back in the day (separately I might add) so these sorts of promos were a thing. Hot Rod’s tour was presumably done with the Movie and its related toy line in mind. The comic is also dropping hints at this point about the ‘new leaders’ Ultra Magnus and Galvatron who will be featuring in an upcoming epic storyline, tying in with the movie (the epic and still awesome, Target:2006).

Back to the story. Part three opens with Swoop laying buried in the rubble and cameramen Tony and Rick trying to revive him. He casts his mind back over recent events to regain his bearings (and of course bring readers up to speed). We learn that Megatron had given him a thrashing for 10 minutes! All I can say is that Swoop must be tougher than he looks to withstand such a pounding.

He comes to and looks around – yep, that was no dream! Centurion is pitched in battle with Megatron. His arsenal is formidable, but Megatron has firepower of his own and transforms into gun mode, allowing Mixmaster to catch him and open fire. Megatron then punches Centurion so hard that he goes airborne and crashes through the fourth storey of a nearby building. Ouch!

Swoop makes his getaway, airlifting the humans and their van out of Megatron’s reach with seconds to spare. But he’s marked by a tracer dart fired by a Triple I operative from a nearby window. At the agency’s HQ, they are in crisis as Morris has put the lab in lockdown and sealed himself behind impenetrable blast doors. He has control of Centurion and enough supplies in the bunker to last a year! Let’s hope it also has loos!

Poor Swoop becomes an object of ridicule as the tracer causes him to become stuck in mid-transformation. Why is this? I’m thinking perhaps the signal it is broadcasting interferes with the electrical signals in Swoops body. Slag squishes the device but it’s too – they have been tracked down by Megatron, Soundwave and the Constructicons (who sneak up unnoticed!?). It makes for one of the great Grimlock lines: “this is a Dinobot you’re talking to, we don’t walk away from any fight”. Bold words considering Megatron bested all five Dinobots in their last encounter (the 1985 story Repeat Performance) and this time he’s got back-up!

The concluding part is narrated by Professor Morris, now Centurion, recapping recent events and letting us know that he’s decided to redress his past mistakes by aiding the Dinobots and taking down Triple I. He arrives at Talon’s Point to see the Dinobots, to coin a phrase, fighting them on the beaches – as they are in pitched battle with Megatron and the Constructicons.

Megatron and Grimlock are having a private battle, with the Dinobot commander coming off worse. Sludge is holding his own, and Snarl dispatches Scrapper before turning to confront Soundwave. In one of the best moments of the issue, the Decepticon number two again demonstrates his cunning and why he rarely needs to get his hands dirty, by ejecting Laserbeak at close range and clawing Snarl’s face.

Centurion’s intervention on the side of the Dinobots begins to turn the tide. So, Soundwave sticks a blaster in the faces of Meadows and her crew to force them to hand over their incriminating information about the Robot Master hoax. Laserbeak then publicly burns this in front all the combatants, which decisively ends the battle and the Decepticons depart.

Morris notes the Dinobots’ wounded pride and Meadows’ superficial defiance – underneath she has been badly shaken. “Someday perhaps”, he says in a reference to I’m not sure what – possibly that she’ll get the story out in the future, or he’s thinking of a romantic liaison between himself and Joy, which is a bit weird if he’s thinking that. The final words of Triple I’s chief, that they’ve covered up their tracks (as always) and Morris will be dealt with by the law when the time comes, convinces him to use the year to destroy Triple I. In actual fact he’d get torn to bits by Galvatron, rebuilt and then bombed with Megatron and the pair would end up in the Thames. So, Triple I would have a lucky escape in the end.  

In summary, this is another fantastic story in what is becoming a golden age for the Marvel UK’s flagship comic. Simpson’s art is of a high standard throughout. It’s great to see the Dinobots centre stage in their first solo adventure, with more of their distinctive no-nonsense brand of heroism… and Sludge loved-up!! Whatever next?!

Oddly enough, with the comic about to embark on its greatest ever UK story the following week, the comic has sold an extra ad for BMX bike oil and there’s no room for the usual Next Week half page to talk up the big event. Instead there’s a small panel on the Grim Grams page to tell us that our next lead story will take readers on a journey from ‘Cybertron to Earth and 1986 to 2006’. The future is coming.

Next story
Previous

Showdown!

Skids returns in a heart-warming ‘robot meets girl’ story with flashes of The Terminator and High Noon thrown in for fun. Can he be the first Autobot to successfully ‘check out’ from the Transformers war?

Showdown! was published in Marvel UK’s weekly Transformers comic in two instalments cover dated August 1986. The tendency was to release the comic about a week before the actual date stated on the cover. I know this, as my copy of issue #72 – with the brilliant Ravage close-up by Geoff Senior – took some battle damage from an apple crumble I made in Home Economics (cookery) class and transported home in the same rucksack. That was on the last week of school in late July, and sadly the comic still bears the scars 34 years later!

The story is from the US team, and is written as brilliantly as ever by Bob Budiansky with art from Herbe Trimpe (who also provides the Skids vs Megatron cover for the second instalment). As mentioned in the intro, it’s a mixed bag of themes – part love story, part facing up to responsibilities, and it’s also a chase thriller. Skids, Charlene and Donny are relentlessly pursued by Ravage and (in Skids’ case) by an unhinged sports car driver.

While not exactly slow, it is a more sedate story than Bob’s recent work which has included the epic Return to Cybertron saga and action-packed Command Performances. Some may not take to it as a result, but for this reviewer Showdown! is one of my favourites, mostly for the core relationship between Skids and Charlene.

Skids is a likeable character, particularly for his curiosity. That was evident from the petrol station comedy scene in Rock and Roll Out, and for me he stood out as the best of the new bunch of Autobots introduced in that story. It’s great to see Skids strike out on his own here, and be given a spotlight in a comic that is getting pretty crowded for characters by this point.

Bob specialises in grounding his Transformers stories with human characters and interactions. He does it well and constantly, so perhaps exploring a romance between a human and a Transformer was inevitable at some point. It’s tastefully done, avoiding suggestions of anything sexual for the most part, with the notable exception of Charlene in hotpants ‘pleasuring’ Skids by polishing his hubcaps!

The story is also a final outing for Ravage. I’m not sure if it was ever Bob’s intention to write him out permanently, but with a constant supply of new characters to be introduced he never got around to bringing Ravage back (though he would reappear courtesy of the UK stories – in issue 200!).

Geoff Senior’s cover, Ravage ripping up Robot Master’s cape with his jaws, sets up the story nicely. The Decepticon jaguar is swiftly crossing the Wyoming wilderness ‘like a midnight breeze’ in pursuit of the escaped Donny Finkleberg, who the Decepticons were using to put out anti-Autobot propaganda, but who legged it last issue.

Not too far ahead, Donny is still wearing the ridiculous Robot Master costume but stumbles across a small camp that is luckily unoccupied at this moment. Even better, there’s spare clothes that he can change into. He leaves money and buries the orange costume. He must contact the Autobots as soon as possible to warn them of Decepticon reinforcements coming over the Space Bridge. Ironically, in his haste to find an Autobot he passes by the injured Autobot Skids, who after toppling from a cliff remains helpless.

Ravage reaches the small camp site, and after incinerating it with a fire blast, checks the debris – there is no seared flesh or charred bones, and no fleshling!! Here it becomes apparent that Ravage’s mission is not to recapture Donny, but to eliminate him – presumably this in order to stop him spilling the beans about the Robot Master hoax but perhaps also for professional pride, after all this human dared to give Ravage the slip and this humiliation must be avenged.

In a small town several miles away, a checkout woman called Charlene is missing her old car. She would often use it to get away from the hum-drum of life. Her co-worker and admirer, Wendell, can see she is down and offers to take her for a drive after work, which she gratefully accepts. Charlene’s thirst for adventure leads the pair to head towards an old gold mine. They encounter the injured Skids, who despite being incapable of speaking, manages to put his radio on to get some attention. It’s like something Bumblebee would do in the Bay films years later.

Charlene assumes the van to be abandoned and is keen to claim it and get it roadworthy again. Money could be a problem, but luckily Wendell’s cousin is a mechanic (and presumably a sucker for a pretty girl with a hard luck story as he does the work for free). I assumed Wendell was a surname, but since his cousin also calls him it, perhaps it’s an unusual first name?

Whatever, in no time the familiar Honda van is fixed in the workshop. A contented Skids stays silent, he finds the idea of being Charlene’s car quite interesting and certainly a lot safer than being part of the never-ending Transformers civil war. As he’s leaving the garage with Charlene, trouble appears in the shape of our old friend Jake Dalrymple (of the pink Lamborghini) and his long-suffering partner Frannie. Recognising Skids as the one who dented him (in issue 70), and apparently causing Skids to tumble down the mountain side wasn’t revenge enough, he takes up the tail.

Skids demonstrates that Autobots have some extraordinary abilities on the road compared to your average car, such as leaping in the air and driving along a fence (how it can support his weight I don’t know). All these things should convince Dalrymple to stay clear, but he is a determined chap it seems. He ends up colliding with a workman’s ladder and getting his beloved car covered in green paint, which serves him right.

Of course, it means that the game is up for Skids. As Charlene flees, he’s forced to transform and reveal himself. He displays holograms of Megatron and the war on Cybertron and tells her how he wants to escape that life and just be her car. In his old life had been an anthropologist, and his natural curiosity about the surroundings dovetails nicely with Charlene’s own interests. He quickly becomes the companion she’s been looking for.

Meanwhile, Donny overhears Jake and Frannie in a bar discussing Skids. He realises there’s an Autobot nearby and sets out to find him. Charlene and Skids develop their friendship over the next few days. He chats to her through the bedroom window and she educates him about the old west, with artefacts, memorabilia and her love for that age of adventure. She shows Skids her favourite film ‘High Noon’, in which the hero marshal is willing to die for what he believes in. Skids is impressed, but also uncomfortable as it’s a reminder that he is essentially an Autobot deserter and running away from his duty to fight the Decepticons.

Skids cuts a tragic figure at times, telling Charlene that his only memories are of war. She is determined to change that, and the pair set out to explore the tranquillity of the unspoilt wilderness. Poor Wendell asks if she is up for a date, but Charlene has no time for him now that she’s got Skids.

Soon enough, the outside world comes crashing in. Charlene is hosing down the ex-Autobot in her driveway when the pair are confronted by Donny (who is hilariously still wearing the borrowed clothes from earlier, even though this is several days later). Skids stays silent, letting Charlene issue denials – he doesn’t want to go back to his old life – but then Ravage attacks and he’s forced to bundle both humans aboard and take off at speed.

Ravage is hot in pursuit, deploying his fire breath, and so is Jake Dalrymple, who was checking the successful paint removal job on his Lamborghini when he Skids thundered past. Now comes the High Noon element as Skids, Donny and Charlene hide out in an old abandoned mining town. Dalrymple, who has followed them, walks up to Skids and smashes his front windscreen with a swing of his tire iron. (This guy has got a serious obsession!) Skids screams in pain, and hallucinates about Megatron holding Charlene and demanding a wild west showdown. Skids doesn’t want to fight anymore and is ripped in two by Megatron’s fusion cannon…

Thankfully, it was all a dream. Charlene is fine, but perhaps not for much longer if Skids cannot stop Ravage. The Decepticon crashes through a wooden building, knocking Skids on to his side. Jake drives his Lamborghini into the charging Decepticon, leaving him momentarily stunned. What happened here exactly? Did Jake have an attack of conscience, or was he just trying to protect his girlfriend? It buys Skids enough time to transform and accept that his fate is to be an Autobot warrior and defend the humans.

Ravage collapses a building on Skids, but he deflects the Decepticon with a piece of debris. Ravage fires a missile which hits Skids hard in the back, but as he pounces to finish him, Skids rolls clear and Ravage plunges down a deep mine shaft. Charlene is just pleased the ordeal is over, but Skids has realised that he cannot escape his fate and must return to the Autobots.

It’s a sad note to end their relationship on, but Skids reminds her that she still has Wendell. I’d like to think they ended up happily ever after, but if Charlene was keen she wouldn’t have side-lined the poor guy for an Autobot. So he’ll have his work cut out. Interestingly, a speech bubble from Skids on the final page has been altered – “I’m going back with Donny, back to my people – the Autobots!” has been altered to – “When my wounds heal, I’m going back to the Autobots”.

In closing, Showdown! is a nice story and a touching, if at times sickly-sweet friendship between Skids and Charlene, with Donny providing the comedy element. With so many characters in the comic these days, it is a rare thing that two can get such a prominent show and prove quite easily that a smaller amount of characters can provide just as good a tale as an epic battle.

Next story
Previous

Command Performances

Omega Supreme bests Megatron and seven other Decepticons on his debut, as Optimus Prime takes the fight to the enemy by leading a full-scale assault on the Decepticon base.

Transformers US writer Bob Budiansky continues his recent run of good form with another cracker of a story, and once again it introduces a new character from the toy range – the immensely powerful Omega Supreme. As the cover to TFUS#19 proclaims “You asked for him – you got him!”. I’m not sure there was any great clamour in the UK for Omega to appear, mostly because he was not included in the truncated Hasbro toy range we had over here.

Command Performances was published in TFUK#70 and #71 in July 1986, about a month before its release in the States. Omega Supreme is talked up in the UK comic’s opener ‘Transformation’, as a “rocket and tank rolled into one giant package, making him the Autobots’ most powerful weapon”. He would certainly live up to the billing once we saw him in action. Though, as a friend of mine wryly observed back in the day, Omega Supreme suffered from “diminishing hardness”, which is to say he was unbeatable on his debut but would become more run-of-the-mill regular in subsequent appearances, culminating in his defeat by a super-powered Starscream in a much later issue.

As this one begins, every functioning Autobot is assembled outside the Ark to hear Optimus Prime unveil their newest warrior. Designed and built by Grapple to be the Ark’s last line of defence, he is Omega Supreme. There’s a reference to the previous story Rock and Roll Out where Grapple was side-lined to work on a special project for Optimus – this is it.

Prime explains that with Omega protecting the Ark, the Autobots will launch an assault on the Decepticon base in order to provoke Devastator into battle. They hope to capture his combination sequence and use it to assist in building their own combiner teams, the Aerialbots and Protectobots. Omega Supreme transforms into a huge robot that towers over a sceptical Ratchet and the others. He looks every bit the ultimate Autobot that Prowl wanted to build at the start of the year and Prime refused to sanction. To be fair Prowl was talking at the time about super soldiers to pursue an aggressive strategy of hunting down and destroying the Decepticons, while Omega’s function is defensive.

The disgruntled Dinobots, not seen in the US storyline since their debut (but recently recovered from their psychosis from the Dinobot Hunt in the UK expanded continuity), refuse to take part in the attack. In the US comic their reason is that they are fed up with being locked down in the Ark because their alt-modes are too conspicuous, and finally with some action in the offering they are pissed off to find out that the Autobots will retreat when they have secured Devastator’s codes. The UK version is less coherent, with speech bubbles doctored to have Grimlock dismissing the mission as a fool’s errand.

Prime gives the impression that this mission is a major deal and he has planned for every eventuality, including the Dinobots being difficult. Skids has his doubts about the wisdom of assaulting the no-doubt fortified Decepticon base for something they might not be able to use, in a premonition of trouble to come.

Over at the coal strip mine in Wyoming which serves as an unlikely base for the Decepticons (now under the joint leadership of Shockwave and Megatron) the Constructicons have been hard at work erecting fortifications around the rim. It’s good timing all things considered. In the US version Shockwave mentions that he ‘found and brought them back’. This begs the question of where they wandered off to. The wording is tweaked in the UK version to avoid this.

Once again, we see poor Donny Finkleberg, aka Robot Master, still wisecracking his captors but terrified that his number could be up at any minute. How he can possibly escape these giant megalomaniacs with Ravage constantly breathing down his neck?

To Shockwave, Donny is evidence of Megatron’s unfitness to command. Whereas Megatron takes a blast at the defences out of frustration at their hiding behind fortifications – Decepticons should be free to go where they please and conquer he says, illustrating the two very different leadership styles. Megatron summons Starscream and the seekers, along with Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble and Frenzy, and they go to greet their Decepticon brethren who should have arrived across the Space Bridge by now (obviously unknowing of last issue’s events).

The Autobot convoy rolls through Wyoming. They are depicted eight abreast which suggests to me a very wide road. Skids watches humans doing things like washing their cars and starts thinking how much nicer it might be to have an Earth vehicle’s life (a clue as to next issue’s plot). While daydreaming he clips a Lamborghini being driven Jake Dalrymple – a massive douche who speaks about himself in the third person, and immediate vows to get revenge on Skids (who left the scene of the accident without stopping, albeit on the orders of Optimus Prime). Jetfire causes a diversion as the Autobots smash through an army barrier to advance on the Decepticon base. Jake and his girlfriend follow and are immediate stopped by the army at gunpoint.

John Stokes’ cover of this issue depicting the Autobot attack, is then mirrored by events in the story as Prime orders his Autobots to charge the Decepticon gun turrets… with predictable results. You might think the Autobots would have spied on the Decepticon base to learn of its fortifications, rather than running blindly towards them – and what if the Decepticons were not even there, this would have been a pointless exercise?!

Megatron meanwhile discovers that the new arrivals they were expecting are not Decepticons at all – they are Autobots: Blaster and the rest of the ‘Cybertron Seven’. He’s about to order the attack, when Shockwave radios the news that the Decepticon base is under siege. Megatron realises that the Ark must be vulnerable, and they head there to capture it.

Part two, opens with Skids snared by a tentacle and a gigantic axe poised to cut him in two. Optimus frees him but takes a hit from the blade. Shockwave decides that it is time for Devastator to turn the tide of the battle. We learn that the combination sequence takes less than 30 seconds – this sounds quite slow in the heat of a battle and lends credence to the claim that the Special Teams are a technological advancement – and the giant soon appears holding a huge bolder. However, the Autobots react faster and destroy it.

Bumblebee has recorded the Constructicons’ combination sequence and with the objective secured, the Autobots retreat. Shockwave is happy to let them go, while Ravage realises that Donny Finkleberg has made a run for it. As the smoke dies down, he picks up the scent, and follows….

Megatron and the other Decepticons approach the Ark and are pleased to see just a tank and rocket booster guarding it. Their overconfidence proves their undoing. Skywarp is blown to pieces with one shot, and when the Decepticons revert to robot modes and advance, they are swiftly repelled by the intense electrical current generating from Omega’s track.

Omega Supreme transforms into his humongous robot mode – and dispatches the Decepticons one-by-one, with a series of wordy but instantly iconic phrases – “I am the guardian of the gates, the planner of your obsolescence, the number you cannot compute”. Megatron reels as his warriors are picked off and left mangled, smoking and crumpled. It is rare to see the Decepticon leader so comprehensively beaten – even his infamous Fusion Cannon has no effect on this opponent. A huge swing then takes Megatron down and he’s about to be reduced to scrap (as we learned from the full-page fact-file on Omega Supreme, he can shatter mountains and pulverise steel) – but Laserbeak swoops in and retrieves his leader. The pair disappear east.

The still satisfying results are transmitted to the Autobot convoy racing away from the Decepticon base. Skids apologises to Optimus for doubting his plan, but they are not home and dry yet. Jake Dalrymple runs out in front of Skids causing him to swerve, and Ravage seizes the opportunity to score a direct missile hit on Skids, sending him tumbling into the ravine. The Autobots cannot afford (can’t think why!) and press on.

But for this late setback Prime’s ‘command performance’ had been exemplary – Megatron’s on the other hand has not. At the Decepticon base, Shockwave is resolved to execute him for gross incompetence. A battered Megatron rises to his feet to accuse Shockwave of allowing a trap to spring up around him. The Decepticon warriors lost “mean nothing and can be replaced” (I love this line, it’s such a Decepticon thing to say – and since the advent of the Space Bridge, very true) and at least with Megatron’s actions the Autobots know that the Decepticons are ready to strike at any time. Shockwave ponders this before accepting his failure and acknowledging Megatron as the leader.

Ever since Megatron was relieved of his command and then beaten in battle by Shockwave, I always expected he would win the leadership back. However, I do have a hard time seeing how Shockwave can logically view Megatron’s approach as the better one, given that his unprepared attack ensured they took a solid beating from the Autobots and six of their warriors have ended up deactivated and put into cold storage. It’s hard to see this as anything other than abject failure.

Overall though, another solid story and very successful in toy advertisement terms, with most readers probably wanting to get Omega Supreme at the earliest opportunity after this (too bad if you lived in the UK though!). There is the first two instalments of the new back-up strip, Hercules, in which the Greek god enjoys intergalactic adventures with his robotic friend, The Recorder. It’s easily the best back-up that the UK comic would have – and a distinct improvement on Rocket Racoon which I found weird (though he’s great in the Guardians of the Galaxy films). There’s a teaser for upcoming stories (I always loved those) hinting at another Dinobot epic and the biggest, most ambitious story the comic has ever attempted. It’ll star Ultra Magnus and Galvatron and tie-in with the hotly anticipated Transformers Movie – we’ll come to know it as Target:2006. The comic feels like its going from strength to strength in this moment. Next issue – Skids versus Ravage (and Jake the douche).

Next story
Previous
Reviews page

The Bridge to Nowhere!

Lord Straxus activates his Space Bridge, linking Cybertron to Earth. Unless the Autobots stop them, the Decepticons could send unlimited reinforcements to plunder our world. The stakes are high in the Marvel TF classic by Budiansky and artist Don Perlin.

July 1986. As I entered the final weeks of my first year at secondary school, good things were afoot in the world of Transformers comics (my escape from stresses of everyday life). We’d just had the fantastic Smelting Pool story, introducing a host of new characters from the wider toy range and my new favourite Autobot, Blaster. I’d been blown away by that story, which was (and would remain) one of Bob Budiansky’s finest, and equally delighted that we’d be getting a further instalment – The Bridge to Nowhere. I knew it would struggle to reach the uncommon heights of the Smelting Pool (and would be correct) but Phil Gascoine’s fine cover to TFUK#68, depicting the two planets joined and the faces of Prime, Megatron, Perceptor and Straxus, created the impression of more excitement to come.

The Transformation page sets the scene – after four million years of radio silence, contact is made with Cybertron, but it’s the Decepticons getting in touch. As we saw last issue, Straxus (ruler of the Polyhex province) was overseeing the frantic construction of something epic. It was a project that required the kidnap of a neutral scientist – Spanner – who Blaster, a leading light of the local Autobot resistance, is obsessed with for reasons we never find out. Perhaps there’s a back history there we’re not privy too, or maybe just Blaster’s innate concern for any innocent taken captive by the Decepticons. In this story we find out that the construction project was in fact a Space Bridge, and Spanner is very closely involved (more on that later).

If last issue was unusual for the absence of Earth and humans (save for a glimpse via Soundwave’s message) this issue resumes normal service. It opens on the Columbia River Gorge, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Northern Oregon. ‘Charlie and Rita’ are driving through a rugged track overlooked by mountains and pine, when they spot a gigantic metal bridge that piques their curiosity. They drive their red Jeep onto it, only to slam on the brakes when they realise to their horror that it stops halfway!

As the couple make a hasty U-turn, a gigantic robot appears from nowhere and explodes spectacularly! They drive away at speed just as the bridge begins to vanish… only to re-materialise on Cybertron, several light years away, where it reconnects to its other half.

Lord Straxus, the badass Decepticon despot, already showed the cruel contempt he holds for his Autobot prisoners. It seems this also extends to his Decepticon lackies as well – as he orders a robot onto the bridge to investigate the malfunction. He promptly explodes as well. Shrapnel contacts Spanner to identify the issue (a faulty fuel line). Blaster is watching and recording from above in his Cybertronian communications device mode. It’s a pretty useless alt mode when it comes to travel or combat, it must be said. Luckily, someone with a more useful alternative form – the plane Powerglide – arrives to collect him and they return to the Autobot secret underground base.

Blaster is keen to rescue Spanner. In some way this would allow him to atone, at least partially, for having to abandon Scrounge last issue. But the news that the bridge is almost operational is top priority for Perceptor, who needs every Autobot to play their part in destroying it. The Decepticons must not be allowed to reach Earth and endanger that distant world.

And what of the Earth? We see it now surrounded by a weird cloud (like Roadrunner has zipped around it). I’m not sure why Don Perlin drew the Earth so strangely. In Wyoming, Megatron and Soundwave are holed up in the coal mine along with the human captive Donny Finkleberg, aka Robot Master. Ravage now arrives with a vending machine full of candy bars for the prisoner’s food. Robot Master has just finished another Autobot-bashing broadcast to North America but tests the limited patience of Megatron even further by complaining about his poor treatment and lack of appreciation.

Shockwave arrives with the other flying Decepticons and the two square-up briefly. Interestingly, three of the panels have been altered in the UK comic to reflect the situation from Transformers #65 where Megatron and Shockwave agreed to try out a joint leadership. In the US none of the UK extras are published, so as far as the American audience is concerned this is the first meeting between the two leaders since Megatron reappeared. The square up for a fight but are interrupted by the holographic form of Lord Straxus. He acknowledges Soundwave’s (sent in issue #36) and offers to help the Decepticons conquer Earth, adding that they have a means of instantaneous travel between the two distant worlds.

The news is enough to restore the truce between Shockwave and Megatron. And in the US version it becomes the reason for the pair agreeing to put their differences and make the necessary preparations. Donny hears about the Earth being drained of its natural resources and realises he must escape and warn the Autobots.

In the second half (published in TFUK#69), Straxus oversees the final stages of the Space Bridge’s activation from viewpoint high up in Darkmount. Little does he realise that Perceptor and his crew have tunnelled underneath the stronghold and are busy planting explosives. Everything Warpath utters seems to be related to shooting or warfare, and his line now “nothing pleases me more than a big blast”, raises a smile. Two ‘extras’, Corkscrew and Borebit, drill an escape tunnel to the surface, where the Autobots come under instant attack. It’s not clear if the pair are the first victims, but as a rule, any character who is not part of the Hasbro toy line is usually guaranteed to die.

Darkmount explodes and crumbles. Straxus falls, transforming into a fearsome-looking flying cannon, and vowing revenge. This little act of destruction is but a diversion to allow Blaster on to the Space Bridge to plant more explosives. He’s busy doing that when the bridge begins to transform. It reveals itself to be none other than the missing Spanner. In a nice twist, which for once I’d not had an inkling about, he’d not only been used by the Decepticons for his physics know how but they built him into the bridge. As punishments go its pretty sadistic, or perhaps it simply works more efficiently with a living Transformer at its heart. Spanner pleads with Blaster to plant the explosives and free him, but Blaster falters.

Straxus, meanwhile, is blasting anything that moves. Shrapnel alerts him to the attack on Darkmount being a ruse – pointing out the Autobot presence on the bridge. If Blaster’s flaw is his compassion which causes him to flinch from what must be done, Straxus’ weakness is surely his impatience. It’s not very sensible to activate the bridge while the battle is raging but he orders Shrapnel to do just that. This allows Blaster a glimpse of the strange world that is Earth.

A Decepticon seeker zapped by Blaster’s disorientating Electro Scrambler spins out of control and into the swirling void at side of the bridge, being destroyed instantly (this is the compressed space that the bridge spans – very deadly). A misplaced blast from Straxus also crosses the bridge, disintegrating trees on the Earth side, which is noticed by a passing Police car. Truly this is a battle between the worlds!

The main event soon arrives as Straxus blasts the Autobots unconscious and squares up the last man standing – Blaster (who has lost his scrambler). Straxus swings his axe furiously at Blaster, who does well to avoid most of the blows until one cuts into his leg. He spots the fuel line he noted earlier (the one that caused the malfunction at the start of the story). A huge swing from Straxus’ axe cuts the line, and, with the bridge now unstable, Blaster boots Straxus towards the Cybertron side of the bridge where he dies immediately (though not in the UK continuity where he’ll be back for a swansong or two).

Blaster is left off balance but saved by Powerglide (not for the first time). The seven remaining Autobots exit the malfunctioning bridge on to the Earth side as it begins to vanish. Although it won’t take the Decepticons long to repair it, they’ve bought a little time to warn the Autobots on Earth. It’s time for ‘Cybertron seven’ to bid greetings to the Earthlings (police and military) who approach them.

And so, we conclude the Return to Cybertron story. A head to head between the main hero and villain was really the only way to end this brief but excellent saga. Straxus ultimately goes the way of all who are not part of the toy range, but as mentioned he’ll appear again in the UK comics. Blaster, Perceptor and the others finish up on Earth, allowing them to eventually be part of the regular characters. However, we won’t learn their fate until issue #90, which is about five months away at the time the comic was published.

The Space Bridge idea has been lifted from the Sunbow Transformers cartoons (along with Energon Cubes previously) and with this now a feature, it will be a highly useful vehicle for bringing new characters into the comic relatively simply as Bob Budiansky would be under constant pressure to do. In the next issue it’s back to the adventures of the Earth-bound Autobots and the debut of Omega Supreme.

Next story
Previous

If you enjoyed this review please take a moment to follow my blog. Thanks

The Smelting Pool

One of – IF NOT THE – finest Transformers story Bob Budiansky ever wrote. The Smelting Pool is an instant classic, transporting readers to the dystopian world of present day Cybertron, inhabited by powerful good and evil archetypes. It’s a story of hope and despair, horror and heroism.

We thought it would be good, but not THIS good! The return to Cybertron story had been hinted as far back as issue 40, some six months previous, and was eagerly awaited by the readers (myself very much included). I was looking forward to it from a novelty point of view – a chance to see the home world again, some of the toy line characters we hadn’t seen yet, and the story wouldn’t have to be too good for it to be an exciting event.

On picking up my copy of Marvel UK Transformers #66 before school on a Friday in June 1986, that amazing cover by Herb Trimpe which appeared on the UK and US editions (Blaster plunging head first towards a pit of lava and melting wrecks) was the first hint of something above average, and in fact a very special event for the comic.

And Bob’s story and the characters he created blew me away. Blaster, the classic Western hero whose tough exterior disguises a big heart – Scrounge the plucky underdog, desperate to prove his critics wrong – and the axe-wielding total bastard of villain (that we’d love to hate) Lord Straxus. Added to that the concepts of underground Autobot resistance, Transformer down-and-outs, industrialised murder (courtesy of the Decepticons’ Smelting Pool), comic debuts of the new mini Autobot, seeker jets and Insecticons toys, and even Cybertronian time concepts. Frankly, its impressive quite how much Bob packed into the first 11 pages of story.

Our first glimpse of Cybertron reveals it to have two moons, just like in the upcoming (at the time) 1986 Transformers Movie. Marvel universe Cybertron also bears little resemblance to the Sunbow cartoons, appearing dark and bleak, almost reminiscent of the apocalyptic future in The Terminator.

Don Perlin’s pencils bring the horrors of Polyhex province to life from the get-go, as three civilian robots flee from a trio of Decepticon seekers, using them as sport. On Cybertron these days, anyone who is not part of the ruling class or useful to them, is likely to be exterminated as an unnecessary drain on the planet’s dwindling fuel supply. It begs a question of what naturally occurring fuel Cybertron has? Not fossil fuels as its a metallic world and even solar power will be difficult to harness, as the Transformers home world is not tethered to any star.

Two of the robots – Telus and Rotorbolt – are destroyed by a Decepticon called Ferak. A third watches in horror as his friends are scooped up a by Decepticon harvester unit as scrap to be recycled. He flees in the direction of Blaster, the red shouldered hero of our story. Blaster is irritated about being stood-up by his fellow Autobot, Scrounge, who was meant to be delivering information 12 breems ago (we learn that one breem is a very precise 8.3 Earth minutes!).

Blaster is however perfectly placed to go to the aid of the third runner.  Stepping into the open, he deploys his Electro Scrambler gun against Ferak, causing the Decepticon to spin out of control. In a demonstration of his raw strength, Blaster seizes the Decepticon and throws him into a derelict structure, which collapses over him. The small transformer thanks his saviour, but Blaster insists he has better things to do than save his “rusty hide”! These rough words are at odds with Blaster’s thought bubbles, which earlier revealed his concern for the ‘little fella’ being picked on by a Decepticon bully.

Elsewhere, the mini Autobot spy Scrounge is in his wheel form outside the enemy stronghold, Darkmount. He has acquired information that a missing neutral called Spanner – a scientist with specialist knowledge in inter-dimensional engineering – is being held inside. Scrounge sees an opportunity to finally prove his worth to his fellow Autobots. Any readers who have ever felt inadequate or not quite accepted, can immediately sympathise with Scrounge. He reminds me a little of Bumblebee but has an extraordinary ability to extend his finger, deftly steering them through long winding shafts without tripping alarms, in order to listen on the Decepticons inside – in this case Shrapnel and two technicians who are discussing an all important transmission they have received. It’s the most profound revelation for 50,000 vorns (83 Earth years!) apparently. It is of course the message transmitted by Soundwave from Earth in the Next Best Thing to Being There.

In his excitement Scrounge gets careless and triggers an intruder alarm. He rolls for it, radioing Blaster on the way that he is returning with a big catch. Blaster is sceptical as they’ve all heard Scrounge’s tall stories before. Then, in one of my favourite scenes, Scrounge rolls through the Dead End, which is inhabited by Transformer down-and-outs called the Empties. They are a forgotten class of Transformer, a symbol of the despair and inequity in Polyhex, and reduced to begging for fuel. Poor Scrounge is seized by Shrapnel in his giant insect form and carried off.

Blaster lifts what appears to be a stray wall plate to descend into the secret underground ‘Autobase’. As a 12-year-old reading this in 1986 I thought that was supercool and mysterious. He is greeted there by Powerglide, Cosmos, Seaspray, Warpath and Beachcomber – all making their comics’ debut – along with Perceptor, who commands the resistance cell.

The tensions between Blaster and his commander are immediately apparent. They are very different characters – one impulsive, emotional, daring, and the other (Perceptor) patient and prone to cold realism. Both embody different leadership qualities. I got the impression that Blaster’s daring-do would win the respect and loyalty of the unit if he had really wanted to lead it, but he has no time for politics, ambition or the sort of long-term strategizing needed to run a successful resistance cell, so Perceptor – who is better suited to the long game – leads.  You can practically see the steam rising from Blaster’s ears when he demands they search for Scrounge and Perceptor refuses to risk the group on a fool’s errand (guessing correctly that their missing mini bot is probably captured on his way to the Smelting Pool). However, the sympathies of the group are with Blaster on this occasion and Perceptor wisely backs down, but they will make one attempt only.

In the shadows of Darkmount lies the awesome spectacle of the Smelting Pool. Blood-red molten metal boils with the devastated bodies of Transformers disgorged into it by Decepticon Harvester units. Its perimeter is lined with heavily armed Decepticon guards who make sure that none who go in ever come out, except as remoulded raw materials for future use. Despite having only 11 pages to play with (22 for the full story) its bloody marvellous that Bob devotes a full page of art to showing us this final solution in its full horror.

Shrapnel lands at Darkmount, threatening poor Scrounge with the pit. He will enjoy hearing the Autobot’s screams but first he wants to take Scrounge for interrogation by Lord Straxus. Shrapnel is ever hoping to win the favour of his master, but ever failing. We then meet Straxus – holding court flanked by Ramjet, Thrust, Dirge and the other Insecticons, Bombshell, and Kickback. As villains go, he looks utterly the business – cutting two unfortunate victims in half with a swing of his Energo Axe and uttering the immortal line: “Mercy is not dispensed here fools, only death!”

Straxus is less than grateful to Shrapnel for his capture. And when Scrounge refuses to talk, his special arm is wrenched off by Straxus and crushed. You can almost feel Scrounge’s despair at this, and he is dragged off to meet his fate. Whatever information he has learned, he will not live long enough to pass on.

Sadly, there is no preview page in TFUK #66 to tell us about the following issue. We just had to endure an agonising seven day wait for the concluding part. Lew Stringer’s Robo Capers strip again features Transformers – Bumblebee and the embarrassed joke of an Autobot called Push-Along, who transforms into a pram! It follows on from the Optimus Prime “It’s rude to stare at someone when they are changing” strip last issue, that was also rather good.

In part two, the Autobots travel to the Dead End in search of information. Perceptor creates a holographic image of the missing Scrounge, hoping to jog a few decaying memory circuits from the Empties. However, where they are concerned everything has a price. Wheezel (who we met in the first half) hints at information, and beaker of donated fuel seals the deal – along with the threat of violence from Blaster – elicits the sorry news that Scrounge was captured and taken to Darkmount. At this Perceptor orders everyone back to base – the chances of finding Scrounge alive are minimal. Blaster is determined to discover his friend’s fate and goes on alone.

At the rim of the Smelting Pool, he attacks the guards. He’s quickly captured, (as planned) but prevented from being thrown into the pool by Shrapnel, who has spotted another prisoner he can deliver to Straxus. Blaster is marched inside Darkmount where the Decepticons are busy constructing a huge Space Bridge. Straxus is not impressed with Shrapnel for bringing him yet another distraction and threatens the Insecticon with his own dip in the pool if he doesn’t stop wasting time.

Finally, Blaster is thrown into molten pit, echoing the cover of last issue. The incredible heat scolds his metallic skin, but he’s able to climb onto a small ledge. He finds Scrounge barely alive and suddenly one of the gun turrets explodes above, as Powerglide arrives having disobeyed orders. He lowers a cable and as Blaster grabs on, he yanks Scrounge from the pool and is shocked to see his friend already melted from the waist down! Scrounge insists on being left to his fate and wriggles free. Before he sinks, he throws Blaster a recording of the Decepticon transmission (thankfully Blaster is a good catch) and asks that he be remembered as doing something right.

Outside the other Autobots minus Perceptor are involved in their own pitched battles with Decepticons. As they escape in vehicle modes, they are attacked by the Decepticon jets and Insecticons. Once again Blaster shows he’s the man. He rips out huge pipes which suck molten metal from the Smelting Pool and turns the hot jet on the Decepticons.

Back at Autobase, Perceptor plays Scrounge’s recording. Soundwave is heard and video shows the distant planet Earth, rich in resources and ruled by the primitive organic lifeform man. A group of long thought dead Decepticons crash landed here millions of years ago. The recording suggests they are led by Megatron, which wasn’t the case when Soundwave sent the message. And opposed by Optimus Prime (who was a Decepticon captive at the time of sending). That aside, the message is huge for the beleaguered resistance, just to know that the great Optimus lives gives them hope. Blaster hopes that wherever Scrounge is, he knows he did good.

In summary, Blaster’s stock-in-trade rocketed after this incredibly strong debut. He would go on to become one of the most popular Autobots among the readers, even taking up the mantle of letters page answerer in the UK comic towards the end of the run. For a time, it even looked like Blaster could become leader of the Earthbound Autobots in place of Grimlock, though it wasn’t to be. He is one of the characters Bob cared about and wrote brilliantly, bringing him back and again throughout his run on the US book. While Simon Furman used Blaster occasionally in the UK book, there wasn’t the same spark. I guess Furman preferred to cultivate his own favourites (Grimlock, Galvatron, Nightbeat etc).

Should Scrounge have detached his head and thrown that to Blaster, allowing him to survive with message intact? Perhaps. I don’t know that this was ever an option but his death, though tragic, was purposeful and heroic (which is more than most made-for-comics/hi-then-die characters get). Blaster would feel the loss of Scrounge and guilt at not saving him for some time to come.

Next story
Previous

Second Generation

The Autobots and Decepticons are shown a vision of their future – the Special Teams, courtesy of Buster Witwicky’s Matrix-induced nightmares, and Megatron battles Shockwave for the Decepticon leadership once again.

Late May 1986, the big summer event from Hasbro is the release of the new combiner teams – the Aerialbots, Protectobots, Stunticons and Combaticons. Unlike the Constructicons, which are fiddly to combine (and not for sale in the UK anyway) these new teams are more streamlined. A larger ‘team leader’ becomes the body of the combined robot and the other four members easily click into place as arms and legs. All are interchangeable. As a disgruntled Mixmaster wryly observes in the story, suddenly the Constructicons are “yesterday’s news”.

There’s one problem. The new toys are not scheduled to appear in the UK comic until late November. That’s good timing for Christmas sales but not ideal for Hasbro execs looking to give the Special Team toys a push as they go on sale in mid 1986. The solution is this story, Second Generation, where the Special Teams debut in a dream, ahead of their actual debut.

Issue #63’s cover by Alan Stevens is an arrangement of Superion and Menasor from their box art. I can’t be sure whether Stevens is the box artist or the guy who arranged the compilation, but it’s reminder (if any were needed) of some major product placement on the way. There’s the third and final Robot War round-up explaining the saga so far, and then straight into the action from Simon Furman and artist John Stokes.

It starts by delving into Buster’s dream and this time the readers are along for the journey. Buster runs from Shockwave in a strange barren dreamscape with fire and orbiting moons. His legs scream in agony and oxygen-starved lungs beg for release (all told, it reminds me of the first 10k I ever ran). Shockwave is like the Terminator, he’s relentless and unstoppable, making light work of Optimus Prime, Jazz and Ratchet, as you can see above. It’s a great sequence apart from the blunder with Shockwave being drawn with two hands in one panel, rather than his distinctive gun arm, oops.

Buster is saved from certain death by the appearance of Superion, who blows Shockwave to pieces! Then Menasor attacks the giant Autobot and Buster flees the madness again, only to have his path blocked by the Combaticons, who combine into Bruticus.

Buster wakes with a scream – he is safely within the Ark. His father and Jessie are there, along with Prime and Ratchet. Sparkplug complains bitterly that the Autobots and Prime personally have made his son a “walking target” in their civil war. Stokes does a good job of drawing robots and making the dream sequence other-worldly and vivid, but I’m not keen on his humans. Buster like he’s about 12 and in need of a haircut, and Sparkplug like a wrinkly old crone. Not appealing.

Prime correctly interprets Buster’s nightmares as a message from the Matrix. And, in the Wyoming coal mine Soundwave explains the same theory to Megatron. The dynamic with Donny Finkleberg (aka Robot Master) irritating the hell out of Megatron is good fun. Megatron is desperate to blast him to a pulp (a sentiment shared by a fair few readers) but cannot because Donny is integral to the Decepticon propaganda war. Presumably, Ravage is with Megatron full time, guarding their captive.

In flashbacks we’re reminded of Buster’s sacrifices on behalf of the Autobots (for the benefit of new readers presumably, though this feels a bit like filler). He will help the Autobots again, this time by re-entering the dream with Optimus Prime at his side. At the Decepticon base, Shockwave has dusted down the technology he used to plunder Prime’s mind of the Matrix a while back, and will use it to eavesdrop on the visions.

It’s interesting to see how close Soundwave comes to being discovered as a double agent. Luckily for him, Shockwave is more concerned with the bigger picture stuff and tends to ignore trivial details. For all his vast intelligence and logic, he is easily duped.

And so, to issue #64 and chapter two of the saga. It’s the first time I’ve seen Shakespeare quoted in the comic (‘perchance to dream’ being mentioned on the Transformation page – I’m not sure I would have got the reference aged 12) and the first French quotation, with Defensor delivering the “coup de grace” to Bruticus. Barry Kitson is on art duties for the final time (though he’d draw a few more covers).

The story is a re-do of the mini comic that readers were treated to in Transformers #54 except longer and better drawn. The first team they (and we) meet are the Protectobots (this is only fair as they were missing from the opening instalment). They helpfully namecheck themselves for a proper introduction. Their mission is to make sure that the plant is safely evacuated. Blades, in helicopter mode, spots five vehicles approaching, who turn out to be the Stunticons.

Moments later, the Decepticon cars demonstrate their ability to combine “in one fluid move” into Menasor. Shockwave is watching along impressed (hopefully he missed the bit where his rival Megatron was depicted as Decepticon leader in the vision). He thinks Menasor is infinitely superior to the Devastator. Unsurprisingly Mixmaster is less convinced, probably realising the Constructicons are likely to get even less exposure in the comic once the new teams come along.

Buster and Prime observe Defensor wrestling Menasor (possibly the only time in the comic that we see them clash). Three military vehicles pull into the plant along with an army helicopter (Vortex mis-coloured as Blades – whoops), while high in the air, space shuttle Blast-Off dodges five planes (the approaching Aerialbots) to merge with his fellow Combaticons into Bruticus! It is two against one, until Superion arrives to even the odds.

Menasor turns out to have a pretty major weakness – his component parts can’t always agree. Dead End takes exception at being told when to fire and misses the opportunity. Also, embarrassingly he’s been drawn as Dragstrip. With so many new characters being introduced, it’s perhaps not too surprising that Kitson got confused who he was meant to be drawing. The kids will have noticed though.

Superion directs the blast at Bruticus and Defensor stamps on the stunned Decepticon’s head (brutal for a kids comic). Menasor’s retreat is halted by Superion’s Stress Fracture Cannon creating a mini earthquake under his feet. And so the battle ends with Prime and Buster waking up and saying with them the phrase of the moment…. SPECIAL TEAMS!

There’s also no mention of Matrix dreams after this, which suggests that the merger with Prime exorcised the visions from Buster’s mind. For that matter, there’s no explanation why the dream was a coherent story when Prime and Buster accessed it, and a hellish nightmare previously.

Megatron learns about the combiner teams from Soundwave and resolves to challenge Shockwave again for the Decepticon leadership. This is the premise for the third and final instalment (and the best). Though still under the banner of Second Generation its only loosely connected to the previous two parts. As the Transformation page suggests, this is a rematch that has been inevitable and eagerly awaited by readers.

Jeff Anderson takes his turn on the art duties, introducing us to coloured borders around frames to denote flashbacks. It’s a technique that he uses again in the upcoming Target 2006 to good effect.

Donny Finkleberg plays up his Robot Master alter ego, introducing the two challengers and the fact they are fighting for leadership. While it’s great fun to read this presented like a heavyweight boxing bout, it’s totally illogical the Decepticons would have Robot Master do this. His cover is meant to be that he’s the commander of the machines, so why introduce the idea of factions in the public consciousness, or the idea of there being a commander of the Decepticons with rivals contesting the job?

Apart from the doubtful set-up, the fight itself is pretty good. It’s no holds barred using fists, weaponry and discarded army tanks. Though evenly matched, you get the impression that Megatron at full strength (he wasn’t last time around) is the more powerful of the two (and the dirtier fighter). My expectation before reading the issue the first time around was that it would result in a Megatron victory. However, the outcome really isn’t in the hands of Simon Furman, as the UK comic reprints all the Marvel US stories, so any change of leadership would need to marry up with want Bob Budiansky is doing over the pond.

Soundwave cannot believe the Decepticon leaders are scrapping around for the benefit of humans. The scene where he spits at Donny, making the sound PUTTUP answers one of the long-standing questions of the letters page hosted by Soundwave. Every time an Autobot is mentioned on the page, he would accompany it with the word PUTTUP. Now we learn it’s the sound he makes when spitting oil. How Soundwave does this with a plate over his mouth is a whole other matter.

Soundwave hopes that the Autobots aren’t watching the broadcast. They are, but Prime is not too bothered as humans are not in danger. He hopes the pair will destroy one another. Their attention is on creating the Special Teams, with Wheeljack having already created a schematic of Superion. Wheels are in motion for future stories, including the mention that the Autobots do not yet understand the combination process and will need to observe someone. He is interrupted by an alarm before he can finish the sentence, but we know Prime is referring to Devastator. This also dovetails with the upcoming story Command Performances. I assume Furman got quite a bit of advanced warning of what Budiansky was planning State-side.

That alarm is the Dinobots waking up. The madness which caused their earlier rampage is now gone (as evidenced by the return of their usual bad attitude) and there’s the intriguing hint of more about their recovery in the 1986 Transformers Annual. This is a reference to the superb Furman/Senior story, Victory. With the Dinobots also due to appear in Command Performances, Furman has taken the opportunity to revive them here.

Soundwave, ever the grown up, intervenes to bring the fight to a close by offending both Megatron and Shockwave in unison. He cites their very different approaches – one logical and patient, the other action orientated – and proposes that they work together as joint leaders. The one who’s approach results in the most Autobot casualties will lead. Surprisingly, both agree, perhaps sensing that they are more evenly matched as fighters than they care to admit.

Remember what I said about the result needing to concur with the US storyline? This joint leadership is what results when the two leaders meet in the upcoming story Bridge To Nowhere, except in the UK the panels are edited to refer to an existing situation. It’s much better in my opinion that we’ve had this issue establishing the set-up instead of Bob’s approach which feels rushed and perhaps a bit underwhelming given the anticipation of a rematch.

And so the story ends, with Prime feeling confident that with Dinobots active and the secrets of the Special Teams solely in Autobot hands, they are finally on the front foot. If only they knew. Then finally we see the message that Soundwave transmitted to Cybertron in issue #36 finally reaching its target.

The blurb for next week’s return to Cybertron epic sounds amazing! There the war is over and the Decepticons have won. Plus, Ramjet, Dirge and Thrust and the Insecticons will appear, along with someone called Lord Straxus! And there’s fact files on Soundwave and Blaster. In hindsight it’s a hint of Blaster’s imminent debut in the comic. Onwards to one of the best Transformers stories of all time… The Smelting Pool.

Next Story
Previous

Devastation Derby!

Soundwave can barely believe his audio receptors when crack combiner team, the Constructicons, are dispatched to capture a lowly human! However, their target, Buster Witwicky, turns out to be more valuable than expected, in this two-part Marvel UK story from May 1986.

“They’re tough, mean and nasty… and what’s more they proved to be a firm favourite with you readers” declares the Transformation page of TFUK #61. It’s referring to the Constructicons of course. The comic’s one and only combiner team (for the moment) debuted in issue #35, some six months before this issue and then disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

In the UK continuity, Scavenger appeared in a solo capacity in the Dinobot Hunt saga, but Devastation Derby is the first time that we get to see the team back together since their introduction. I can well imagine Marvel has been receiving letters from fans on each side of the Atlantic requesting their return and that of their more famous combiner form, Devastator. (Incidentally, the Constructicons will reappear in the US continuity too, in the upcoming story The Bridge to Nowhere, though in a background capacity.)

So, UK fans will have been delighted to see the Constructicons back in a starring role back in May 1986. I know I certainly was. The story, written as always by Simon Furman, is drawn by the redoubtable Will Simpson – my second favourite TF artist behind the equally great Geoff Senior. Will draws a fantastic cover and Devastator splash page, as you can see above.

Frankly, it’s a mystery why the Constructicons were not utilised in earlier stories like Crisis of Command, when the Decepticons were vulnerable and leaderless, in need of the raw power of Devastator. The story attempts to explain away their absence by revealing that they’ve been training in the desert to improve their reactions in combined form. Evidently, their debut encounter with the Autobots left a lot to be desire.

As the story opens, Devastator is bashing the shit out of a yellow school bus (just to show how mean he is). Soundwave is impressed – eight strikes and eight would-be kills, all in the space of 34 seconds. Shockwave arrives to address the team – but he’s abrupt with Soundwave and frankly a bit rude, considering this is the second in command, who acquitted himself admirably as stand-in leader. Soundwave probably doesn’t help relations with the boss by making it obvious that he’s horrified by the idea of sending their crack troops to capture a human – even if it is an Autobot ally. This is a little out of character for Shockwave and makes me think that Frenzy was on to something last issue when he talked of the Decepticon Commander “running scared” about the rumoured return of Megatron.

Soundwave is right to be sceptical. The kidnap could be easily accomplished by Laserbeak or Ravage, and it doesn’t make much sense to involve the Constructicons other than as a plot device to introduce the Special Teams (albeit in dream form) in the next story. We get an early glimpse of Superion when Buster wakes up in a cold sweat from a pretty vivid dream and has drawn the Aerialbot combined form on his bedroom door.

Unsurprisingly Buster is less than keen to go to the demolition derby the following morning, when Jessie arrives to collect him. According to his dad, Sparkplug, Buster goes every month, which I find unlikely seeing as he’s been completely disinterested in cars before now and after. No sooner has Buster set off, than Sparkplug whips out a screwdriver and removes the door to show the Autobots. Now normally he wouldn’t give the Autobots the time of day, but maybe he’ll only speak to them if he needs something.

Prime and Wheeljack agree that Buster has put his finger on something they’ve been thinking about, an Autobot combiner. Wheeljack suggests the drawing is a robot made up of “four or five” components. (I would have thought five of six is more likely) and of course no-one mentions that Buster carried the Matrix in his mind, though that would seem the likely trigger for these visions.

I’m also rather surprised at the casual way the Autobots refer to Buster’s recent run in with Shockwave. It was almost crushed to a pulp by a 30ft one-eyed robot – that’s a pretty big deal. I’m surprised Sparkplug is not surprised. Shouldn’t he be asking why nobody told him about this incident?

Although Prime is sure Shockwave will have no further interest in Buster, he orders Smokescreen and three others to accompany Sparkplug to the demolition derby and find Buster, who it turns out has forgotten his cares and started enjoying himself.

Simpson has an absent-minded moment as he draws Sparkplug in the crowd alongside Buster and Jessie in one of the frames, when he’s meant to be parked up with Smokescreen, Tracks, Brawn and Ironhide! Oops.

Furman does his own take on the comedic scenes from Rock and Roll Out involving the Autobots and their mannequin ‘fake drivers’ – having one pop out from Smokescreen’s seat while Sparkplug is still sitting there. The derby has got Smokescreen eager to join in, while Tracks is concerned for his bodywork.

I enjoyed the Constructicons’ grand entrance, as they throw a ticket seller through a billboard and trash a kiosk and the car park. Ironhide engages the team and they retaliate by combing into Devastator – “I hate it when they do that” says Ironhide – and the sight of the 60ft titan is enough to cause Buster to collapse, leaving Jessie screaming!

In the second part, kids who are climbing up the fence for a look at the stock car racing are almost hit by a flying car propelled by Devastator. Cue another fantastic splash page from Simpson, depicting Ironhide and Tracks in pitched battle with the Constructicon gestalt. Smokescreen swerves around Devastator’s legs and sends him off balance and crashing to the floor. It earns the ‘youngster’ a bit of credit from the seasoned old warrior Ironhide.

Brawn’s presence in the stands is causing the crowd to panic even more (hardly surprising as he caused a few motorists to meet a grisly end in the Enemy Within a while back). The sight of Soundwave in the stands is enough to convince Sparkplug that the Decepticon must have found Buster. But as he and Smokescreen zips over there, Ironhide gets pummelled by Devastators huge fist (that school bus squishing technique coming in handy).

Jessie is all that stands between Soundwave and her man. However, when Soundwave scans Buster’s mind he discovers something that cause him to change tactics. After blasting Brawn for sneaking up, Soundwave orders the Constructicons to separate and they retreat calling the incident a mistake on their part. The Autobots are bemused by this and reckon Prime will want to investigate this personally.

Ratchet tricks Sparkplug and Jessie by posing as the ambulance they called. Seriously? The Autobot sign and lack of driver was not a giveaway? As they make their way back to the Ark (as part of an Autobot convoy driving on the left-hand-side – I think Simpson forgot the story was set in the USA and not Britain) Ratchet reassures that whatever is wrong with Buster it’s not something that a hospital could help with, but may be the Autobots can.

At the Decepticon hideout, Shockwave holds his gun arm to poor old Soundwave’s head, intent on executing him for disobeying orders. His number insists he has a good explanation, and he does. His scan of Buster revealed that Matrix had placed in his mind a vision of the future of the Transformer race!

Shock, horror. It’s begs the question of why Soundwave allowed Buster to go back to the Autobots. It’s surely even more important to take him captive so that only the Decepticons can know of the Special Teams? Now, the Autobots will also learn about them and they have got the means (through the Matrix) to build these new warriors. Next issue it’s the big event – the arrival of the new combiner teams.

Next Story
Previous