Space Hikers!

The Autobots inadvertently capture a group of human children in their pursuit of the renegade Blaster – will Grimlock really use kids as leverage in his personal battle? And Sky Lynx makes his comics debut.

Blaster was my favourite character in the Marvel comics and so having him centre stage – and in demand for the Autobot leadership no less – is very welcome. However, at the close of Used Autobots, with the Protectobots placing Blaster under arrest for desertion, I was eager to get straight to the inevitable confrontation with Grimlock. Instead Child’s Play seemed to drag things out with a largely unnecessary confrontation between the Protectobots and Combaticons (probably to address the lack of Defensor and Bruticus in the previous story) and to put the four human children in the mix.

In Space Hikers the youngsters’ purpose to the plot is clear. It’s to provide a catalyst for Blaster to surrender rather than whip up a revolution (not to difficult given how fed up the Autobots are with Grimlock at this point) and thus postpone his inevitable showdown with the tyrannical Autobot leader for an incredible 30 more issues! Crikey.

I might sound like a boring parent here, but the idea of taking four little kids into space in a captured Decepticon of all things – with their families completely unaware, and without thought for the massive risks you are exposing them too seemed incredibly unwise. Yes, Blast Off was mode-locked, but just as Blaster remained conscious and was thinking of ways to thwart his captors, surely Blast Off would have been expected to do similar. He might have turned off the air supply for example. Another thought: at the point of his arrest Blaster was keen to get after RAAT and recover the Throttlebots. I’m surprised this was no longer a priority once he was freed. Or perhaps he realised the trail would have gone cold and so the next best thing is to return to the Autobots and force a change of leader.

Childs Play ended with the kids and Blaster, in orbit with the Ark bearing down on them. For Space Hikers (published in the UK in mid December 1987) writer Bob Budiansky rewinds the clocks a few hours and makes another toy introduction – the space shuttle/bird/big cat Autobot Sky Lynx. After millions of years of scrapping with Decepticons on the Transformers home world, Sky Lynx was looking for a change and so when Wheeljack asked for his assistance in the Grimlock situation he was only too willing.

Meanwhile, Wheeljack is piloting the Ark after Blast Off. They are using the mode lock’s signal as a homing beacon and Grimlock cites the Decepticon warrior Blast Off as further evidence of Blaster’s treachery. Even Wheeljack is puzzled by this and questioning his admiration for Blaster. The four kids had been having the time of their lives but with the Ark bearing down and likely to shoot them out of the sky, Blaster decides his own recourse is to surrender. Sammy decides instead to throws Blaster out of the airlock – he saved them and now the Space Hikers can return the favour.

A huge claw reaches out from below the Ark (while theatrical I can’t help thinking about the unnecessary storage space this must be taking and surely a tractor beam is more efficient) and swallows the tiny craft. Inside, the Autobots with weapons drawn have Blast Off surrounded. The four children emerge, and Wheeljack convinces the Dinobots that they don’t present any danger…

I’m not sure if the Alzamora family of New Jersey have any significance to the production team or are simply made up, but in two panels we see their TV viewing suddenly disrupted as Blaster commandeers a satellite and uses its stabilising rockets to propel himself to the Ark. Wheeljack leads the four nervous children on a tour, getting them to stand in a chamber where space suits materialise around them (and not forgetting Robin’s teddy either, lol). The suits carry two hours of air, which is significant to the plot later.

Suddenly Slag interrupts – commander Grimlock wants the see the “slime squirts” now! And despite Wheeljack’s reassurances that the commander probably only wants to meet them, they arrive to find a court in session with the crown-wearing King Grimlock presiding. This is truly ridiculous given that the children have every reason to be ignorant of Autobot affairs. Any help they have given Blaster is inconsequential you would think.

Instead, Grimlock orders them to be thrown out of the airlock – in effect executed. The faces of the other Autobots is of utter horror, but WHY DON’T THEY SAY SOMETHING? Grimlock may be a tyrant but the rest are a bunch of wimps!! Snarl questions whether this is a wise move given the other Autobots strong sympathies for humans but Grimlock only intends to use the children to draw Blaster out. Frankly, its incredible at this point that the Autobots are so cowered that they are prepared to stand idly by and allow they sacred principles to be violated.

Wheeljack, having earlier already been throttled by Grimlock, suspects his loyalties are being questioned but throws caution to the wind by calling Sky Lynx and having him swoop down and rescue the Space Hikers as they drift into space. Grimlock orders his warriors back inside to pursue this new arrival. Blaster finally gets within reach of the Ark, only for its huge engines to seemingly flame-grill the Autobot before he can grab a hold. By rights Blaster should be obliterated here or at least propelled to the other side of space by such force! He’s not.

Sky Lynx introduces himself to his passengers and – with the Ark gaining on him – he travels into a meteor shower and reverts to Lynx mode to hop between rocks as the Dinobots exit the Ark and pursue.

Blaster makes a nice reference to not feeling this bad since he swam in the smelting pools of Polyhex (an encounter we fans remember all to well – a great story). He gets into the Ark through a hatch and is warmly greeted by his fellow Autobots. After explaining that he hadn’t teamed-up with Blast-Off, the Decepticon was mode-locked and under control, the Autobots including Prime’s old number two Prowl want him to stay and take charge. As a Blaster fan this idea appealed to me greatly at the time also! But true to his character, Blaster has to put his the four young charges first.

When Sky Lynx radios in to say that the Dinobots have surrounded him and are playing a waiting game its clear that the kids will run out of air unless something is done. Jetfire offers to lead a strike against the Dinobots but Blaster refuses – that might endanger Sky Lynx and the humans. There is only one way to ensure their safety… Blaster goes outside and surrenders! Darn it!

So what happens to Blaster after this shock ending? Readers were not destined to find out until issue #174, well over four months away! The US material seems to drop this whole storyline to concentrate on the Headmasters’ arrival on Earth. We’ll shortly be heading back to the future for one of the most momentous stories of the run, which will take the UK comic up to and past its milestone 150th issue… But first it’s time for a change of pace and the annual tradition that was the Transformers Christmas edition.

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Afterdeath!

It’s March 1987 and after two and a half years of writing the Marvel US Transformers comic, Bob Budiansky is about to do something incredibly bold to shake things up – he’s about to kill off the two stars of the franchise, Optimus Prime and Megatron!

Pictured: The US cover to the Afterdeath! story

Of course, with this being comics, death is never really permanent but for the best part of the next 18 months or longer these two much loved characters (or love to hate in Megatron’s case) are about to disappear from the pages of our favourite comic.

The question is how to do it in an original way. After all the two leaders have clashed on countless occasions on the battlefield and had been seen in a fight to the death in the Transformers Movie less than four months previous. Bob being the super imaginative writer that he is, comes up with a novel way of having his two main protagonists do battle for the ‘last time’ by having them duke it out in a computer game. This is a game with very high stakes as the loser must be destroyed in real life. For this reason Afterdeath! is one of the most controversial stories in the history of Transformers comics. It’s a decent story but is detested by many because of the ending, as we will see.

First a quick mention of the cover to issue #105. Lee Sullivan, who admittedly is not one of my favourites when he’s illustrating the main strip – mostly for his tendency to draw saliva in the mouths of his robots (I’m picky I know) – nevertheless has been turning in some really solid covers of late. There was the Battlechargers on Transformers UK #94 and his latest effort has Defensor and Bruticus squaring up alongside Prime and Megatron. Deadlock indeed! It’s great to see the two remaining Special Teams finally making their debut.

Following a public health warning on the Transformation page, letting readers know that the demise of one of the two leaders is coming up, the stakes and the stage is set for the story to come. It begins with the genius programmer and gaming enthusiast, Ethan Zachary, playing his Multi-World creation on a huge wall-sized screen. His character is overwhelmed by the hordes of Hazzak just as his colleague Margaret arrives and wonders why Ethan wastes so much time playing silly video games. We learn that they are working inside a top security facility which houses the Hydrothermocline, a revolutionary new technology for extracting energy from the thermal layers in the ocean. (Eighties kids were already learning about green technology years before they became a thing!)

Ethan demonstrates his technique for restoring his game character to life using the command ‘AFTERDEATH’, which is a pretty significant detail as we later find out.

Little do they know they are being monitored from above by Vortex in helicopter mode. Here’s our first glimpse of a Combaticon in the comic for real as opposed to appearing as part of Buster’s Matrix-induced dream. As Ethan re-immerses himself in the Multi-World, at the Ark, Wheeljack is extracting the Cerebro Shell which the Insecticon Bombshell had implanted within Optimus Prime’s head module (as seen in the story Heavy Traffic). This shell has already served its purpose as the Decepticons were able to use it to siphon off the Matrix as Prime was giving life to the Aerialbots, allowing them to breathe life into the Stunticons. Now can assume that the same thing happened in respect to the Combaticons and Protectobots.

Wheeljack turns the tables by using the device to eavesdrop on the Decepticons and they learn of Megatron’s plans to seize the Hydrothermocline. And later that evening, when Onslaught, Brawl and Swindle roll through the perimeter fence, they are met with the sight of Optimus Prime and the Protectobots laying in wait. Megatron jumps out from Onslaught’s cab and they are joined by Vortex and Blastoff. In a blatant bit of product placement both teams combine to their respective gestalts and it’s clear that the situation is a stalemate. That is until Ethan Zachary decides to make a run for it right by Bruticus and is easily snatched by the fearsome but insanely stupid Decepticon. His request to crush the Zachary is denied, as Megatron thinks he might make a useful hostage.

Ethan suggests a way the two sides could fight it out without destroying the plant, by connecting to his Multi-World. Amazingly they all agree and pretty soon the teams and their leaders are attaching cables to their heads in order to appear as avatars in the game (a good thing Ethan keeps these cables handy eh?). The rules are simple, if the Decepticons destroy Optimus Prime in the game they can take the Hydrothermocline, but Megatron is loses then they can’t. Ethan assures a sceptical Groove that there is no way to cheat (famous last words!) and Megatron decides to up the ante by insisting that the loser must be destroyed in real life.

So Ethan controls two joysticks that can trigger a lethal explosion in one or other leader, which strikes me as incredibly trusting of Megatron to allow a human he’s only just met to hold the power of life or death over him. Additionally, it was only a few weeks ago that Prime was so concerned about his warriors’ inability to cope without him that he was faked his own death to test them, and yet now he’s entering into an agreement where the outcome could well be his actual death! Very strange.

The first half ends with Optimus Prime and the Protectobots arriving in the strange computer generated landscape that makes up Multi-World, and Prime preparing to lead his troops. Issue #106 again reminds readers of the stakes. This is the honest to gosh ‘final battle’ between Prime and Megatron we’re told… and one will die! The story then resumes with Hotspot basically ordering Optimus to stay put and allow the Protectobots to fan out and pick off the enemy. After all in this game their deaths are meaningless whereas if Prime dies they all lose. Prime agrees, but reminds his warriors that even though nothing is real, they must all remain true to their Autobot principles avoid harming any of this world’s inhabitants.

Hilariously, we see the mirror situation with Megatron and the Combaticons. Onslaught is almost cocky about inviting Megatron to take the lead. That earns him a swift boot up the rear as the more canny Megatron realises that he must be preserved and his Combaticons are mere fodder. He sends them ahead and tells them “let nothing stop you” – Multi-World inhabitants need to beware!

Now usually the Autobot concern for innocent life tends to be handicap in their encounters with the Decepticons but this is one of those rare occasions where doing the right thing brings powerful dividends. Streetwise and First Aid take great care to avoid harming any of the vines in their path, which leaves them open to ambush from Brawl and Swindle, who also take out many of the vines in the process. The two Combaticons transform and are ensnared by the vines, who it turns out possess sentience. This allows First Aid to crystallise the stunned pair with his roof mounted gun (it’s nice to see their weapons being spotlighted in addition to the characters) and Streetwise to shattering them with a blast of compressed air. Back in the real world, Ethan Zachary cheers the victory.

In the Cloud-steppes region, Blast Off and Vortex cut the skyway support cables, sending Grove and many of the Cloudstepper inhabitants falling. Blades swoops down to save his comrade, but is told to catch the Cloudsteppers instead as Groove just manages to grab a ledge. Blades does so, leaving himself wide open to a Combaticon attack. But one of the Cloudsteppers lets off a smoke bomb, blinding the two Decepticons who crash into each other while Grove finishes them off with his Photon Pistol.

Two more down and one to go as Hotspot and Onslaught face off in the Slimepit region. Onslaught makes use of the mud to launch a surprise ambush. His random laser blasts decimating the homes of the local Slimepit people and Hotspot uses his body to shield the defenceless creatures. They reward him by pulling him and resurfacing behind the Decepticon. A powerful blast from Hotspot allows him to claim an unlikely victory. Ethan applauds the win, while Megatron screams to know what is going on.

With the Combaticons failing to return, Megatron goes searching for Prime and soon finds his foe in the Metropipe region. As the pair stand either end of a bridge over a bottomless chasm, It would appear that the final battle now comes down to just the two leaders – or not, as the ominous form of Defensor appears behind Prime! Megatron screams at his fellow Combaticons to aid him, but with all having been defeated he can only lash out at them blindly in the real world. Vortex explains there’s a way to cheat by inputting the word “Afterdeath” when you lose. Thus when Defensor carries himself and Megatron over the ledge to their dooms, Megatron reappears behind Optimus and blasts him with full force. In the real world the Protectobots and Ethan are puzzled as to what just happened.

Back in the game, Prime hangs off the edge by a single arm, with the other a mangled wreck. Megatron looks down at his helpless foe when suddenly with the last of his strength, Prime yanks at one of the support pipes toppling one of the towers above and knocking Megatron to his death a second time. This time there is no reprieve as Megatron and many of the small Metropipe inhabitants plunge to their doom. The game over message appears, with Prime the sole character left on screen, and the Protectobots hailing their leader as everyone’s optics are switched back on.

Streetwise tells Ethan to press Megatron’s detonator before he can escape, but a far from happy Optimus Prime speaks his disapproval of the win. He argues that because he deliberately caused the deaths of the innocent inhabitants of Metropipe he in fact violated his own sacred Autobot principles. He cannot accept this victory and insists that Ethan press his detonator, which the incredulous human reluctantly does. In a full page to convey the sheer enormity, Prime explodes spectacularly as the Protectobots – and the readers presumably – watch in utter shock and horror!

Pictured: Don Perlin’s iconic depiction of Optimus Prime’s destruction!

With the battle over, Megatron and the Combaticons prepare the Hydrothermocline for transport and the Protectobots round-up the remains of their fallen leader before departing in utter silence. Now alone, Ethan reflects on what he witnessed, Optimus Prime was the most noble being he had ever met in his entire life. In a final, teasing image he writes the name Optimus Prime on a disk and files it away, taking comfort that in the realm of Multi-world, for a character such as Optimus Prime there is always the Afterdeath!

Wow! So where do I start? Optimus Prime is dead (just like in issue #78 and #97 of course) but this time he really is! So what will happen now for the Autobots? Who can pick up the mantle of the greatest Autobot of them all? Prowl, Ultra Magnus? Intriguing questions remain and of course Bob will have plenty more surprises in store. In the end I really enjoyed the video game scenario, but the way Prime insists on his own death is disturbing, and many people despise this story for that single reason. The fact that Megatron cheated just seems to rub it in, and the way this fact is unaddressed at the end leaves readers feeling angry and dismayed. But hey, great art and literature is meant to have an emotional impact right, and why shouldn’t that apply to comic books?

The final scene where Ethan Zachary appears to save Optimus Prime’s mind onto disk also brings up a lot of points. If a Transformers mind can apparently be backed up (as shown back in issue #53 using high density crystals) then why don’t all Transformers do this as an insurance policy against death, not to mention the fact you could potentially use this to create as many Optimus Primes as you wish. Lastly, it seems unlikely that Prime’s vast personality and millions of years worth of memories could be backed up onto a single floppy disk. In 1987 a gigabyte of data was practically unheard of, and you would expect Prime’s memory to be vastly in excess of that.

The US comic was running a Transformers/GI Joe crossover series in parallel to this and the next few issues. Although initially excluded from the UK continuity, it was printed much later on as a space-filler in UK #265-281.

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Warrior School

Ratchet is the last Autobot standing and must learn to become a warrior if he is to survive and rescue his comrades. Meanwhile the Decepticons continue to target installations owned by GB Blackrock and the UK comic announces some exciting changes going forwards.

Warrior School. 35 years after it was first published it remains in my mind one of the standout stories of the original Marvel G1 and one I have an abiding affection for. Essentially it is a coming of age story – Chief Medical Officer Ratchet stepping out his comfort zone in a major way and learning the ways of the warrior. His stepping up to the plate shows real, genuine courage and is an example to all of us, young impressionable readers as we were at the time. The scale of his challenge is enormous, and the stakes incredibly high. This is a classic success against impossible odds story that great comics (and fiction generally) are made of and, together with the second instalment ‘Repeat Performance’ cements Ratchet’s reputation and standing as a major character in Transformers.

I can still remember stepping out of my local newsagent with a copy of TFUK#26 in my eager 11-year-old hands, being blown away by the usual 11 page story being increased to an incredible 23 pages. And the full-page announcement on page 30 that the comic is celebrating its first year in print by GOING WEEKLY and full colour was tremendous news! Of course, it would mean having to swallow a 3p increase, but in view of what we were getting in I considered this to be no hardship.

Once again, it’s Bob Budiansky writing the script (as he would until US issue #55) and joined on the art by a new credit, William Johnson. He had worked on a bunch of Marvel superhero titles but would only illustrate this Transformers story and the next. I wondered why and his entry in TFWiki provides a clue. It mentions a comment Budiansky made to a fansite, that Johnson was “a very nice guy with a lot of talent” but struggled to meet the deadlines of a monthly comic book. So perhaps that was the reason for his short association, but his art on Warrior School is emotive and enjoyable.

The story begins in the woods near the Ark, with a romantic narration of “the sweet scent of Douglas Fir and a dome of stars in the indigo sky” – I wondered whether Budiansky was a fan of camping? Four college students are around a camp fire when a falling tree causes them to scatter. The cause of the interruption is the Autobot Ratchet, who had collided with the “brown pipe” while looking for the road. Buster Witwicky, his teenage friend and ally is on Ratchet’s shoulder and is happy to interpret for the young people. He knows from experience that a giant talking robot can be a difficult concept to come to terms with.

Ratchet is fascinated by the concept of burning wood to generate fire (there’s nothing like it on Cybertron) and demonstrates how his laser scalpel can cook hotdogs more efficiently. The gentle way Ratchet interacts with humanity is a real contrast to what we’re used to seeing from the Decepticons at this time. When Buster recoils in sudden, inexplicable pain we’re reminded that Optimus Prime did something to him when the pair were mind-linked recently.

It’s agreed that the students will take Buster home and Ratchet is reminded that he has more important problems. Never a truer word spoken, he is the last Autobot and the burden of stopping the Decepticons rests entirely on his shoulders. The encounter with the students was an enjoyable distraction but he can’t put off his responsibilities much longer.

‘Hey, what about GB Blackrock?’ I hear nobody ask. Well, he’s about to become possibly the unluckiest CEO in America as first his oil drilling platform was annexed by the Decepticons and now his aerospace plant is in the crosshairs too. In a slapstick moment, two workers, Gabe and Ferdy stop to claim an abandoned cassette deck that’s been left in the parking lot, then proceed to walk it passed the wall mounted gun defences. It is of course the Decepticon Soundwave, who transforms and bursts out of the locker in which he’s been placed. It’s obviously a room with very high ceilings as Soundwave is able to stand at full height while ejecting Laserbeak skywarps to assist in putting down any resistance. The plant was clearly unprepared for an attack from within and quickly falls. Blackrock is crestfallen and humiliated, particularly as Soundwave has been broadcasting the footage far and wide. Clearly some good PR for the Decepticons to advertise their menace and that they have hostages.

We’re briefly shown Blackrock visiting his paralysed employee Josie Beller and delivering equipment she asked for. Josie has use of one arm and hints to the reader that she is determined to take her revenge. This is clearly a developing situation and she and Blackrock are being established as ongoing characters. I’m a little indifferent to them at this point.

And so to the main events of the issue. Ratchet has sneaked into the Ark and finds it deserted. The Decepticons are elsewhere at their temporary new base, the Blackrock rig, and Commander Shockwave has left Megatron on Ark guard duty. Ratchet is horrified to discover the Autobots all inoperative and suspended from the ceiling like some macabre nightmare. He then finds the head of Optimus Prime descends into despair – could everything be lost?

Amazingly Prime speaks, uttering one of the truly memorable lines: “Put aside your grief Ratchet, now is time for valour”. He explains that the Decepticons intend to extract the Matrix from him and he has taken steps to thwart them (clearly in reference to Buster). But just as Ratchet trained to be a medic on Cybertron, on Earth he must become a warrior and use his guile and cunning to find a way to defeat Megatron. His own survival will be his ultimate test. All well and good but Prime is surely placing unrealistic expectations on his Chief Medical Officer here – there is no way Ratchet can best Megatron in one-to-one combat and to put himself in that position is surely suicidal.

There’s an interlude where Buster is joined at his dad’s repair shop by friends Jessie and ‘O’. He’s under a lot of stress, worrying about his dad, the Autobots and keeping the family business going when he knows next to nothing about repairing cars. He snaps at his friends, causing them to leave. In O’s case this will be permanent as this issue turns out to be his last appearance. No sooner is he alone, Buster feels the pains again the various tools around him start levitating! Interesting.

Ratchet goes looking for Megatron (you immediately know this is a bad idea) and fails to notice the Decepticon ex-leader sneaking up. Megatron’s giant hand grasps Ratchet’s shoulder and partially crushes it. He wants to add the medic to his “collection of scrapped Autobots” and will alleviate the boredom by taking his time over it! Ratchet punches Megatron as hard as he can and zaps him with his hold and cold medical tools but to no effect. With brute force not an option, he will need to outsmart Megatron. And so, Ratchet offers to help Megatron regain his command by locating the Dinobots and setting them against Shockwave. In return Megatron will hand back custody of the Ark to Ratchet.

Megatron treats the readers to a brief history of his rivalry. On Cybertron Shockwave had been supreme Decepticon military operations officer and the strategist who had plotted their ambush of the Ark. Shockwave had stayed behind on the Decepticon ship as a back-up. Megatron perceived this as self-serving and was already making plans to destroy this rival.

We then learn (through Megatron’s continuing narration) that Shockwave travelled to Earth to investigate the disappearance of the Ark (which had collided with the planet) and the radiation belt effected his navigation systems, causing him to touch down in timeless region of Antarctica where dinosaurs still roamed (Marvel Comics’ Savage Land). The Ark had revived five Autobots and gave them the dinosaur alt-modes, and the team had battled Shockwave. It is not known what happened next or why they or Shockwave disappeared for four million years.

While helpful for the readers, I’m unclear as to how Megatron has learned about the Dinobots. It’s unlikely Shockwave has revealed anything more to him, so perhaps Megatron has accessed the Ark’s databanks similar to Ratchet did some issues ago?

He agrees to Ratchet’s suggestion – mainly to provide an amusing distraction, rather than an expectation of success – and the two seal the deal by contributing fuel to beaker and setting it alight. We’re told this is an ancient Cybertron ritual and no about has broken such a pact. Megatron, of course, is no Autobot! And so, the stage is set for the dramatic debut of the Dinobots. With the sequel arriving in just seven (not 14) days these were exciting times for the UK Transformers comic.

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The Enemy Within

March 1985 was a significant month in the history of Transformers comics. Issue #13 marked the debut of Simon Furman – the writer who even more than Bob Budiansky most deserves the title Mr Transformers. Furman is responsible for the vast majority of the UK stories in the comic’s 332 issue run and a good number of the Marvel US classics too! And his contribution in the years which followed, with stories for successive license-holders Dreamwave, Titan and IDW.

But it all began with The Enemy Within – a four part story, later hastily stretched to five – produced during the seven months interlude where Transformers UK was fresh out of stories from the US comic to reprint and had to fill the gap with home grown material.

The story is essentially a duel between Starscream and Brawn, two hitherto supporting characters, with the stakes being either death or redemption; but it’s the Decepticon side of the equation that is arguably the more interesting.

The Enemy Within builds on the dynamic between the two biggest Decepticon egos, commander Megatron and his would-be leadership rival Starscream. It was often hinted in the initial mini-series that Starscream thought he would make a better leader, and was just looking for his opportunity to strike. With patience not one of his virtues, his mask eventually slipped and (during The Last Stand) Starscream was openly critical of Megatron and quickly found himself on the receiving end of the leader’s all-powerful fusion canon!

Save for that comedic moment, we haven’t seen Starscream at his most cunning and plotting until now. Furman’s debut story delves in, and unlike the Sunbow cartoons where Starscream is forever undermining the leader and getting away with it, there’s a sense of real consequences here. The Decepticons are like a mafia outfit and if you’re on manoeuvres against the Don, you’re definitely taking a massive risk with your life.

The story grabs the reader from the first panel, opening on a close-up of a Megatron who is outraged! We soon find out why. Starscream is stirring unrest by suggesting they all-out attack the Autobots, something he knows the others will support him on. In doing so, he’s openly questioning Megatron’s chosen course of action. A fusion cannon blast across his bows puts Starscream back in his place, but there is lingering unease in the camp. Megatron instructs Ravage to spy on Starscream and bring back evidence of his treachery, so that he can be silenced for good!

There’s a sense that Ravage is a trusted confidant and someone with whom Megatron can let his guard down. And unlike Ravage’s cartoon depiction, where he’s more animal-like, in the comic he speaks and is like any other Decepticon except with a jaguar robot form.

Unlike the previous UK story Man of Iron, which is out on a limb, we can see that Furman is making a conscious effort to fit his story into the established US canon. So, he has Megatron mention the encounter with Spider-Man and the talk of attacking the Autobots feels like a build-up to what eventually happens in The Last Stand.

Meanwhile, at the Ark, Brawn is lifting a heavy piece of equipment that Mirage is working on when both receive what looks like a very nasty electric shock. In Mirage’s case it will enhance his illusion abilities but Brawn suffers a personality change and becomes selfish, angry and resentful. He goes on a rampage and batters his way through the Ark’s hull and escapes.

Starscream is planning to attack an army base. He thinks that when the Autobots come to the human’s rescue, the Decepticons will come to his – and will be convinced by his leadership qualities. For some stupid reason Starscream articulates all this out loud (why?) and is overheard by Ravage. He offers Ravage a chance to join the plot or else be destroyed. You get a sense of some mutual respect between the two of the other’s abilities – I think when Starscream offers the alliance it’s not only because he’s been caught red-handed, he genuinely thinks Ravage would be an asset.

We see each of their abilities play out in a head to head. Ravage is able to blend into the desert and spring up out of nowhere to launch a missile attack, but the agile flier Starscream is able to evade the threat. The battle concludes with Ravage being blasted and disappearing under falling rocks. There’s no longer any turning back.

In part 2 (TFUK #14) we learn that Ravage survived. He staggers home to the Decepticons and reveals it was Starscream who attacked him. We also see Brawn causing a really nasty (probably fatal) road smash as he takes revenge on humans for ‘enslaving’ his fellow machines (cars). Those hook hands of his are probably useless at picking things up but they are pretty handy for battering the crap out of stationary vehicles, as Brawn does to a cop car which he ‘freed from servitude’ to mankind but which appeared ungrateful. Oh dear.

Starscream causes havoc by shooting down US jets and appearing on television challenging the Autobots to take him on! However, with their own problems to sort out, they swerve the invite and show up to confront the renegade Brawn. It is the Decepticons and Megatron who arrive to take down Starscream!

Cue part 3 where Brawn refuses to come quietly and repels his one-time comrades (fairly successfully) until being taken down by – of all people – Red Alert. Why is that strange, well for one thing he’s never appeared in the line up of Earthbound Autobots before and his appearance here feels like a continuity error. They really ought to have coloured him red and said it was Sideswipe, getting his revenge from earlier.

While Starscream is in a fight for his life – pursued by his former wingmen Skywarp and Thundercracker, he is shot down in the desert and confronted by Megatron. He begs for trial by combat, which apparently he is entitled to, but really Megatron should take no notice of this and press the advantage. That he doesn’t is an indication that there are limits to his authority and he has to keep the troops on side.

In a nice touch, we’re treated to an incident (via historical tapes) of two Cybertronians called Tornado and Earthquake who accepted trial by combat and destroyed each other. With names like that, perhaps it was unsurprising? This could be a perfect resolution, Megatron thinks. Once Brawn is repaired and realises his terrible error, he readily accepts the challenge laid down by the Decepticons to do battle.

Part 4 was billed in advance as the concluding part, but over the fortnight the production team must have discovered that the wait for US material was going to be longer than they expected. The result was that they decided to split the final 11 pages over two issues, and the next story (Raiders of the Last Ark would be told over four issues not two).

That disappointment aside, TFUK #16 is an exciting issue with both Brawn and Starscream showcasing their respective talents (strength and deadly aerial abilities). Brawn throws a giant bolder, Starscream rains down volleys from above. Brawn leaps off a ledge and on to his opponent but ends up hitting the ground hard. Starscream unleashes on the helpless Autobot, seemingly blowing him to bits… or has he? The narrative states that ‘no emotion registered on Optimus Prime’s face’ (how many emotions can a guy without a face show anyway?) and we start to realise that things might not all be as they seem.

In part 5 we find out Mirage had used his abilities to simulate Brawn’s destruction while pulling him clear. Ravage, meanwhile, is in wait with a massive gun strapped to his back, which he uses to take out Starscream! Revenge is a dish best served cold. This can neatly be blamed on the Autobots and serve as a premise for Megatron to lead the attack his troops have been itching for.

In summary, this is action-packed debut story from Simon Furman and nice in that it gives the lesser-seen Brawn a turn in the spotlight. The art, by Ridgway and Collins, sees characters drawn like their toy incarnations but after a while you get used it. One of the letters to the editor asks why Megatron looks different every week. Their reply: none of the artists have been able to get close enough to him, which I guess is fair enough!

The story would be reprinted twice more – the first time in ‘Collected Comics 4’ in full colour, and much later as a back-up strip filler in TFUK #308-318 (in 1991). Robo Capers by Lew Stringer launches to provide regular comedy value but the other back up strips are by and large pretty mediocre. It’s a shame at this point that they are outnumbering the Transformers pages. That US material can’t come quick enough.

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Man of Iron

Jazz shows up in the woods in southern England – and scares the hell out of young Sammy Harker! It’s the other worldly, slightly bizarre and baffling UK four-part story, Man of Iron.

January 1985. Readers of Marvel UK’s fortnightly Transformers comic are still reeling from last issue’s shock ending (where Shockwave showed up and blasted the Autobots into unconsciousness – single-handedly ending the Transformers’ war on Earth in the Decepticons’ favour). Anyone buying the next issue to find out what happens next will have been thoroughly perplexed to find a very different story in its place.

It will be six to seven months before the US material is available (in Transformers UK #22) so the UK creative team will have to fill the void by coming up with their own original stories in the interim.

The first one out the blocks is this off-beat, slightly weird but at times compelling tale by Steve Parkhouse. Man of Iron would be his one and only writing credit for Transformers, though he later did the lettering for the 1988 story ‘Wrecking Havoc’. Steve’s TF Wiki page suggests he knew “almost nothing” about the Transformers franchise when writing the story. Marvel only told him the bare bones of the set-up and as a result Man of Iron “stays far away from any of the US plots” to avoid a clash.

We later find out (courtesy of the ‘Robot War’ recap in UK #22) that this story takes place between the events of Power Play and Prisoner of War. After Sparkplug’s capture, the Autobots returned to the Ark to learn of a message in a Transformers language (evidence to suggest Transformers don’t speak English) emanating from Southern England. The Autobots investigate believing it to be a rescue craft from their home-world holding vital information on its whereabouts. Soundwave has also picked up this signal and the search begins!

The story centres around a medieval castle near a small village, which is bombed by Decepticon jets. While the army is called in to search for an unexploded bomb the castle curator, Roy Harker, goes looking for his son in the woods. Sammy Harker does not want to go home and hides from his father, but after a brief encounter with Jazz – he runs home while Jazz follows him in vehicle mode and reports his address to Optimus Prime (there are a lot of unclear events in this story). Later, Roy Harker shows Sammy a drawing of the Man of Iron – a legendary metal being who showed up at the castle more than 900 years ago! The pair wonder whether this was the mysterious robot in the woods.

Things get weirder in part two as we see Sammy dreaming of Mirage appearing at his bedroom window. Next thing Sammy is floating above the house seeing a Decepticon plane, and the ancient drawing of the Man of Iron flying out the window into Mirage’s hand. His father charges in to find him sleeping peacefully, and a giant figure walking off into the distance. Was it a dream after all or reality masked by a Mirage illusion? Much is left to the reader’s imagination at this point.

The next morning, Roy finds the entire castle cordoned off. An object the size of an ocean liner has been found buried underneath the castle ruins! Sammy meanwhile is looking at a Porsche in his street (Jazz) when he notices the picture of the Man of Iron on the back seat. The car door opens and Jazz beckons him to get in. This is where it all gets a bit uncomfortable; Sammy tells Jazz he’s not allowed to accept lifts from strangers and Jazz replies (in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of a child abductor) that he isn’t a stranger and he can show Sammy an adventure. He then drives off at speed as Sammy’s panicked mother screams! There’s a short message of advice to readers about never accepting lifts from strangers. This is just as well but the scene feels just a little disturbing, even irresponsible.

It really isn’t clear at this point why the Autobots are interested in Sammy and their tactics in getting him to talk to them leave a lot to be desired. Man of Iron is a different kind of story in that it is told from the humans’ perspective and with Transformers making cameos. In this way they are able to appear a lot more mysterious and alien.

In part 3 Mike Collins picks up the artist duties from John Ridgeway and does a fantastic job of capturing the drama and realism of the battle scenes in way I have seldom seen in a comic. As Jazz and Sammy rendezvous with Trailbreaker and Mirage on the highway they come under aerial attack by the Decepticon jets. Trailbreaker is literally blown to pieces by a missile impact, while Mirage deploys his illusionary abilities to cause their opponent to crash into a bridge (and practically disintegrate on impact!). Bluestreak appears on a flyover and shoots down another of the jets, again blowing the Decepticon to pieces. Despite these devastating looking injuries, most of the Transformers will appear quite soon back in one piece!

The scene where Jazz and Sammy arrive at the Autobot shuttle is like something from an alien encounter movie. The boy meets Optimus Prime. Prime and we learn that the signal which brought them to England is coming from a rescue craft, sent from Cybertron, that is beneath the castle. For reasons unknown, Prime is convinced the Decepticons will try to destroy the ship (why when they could learn its secrets or pilot it back to Cybertron instead?).

In the final instalment we at last meet the Man of Iron. A ground tremor heralds his arrival as he emerges from a concealed hatch to attack the army! It’s not clear why, and moments later he’s blown to bits by Starscream – who is in turn rammed at full speed by Jazz! We never do learn the secrets of the rescue craft or the dormant Autobot within, known as Navigator. This is because the Autobots take the fateful decision to destroy the rescue craft rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands.
Soon the tourists are back, this time with the stories of UFO sightings, but see nothing new that is out of the ordinary. Sammy never sees the Autobots again but the Man of Iron continues to walk in his dreams.

Following its original publication in TF UK#9-12 it received a full colour reprint in US issues #33 and #34. The cover of #33 is something of a tribute to the Brits with William Shakespeare taking the place of Spider-man in bottom-left-corner box. The editorial pitches the story as “from the land that gave us the Fab Four, Dickens and Princess Di”, which I find rather charming. I’m not sure of the truth to the claim though, that UK material is being printed due to “overwhelming” reader demand. It’s more likely that this was to give breathing space to the creative team, who will have been busy working on the Headmasters spin-off series at this time.

Had I been choosing a story to showcase to an American audience I might well have picked The Enemy Within, Dinobot Hunt or In the National Interest, any of which will have excited US fans more than this one. Perhaps it is the Englishness of the story with its castles, leafy suburbs and military types who say things like ‘what’s going on old boy?’ or it might be that it simply reads well as a standalone.

As mentioned above, it takes place between Powerplay and Prisoner of War. This niggles a little as we’re invited to believe that the Autobots – who at this time were so low on fuel as to be running on vapours – went on a jaunt across the Atlantic while Sparkplug had just been snatched by the Decepticons and was in immediate need of a rescue. Fitting this story and the subsequent two into continuity would prove tricky.

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Dan Reed: How being broke saved my life!

Dan Reed was a freelance artist for Marvel UK in the 1980s and worked on some iconic Transformers comics of the era, including the zombie spectacular ‘City of Fear’ – his best TF work in my opinion. This is an interview I did with Dan a few years ago about his time with Transformers.

Dan Reed2

Dan pictured in 2019.

IT WAS DECEMBER 1988 and Dan Reed, then 28, was a struggling artist living in Paris. It had been an up-and-down couple of years. He had been through a difficult divorce in his native America, and his wife had refused to let him see their daughter – eventually moving to another state without telling him. But things had picked up and Reed was enjoying life in France and the opportunities to travel around Western Europe and indulge his love of painting. He had also landed semi-regular work with Marvel Comics UK – illustrating The Transformers.

Simon Furman had given him the chance to prove himself by doing the artwork for issue 115’s strip, Burning Sky part 1. Furman was pleased and asked Reed to draw several more stories including the Legacy of Unicron, City of Fear, Deadly Games and Space Pirates in 1988. Reed was also invited to attend Marvel’s Christmas party in London and he thought it would be a great stop-over on his way back to America. When it came time to buy a ticket he was faced with the option of Pan Am 103 and a cheaper ticket on Virgin Atlantic. Reed, being an artist of limited means, chose Virgin and while in the air, heard the other plane had exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Today, in better financial circumstances he reflects sombrely that “being poor sometimes has its advantages”.

Reed was born in Massachusetts on January 26, 1960, and raised in the warmer climates of Miami. He worked for Charlton, Marvel and DC, pursuing his love of comics, while also working seriously on his painting. He attended Miami Dade Community College and discovered art history, becoming entranced with the role the French had played. Reed thought it would be great to go to France and actually live there, and some time later following his divorce and estrangement from his child, he got the chance. The college sent him to Paris and then to the south to paint. It was supposed to be a six week program but Reed thought he had more to learn by getting out there and painting than he could in the classroom and decided to stay.

Fifteen years on he is remarried and back in touch with his daughter (he recently attended her wedding reception in South Dakota). Reed lives 25 miles from New York City and regularly draws crowds to exhibitions of his paintings. He is still involved in comics however, and has ‘self published’ an eight-part series called New World Order and another book called Retro-Dead.

How did you come to be an artist on Transformers?

I was living in Paris, France and found life there very difficult in a financial sense, although I really loved living there in many other ways. Unfortunately to work there you need a special card which was almost impossible to obtain, so I picked up a couple of issues of Indiana Jones that I had done for Marvel US, and hitched a ride with an 18 wheeler over to London. I stepped into the offices of Marvel UK and spoke with Simon Furman. I showed him my comics and asked if he had any work for me. He said yes and handed me the script for Transformers #115 a couple of older issues of the book and some model sheets to go by, and let me know when he needed them by. I told him that I preferred to ink my own work and he agreed.

What was it like working for Marvel UK?

For the most part it was really great! When I turned in #115 Simon seemed to really like it and told me I could work on a regular basis if I wanted to. I told him that I would love to but I wanted to live in Paris. He asked me how I proposed to pull this off. I told him that when I was working for Marvel in the states that I actually lived in Miami and mailed my jobs to New York through Fed Ex, and saw no reason why that arrangement shouldn’t work again. Simon agreed and I went back to Paris.

When I finished the next job however, I thought it would be fun to travel back over to London, so this time I spent the little money I had left and bought a bus ticket. Unfortunately for me when I got to the border control they told me that I couldn’t get into England because I didn’t have enough money on me. They took me to a little room, took my artwork, strip searched me, verbally abused me, and when they returned my artwork the first page of the story was missing. I told them that they stole my art. They told me that was too bad, then they proceeded to handcuff me and throw me in the back of their police car, pushed me to the floor and started to beat me. Then they dragged me onto the ferry back to Paris.

When we got there the French border guard was sitting at his desk reading a newspaper. He asked me what happened… why was I handcuffed with a cop on either side of me. I told him that the British wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have enough money on me. He asked me what I did. I told him I was an artist. He laughed and said: “You’re an artist… of course you don’t have any money.” He asked me where I lived, I told him Paris, and he said: “hitchhike back”, then went back to reading his paper.

I called Simon when I got back and explained what had happened. I was already a little late on the story, so the pressure to get the job to him was enormous. I spent the entire night up, and managed to re-pencil and ink the first page. So if you ever see a page that looks close to the splash page of Transformers #119, but a little different you’ll know that it was stolen and the person who stole it almost cost me my job at Marvel UK!

There were several artists working on the comic so who decided who would draw which strips?

Simon was in control as far as I knew. At any rate he was the guy that I always talked to.

How long did it take to draw an issue of The Transformers?

I really don’t remember exactly, but I know I was always a little late turning in the jobs. I’m sure I caused more than a few grey hairs on Simon’s head.

Was it tricky to master the look of around 100 or so characters?

Well they gave me character sheets from the movie for each character. I was always trying to find ways to make them look more exciting and got in a little trouble because I would bend the arms and legs of the characters, and would use energy dots to show the transformation scenes. I also got a kick when I got a chance to design a building or a transformer that didn’t exist (They were like Star Trek’s red shirts… sure to die).

You have a distinctive style of drawing. Who influences your work and was there anyone at Transformers whose art you particularly admired?

Thank you very much. It’s nice to know that some people appreciate the work I was doing. Comics wise my influences are so many… C.C. Beck, Kirby, Colan, Palmer, Adams, Kubert, Infantino, Moebius, Frazetta, etc… the list reads like a who’s who of the true greats in comic history.  I really liked Geoff Senior’s work… especially the stuff he was doing for a while before I showed up. It was so graphic and clean… very good design sense.

What influence, if any, did you have over story lines as an artist?

I didn’t have much say over the story lines. However I did try to make every page as much fun as I could… after all I’m a real fan of this wonderful medium and try to make my work as cool as the work of the greats that I grew up admiring. I can only hope that I’m succeeding to some degree.

Did Hasbro have much of a say over the comic’s stories or the artwork?

Simon handled that end of it at the Marvel offices. I do know that the character had to look like those character sheets that they gave us.

Is there an issue of Transformers that you worked on that you are particularly proud of? If so, which and why?

There was something in every issue that I found exciting, that got my creative juices flowing, and Simon never really gave me too much interference. I was very free to follow my intuition. My living in Paris probably helped a lot with that aspect of things.

Were you a fan of the comic… and what do you think of the new Dreamwave Transformers titles?

I’m going to have to be honest with you, when I went over to Marvel UK I was hoping to draw the FF or Spidey or Thor… I had never even heard of the Transformers before. I didn’t even see the movie until years later when I returned the states. However it did grow on me, and I like the idea of living metal beings… kind of reminds me of the Voyager theme in the first Star Trek movie.

Did you/do you have much contact with the fans and what kind of feedback did you get about your work?

I really didn’t even know there was a fan network until I stumbled onto your website. When I was doing the book all those years ago I was working in a vacuum fan wise. I thought I was doing some really kick butt work but had no way of knowing if anyone else thought so as well.

Are you surprised how enduring the Transformers franchise has proved to be?

It did seem to me to just be a passing fad at the time…

Finally, what else have you done aside from Transformers… and what does the future hold for Dan Reed?

For Charlton I did the Blue Beetle and The Question, as well as Captain Atom. For DC I did some House Of Mystery stuff, and some D&D books. For Marvel I worked on characters ranging from the Hulk to Captain America, the Punisher, Alpha Flight and others. The fanzine “Comic Book Artist” did an interview with me as well.

I self published a series called New World Order which ran for eight issues, and did another book called Retro-Dead. The basic premise behind New World Order deals with the world of the future where people who live in space stations have evolved into a new species, and look at us as an inferior life form and dominate the planet. The protagonists are a trio of artists in a world where art is banned. It’s a mature readers book and reflects some adult themes. Retro-Dead takes place after a dimensional rift has swept across the planet, physically altering people to revert into the being that lies within their souls. If someone is a blood-sucking vampire by nature, then he actually becomes that in the ‘real’ world. The idea being that the monsters that live among us can no longer hide behind the guise of being human.

Also I’ve been doing some characters that I created for Gary Carlson’s “Big Bang”, the “Great Pyramid” and the “Dimensioneer”. I’m also involved with doing some illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs fan magazines including one in the UK. I’ve been painting for many years and have a website you might want to check out…. www.artblazer.com

As far as the future goes, I hope continue painting and creating my own characters.

Q&A with Transformers writer Bob Budiansky

Editor’s note: Bob Budiansky is a legendary name in the world of Transformers. If not for him its possible that the characters that are well known and loved today may not have come into being and have endured to this day. Bob was instrumental in naming the characters and sketching out their personalities. He also wrote the Transformers comic for Marvel US for an incredible 50 issues during the 1980s. The article below is a Q&A with Bob by a UK fan named Charles Ellis midway through the first decade of this century, which was hosted on the original OneShallStand.com and deserves to be reproduced here.

Bob Budiansky
Image credit: BWTF.com

Bob Budiansky wrote the American Transformers series from issue 5-55, in doing so turning characters like Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster, Fortress Maximus and even hi-then-die’s like Scrounge & Straxus into major parts of the Transformer mythos. Despite all this, he’s much maligned for his later work and while Furman has been interviewed a million or so times, nobody has ever talked with Budiansky over his Transformers work.

How did you get the job editing and later writing the Transformers comic?

In 1983 Marvel had made a deal with Hasbro to develop Hasbro’s new line of toys, The Transformers, into a comic book, as Marvel had so successfully done with GI Joe just a couple of years earlier. In November 1983, then-Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter asked me if I would be interested in writing some material for it, specifically naming and developing some of the Transformers characters. Shooter had already developed a treatment and some of the characters with Denny O’Neill, but I believe they had some creative differences, so Shooter came to me. And I know he went to a few other writers before he got to me. At the time I was a staff editor, and I had pencilled a bunch of books, but I hadn’t written that much, so it was understandable why I wasn’t at the top of Shooter’s list. Nevertheless, I really appreciated the opportunity Shooter was giving me. It was a rush job- naming and writing character descriptions for about 20 characters, I think, and I had a little over a weekend to do it. Denny had written a few of them- he named and wrote the bio for Optimus Prime, for instance -but the bulk of the characters still remained to be done.

So over the next few days I named and gave personalities to the remaining Transformers, Shooter liked them, Hasbro (which had to approve everything Marvel did) liked them, and Shooter came to the conclusion that maybe I would be a good choice to edit the mini-series. So that’s how I became editor.

I remember that for the writers of the mini-series- I believe Bill Mantlo, Ralph Macchio and Jim Salicrup all had a hand in it -it was a challenge. Introducing all these new characters and their back story all at once, trying to give at least some of them interesting characterizations, fashioning a coherent storyline that could run over four issues- just trying to tell them apart, all of this was a struggle for the writers. Normally a four-issue mini-series would have one writer. The fact that Transformers had three speaks for itself.

At the end of the fourth issue, when we knew the Transformers would continue as a regular series, Jim Salicrup was just about begging me to find someone to replace him as writer (I don’t think Jim would disagree with that characterization, but I apologize to him if I’m overstating his desire to leave the book). So I went to Shooter and volunteered to take over the writing chores. Since I was developing the characters already, I seemed like a natural fit to Shooter for the job, so he agreed. The rule at Marvel at that time was that you couldn’t edit what you wrote, so with issue #5, I ceased editing Transformers and began writing it.

How much interaction did you have with the Transformers cartoon makers Sunbow regarding stories and characterisation?

I remember going to some meetings early in the development of the series with Sunbow people present. I think a couple of the later additions to the back story, specifically when new lines of characters were being introduced by Hasbro, may have been generated by Sunbow. I know all the characters and story ideas for the Transformers movie came from Sunbow (I don’t know how much of it was developed in-house by Sunbow). Otherwise, once the comic book series got rolling, I generated almost all the names, personalities, and additions to the Transformers back story for the next several years. After a season or two on TV, the Transformers were relocated off of Earth. At that point, there was very little connection between the comic book I was writing and the TV show Sunbow was producing, other than the fact that I was still generating the names and personalities of new characters, and that material was passed on by Hasbro to Sunbow to use as Sunbow saw fit.

Who were the people at Marvel who created the tech specs for the Transformers toys? Most sources say you did most or all of them, but others say that other people at Marvel, i.e. Jim Shooter, did the original ones and no one is sure who did the later ones.

Although it’s possible that Jim Shooter had something to do with it at the beginning, I believe I created most if not all of those tech specs for about the first five or six years worth of characters. I modelled mine after the specs that fellow Marvel Editor Mark Gruenwald had created for his Marvel Universe series for Marvel characters. I also wrote just about all of the packaging copy for the Transformers toys that Hasbro put out during those years. All that material was eventually reprinted in the Transformers Universe comic book mini-series.

After the deaths of Optimus and Megatron, you took a slightly controversial approach in making Ratbat the fuel auditor leader of the Decepticons and Grimlock into a tyrannical leader of the Autobots. What was the inspiration for this?

Remembering precisely what inspired me almost twenty years ago is a challenge, but I’ll give it a try. I think the main thing was I wanted to shake things up, and defy readers’ expectations. I didn’t want to focus on the same two characters every issue. I couldn’t. I was always under pressure from Hasbro to introduce new characters, particularly the characters based on the new toys Hasbro was releasing every year. For example, the Dinobots were a big deal, perhaps the first new set of Transformers after the initial couple of dozen. So I highlighted them for a while and gave Grimlock a big role in the storyline. I liked playing around with the idea that not every Autobot was equally sensitive to humans. Whereas Optimus Prime was the idealized leader of the heroes- brave, protective, noble, self-sacrificing -Grimlock and his gang of Dinobots had personalities not quite as multi-faceted. They were mainly concerned about being in charge and kicking some Decepticon butt.

You devoted a lot of time and character development to the characters Blaster and Shockwave. What drew you to these characters?

This kind of goes back to my last answer. I just wanted to develop other characters and not always focus on Optimus Prime and Megatron. I think in the earlier issues that I wrote I was able to more successfully do that. As the series developed, I was introducing so many new characters that it became a real challenge to focus on anyone for more than an issue or two. As for why specifically Blaster and Shockwave- I dunno. The toys probably just looked cool to me, so I chose them. It could have just as easily been two other characters.

A criticism often thrown at the comic is that Starscream was hardly used. Was this due to lack of time & space, or did you just not find the character appealing?

I don’t think I had anything specifically against Starscream. I just chose other directions to go in creatively. He did play a major role in the early issues of the series and in the Underbase storyline though.

What were your experiences with Hasbro?

I had a great time working with Hasbro. We didn’t always agree 100% of the time, but more often than not we did. I worked with some excellent people there who were very supportive of and receptive to my work. I think the first time I went on a business trip to the Hasbro headquarters, I got some razzing because I was wearing a jacket and tie. They were expecting a Marvel creative type to look a bit less formal. After that, whenever I visited I dressed down.

In the story ‘Return to Cybertron’, you had the Decepticons melting Transformers in the vast Smelting Pools. What was the inspiration behind the Smelting Pools?

Again asking about specifics from almost twenty years ago! I do remember that that two-parter was among my favourite Transformers stories that I wrote. I’m pretty sure the final scene in Terminator (where Arnold meets his melter), which was in the theatres around then, was at least part of the inspiration for the smelting pools- the idea that a robot would be destroyed in that manner. And I’m sure there were other inspirations. I think I had a Clint Eastwood-type character in mind when I was scripting Blaster in those stories. But it’s been a while- maybe I was thinking of Woody Allen.

What were your thoughts on the later Transformers figures- the Headmasters, Targetmasters, Pretenders etc?

I don’t have any real feelings for these characters, at least none that I can recall now. By this point in the series’ development, when it seemed like every other month Hasbro was rolling out new action figures and I had to figure out ways to add them to the comic book’s storyline, these new characters often seemed to be just clogging up the works. Enough already! I already have more than enough characters to feature in the book. Those were at least some of my thoughts, maybe all of them, about those characters.

Did you have problems with having to introduce new characters in with such frequency?

See my previous answer. You bet! Just when I was developing a storyline and some characters in some direction that I though was interesting, BOOM!- I have to suddenly find room for another dozen. It was like having endless waves of uninvited boat people wash up on your shore. For me, at least, it made writing the book ever more challenging as my tenure on it lengthened. I think sometimes I dealt with bringing new characters into the book better than others. But don’t ask me which were the ones I did well and which ones I didn’t- I don’t remember!

One of the defining traits of your stories was that you would bring in a human character to interact with the various Transformers. Why did you use human characters so often?

The Transformers were on Earth! Why shouldn’t they interact with humans? I think I had the most fun having the two very different species cross paths in various ways. If the Transformers weren’t going to deal with humans, why have them wind up on a planet full of them? What would be the point of that? I guess the people at Sunbow asked themselves the same question at some point and decided they didn’t like the answer, because they eventually took the Transformers off of Earth in the animated show, right? (I confess, I didn’t watch the animated show, so I could be wrong.) I really felt that was what made the idea of writing a Transformers comic book interesting to me- the idea that these two species that are so different would suddenly find themselves in the same world and would have to figure out ways to deal with it.

What was the idea behind the infamous Carwash of Doom story?

Again, the years have done a pretty good job covering that trail in my memory, but I suspect it was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was a parody of that movie. I believe we even had the letterer letter the story title in a similar style to the movie title.

What were your feelings towards the title near the end of your run?

Relief at the prospect of leaving! After 50 issues or so, I was running on fumes. Toward the end of my run, the book’s editor, Don Daley, persuaded me to stay on for a couple of more issues than I wanted to, even got me to pencil some of the last issue that I wrote. But I was ready to jump ship. I wanted to move on to other projects. All the time I was writing the Transformers I was also a full-time Marvel editor, so I didn’t have a lot of time to do much else creatively.

In the final of the Underbase storyline, you killed off a vast amount of the older characters. Was this due to a mandate of Hasbro or did you just want to clean house?

First of all, what exactly is death to the Transformers? Can’t they just be rebuilt? So whether they were permanently dead or not is debatable. At least that’s the way I looked at it. Aside from that, I’m not sure exactly what went into who died or why. It’s been a while. I suspect I was thinking the following:

1) I’ve built up to this big Underbase saga.
2) I want to have real important things happen in it to justify the magnitude of the storyline.
3) I have way too many characters floating around this series.
4) Hasbro won’t mind if I ‘kill’ off a bunch of them, especially some of the ones they’re not producing as toys any more, because a way can always be found to bring them back.

I was a fan of the DC series Metal Men in the 60s. Those guys got trashed and rebuilt almost every issue. I figured this is the 80s, the technology is better. Rebuilding a mangled Transformer should be no prob. But I wasn’t even planning on bringing any back at that point (or myself, for that matter, since at that time I was thinking of leaving the series). Truthfully, with so many Transformers still in the series and new ones always being added, who would miss the ones that were ‘killed’? More importantly, if they were still alive, when would I have time to give them any significant space in the series? So, yeah, maybe I whacked a few fan faves, but I think in most cases they were characters that had faded from the spotlight or had barely been used in the series and I had no plans to use them again. So they were already just about dead.

Is there a story or character you wish you’d had time to pursue?

If there was, I don’t remember. It’s been a while.

Finally, what have been your experiences with Transformers fandom and would you write for the characters again if you had the chance?

While I worked on the series, my experiences with the fans were overall extremely positive. The bulk of the fan mail we received was generally complimentary and showed a great interest in the characters and storylines. Stan Lee even wrote us a glowing fan letter after he read issue #23, Decepticon Graffitti! No higher praise than that, in my book. When I met fans at comic book conventions, they seemed enthusiastic about what I was doing in the book. Since I left Transformers, I haven’t really dealt with Transformers fandom. I get the impression there is still a high level of interest in the Transformers, especially on the Internet. But other than responding to an occasional interview like this, don’t interface with the Transformer fans any more.

As for writing the Transformers again, I never say yes or no to an offer until after someone makes it. So I suppose I’m open to the idea of writing the Transformers- at least until someone actually asks me to do it.

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Thoughts from Transformers fans:

Charles Ellis: My personal feeling about Bob is that he gets dumped on a lot by Transformers fans. His Shockwave is one of the key things in the comic mythos and made it stand out from the cartoon, but people still try to ignore him. I think he was a good writer who was held back by crappy art and the need to keep bringing in new characters; with these constraints, it’s amazing he actually developed characters as much as he did!

Graham Thomson: I agree for the most part. Like all writers, when he was on form, Budiansky was very good. Shame, like you said, that he had to introduce so many characters. It’s actually the one thing I think the cartoon was better at. At least they waited 20 years before introducing the next “generation” of characters. Bob’s mistake was to introduce the Headmasters and Pretenders, etc. in the present day. And for the Pretenders, the Japanese got it right… actual human sized shells!! Why Bob chose TF sized ones I’ll never fathom. TFs already had size-changing abilities at that point, so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to have human-sized Pretenders in the comic.

Ralph Burns: Ah, Uncle Bob whom I shall defend unto death. He did some great stuff, he did some awful stuff but he was OK. As good/bad as Furman in my opinion. If only for Smelting Pool/Bridge to Nowhere which are my favourite tf comics…ever! I really liked the whole Blaster/Grimlock plotline too, and the idea of the Autobots being ruled by someone who was essentially a despot! Now, *that’s* a good idea.

Martin McVay: Bob had more talent than Furman in my opinion, because most of the time he tried to write intelligently and thoughtfully, rather than just spectacularly. I disagree with Charles putting the Headmasters mini-series in the stupid age though. Unless you’re one of those who thinks TF stories are only good when told from the TF point of view, it had good characterisation and handled some tough moral issues. To me, some the most important elements of Transformers was the way they interacted with humans, the way they saw humans and the way humans saw them. We only really got this from Bob. Plus, he gave us Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster, Straxus, Skids, Fortress Maximus and the Creation Matrix. The US art wasn’t really inferior to the UK. It was more realistic when it came to humans and scenery. But it wasn’t spectacular, and had the dull dot-colouring. Plus Bob’s work had far, far more dialogue, which makes it less exciting for teenaged boys. And of course as Graham points out, the constant influx of new toys killed his work off dead. I’d have stopped trying too in that situation.