Ratbat dispatches the Throttlebots to Earth on a mission to meltdown any Transformer infected with Scraplets – which is bad news for our heroes Blaster and Goldbug!
Crater Critters and its sequel The Cure are two absolute favourites of mine from the Marvel Transformers comics of the 1980s – Bob Budiansky at his best. In the first story we were introduced to the Scraplets – and infestation of tiny creatures that feast on robots – for a Transformer it’s difficult to imagine a more deadly menace.
Our intrepid Autobot deserters, Blaster and Goldbug, had gone to investigate a crash-landed Decepticon freighter, encountered the Decepticon Triple Changers – Astrotrain, Octane and Blitzwing – and had become infected by Scraplets, along with the Decepticons. The story had ended on a gut-wrenching note with Goldbug having had to flee in order to find a cure for the Scraplets in order to save Blaster, and his friend thinking Goldbug was a coward who had run away and left him to the mercy of the Decepticons.
And to top it off Goldbug had become infected too, and ran out of steam in the middle of the desert. Truly desperate times for the mini-bot and his new human friend Charlie Fong.
The sequel provides an opportunity for Bob to introduce the latest of Hasbro’s 1987 releases – the Throttlebots! I had all six of the toys, and mostly off the back of this fantastic debut for the team. You could pull them back and release and they would propel across the floor with decent pace. Their leader was Rollbar and we see him in action, battering poor Goldbug with a wooden beam, in Lee Sullivan’s excellent cover.
Rollbar and Wideload are coloured with a spray paint effect (like Sullivan’s brilliant Runabout and Runamuck cover that kicked off the year) and finished off with a pink background and Ratbat silhouette. It’s an iconic image that relates to actual events in the story (a great thing about covers in those days) and is one I like a lot.
The story starts with a welcome return to Bob Budiansky’s Decepticon-ruled dystopian Cybertron. The Throttlebots were raiding a fuel depot and now find themselves having to repel a full scale attack from Decepticon droids. They level of resistance is far in excess of what they were expecting and is a sign that something else is a afoot!
A couple of things: In the UK version the opening page has been extended, and if you look carefully you can see Rollbar’s feet have been added later. We see an example of ‘Earth culture’ as the fuel storage section is helpfully signed in English. Nel Yomtov, who coloured the story, seems to be completely unable to tell one Throttlebot from the next, so we’ve got Chase, Freeway and Searchlight all out of sync with the dialogue. Insofar as we can ascertain their personalities, Freeway seems to be the joker (black humour), Wideload is vain and worried about picking up dents, while Rollbar is their serious no-nonsense commander.
Just recently it seems that every Transformer on Cybertron has made their way to Earth and so it is with the Throttlebots this issue, joining the Triple Changers, Predacons, Insecticons, Decepticon jets and probably some I can’t think of. At the moment Ratbat seems to be the only prominent Decepticon on the homeworld and even he will be packing and going soon. The idea of the Throttlebots as a gang of terrorists works well and I would have enjoyed seeing some back stories of their exploits.
They encounter a huge Decepticon – a ‘titanium class destruction drone’ – and are offered a chance to live if they surrender their weapons. It’s unexpectedly generous considering they are at the Decepticon’s mercy. Soon the team are presented before Ratbat, their hands bound, and watch on screen as Astrotrain updates Ratbat on the desperate situation on Earth – without the Scraplet cure, they will all die, putting the Decepticon’s secret plan in jeopardy. After the link is cut, Ratbat dismisses talk of a cure and reveals that he is prepared to destroy all life on Earth if it means preventing a Scraplet epidemic from spreading.
The Throttlebots are told that if they want to avoid that, then they must travel to Earth and destroy anyone who is infected. They arrive on Earth via the Space Bridge, where Chase discovers tracks leading away from the crater. Rollbar thinks they must assume that whoever they belong is infected, and so he and Wide Load transform into their new Earth modes and follow into the distance.
Goldbug is of course the Transformer who escaped from the crater along with his human scientist friend Charlie Fong. He is now so heavily infected that he is unable to drive and so Charlie is slowly pushing him across the Arizona wilderness in the burning afternoon sun. It’s amazing they’ve travelled 108 miles! Suddenly he hears the sound of a car and discovers not only a road but a Blackrock filling station! A huge relief.
Charlie pushes Goldbug onto the forecourt, where one of the service station workers kindly gives him a drink of water, accidentally splashing some on Goldbug. Charlie watches in amazement as the wet Scraplets begin to rust and fall off dead. It’s the cure! It’s a beautiful irony, that something so abundant on Earth as water is the remedy for the Scraplets. Surely though there is water of some kind on Cybertron? It certainly looks that way in the 1990 story Primal Scream.
So, now Charlie wants to hose Goldbug, but he’s restrained by the garage staff. Water is hard to come by out here and is not to be wasted on wrecks! As they try to calm him, Rollbar and Wideload arrive. Ignoring the fact that their quarry is a fellow Autobot, the pair transform and prepare to dissolve him with corrosive acid.
Back at the crater, the Triple Changers realise they’ve been encircled by Autobots. Blitzwing transforms to jet mode, but can barely get airborne, he’s so weak. Scraplets detach from his nosecone and transform into an array of freakish looking robots who start to advance on the Throttlebots.
Back at the garage Charlie shouts a warning to Goldbug who who just manages to transform and jump out of the way of the acid blast. Rollbar rips off a garage roof and uses a beam to deck Goldbug (as per the cover). Charlie really is a good friend to Goldbug. In order to save his friend prove there is a cure, he throws some Scraplets on to Wide Load.
On the letters page for issue #126 Grimlock answers a question from Christopher Johnson of Woodbridge about who the Targetmasters are – saying we’ll soon be seeing rather a lot of them, and the Headmasters, when they feature in the main strip in issues #130-131 and in back-up strip. Exciting stuff. Another kid – Andrew Grant of Croydon – says he has to read Transformers in secret because he gets teased by the other kids at school. I remember what that was like, although would never have let such peer pressure stop me collecting. There’s also a full page advert for the 1987 Transformers Annual which had gone on sale. August does seem early for a book that is traditionally a Christmas purchase.
Robin Smith provides the cover for issue #127 depicting the Scraplet monster and the Throttlebots. It’s not as good as the previous issue. Chase is being pulled by the arm in a stance that reminds me of a reluctant toddler getting dragged around a supermarket. The story, however, remains gripping. Picking up from last time, Charlie Fong had just infected Wideload with Scraplets and now chucks a bucket of water over him, proving that there is a cure and no need for them to acid-melt Goldbug. Amusingly Widload is more concerned about the damage to his “finish” than the miracle he’s just witnessed. Thankfully Rollbar gets it.
Goldbug gets a hosing and recovers some of his strength. The trouble is that they are in the desert and water is hard to come by, so what to do? Goldbug quickly comes up with a plan and puts in a call to GB Blackrock (with his receptionist hilariously introducing him as Mr Goldberg) and arranges for GB to have tankers filled with water and sent to the crater. It’s this quick thinking and local Earth knowledge that will see Goldbug in a pre-eminent role in the Throttlebot team going forward, even is Rollbar is still nominally the leader.
Nearly 10 hours later, Ratbat’s deadline is almost up. Wideload and Rollbar rejoin their fellow Throttlebots at the crater rim, towing Goldbug behind them. As Goldbug calls down to Blaster – he has a cure and is preparing to spray it – and the Triple Changers perk up at the prospect of knowing that they too will be cured. Blaster wont be the cause of any Decepticons living on and insists they unleash the acid. Reluctantly Goldbug accepts, but after learning of their imminent demise, the Scraplets have plans of their own…
Suddenly a giant form rises out from the crater, the Scraplets have combined to form a huge and hungry monster!! It’s a lovely twist from Bob, and while some might find it a silly idea, I think it’s a lot of fun (and let’s face it, they make an easier target). The creature is extremely agile for its size, and easily avoids the Throttlebots’ attacks by manipulating its body shape. It hurls one of their two water tankers across the canyon before laying into the Throttlebots.
Goldbug realises the futility of the struggle, he must cure Blaster and the Decepticons because he needs their help. Water rains down on the four of them and they quickly regain their strength. The powerful Decepticons fly up and attack the Scraplet monster with fire, ray guns and swords. The tide begins to turn, and the weary monster stumbles in front of Blaster, who crashes down the second water tanker drum on top of it.
With the Scraplets destroyed, Astrotrain decides that GB Blackrock (who arrived with the tanker convoy) is perfect for their next plan. He fires a tiny mind-control microchip at him unnoticed before joining his fellow Decepticons back inside the crater. As Blaster thanks Goldbug for rescuing him, he is sorry for thinking that he had been abandoned. Every malady has its cure, it seems. Suddenly they look up as the Decepticons fly off with the space freighter’s huge and mysterious cargo.
In closing, yes it’s hard to believe that the Throttlebots have never heard of water and after reading Crater Critters you could interpret that the Transformers had simply forgotten the Cure was water over the ages. The Decepticons recover perhaps a little fast for my liking. They go from decaying wrecks to full power in mere seconds. All in all, one of Bob’s best and most memorable stories – which is just as well, as we’re about to go straight into one of his worst!