The Cure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Crater Critters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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