Ancient Relics (parts 2-5)

Megatron has returned and is loose within the tunnels under London. It will be up to Action Force and their Autobots allies to stop him – if they can!

If you live in the UK you’ll probably have seen TV adverts that are obviously American but the voices have been dubbed over by actors with English accents. The syncing is not quite right and there’s something a little inauthentic about it. That’s how I feel about the decision to repackage GI Joe for the UK market as ‘Action Force’. Their Marvel UK comic maintains the fiction that the team and Cobra are Europe’s counter terror squad and terror squads, with battles set on Salisbury Plains and now London.

Trouble is that the US stories that were reprinted in the weekly Action Force comic (from 1987 to mid 1988) were very obviously set in the States. And there are characters like Wild Bill who is your quintessential mid-western cowboy type and a former Vietnam vet to boot, who the UK Action Force comic tried to pass off as coming from Hull! Sheesh.

The thing is, it’s all rather unnecessary as British audiences are not deterred in the slightest by a series being set in the US. We grew up watching American TV shows and films for goodness sake, plus Marvel and DC superhero comics, and 99% of the stories in Marvel’s flagship Transformers are US based. It’s a non issue. That said, as a London native it is nice to see a story like Ancient Relics set on this side of the Atlantic.

Ancient Relics, for the uninitiated, is a five part story that began in the pages of Marvel UK’s flagship Transformers comic (in issue #125) and played out over the next four issues of the Action Force comic (issues #24-27). The intention was to introduce Transformers readers to the sister comic and hopefully convert them to regular subscribers. I can’t say whether the Action Force readership was significantly boosted, but if so it wasn’t a long term success as AF folded a year later. It rebirthed as a monthly but that was also short-lived.

As I mentioned in the review of part one, there have been all manner of Transformers crossovers and most suck to a greater or lesser extent. This, by the dream team of Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior, is one of the better ones.

In the first instalment, Blades tracked down a Transformer life signal beneath London. He radioed it in to Autobot commander Grimlock who figured it was the deserters Blaster and Goldbug and is en route. Action Force also investigated the sighting with archaeologist Susan Hoffman, who had barely escaped the sewer creature with her life. To cut a long story short it turned out to be Megatron, and now Autobot and human alike are in big trouble!

Part 2 starts with a monologue from Flint, the Action Force commander. He knows when to stand and fight and when to withdraw. As a mangled-face Megatron, looking truly monstrous, advances towards them, this qualifies as one of those times to get the hell out of there! Previous events are recapped, including Megatron’s swift dispactch of Protectobot Blades and they clamber to the surface to be confronted with yet mechanical monster – Grimlock in T-Rex mode and flanked by the formidable looking Centurion.

Grimlock has a low opinion of humans at this point in the story and fighting side by side with Action Force will prompt him into a grudging respect. Whether he’s aware that Centurion is controlled remotely by Professor Morris, a human, is unclear – and certainly Centurion gives no indication that he’s anything other than a non-transforming mechanoid allied to the Dinobot cause. Suddenly Megatron breaks free and he’s soon launching himself at Grimlock. It’s good to see the new Autobot leader cutting it up rough with the erstwhile Decepticon leader, a right of passage I’d say – and he’s holding his own just about.

Scarlett fears the battle could destroy the whole of Dockside, which I think was still to be redeveloped at that stage. Flint summons Dragonfly helicopters and the Mauler tanks for a bit of needed toy product placement but also to show that Action Force has heavy artillery at its disposal. Wild Bill commands the fleet to open fire on Megatron who reels in pain. He curses the fleshlings and promptly unleashes a fusion cannon blast, setting up a suitable cliff-hanger as Wild Bill’s rotors are disintegrated and he’s plummeting to earth!

Part 3 – Blades leaps from the Thames and lands on the pier. It’s a great couple of panels from Geoff. The Protectobot is no fan of getting wet but unfortunately a trip through the river was required in order for him to escape from the underground tunnels. Cue a quick recap of his encounter with Action Force and getting blasted by a mystery Decepticon. Blades climbs to the surface to witness a scene of carnage: Grimlock and Megatron in battle and Centurion running to catch the falling chopper of Wild Bill.

Blades takes to the air, just as Bill bails out and the Autobot catches him mid-air. Flint, however, thinks his friend perished in the fireball that results from the crashed helicopter and Scarlett has to hold him back from running into the flames. Emotion gets the better of Flint and he orders the Mauler tanks move in and hit Megatron with everything they’ve got.

Wild Bill arrives with Blades, who seem to have become immediate friends. He warns Flint that they call off the maulers fast. All they’ll do is succeed in making the already demented Megatron even more mad!

Sure enough, the cover for Part 4 depicts the giant hand of Megatron crushing a Mauler. The instalment switches perspectives between the key characters, starting with Megatron who remembers the satisfying feeling of tearing a foe limb from limb. It’s how he earned his justified rep as the most feared Decepticon of all. Now, however, he’s left to pull apart human tanks and propel one – on fire – at Action Force.

Flint remembers allowing emotion to cloud his judgement, with the Maulers paying the price. Whether the crews lost their lives is unclear. He’s at a loss to work out what to do next to stop Megatron and even Blades and Centurion seem powerless, while Grimlock is unconscious, having taken a beating from Megatron.
Centurion remembers his previous battle with Megatron stateside where he’d been properly roughed up, and punched through a building no less! He’s been beaten again now and even saving the life of Wild Bill had proved beyond him. Perhaps Wheeljack had been right to call him an ‘ancient relic’, he thinks (even though he was only constructed a year earlier right?).

Grimlock rallies and remembers… a time not long ago when he’d have happily left humans to their fate. Action Force has given him cause to reconsider his opinion of mankind as weak, helpless and undeserving. In fact their interventions against Megatron may well of saved the Autobot leader’s life and Grimlock does not take such debts lightly. With savage fury he renews his attack, charging into Megatron’s back and clamping his powerful jaws on Decepticon’s fusion cannon, snatching it away from the Decepticon. The pair of them battle through a fence into a gas works plant… I think we can see where this is going to end up.

Lastly, Wild Bill remembers… a mission to South East Asia on a last-ditch rescue mission. They’d rescued six men and Bill was prevented from going back for the seventh by his commanding officer. It’s an interesting backstory for the man from Hull, North East England!! Now Flint gives the order to blow the gas tanks, sacrificing Grimlock to take out Megatron. Flint can’t help remembering about that seventh man!

Part 5 sees the story racing towards an explosive finale. It’s been action packed so far, if perhaps a little too drawn out over five weeks. This would have made a good two part story over the standard 11 pages per issue I think.

It’s not stated who drew the cover for Action Force #27 but it’s a nice one of Blades and a rare cover appearance for him. I can’t think of another time outside of Ancient Relics where he appeared solo on a cover. More AF product placement as the sky strikers jets zoom dip beneath the clouds over London. Wild Bill continues to protests to Flint about taking out Grimlock along with Megatron. It’s the sort of tough call that a leader has to make and Flint proves his mettle here. Centurion, meanwhile, seems frozen to the spot, paralysed with indecision or fear. Wild Bill and Blades figure they can’t count on him and set off to help Grimlock alone. But then Centurion has a plan.

It involves Blades flying Centurion in and allowing him to drop-kick Megatron and get off a few punches. The distraction allows Blades to drag Grimlock clear as the sky strikers unleash their deadly missile payload. Centurion grins and moments later a gigantic explosion engulfs them. Flint and Wild Bill catch sight of what looks like the two robots falling out of the conflagration and into the Thames – but Flint refuses to believe anything could have survived it. That’s likely to be a lot of Londoners without a gas supply for a while!
Later Blades, Flint and Wild Bill gather at the water’s edge, with Blades paying tribute to Centurion’s remarkable sacrifice. Rather than an ancient relic, Flint describes him better as an old soldier and as such Action Force salutes him.

So ends the first of many Transformers/GI Joe crossovers and this is one of the best ones I reckon. The characters are likeable, particularly Flint, who is in the Optimus Prime or Autobot leader mould and the two franchises fit together rather well with each getting roughly equal airtime. Some may lament the absence of Cobra but Megatron is more than enough for all of them to handle and certainly would not have needed the help. This will be the last we’ll see of Megatron and Centurion for a while until they are fished out of the Thames by none other than Richard Branson in the 1988 story Salvage!

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Ancient Relics

Transformers comic joins with Action Force as the elite counter-terror team investigates a deadly giant robot loose in the sewers under London.

Transformers crossovers. There’s sure been a lot of them over the years! It seems that every franchise from The Avengers to the Justice League, the crew of starship Enterprise, the X-Files, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and even My Little Pony, have encountered the Autobots and Decepticons on the printed page at some point. Most of these are throwaway fun and I tend to think best avoided.

A handful have been very good and integrated well into Transformers. I’m thinking here of the GI vs Transformers title that Dreamwave that was set in an alternative World War Two and the Marvel story Prisoner of War which saw Gears team up with Spider-Man to rescue Sparkplug Witwicky from Megatron’s clutches and is one of my favourites. In more recent years IDW attempted to forge an shared Hasbro universe which included having the transforming from its MASK reboot being made possible by plundered Cybertron tech. And even Death’s Head’s encounter with Doctor Who in the 1988 Marvel UK story Crossroads of Time counts, I would argue, as a crossover with the Transformers universe.

The point is that there have been many, many attempts at crossovers and most have never warranted more than a one off novelty. GI Joe (Action Force as they were known in the UK) is more enduring and has spawned crossovers via a number of comics publishers over the years, but it started with Marvel in the 1980s. In the US there was a four issue mini-series. A piss poor tale that was thankfully ignored by the UK continuity, though later reprinted as a back-up strip when material ran short in the late 200s but on the understanding that it was not part of the regular continuity.

That uninspiring US mini-series in 1987 set-up the destruction of Bumblebee and his rebirth as Goldbug and meant Simon Furman had to write an alternative for the UK comic, which was that Death’s Head destroyed Bumblebee and fellow time-traveller Wreck-Gar reconstructed him (events from the Wanted Galvatron saga). This was necessary to explain why Goldbug would appear in the comic going forwards. And whereas I suspect the US crossover was motivated by the desire on Hasbro’s part to shift toy product, for Marvel UK crossover between its flagship weekly title Transformers, and the still fledgling Action Force title, was in the hopes of generating more readers for the latter. It didn’t work as ultimately AF folded in 1988 and was absorbed into Transformers as the back-up strip.

So it was that, just as the Blaster/Goldbug/Scraplets story was getting interesting, the UK comic hit pause and whisked off to London for a one-week interlude (in issue #125) to kick off the Ancient Relics crossover story, from Simon Furman and with art by Geoff Senior, that would continue into #24-27 of Action Force. Young collectors would need to fund two comics for the month that followed, and obviously Marvel hoped it would be for longer after that. In my case, I was happy to collect both Transformers and Thundercats but Action Force never appealed that strongly.

In the streets under the Capital is a network of undiscovered Roman tunnels – that is undiscovered until recently. Susan Hoffman – a character modelled on the Bangles singer Sussanna Hoffs – and her three companions are hoping to uncover fascinating relics for their heritage society. Their flashlight catches a glimpse of something metallic; not a building as first thought but a battle-damaged midrift. Next their torches illuminate a terrifying and deformed, though recognisable, robot face! A huge fist punches the wall causing the ceiling to collapse as the humans run for their lives. Hoffman escapes the falling debris – just! Her companions are buried. Had this been the US comic the whole party would have survived but the Marvel UK comic tended to have a grittier ‘2000AD’ edge, as Simon Furman has said.

Across the pond in Oregon USA, Autobot commander Grimlock is not a happy bunny (or T-Rex). He called a meeting of all available warriors and nobody turned up! He strides into Wheeljack’s workshop in the Ark where the engineer is just completing repairs to Centurion (previously ripped to bits by Galvatron). Senior’s Grimlock is twice the size of Wheeljack which may not be consistent with past appearances but makes him appear more imposing and leaderly. While Centurion, who now sports a humanoid face as opposed rather than his much better and more distinctive visor, is bigger than both of them.

Bob Budiansky made Grimlock a tyrannical, petty, obsessive, narcissistic oaf of a leader in his stories – a kind of Donald Trump without the fanbase – but Furman to his credit presents a more mature and agreeable characterisation without undermining Bob. The crown has been ditched (thankfully) and Grimlock’s obsession with finding Blaster and Goldbug is more an insistence on not tolerating failure (or running away after failing).

Wheeljack is surprisingly flippant in his remarks to Grimlock, chastising his leader for tasking the Autobots with fools errands such as the Centurion repair. If Grimlock is as dictatorial and intolerant of dissent as Budiansky presents him, then Wheeljack would not have dared to speak so disrespectfully. It’s a nice nod to Wheeljack’s later role in the US stories as a sidekick whose working against Grimlock.

The mention of Blaster and Goldbug is a nice tie-in to last week’s story Crater Critters as well as upcoming stuff. It shows us how their split is being viewed in the Autobot camp and that Grimlock is not taking it lightly. This helps the build up for eventual reckoning in the US storyline. Centurion is presumably still being controlled by Professor Morris but there’s no mention of that. My guess is that Furman was thinking about the Action Force readership here and didn’t want to muddy the waters with complicated backstory at this point. So Centurion would appear to recent readers as just another Autobot.

Wheeljack brands him an ancient relic (harsh considering he was constructed a year previously) and taking up time that he could be spending repairing fallen colleagues. Centurion looks forlorn but says nothing. Grimlock points out that this mechanoid is a personal friend and of his and that should be enough to prioritise him.

Blades radios in that he has picked up a Transformer life signal beneath London and Grimlock is convinced it is his fugitives. Despite there being any number of Transformers it could be, it makes sense to him that the pair would want to put as much distance between him and them as possible. He orders Wheeljack to ready a shuttle and place Centurion aboard – hands-on leader Grimlock will go to London to settle business personally!

Blades transforms and lands in the Docklands. He too is deeply unhappy that Grimlock has got them all hunting for two fellow Autobots rather than fighting Decepticons. If he finds Blaster or Goldbug, should he bring them in or join them? It’s a fascinating dilemma, though interestingly not one he seems to grapple with in a few issues time when Blades and his fellow Protectobots do actually encounter Blaster.

Enter Action Force – Flint, Scarlet, Bazooka, Airtight and Barbecue – who are accompanying Susan Hoffman back to the Roman tunnels to find her mystery robot. Considering the traumatic experience that Susan has been through its to her credit that she would step foot in there again. And Scarlett is remarkably unsympathetic that this lady has lost her colleagues, even alleging that she made the whole story up. Flint does a good job of reigning in the fiery personalities and keeping them focused on the task.

A robotic shape emerges from the tunnels. It’s Blades, still wrestling with his loyalties, and stumbles into the line of fire as Action Force unleashes on him! Blades is struck by rockets and flame and becomes enraged, firing a burst of blinding light against the humans. Whatever Blades might say, it’s clear that Grimlock’s negative opinions of humans is rubbing off on him. Thankfully he comes to his senses before he can do any serious harm and he declares that he bears Action Force no malice.

However, the comotion has drawn out the mysterious transformer from earlier. A familiar looking cannon emerges from the shadows. The hated Autobot insignia is sighted, and the Transformer opens fire, striking Blades in the back and sending him crashing to the ground. Hoffman recognises the attacker as the one who killed her friends earlier – and as Flint scrambles to find out “what is it?” the answer comes back – Megatron!!
Phew! It’s fair to say that most fans would have sussed out who the Transformer was from the first couple of clues, in particularly the mangled face which was clearly the one Megatron was left with after his battle with the Predacons. At the end of Gone But Not Forgotten, a mentally ill Megatron blew up the Space Bridge with himself on it to escape from Optimus Prime, who he had convinced himself was coming to get him.

It appears that the Bridge transported Megatron to London, where he’s been lurking in the underground tunnels ever since. This is a huge risk that Simon Furman is taking in using Megatron. There is every chance that Bob Budiansky would have reintroduced Megatron at some point and had him reappear on Cybertron in direct continuation from the events on the Space Bridge. In depositing him to London for the Ancient Relics story, Furman achieves his aim of having a big nemesis for the Autobots and Action Force, but he will at some point have to put right the big continuity rift that he’s opening up.

Indeed, Megatron will return in the 1989 US story Back From The Dead, showing up in the Dead End of Cybertron after his accident. Furman ironically will be writing the US comic by then and will come up with the explanation that the Megatron in London was a duplicate created by Straxus in case his attempt to take over Megatron’s mind went awry. Okay, but that doesn’t explain why the London Megatron has the battle scars that the real Megatron picked up in his battle with the Predacons some time after the encounter with Straxus.

Up until this point Furman has been masterful in weaving original UK stories that seamlessly intergrate with the US master continuity but this will be a departure too far. Though it wouldn’t become evident for a couple of years yet. For now let’s kick back and enjoy Megatron versus Action Force and Grimlock as the story continues.

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Fallen Angel

Galvatron is back from the future… and this time he’s here to stay. That’s bad news for Centurion, the Cybertron seven, the Dinobots, Shockwave and pretty much everyone else!

Simon Furman’s masterpiece Target: 2006 unleashed the phenomenon that was Galvatron on to the unsuspecting readers of the UK Transformers comic. Without doubt this was the ultimate nemesis that either the Autobots or the Decepticons for that matter had faced; a more cunning, more powerful and more indestructible version of Megatron. Galvatron was the great disruptor that shook up both Autobot and Decepticon camps, even forcing them into an unlikely alliance with one another.

The trouble is, when you establish a big bad adversary such as this you can’t feature them too often or they start to lose their shock value and potency (think The Borg on Star Trek). So, I must confess to feeling a certain trepidation when I saw Galvatron on the cover of the Christmas edition (Transformers #95) and learned of his impending return in issue #101. Here we are in January 1987, just three months / thirteen issues after the conclusion of Target: 2006 and Galvatron is back. I’m sure that many readers will have been ecstatic but for me it felt a little too soon.

So, what’s going on? My take on it is that Transformers has just notched up its centenary issue and Simon Furman is looking ahead to the next hundred and thinking of how he can keep up the momentum and up the ante. One idea he has come up with it is to reintroduce Galvatron but this time as a regular recurring character and in Fallen Angel he’s pitting the fugitive future Decepticon leader against one of the readership’s (and Furman’s) favourite teams, the Dinobots!

On paper it’s a good idea (and yes, I realise comics are printed on paper) but in practice the Dinobots have been royally stuffed by Megatron at every encounter, so can they really expect to prevail against his more powerful future incarnation? Well, no and yes, as we find out in the story.

It begins with Skids and the ‘Cybertron seven’ – Blaster, Perceptor, Cosmos, Seaspray, Beachcomber, Warpath and Powerglide – walking leisurely towards the sanctuary of the Ark following their release by Circuit Breaker. This is odd for a couple of reasons, first because several of them including Skids have vehicle modes and are capable of transporting the whole group, and second the headquarters of their former captors RAAT was in New Jersey on the East Coast, whereas the Ark is on the West Coast – that is a long way to travel on foot, even for a giant robot.

The reason for the walking is quickly apparent. It means Skids is in robot mode and we’re able to see him engulfed by the familiar dark antimatter and vanish, heralding an arrival from the future. As we know from Target: 2006 when one Transformer arrives from the future, they clear a space for themselves by mass-displaying a present-day Transformer into the Limbo dimension. Poor Skids!

Furman would have had to be confident that his US writer counterpart Bob Budiansky was not planning to use Skids again in a major way, otherwise it would have created a very tricky problem plot wise.

And so, the way is clear for Galvatron’s return to the Earth of the 1980s. He materialises above the planet and falls to the surface in one huge fireball. This attracts the attention of the mute mechanoid Centurion, who unbeknownst to his new comrades the Dinobots is controlled by Professor Morris, the scientist who once took over the mind of Swoop. Being a man of science, he is drawn by the unknown and approaches the impact crater. A hand reaches out and in dramatic fashion seizes Centurion’s wrist!

Galvatron emerges, looking utterly crazed in a fantastic splash panel by Geoff Senior and tears poor Centurion to bits mistaking him for Rodimus Prime! When Galvatron’s rage subsides, he remembers being thrown out of Unicron into space by Rodimus (at the end of Transformers the Movie) and using his time jump trigger to transport him back to the past. The planet fall disorientated him, much to the misfortune of Centurion. Not that Galvatron is particularly remorseful.

Another robotic hand finds the head of Centurion and clenches a fist. We don’t see who it is but its fair to conclude its one of the Dinobots.

Meanwhile, Perceptor in giant microscope/cannon mode is scanning for a Transformer life sign they have detected – trouble is that it’s not Skids, it’s Galvatron. Not recognising him but not wanting to get into a fight, Perceptor and Warpath fire a couple of warning shots across his bows. Galvatron responds by transforming into cannon mode and blasting the pair of them skywards! The explosion is sufficient to get the attention of Shockwave, over at the Decepticon coal mine base in Wyoming, who thinks Megatron may have returned to exact his revenge for the recent coup attempt involving the Predacons. He assembles his warriors to go and meet the threat.

Back at the main action, Blaster hits Galvatron with him high frequency sonics, causing his earlier madness to resurface! And the Dinobots to claim revenge for the death of their friend Centurion. As part one ends, the scene is set for a battle royal as the story continues in Transformers #102.

Following a recap from Blaster about their various misfortunes since arriving on Earth (having their heads put on a wall as hunting trophies of Circuit Breaker was a pretty major one) we see Galvatron lays into the Dinobots. He meets Grimlock’s brute force in kind and floors the Dinobot leader. Blaster, having not used sonic energy in previous stories now seems to be doing it all the time.

He transforms into his tape deck mode (now having an Earth mode rather than the Cybertron version we saw previously) and unleashes a further burst on Galvatron, who falls to his knees and throws a sword in Blaster’s direction (with deadly accuracy). Luckily for my favourite Autobot, he’s plucked out of harm’s way by one of my other favourites, Swoop. And in fact, Swoop is about to be a big player in this instalment of the story.

The Dinobots show good teamwork by flooring, trampling and fire roasting Galvatron.  But this is no ordinary opponent and he’s quickly back on his feet and laying waste to the Autobots. While flat on his back and dazed, Swoop is contacted by Centurion (or rather Professor Morris) via the mental link they share, which he’s conveniently just discovered.

Morris reveals himself and asks Swoop to trust him and work with him. If he takes control, they might stand a chance of saving the others. Swoop is understandably reluctant but agrees. He attacks Galvatron from the air, pecking frantically at the Decepticon’s face. And salvation arrives in the form of Shockwave and his Decepticons who conclude that Galvatron is the bigger threat and turn their fire on him. Though Galvatron would gladly like to claim the Decepticon leadership he decides it is best to flee and plan for his conquest, rather than being forced to destroy his future troops. So, off he goes…

And Shockwave is off too. He concludes that further action against the Dinobots would also be a waste of resources, and he has bigger fish to fry in the shape of Galvatron. Of course, he has Swoop with an unsettling thought: when Galvatron returns the Dinobots are likely to be his first target!

Some closing thoughts:

Just how much punishment can Galvatron take? Not only has he fallen from orbit and landed intact, but he also is able to absorb attacks from the Autobots, Dinobots and Decepticons simultaneously. Professor Morris is officially one of the good guys now after finally atoning for his treatment of Swoop in The Icarus Theory. However, he’s now without a body to control and he only has a year’s supply of food and water in the Triple III vault where he’s holed up. It’s quite a predicament. Could he be the Fallen Angel of the title, or is this Galvatron? He’s certainly fallen from previous heights of his near omnipotence in 2006 but he’s hardly an angel, more like a devil.

While not one of my favourite stories, there are good moments. The scene with Galvatron destroying Centurion is awesome and gives you a real idea of the amount of raw unchecked power he has. Galvatron is incredibly dangerous and nobody apart from maybe Rodimus Prime can stop him! It’s good to have the Cybertron seven back, and Blaster is one of my favourites, but Furman’s Blaster feels like a different character to the one written so impeccably by US writer Bob Budiansky.

The roots of Shockwave’s long-running rivalry with Galvatron are planted here, when he sets his warriors on the future Decepticon. That’ll play out over the next one hundred or so issues.

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In The National Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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