Target: 2006 (Parts 1 & 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Devastation Derby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Next Best Thing to Being There

Creating the Constructions – the comic’s first combiner team makes their debut; the Decepticons attempt to ‘phone home’ and Huffer gets his moment in the spotlight. It’s all in this Bob Budiansky fan favourite from November 1985.

The Next Best Thing To Being There. It was a memorable title for sure, but if you’d asked 11-year-old me from 1985 what it meant I wouldn’t have had a clue. Years later as a married father of three in my mid-40s (who probably should know better than to still be obsessed with Transformers, but hey-ho) I can’t say I’m any the wiser. If it’s about being present at the birth of the Constructicons – the Decepticons’ newest warriors and the first combiner team to grace the pages of a Transformers comic – well we ARE there at the bedside, or factory floor in this case. So, my best guess is it refers in some way to contacting ‘home’ – the next best thing to actually being there. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. One thing I know is that this enigmatic title continues to confound me.

The story occupies issue #10 of the US Transformers comic and issues #35 and #36 of the UK weekly edition. It opens with the eagerly awaited return of Gabe and Ferdy! Who? You ask. Why, the moustached pair of halfwits who carried Soundwave through security and into Blackrock’s aerospace planet some weeks ago. They and their fellow workers have now been reduced to slave labour, but at least they get a ringside seat for a momentous occasion – the first Transformers born on Earth.

Ever since Shockwave took Optimus Prime’s head hostage, he’s been threatening to plunder the Creation Matrix nested in the great Autobot’s mind to create a new generation of Decepticon warriors. Finally, that plot is coming to fruition – six brain modules have been prepared and are finally ready to be fused into robotic bodies. Shockwave’s narrative is an attempt to give it a respectable build-up but it comes off like the nonsensical technobabble we would get used to hearing from Star Trek engineers. Shockwave’s genuine bafflement at how Prime could stay leader of the Autobots for so long, with such a glaring weakness as caring about lesser beings, shows how they really are worlds apart.

Gabe and Ferdy, our baffled human bystanders provide the comedy element (complaining of singed facial hair) in what would otherwise be a Frankenstein moment, as the six purple and green distinctive robotic forms begin to come to life.

As a kid I was super excited for the debut of the Constructicons (even though I initially misread their name as Constructions). We’d glimpsed Longhaul in the previous comic (the next week feature) and I was blown away by this new character with his distinctly different green. Although Budiansky would later bemoan the constant pressure to introduce new characters (a result of Hasbro forever expanding the toy line) he did it very well, and by and large, as a reader, I was always thrilled to see new characters (with the possible exception of the Pretenders, who were just silly).

The Constructicons add another string to the Decepticon bow, as they can build literally anything required. For example the solar weapon in Target 2006 and the defences around the Decepticon coal mine base, both in later issues. Though, after this the team would largely fade into the background in the US stories and it will fall to the UK writers to give them more of a presence.

Who leads the team? We’re never quite sure, but Scavenger steps up to acknowledge Shockwave and receive their orders. He’s my favourite Constructicon based on the toy and his bio, but his motto, “everything is worth something, even me”, suggests a lack of confidence that you expect would preclude him from the team leadership.

Laserbeak paves the way for the Constructicons to depart on their first mission, but firing missiles at the army surrounding the plant. This provides a smoke cover and melts their tanks and machinery. This being a family friendly comic, no humans are killed in the making of that escape, but the military are really being shown up by the Decepticons.

Meanwhile, GB Blackrock gets a guided tour of the Ark from acting Autobot commander Prowl. We’re reminded about the deal agreed last issue by GB and Jazz. He’ll provide the Autobots with fuel in return for Autobot protection of his assets. The quest for a fuel source preoccupied but the Autobots and Decepticons in the early issues, so its good to see this resolved and not forgotten about. GB is awestruck by the Autobots’ advanced technology and his business mind is busy thinking about whether he could use it to gain a competitive edge in his business. He might sound like a bit of a bastard but to be fair he wouldn’t be a billionaire industrialist if he wasn’t someone who spots opportunities.

On learning that Optimus Prime is being held prisoner in the aerospace plant, Blackrock mentions that he bugged all the phones (to spy on his employees if he needs to – nice). That gives the Autobots an opportunity to listen in to Decepticon plans.

With Bumblebee spying on the plant, the Autobots are aware of the Constructicons departure and Prowl dispatches a group to intercept (including Huffer who could use some action to take his mind off things).

We’re then introduced to another of the oft-annoying human guest stars who Budiansky would introduce throughout his run. They’ll often provide some comedy relief or hold up a mirror to the Transformers alien natures. Bomber Bill – driver of a large red truck he calls Bessie – looks like a bearded Hell’s Angel but he’s actually a big softy who delights in showing the waitress at a diner, the photos of his kids he carries in his wallet.

We also meet Shockwave’s next project – Jetfire. This enormous jet is still in production but will shortly be ready to be infused with life. Of course, Prime no longer has the Matrix and thus he knows his usefulness will soon be at an end – but denying Shockwave the Matrix is as worthy a victory he thinks. Sparkplug Witwicky is finally home from hospital and pleasantly surprised to discover his son, Buster, has been able to repair all the cars in the garage. Readers know the truth, that its thanks to Buster now possessing Matrix superpowers.

Another Robot War recap preludes the second half of the story. As well as being an enjoyable read, it is probably useful and necessary to bring the comic’s newer readers up to date. Interestingly, there would only be three of these features with the final one appearing in issue #63.

In the first part we were introduced to Bomber Bill and his longing to go home, which echoed Huffer’s earlier sentiments. The two are clearly destined to cross paths and it is the Constructicons who provide the catalyst. Bill feels the diner shake as the Decepticon team scoops up vehicles and the roof of the diner itself, to be used as raw materials.

Everyone flees but Bomber Bill pursues on foot (his beloved six-wheeler Bessie having been stolen too). He flags down Huffer and, as always happens when someone meets an Autobot, is shocked to find nobody driving. Nel Yomtov has made a mess of colouring the Autobot convoy. Ironhide is coloured as Ratchet, Bluestreak (leading the mission) is depicted in Jazz’s colours and thereafter coloured to look like Prowl. Later Ironhide is coloured green and purple, which really smacks of someone not paying attention.

Unbeknown to readers, Soundwave has tagged along with the Constructicons. As they pull up alongside an enormous satellite dish, he transforms, erects a disruptive field and sets the Constructicons to work to enhance and amplify the equipment, before plugging himself in. The plan is to transmit a message to Cybertron!

The Autobots arrive and Soundwave insists the scrambler must be defended – he gives the order for the Constructicons to combine. Six Decepticons merge to become one ‘terrifying titan’ – Devastator! Normally this would have been a huge, exciting twist, but readers will have known what was coming thanks to the cover, but it’s cool nevertheless. The combination sequence feels a bit wasted though, having been covered in a single panel. We soon learn that for all of his size and power, Devastator is slow and clunky (the fusing of six minds is clearly an imperfect science) and as such he struggles to respond to Soundwave’s instructions.

Huffer has a perfect opportunity to unplug Soundwave before he can send the transmission, but not wanting to lose an opportunity to re-establish contact with Cybertron, he hesitates. When he hears Ironhide’s warning that the Decepticons will be able to bring an army to Earth, he tries to act but by then it’s too late. Huffer is downed by Devastator, Bomber Bill, having found his truck, drives it at Soundwave, and Huffer returns the favour by saving him. Their message sent, Soundwave and the Constructions depart rather than continue a fight they’ve already won.

Huffer asks the forgiveness of his comrades and gets some reassurance from his new pal Bomber Bill. The difference is that Bill can now go home but Huffer can’t.

Back at the aerospace plant, the Autobot eavesdropping device is functioning and Prowl overhears Shockwave bemoaning Prime’s failure to breathe life into Jetfire – if he no longer has the Matrix then there is no longer a logical reason to keep him alive. Suspense is building for the finale of this saga in four issues time.

In summary, it’s respectable enough debut for the Constructicons. We may not have a sense of them as individual personalities yet, but if the purpose was to showcase a new toy line and get kids excited enough to buy them then it will have achieved its purpose. Of course, sadly the toys will not be available in the UK. Devastator proved somewhat inept in battle due to his slowness – a case of brawn not brains.

Soundwave (coloured purple throughout) succeeds in sending a message to Cybertron which will have consequences in later issues. Re-establishing contact with Cybertron will also provide a means for Budiansky to introduce new characters without the need for gimmicks.

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