Vicious Circle!

Ultra Magnus must make one final attempt to stop his arch nemesis Galvatron from harnessing the power of a live volcano – but will it be end of one or both them?

The Wanted Galvatron saga ran for eight weeks from May to July 1987 (through issues #113-120). After a strong start, picking up threads left dangling from Transformers The Movie and introducing us to the badass space mercenary Death’s Head (a character who would go on to command his own monthly Marvel comic) the story switched to Earth’s past for a long and drawn-out battle with Galvatron that feel overly padded, despite moments of quality.

By issue #120 I was ready for some closure. I would have been perfectly content for Galvatron to have been whisked away on Wreck-Gar’s time vortex but it was not to be. He had successfully uncoupled himself from the time-jump trigger and was able to remain in 1987, with only Goldbug left to stop him. It was quite a cliff-hanger and like most readers I was curious as to how the mini-Autobot would be able to survive the predicament – but we knew he would survive as he starred in the issue #121 story Mechanical Difficulties.

The answers and the resolution to Wanted Galvatron (finally) would be found in the pages of the 1987 Transformers Annual, courtesy of a further 11-page story Vicious Circle (the story I’m reviewing here). At the time the comic cost a very reasonable 32p and the annual was £3.75 so some young fans may have been peeved at a further raid on their piggy bank (or an expense for mum and dad) but no big deal for me as I would have bought the book come hell or high water. I suppose you can’t fault Marvel on a clever marketing ploy.

This final instalment is penned by Simon Furman (who else) with art from regular Jeff Anderson. It begins with Ultra Magnus clings to inside of Mount Verona. He had been chucked into the volcano by Galvatron at the end of issue #119 and the encounter looked pretty fatal at the time. However, no-one would seriously have thought Magnus was gone for good and sure enough, here he is clawing his way out (saved by a convenient ledge apparently). Magnus notes via the narration that it is as if he and Galvatron are trapped in a ‘vicious circle’ that can only end with one of their deaths… prophetic words.

Several panels are given over to a recap of previous events, which again feels like padding but is justified in this case as it’ll have been three months or so between issue #120 and the annual’s release, longer if kids got the book for Christmas, and maybe they missed the weekly issues anyway. Magnus provides the recap of events that led to him being unceremoniously dumped into the volcano by Galvatron. Once again the luck of the gods had saved him from death. A familiar yellow hand helps him the final way to the surface… it is Goldbug looking very much alive considering where the story left off.

Goldbug updates Magnus on the dire situation. The future Autobots are gone and only the two of them are left to try to prevent Galvatron’s mad plan to erupt Mount Verona and destroy most of the US West Coast. Why they don’t radio the Ark for reinforcements I’m not sure? Now would be a good time particularly as Magnus has run out of fight and cannot summon the strength for yet another confrontation with Galvatron. Goldbug calls the Autobots’ greatest warrior ‘pathetic’ and vows to fight on alone. Magnus can only mumble apologies.

Goldbug finds Galvatron surveying the fiery volcano below and awaiting the eruption that will power him up to god-like levels. Goldbug enters the siphon’s control room and fires off a few rounds at Galvatron before getting dropped by a single blast from the Decepticon’s particle cannon. Previously Galvatron had spared Goldbug as he deemed him insignificant and not worth the effort of killing him, but now he’s earned a painful demise.

As Galvatron warms up for a fatal blast he hears the familiar voice of Ultra Magnus and he cannot believe that his Autobot rival has survived yet again. What must he do to destroy this pest? Galvatron pounds Magnus with his fists. Magnus fights back. He lifts a huge piece of machinery like a boulder to squash Magnus but Magnus rugby tackles Galvatron. He gets thrown through a window but again clings to a rail rather than fall into the pit.

As Goldbug comes to help he spots that the siphon has become damaged in the battle. With it malfunctioning there will be nothing to contain the eruption and all of them will be destroyed! Magnus orders Goldbug to get clear and moments later there is a huge explosion. Thankfully and ironically the structure at the mouth of the volcano contains the worst of the eruption. It is hours before the lava cools sufficiently for Goldbug to return to take a look. There is no sign of Magnus or Galvatron, it appears their circle is finally broken.

In summary, Vicious Circle makes the most of its limited cast of three and actually provides a satisfying conclusion (as well as a decent battle between Ultra Magnus and Galvatron, two hot properties in the toy range at the time). Magnus’ psychological dilemma was not unexpected – it’s a narrative that Furman often employs to have a character overcome their self doubts. Goldbug plays the role of Magnus’ conscience and sets the example of courage which outstrips his diminutive form. The menace was resolved simply in the end by the siphon exploding and bury both the leaders under molten ash. If only Rodimus and company had thought of that four of five issues back instead of messing about? An air strike from Aerialbots might have actually saved everyone a lot of bother.

Anyone who doubts it will be the last we see of Magnus or Galvatron has only to turn to page 44 of the Annual for the story Ark Duty which features a very much alive Magnus. In fact both characters will return before the year is out, in the 1987 story Ladies’ Night.

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Hunters

Galvatron has escaped to Earth’s past where he’s working on a plan to absorb the raw power of a live volcano – that is if Rodimus Prime or the bounty hunter Death’s Head can stop him first!

The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but then the pace seemed to fall off a cliff in the sequel instalment Burning Sky (at least in the opening part) before recovering a bit by the end. Now as the third segment Hunters gets under way, the reappearance of the badass bounty hunter Death’s Head – an exciting new character and show stealer – things look to be getting back on track.

The cover for Transformers #117, dated June 1987, carries an impressive wild west themed image featuring Rodimus, Galvatron and Death’s Head as ‘The Good, the Mad and the Ugly’ and drawn by the inimitable Geoff Senior. The story begins with Death’s Head at an uninhabited island off the Florida Keys, which as well all know is home to this era’s Decepticons – courtesy of a vast undersea base beneath the island. Death’s Head, narrating via a mission log entry, reveals that the history tapes had placed the base at a coal mine in eastern Wyoming and consequently he’d wasted valuable time on a wild goose chase.

It’s curious that Death’s Head feels under pressure to track down Galvatron before a rival does. No doubt he operates in that sort of cut throat competitive environment usually, however any would be rival who is capable of time travel could simply jump to the previous month and have a clear crack at apprehending Galvatron, it wouldn’t matter how swiftly Death’s Head moves. And as I’ve mentioned before, travelling to 1987 should mean Galvatron is around in 2007 too, as he’d live out the intervening years.

Death’s Head swaps his right hand for an axe before launching himself at Soundwave, who is taking a nice stroll on the beach (the perks of having a tropical island base!). He slices and disables Soundwave’s concussion blaster before punching and booting the Decepticon in the chest plate, leaving an almighty dent. Soundwave’s mind reading abilities allow him to quickly learn the intentions of his attacker, its a very useful ability, and whilst the Decepticons would like to see Galvatron neutralised there’s no reason why they should assist “space scum” such as Death’s Head. He ejects Laserbeak to counter attack, but the birdlike Decepticon is quickly brought down by Death’s Head’s splinter missile. Soundwave has no alternative but to talk.

Elsewhere, somebody has tracked down Galvatron! It’s Rodimus Prime, who issued the original bounty. He’s watching Galvatron through binoculars while updating Cindy on events so far. Most of it goes over her head; her only concern is the welfare of her friend Ultra Magnus who appears to be at Galvatron’s mercy up at the volcano mouth. Although Rodimus defeated Galvatron once, he’s not sure if he could do it again, even with Kup and Blurr to back him up. This is disappointing as Galvatron being more powerful than any adversary is starting to become cliche and it would be good for at least one Autobot to be his equal. A couple of explanations exist. First, Rodimus may have been at peak strength in the Movie having just infused by Matrix energy, and Galvatron has given himself a power up courtesy of his siphon.

At Mount Verona’s summit, yards from a pool of molten lava, Galvatron boasts of absorbing the volcano energy to be a living god. He could conquer galaxies!! Fair enough, but he’s already the most powerful Decepticon on Earth in this era, so why not take over the leadership if the Decepticons that are available to him, especially since he’s decided to stay in the 1980s. Harnessing a volcano and running the risk of getting consumed by the eruption seems like a lot of unnecessary pissing about to me, and not to mention the materials and painstaking work involved in building the siphon. But I suppose the story would be very different if Galvatron had simply gone to Decepticon HQ and busted a few heads.

A pathetic half-attempt at a fightback by the weary Magnus is quickly put down by Galvatron, who hauls his foe overhead and prepares to cast him into the lava. He turns to see Rodimus Prime charging up the side of the mountain, deciding in an instant to use Magnus as a flying object to take down Kup and Blurr. It likes like a showdown between Rodimus and his arch foe, which is perhaps as it should be… but suddenly Death’s Head appears telling Prime to stand aside and let him collect the bounty.

In summary, an enjoyable instalment capped off by the entertaining battle between Death’s Head and Soundwave. On the letters page Grimlock responds to one of the many letters he’s had from kids wondering how Prime can be killed off when he’s alive for the Transformers Movie set in 2005/6, by suggesting that Prime’s death may not be as cut and dried as it seems. Ethan Zachary had saved Prime to a floppy disk and this would seem to be a way back for the Autobot leader.

And so to the second part of Hunters, drawn by Jeff Anderson, which sees Wreck-Gar kneeling over the wreckage of Bumblebee and referring to 1980s TV show Jim’ll fix it. Awkwardly, though writer Simon Furman couldn’t have known at the time, the host of this BBC children’s programme, Jimmy Saville, would turn out to be one of the UK’s most notorious sex offenders and paedophiles in revelations that emerged after his death. Consequently this panel is quite cringe-worthy to read these days.

Meanwhile at Mount Verona, Rodimus rather inexplicably decides to ignore Galvatron and wind-up the thin-skinned Death’s Head by telling him he’s insane. It’s a stupid move because Prime might as well enlist the help of Death’s Head as a bit of support in bringing down Galvatron. It’s not like they are in the middle of a human settlement where there’s the prospect of collateral damage, so the worst that can happen is he’ll end up having to part with 10,000 Shanix for Death’s Head’s help.

Instead the pair have an argument about whether the contract is still valid, while Galvatron grows ever more indignant at being the object of haggling. He blasts Death’s Head in the shoulder, wounding him and forcing his retreat, before scrapping with Rodimus.

Cindy succeeds in waking up Ultra Magnus who decides to help by shooting at Galvatron’s power siphon. This creates a distraction enough for Rodimus to transform and escape.

Meanwhile, Wreck Gar has completed his repairs. Bumblebee is no more and in his place stands the new and improved Goldbug! He actually looks mighty impressive. It’s Anderson’s best panel in the issue. In the US, a Transformers/GI Joe mini-series (which is truly terrible and thankfully wasn’t part of the UK continuity) resulted in Bumblebee being blown up by the Joes and rebuilt as Goldbug and so Furman needed to explain why Bee would appear in the next US material as Goldbug so this has had to be woven into the Galvatron saga.

Aside from the Goldbug debut, it’s a pretty pedestrian issue. The confrontation between Galvatron and Rodimus is neither earth shattering nor particularly conclusive and ends with all parties buggering off to regroup and plan their next move. There would be another two regular issues and an 11 page story in that year’s annual to conclude the saga and it will start to drag. It’s a least a couple of issues too long unfortunately.

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Wanted Galvatron!

Marvel UK goes ‘back to the future’ with a Transformers the Movie sequel featuring the eagerly awaited debut of Rodimus Prime and surprise show-stealer in the form of a robotic bounty hunter known as Death’s Head

After Transformers the Movie the character that the fans were desperate to read about was without doubt Rodimus Prime. And amazingly it was the UK comic and not its wider circulated US counterpart that featured him first! Perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising really, as the US book pretty much ignored the Movie as it did with the cartoons. Here in the UK however, the film was well and truly embraced as part of the continuity. In fact it was the movie inspired saga of Target: 2006 which had given the book (and writer Simon Furman) their biggest success to date. So, it was inevitable that Furman and the team would wish to return to the fertile territory of the post Movie era for another epic.

In my opinion Wanted Galvatron! is not in the same league as Target: 2006 and it loses its way a bit towards the end, but by god it makes a fantastic start, as we see in issue #113 which sets the scene and #114 where we meet Rodimus for real.

The first sight of the future Autobot leader is the fantastic and super-impactful cover by Geoff Senior with of Rodimus calling for the head of Galvatron. In fact Geoff is on art duties for the story too and at top of his game here. I understand he was responsible for designing the aforementioned Death’s Head and the character looks amazing and totally suits the dialogue and the character that Furman has written. It’s not surprising therefore that Death’s Head would go on to have his own monthly Marvel comic within a couple of years of this impressive debut.

Rodimus wants Galvatron’s head and this is exactly what readers see on the opening page, courtesy of a wild west style wanted poster. This sets the tone and the scene really nicely as readers are deposited into a frontier style saloon on the robot world of Elpasos. The year is 2007 and as the poster suggests, Rodimus Prime is the new sherif and Galvatron the outlaw. A reward of 10,000 Shanix is offered and Death’s Head is intent on claiming it. He asks a ridiculously scrawny robotic bar-keep to fill him in on the details.

After a particularly hilarious moment where the barkeep gets throttled for referring to Death’s Head as “bounty hunter” – a term he is extremely touchy about (he prefers ‘freelance peacekeeping agent’) which is recurring gag and part of the entertainment – the wimpy robot gives a recap of the now familiar events at the end of the movie. Unicron had launched an assault on the Transformers homeworld, he tells Death’s Head. And inside Unicron his servant Galvatron fought with the Autobot warrior Hot Rod. By rights Hot Rod should have perished but the Matrix was his saviour – it transformed, enlarged and enhanced him into Rodimus Prime, who threw Galvatron into space before unleashing the full power of the Matrix to destroy Unicron.

Although these scenes are all very well known to fans, it’s still nice to see Senior’s interpretation and in particular the transfiguration of Hot Rod into Rodimus. And then we’re into new and exciting sequel territory as we’re told, again courtesy of the barkeep (who for a non-Transformer is very well informed about events on Cybertron) that Rodimus had become obsessed with locating and neutralising Galvatron and had personally led the search for many fruitless months. In his absence, Shockwave had regrouped the Decepticons on Cybertron and renewed the age-old civil war. Rodimus had no choice but to break off the search and return home, so he issued the bounty to get others to finish the job.

Death’s Head goes to leave without settling the tab for the three quarts of oil he downed and the weedy barkeep pulls out a huge gun that is twice the size of him! Death’s Head tosses a credit card in his direction and the barkeep’s eyes extend on stalks to examine it closely – oops its a blank! Before he object, Death’s Head pummels his face into the bar leaving the poor mechanoid battered and broken and mumbling “Th-that’ll do nicely”. It’s a very funny scene and establishes Death’s Head as a truly magnificent bastard.

So far no-one has even come close to finding Galvatron but Death’s Head is bolder and more determined than most. He travels to Cybertron to confront Galvatron’s lieutenants Cyclonus and Scourge. We find the pair jetting above the Cybertron landscape complaining about the their new “freak” of a boss Shockwave and how they are looking forward to him getting his comeuppance once Galvatron returns. They transform and land in exactly the spot where Death’s Head is lying waiting for them (quite a coincidence).

He introduces himself and asks “heard of me, yes?” – and it seems his reputation has reached the Decepticons on Cybertron. A fire fight ensues but the mercenary is swift and deadly and dispatches Scourge with a blast to his face. Cyclonus returns fire and attempts to batter Death’s Head with a metal girder. Cyclonus is quickly subdued and Death’s reveals his neat trick of replacing his left hand with one of the weapon attachments he carries on his back, in this case a spiked ball. With Cyclonus at his mercy, the Decepticon has one chance to avoid death – to spill the beans. He reveals what he suspects, that Galvatron has fled into Earth’s past.

The first instalment ends with Death’s Head locating their time-jump equipment and vanishing into the time stream heading for 1987 and a showdown with Galvatron! Now here’s the interesting thing about Galvatron hiding in the past, it’s not as though they are separate places existing concurrently, one follows the other. So if Galvatron travels to 1987 it figures that he would still be around in 2007 only 20 years older, or he would have to die in the past to not still exist in the future, right?

Part two (issue #114) opens with a birds eye perspective of Rodimus Prime, Kup, Blurr and Wreck-Gar with missiles reigning down on their position. It’s another brilliantly drawn issue, this time by Will Simpson, another of my favourites. In fact I have a vague memory of Simon Furman appearing on weekend kids TV show with uncoloured version of this artwork talking about the comic. Sadly the clip doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

It is the year 2007 (which to us now seems the dim and distant past but back then felt futuristic and exciting) and after the flashbacks, we now see Rodimus in a live action situation. He’s out in the open, out numbered, and possibly out of luck! Wreck-gar, talking TV, declares there’ll be full reports in the ten o’clock bulletin. I can only imagine it must have been a tricky challenge for Furman to write dialogue for this character.

As fleet of Decepticon hunter planes drop their payload, seemingly consigning Kup and Blurr to unconsciousness. They transforms and close in on Prime. The cocky squadron leader can almost taste victory and wants to hear the Autobot leader beg. Instead, Rodimus gives the order to fire and Ultra Magnus and the others spring up and cut down the Decepticons comrades in a volley of laser beams. The squadron leader runs, trips and falls at Prime’s feet. He begs for mercy in a scene which echoes Prime and Megatron’s battle at Autobot City and ends with Rodimus, a cold-steel in his eyes, opening fire.

Later, he snaps at Kup for declaring that they “did good”. True, Decepticons are the lowest of the low, but they were sentient beings whose lives they’ve been forced to end. Prime is very much in the mould of his predecessor Optimus in terms of angst and sentiment and he hates the way that fate has forced him to shoulder the burden of leadership and to compromise his principles. I’m not sure that Hot Rod would have been quite so burdened by having to kill the enemy and I’m guess that Rodimus may well have something of the essence of Optimus about him. After all it was the voice of Optimus who he heard as he was created telling him to arise, right?

Kup provides the wise counsel to the young leader. The only way Shockwave will win is if the Autobots doubt themselves he says. Then Rodimus is visited by their ‘Decepticon’ spy Nautilus (named after Captain Nemo’s ship perhaps?) who has broken cover early to deliver some very important information: he has learned the location of Galvatron! He ran into Cyclonus and Scourge after their bruising encounter with Death’s Head and amazingly got them to spill the beans. Oddly, considering they had to have the same information beaten out of them by Death’s Head, they were willing to tell Nautilus about their earlier time-jump into Earth’s past and that Death’s Head had most likely followed. Rodimus is aghast, realising he’s unwittingly set in motion a confrontation between the most powerful Decepticon of all and the fearsome Death’s Head in Earth’s past. This knowledge only seems to add to the pressure on the young leader’s shoulders.

Our scene shifts to 1987 Earth where Bumblebee is kneeling over a patch of scorched ground where First Aid had recently stood. The medic’s disappearance means that a time traveller has arrived from the future, and that probably means trouble. How right he is. Death’s Head materialises at the scene (unusual for a time jump) and decides to make sure Bumblebee cannot raise the alarm about his arrival, by blowing the mini-Autobot to pieces! Whoa!

Whilst a similar demise was enough to finish Optimus Prime for good, the fans will have been aware of the Goldbug toy recently released as part of the new Throttlebots team from Hasbro. A few may even have known of the recent TFs vs GI Joe mini-series stateside which saw Bumblebee blown up by the Joes and rebuilt (by Ratchet) as Goldbug. So the expectation here will be that Bumblebee will be similarly rebuilt. Since that US crossover was decidedly second rate it’s as well that we’re getting the alternate version. Plus, its worth noting that Bumblebee is among the Autobots who open fire at Rodimus’ order at the start of the issue, so he ought to be alive in 2007 unless Death’s Head has changed history irrevocably?!

All in all a very strong start to the Wanted Galvatron! saga and the action now shifts back to 1987 Earth to catch up with Galvatron and our old friend Ultra Magnus.

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