The Cure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next story
Previous

Crater Critters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next story
Previous

Mechanical Difficulties

The Mechanic returns, more audacious than ever as he uses his stolen Autobot technology to power a one-man crime wave; can Blaster and Goldbug can stop him, and what punishment awaits them if they fail?

It’s July 1987 and the Wanted Galvatron saga has drawn to a close (albeit to be finally concluded in that year’s annual) and with the future Autobots and Death’s Head now departed its time for the comic to resume normal service. As previously mentioned, the Galvatron saga had felt over long so I was pleased to move past it and excited to see the latest imaginings from the furtive mind of US writer Bob Budiansky. His latest story Mechanical Difficulties is reprinted in UK issues #121 and #122.

Bob recently installed Grimlock as the new leader of the Autobots so we’re waiting to see how that is working out. And in the story before that he introduced readers to the Transformers’ latest human foe, The Mechanic. He’s an engineering genius and car thief who, on his debut, brazenly infiltrated the Ark and stole Autobot tech. Like Circuit Breaker and Professor Morris he suffers from being ever so slightly annoying. In Circuit Breaker’s case she’s constantly picking on Autobots over the real enemy, and The Mechanic is a cocky git who you want to see getting a good slap and locked up in a police cell. Sadly its not to be.

Bob must be pleased with the character as he brings him back for a second outing – along with sidekick Juan – so soon after his introduction. In the US its a matter of two issues later but in the UK some 10 weeks have passed. Just like Joey Slick (the down on his luck gangster who found himself in possession of Megatron) Nestor Forbes aka The Mechanic is able to use his brush with the Transformers to propel him into the big leagues.

Budiansky’s story, drawn as usual by Don Perlin, opens late night at Portland International Airport where the control tower personnel watch in amazement as a lone figure walks off with one of their huge radar dishes below. It’s The Mechanic using the stolen Power Booster Rod which has the ability to render even the most heavy equipment light as a feather. A truck then crashes through the perimeter fence, driven by his sidekick and the radar dish is placed in the back. Airport security show up but are stopped in their tracks by Ratchet’s former cryogenic spray and laser scalpel which The Mechanic wields as laser guns. The pair of crooks take off at speed – another successful operation.

Several miles away at a run down Industrial section of Portland, we find Goldbug parked up outside the Mechanic’s old garage headquarters. Blaster sits on his dashboard in cassette deck mode. The two Autobots have been waiting for days, under orders from Grimlock to recover the stolen equipment. As Blaster tunes into a rock station he catches the attention of two passing deadheads. One punk takes a crowbar to Goldbug’s passenger door, which the Autobot obligingly opens and then promptly slams shut. The pair are spooked and decide to just break the window with a brick – with Goldbug speeding forward a few metres to avoid contact. They thieves make a run for it, into the waiting arms of detectives Altman and Greco who are assigned to the Mechanic case.

What I thought was little more than a comedy moment has actually prompted Blaster and Goldbug to break off their surveillance and return to base. They find Grimlock trying on crowns (seriously?! This leadership business seems to have gone to his head). When he hears his warriors have come back empty handed Grimlock furiously crushes the crowns and questions why they didn’t simply destroy the humans that got in the way of the mission? So much for humility Grimlock seemed to have learned after the Trypticon incident. His behaviour and leadership style are a major red flag already and shows a staggering lack of awareness of Autobot values. It’s a quick way to lose the trust of the troops. Or perhaps Grimlock thinks the way to make his mark is with being tough and racking up successes?

At the Portland Police department, Detective Greco chats to his boss about the two punks he hauled in earlier and their story about a car that drove off by itself. Greco’s chief has heard about the giant robots can disguise as everyday vehicles and figures that they may be involved with the The Mechanic’s elevation from small time car thief to stealer or hi-tech equipment. They set a trap by leaking word of a high-tech computer coming in by road and the cops will be lying in wait. The important thing to remember is that if any robots show up, then they become the Prime target!

On the outskirts of Portland in an abandoned canning factory, the elusive Mechanic addresses one of Portland’s many gangsters over his new franchise. The customer Mr Bigalow seems unconvinced about the Mechanic’s car modifications, and at 50,000 dollars a time would rather just take his car and leave. Juan takes the car apart using robot arms and his boss throws Mr Bigalow and the remains of the vehicle out the front door and into the river using the Power Booster Rod – The Mechanic doesn’t like time wasters! Wheeljack is able to lock onto the rod’s signal and Blaster and Goldbug are once again dispatched. Grimlock warns them that failure will means much punishment!

The vehicle carrying the so-called super computer with its 256 megabyte capacity is forced to a halt by a tree laying across the road. Juan holds the driver and his friend up at gun point and The Mechanic steals the wonder computer. My first PC in 1989 had a 10MB hard drive so perhaps this one is impressive but I’m feeling underwhelmed.

The cops close in on one side and Blaster and Goldbug are on the other – The Mechanic appears to be trapped. However, the guy who ran away in a panic when he heard police sirens in the Ark, has been replaced by a far more cock-sure fellow who promptly uses the rod to hoist the fallen tree trunk and swing it into the two Autobots as though it were a baseball bat. They make off with the truck and its precious cargo, icing the road behind them to prevent the cops from following. Blaster raises his Electro Scrambler to stop the accelerating truck, but his aim is thrown as a police trooper blasts his arm with a rocket. The Mechanic would probably have been captured if not for the intervention of the police. Sheesh! Detective Greco get a lucky shot on Goldbug’s rear tire, forcing Blaster to repair this ‘flesh wound’ by fitting the spare (who knew Autobots carried spares?).

Later, at The Mechanic’s hideout, what appears to be every crime boss in the North West is assembled for a preview of his car upgrade service. Like every auto mechanic there’s a steep price to be paid; in this case it’s 50,000 dollars to drive off with a car kitted out with an array of firepower and armour. Outside, Goldbug leaves Blaster a distance from the building and goes ahead to spy on The Mechanic. Juan notices the gold beetle and figures it’s not the sort of car one of their wealthy clients would drive!

As police helicopters approach, the Autobots fear the officers will be easy prey for The Mechanic’s arsenal. Blaster transforms, revealing himself to the cops, and warns them of the trap they are walking into. Like Greco, he’s been given lousy orders from a superior but perhaps they can work together to stop the Mechanic.
So, as Goldbug enters the factory via a rear door and is seized by Juan’s production line machinery, Greco waltzes in carrying Blaster in cassette deck mode. He whips out his badge, and switching off the music is the signal for the cops to swarm the building. Blaster transforms and sprays the Mechanics modified cars with his Electro scrambler, causing the vehicles to turn on each other. With the crime bosses being rounded up, Greco orders Juan to stick ’em up and he’s arrested, saving Goldbug from the disassembly line. However, in the chaos The Mechanic slips out of the exit.

Later, Greco thanks the two Autobots for their help, even if it did mean disobeying orders. Blaster and Goldbug realise that their mission has ended in failure and Commander Grimlock will care little for the success achieved with the humans. With the Ark behind them to the East, the pair speed off west…

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) this story marks The Mechanic’s last appearance, despite the unfinished business with the Autobot tools. The story was clearly left open for him to return (and it is even mentioned on the letters page that he will), but with the US book being monthly and the ongoing pressure to introduce characters Budiansky just never got time to do it. A UK story would have sufficed but this never happened either. Grimlock later seems more obsessed with capturing Blaster and Goldbug than the Mechanic! Still this is a good twist having two Autobots become deserters and fans will be intrigued to see how this one pans out.

Next story
Previous

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.

Next story
Previous

Fire on High!

Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and their warriors launch an assault on Galvatron to buy Wreck-Gar enough time to rig a device capable of sending everyone back to the year 2007.


We’re almost there, but not quite. The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but at this point is starting to feel repetitive and a slog, as various characters run up and down a mountain to challenge Galvatron and invariably come off worse. Reset and repeat. At this point the story feels two issues too long and its not over yet as the grand conclusion will not arrive until an 11-page story in the 1987 Transformers Annual.

Fire on High! was almost the story that never happened. Marvel UK’s new hiring, artist Dan Reed, was living in Paris and in the habit of sending his work to London via Fed Ex. On this occasion he decided to travel over in person but got detained by British customs, who confiscated his artwork and deported him back to France. Dan had to do pull off some serious late hours to complete the issue in the nick of time (see my interview with Dan for more details) and if you look closely there are clues of how close the team came to having to run a reprint or bring forward the next US material. First there’s the preview image on the Transformations page which is actually Geoff Senior art from the next edition (issue #120) and the splash page has Rodimus with a Decepticon insignia!! Presumably this is the sort of obvious blooper that would have been changed if time had allowed. Thankfully the issue came out on schedule – at least I don’t remember any delay from my perspective. I was in the habit of buying the latest edition at 7am every Friday to read before school.

At the Italian-sounding Mount Verona, which is actually in Oregon USA, Cindy Newell schools Rodimus Prime and his ‘council of war’ on the ecological threat posed by Galvatron’s plan. Her ‘humansplaining’ feels slightly patronising seeing as the Autobots are actual experienced combatants on the fight against Decepticons, whereas she’s literally only just appeared on the scene. Nevertheless as someone with a PHD in geology she confidently predicts that if Galvatron triggers and eruption and keeps it contained, siphoning the energy, it’ll trigger a chain reaction along the West Coast that could destroy a large swathe of the country – millions could die! Rodimus is aghast. They have to stop Galvatron, but how when he’s now super powerful thanks to the energy he’s already absorbed?

Wreck-Gar’s TV talk is unwelcome at such a tense moment and Rodimus snaps. But Goldbug intervenes to ensure Wreck-Gar gets a hearing. He has a workable plan, that if the others can provide a distraction, with his engineering skills they could rig Galvatron’s time jump trigger with their own to send all of the 2007 combatants back where they came from – including of course Galvatron. Ultra Magnus makes an emotional farewell to Cindy, telling her that he has to fight Galvatron again and this time he may not be coming back. She runs away in tears and Wreck-Gar manages to make himself unpopular with Magnus too, after giving him a nudge and a wink over his borderline romantic connection with Cindy. Cringey.

At the volcano summit, Galvatron is demonstrating an unexpected use for his particle cannon – to weild broken parts of his structure back together. No sooner are repairs complete when company arrives. Wreck-Gar in motorcycle mode roars up the mountain side with his rider, Goldbug, opening fire and Wreck-Gar transforms and bounces an axe off the startled Decepticon.

Next comes Kup and Blurr, but the element of surprise is lost by then and Galvatron easily dispatches both Autobots with a couple of well-placed blasts. Really, if you ask yourself what Kup and Blurr have achieved on this mission, the answer is nothing at all, other than flanking Rodimus Prime and providing cannon fodder. Goldbug is at least better at dodging particle cannon blasts!

As Wreck-Gar works begins work on the time-jump device, with Rodimus over his shoulder, it falls to poor old Ultra Magnus to keep Galvatron busy. Thinking back to the successful team-up of Optimus Prime and Magnus against Megatron (back in issue #104) I can’t help wondering why Rodimus and Magnus couldn’t have double-teamed Galvatron. Not only would it have made for exciting scenes, it might have been a successful strategy. Instead the Autobots’ greatest warrior gets a pummelling for his trouble and once Galvatron has finished bouncing him off the walls he hoists him up and casts him into the lava below! Brutal. It’s a shocking end for Magnus on the face of it but this being comics we know he will survive somehow.

Issue #119’s Grim Grams teases the impending release of Transformers the Movie on VHS video and also mentions Simon Furman’s appearance on the weekend kids TV show Get Fresh, where he showed off uncoloured art from issue #114. Grimlock complains that he can’t believe he didn’t get a mention in the whole three minute segment, lol. Inhumanoids has been replaced as the back-up strip by the Iron Man of 2020. This was intended as a temporary move but if memory serves, Inhumanoids never returned. Not that Transformers fans will have been particularly concerned, as we learn in issue #120 that we’re shortly to get cover to cover Transformers action as the comic runs the Headmasters mini-series in the back-up spot from issue #130. The treats keep coming at this point in the comic’s history.

Issue #120 sees the final instalment of the saga so far as the weekly Marvel comic is concerned. Although it isn’t the end of course as we know the story will ultimately be wrapped up in the 1987 annual. The story has felt padded in places so the news of an additional chapter should produce mixed feelings among readers. With the book due out in August, there’s around six weeks to wait… unless you’re unlucky enough to be receiving it for Christmas. Thankfully the penultimate part is really quite excellent and it’s all thanks to one man in my opinion and that’s the amazing Geoff Senior. His art is consistently good but he really excels himself with the Galvatron-Rodimus high noon showdown. No words are necessary and in fact would only detract from the art, it’s that stunning!

Just prior to that, Galvatron lifts his arms in victory and declares he’s won! Sure, he just dispatched Ultra Magnus and is on the brink of absorbing the volcano power, transforming him into a living god. Hubris and all that though. It’s premature to declare victory while Rodimus Prime and the other Autobots are still at large, or perhaps Galvatron just thinks there’s nothing they can do to stop him. He soon has cause to re-evaluate that though when he discovers his time-jump control mechanism is missing. Just like the TV remote, it was last seen in plain sight and now its vanished!

Galvatron realises it has to be the work of Rodimus, and as Wreck-Gar works furiously on adapting the device Galvatron shows up and he and Prime face off. They eyeball one another while reaching for their trigger and finally unleashing. Prime ducks and dives to the ground, getting three shots in on Galvatron but still failing to stop him. Finally, he targets a cable just behind Galvatron’s feet which unleashes a powerful electrical discharge. Galvatron falls at least. This should be enough to take down anyone, but Galvatron is in a different league and the moment and sure enough his eyes glow into life once more and he jumps to his feet, reigning blow after blow on Rodimus before stomping his face into the dirt.

As he puts his particle cannon to Prime’s head, lady luck intervenes in the form of Death’s Head who has concluded that he needs Prime alive if he is to collect his bounty!

Death’s Head strikes Galvatron with a missile and strikes him with his mace. Galvatron destroys the plug in weapon, forcing the mercenary to reach for a new prosthetic. Galvatron immediately tears off Death’s Head’s left arm, leaving him vulnerable. Phew! Can the situation get any worse?

Goldbug revives Rodimus and tells him that Wreck-Gar is as ready as he’ll ever be. The device is activated and triggers a temporary vortex which sweeps up all of the combatants up and transports them back to the year 2007 – that is save for Goldbug. He admits that Wreck-Gar was worried that Galvatron, now content to stay in the past, had rigged his device to prevent it from transporting him, but perhaps not. A shadow looms behind him – Goldbug turns and finds himself face to face with Galvatron!! Oops.

This looks like an unavoidable death for the plucky mini-Autobot except that the coming attractions page reveals that he’ll be back in the next story taking on the Mechanic (a breeze after going toe to toe with Galvatron). How does he survive? It’s fair to say that readers will have been keen to make sure they had a copy of the annual that year.

Next story
Previous

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.

Next story
Previous