Hot Rod is ordered to guard the Ark from Decepticon attack but can’t resist leaving his post when he sees Kup under attack from the Stunticons
At the end of March 2020, as the UK went into lockdown, and have some unexpected time on my hands due to no longer commuting for 1.5 hours a day, I embarked on this project to re-read and review all of my classic 1980s and 90s Transformers comics. It’s been a lot of fun, I might say a blast from the past and I’ve been struck by how good those stories still are despite the passage of time. A year and two weeks later, I’ve reached the end of 1987 with Ark Duty… a story from the Transformers Annual of that year.
Somewhat unusually there are none of the usual credits, so it’s difficult to be sure who the production team is. I would hazard a guess though that its a Simon Furman story with Will Simpson on art duties; I’m pretty sure its his style. This seven page story is a nice, compact little tale, which fills in some of the gaps between the then ‘present day’ (1980s) era and the Transformers the Movie set up.
It defies the usual Furman practice of setting future stories exactly 20 years on from the publication date by being set in 2003. Ultra Magnus is now the Autobot commander on Earth (no explanation is given for Optimus Prime’s absence, but we might assume that he’s on Cybertron’s moons at this put overseeing the operation to retake the homeworld) and plans have been drawn up to build Autobot City Earth. Obviously in the Movie, which is set in 2005/6 depending on whether you follow cartoon or comic continuity, the city is built.
We open with Magnus in the Ark showing the gathered Autobots a video simulation of how Autobot City will be able to withstand and repel a Decepticon attack. Magnus alludes to the fact that the Ark contains many valuable secrets that cannot be allowed to fall into Decepticon hands – this is intriguing as we have no idea what these secrets may be. My feeling it’s something in the Ark/Auntie’s data banks. He also speaks of the Autobots having been given land and all the materials they need by Earth’s governments, which rather suggests that humanity has finally accepted the Autobots as their protectors. It’s taken a while. I wonder if even Circuit Breaker has stopped attacking Autobots and is targeting Decepticons at last by 2003?
Magnus explains that all Autobots will take part in the convoy to collect the materials they need for the city, except for Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr. Oddly enough the trio are not Targetmasters, despite becoming bonded to Nebulans over the course of 1987, and the Ark is still embedded in the side of Mount St Hillary, that’s despite it being repaired and returned to orbit in the main Transformers strip by the end of the year. This begs the question of whether Ark Duty is in the same continuity as the regular comic. It’s likely that its in the Transformers Movie alternate reality. For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean, the Transformers comic departed from the Movie future by having Unicron show up and attack Cybertron in 1991 and not 2005/6. This pretty much cast the Movie into a different reality to the comic stories.
The Decepticon spy Ravage observes from the wings, his electro-magnetic shield ensuring that he remains undetected. When Magnus reveals that Kup will deliver a top secret data tape to the human authorities, Ravage determines to steal it and tasks the Stunticons with intercepting the Autobot old timer. (It’s great to see the under-used Stunticons again).
Kup made a point of ordered Hot Rod to guard the Ark and not to leave under any circumstances. Blurr is uttering dialogue similar to his lines in the Movie (“positively absolutely certain” sounding like his “absolutely positively definitely”) but unlike the Movie which Blurr is something of a novelty character and quite fun, here he’s just plain annoying. When Hot Rod sees Kup getting roughed up by Motormaster and his crew on screen, he wastes no time in defying orders and setting out after his colleague.
After checking Kup is okay, he takes off after the Stunticon convoy to retrieve the stolen tape. Hot Rod doesn’t stick around to allow Kup to tell him something important, namely that the tape is a fake and they wanted the Decepticons to steal it. Hot Rod catches up with the Stunticons and challenges them. Shortly after, Kup arrives and finds Hot Rod beaten up and left bruised and battered at the roadside.
He explains the plan and thanks Hot Rod for making it seem all the more convincing. Now they will be left alone to build the city as the Decepticons will believe they know its secrets, he says. The obvious flaw in the logic is that the Decepticons will surely know that the Autobots are aware that their plans have been stolen and are likely to change the plans. Hot Rod apologises and insists he will stay in the Ark next time, but Kup somehow doubts it. They hobble off together into the sunset.
I liked this story overall because it bridges the divide between the present day 80s set-up and the Autobots we see in the Transformers Movie. It’s also a welcome to see Ravage back to his cunning best (he hasn’t been seen since he disappeared down a mine shaft of course) and the Stunticons are rarely used, compared to other special teams. The dynamic between Hot Rod and Kup is established by this point. They are polar opposites but true friends.
Now its time to fast forward from 2003 to January 2008 and a post-Movie showdown on the Planet of Junk between Death’s Head, Cyclonus and Scourge.
“See you in the next world” – Lord Zarak, slowly being consumed by Scorponok, realises he must free Galen and the Autobots in order to save Nebulos from destruction.
Brothers in Armour, which I always thought of as a play on the title of the Dire Straits song, is the fourth and final instalment of Headmasters. Even with the frequent art blunders, the series has easily been the best and most original of Marvel’s occasional spin-off titles (the others being the Transformers the Movie adaptation and the very turgid Transformers vs GI Joe). At this point the Autobot Headmasters have been defeated by Scorponok’s Decepticons and things look extremely bleak for the Autobots who remain at large.
The tension in the series is that the good guys can’t seem to get a break. Having fled the neverending war on Cybertron, Fortress Maximum and his fellow refugees arrived on Nebulos where they were shown only fear and hatred – and were even attacked by the pacifist Nebulans. Then, having surrendered their heads as a gesture of peace, Lord Zarak gave away their location to Scorponok, their sworn Decepticon enemy. And just as the Autobots regained the upper hand by becoming Headmasters, Zarak and his followers bonded-up with the Decepticons to inflict a terrible defeat on the Autobots.
It’s just like Bob Budiansky’s stories of the Transformers’ early years on Earth where Shockwave and the Decepticons had overcome the Autobots. A similar situation is occurring on Nebulos and as a reader you have to keep coming back to find out how the heroic forces can possibly recover the situation.
The final instalment opens at the gardens of Melanossus – a place of outstanding natural beauty – now the latest casualty of war. Nothing is sacred for Scorponok and his forces who have invaded paradise to persecute and destroy the remaining Autobot fugitives. We were briefly introduced to the Monsterbots in part one. Now Grotesque, Doublecross and Repugnus get another showing (just as the Technobots and Terrorcons did last issue) as part of the obligatory toy product placement. The trio are the sole survivors and make a strategic retreat. It’s fun to see Doublecross’ two heads arguing about whether they should fight or flee. It’s a shame there isn’t the space to see more of the Monsterbots.
Zarak and his fellow Headmaster Nebulans have become drunk on their new power. With the Decepticons at their side there is no curb on their ambitions. The Nebulan media arrive via some interesting looking hover planes. They invite Zarak to repeat his claims that Galen is a traitor to Nebulos, which Zarak does without hesitation. It should be pretty obvious to right thinking folk that Zarak is equally as guilty of what he accuses Galen of, namely teaming up with robots to acquire power, and clearly Zarak’s victories over the Autobots are having a cataclysmic effect on Nebulan cities (as he speaks Melanossus lies in ruins). Yet nobody seems to be questioning why Zarak is in league with the very Decepticons who were laying siege to Koraja not so long ago. Could it be that everyone is in fear of this new power in the Nebulan government? Echoes of Nazi Germany here.
At the Autobot base camp in the swamps (where even the Decepticons won’t venture) Point Blank appears to have taken a position of leadership. Like Fortress Maximus before him, he’s having to reign in a frustrated Kup. Luckily they have six new Nebulan recruits who are working with them at great personal risk to resist the Decepticons. They have undergone bio-mechanical engineering to become the weapons of Pointblank and five others – becoming the Autobot Targetmasters. We’re introduced to the sextet but sadly Firebolt is referred to as Sparks; another production team mistake?
Hot Rod has detected a distress signal from Earth. It’s one that Goldbug will send in issue 155 and Crosshairs is up for abandoning Nebulos and trying their luck at this new world. Blurr disagrees, reminding colleagues that their brethren are captives of the Decepticons and they can’t leave until Fortress Maximus and the others are rescued. With that, the Targetmasters depart to protect the latest Nebulan sanctuary under threat.
Zarak’s very hard-working ally Vorath (who monitors communications and builds Targetmasters in his spare time!) has also picked up the transmission, so now the Decepticons know of Earth as well. Zarak visits his archenemy Galen, who is held in a state of unconsciousness in some sort of energy vine, only to find his daughter Llyra there. Her ex love Galen is now the most hated being on Nebulos. Zarak has Galen ‘reactivated’ but Llyra storms out rather than stick around and listen to his plea for her understanding.
Galen can see clearly that Zarak is becoming consumed by his own power and will end up tearing apart Nebulos unless he wakes up to what is happening. Zarak refuses to accept this but at the back of his mind he knows Galen speaks the truth.
At The Nursery, a sacred facility that provides Nebulan food and medicine needs, Peacemaker and his fellow Targetmaster Nebulans meet with Selani, one of the facility administrators. The suggestion here is that The Nursery are fearful of being seized by Zarak and the Decepticons. Sure enough, they are soon under attack by Zarak, atop Scorponok, and joined in battle by the Terrorcons. Zarak is pleased to see the Autobots are apparently defenceless and he is in no mood to show mercy – they attack.
In response the six armoured Nebulans transform to the weapons of Blurr, Crosshairs, Hotrod, Kup, Pointblank and Sureshot. They unleash a variable volley of laser fire unlike anything seen before and cut down their Decepticon opponents. However, attacks from the Terrorcons Cutthroat and Hun-grr destroy the Nursery supports and the structure comes crashing down. The Autobots realise that their presence is only exposing the Nursery to more danger and they have no choice but to withdraw. As the adrenaline fades, Zarak begins to realise that Galen was right and he is losing his mind the longer he spends in a mental link with Scorponok.
It’s weird because at this point Scorponok seems to have ceased to be an independent Decepticon. When his head is transformed in Zarak he just stands around like a total non-entity. It’s become the Zarak show and its difficult to see any great advantage from Scorponok’s perspective.
In a matter of days, Vorath has succeeded in duplicating the Autobots’ technological advantage and has created the Decepticon Targetmasters – Slugslinger, Triggerhappy, Misfire, Cyclonus and Scourge. The latter two, Cyclonus and Scourge, would fill numerous columns on the comic’s letters pages with fans wondering how they could possibly be on Nebulos in 1987 when they are not created until 2006. Grimlock (on the Grim Grams page) hints that the answer will be revealed in the next big Transformers story – the 1988 new year opener – whose title is being kept strictly under wraps!
Zarak seems barely interested in the Decepticon Targetmasters (they do seem like an afterthought for the story too in all honestly) and even ignores his daughter Llyra as he brushes past her and into the detention cell for another face-to-face with Galen. Ironically his hated is the only one who understands his dilemma. In a very telling scene Zarak confesses to feeling like he’s been controlled by Scorponok and mentions that he and Galen will meet in the “next world”. Galen naturally takes this as a reference to his receiving the death penalty (again its bizarre that a world at peace for thousands of years has not abolished the practice of capital punishment) but the world Zarak is speaking of is Earth.
He knocks Krunk unconscious and deactivates the field holding Galen and his allies, allowing them to break out and recombine with their Autobot partners. Annoyingly Gort and Stylor have been miscoloured as each other; the level of production team errors in the mini-series is astounding but thank goodness the standard of story makes up for it. The Autobots break-out and are soon engaged in a pitched battle with the Decepticon Targetmasters at the iconic Nebulan globe monument.
The real drama for me is the scene with Llyra questioning how Galen and the Autobots could have escaped and realising that her father must have freed them. But Zarak is losing his mind at this point, mesmerised by the call of battle and soon he is riding atop of Scorponok and joining in. Llyra realises that the Decepticons are destroying the city and at long last the penny drops. Fortress Maximus orders a retreat to avoid Nebulan casualties and they return to the swamp for a reunion with their fellow Autobots. There, Galen informs them that they must leave Nebulos and he is certain that Zarak and the Decepticons will follow; it’s the only way to save the planet.
There’s a very poignant moment where a repentant Llyra arrives and basically tells Galen that if he tells her the truth she will believe him. Finally! Tragically Galen coldly rebuffs her overture and sends her off in tears. She now hates him more than ever. As Galen explains to his followers, if Llyra still loved him he could not leave Nebulos as he must. Galen, heroic to the last, sacrifices his own happiness for patriotism. Soon the Autobot ship Steelhaven is warping away bound for Earth (and a starring role in the main Transformers comic) leaving their dreams of a world where robot and Nebulan can peaceful coexist in tatters. Days later, Zarak and the Decepticons board their own ship and give chase, leaving Llyra and the Nebulan people to rebuild their shattered lives. Wow.
It’s a great end to the series but I must confess to feeling a little cheated for poor old Galen. He really can’t get a break and even when things finally go his way he has to abandon his world to save it. It’s a shame he couldn’t have taken Llyra with him, or maybe reversed the binary bond process and sent the Autobots off without their Nebulans? Perhaps that wasn’t practical. We’ll revisit Nebulos again on a couple of occasions – one in the 1988 story People Power and then two decades later in Simon Furman’s Transformers RegenerationOne series – however we aren’t destined to see Llyra again. I hope that in the fullness of time she came to realise the truth about Galen and her father.
In closing, the art blunders aside this is a great story from Bob Budiansky. It must have been challenging to weave an engaging tale while hampered by having to introduce legions of new characters – but it all works. I’ve read that there was some talk at the time of making Headmasters an ongoing series. When you consider that the main comic had to print the UK story Man of Iron to give themselves breathing space to work on Headmasters, I doubt the team could have managed two books every month. Instead the Headmasters and Targetmasters are destined to play a big role in the Earth adventures of the Transformers – a mouth watering prospect.
The Autobot presence on the planet Nebulos has triggered a wave of panic and protests and matters are about to get worse when the Decepticons show up!
I’ve got a lot of love for the Headmasters saga. It was published by Marvel as a four comic spin-off series in 1987 and reprinted in the back pages of Transformers UK.
It’s writer Bob Budiansky at the top of his game in my opinion. His task is to provide a story vehicle to introduce a large array of new Transformers toys and characters (Autobots, Decepticons and Nebulans) that has Hasbro were releasing that summer. And to provide a plausible reason why Transformers would wish to join forces with humanoids as Headmasters and Targetmasters. Bob ably rises to the challenge and weaves a story of heroism , tragedy, sacrifice, love and treachery, with compelling lead characters in Fortress Maximus and Scorponok and their Nebulan counterparts Galen and Zarak.
It’s a testament to the story that it does not need to rely on big name draws like Optimus Prime or Megatron to sell it (in fact the only established characters to appear are Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr, Cyclonus and Scourge, and even then as bit players) and so it succeeds under its its own steam.
In the first instalment, we met the noble Fortress Maximus, an Autobot leader in the Optimus Prime mould, who had grown weary of the never-ending cycle of civil war and realised the Autobots were equally culpable of propagating the conflict as their enemies the Decepticons. The only way to break the circle of violence was for his side to leave Cybertron forever. Their logical destination would be Nebulos, where peace had reigned for ten thousand years. However, the arrival of giant alien robots in their midst proved so destabilising that the Nebulans reactivated their long dormant weapons of war and attacked the newcomers. Fortress Maximus surrendered his head as the ultimate gesture of peace, as did four of his followers, while six others disarmed. Crisis was averted temporarily.
So, as we pick up the story in Broken Glass! the Nebulan capital Koraja is in a state of civil unrest with protestors waving anti-robot placards and climbing on the globe monument to burn an effigy. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and a member of the ruling council, watches the situation with alarm. He feels responsible because it was his decision to accept the surrender of Fortress Maximus and allow the other Autobots to remain. Evidently public opinion does not share his assessment that these robots do not pose a threat.
Lord Zarak is an intriguing character. We see him at this point, standing alongside Galen as a fellow council member. The dovish Galen and hawkish Zarak have very different political perspectives but for now they are nominally on the same side. Zarak is of course, responsible for first contact between Blurr and the Nebulans going so awry in the last issue, and he’s busy stirring the pot even now, with hired thugs in the crowd to ensure the protests erupt into violence. Galen appears not to suspect the lengths Zarak will go to. And matters are complicated by the fact that Galen’s lover, Llyra, is Zarak’s daughter. She also seems to dismiss her father as a harmless crank.
So what are Zarak’s motives here? On the one hand it would seem to be power grab, by using the crisis to bring down Galen and advance himself. On the other, maybe he’s looking for an opportunity break up his daughter’s relationship with this guy he despises. We can only speculate what it is he dislikes so much about Galen: could it be Zarak finds Galen’s nobility intolerable as it reveals his (Zarak’s) own failings as a man and leader? Or maybe he detests Galen’s flamboyant choice of clothes, i.e. the bright red outfit with the slightly naff green globe on it. What we can say with some certainty is that Zarak’s daughter is smoking hot! It’s interesting to see how Earthlike these Nebulans are in terms of their actions and passions. It’s no wonder that they can come to Earth later on and integrate pretty seamlessly. Perhaps this is a missed opportunity on Bob’s part to create something more alien (that said the cartoon’s answer was simply to make the Nebulans green).
As a fight breaks out and Galen leaps into the crowd to break it up (let’s skirt over the fact that he was two storeys up and would have broken his legs) only to be punched out by one of Zarak’s goons. Nebulan security forces step in and Llyra rushes to the aid of her love, who has just been punched in the face by a protester. Galen insists on taking the blame and says the man should not be arrested. Bad judgement I think – what sort of precedent is that setting if a mob is allowed to physically assault a leading politician without consequence? Zarak is soon trying to poison Llyra against Galen, saying the deal with the Autobots is Galen’s way of seizing more power. She won’t hear of it.
Later we see what has become of Fortress Maximus and the other surrendered Autobots. Their heads are in an abandoned munitions warehouse along with their bodies and weapons. The head of Fortress Maximus has become a wise counsel to Galen and is growing ever more extreme in his selflessness as time goes on. Not only is he prepared to accept life as a decapitated prisoner, he now urges Galen to destroy them all if it will maintain the peace on Nebulos. Galen feels that would run counter to all his stands for (luckily).
Lord Zarak, meanwhile, keeps up the pressure with a speech in the Council urging his fellow law makers to listen to the voices of the people. Galen is losing the argument but Gort comes to his aid. Having recovered from the injuries he received at the forest encounter with Highbrow, he takes the platform and explains to councillors that he was not attacked at all – his fall was an accident. The speech proves to be a game changer and tensions ease a little.
So much so that Galen, Zarak are soon leading a delegation to meet Kup, Blurr, Pointblank and the other Autobots to see how construction of their forest base is going. Hot Rod is establishing one-way contact with their old base on Cybertron so that they can listen in on events happening on the homeworld. The Autobots will not broadcast to Cybertron in case the Decepticons should learn of their location. Zarak’s assistant Vorath secretly records the location of the Cybertron base, and later in a powerful observatory Zarak transmits a message to Cybertron asking for help in ridding Nebulos of the Autobots.
That message arrives, with perfect timing, as Scorponok and his Decepticons have infiltrated the deserted Autobot base on Cybertron to try to find out what has become of their regular sparring partners. When an unintelligible message starts broadcasting out of a console they activate translators and hear Zarak’s appeal for assistance against Fortress Maximus! Soon his his army is setting course for Nebulos to crush the Autobots and conquer the planet!
Natural justice demands that Zarak should be locked up for a very long time as a traitor to Nebulos for exposing his people to such danger, but that’s not what happens. My other thoughts are around Scorponok’s motives. They supposedly fight to conquer Cybertron, and with the Autobots gone that goal becomes more achievable, but Scorponok would rather up-sticks and follow Fortress Maximus. For him and his troops, conquering the enemy has long become the primary goal. In a real sense they are in a symbiotic relationship with the Autobots and are lost without them.
In one of the panels, Scorponok is meant to be speaking to Cyclonus. Instead, artist Frank Springer has drawn one of the Nebulan robots. Rather than open up a can of worms that would get readers writing in, UK editor Simon Furman simply replaces the name Cyclonus with Krunix. It won’t be the only mistake Springer makes (drawing Cerebros’ head in place of Fortress Maximus is another glaring one) but I can only imagine the number of new character specs to learn was overwhelming. It’s sloppy but is forgivable only because the standard of art is good overall and the story is of a high standard.
Before too long Scorponok and his followers arrive on Nebulos in force. Zarak is alarmed by the numbers of them and more so when Scorpnok announces they will ignore the Autobots in the forest for now and attack the city where Fortress Maximus is being held. It should be pretty apparent to Zarak that he has messed up in a major way, particularly as Scorponok makes plain that he’ll deal with Zarak and his cronies when he returns.
Galen is woken by security chief Duros, who tells him ‘robots are attacking’ apparently in contravention of their agreement. Galen gets dressed and rushes outside, where it’s quickly apparent that these are the enemies of their allies the Autobots. As the Decepticon assault on the city begins, Galen convenes with the head of Fortress Maximus, who warns him that Scorponok would interpret any surrender of the captive heads as weakness and destroy the city anyway.
Since they cannot reconnect the Autobots to their bodies without violating the promises Galen made to the Nebulan people, another way must be found. Remote controlling the Autobot bodies will not be enough to counter a heavily armed Decepticon attack and so Fortress Maximus suggests a way for the Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots and control their bodies. It’s a novel idea and makes you wonder whether Max dreamed it up or there has been previous instances in Transformers history where the Headmaster process has been attempted.
Arcana, an expert in bio-engineering is summoned. He quickly advances the plan to allow Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots, allowing them to ‘take control’ of the robotic bodies and fight back against the Decepticons. When I say quickly, I mean insanely fast. An engineering feat like this, which has never been attempted before, would surely take months or years to design and test, and yet here is Arcana creating the process in a matter of hours, while the city is under siege. Plus, he volunteers to be one of the five being operated on, so while he should be overseeing the crucial stage of the experiment he’s actually going on the operating table for a very risky physical process (which, when you consider involves replacing joints and strengthening bones, you would think it would take the volunteers a long time to recover from such surgery).
Gort, Duros and Stylor step up and Galen will be the fifth volunteer. He is implored by Llyra not to do become a man of war, but he feels he must lead by example if he is to save Nebulos. An operation that looks and reads like something out of a Frankenstein horror, gets underway. It is a stunning success. Finally, the five emerge from the operating theatre in robotic suits, not quite Autobots but now more than Nebulans. They fold up and transform into the heads of the Autobots and thus the Headmasters are born!
Duros’ men have fought valiantly but perimeter defences have been breached (presumably many Nebulans will have died, though this is not addressed). Skullcruncher can’t wait to start stomping organic creatures. Scorponok feels that won’t be necessary, as iron doors open to reveal Fortress Maximus (his head drawn as Cerebros, annoyingly) and fellow Autobots. Scorponok is expecting their surrender, but instead they are hear to fight.
A great battle ensues, with the five warriors now sharper, faster and more agile than before. The Decepticons are soon on the run, despite having the superior numbers. Scorponok sounds a general retreat and the Autobots do a victory march into Koraja. Many Nebulans are fearful of the ‘monstrous’ newcomers and aren’t sure if they have traded one set of conquerors for another. To ease their fears, each Autobot head disconnects and transforms back in/to its Nebulan component. They are quickly mobbed.
Llyra is aghast that Galen went ahead with this. She gives no credit at all to the fact that he has just saved the Nebulan capital and its people from destruction at the hands of a murderous alien robot mob. To be fair, Galen doesn’t help himself by speaking in terms of ‘the Autobots’ power being theirs to control’. It’s really the worst thing he could say as it makes Llyra believe that her father was right about Galen all along – he is power hungry and now longer the peaceful man she fell in love with. Ouch.
So ends Broken Glass. The title is meant to relate to the fragility of the peace on Nebulos and the civil unrest but it could also relate to Galen’s own situation. His relationship is now shattered and he may not be able to piece it back together. Even if he could, he has extensively surgically altered, a freak essentially, and it is naïve to think he can just slot back into his old life and things will be as they were.
Centuries ago, Kup lost his fighting edge and exiled himself to deep space rather than become a liability to his fellow Autobots… and that was how he met Hot Rod and Blurr.
Kup’s story, from September 1987, is a rarity for the Marvel UK Transformers comic in that it’s a single edition story in a sea of mostly two-parters. Although later in the run the UK material mainly be standalone strips in black and white (while Simon Furman was focused on writing the US comic) at this point in the comic’s evolution single stories were mostly reserved for the Christmas edition.
Still, as the saying goes, sometimes less is more, and this compact story by Simon Furman and with atmospheric art by Dan Reed is a gem. It’s an origin tale for Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr, the three ‘future Autobots’ who were first introduced to us in Target: 2006 but it is so much more than that as we’ll discuss shortly.
Thanks to the Headmasters saga in the UK comic’s back-up strip, readers have learned that Kup and his two close buddies are not future Autobots after all. They were not born out of the events of Transformers: The Movie like the ‘future Decepticons’ Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, but have been around for centuries as members of the Fortress Maximus led resistance on Cybertron. In Kup’s case, he’s been around for a very long time before that. (This makes sense when you think about it, as his character in the Movie is that of an old veteran Autobot with a seemingly unending array of war experiences).
At the point in his life where Kup’s Story takes place, he’s burned out, has lost his fighting edge and become a liabilty to his fellow Autobots. Kup is suffering from ‘combat fatigue’ according to the medics. No doubt it’s the psychological impact of millions of years in the firing line and this is where I think the story breaks new ground. We’ve seen that Transformers are pretty much immortal. Other than extreme circumstances like being melted down (like Scrounge in The Smelting Pool) or blown-up so that their brain modules are destroyed, as happened to Prime in Afterdeath, they can usually be repaired and recover from most traumas. However, what about those of a psychological nature? Just as armed forces and the police can succumb to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, leading to medical retirement, Kup has the Autobot equivalent.
Rather than shutting himself down, as Cerebros tries to do in the Headmasters Rebirth cartoon, Kup has elected to exile and has ‘ridden off’ into the sunset, or in this case boarded a ship and set course for deep space. As we join him for the opening page, he’s sat in a command chair on his bridge feeling sorry for himself and remembering the good old days when he was a hero for the cause and accounted for more than his share of Decepticon casualties. These days, the most he can hope for is a swift and painless end.
It isn’t to be. His ship is rocked by shockwaves cascading out from a space battle nearby. From his view screen he sees a small craft being pursued by two larger insect-like vessels. The pursuers are prolonging the chase for the enjoyment of it. This reminds Kup of sort of thing the Decepticons would do and for a moment he’s about to lend a hand, but then he checks himself and remembers that in his condition he could easily miss and blow the pilot out of the sky himself! The aliens close in until finally Kup open fire, crippling one of the enemy vessels and causing the other one to flee.
He teleports the pilot aboard, in what looks very much like a Star Trek reference, and is shocked to discover that a fellow Autobot standing in front of him – Hot Rod!
Kup’s guest explains that he and Blurr had been exploring habitable worlds for Fortress Maximus (a suggestion that Max may have been looking for a place to escape from Cybertron’s civil war for many centuries before he settled on Nebulos) and they got captured by the Tyroxians. Hot Rod got away in a stolen shuttle and is hoping that Kup will accompany him back to the planet to recover Blurr. That is out of the question as far as Kup is concerned: he is a retired Autobot and long past such daring do. Still, he can’t help but admire Hot Rod’s boldness and it reminds him of someone.
Later, while Kup is reclining, the proximity alarm sounds. They could not have arrived at Cybertron already and yet they are in orbit of somewhere. Kup realises that Hot Rod had changed their course to Tyroxia and has used a pod to go down to the planet to attempt a rescue all on his own, with no back-up or plan. That has to be the stupidest thing he’s ever seen, but also one of the bravest… and Kup realises it’s something he might have done back in the day. Suddenly he wants his old life back and, with Hot Rod in mortal danger on the planet below – being confronted by a magnificent four armed and axe-wielding giant, he finally has the impetus he needs to re-join the battle.
Hot Rod is bounced off several walls and is about to be chopped into tiny pieces when Kup bursts in through a window and opens fire (using one of the generic chunky blasters that is a Reed trademark) and shouting his defiance at the doubters. Hot Rod stops him and points to the smouldering guard on the floor in front of them, it looks like he got the message!
Things wrap up quite quickly with Hot Rod and Blurr back aboard Kup’s shuttle and thanking him for the rescue and saying they’ll let him get back to his retirement. Kup is having none of it: he’s going with them. If these two are standard issue these days, the Autobots will need all the help they can get, he declares. This also begins the young versus old, youth against experience dynamic of Kup and Hot Rod where the two tease and antagonise one another but are actually very fond of one another.
Interestingly, earlier in the story Kup talks about living out his ‘remaining years’ in isolation, suggesting that Transformers might have a finite lifespan. James Roberts runs with the idea in his novel Eugenesis (written some years before his work on IDW) that brain modules eventually burn out and therefore it is possible for Transformers to naturally die.
In closing, this is a nice Kup tribute and a forerunner to Nick Roche’s Spotlight Kup for IDW in April 2007, which shows the character in the grip of a psychosis. We now have the explanation of how Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr come be on Nebulos to become Targetmasters and all that remains is to find out how Cyclonus and Scourge are there too. All will be revealed in an upcoming story, Grimlock hinted on his letters page. And so, from the past we jump to the future for the next story, back to the year 2007 and more from Rodimus Prime and Death’s Head.
Frustrated by the never-ending war on Cybertron, Fortress Maximus and his Autobots leave for a new life on the peaceful world of Nebulos, but their arrival is met with fear and hostility by the native Nebulans.
In September 1987 readers of the Marvel UK Transformers comic were introduced to a new species of Transformer – the Headmasters and Targetmasters. Simon Furman’s two parter, Worlds Apart, whet fans’ collective appetites for these unique new Autobots and Decepticons who are bonded with natives of the planet Nebulos who become their heads and weapons.
Furman’s story in issues #130-131 was a fun throwaway introduction, but the real meat in the sandwich was a four issue mini-series in the United States, written by Bob Budiansky, which established the origin of these new Transformers. That series was serialised in the UK Transformers comic via the back-up strip, so for 16 weeks in late 1987 readers were spoilt rotten with cover to cover Transformers stories.
‘Uncle Bob’ was instrumental in creating and defining the original Transformers characters on behalf of Hasbro in the early eighties. In 1986, as regular writer of the US book, he introduced the dystopian Cybertron where the Decepticons are in control and the heroic Autobots are reduced to scattered pockets of resistance (see the iconic Smelting Pool story). So Bob is the perfect writer to be tasked with mapping out the backstory of the Headmasters and Targetmasters, the Nebulans and a whole host of other characters. It’s a tall order to accomplish that while weaving a coherent story, but Bob does it with aplomb.
The mini-series tackles some big concepts, like love and sacrifice, betrayal, greed, revenge, and how war takes its toll on the characters.
Right off the bat we know we’re on to something interesting, as Scorponok shows what a cruel and sadistic bastard he is by unleashing his scorpion’s sting against an Autobot prisoner who is marching too slowly – possibly executing the poor soul. These survivors are being marched by Scorponok and his henchmen towards a slow and painful death in the Smelting Pool. (Whether this is the Straxus pool or Scorponok has his own, we don’t know).
Salvation arrives in the shape of Autobot leader Fortress Maximus – nemesis of Scorponok – who sets his army against the unsuspecting Decepticons leading to a fierce battle (told over two pages to give it a sense of epic). Fort Max is one-robot engine of destruction laying waste to the enemy while lambasting them as “evil stains” on the world. There’s a nice line from Scorponok of how the cowardice of his men “desecrates the name Decepticon” but their “destruction would serve no purpose” – so he signals a retreat, showing that he is smart enough not to waste resources in what is a long game. The enemy may win a battle but not the war… as the saying goes.
The Autobots return to their base in the Manganese Mountains jubilant. However, Fortress Maximus is no mood to celebrate (and bawls out Kup and Hot Rod for their triumphalism). He is weary of the war and has come to view Autobot and Decepticon as equally culpable in propagating the cycle. Max’s solution is for them to leave the battlefield and he has just the place… the planet Nebulos, a Saturn-like world he has observed for centuries, which has been at peace for thousands of years. With Cybertron passing closing to the Nebulan system, his intention is to leave for an exile on the planet. His followers can come with him or they can stay. Everyone is shocked but gradually the Autobots are convinced by Max’s argument and agree to follow him. The slightly out of place reference to Optimus Prime (as a previous leader who disappeared and was never seen again) lets us know that Ring of Hate is set before the arrival of the message from Earth during the Smelting Pool story in mid 1986.
The Autobots devote their efforts to the rapid construction of the star ship Steelhaven and, as word spreads, comrades come from far and wide to join the exodus – the Technobots and Monsterbots among them – and soon they are warping away from Cybertron perhaps never to return. Once in orbit of Nebulos, the Autobots waste no time in disembarking. They find the planet to be a lush paradise full of organic life.
Max entrusts Highbrow with a device containing a message for the Nebulan leadership to announce their arrival and peaceful intent. Highbrow quite quickly stumbles across Gort, his youthful future binary bond partner, locked in an embrace with girlfriend Marita. It’s all a bit cringe-worthy as the cerebral Autobot geekily observes that they must have been engaged in data transfer (Bob always does a good job of showing the Transformers as alien and clueless as to the ways of humankind) but Highbrow only succeeds in startling the pair and causing Gort to fall and hurt his head. He departs with an earnest comment about hoping Marita’s companion “can be repaired”.
The plot moves fast, with the planet’s ruling council of peers meeting in the capital Koraja the following day to discuss their response to the Autobot message. When you consider that the Transformers have been on Earth for three years at this point and their presence has never been properly acknowledged by the US government (other than through the Robot Master hoax). Headmasters is already breaking new ground in terms of first contact.
Among the Nebulan senators, Lord Zarak is one of hawks who regards the Autobots’ arrival as the greatest threat to his people and urges them to rearm. Gort’s injuries are cited as evidence of the aliens’ ill-intent, despite Marita’s attempts to interject from the gallery. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and hated by Zarak, argues that they hold true to their values of peace and understanding and hear the aliens out. So, the Autobots’ emissary Blurr is permitted into the Nebulan capital the following day to deliver his message of peace.
Krunk, acting on orders from Zarak, aims a magnetic polarizer gun at Blurr causing his arm to be drawn to a fountain monument of a Nebulan globe, knocking it from its moorings and sending it into the crowd. Pandemonium breaks out and Blurr is forced to flee from a volley of fire from Zarak’s personal militia. The ambush of Blurr by Zarak’s forces was a spectacular success, proving that luck is on their side and against the Autobots. They could not have known that Blurr would stand at exactly the right distance to the globe or even know that his body would react to magnetism.
This causes a dilemma for the Autobots. If attacked do they fight back? Fortress Maximus is adamant: absolutely not. Little do they realise that Galen has been instructed by the council to unlock the armoury containing the Nebulans long-abandoned machines of war. Galen and Duros are soon leading an armada of war machines against the Autobots. Kup returns fire and is confronted by Max who tells him they will never convince the Nebulans of their peaceful intent if they fight. If Kup wants to battle the Nebulans he’ll have to go through his own leader. He backs down and they flee into the woods and swamp where the cumbersome vehicles cannot pursue.
Kup’s willingness to challenge authority is not a side of him we’ve seen before but it will surface again, much later when they are on Earth and Kup has serious misgivings about Fortress Maximus’ new headmaster partner Spike Witwicky, and later still when Optimus Prime proposes that the Autobots surrender to Scorponok to forge an alliance against Unicron.
It must be something about human nature (admittedly these are Nebulans but they certainly looks and act like Earth people) that a tradition of peace for ten millennia can be so easily cast aside the minute they feel threatened. It’s frankly a miracle that they have had peace for so long, especially considering the suspicious and manipulative ways of some of their number. While the noble Galen fears he may have betrayed his countrymen by acting in such haste, Zarak believes his manipulation of Galen has been necessary to manoeuvre the Nebulan leader into doing the sensible thing.
The Autobots are in a bind. They cannot return to Cybertron and the war, but neither can they risk igniting a new conflict. Fortress Maximus decides to take another of his bold risks. Accompanied by Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm, Highbrow, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Sureshot, Pointblank and Crosshairs, he advances on the Nebulan capital and pleads for peace. Zarak implores Galen to order the attack, and so to prove his good faith, Max offers the most he has to give… his head. In a macabre gesture he removes his head from his shoulders and surrenders it to the Nebulans. Hardhead, Chromedome, Highbrow and Brainstorm do the same. The others were a bit more sensible and merely surrendered their weapons!
Galen comes to his senses and realises that a moment of distrust can destroy 10,000 years of peace. He declares they will work with the Autobots and there will be no war this day. From the look on Zarak’s face its clear that he is not done yet.
The saga continues in the second instalment Broken Glass.
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.
Simon Furman’s Transformers masterpiece reaches its dramatic conclusion – will Galvatron return to the future defeated or as master of all he surveys? And tragedy strikes on Cybertron as Operation: Volcano begins without Magnus.
Simon Furman has written some great Transformers stories during his now 35-year association with the franchise, but I think Target: 2006 may still be his finest. Whether he would agree with that, or prefer more recognition to be afforded to his later works is something I’d like to ask him one day.
One thing that is apparent to me on re-reading issues #87 and #88 of Marvel UK Transformers, is that here we have a writer and a title that are at the top of their game and riding the crest of a wave. November 1986 was a fortnight before the release of that other classic Transformers: The Movie and so these were truly halcyon days for the TF fans in the UK. Issue #87’s Transformation page references the Movie, apologising for the delayed release but promising fans that it would be worth the extra two week wait: “We’ve seen the movie, so take it from us – it’s absolutely superb!” It sure was (and still is).
As warm-up acts for a film go, they don’t come much better or more epic than Target: 2006. So far we’ve seen the Autobots rendered leaderless and in disarray, the arrival from the future of Galvatron, his incredible origin, the Autobots’ crack commandos the Wreckers in action, Autobot Triple Changers, the zombification of Jazz, Magnus versus Galvatron, the return of Starscream and the debut of Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr! Phew! That’s really some list, and the action isn’t over yet.
The story picks up where the previous issue left off, with Galvatron having defeated Ultra Magnus, the last foe standing in his way. Little did he realise that while he was beating-up on poor Magnus, the three future Autobots were rigging up a little show for him back at his solar weapon.
The opening is narrated in film vernacular, with the set, the make-up, special effects, props and support cast. The make-up part is certainly interesting – we see Hot Rod spraying Skywarp in the colours of Starscream. The effects they deploy are evidently explosives, and the real Starscream (knocked out by Galvatron two issues previous) is dragged out of sight. Likewise, Cyclonus and Scourge and rendered unconscious by the fists of these Autobots. This, however, feels a little incongruent, as a few issues ago we saw Galvatron’s henchmen best a whole legion of Autobots and heard the boast that even 100 foes could not defeat them. Suddenly they are looking a bit ordinary. Perhaps the trio have been augmented for this mission by a higher power?!! See later, for who’s pulling their strings.
Galvatron returns, dragging a defeated and pathetic looking Magnus with him. Finding his deputies out cold and realising that Megatron and Soundwave are still unconscious, he figures it must be the work of Starscream. This of course is exactly what the future Autobots want him to think, but surely Galvatron should be asking himself how a lone Decepticon seeker could do this? After all he said 100 Autobots could not best Cyclonus and Scourge.
A quick recap of what’s at stake for Magnus (time is running out for him to get back to Cybertron) and he musters just enough energy to rugby tackle Galvatron. He is easily batted off, and Galvatron appears to contemplate destroying Magnus, regardless of any damaging effects to the timeline, when Jetfire, Brawn, Smokescreen and Tracks arrive for a last ditch attempt at stopping him. Earlier we’d seen Jetfire conceding that they (and he) are out of their depth against Galvatron. Poor Jetfire – he’s been a woeful stand-in commander. Though brave, his inexperience and hot headedness counted against him massively. He rushed into battle underprepared and was humiliated. It took their arch enemy Megatron to organise the ‘rabble’ so that they could capture Scourge, and then Jetfire was outsmarted by Galvatron at the prisoner exchange. Could it be though, that in realising he was wrong (in his approach and about Magnus) Jetfire is starting to learn the lessons and from defeat comes maturity?
Luckily for Jetfire and his three colleagues, Galvatron has no time to destroy them. Kup triggers the explosives and the solar weapon blows, burying all and sundry. Finally, when Galvatron emerges, mad as hell, he’s confronted by Starscream in all his arrogance. Galvatron lets rip, blowing Starscream to pieces! Now here’s the fascinating bit. He concludes that as Starscream is essential to his becoming Galvatron in 2006, by rights he should now cease to exist. The fact he is still there, suggests to Galvatron that he probably created (or ended up) in a parallel universe when he time travelled, and therefore he cannot affect change in the 2006 he originated from. So, Galvatron gathers up his lieutenants and leaves. I love the parting narration that ‘he knows he has all the time in the world’. Very apt.
A couple of things puzzle me though. Why would Galvatron expect to return to the dimension where he started, rather than arrive 20 years into the future of his current reality? And why assume Starscream was dead for good? Transformers can be blown to bits and repaired. In fact I think Skywarp even makes reappears in a later story. The disintegration ray Galvatron hit Starscream with in the Movie was of course far more conclusive! Again, in telling us that Screamer is destined to die at Galvatron’s hands, here’s Target: 2006 offering us a nugget from the Movie plot and whetting the appetites of the fans still further.
Any readers who are sorry to see the back of Galvatron can take ample consolation from the New Leaders fact file on their favourite villain on page 14 which describes him as ‘invulnerable to injury and even less subject to emotion or decency’ (not that he suffered from these things much as Megatron of course!). The Grim Grams page also has some decent hints as to upcoming stories, with the Predacons due to debut, the Swoop/Divebomb rivalry and a suggestion that we’ll get to see where Prime, Shockwave and the others were displaced to.
With Galvatron now having exited the stage, there is the question of whether final instalment of Target: 2006 will be something of a damp squib. As we’ll see however, Mr Furman is not done with twists and turns.
Issue #88 immediately wows with a fantastic cover by Geoff Senior featuring the exciting new Autobot Triple Changers – Broadside, Springer and Sandstorm – ready for action. ‘Volcano erupts without Magnus, but maybe it doesn’t matter’ reads the cover blurb. It certainly looks like we’re in for an epic conclusion.
And then the next surprise… our narrator for opening part of the issue is none other than Unicron himself! Now that is truly epic! I love how his speech bubbles have an uneven red border, making them feel echoing and menacing. Unicron surveys the wreckage of his “puppet’s” solar weapon and he is content. We cut to Galvatron in 2006 writhing in pain, being taught another lesson by his master. He had underestimated Galvatron, not realising until it was too late, that his creation had fled into the past to plot against him. But Unicron had enlisted Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr as his agents – exercising a subliminal control over their minds and sending them after Galvatron and co. to thwart their plan. Later, he is able to return the trio to their place of origin, removing all knowledge of what they’ve done. Thus, everyone is reintegrated into their proper place in the Transformers: The Movie storyline.
Much later of course, once Simon Furman had got hold of the reins of Marvel’s American Transformers comic (the parent continuity) he decided to part ways with the Movie timeline altogether and have Unicron attack in 1990. There’s no real explanation for the timeline divergence, but is it possible Unicron used his three Autobot agents to send a message to his 1986 counterpart, advising that Unicron of the location of Cybertron? This could explain how he arrived fifteen or sixteen years early. But most likely the explanation was that the Movie took place in one of many possible futures.
Anyway, going back to the story… after putting Starscream into cold storage (where he’ll stay for another year) the future Autobots also returned to 2006 and Unicron indulged himself by planting a thought in Smokescreen’s mind, that the site of Galvatron’s weapon would make an excellent location for the first Autobot City on Earth! One assumes that’s exactly what happens, circa 2003. The thing is, if Galvatron’s plan had worked, it’s difficult to see how he could have buried the weapon beneath the city without it being detected by the Autobots during the city’s construction. It’s a minor nit-pick and not to detract from what is overall a great storyline.
Just as Ultra Magnus has finally earned the trust and respect of the earth based Autobots, its time for him to return to Cybertron (via a portal) as Operation: Volcano is under way. Magnus’ parting wish, that he should one day fight side-by-side with Optimus Prime is a mouth-watering prospect, and happily one that will come to pass in issue #103.
On Cybertron, Emirate Xaaron stands before twenty-two Autobot resistance leaders, or rather facsimile constructs. Kickback watches from a vantage point and returns to base to report that they have an unprecedented opportunity to wipe out the Autobot high command. Soon enough, Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust, the Insecticons, Triple Changers and a never-before-seen nasty opportunist type called Macabre are on the march. The latter is particularly keen to slay Xaaron rather than follow the plan to capture him alive, as he sees Xaaron as his ticket to the big leagues. It’s almost something Starscream would do.
However, the plan rapidly falls apart when, on Earth, Laserbeak succeeds in freeing Megatron from the wreckage of Galvatron’s weapon, and the Decepticon leader issues a summons for the Insecticons and coneheads to reinforce him on Earth. None of them dare disobey and so they break off their ambush. That is, all apart from Macabre, who continues, determined to take out Xaaron.
And so, the final twist in the tale… as Impactor breaks the news to Xaaron that Volcano has failed to erupt, Macabre opens fire from the side lines using a huge blaster. Impactor throws Xaaron clear and takes the blast himself. He passes the mantle of the Wreckers’ leadership to Springer before dying a heroes’ death. The Autobots cut down Macabre with multiple blasts. Once again, characters who are not part of the toy line are doomed to die, such is the way of things in TF! Still, for a throwaway character, Impactor made a hell of an impression on the fans and would return (albeit as a zombie) a couple of years later, and then in his full glory in the 2010 IDW story ‘Last Stand of the Wreckers’.
At last, Optimus Prime is back (and we have missed him) but once again the Autobots are counting the cost of a Decepticon victory. Jazz, Grapple and Trailbreaker are the latest casualties, while the others bear the psychological scars. Having once again survived a brush with destruction, Prime is certain they can pull together and prevail.
Thus, ends Target: 2006, a Transformers epic that spanned two worlds and two eras, tying into the amazing Transformers: The Movie. Like the movie itself it has stood the test of time and rightly deserves to be called a classic.
As Simon Furman’s future epic builds to its crescendo, there’s further humiliation for the leaderless Autobots, Starscream switches sides and Galvatron and Ultra Magnus do battle.
I’ve lost track of the amount of money I’ve spent on comics over the years. As a schoolboy in the 1980s, cycling to my newsagent to pick up the latest issue of Marvel UK’s flagship title, The Transformers, was a weekly ritual. I certainly parted with quite a lot of 30ps back in the day.
Re-reading those stories three and a half decades later, I’m often struck by how well they endure – and Target: 2006 is a real case in point. These issues are every bit as good now as they were then, and I’ve had literally decades of enjoyment from them. Not a bad return for my money I reckon.
The first thing you notice about Transformers #85 (cover date 1st Nov ’86) is Robin Smith’s cover and the strapline ‘Galvatron’s Autobot zombie’. It depicts events from the story with a mindless Jazz beating up on his comrades, Smokescreen and Tracks. Usually, the comic’s loyal readers would have a fair idea of what to expect, thanks to the Next Week/coming attractions teaser (much beloved of this reviewer) on the penultimate page of each issue. We’d been led to believe that this issue’s main event would be Starscream joining Team Galvatron, so the shocking fate of Jazz was, well that, shocking. Once again Simon Furman shows himself to be more than capable of weaving a tale that is full of unexpected twists.
Another unforeseen turn of events occurs at the start of the issue. The Decepticons’ original star-ship, long forgotten by writers and the fans, which was used to pursue the Ark four million years ago, makes a surprise reappearance. Not for long mind, as it is very quickly blown to smithereens as a demonstration of the destructive power of Galvatron’s solar weapon.
Simon must have felt on safe grounds to dispense with it, as Bob Budiansky, writing the master narrative in the US had never revisited the ship and it was a fair bet he wouldn’t in future. Despite being in Earth orbit for millions of years, the ship has been conveniently shielded from sensors. With its spectacular demise, Galvatron is content. Once the weapon has recharged, he will return to 2006 and use it against his actual intended target, his master Unicron.
First there are loose ends to tie up, namely recovering Scourge from Autobot captivity. For this task Galvatron has accepted the services of the treacherous opportunist Starscream, who joins him now. He’s clearly uncomfortable in the presence of Cyclonus who roughed Starscream up off camera a couple of issues ago, but Galvatron is much more cordial and welcoming. As Starscream jets away, eager to serve his new master, Galvatron and Cyclonus share a joke at his expense – thanks to them, in 2006 Starscream “has no future”!
As fans now know, Starscream is destined to be reduced to ash by Galvatron during the Transformers Movie. But in November 1986 the film was still a couple of weeks away from it’s release. Target: 2006 is doing a great job of building anticipation for the big screen event, that’s for sure.
As prominent as Galvatron has been in the story so far, we’ve seen significantly less of his fellow ‘new leader’ and counterpart Ultra Magnus. The mighty Autobot has been spending his time trying and failing to recover Optimus Prime from wherever he ended up. Now he’s finally about to get a break Hotrod, Kup and Blurr, the newest refugees from the future, arrive with the vital answers Magnus needs. It’s a favourite scene of mine – with Hot Rod kneeling in tribute to Magnus as a Matrix holder, only to get a whispered reminder from Kup that “he hasn’t got it yet” (another hint of future events there) and Kup’s brilliant description of Blurr as “fidgeting like there’s about nine different places he wants to be”. The Movie really illustrates that well.
Galvatron personally oversees the prisoner exchange, handing a battered and unconscious Jazz over to Jetfire, Smokescreen, Tracks and Brawn, while receiving Scourge whose arms and legs are manacled behind his back – it sure doesn’t look comfortable. The Autobots under Jetfire have repeatedly underestimated Galvatron and now do so again. The Decepticon produces a remote control and activates Jazz, who immediately launches a savage attack on his comrades, who of course are completely taken by surprise and unwilling to use deadly force. The result is that all four are quickly defeated.
Megatron, meanwhile, has used the opportunity of Galvatron’s absence to get close solar weapon. He gets mugged by Cyclonus who starts throttling him, but when Soundwave uses the butt of his concussion blaster to clonk Cyclonus over the head, it provides the distraction Megatron needs to punch his lights out. This is about right I think – for all his Unicron enhanced power, Cyclonus should not be in the same league as Megatron in power terms, and of course in much later issues he’s quite a bit weaker. At this moment in the comic he’s still able to strangle Megatron, which is a pretty major statement.
Also punching above his weight is Starscream. He ambushes Megatron and Soundwave, cutting them down with two sudden and powerful blasts. He’s about to finish Megatron off when Galvatron arrives and punches Starscream’s lights out. Phew! It’s all happening in this instalment.
But while all of this has been going on, Magnus has been learning from Kup that when a Transformer time-jumps, they lock on to beings of a comparable mass in their target year and displace them to a limbo between dimensions. The mystery of Prime, Prowl and Ratchet’s disappearance is finally solved. Kup is about to explain more when Magnus high-tails it away to confront Galvatron – and so the issue ends with the mouth-watering prospect of the new leaders doing battle. It’s been eagerly awaited!
Onwards to Part 8 of Target: 2006, published in #86 of Transformers UK. The cover’s strapline declares, ‘it’s crunch time’ and that certainly sums up the situation. Geoff Senior’s splash page of Galvatron riding atop of Magnus is breathtakingly brilliant and is the iconic image that encapsulates Target: 2006 more than any other. I also love how much Magnus in truck mode so closely resembles Optimus Prime (no surprise as the Magnus toy is a remake and enhancement of Optimus) but as the stand-in leader it’s fitting.
Furman opens with a recap of Galvatron’s triumphs – the assembly of the solar weapon and the fall of his enemies. The mindless Jazz standing among the bodies of his comrades is such a powerful image, as is the acid injury to Trailbreaker. Grapple, you imagine, would have recovered and been back on his feet quite quickly if Ratchet had been there.
Magnus thunders down the highway, sending cars swerving and crashing as Galvatron hangs on to him for dear life (or perhaps sheer fury). Magnus cuts through the divider and heads on to an overpass that is in mid construction. At the last moment he slams on the brakes and sends Galvatron flying off the bridge. He plummets to the ground and his impact with concrete can almost be felt by the reader! Senior is doing a fantastic job of capturing the drama.
Of course, 11 pages of fighting would be difficult to sustain, and would probably be a fast read. So, I’m grateful to Furman for the flashback which explains the difference between Magnus’ arrival at the end of the previous issue and their presence on the freeway.
We learn that Magnus had confronted Galvatron in order force him to return to the future. Critically, he cannot allow Galvatron to die in case this should prevent the return of Optimus Prime, so he’s already fighting with a handicap. Galvatron, as we saw, had reacted with fury at Magnus’ imposition and had opened fire, leaving a hole in his weapon. He had leapt on to Magnus and been kicked away, crashing into the solar laser and breaking off more components. Though Magnus had given a fair account of himself, it was clear that Galvatron is the tougher opponent (and certainly the more unhinged).
Magnus had received an internal communication from Kup, asking him to buy some time by getting Galvatron clear of the solar weapon. He had transformed and begun to drive off only for Galvatron to dig his fingers into Magnus’ steel skin and thus the events which opened the story came to pass.
Back to present, and Galvatron recovers. In an instant he disintegrates the motorway floor under the daydreaming Magnus and causes him to fall to the ground also. He lands smack back in the firing line of Galvatron’s cannon mode. Magnus leapfrogs the blast but is knocked aside. He throws a petrol tanker in Galvatron’s direction, which the Decepticon destroys and engulfs both Transformers in a terrible inferno. Further explosions follow until finally a victor emerges from the conflagration… and it is Galvatron!
The end? Well not quite. Magnus is down but not yet out, though it certainly looks like Galvatron is the conqueror at the end of this issue. To be fair, it would have made a lousy cliff hanger to have the good guy win. And so, the tension continues into the penultimate instalment next issue. Target: 2006 has been amazing so far and is building to its stunning conclusion.
Simon Furman’s masterpiece Target: 2006 enters its second half with revelations about the origins of Galvatron and more arrivals from the future.
The Devil You Know. It’s the sub-title of part 5 Target: 2006 – Simon Furman’s epic Transformers the Movie tie-in, published in October 1986 by Marvel – which contains a double meaning. I’ll come to that shortly.
Things have been pretty eventful in the story so far. Optimus Prime, Prowl and Ratchet disappeared in a flash of anti-mater as three future Decepticons arrived from 2006. Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge wasted no time in making their presence felt. They buried Megatron and Soundwave under rocks and put the Constructicons to work building a powerful solar weapon. Meanwhile, on the Cybertron the Autobots about to spring a carefully orchestrated trap on the planet’s Decepticon rulers, when the centrepiece of Operation Volcano (Ultra Magnus) is compelled to travel to Earth to investigate the disappearance of Prime and the Creation Matrix. He faces a race against time to get back!
I might add, we’ve also seen the Autobots handed one of their worst ever defeats, by Galvatron, and when we last saw them Ironhide was busy freeing Megatron from his rocky tomb. Robin Smith’s cover (captioned: Scourge is scrapped… and not by an Autobot!) teases the main slice of action for this instalment, hinting at the expected Autobot-Megatron team up. It’s been a hell of a first half to Target: 2006 and things are about to get even more exciting!
It begins with Starscream punching free from a capsule within the Ark. When we last saw him, he was rendered inoperative by Omega Supreme – along with Rumble, Frenzy, Skywarp, Buzzsaw and Thundercracker. All are undergoing repairs in cocoons. Starscream wonders whether the Autobots’ “contemptible compassion” extends to restoring those they have defeated. We learn that, of the others, only Frenzy and Thundercracker are on the way to recovery – the rest are too badly broken. Starscream gravitates cautiously towards the sound of voices raised in anger. He cannot believe his eyes – Megatron has teamed up with the Autobots!
Geoff Senior does a fine job of conveying the shock on Starscream’s face, and the defiance of Megatron (not easy for robot faces) but Starscream’s posture is a little weird, looking like he’s squatting to use a loo! I don’t mean to disparage the art though, as it’s of a generally high standard and with some outstanding moments (Scourge spearing Grapple with a sheet of steel being one).
The row between Megatron and Jetfire, with Ironhide stepping-in to calm things serves as a good way of recapping the previous indignities heaped on both sides. (I particularly enjoy the sight of Megatron seizing Ironhide by the throat after the latter frees him – it’s such a typical Megatron reflex). Jetfire continues his poor run of judgement, once again allowing emotion to cloud his view. He’s on the brink of calling off this alliance before it gets going. Thankfully wise-old-hand Ironhide reminds both camps of their shared enemy and Megatron has a workable plan that they can get behind. His words carry the day and others vote in favour.
That said, what were they thinking reviving Starscream? Sure, they could use his raw power but the last thing you need when the chips are down is a potential traitor in the camp. And having gone to the effort, nobody seems to notice Starscream sneaking off – having decided that a being powerful enough to unite sworn enemies is worthy of an alliance.
We’re reminded that Magnus is still around, and still under a time pressure to get back for Volcano, when Hound visits him to give an update on developments. The scene feels a little padded but does further illustrate the bond between the two of them. Hound owes his life to Magnus, and having seen his bravery in battle, he’s loyal to Magnus even though Jetfire and the others distrust him. Oddly, Magnus seems to have grown since last time (or Hound has shrunk!). He’s now at least twice the size the smaller Autobot and his head is comparable to Hound’s torso in one panel. Magnus is horrified to learn that the Autobots are working with Megatron – a case of ‘better the devil they know’ explains Hound, in a nod to the title of the story. Magnus suggests Megatron and Galvatron are as “insidiously evil” as one another (big hint there).
Next comes the meat in the sandwich of the issue. At the Portland Iron and Steel foundry, Scourge arrives in search of supplies. There is no question he would be happier hunting Autobots than ferrying stocks of metal – and he may get his wish! Sensing enemy Transformers hidden behind a nearby wall, Scourge reacts with lightning speed. A blast from his acid ray penetrates the concrete and fries Trailbreaker, but it soon becomes apparent that the place is crawling with Autobots.
How they knew where to find him is never explained, but it quickly becomes apparent to Scourge that this is an organised ambushed. A well-aimed laser blast reduces him to fighting with his bare hands and making use the materials around him ninja style. Even with these odds Scourge is still surprisingly adept and (as previously mentioned) impales Grapple with a sheet of metal. Senior’s art is fantastic and dramatic here. Scourge’s communications have been jammed (though unsaid, we know this will be Soundwave’s doing) and trapped inside, he can’t utilise the weaponry of his jet form. One thing for it – get outside. Scourge smashes his way through a wall and into the open, only for his escape to be cut short by a blast from the one and only Megatron. And so it becomes clear, the identity of the tactical genius who has organised the Autobot ‘rabble’.
The issue’s finale focuses on a one-page scene between the captive Jazz and his tormentor Galvatron. Whereas earlier Starscream Jazz could not believe his eyes, Jazz cannot believe his ears. He had awoken from his injuries to be told of the Autobots’ failed attempt to rescue him. Galvatron had delivered the news with relish and Jazz had accused Galvatron of being “just like Megatron”. Galvatron laughs, not “like” Megatron, He “IS” Megatron! The devil we know.
Anyone reading now will say ‘well of course Megatron is Galvatron’ but remember when this issue was published it was still about two months before The Movie arrived in UK cinemas. Even so, the clues were there for readers to work it out. Those captured Decepticons Starscream, Thundercracker, Frenzy and co. get an early return to duty in this story, contrary to the US continuity where they are only retrieved by the Constructicons in UK#175 during an attack on the Ark.
And so, to part 6 subtitled ‘Trios’. I really can’t praise this instalment highly enough. It’s simply an 11-page masterpiece, and still a joy to read three and a half decades later. Why? Well has everything really – six new characters making their comics debut (always exciting for fans), the big reveal about Galvatron’s origins, our first look at Unicron courtesy of Phil Gascoine cover and Senior’s interior art (both amazing). And the issue offers tantalising glimpses of the eagerly awaited (at the time) Transformers Movie. Issue 84’s Transformation page sums it up succinctly as: “Six new characters and the origin of Galvatron… in one issue! This is the one you’ve been waiting for!” It certainly is.
The story begins in the most attention-grabbing way, with Impactor taking a punch to the chin. His attackers are three ‘Decepticon’ triple changers, who look to be a handful for even the fearless leader of the Wreckers. We know from the teaser in the previous issue, that Springer, Sandstorm and Broadside are Impactor’s assailants, but we also know they are part of the Autobot toy range. I remember wondering at the time whether the trio would be Decepticons who switch sides, but surely if that’s the case there’s not room in the story for yet another major sub-plot?
However, as we discover, there is if you’ll pardon the pun ‘more than meets the eye’ about the situation. After rough-handling Impactor for several minutes, they break off and Springer hands him a communications cube. Xaaron’s face appears on it, looking rather pleased with himself. He announces that Impactor has just ‘met’ the Autobot triple changers, who will be filling in for Ultra Magnus should he fail to make it back for Operation: Volcano. The disguises were for Impactor’s benefit and the rough treatment was the quickest way to convince him that they are up to the task. It’s great to see the dynamic between the two, and you can also see how the wily Xaaron has survived this long, knowing how to stay a step ahead of friend and foe. Impactor’s reaction, sheer frustration and not knowing whether to thank Xaaron or tear his head off, says it all!
Other points from this great little scene… Springer demonstrates his leaping ability to great effect (landing in front of Impactor and sending him sprawling). We also see Sandstorm and Broadside, transforming into their helicopter and plane modes. This is perfectly consistent with their toys, but makes less sense when you think about it, as why would Cybertron Autobots have Earth modes? I hate to suggest it as I’m fan of Senior’s work, but perhaps it was a laziness on his part, to skip having to design Cybertronic alt modes, or maybe an oversight? Likewise, I feel like the inhibitor claw placed on Impactor’s back and which stops him transforming, deprives readers of seeing his other mode.
If Impactor was having one of his worst days, on Earth, all Galvatron’s days are good ones, we’re told (particularly since he crushed the Autobots so comprehensively in part 3). Jazz, his captive, has just learned that Galvatron is an upgraded version of Megatron, and now he mocks him, hoping to learn more. Galvatron for some reckless reason is only too happy to oblige (you can almost hear Doc Brown screaming warnings in the background about messing with the space-time continuum!).
Galvatron describes an epic battle between himself as Megatron and his oldest foe Optimus Prime. They had fought to a standstill on the spot where Galvatron’s weapon now resides. The fight will of course become very, very well known to anyone watching the Movie (and let’s face it, most of us have seen that film A LOT of times!) but from the panels here, it looks like Megatron comes off worse. There’s no inkling that Optimus will be fatally injured and therefore that major plot is preserved for the filmgoers. At the time it confirmed my suspicions that Prime has the edge on Megatron in a straight fight.
We see Starscream, still treacherous as ever in 2006, casting Megatron into space, where he encounters the living planet Unicron. Again, we’re so used to seeing Unicron now that it’s easy to forget what a huge moment this is. I recall thinking that he looked like the Death Star and it totally made sense that a being powerful enough to be the master of Galvatron would have to be immense – and they don’t come bigger than planet-sized. It didn’t occur to me at the time that he might be able to transform!
Galvatron tells Jazz that he was given a simple choice, ‘serve Unicron or die’, and of course he chose the former. He was reconstructed as Galvatron, but his every indiscretion was instantly punished. We learn that he fled to Earth’s past with Cyclonus and Scourge to build a weapon of unimaginable power. He’s just about to tell Jazz that it will be dormant under Autobot City and trigger the moment they return to the future, destroy the city and Unicron – which suggests he doesn’t intend to let Jazz live to tell the tale – when Cyclonus interrupts. He informs Galvatron that Scourge is missing and that he found Starscream nearby, hoping to join the winning side. He had information to trade, which Cyclonus beat out of him – Megatron is free and has teamed up with the Autobots! Jazz breaks out into laughter – it’s Megatron versus Megatron – and Galvatron, infuriated renders the Autobot very quickly unconscious.
This raises a question of course, why Galvatron has no memories of his earlier self-teaming up with the Autobots. Could it be that he’s from an alternate future and not descended from this Megatron? Perhaps it’s best to not worry about these things too much and simply enjoy the story.
And so, to the Decepticon coal mine base, where Shockwave has returned and found it deserted save for the recently revived Frenzy and Thundercracker. They have questions – but as the scene flicks between Hot Road, Kup and Blurr in 2006 preparing to time travel – they don’t get the opportunity for answers, as the Decepticon trio are engulfed in the same antimatter that consumed Prime, Prowl and Ratchet. (So, this explains for readers what we already suspected, that future visitors displace persons in the present). They vanish making way for the future Autobots to arrive in spectacular fashion. Their mission, we learn is to stop Galvatron. Who sent them? The cryptic clue of Simon Furman’s closing narration hints at the answer – a ‘haunting, malevolent laugh’ that stirs their subconscious (big hint here) and echoes off the coalmine, reverberating off the surface of Cybertron and reaching Galvatron, producing a sudden chill that owes nothing to the climate. Unicron?