Target: 2006 (Parts 3 & 4)

Galvatron inflicts a humiliating defeat on the leaderless Autobots, after they are deserted by Ultra Magnus in their hour of need. While on Cybertron, the Wreckers question their involvement in Operation: Volcano.

Defeat – an ‘ugly word that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth’. So says Ironhide, our narrator for part 3 of Target: 2006. The issue starts with the big red Autobot shifting boulders in the aftermath of momentous events, which we are about to hear about courtesy of flashbacks.

It’s October 1986 and Simon Furman’s 11-part time-and-galaxy-spanning epic Target: 2006 is in full swing. Previous instalments have shown us glimpses of the god given power of Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, and in this issue, we see them in combat with the era’s Autobots. Trouble is that this is just what Galvatron wants. Having captured Jazz, he taunted the Autobots to “come and get” their comrade, goading them into a hasty attack that would allow him to inflict a crushing defeat on them, and so it proved.

Jeff Anderson is the artist for Part 3 and again demonstrates his technique of applying a coloured border to differentiate between past and present events, which works perfectly here.

Ironhide’s flashback begins with Jetfire telling him to focus as they are about to arm up and set off after Galvatron. Jazz’s life is at stake and they have no time to lose. Quite why Jetfire is in charge is unclear. Prowl, Jazz and Ratchet were the established deputies to Optimus Prime and all are unavailable, so it might be that Jetfire is filling the void by virtue of his status as one of the more powerful Autobots, or maybe his emotions are running high and others are falling in behind his driving force.

Hound sounds a note of caution about Galvatron’s power. It’s clear they need the strength of Ultra Magnus, and Jetfire reluctantly agrees to extend him an invite. For some reason, Jetfire has taken against him, even though Magnus saved Hound from Cyclonus; his arrival so soon after Prime’s departure is a little close for comfort.

There’s an uncomfortable moment when Magnus is forced to decline to help because his time-limited mission to locate Optimus Prime takes priority. Magnus’ fact file (in TFUK #81) tells us his only failing is “once he has accepted a certain task, his singled-minded purposes sometimes blinds him to other things” which sounds like it refers to this moment.

The battle itself starts badly for the Autobots. They are subjected to heavy aerial bombardment and Jetfire seems to be considerably weaker than Cyclonus when the two clashed in the air. Scourge dodges enemy fire with before landing and inviting the Autobots to attack him. With the henchmen seemingly under control, Jetfire takes Ironhide, Tracks and Smokescreen with him to take down Galvatron, four versus one. This is incredibly foolhardy and overconfident. Four Autobots wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to challenge Megatron, and from what they’ve seen of Galvatron so far he is in that league – plus they know he’s protected by the Constructicons.

This is where Galvatron demonstrates his dominance so utterly. He points out the Constructicons, Cyclonus and Scourge all stood down at the side lines and invites the Autobots to do their worst. They unleash enough firepower to level a small city, only for Galvatron to soak it all up and laugh throughout. Then beat the four of them to a pulp! All of which brings us back to the beginning where it’s revealed that Ironhide is digging up Megatron and Soundwave!

The epilogue shows a fist breaking out from confinement in the Ark. We’re not shown who but it’s likely to be one of the Decepticons captured after their defeat by Omega Supreme. Are they being reactivated to join an alliance? The answers would have to wait, as in TFUK #81 the focus switched to Cybertron, providing a week’s interlude from the main events.

Ron Smith takes over art duties for Part 4, which explains more about Operation: Volcano and introduces several new characters, among them Whirl, Topspin, Twin Twist, the Decepticon triple changers, Rack n Ruin and Fang. Generally speaking, a character that is part of the Hasbro toy line can be expected survive whilst the made-for-comics characters will usually meet a grisly end (in the finest Star Trek red shirt tradition).

The Wreckers’ now familiar battle cry ‘Wreck and Rule!’ is heard for the first time in the comic. It chills the oil of the Decepticon killers who hear it, we’re told. Impactor and his men bearing down on them.

Shrapnel is the first victim – speared through the brain module by Impactor’s harpoon. His electrical emissions running wild, he can be used as a weapon against Octane. Whirl draws Decepticon fire, allowing Rack n Ruin to get close to pummel Thrust. Topspin, the glory seeker, takes on too many foes, but is saved by Twintwist and Roadbuster who emerge from below ground to evaporate Dirge and Ramjet. This is brutal stuff!

Of course, going back to my point about toy line characters, it’s pretty obvious that the slain Decepticons are not properly dead, and sure enough it soon becomes apparent that these are Facsimile Constructs – fake Transformers. These doubles are being used by the Wreckers to practice for Operation: Volcano, which is now less than five days away.

The team is anxious. They know if Ultra Magnus does not return from Earth in time, they will be overrun by Decepticon reinforcements, making the mission a suicide. They agree to pull the plug and Impactor will deliver the news to Emirate Xaaron, while the rest take five.

All told this is probably my least favourite instalment of Target: 2006 because it feels like a distraction from the main story. But I can see why Furman thought a full issue’s story was needed to properly introduce the Wreckers, Impactor and the Volcano aspect of the plot. One of the fun, quirky aspects of the story is Maccadam’s Old Oil House, the rowdy place black market oil bar, which Roadbuster, Twin Twist and Whirl frequent.

It’s interesting because it’s a neutral space where Autobot, Decepticon and neutrals can coexist (if they stay out of trouble). It’s also one of the rare times we see Transformers engaged in social activities. Could Maccadam’s be a place where Autobot and Decepticon double agents exchange information or enemies can come together as friends, albeit briefly? In this case, our three Wreckers are there to drown their sorrows. As Whirl wryly observes, he’s seen “cheerier” Decepticon badges than the other two.

Suddenly, a gigantic Decepticon bully called Fang, enters – he’s so big he practically cracks the doorframe – and he decides to pick on the Transformer with the piano alt mode who is supplying the bar music. Fang attacks the poor fellow with his sink plunger for a fist before giving him a good kick.

Twin Twist, enraged, wants to get involved. Roadbuster tells him to leave it, saying “it’s not out fight” in echoes of their earlier judgement on Operation Volcano. Instead with a ‘Wreck and Rule’ cry, Twin Twist sucker-punches Fang courtesy of a strike to the knees, that severs his lower leg and sends his upper torso crashing down. Fang winds up as a pile of metal debris. He looked like he would have put up more of a fight.

However, the incident is catalyst enough to persuade the Wreckers to change their mind about Volcano. So much so, that when Impactor – who has been outsmarted into reconsidering the mission by the wily, experienced politician Xaaron – asks for volunteers he gets a full show of hands. The Wreckers return to practice, taking it from the top…

In closing: The Wreckers make a strong impression on their team debut and are destined to be fan favourites. These ‘return to Cybertron’ stories are a good way for writers to get the extended toy range into the comic, for example the Jump Starters who had been out for well over a year and I hadn’t expected to see. Also Whirl and Roadbuster and the long overdue Decepticon Triple Changers.

How has the Autobot resistance got the resources to build so many working facsimiles of their enemies? You’d imagine they’d be better off investing more Ultra Magnus or Omega Supreme warriors. Next issue its back to main plot (horay!) as the Autobots form an unholy alliance with their worst enemy Megatron – a case of better the devil you know!

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Target: 2006 (Parts 1 & 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crisis of Command

Optimus Prime is suffering post-traumatic stress from his months as a prisoner of war. His followers are turning on each other and the Decepticons’ interim leader Soundwave hatches a fiendish plot to exploit their weaknesses. Marvel UK presents the exceptional Crisis of Command.

If I were to think of my top 10 all-time favourite Transformers stories, I’m certain Crisis of Command would be up there. What is it about this tale, published over three weeks in January 1986, which still strikes a chord more than 34-years later? Put simply, Crisis has all the elements of a great Transformers story. It’s a personal journey of redemption for Optimus Prime, who we see at his most vulnerable and later at his best; it’s the values of the Autobots and the cruelty of the enemy brought into sharp contrast; and its Soundwave at his magnificent cruel and calculating best.

Remarkably, Crisis is one of the few Marvel UK Transformers stories that was not written by Simon Furman. Instead, Mike Collins (of Man of Iron fame) and James Hill share the honours. The superlative Geoff Senior (my favourite TF artist of the era) debuts on the first two parts, with John Stokes illustrating the third and final instalment.

Crisis takes place in between the US story Prime Time (in which Shockwave is hurled into a swamp by Optimus Prime) and Rock and Roll Out where he reappears. As far as the American audience was aware, the Decepticons were quickly reunited with Shockwave and it was business as usual. In the UK comics however, nearly three months passed in which the Decepticons were missing both Shockwave and Megatron.

So, with Optimus restored and the enemy leaderless and outnumbered, the Autobots enter the new year with the advantage. However, that’s not how things pan out, as we soon see.

The story opens on the Ark and a heated argument between two camps of Autobots. Hawks led by Prowl argue they must use the Creation Matrix to create an army of super soldiers against the Decepticons. Jazz and fellow doves are horrified by talk of hunting down and destroying the enemy, calling it “Decepticon thinking”. This is somewhat naïve – they are at war and have been for millions of years. A continuation of the status quo would inevitably mean more lives lost, so a case can be made for the ends justifying the means. Jazz does make an important point though; how would they fuel these super warriors given they have barely enough for themselves? Prime, meanwhile, sits on a golden throne in the middle of all this, his thoughts elsewhere. As Ratchet implores him to give some guidance it is apparent that Prime’s odd behaviour at Christmas is getting worse.

Finally, he speaks, reminding the Autobots (in typical Optimus speak) that he is “not a warrior by choice”, he fights because he must. He allows Prowl to expand on his ideas and Senior does a great job in drawing the imagined giant Autobots in their full menacing majesty (looking like a cross between Omega Supreme and Sunstreaker). Prime gives the plan short shrift saying the price the Earth would pay would be cataclysmic.

His words settle the argument for now, but there is discontent and several Autobots wonder if Prime is fully himself. In the shadows the Decepticon master spy Ravage is fascinated by the prospect of the Autobots starting to doubt their leader.

We get the strongest indication that Prime is likely to be suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his long spell detached from his body as a helpless captive of the Decepticons. The Autobots had not hesitated in making him leader again, but Prime is having doubts whether he is still the right robot for the job. He thinks the discontent he heard suggests others are starting to doubt him too.

Ravage places a paw into the light and triggers an intruder alarm. A small nit-pick, but how are these alarms are not routinely sprung by the Autobots themselves? Ravage leaps across Prime and past Prowl and a couple of unidentified warriors – Prowl and Jazz and unified against this common enemy. Ravage fires a missile into a group of Autobots, proving that he’s able to cause serious damage despite being alone and outnumbered. However, once outside he’s deceived by a Mirage hologram and ensnared by Hound’s energy net. On a cliff high above, Laserbeak observes the capture.

And so, to the Decepticons, the other half of this crisis equation. They have regrouped at Fortress Sinister, their original base. Poor Starscream, you almost feel sorry for him. He’s craved command for so long, and with Megatron and Shockwave out of the way, this should be his moment. However, he’s easily dismissed by Soundwave (with one of the best put-downs ever) as a “missile with a mouth”. If they followed his foolhardy instincts and attacked, not knowing what forces lay in wait, they could be utterly defeated. Even Starscream’s attempt to turn the tables on Soundwave – blaming him for Ravage’s capture falls flat – as it’s revealed that this is part of a master plan.

Sure enough, Ravage uses his electromagnetic abilities to easily disrupt the force field in his cell and escape through it. The Autobots have seen his abilities before (in the encounter with Aunty) and should have known better than to leave the cell unguarded.

Fact files on new, still-to-be-introduced characters Blitzwing and Tracks, and the conclusion to the Machine Man of 2020 back-up strip, ensures a fantastic start to 1986 for the UK Transformers comic.

James Hill picks up the writer’s baton for part two. It opens with Bumblebee racing across the desert in search of the escaped Ravage. We learn, via flashback, that Bumblebee had discovered the Decepticon’s cell empty and had reported the news to Optimus Prime. He was shocked by Prime’s indecision and how he was easy prey to his deputy Prowl’s more aggressive instincts. Instead of ordering Mirage and Hound to affect the capture (as instructed) he decide to go after Ravage himself.

Bumblebee apparently possesses infrared vision. We see him use it to pick out Ravage against the arid landscape and then pursue him through a narrow canyon. What happens next is superbly executed. Hill has Prime narrate over the action as the penny drops that Ravage was captured far too-easily – he must have planned to escape all along in order to lure as many Autobots as possible into a Decepticon trap!

This is exactly what Bumblebee now stumbles into, as he’s suddenly face-to-face with eight heavily armed Decepticons. Even with their most powerful warriors absent, the Decepticons are a force to be reckoned with, especially how Senior draws them here. Forget fair play – they are more than willing gang up on a lone opponent and enjoy playing the playground bullies.

First, Bumblebee is thrown in the air by a Laserbeak missile attack, then Skywarp easily absorbs a punch the Autobot throws, before making him eat dirt. The seeds that were planted last issue come to fruition as the Soundwave reveals his sinister plan is to exchange an Autobot hostage in return for Optimus Prime. To be fair to Bumblebee, what he lacks in strength he makes up for in courage. He makes a final desperate attempt to escape, transforming to vehicle mode (and almost succeeding) until he runs into Starscream (this allows Screamer an opportunity to redeem himself in front of his comrades after last issue’s humiliation).

If the ambush was the first shock of the issue, then what follows is the second. The Ark’s sensors pick up a distress signal – it could be Bumblebee, except its airborne. The Autobots rush outside and see Laserbeak drop something. Thinking it’s a bomb, they dive for cover. There’s no explosion and as the dust clears, they are confronted with the severed arm of their missing comrade. Harsh!

Fans of Bumblebee were warned they would not enjoy this issue! However, it’s a powerful ending and ably demonstrates the ruthless and devious side of Soundwave, who is effectively accepted by the other Decepticons as acting leader from this point. He knows the Decepticons are numerically inferior to the Autobots at this point and unable to repel a full-scale attack, but if they can eliminate the Autobot leader it could be a game changer.

In the concluding part (by Mike Collins with John Stokes taking over the art) Laserbeak throws down the metaphorical gauntlet (Bumblebee’s arm) to Prime to come and rescue him alone. It’s one of the rare times Laserbeak speaks but it might be that he’s playing back a message from Soundwave. And so, the stage is set for some vintage Optimus Prime action. With the great Autobot having regained the resolve that had earlier deserted him, he announces he take up the challenge alone.

I think Prime is being a little hard on himself for blaming Bumblebee’s capture on himself. Sure, he could have seen through the charade of Ravage’s capture, but he wasn’t to know that Bumblebee would have gone after the Decepticon alone. It certainly seems incredibly foolhardy for him to go into the viper’s nest alone at this point, but it does make for great drama.

The news of Prime’s approach is music to the ears of Soundwave – and we also see Bumblebee captive but very much alive. Rumble shakes the ground from under Prime forcing him to crash and revert to robot mode. He fakes injury, luring Rumble in and the mini-Decepticon is easily beaten. The pay-off from the cover (depicting a ‘Jet Trap’) comes now as Thundercracker deafens Prime, Skywarp appears out of nowhere to blast him in the shoulder and self-proclaimed ‘leader killer’ Starscream arrives to finish the job.

But the enemy’s boasts serve to remind Prime of his greater purpose. The words of Emirate Xaaron who entrusted him with command and with stopping the Decepticons millennia ago (in the 1985 annual) come back into focus. Prime revives, punches out Skywarp and Thundercracker and then takes on the quivering Starscream. In fact, he gives Starscream a free shot before punching the wings off him (any claim he had to leading the Decepticons as Primes equal and opposite look ridiculous now).

There’s then the pay off as Soundwave is taunting Bumblebee with the reports that Optimus was defeated. “Where is your saviour now?” he asks, as Prime throws Starscream’s weapon into the room and walks in looking bruised and battered but every bit the unstoppable force. Soundwave, having been taken by surprise is easily repelled, and Laserbeak succumbs to a single punch. In Soundwave’s defence he is much more of a strategist than a fighter, tending to use his cassettes to do the dirty work. Bumblebee, jubilant, tells Prime to finish off the Decepticons. It’s either foolish, or to Prime’s credit (depending on how you look at it) that Optimus passes up the opportunity in order to get his wounded comrade back safely. One thing is for sure, the Decepticons will be back.

Later, Prime tells his men that he has considered the argument for creating super soldiers and rejected the plan. The Matrix will not be perverted. This time there though, there is no dissent, as everyone recognises that Optimus is back to his best. Ironically, he has the Decepticons to thank for snapping him out of his melancholy.

In summary, Crisis is a story about courage and the triumph of good over evil. It’s also about leadership and different examples of it. Prime took up command for selfless reasons, and his position stems from the respect of the Autobots. Soundwave earns primacy through his sense of strategy, cunning and opportunism that inspires the confidence of his comrades. Starscream fails as he basically seeks the leadership out of an overinflated opinion of himself.

Having praised Senior’s incredible job on parts one and two, Stokes also deserves plaudits for the way he conveys the emotions of the characters – Starscream’s fear, Bumblebee’s despair and relief – really well. The pay-off of Prime’s triumphant entrance into Soundwave’s lair to save the day is his best work on the title. The scene is enough to make even the most cynical fan punch the air in triumph.

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Decepticon Dambusters

The Dinobots encounter human life for the first time, and it doesn’t go well! Ratchet decides to tell them a story of when the Autobots saved ungrateful townsfolk from a Decepticon attack on their dam, in this comic adaptation of a cartoon classic.

In the 1980s the Transformers were a global toy phenomenon first and foremost but also a hugely successful Sunbow cartoon and Marvel comic. Aside from adhering to a common origin story and character profiles, the cartoons and comics then went in completely different directions.

Both would develop the characters and introduce new ones in their own ways. To my mind the comics were more tightly woven and coherent but there are others who will argue for the cartoon being the official canon. Transformers the Movie in 1986 was something of an exception. It was such a massive event that the UK comic embraced it into its timeline, while the US comic continued its policy of ignoring the cartoons (with one notable exception being the awful 1988 story ‘The Big Broadcast of 2006’, so bad it makes me shudder to think of it.

Decepticon Dambusters is something of a rarity as it incorporates a storyline from a cartoon episode (More Than Meets The Eye part 2). It’s top and tailed by current events in the form of a story told to the Dinobots by Ratchet. This is only Simon Furman’s third Transformers story for Marvel UK and follows on from seven weeks of major US stories. By comparison it feels a little underwhelming and personally I find the top and tailed events more interesting that the main segment, which is basically a reinterpretation of a cartoon story I’ve (and most readers at the time) was already familiar with.

The story opens in bar where the TV news is showing scenes of Megatron’s battle with the Dinobots in a ski resort (in last issue’s story Repeat Performance). One grumpy patron wants the “rubbish” turned off. He’s far from convinced by claims of a giant robot invasion and steps out into the night… only to be confronted in the parking lot by Grimlock! Artist John Stokes draws the Dinobot leader, probably the closest to his toy form as I’ve seen in the comic, though smaller than he ought to be.

The incredulous bar-goer runs face-first into the leg of another Dinobot. All in all the team isn’t very impressed with their first specimen of carbon-based life and are not quite sure how this is the dominant lifeform. The man runs towards an approaching ambulance thinking he’s saved, only for it to transform into an apologetic Ratchet. Seconds later he’s running for his life in the opposite direction!

As the Dinobots continue their long march back to the Ark, Ratchet attempts to explain the complicated relationship between the Autobots and humanity. He flashes back to the early days of the Transformers war on Earth when Megatron was still Decepticon leader and their base was Fortress Sinister. The Autobots had been “monitoring” the base, whatever that means. It’s hard to imagine that a listening device would not have been detected by Soundwave as it transmitted.

The Decepticon are interested in Sherman Dam and in particular forcing water through it to generate an electrical surge that they could harness as a crude fuel substitute. Megatron blasts his way into the control centre (the ceilings are high enough for him to fit inside, luckily) and reveals that he is the reason the dam is about to burst – or rather Rumble is. He’s on the riverbed using his pile drivers to generate a tidal wave.

The Autobots assembled, led by Optimus Prime. Hound was dispatched into the water while Prime and Megatron engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Both leaders revealed an ability to substitute their hand for a weapon, in Megatron’s case a ball and chain, while Prime wields an axe. Starscream leads a bunch of anonymous looking Decepticons in a counter attack while other non-descripts are loading energon cubes into Thundercracker under Soundwave’s supervision. Again, who were these foot soldiers? The first part ends on not so much a cliff hanger but a fall – as Prime (distracted by Hound being propelled out of the water by Rumble’s powerful piledriver arms) is sent flying over the dam by Megatron!

The conclusion is billed as a ‘tidal wave of terror’ on the cover to TFUK#30. Furman has got his dams confused and now refers to it as Boulder Dam (rather than Sherman). Prime survives his plunge and is quickly fished out, but Megatron transforms to gun mode and blows the dam wide open. Prowl leads Jazz, Mirage, Ironhide, Bumblebee and Sideswipe to the human settlement below, while the other Autobots collapse rocks and carve out trenches with their blasters in order to halt the coming tsunami. Bumblebee, despite being ordered to leave with Prowl, is present with Optimus (and gets swept away by the water) and on the following page he’s back with Prowl’s group again. This is sloppy stuff and makes me wonder whether the story was rushed, or perhaps writer or artist felt a bit half hearted about it (like this reader).

Ironhide outruns the coming water with Bumblebee in the back blasting a trench in the road behind. Finally, the water calms down leaving no more than ankle deep flooding. They’ve saved the town but residents have heard that giant robots were responsible for destroying the dam and they turn their anger on the Autobots. Mirage has an outburst but Prime orders him to control himself. Optimus decided they had best leave, and so all the hard work had gained no appreciation – only more hate.

And so, back to current events. We see Josie Beller/Circuit Breaker with her arm coated in circuitry and thirsting for revenge, and GB Blackrock examining a huge laser gun that he plans to deploy against the Transformers. In my favourite scene in the story, Swoop flies ahead to Mount St Hillary, eager to see the mountain again after four million years; it is after all the nearest thing the Transformers have to a home on Earth. Ratchet is worried – there could be Decepticons guarding the Ark. Grimlock reassures him about Swoop: he can look after himself, he’s fast and real strong… famous last words, they arrive to Swoop having been battered by the huge muscle-bound menace that is Guardian!

In closing, many wonder where Decepticon Dambusters actually fits into continuity. This is finally mentioned in TFUK#63’s Robot War round-up. We’re told it happened right after the Transformers returned from searching for the Man of Iron in England. So that means that Sparkplug’s time as a Decepticon prisoner lasted much longer than we thought. Even worse the Autobots had taken their sweet time about rescuing him.

Another thought, how come Ratchet and the Dinobots are walking to the Ark anyway? What happened to the shuttle craft he used to travel to Antarctica and presumably back?

Stokes’ art gives the sense of this being a throwback to the early days as we’ve got Ironhide and others drawn true to their toys rather than their better-established cartoon forms. Last time Guardian had been squandered as a character as he was easily defeated by Windcharger and Ravage but now he’s back, having been reprogrammed to target and destroy anyone wearing an Autobot badge and it looks like he means business. From the largely irrelevant flashback to the dam we’re now back in the thick of the action the stage is set for an epic showdown next issue.

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