Legacy of Unicron (Parts 3 & 4)

Cyclonus and Scourge lead the Decepticons in a suicidal attack on the Autobots as part of Unicron’s insidious plan to decimate both warring factions, and Inferno meets a fiery end

A quick recap: Death’s Head pursued Cyclonus and Scourge to the Planet of Junk to execute them and complete the contract he agreed with the Autobot leader Rodimus Prime. There, on New Year’s Day 2008, they encountered the head of Unicron being rebuilt by an army of mind controlled Junkions. They were also enlisted into his service and used to assassinate the Decepticon leader Shockwave. With Cyclonus and Scourge now installed as the new leaders they are poised to launch an all-out attack on the Autobots to keep everyone distracted while Unicron rebuilds.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this six-part saga from 1988 has treated readers to one of the best starts to a Transformers story since, well, Simon Furman’s previous future epic, Wanted Galvatron. However, that story had started strongly and then quickly went south, and I must admit that Legacy was in danger of going the same say, as part three is in my opinion the weakest of the six. Thankfully it gets better.

As we go into issue #148, expectations are sky-high after those magnificent first and second instalments. In part three we’ve got an epic battle between the deadlocked Autobot and Decepticon factions in prospect so on paper it should be a good one. And artist Dan Reed deserves praise for the amazingly detailed sea of battling robots he renders over two pages and also the menacing, if slightly phallic, armada of jets that overfly Rodimus at the start.

It’s difficult to put a finger on why the issues a bit flat overall, but I think it’s because we’re detached from the action. We never delve into the battle and see characters that we care about bite the dust or perform heroics so its difficult to feel all that invested. Part three feels like it is just moving the plot on until the better stuff comes along.

It begins with Rodimus and Kup strolling on the veranda of their command centre on Cybertron. Kup is twitchy for some action and Prime is irritated by the gung-ho attitude. As Hot Rod he might have shared the sentiment, but as leader the death and destruction is a heavy burden to carry. We all know what’s coming and sure enough their words set up the splash page of the Decepticon forces swarming overhead like a scene from the Blitz. Evidently the Autobots don’t do radar, as they are ‘taken by surprise’ but they quickly scramble a full response.

This provides us with the high point of the issue, Reed’s double pager with the battle scene. It must have been a hell of a challenge and time consuming to pencil all the detail.

On Junk Unicron is watching events unfold through the eyes of Cyclonus and Scourge. His new shoulders are also starting to take shape! As I’ve mentioned before, it’s somewhat impractical for the Junkions to be hoisting him up and adding layers – much better to have rebuilt Unicron in space.

Wreck-gar, Inferno and Smokescreen have been watching in horror and hear Unicron boast of his intention to “descend on Cybertron” once his body is rebuilt and the Autobots and Decepticons have largely destroyed one another. They make a break for their shuttle, hoping to get back and warn Prime, but they are confronted with a (miscoloured green?) Junkion with a torso that really reminds me of Galvatron’s 1986 toy form. Wreck-gar is forced to take out the mind-controlled Junkion out with a flying axe, adding further to the Junkion leader’s immense distress. He’s still talking in TV references but less so. The situation is too serious for silly comments.

Then we have Death’s Head, the unofficial star of the show, for whom the Legacy of Unicron story is really an opportunity to showcase him ahead of his own Marvel UK monthly comic that is coming up later in 1988. Uniquely, because he’s Death’s Head and awesome, he’s able to display a stronger will than Cyclonus and Scourge and attempt to resist Unicron’s mental control. This only amuses Unicron who turns up the dial on his mental control. Soon DH is back in service and shoots Inferno in the back as the Autobots near their shuttle, causing the Autobot serious internal damage. Wreck-gar stays to battle Death’s Head and buy Smokescreen and the injured Inferno the time they need to blast off.

Unicron orders Wreck-gar to be finished off but again Death’s Head resists. He is swiftly punished with an influx of pain but allows the Junkion leader to scarper off. Death’s Head takes this a significant step forward in defying the mind control, as part three ends.

In the Grim Grams page, Grimlock responds to a reference to Autobot City being called Fortress Maximus by saying that it may have been named in honour of Max. Later in 1988, in the story Space Pirates, it would be confirmed that Autobot City was in fact Metroplex.

Onwards to issue #149, which is all about Inferno meeting his end in a massive ball of fire – only fitting really. Inferno is in fact one of the early Hasbro releases but for some reason he never featured in either the UK or US Transformers comics, save for an appearance in a UK annual text story which was not considered canon.

Finally, he shows up as part of the 2008 Autobots but sadly it doesn’t take long before Inferno comes to sticky end. On the plus side, it is a heroic and rather memorable exit and because these are future events, the way is clear for Inferno to make further appearances in the comics that are set in the ‘present day’, which he does.

The story opens with Smokescreen at the controls of a large Autobot ship, desperate to make it back to Cybertron and raise the alarm about Unicron’s return. For a moment it looks like Smokescreen and the injured Inferno (in the medical bay) might make it back in one piece, but they’ve come under aerial attack in the skies above their home world by Unicron’s agents Cyclonus and Scourge.

Without a co-pilot to man the guns, Smokescreen is a sitting duck. A quick check to the power core reveals it as near empty, and they are almost out of time. Suddenly the power gauge fills up, allowing them to pull the shuttle up. Inferno staggers in, and although severely injured he has been repairing the engines. Smokescreen fears his friend will not survive unless he returns to med bay but unless Inferno helps, they are both as good as dead anyway. The huge battle still rages below.

Inferno discovers that the ship is wrecked and has little chance of landing in one piece, so with a heroic effort, he lifts Smokescreen and hurls him out of the shuttle window, while remaining on board to direct the ship into the hordes of marauding Decepticons below. Smokescreen watches the incredible mushroom cloud that follows the explosion.

On Junk, Unicron is pleased as it suits his purpose to remain undetected. Death’s Head continues to provoke his master, which seem rather unwise, except that for now he knows he is more useful to Unicron alive than dead, and he’s testing for ways to loosen Unicron’s mental hold by distracting him.

Talking of distractions, Unicron has had his Junkion slaves – who were working flat out as it is – build him a time portal that he can use to snatch Galvatron from the past once the time is right. You would think however that the resources required for this side project would be enormous, and better directed at Unicron’s reassembly. Plus, unless Galvatron dies in the past he should still be around in 2008 and could be picked up then. I was always confused on this point as a reader in the 1980s but (spoiler warning) as we see in the 1989 story Time Wars, Galvatron does indeed meet his end in the past.

Meanwhile, Smokescreen makes it back to Autobase and fills Rodimus in on the new threat. Prime will have to go to Junk to confront Unicron, but how can he leave with all-out war unleashed on Cybertron? Grimlock is never one to underrate the Dinobots’ fighting abilities and suggests with them at Prime’s side, they can prevail against a planet eating god (perhaps with a bit of help from the Matrix too). So Rodimus, the Dinobots, Smokescreen and Scattershot will go to Junk for the big showdown.

The issue ends with Death’s Head making his move. He grabs his gun and blasts some of the Junkion workers. Unicron responds by wracking Death’s Head’s body with pain, allowing the bounty hunter an opening to project his mind into Unicron’s. Perhaps on the mental plain they can battle on equal terms… it seems rather unlikely but it does set the stage for the awesome 150th issue of Transformers where Unicron’s secrets (and the origins of the Transformers themselves) will be revealed. 

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Legacy of Unicron (Parts 1 and 2)

Death’s Head corners Cyclonus and Scourge on the Planet of Junk, where the all three are forcibly enlisted into an insidious plot hatched by the dismembered head of Unicron!

In January 1988, Marvel UK’s flagship comic, The Transformers, was ushering in a new year… except the one in question was 2008 – twenty years beyond the publication date! Yes it’s another story set in the post-Transformers Movie future, which will take the comic up to and beyond its milestone 150th issue.

Lee Sullivan’s cover for issue #146 depicts a wonderfully maniacal-looking Death’s Head poised to execute poor, battered and wretched Cyclonus, with a Junkion springing up all-jolly and shouting “G’Day!” Since Junkions use popular culture references for communication, I’m wondering whether the greeting is riffing off the Crocodile Dundee movies or maybe Aussie soap Neighbours, as that was taking off in the UK at the time.

The corner box also features Rodimus Prime raising a toast to the new year, which is a nice touch.

Ever since Target: 2006 proved a runaway success, Simon Furman has known there is a rich furrow to be ploughed in Transformers the Movie and post-Movie tie-ins. Not only are these popular with the readers, but they offer freedom from the comic’s usual constraints.

Back in the day a lot of the UK material consisted of the Marvel US stories. In fact the American material was the main canon and the home-grown British stories supplemented and expanded on these. Simon would take care not to do anything that might inadvertently contradict an upcoming US story (and for the most part was successful). However, future stories could be taken in any direction the liked, even killing off main characters, i.e. Shockwave, as we’ll see.

Issue #146’s Transformations page tries incredibly hard to tease the main story without giving away the title or the identity of the big threat. It’s fun to see how they fill a couple of hundred words saying without giving anything away, although I reckon most fans would have guessed the big reveal from the clues, I know I did at the time.

The story picks up the threads of 1987’s Headhunt, where Rodimus Prime paid Death’s Head an advance to hunt down the troublesome Cyclonus and Scourge. As 2008 dawns, that pursuit is entering its final stages in the skies above the Planet of Junk.

Scourge is hit with a blast from Death’s Head’s ship and goes down in a trail of smoke. His calls for Cyclonus to help fall on deaf ears, as apparently his partner-in-crime is in an ‘every man for himself’ mood, or is it a trick? (Ironically, the tables will be turned in the story Dry Run later that year). Scourge manages to style-out his crash-landing by transforming and aiming a blaster at Death’s Head’s ship, now hovering a few feet from him.

Scourge is obviously confused as to why he’s not under attack but quickly starts scanning around for a fuel tank he can blast. Death’s Head shows up, having been on the planet all along and operating his ship remotely. I particularly like the scene with Scourge on his knees feigning a plea for mercy (which Death’s Head regards with utter contempt) as Cyclonus swoops down to attempt a reverse-ambush and a surprise bombing run.

Death’s Head is a class act and manages to get clear of the explosions. He takes out Scourge and sticks a heat seeker on Cyclonus’ tail, forcing him to revert to his more vulnerable robot mode, where he too is quickly subdued. When you consider that Cyclonus and Scourge are two Unicron creations and elites (one hundred Autobots could not best them, Galvatron once said) all this underlines Death’s Head’s badass credentials. He’ll soon have his own Marvel UK monthly title, so the story is undoubtedly a showcase for the character.

Then, as per the cover, a Junkion rises from beneath a pile of debris. He’s more solemn than on the cover and implores Death’s Head to help free his people from the mental control of a being of vast power (a big clue there). Death’s Head doesn’t do freebies but is assured the Junkions are “among the richest traders in the galaxy” (not that you would think it to see the state of their planet) so this could be a profitable diversion.

He’ll need Cyclonus and Scourge to help with the operation, but he makes a mental note to double-cross the pair afterwards and kill them anyway. To not deliver on a contract would be bad for business after all. You’ve got to love him.

In a quick interlude, we see Rodimus bidding farewell to Wreck-gar who is heading back to that great fly-tip pile he calls home. There’s a genuine fondness between the two unlikely allies, perhaps because Wreck-gar has been at Prime’s side since his ascendance to the leadership. Wreck-gar departs in a shuttle, piloted by Smokescreen and the lesser seen Inferno, with Prime offering an appropriate farewell: “May all your programmes be sequels”.

Back on Junk, the attack goes badly awry. The Junkion, who was meant to be laying explosives, is discovered and quickly dispatched. Then powerful will commands Death’s Head, Cyclonus and Scourge to stand to attention. Artist Geoff Senior is on top form with a splash page making the big reveal – yes, it’s Unicron! No doubt there will have been genuine shock and excitement from the fans and the certain knowledge this is about to get epic…

Some quick thoughts on part one: Unicron is back as a head and is being reassembled by an army of Junkion slaves. Surely, they will have to keep hoisting him up to add layers, and it would be far easier to do the rebuilding in space. When last seen, Unicron was doing a slingshot around Cybertron and either entering into orbit or heading for deep space. You might expect that the Transformers would have kept tabs on their mortal enemy but apparently not. Junkions evidently have no long-range warning capabilities.

In the second instalment readers were assured, “if you thought last week’s episode was shocking, you are not going to believe what’s in store for you now!” They were not wrong. In fact, Shockwave’s demise in issue #147 is one of the best deaths of a main character I’ve ever seen in the comic. Truly unexpected and impactful.

The curtain rises on the Decepticons’ stronghold on Cybertron. It’s depicted from the outside with a couple of moons in the night sky behind it. Not that I spotted it at the time, but re-reading 33 years later it occurs to me that both of Cybertron’s moons were consumed by Unicron in the Movie – oops!

Commander Shockwave, flanked by his bodyguard, is on his way to the throne room to receive Death’s Head. The bounty hunter has returned out of the blue seeking compensation for Cyclonus and Scourge messing up the hit on Rodimus Prime. If as it turns out Death’s Head has executed the pair, he’ll have done Shockwave a favour. Ever cautious, he orders Soundwave to monitor from behind the scenes.

I have to admire Death’s Head’s gumption. He was hired by Shockwave to kill Prime and he failed. However, he still wants a pay out as it was two of Shockwave’s warriors who got in the way and messed it up. Rather than telling him to get lost, Shockwave agrees to pay up as he might have need of Death’s Head in the future.

First, he wants to be convinced that Cyclonus and Scourge are dead. Soundwave, monitoring from another room, scans for minds… the guards, Shockwave, his bounty hunter guest… and, surprise, surprise the not-dead-after-all Cyclonus and Scourge! With that Death’s Head turns and fires at the throne, disintegrating it but finding Shockwave gone. The Decepticon leader pops up to return fire, showing himself to be a wily (and worthy) opponent.

Elsewhere Smokescreen, Inferno and Wreck Gar find the Planet of Junk deserted. The absence of a welcome party is a concern and it doesn’t take long before they stumble across the horrific scene of Unicron being rebuilt by enslaved Junkions. So, now the Autobots are aware of Unicron’s return, but can they get word back to Rodimus Prime?

Meanwhile, Death’s Head pursues Shockwave deeper into the labyrinthine Decepticon base and comes across a target range with effigies of Prime and key Autobots. Its reminiscent of the final showdown between 007 and the Man With The Golden Gun in the film of that title.

We learn that Death’s Head can still think for himself but Unicron maintains a subliminal control and the ability to punish (much like the hold he retained over Galvatron in the Transformers Movie) and as a result Death’s Head’s senses are dulled. This is an edge for Shockwave, as is the advantage of facing his adversary on home turf.

As Death’s Head contemplates whether the real Rodimus would be laughing if he could see the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter “killing for free”, the Prime effigy rolls forward propelled by Shockwave. Death’s Head gets the jitters and blasts it, coming under attack by Shockwave and incurring a blast wound to his leg. Shockwave is on fine fighting form here it must be said.

Then he gets overconfident and steps out into the open – fatal. Another Autobot target rolls forward and Shockwave thinks Death’s Head is trying to trick him with his own tactic. Little does he realise that Death’s Head is hiding behind the target and opens fire at close range leaving the Decepticon leader badly damaged and spewing circuitry from his chest wounds. The defeated Shockwave sinks to his knees and Death’s Head (turning away in self-disgust) blows him to bits. Praising Shockwave as a worthy adversary, and promising to avenge them both, Death’s Head reaches into the Decepticon’s skull and crushes his brain module. Wow – there’s no coming back from that it would seem.

Meanwhile Menasor has pounded in the throne room doors and Cyclonus and Scourge are on their knees about to be executed (so much for the warriors who are superior to one hundred Autobots). Death’s Head arrives to save their bacon. He announces that Shockwave is dead and Cyclonus and Scourge will be the new leaders, and if not, he’ll let go of his hold on an explosives trigger and blow the fortress sky high. Soundwave would rather like to kill the lot of them and take over himself, but he’s not about to call Death’s Head’s bluff and responds by hailing Cyclonus and Scourge as the new joint commanders.

On Junk Unicron’s eyes glow with pride as he realises the first phase of his plan has been achieved. Cyclonus and Scourge will instigate a suicidal attack on the Autobots which few will survive, he declares.

So, in closing… wow. It’s not often we see a major character destroyed in Transformers (with the exception of Optimus Prime, naturally!!) but Shockwave’s death in ‘the future’ does not preclude him from appearing in the regular continuity. Indeed, as we’ll see in later stories, past Shockwave will learn of his future counterpart’s death and lose his mind over it.

I had thought that Transformer brain modules were globular. That’s the case for Skids when Circuit Breaker extracts his brain in issue #94. Shockwave’s vital components are rectangular and suggest that internal components can vary from robot to robot. Also, Menasor shouldn’t be here because one of his component parts, Wildrider, was executed by Megatron in the Earthforce stories. This suggests he survived somehow and was rebuilt.

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