Salvage!

Shockwave recovers Megatron from his watery grave to use as an agent against Galvatron, who appears to have mentally broken poor old Ultra Magnus…

‘Look who’s in Transformers’, teases the Transformation page for issue 160 with Lee Sullivan’s realistic drawing of a familiar face from the ‘real world’ – Richard Branson. Genuinely this was unexpected.

Branson was/is one of the Britain’s most recognisable business personalities, and in April 1988 when the comic was released, he was famous for high-profile marketing stunts such as driving a tank through New York’s 5th Avenue or wearing a wedding dress to launch his Virgin Brides line.

It’s easy to imagine that when Marvel UK asked if he would like to appear in Britain’s best-selling weekly comic, Branson was tickled by the idea. It may well have engendered some goodwill from young readers towards Virgin corporation (and sales as the Virgin Media stores) but if Sir Richard was hoping to look cool and down with the kids, he might be disappointed. If anything, he’s on the receiving end of some Decepticon humiliation, in a manner that other billionaire GB Blackrock knows well.

Our story opens with a full-page of Megatron and Centurion being dredged from the bottom of the Thames by Mr Branson, while still locked in the battle poses they were in when bombed by Action Force in the Ancient Relics crossover story.

Mr Branson is dreaming of his corporation being splashed across the headlines – all good publicity for his environmental credentials (that was a thing in the 80s too!) -when an employee shouts a shark warning. This sounds ridiculous, as ‘there are no sharks in the Thames’, but the Seacon Jawbreaker pops up and bites through the chains that are holding the two petrified giants. Then Blitzwing, Ramjet, Dirge, and Thrust swoop down make off with Mr Branson’s prize, leaving the tycoon shaking his fists.

Hours later at Mount Verona, USA, the Sparkler Minibots – Sizzle, Fizzle and Guzzle – free Magnus from his tomb, where he’s been contained since the 1987 Transformers Annual. Magnus is at first disorientated and then overcome with fear as images of his fateful last encounter with Galvatron flood back. Sullivan’s nightmarish depiction of Galvatron’s laughing face inside a Decepticon sign is genuinely creepy.

FYI Salvage is Lee Sullivan’s first ‘interiors’ for Transformers UK after cutting his teeth on a series of covers. I wasn’t a fan back in the day, as I didn’t think robots should have human expressions, wrinkles and saliva – metal faces shouldn’t contort. But revisiting the story now I think Lee has done a much better job than I’d initially given him credit. His splash page of Optimus Prime looming over a cowering Megatron in part two is particularly inspired.

When Magnus and the Sparklers catch sight of the Decepticon jets flying Megatron and Centurion in the direction of Fortress Sinister, their original and long abandoned base, the Autobots set off to investigate. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure keeps watch outside the said base. Sullivan does well to conceal the figure’s identity, but most fans will have immediately twigged it was Galvatron.

Why’s he there? Well, ever since Enemy Action Galvy has been keeping tabs on Shockwave and plotting his moves to overthrow him. He thought the present day Decepticon leader had ‘escaped’ him by blasting his island base into space, only for Shockwave to fall to Earth moments later in a blaze of fire. As we know, he was shot down by Fortress Maximus in last week’s story and got sucked into Earth’s gravitational pull. His demise looked conclusive, and it will see Shockwave written out of the US comic for the next two years, while Ratbat rules.

However, Simon Furman has need of Shockwave for his developing storyline in the UK and downplays the demise, which is a shame as Bob Budiansky had written such a good exit for the character. Now the Earthfall is relegated to a minor setback leaving Shockwave stranded with a handful of remaining Decepticons but free to pursue his long-term aim of ending the threat of Galvatron. What’s odd about this of course is that Shockwave is worried about Galvatron stealing his command, when Ratbat has actually gone and done exactly this. How has Shockwave not realised?

Inside the fortress, Snaptrap shows himself to be quite capable as Shockwave’s mad scientist sidekick complete with ‘psycho-probe’ equipment. Finding Megatron in a vegetative state, it will be necessary to stimulate coax his catatonic mind back to consciousness and requiring the former Decepticon leader to overcome his greatest fears along the way.

Ultra Magnus is about to face the same mental trial, as he arrives at Fortress Sinister with the Sparklers hoping to prevent Megatron’s revival, he runs into his archnemesis Galvatron. Magnus sinks to the ground screaming ‘nooooo’ as part one ends on a suitably dramatic cliff-hanger.

In part two, Megatron once again strides confidently through the corridors of the Decepticon fortress, is he restored to his past glory? No, as it turns out. Where once he was a force of undiluted evil, feared by the enemy and his own troops alike, now he is reduced to a quivering wreck as he is confronted with a ghost from his past… that of Optimus Prime. In the real-world Shockwave is frustrated – he needs Megatron back to his aggressive and arrogant best if he is to be of any use.

Furman now runs the twin plots of Megatron and Magnus in parallel as both are forced to confront their demons. Magnus is on his knees, broken by the haunting memory of past battles with Galvatron, battles where he’s been utterly defeated. The fear is suffocating but if he can’t get snap out of it his new friends, the Sparklers are about to become Galvatron’s next victims, having rejected the offer to take Magnus and scram.

In possibly the finest moment of the story, we’re treated to the return of Lord Straxus – who asks: ‘why so surprised to see me?’ – after all he shares the same mind as Megatron following a botched body takeover back in issue 103. As if to revel in Megatron’s weakness, Straxus proceeds to tear Prime limb from limb, just as Galvatron is busy knocking seven bells out of the Sparklers as Magnus is in the grip of despair.

Then comes the turning point for both protagonists. Megatron remembers how he used to be – previously if any being dared to challenge him, he would crush them utterly, and with that his anger swells and he punches a crater sized hole in Straxus’ face, tearing him in two! Megatron is victorious and Shockwave is pleased, his subject is now ready to receive new programming.

Likewise, Magnus finally comes to his senses, knowing he has to act to save his fellow Autobots – better to die than live a coward. He reigns blows on Galvatron, taking him by surprise and amazingly wins the battle. Galvatron is hurt and retreats (first time for everything). Magnus does not pursue but he knows now that he could have beaten his foe all along, he just lacked the confidence. Next time will be different he vows, and they will fight for the last time. That next encounter was, I think, intended to happen in Time Wars but fell by the wayside when the saga was shortened.

All in all, Salvage is a satisfying read and lays the building blocks for epic upcoming events that will take us up to and beyond the milestone 200th issue.

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Enemy Action

The Seacons make their UK debut in an underwater battle with Galvatron; while on land the Firecons and make things uncomfortably hot for the Sparkler Mini-bots!

One of Bob Budiansky’s major headaches as the writer of Marvel’s monthly Transformers comic in the US was the constant pressure to introduce new characters, to keep pace with Hasbro’s expanding toy range.

Bob came up with several inventive plot devices over the years, from the Creation Matrix to personality engrams in crystals used to create the new Autobots, before eventually settling on the Space Bridge as a handy device for introducing waves of new warriors from Cybertron.

As a fan I found it exciting when new Transformers appeared in the comics. It was fun to learn their bios, abilities, unique weaponry, and of course their mottos. So, Enemy Action, a UK story from February 1988, is a treat because it introduces no fewer than twelve new characters – that’s the six Seacons, three Firecons and three Sparkabots (for some reason the UK comic would refer to them as Sparkler mini-bots). In fact, it’s thirteen new characters if you include the Seacon combined form, Pirranacon.

This is time it is Simon Furman, not Budiansky, adding to the cast. Simon was not under a Hasbro mandate to do so, he did it for the sheer fun of it apparently and because he liked the idea of an underwater story. This was several months before these characters would appear in the American comic so once again Simon is stealing a march on the parent title as he had done by featuring the Transformers the Movie cast and the Predacons long before they appeared Stateside.

To ensure there’s no loss of momentum following the Legacy of Unicron epic, the comic is bringing back one of the most dangerous Decepticons (and most popular guest stars) the future leader, Galvatron.

We last saw Galvatron in Ladies’ Night, breaking free from his volcano tomb. Now he’s straight back to the forefront, striding along the seabed towards the present day Decepticons’ undersea base off the coast of Florida.

His approach has not gone unnoticed by Commander Shockwave who fears that Galvatron has come to take his crown (and with it everything he has worked so hard to accomplish). It’s easy to feel some sympathy for Shockwave at this point, after all it was only a few issues ago that we witnessed his brutal execution in the future at the hands of Death’s Head.

Shockwave is so jittery that he almost incinerates Soundwave for sneaking up on him, in a comical moment. Soundwave is the loyal deputy but also offers some wise advice: they could try speaking to Galvatron and perhaps coming to an agreement based on their mutual interests as Decepticons.

While Shockwave can see the logic of an alliance, his personal survival comes first. So he orders their untested new troops the Seacons – who were imported from Cybertron to work on the base’s fortifications rather than combat – to go toe to toe with Galvatron.

Soundwave’s disapproval is evident via a clenched fist and thought bubble “On your head be it”. Soundwave is no fan of Galvatron – he got buried alive by him in Target: 2006 for starters – and has led the Combaticons on the mission to finish off the future Decepticon when he was trapped in Mount Verona) but Soundwave has also made a career out of aligning himself with whoever rules. Galvatron would just be a continuation of that. Not so for Shockwave.

Lee Sullivan’s memorable ‘sea scrape’ cover provided the hint of the battle to come. Snaptrap, having received his orders, instructs the team to hit their opponent ‘hard and fast’ – no doubt this is the best way to compensate for the team’s lack of experience with their new Earth modes.

The five Seacons take turns to attack, giving readers a sense of each one, while Galvatron arrogantly dismisses them as nautical non-entities. His overconfidence is put into check briefly though by Seawing’s paralysing sting.

Readers with prior experience of Galvatron will not be surprised that the Seacons are, to pardon the pun, out of their depth against this opponent. Even in their combined form Pirranacon, they don’t fair much better.

A couple of nitpicks/observations. Overbite is named Jawbreaker in the story – it’s never made clear why the comic departed from the official toy name or whether this was done in error. Pirranacon’s name has two Rs, though the word piranha, which it is presumably derived from doesn’t. Also Jeff Anderson, the story’s artist, draws Pirrancon as pretty comparable in size to Galvatron. I think it would have been more dramatic for him to be much larger, similar to the Megatron versus Predaking contest in Budiansky’s 1987 classic Gone But Not Forgotten.

At this point Furman brings in the story’s other protagonists, starting with the Sparklers, Sizzle, Fizzle, and Guzzle. They were sent to Earth by the Wreckers leader Springer to keep tabs on Galvatron and have followed him to the beach. Since the trio have no undersea modes they are unable to follow any further.

It’s curious that Springer is preoccupied with Galvatron. You might think he has enough on his plate with trying to overthrow Decepticon rule on Cybertron without also picking a fight with the most powerful Decepticon on Earth. Then again, perhaps he knows of the Cybertron Decepticons’ plan to recruit Galvatron, or simply fears that Grimlock’s Earthbound Autobots have abdicated their responsibility.

As it turns out, the Sparklers are not destined to be mere bystanders after all… for they are suddenly confronted by the Firecons – Cindersaur, Sparkstalker, and Flamefeather! See below.

So, to part two and issue #153. The first thing you notice when picking up the issue is Snake Eyes and another Action Force guy (Flint?) bursting out of the cover as Sizzle, Fizzle and Guzzle look on in horror. I think the trio are meant to be recoiling from the sight of the Firecons but maybe the merger has got them spooked?

Transformations sells this as major win for fans of both comics – a two for the price of one. Soon enough AF it would settle into that traditional back-up strip role, but unlike previous back-ups its logo appears on the cover along side Transformers so this is a new development. Combat Colin has been annexed from the former AF comic, taking-up the regular cartoon spot vacated by Robo Capers and would go on to become a firm favourite of the readers.

Returning to the story, part two picks up with the Firecons, breathing fire in all directions like a pack of dragons post-feasting on hot chili peppers. We discover that they are here to secure Galvatron for their masters on Cybertron and any Autobots in their way are set to the feel the heat.

Fizzle is soon made to sizzle, courtesy of Cindersaur, and plunges into deep water to recover. Oddly, Fizzle is coloured red and Sizzle is blue, which is the opposite of their official toys. All three Sparkler mini-bots, while a likeable bunch, are rather homogenous and so maybe the production team had trouble telling them apart?

The unarmed Sparklers ‘remember’ that they can also discharge their own flame courtesy of their engines while in vehicle mode. Sizzle demonstrates this on Spark Stalker, which feels a bit contrived to show off the toy gimmick if I’m honest. While Guzzle sticks to the more convention tank mode gun barrel to take down Cindersaur.

Below depths, Galvatron finishes off Pirranacon with a well-placed blast, breaking him up into his component Seacons, before punching his way into the Decepticon base. With seawater flowing in behind him, he declares to Shockwave and the assembled warriors that he had come in peace seeking an alliance, but Shockwave’s hostile actions have made an enemy of him and when they next meet all Decepticons will pay. He then exits leaving Shockwave to fend off some very angry looks from his warriors.

So, clearly it was Galvatron’s plan all along to provoke Shockwave into attacking and creating an opportunity for Galvatron to drive a wedge between the Decepticon leader and his warriors. Pretty smart, but Galvatron is powerful enough to come in and take the leadership if he had wanted to. I think most Decepticons would have fallen into line out of fear or opportunism, I’m not sure the political machinations are that necessary.

On the other hand, surely Galvatron becoming leader in 1988 would have been a significant change to the timeline such that he might unravel the events that lead to his own creation by Unicron in 2006? If that’s on his mind he doesn’t voice it. This is unlike the Galvatron of Target: 2006 who clearly conscious of disrupting the timeline.

Enemy Action’s two plots neatly converge as Galvatron exits the ocean with the unconscious Fizzle in his clutches. Flamefeather rushes to his side and offers the alliance with the Decepticons of Cybertron “that we may crush their mutual enemies together” only for Galvatron to laugh and dismiss this. Having skilfully avoided one alliance he’s not about to fall into another. Sizzle offers token resistance and swiftly knocked aside by Galvatron like a troublesome bug.

In closing, Shockwave has been left in command and under no illusions that his days are numbered unless he does something radical. He needs an expendable agent with the raw power enough to take down Galvatron – his choice is an intriguing one… none other than Megatron, Galvatron’s past self. This thread plays out further in the upcoming story Salvage and then comes to a head in the 1988 Transformers Annual. Lots to look forward to then.

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