Target: 2006 (Parts 7 & 8)

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.

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Target: 2006 (Parts 5 & 6)

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?

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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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Dinobot Hunt

One of the most eagerly anticipated Simon Furman stories of the early Marvel UK Transformers. The Dinobots have reverted to primal states – their brains addled by millions of years spent in a tar pit. It’s up to the Autobots to bring them in before they unleash havoc, but the Decepticons are determined to exploit the situation for maximum advantage.

Bob Budiansky said that one of the challenges he faced as the writer of the American Transformers comic was the constant requirement to introduce new characters. This was to ensure the comic kept pace with Hasbro’s ever-expanding toy line – but with only 12 monthly issues per year it inevitably meant that characters would be introduced and then vanish for long periods (the Constructicons for example).

The Dinobots were criminally under-used in the US comic for two years after their introduction. However, this created an opportunity for Simon Furman to utilise them in the weekly UK Transformers comic without conflicting with anything Bob was doing. So, in 1985/6 we had the Wrath of Guardian/Grimlock, Dinobot Hunt, Victory and In the National Interest.

Dinobot Hunt, published in February 1986 (with Will Simpson and Barry Kitson alternating on the art), was our first meaty Dinobot story. It follows on from The Icarus Theory which reintroduced Swoop and alerted the Autobots to the fact that the Dinobots had reverted to their baser instincts. Optimus Prime declared that their top priority was now to track down and subdue the Dinobots before human lives were lost.

Issue #47 kicks off the hunt in the Nevada Black Rock desert where three human soldiers venture into a sandstorm to investigate giant spikes protruding from the ground. These solar collectors are attached the missing Dinobot Snarl, who is submerged in the sand. One of the men uses a laser saw (standard issue for the US army in the 80s?) and tries to cut into a spike. The predicable result is that the sleeping Dinobot roars into life and attacks the humans. They are saved only by the arrival of Mirage, Brawn and Trailbreaker.

In flashback, we see Optimus Prime and Prowl briefing the hunter teams of situation and their targets – Grimlock, whose jaws that can cut an opponent in two; Snarl, whose strength increases ten-fold in sunlight; Slag, fast, ferocious and fire-breathing; and Sludge, deadly in water.

Snarl’s vision appears to be severely pixelated. Whether this is due to his condition is unclear, but if not then he really should go to Specsavers. He makes out the three enemy forms and charges, injuring Mirage before escaping into the storm. Prowl, who is coordinating via a shuttle, tracks the Dinobot heading west – where he runs into a secret military base (literally), taking out the fence and coming under heavy fire.

General Carl Thompson, commanding, finds the alarms a welcome relief from the boredom. On seeing Snarl, he realises that “only a nuclear strike” will do – this sounds incredibly like ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’, but their weapon alters molecular structure and in this case is useful for making Snarl revert to his robot mode and collapse.

Simpson does a solid job on the art, but it’s a slow start to the story. Unfortunately, neither Snarl or the hunters get up-to much and we’re missing the involvement of the Decepticons. With Laserbeak spying on the Autobots at the end though, it’s an indication that they are about to enter the fray.

Things hot up in the second part as we head to Little Wood, a “vast inland waterway” in Northern California. It’s popular with tourists apparently (despite looking like a midgie-filled swamp) and three newcomers have shown up today – trouble is they are Decepticons! We don’t see who until the end of the story, leading to speculation from my comic reading schoolfriends back in the day that it might be the Insecticons – no such luck. They bully a couple of locals to spill the beans about a monster sighting in the swamp, before blowing their home to bits. Harsh!

The Autobots have sent A-Team (no not that A-Team) of Gears, Cliffjumper and team leader Windcharger to track-down the Dinobot Sludge, who they think is in the area. In those pre-google days I imagine Furman having to pour over an atlas of North America to identify swamps and deserts that can feature in the story. Interestingly, according to Mr Google, only Black Rock Desert which is a real location.

Sludge is not far away, quietly munching on vegetation (his condition having turned him docile) and has been befriended by a TV reporter named Joy Meadows who eyes him as her ticket to the big time.

After some mirth with Gears getting pulled out of the swamp by Windcharger’s magnetic powers, the Autobots are confronted by the river police who are responding to all the local destruction caused by the Decepticons and decide these three robots are the culprits. It’s a nice opportunity for Cliffjumper to deploy his glass-gas gun (not seen for a long while) against one of the vessels.

The Autobots see blaster fire in a clearing and run towards it. They find poor Joy Meadows “dealt with” (though she’ll survive and return) and Sludge unconscious. The trio are cut down by a volley of fire, as Soundwave, Skywarp, and the Scavenger (yay!) reveal themselves. I’m genuinely excited to see Scavenger reappearing (although annoyingly drawn with a regular face instead of his distinctive ‘gas mask’ in one panel) as the Constructicons have been is conspicuous by their absence.

You have to wonder how Sludge made it as far as Northern California without being noticed by anyone. Or Grimlock all the way to Canada for that matter! The issue features a ‘Who’s Who’ flowchart about the Decepticons which also provides a reminder of previous stories.

From the muddy swamps of California, we’re off to Cowboy country for part 3. Slag, amusingly described in the blurb as “as mean a critter as you’ll ever come across” is causing havoc by trampling a ranch and gets pursued by hot-headed human Greg and his brother. I’m quite fond of this instalment, partly for the ridiculousness of cowboys lassoing Slag and for Jetfire showing up still wearing his Decepticon badge.

Soundwave, Skywarp and Scavanger arrive in Idaho to discover a buckled Decepticon insignia and evidence of a recent battle. They find Laserbeak in bad shape but still able to transform and deliver his report (interestingly he makes bird like noises while in robot/bird mode but can ‘speak’ while delivering playback. Perhaps it’s like Bumblebee in the Bay films being unable to speak and communicating through his radio).

Laserbeak had observed two “suicidal” human brothers on horseback pursuing Slag and one of them unloading a rifle on him at close range. The crude weapon only served to get his attention. D-Team, consisting of Jazz, Ironhide and the Decepticon defector Jetfire came to their rescue.

The bad attitude Jetfire gets from Ironhide over his Decepticon badge shows that things must be uncomfortable for him at the moment. Jazz alludes to there having been no time to perform the ‘Rite of Autobrand’ (giving him his badge) which rather pre-empts the upcoming US story Rock and Roll-out. Slag might be a triceratops, not a bull, but that’s close enough for Furman who has him ‘see red’ and charge at Ironhide. This allows Jetfire to swoop down, transform and wrestle the Dinobot to the ground.

Jazz gets Greg safely out of the way but pays the price with a fireball at close range. We’ve always known that Transformers have the ability to grow or shrink in transformation, but the rule also applies to their weaponry. We see Jazz remove a gun from a compartment in his mid-section, and it promptly enlarges to actual size. It’s a nice detail.

Jetfire got pierced by Slag’s horn, explaining the amputated badge that would later be found by Scavenger, and Laserbeak was rendered unconscious by being thrown into Slag’s maw by the Autobots. This turned Slag’s flame inwards and he overheated. Laserbeak proves himself amazingly durable.

His offer to take responsibility for the failure to apprehend Slag shows a certain honour among thieves, while Soundwave’s refusal to apportion blame is perhaps indicative of his respect for Laserbeak, loyalty towards one of his cassettes and good leadership skills (better to keep the troops on side). We learn that Soundwave hopes to set their captured and manacled Sludge against any other Dinobots they can find – and having lit a fuse they’ll sit back and watch the Autobot casualties mount. Soundwave may only be interim Decepticon leader, but he’s demonstrating a flair for exploiting the weaknesses of his enemy in order to make quick gains.

So, to the concluding part, which also happens to be Transformers UK’s landmark 50th edition. To mark the occasion readers are promised a clash between two frenzied Dinobots and the issue doesn’t disappoint.

The Decepticons have travelled to Doonstown in Canada where the last remaining Dinobot, Grimlock, is located. They rigged up a device in their captured Autobot shuttle (the one used by A-Team, who are manacled inside) to broadcast a signal to Sludge, keeping him in a fighting mad state, then set him against Grimlock. The result was explosive – the destruction of the town and C-Team also down. Bluestreak and Huffer are unconscious and a wounded Sideswipe was radioing Prime for reinforcements when the Dinobots rampaged through the shuttle.

The splash page shows the Dinobots fighting each other over a cliff. It actually looks like Grimlock would have no trouble biting Sludge’s head off, but they plunge down a scope and into a frozen lake, where Sludge is the stronger in water. Scavenger and Soundwave watch with satisfaction and Skywarp announces the arrival of Prime’s shuttle as well as the discovery of an oil rig nearby which they can plunder. All in all, a successful little mission.

As Ratchet recovers C-Team and Bumblebee scouts investigates how Sludge came to be there, it falls to Prime to engage the Dinobots and prevent them from getting out of the lake. His gun overheats and explodes in his hands. Luckily, he buys enough time for Prowl to arrive in a shuttle, electrify the hull and bail out as it hits the lake. The charge is enough to knock out Grimlock. However, Sludge recovers and turns his aggression towards Optimus.

Bumblebee using a piece of kit we haven’t seen before (a Portable Energy Tracer – PET) locates their missing shuttle, finding it cloaked. This wouldn’t be the first time Furman would use a Star Trek concept. He drags Windcharger and co. to safety before triggering Scavenger’s booby-trap and exploding the shuttle. This immediately renders Sludge unconscious. The hunt is over, but it is Soundwave who declares victory!

That’s it for Dinobots for a while, though they do return in TFUK#65 and in the scarily good 1986 Annual story ‘Victory’, which delves into their dreams while they recover in Ratchet’s medical bay. On the Transformations page we hear the buzzword for the next 50 issues – ‘Special Teams’. We’d soon find out that this meant more combiners on the way. This were heady days for young Transformers fans.

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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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Christmas Breaker!

Poor old Jazz falls foul of Circuit Breaker again. This is not what he wanted for Christmas!

What better way to get readers feeling festive than a Christmas themed Transformers story? The cover by Mike Collins and Mark Farmer is an absolute cracker! Corny and a little cheesy it might be, but nothing screams ‘Transformers Christmas special’ more than the sight of Optimus Prime in Santa Claus outfit. Now, normally this sort of cover would be for illustrative purposes only and would not actually reflect events in the story, but astonishingly this one does and yes, Prime wears the suit!

The red-themed Transformation page is suitably festive complete with Santa hats and holly. It’s clear the production team are really getting behind the theme. We’re also told that Soundwave had a little too much oil and the Marvel Christmas party failed to turn up for work to answer the letters page – so for this issue only he’s been replaced with Ratchet and the page has been branded Rat-Chat! It’s genius.

James Hill is the writer for this festive special, with Will Simpson as the artist (though credited as William here). It’s Christmas Eve 1985 and – as it always is in these stories – it’s snowing. However, as Circuit Breaker reads the Portland Chronicle’s frontpage story, headlined ‘Held Hostage by Alien Robots’, she explodes with fury. The two guys in the paper look like our friends Gabe and Ferdy, who were until last issue among the human slave labour being forced to toil in the Decepticons’ aerospace plant.

Circuit Breaker is wearing a trench coat and hat to disguise her freakish appearance – an otherwise naked woman covered in circuitry. You assume that the circuits regulate her temperature, or boy would she be feeling the cold right now. In condemning the robots for ‘bringing their conflict to Earth’ she acknowledges that she is fully aware that there are two sides in the Transformers war, it’s just that she holds Autobot and Decepticon equally threatening and culpable.

Simpson draws Soundwave super menacing, with a gaping mouth and drill fingers in Circuit Breaker’s imagination of what the workers endured. And she narrates her own backstory – being attacked by Shockwave, paralysed and reborn as Circuit Breaker to wreak revenge on the Transformers – which is useful for anyone who missed the events of previous stories including Dis-Integrated Circuits. Her vow to destroy every last Transformer might seem understandable given what she’s endured, but it also comes across as dangerously unhinged. This is one lady in urgent need of counselling.

At the Ark we’re able to check in on Optimus Prime for the first time since his head was rescued from the Decepticons and reunited with his body. The fact that he and the Autobots survived the episode is entirely due to their human friend Buster Witwicky, who kept the Creation Matrix safe for Optimus. Clearly the Autobot leader feels he owes Buster a huge debt, as he’s willing to dress up in a Santa outfit to indulge the youth (quite how you can come by an outfit in Prime’s size is another matter!).

Buster and Huffer are busy decorating the Ark and lighting up a mechanical tree, but Prime’s second-in-command, Prowl, is disgusted that Prime has sanctioned this waste of time while the Decepticons are leaderless and the Autobots should be pressing their advantage. He whispers his discontent to Bluestreak who reminds him of their collective debt to Buster. Interestingly Hill’s Bluesteak is a lot less talkative than the one Budiansky characterised in the recent story Brainstorm. It’s interesting and significant to see this dissatisfaction with Prime in the ranks and is a nice tie-in to Crisis of Command, the next story.

Jazz asks Buster about the Christmas tree and is told it symbolises charity, which is part of the festive season. Conveniently this makes Jazz think about Circuit Breaker, who could use her power to help many people but is “only interested in destruction” and there’s yet another recap, this time of Jazz and Wheeljack’s firy encounter with Circuit Breaker at Blackrock’s speedway track. Buster is late for seeing delivering his dad’s Christmas presents and Jazz’s offers to drive him.

In St Petersburg (USA not Russia!) kids are having great fun skating and snowball fighting when a girl falls through the ice. Circuit Breaker leaps into action, using her electric power to melt the ice and pull the child to safety. A gentle burst of electricity restarts her heart. Circuit Breaker is a hero, but she gets no thanks – in fact one of the adults bounces a stick off her head, calling her a freak and suggesting she melted the ice. This is a moment of supreme irony, where Circuit Breaker is given a taste of her own medicine. Usually it’s her attacking Autobots after they’ve tried to do good. In her anger and paranoia, she hallucinates about seeing Shockwave among the trees.

Jazz is speeding through the icy streets and causing Buster some concern. Sure enough, he loses control, transforming as he crashes and throwing Buster clear. Circuit Breaker, flying above, sees this and immediately thinks it’s a robot attacking innocent people again. She zaps Jazz and then disintegrates his weapon. As she moves in for the kill, Buster revives and pleads for Jazz’s life, pointing out the church bells in the distance – it’s Christmas day. Circuit Breaker agrees to spare Jazz a second time, however she vows that this reprieve will be his last and again flies away. Jazz realises that it was Christmas that saved him and how special it is.

This is Circuit Breaker’s only UK exclusive appearance and she now seems to be able to fly without magnetically bouncing off nearby metal objects. Annoyingly she’s doing her usual trick of always attacking the Autobots. This would be an eternal cause of frustration for readers, but if life was easy for the heroes the comic probably wouldn’t be half as dramatic. This issue, while fairly inconsequential to the ongoing storyline is nevertheless good festive fun and would set the theme for future yuletide editions, of human’s teaching Transformers the meaning of Christmas.

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Dis-integrated Circuits

Autobots, Decepticons and now Humans! Josie Beller ‘transforms’ from paralysed victim of Shockwave to a robot-busting avenger known as Circuit Breaker! Unfortunately, her wrath is not reserved only for the Decepticons. It’s Dis-integrated Circuits, by Bob Budiansky.

After a four-week interlude of homegrown material, the Transformers UK comic returned to another run of reprinting stories from its US parent. Bob Budiansky continues on writing duties, accompanied by artist and one hit wonder Mike Manley (this being his only outing on Transformers).

There’s been quite a bit of build up to this issue on both sides of the pond. In the earlier story ‘The Worse of Two Evils’, Bob went to pains to put a human face on Shockwave’s attack on the oil drilling platform. We were introduced the industrialist GB Blackrock (owner of the platform) and his brilliant young engineering talent, Josie Beller. Ultimately, she got fried during the attack and has been in her boss’s private hospital ever since – severely paralysed but using the equipment he provided to plot her next move. Blackrock received a second kick in the proverbials when his aerospace plant was taken over by the Decepticons. It is now their new base.

At last its time for Bob to show us where he’s been going with these characters. Transformers has always been about humanity alongside Transformers and Bob’s stories more than most, so it’s perhaps inevitable that we would eventually see a human on equal terms to the giant robots (arguably two, if we consider Buster Witwicky who now holds the power of the Creation Matrix). As this is a Marvel publication, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a superhero/villain feature.

The story begins at Blackrock’s racetrack (yes, he owns a racetrack too!) where’s he interrupted five minutes before the end of the session. He’s not happy but it’s due to the arrival of General Capshaw of the US military. He’s heard about Blackrock’s intention to unveil a new “weapon” capable of destroying Transformers, and feels it will needlessly publicise the robot presence. The army want to avoid this until it can work out who is responsible for the Transformer menace (they assume it’s an enemy nation).

Blackrock is a bit of dick at this point. He’s testy with his staff and not used to hearing no for an answer. He gives Capshaw short shrift and explains he has shareholders to keep happy – and the giant robots have been bad for business. Oddly, considering he got out of the car dripping in sweat, Blackrock puts his suit on while he talks to the general! We know he’s got a tight schedule but surely there’s time for a shower? Particularly as his next port of call is to the hospital where Josie is being looked after. She shows him a flying device she has created which becomes airborne by using electro-magnetics to repel from metal objects. Blackrock is impressed but he gets a bad vibe about Josie’s obsession with getting back to work and helping in his fight against the Transformers.

Sadly, the two pages where the Autobots make their re-entrance and another page have been mis-coloured in the UK version (the page above is from the US comic). I’m vaguely aware that colouring is achieved by transposing the primary colours over each other and I suspect that those pages one of the three are missing. It’s a shame because this is a big moment – the Autobots once again in the land of the living and back as a fighting force. All had seemed lost only a few weeks earlier. That said, things are not back to normal. The presence of Optimus Prime’s headless body is a reminder to all that their leader is a prisoner of the Decepticons, and they cannot rest until he has been recovered.

The matter of how the Autobots can function without a securing fuel is explained on page seven – they are using the limited supplies very considerately left behind by the Decepticons. In the US version of page 7 Ratchet refers to himself as being in command. In the UK the words have been changed to “and no matter who’s in command”. I suspect the explanation is that, in the next story, Prowl is established as stand-in leader. Perhaps the UK team just felt it was less confusing to leave out the mention of Ratchet commanding.

It’s apparent that Jazz is going to feature as a main character in the story. He’s the only one not to transform on command (because he’s listening to Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’). His radio picks up a news item of Blackrock boasting about his anti-robot weapon. Jazz wants to educate him that not all Transformers are the enemy and thinks an alliance would solve the Autobots ongoing fuel needs. In return they can offer Blackrock protection from the Decepticons. It’s a good plan and Prowl gives permission, providing Wheeljack accompanies Jazz.

Over at the aerospace plant Starscream informs Commander Shockwave that the Autobots are free and have regained the Ark – all because of the “incompetence” of the “fool Megatron”. Shockwave is surprisingly nonchalant. This should be a massive disaster for the Decepticons and his leadership – they had utterly defeated the Autobots and now the situation is reversed, and their mortal enemy has been allowed to recover. They even left a handy fuel reserve behind.

Perhaps it is a sign of Shockwave’s preoccupation with his grand plan of creating a new Decepticon army, but he dismisses the Autobot threat, saying they are unwilling to take the fuel the need through misguided ethics. And he calculates that Megatron will not return to be defeated by him again. This hubris is astounding in one so calculating and logical.

Frenzy having a tantrum in reaction to Blackrock’s public threats is good fun – also the ruthless way Buzzsaw instinctively understands his commander’s wish and silences Frenzy by slicing the metal he holds into ribbons. Next time Buzzsaw will aim for Frenzy’s body! Gulp! Interestingly, the mini-Decepticon’s emotionally-charged response is completely the opposite that of his boss. Shockwave dismisses human threats as too trivial to be concerned about, however he agrees to Starscream’s suggestion that destroying the weapon would be a good way to exercise the troops and a bit of mayhem at Blackrock’s expense is no bad thing. Also enjoyable is Starscream’s treacherous thoughts of stealing the weapon to use against Shockwave. It’s this type of thing that makes the Decepticon camp much more entertaining to read about.

For the first time, US readers are shown the six brain modules which Shockwave has nurtured and Prime’s mind has breathed life into (thanks to the last vestiges of the Creation Matrix in his mind), and for the first time we see how small a Transformer brain is, fitting on to the top of Shockwave’s finger (incidentally here they are round, whereas they were drawn as larger boxes in the last UK issue).

The rest of the Matrix is of course in the mind of Buster Witwicky who is growing in his understanding of it. While failing miserably to fill in for his father (recovering in hospital from a Transformer induced heart attack) he suddenly sees the faulty engine with total clarity and is able to reassemble it using the power of his mind (now that’s using the Force!).

Elsewhere, Blackrock is working late at this office penthouse. He takes a call from the Josie Beller’s doctors saying the patient has escaped via a fifth storey window. At that moment a shadowy figure enters the building, disabling security cameras on the way. She flies up several floors and strips off her coat to reveal her body sans clothing and coated in circuitry – Josie Beller has become Circuit Breaker!

In part two, Beller reveals that while she wears the Circuit Breaker costume she is no longer paralysed. What’s more she can assess computer files and reprogram them with a thought (such as Blackrock’s giant laser project). She can fly and emit powerful bursts of electricity. Blackrock is awed by her abilities but has no wish to involve her further in his private battle. He orders her to go back to the hospital, but she refuses and walks out.

The next day Blackrock is back at his racetrack dodging the media. Jazz, in Porsche mode forces him inside and speeds off – he already has proven credentials as a kidnapper (see Man of Iron) and attempts to explain to a very confused GB that he is looking to partner-up against the Decepticons. The police give chase and Jazz crashes through a barrier, plunging over a cliff. He transforms and catches Blackrock as they fall. A Decepticon would have let him bounce, he explains. Despite this odd way to start a partnership, it seems they have a deal.

Later, Blackrock unveils his huge anti-robot cannon (with Jazz and Wheeljack parked discretely nearby). The weapon is a dud and fizzles out. There’s raucous laughter and further humiliation for Blackrock. As Circuit Breaker steps up, she reveals she sabotaged the gun and now Blackrock will have to unveil her as his secret weapon.

Suddenly, Starscream and Frenzy attack. Jazz transforms to defend Blackrock from Frenzy but Circuit Breaker zaps his gun and then unleashes a powerful burst of electricity against him! Blackrock pleads with her that Jazz is one of the good guys. Wheeljack blasts Frenzy with his magnetic weapon that causes vehicles to attract on to the Decepticon’s body and encase him. It’s a neat attack that makes a change from the standard laser blasts (and arguably not enough is made of Transformers’ weapons, which are distinct and personal).

Circuit Breaker attacks Starscream (possibly the one and only time in this part of the comic’s run where we see her attack a Decepticon) and majorly fries Wheeljack (after he thanks her for the helping hand – harsh). Starscream flees with the smouldering Frenzy, and Blackrock pleads for the lives of his Autobot friends. Circuit Breaker destroys the target the canon was supposed to obliterate and then flounces off. She won’t allow any loyalty to Blackrock to get in the way next time.

In summary, it’s an issue of mixed fortunes for the Autobots. They have a powerful ally and a source of fuel at last, but a new adversary too. Readers will find Circuit Breaker pretty infuriating in upcoming stories while she keeps attacking the good guys. Ironically, she has become the very thing she seeks to destroy: a cold, unfeeling machine!

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Man of Iron

Jazz shows up in the woods in southern England – and scares the hell out of young Sammy Harker! It’s the other worldly, slightly bizarre and baffling UK four-part story, Man of Iron.

January 1985. Readers of Marvel UK’s fortnightly Transformers comic are still reeling from last issue’s shock ending (where Shockwave showed up and blasted the Autobots into unconsciousness – single-handedly ending the Transformers’ war on Earth in the Decepticons’ favour). Anyone buying the next issue to find out what happens next will have been thoroughly perplexed to find a very different story in its place.

It will be six to seven months before the US material is available (in Transformers UK #22) so the UK creative team will have to fill the void by coming up with their own original stories in the interim.

The first one out the blocks is this off-beat, slightly weird but at times compelling tale by Steve Parkhouse. Man of Iron would be his one and only writing credit for Transformers, though he later did the lettering for the 1988 story ‘Wrecking Havoc’. Steve’s TF Wiki page suggests he knew “almost nothing” about the Transformers franchise when writing the story. Marvel only told him the bare bones of the set-up and as a result Man of Iron “stays far away from any of the US plots” to avoid a clash.

We later find out (courtesy of the ‘Robot War’ recap in UK #22) that this story takes place between the events of Power Play and Prisoner of War. After Sparkplug’s capture, the Autobots returned to the Ark to learn of a message in a Transformers language (evidence to suggest Transformers don’t speak English) emanating from Southern England. The Autobots investigate believing it to be a rescue craft from their home-world holding vital information on its whereabouts. Soundwave has also picked up this signal and the search begins!

The story centres around a medieval castle near a small village, which is bombed by Decepticon jets. While the army is called in to search for an unexploded bomb the castle curator, Roy Harker, goes looking for his son in the woods. Sammy Harker does not want to go home and hides from his father, but after a brief encounter with Jazz – he runs home while Jazz follows him in vehicle mode and reports his address to Optimus Prime (there are a lot of unclear events in this story). Later, Roy Harker shows Sammy a drawing of the Man of Iron – a legendary metal being who showed up at the castle more than 900 years ago! The pair wonder whether this was the mysterious robot in the woods.

Things get weirder in part two as we see Sammy dreaming of Mirage appearing at his bedroom window. Next thing Sammy is floating above the house seeing a Decepticon plane, and the ancient drawing of the Man of Iron flying out the window into Mirage’s hand. His father charges in to find him sleeping peacefully, and a giant figure walking off into the distance. Was it a dream after all or reality masked by a Mirage illusion? Much is left to the reader’s imagination at this point.

The next morning, Roy finds the entire castle cordoned off. An object the size of an ocean liner has been found buried underneath the castle ruins! Sammy meanwhile is looking at a Porsche in his street (Jazz) when he notices the picture of the Man of Iron on the back seat. The car door opens and Jazz beckons him to get in. This is where it all gets a bit uncomfortable; Sammy tells Jazz he’s not allowed to accept lifts from strangers and Jazz replies (in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of a child abductor) that he isn’t a stranger and he can show Sammy an adventure. He then drives off at speed as Sammy’s panicked mother screams! There’s a short message of advice to readers about never accepting lifts from strangers. This is just as well but the scene feels just a little disturbing, even irresponsible.

It really isn’t clear at this point why the Autobots are interested in Sammy and their tactics in getting him to talk to them leave a lot to be desired. Man of Iron is a different kind of story in that it is told from the humans’ perspective and with Transformers making cameos. In this way they are able to appear a lot more mysterious and alien.

In part 3 Mike Collins picks up the artist duties from John Ridgeway and does a fantastic job of capturing the drama and realism of the battle scenes in way I have seldom seen in a comic. As Jazz and Sammy rendezvous with Trailbreaker and Mirage on the highway they come under aerial attack by the Decepticon jets. Trailbreaker is literally blown to pieces by a missile impact, while Mirage deploys his illusionary abilities to cause their opponent to crash into a bridge (and practically disintegrate on impact!). Bluestreak appears on a flyover and shoots down another of the jets, again blowing the Decepticon to pieces. Despite these devastating looking injuries, most of the Transformers will appear quite soon back in one piece!

The scene where Jazz and Sammy arrive at the Autobot shuttle is like something from an alien encounter movie. The boy meets Optimus Prime. Prime and we learn that the signal which brought them to England is coming from a rescue craft, sent from Cybertron, that is beneath the castle. For reasons unknown, Prime is convinced the Decepticons will try to destroy the ship (why when they could learn its secrets or pilot it back to Cybertron instead?).

In the final instalment we at last meet the Man of Iron. A ground tremor heralds his arrival as he emerges from a concealed hatch to attack the army! It’s not clear why, and moments later he’s blown to bits by Starscream – who is in turn rammed at full speed by Jazz! We never do learn the secrets of the rescue craft or the dormant Autobot within, known as Navigator. This is because the Autobots take the fateful decision to destroy the rescue craft rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands.
Soon the tourists are back, this time with the stories of UFO sightings, but see nothing new that is out of the ordinary. Sammy never sees the Autobots again but the Man of Iron continues to walk in his dreams.

Following its original publication in TF UK#9-12 it received a full colour reprint in US issues #33 and #34. The cover of #33 is something of a tribute to the Brits with William Shakespeare taking the place of Spider-man in bottom-left-corner box. The editorial pitches the story as “from the land that gave us the Fab Four, Dickens and Princess Di”, which I find rather charming. I’m not sure of the truth to the claim though, that UK material is being printed due to “overwhelming” reader demand. It’s more likely that this was to give breathing space to the creative team, who will have been busy working on the Headmasters spin-off series at this time.

Had I been choosing a story to showcase to an American audience I might well have picked The Enemy Within, Dinobot Hunt or In the National Interest, any of which will have excited US fans more than this one. Perhaps it is the Englishness of the story with its castles, leafy suburbs and military types who say things like ‘what’s going on old boy?’ or it might be that it simply reads well as a standalone.

As mentioned above, it takes place between Powerplay and Prisoner of War. This niggles a little as we’re invited to believe that the Autobots – who at this time were so low on fuel as to be running on vapours – went on a jaunt across the Atlantic while Sparkplug had just been snatched by the Decepticons and was in immediate need of a rescue. Fitting this story and the subsequent two into continuity would prove tricky.

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