Target: 2006 (Parts 3 & 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plight of the Bumblebee

Feeling unwanted, Bumblebee decides to go it alone, only to become a target for human car thieves and the Decepticons, in this two-part story from April 1986 by stand-in US writer Len Kaminski and art by Graham Nolan.

April 1986. Marvel UK’s Transformers comic has printed six weeks of stories from its US counterpart and has two more to go before kicking off with a seven-part epic introducing the new combiner teams. Plight of the Bumblebee is unusual in that it is the first US story since issue #8 to be written by someone other than Bob Budiansky. It could be that Bob took some time off or needed a little extra help to get ahead of his deadlines.

Whatever the reason, a young Len Kaminski was handed the writing cudgels for his one and only Transformers credit. According to his TF Wiki page, Kaminski joined Marvel in 1984 and was 23 when he wrote his Bumblebee story. He stayed with Marvel eight years before going freelance and is best known for his work on Iron Man and Ghost Rider. The artist tasked with bringing his script to life is Graham Nolan of similar age – this is also his one and only Transformers story.

Both do a solid job but its fair to say that the story is fun but forgettable. Recent issues of Bob’s such as Megatron controlled by a human gangster, Hoist at a rock concert and Robot Master, have been slightly silly and off the wall but have made their mark in ways this story doesn’t. To be fair, I suspect Kaminski is doing his best to avoid treading on Bob’s toes in terms of any plot threads he’s been developing, so the events in this issue largely stand alone. It’s just a shame for the UK audience that its fairly similar in concept to the second part of Crisis of Command where Bumblebee also faces the Decepticons alone.

Having abandoned their captured oil rig and aerospace plant, it’s unclear where the Decepticon base is these days. Nevertheless, the story begins ‘deep within a makeshift fortress’ where Shockwave (unaware of the recent events in the Wyoming coal mine, see last issue for Megatron’s return) is unveiling his latest plan against the Autobots. This time it involves capturing and controlling a member of the enemy camp, and their data suggests Bumblebee is the perfect candidate. Has Bumblebee been targeted as he’s the weakest Autobot or have they something specific in mind? We don’t know.

At the Ark, Wheeljack and Prowl are receiving maintenance from a recent skirmish which must have occurred ‘off camera’. The TV news which Prime is watching refers to ‘yesterday’s robot battle’ with the editor’s note suggesting this means the events of last issue (where the Autobots took a pounding from the human armed forces at the coal mine).

Bumblebee, watching through the window, is suffering a bout of low confidence making him believe he is not pulling is weight and that the other Autobots would be better off without him. As I say, this works fine in isolation, but in context of recent stories with Bumblebee leading the new recruits in Rock and Roll Out and accompanying Prime on the mission to recover Megatron last issue, there’s been no sign of him being undervalued or any way a liability, so this lack of esteem on his part is rather out of the blue (not to mention that Prime took on the whole Decepticon army to rescue Bumblebee a few issues UK back).

His decision to head for the hills and feel sorry for himself is happily coincidental for the Decepticons, who have been looking for their opportunity. Laserbeak sights Bumblebee and tips off the others. Within minutes Shockwave and the other flying Decepticons attack – and Nolan shows his skills in capturing the shock on Bumblebee’s face and the violence of the attack against the mini-Autobot.

Bumblebee survives and, though losing power, drives on to the freeway, taking evasive action under an aerial volley. It’s apparent that the pursuit is risking the lives of the other motorists. Knowing he can’t possibly outrun the Decepticons, and with his communicator damaged, Bumblebee drives into a nearby filled car lot and shuts down. With the signal lost the Decepticons pull back but remain ready to pounce when he reappears. As yellow beetles are not especially common you would have thought one of the jets would have spotted the parked-up Autobot, but apparently not.

That night, two men climb into the car lot and decide to steal Bumblebee, thinking there’s less chance anyone will be bothered by the loss of a Volkswagen! Unaware of the dangers ahead they take off at speed. While back at the Ark, footage of the Decepticons firing on Bumblebee is aired on the TV news, prompting Prime and the others to strike up some suitably dramatic poses and vow to rescue their missing colleague before it’s too late!

A couple of trivial points… the UK editor has changed the ‘maneuvers’ in the TV reporter’s speech to the UK spelling manoeuvres – and misspelled it. Oops. To be fair it’s not the easiest of words. Page 8 is numbered at the top and the bottom too, which is a little weird.

In part 2, as the Autobots and the Decepticons search for Bumblebee, his two joyriders Ernest and Waldo (whose names sound like they ought to be a couple of pensioners rather than young thrill-seekers) are causing all sorts of commotion uptown. Bumblebee seems oddly happy to help his passengers show off, even when they are driving up pavements and forcing pedestrians to flee for their lives. Could it be that he’s getting a confidence boost out of being adopted by the two humans? Bee is even happy to help the pair show off by pushing 200 in a race against a challenger in a sporty car. He’s leaving the guy for dust until his engine blows and he splutters to an embarrassing halt.

One of the men tries to make head or tails of Bumblebee’s damaged alien engine and as luck would have it, succeeds in reconnecting damaged power lines. Ernest and Waldo ride again but are soon under fire from the skies – in the shape of the Decepticons. Hilariously the two car thieves are baffled as to why the Air Force is after them for ‘pinching a lousy Volkswagen’ – and they are even more confused when their car starts driving on its own (Bumblebee has no choice but to take control to protect his passengers from the Decepticon bombardment). Pretty soon the police are on their tails and the US Airforce has been scrambled. You get the impression the Ernest and Waldo will be wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into.

Shockwave and his warriors might light work of the Air Force. Usually we’ll see the pilots ejecting (to keep the story family friendly) but no sign of that in Kaminski’s story. Bumblebee, cornered at last, transforms to make a final stand in defence of his human ‘friends’. Suddenly, Jetfire soars into view, taking out Buzzsaw, but getting himself shot down by a Decepticon jet. It’s great to see Jetfire in action but disappointing that he’s already a shadow of the awesome ultimate warrior that he was billed as at his introduction.

Events then move to a rapid conclusion. In the space of a single page, Bumblebee rescues the two humans from a collapsing bridge, is confronted by Shockwave… and the Autobots, police and Air Force arrive, forcing a hasty Decepticon retreat. The two Humans have a lot of questions to answer with the police, while Bumblebee recognises that the Autobots came to his rescue and he was wrong to question his place in the team.

Some closing thoughts: it’s not a bad story, if largely inconsequential to the wider plot – fast paced with a decent chase at the end. The art is also suitably dramatic. Probably the weakest element is Shockwave’s plot to capture Bumblebee, which we never see put into action and just feels like a device to ensure that Bumblebee is a Decepticon target while out on his own. The best bit for me is the way Bee takes his two human abductors under his wing – he’s completely cool about them stealing him and wants to help and protect them. It’s a good illustration of the parental way that Autobots look on humanity.

The UK covers of two instalments are also ace. John Stokes draws a wonderful, toy-realistic version of Shockwave (including leg springs) and Herb Trimpe’s cover for issue #58 (which is also the cover of the US version) offers the mouth-watering prospect of Bumblebee against impossible odds.

For the next issue, it’s back to the UK stories and the return of Buster Witwicky.

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Rock and Roll-Out!

Jetfire joins the Autobot club and gets a free badge, as five reinforcements – Grapple, Hoist, Skids, Tracks and Smokescreen – debut and uncover a Decepticon presence at Brick Springhorn’s concert!

A key difference for me between Bob Budiansky, the writer of the US Transformers comic (and cover artist for this issue – see above) and his Marvel UK counterpart Simon Furman, was the way they approached the storytelling.

Simon’s stuff tends to be more serious, pitched to an older audience and leans towards the epic, while Bob’s style was more light-hearted and tongue in cheek (though always well structured and paced). Even when he’s writing about the serious business of Ratchet shouldering the burden of being the last surviving Autobot, or Megatron’s explosive showdown with Shockwave, Bob will keep the fun factor by inserting comedy moments involving baffled or freaked out humans.

Thanks to sillier ideas such as Robot Master and the infamous Carwash of Doom, Bob tends to get unfairly compared to Simon. In truth both made exceptional contributions to Transformers comics and both have had great moments. The cool thing about being a UK Transformers fan was that we our weekly comic ran every US story as well the homegrown material, so we had a best of both worlds.

Budiansky’s ‘Rock and Roll Out!’ appears in TFUK #53 and #54 in March 1986. It’s the first of his more ‘offbeat’ stories. The story opens with Jetfire undergoing the sacred Rite of the Autobrand. It’s an age-old ceremony which involves burning an Autobot insignia on to a recruit and them accepting fuel donated by their new comrades. Prime’s words “May your lustre never dull and your wires never cross” had a bit of charm to it, and years later I added the line to my email signature for a while. Another geek confession: even now, if we’re going somewhere, I might say to the kids ‘lets rock and roll out’ so this story must have left an impression.

Jetfire was of course created by the Decepticons, but stolen away by the Autobots. Optimus Prime used his Creation Matrix to give him life and a new purpose. He is the first of a new generation of Autobots, constructed on Earth, and as the Special Teams pull-out included with issue #54 amply illustrates, there are more on their way. A visit to Ratchet’s medical bay shows why new recruits are needed: it’s full of injured warriors, some in a bad way. As far as US readers are concerned these copped it during Prime Time, but in the UK expanded continuity they were casualties of the Dinobot Hunt. Luckily in Wheeljack’s lab, are five robotic bodies waiting to house the personalities of Grapple, Hoist, Smokescreen, Skids, and Tracks.

Budiansky was under constant pressure to keep up with the ever-expanding Hasbro toy line. These five, released in 1985, were overdue an appearance in the comic. The obvious way to bring them in would be to have the Autobots build them and Prime give them life with his Creation Matrix. To Budiansky’s credit he avoids the predictable solution and comes up with something novel (if a little flawed). We find out that these five previously existed on Cybertron and allowed the Ark to copy their minds in case reinforcements were needed (on the original mission to blast a safe passage for Cybertron through the asteroid belt, four million years ago). It begs the question of why not just just take the five along in the first place, rather than go to the trouble of building new bodies during the mission? Also, since we know that Transformers are basically immortal, isn’t it possible that the originals and are kicking around on the home world? Awkward.

Prime and Jetfire step into Wheeljack’s lab, where we witness crystals containing coded memories transfer via laser beams into five newly created robot bodies. With that they wake up as if from a deep sleep.

After the welcomes, Grapple is tasked by Optimus Prime to work on a secret task (we discover what that is in the upcoming story Command Performances). Meanwhile, Bumblebee will help the four other newbies to get acquainted with Earth.

Elsewhere, a fleet of navy vessels closes in on the Decepticon-controlled oil rig. G.B. Blackrock, the rig’s rightful owner, is on the deck of a ship with Walter Barnet from the government agency Triple III. This is Walter’s first appearance in the comic, but he’ll be a recurring character from this point onwards. Blackrock is depicted without his trademark moustache. It could be that artist Don Perlin forgot or just prefers him clean shaven!

It turns out that Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp have been toiling away on the rig, harvesting fuel for their recently returned commander, Shockwave. It’s been weeks already and Starscream is in mutinous mood. They are soon joined by Shockwave himself – who blows a hole in a cliff and emerges in flying gun mode (sending a couple of lovebirds diving for cover). He easily evades the navy’s fire and shows his warriors the power siphon he invented. It can convert energy from any sources into Energon cubes and will reduce their reliance on isolated outposts such as the rig. His every word is being eavesdropped by the navy who hear of a plan to harvest a huge release of sonic energy.

Incidentally this is the first time the US comic has acknowledged the existence of Energon cubes (which appear constantly in the cartoons). They do feature in the UK story Decepticon Dambusters, which is itself based on an episode of the Sunbow cartoon. Also, Shockwave’s return is handled without any fanfare. He simply got out of the swamp that he was chucked in by Optimus two US issues ago. In the UK continuity the Decepticons were leaderless for a time.

So, next morning Bumblebee and his trainees are blending into the Oregon traffic. Tracks is already admiring his sleak new vehicle mode. Thanks to modifications, the Autobots can now hide their insignias if necessary and create an illusion of a driver – a mannequin springs up on the driving seat at each Autobots command. After explaining such things as a speed limit, Bumblebee takes them into a Blackrock petrol station where they converse rather awkwardly with the attendants (who think they are either ventriloquists or double jointed). Hehehe!!!

Skids, the more sociable of the Autobots, is intrigued by the song on the station attendants’ radio. He’s told it is Brick Springstern and the Tenth Avenue Band! The lyrics are near identical to Dancing in the Dark, except with a few key word changes. Oddly, Springstern becomes Springhorn later in the story. That one obviously slipped by Editor Michael Carlin. I’m guessing that it was easier for the team to spoof Bruce Springsteen rather than go to all the trouble of asking permission to feature him.

So, to the second part which begins with Prime passing on information to Bumblebee that G.B. Blackrock has warned of a Decepticon plot to steal sonic energy. Both agree that it is likely to involve the Springhorn concert and Bumblebee is told to investigate, but not engage the enemy.

At the Washington DC, offices of Triple I (Intelligence and Information Institute), Walter Barnet calls on his boss Forrest Forsythe. The agency still has no idea what the Transformers are or what they want, and steps must be taken to contain the growing public hysteria. Barnett is told to come up with a plan. The interlude lays the seeds of the next story.

Bumblebee and his trainees drive into the concert parking area without paying the entrance fee. Fortunately, by deactivating their mannequins they park up and fool the security. There are 80,000 fans singing along to ‘Born in America’ when the noise is suddenly drained away. Hoist severs a mysterious cable leading from the stage to somewhere underground and suddenly the three Decepticon jets burst through the ground to attack.

Bumblebee falls in the hole, leaving the four rookie warriors to fight the Decepticons unguided. Luckily the fans all think the missiles and explosions are part of the concert (so much for Triple I’s fears of hysteria), even when Hoist steps up to the stage to weld a piece of rigging back together.

Shockwave is under the stadium, generating cubes from his siphon. It’s all a bit undignified for the Decepticon leader, who you would think wouldn’t have to do the graft himself. He decides to take his revenge for the Autobots spoiling the plan by soaring into the air in gun mode and preparing to incinerate the crowd. Bumblebee throws an Energon Cube at him and the blasts lights up the sky, sending Shockwave spinning off. We don’t find out whether the siphon Shockwave spent weeks making is retrieved or left under the stadium.

Despite Bumblebee disobeying orders, Prime is pleased at the way the new warriors acquitted themselves and they all learned an important motto from the day: the show must go on!

Included free with TFUK#54 is a pull-out mini comic featuring the new combining teams – or Special Teams as Marvel UK is referring to them – the Stunticons, Aerialbots, Combaticons and Protectobots. At a stroke the headcount is increased by 24. The three-page story sees the teams squaring off outside and power plant and demonstrating their combining abilities. The story is a little underwhelming but works as an advert for the new toys, which is what it’s intended to be. The story will be expanded on and put into a proper context by Marvel UK in issue #64.

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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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Prime Time!

After several months as Shockwave’s prisoner, the head of Optimus Prime is finally reunited with his body. And what’s the first thing he does? Blast his fellow Autobots! There’s twists, shocks, defeat and victory in this eagerly awaited conclusion to Bob Budiansky’s Matrix saga – and boy does it deliver!

Prime Time. My goodness here’s a story that I look back on with fondness and just a little abiding awe. Published in the UK in December 1985, just a few weeks ahead of its release in the US, it draws together all the plot threads since TFUK#22 and weaves a truly epic conclusion.

When Shockwave showed up at the end of The Last Stand to lay waste to the heroic forces, it was difficult to predict where the story could go. In the intervening months there have been some fantastic moments, namely: Budiansky’s boldness in replacing Megatron with a new leader – and Shockwave’s ruthless humiliation of his predecessor; Prime’s head captive and the shocking image of his troops hanging from the ceiling; the introduction of the Matrix as a means of creating new Transformer life; Ratchet the medic, becoming a warrior; and also introducing new characters in the form of the Dinobots, Constructicons and Jetfire without it feeling forced; and Buster Witwicky unleashing the power of the Matrix! Wow. It’s certainly been an entertaining few months.

At last the time to bring the curtain down on the story, but as the awe-inspiring cover by Herb Trimpe – Optimus Prime: Autobot Killer! – makes apparent, there’s another big twist in store. So, how is Prime whole again and why is he laying waste to his comrades? For the answers we must start at the beginning, as Buster Witwicky soars above the Oregon countryside aboard the captured Decepticon drone Jetfire.

Buster recaps his Matrix journey for the benefit of the readers, from unwittingly receiving it, to mastery – when he blew apart Jetfire last issue and remade him to serve the Autobot cause. The plan now is to pilot Jetfire into the Decepticon base and rescue Prime (and surprisingly Buster’s normally cautious father gave his blessing).

Naturally it wouldn’t be dramatic if everything went to plan, so when Jetfire is engaged by the US air force and takes evasive action, the result is that Buster blacks out. It being a family friendly comic, no pilots are killed in the dogfight – all safely eject. However, without commanding, Jetfire reverts to his previous program.

The scene with Rumble summoned to see ‘the boss’ to receive his punishment is a delight. It’s at once laugh out loud funny and a demonstration of Shockwave’s ruthlessness. Readers will remember that Rumble screwed-up royally while on Ark guard duty by allowing Buster to slip by him and steal the Creation Matrix. He’s sweating oil now as he contemplates what the humourless Shockwave has in store for him. At first, it’s a relief – he’s being tasked with guarding their human slave workforce – until Shockwave crushes the shit out of a part assembled jet, letting Rumble know exactly what he can expect if any escape. Ha!

Shockwave, being a smart cookie has worked out that the Autobots must have bugged their base otherwise they wouldn’t have got to Buster ahead of Laserbeak and Jetfire. Soundwave duly discovers the device and turn the tables a bit by deliberately tipping off Prowl that the head of Optimus will be dumped in a nearby swamp. The Autobot army heads there.

Jetfire returns with a gift for his master – the unconscious Buster, who is swiftly strapped to a table. Shortly, machinery will integrate with his mind and extract the Matrix enough to give life to a hundred new Decepticon jets (that would be quite a gamechanger). Prime watches helplessly, realising he’s messed up by putting Buster in such danger.

Shockwave seems to have forgotten about the three existing jets on his team and is making maximum use of his new toy, Jetfire. He tasks the new boy with dropping Prime’s head into the swamp in front of the horrified Autobots. Prowl heads a daisy chain to retrieve their leader, and moments later Prime’s head and body are reunited – or are they? We know from the cover what’s coming next. Prime turns his guns on Prowl and cuts down several others, taking them by surprise. In a nice cliff-hanger ending, a platoon of Decepticons led by Soundwave sneaks up unnoticed and advise that the Autobot leader obeys them now!

Elsewhere in the issue there’s a fact file on my favourite Constructicon, Scavenger; the back-up strip Machine Man of 2020 continues to be surprisingly good (even if flying motorbikes and a floating city doesn’t bear resemblance to the present day 2020!) and there’s a teaser of upcoming stories that shows they have mapped out the UK comic all the way up to the milestone issue 50.

The following issue’s Transformation page features a Q&A with Mrs Julia Elkins of Hasbro’s Consumer Relations Department answering such questions as whether Swoop and Shockwave toys will be on sale here. It’s done with Christmas in mind, and no doubt the comic has been bombarded with these commercial questions. The column ensures that Lew Stringer’s Robo Capers, which I rather enjoy, is somewhat shrunk.

In the story, Buster wakes up to find himself inside the Decepticon base and tethered. Shockwave is talking to the head of Optimus Prime – the real head that is – so we learn the one currently attached to Prime’s shoulders is a fake. So that explains why Prime is attacking the Autobots (who incidentally are looking in terrible shape – Prowl has an arm hanging off and one anonymous robot seems to have had his entire head melted).

Buster has picked his moment to revive perfectly. He’s able to stop Jetfire from executing Optimus and instead command him to punch out Shockwave, then fly with the real Prime’s head to rendezvous with the Autobots. Once at the battlefield Optimus commands his body to reject the fake head, cast it into the swamp, and connect the real one.

With Prime back in business we’re treated to a highly satisfying rampage by the Autobot leader where he takes down Soundwave and the other Decepticons in turn. The contrast between the unstoppable Prime and his ineffectual troops, caught on the backfoot, is stark. And it’s not over yet – we’ve got the leaders showdown with Shockwave still to come. Wow!

There’s a lovely moment where Shockwave rises, crestfallen as he realises Prime has escaped his clutches and is completely oblivious to Rumble – who has been overpowered by the escaping human slaves – in a few paces behind, begging for forgiveness. The idea that Shockwave is unlikely to care about that when his entire plan is in ruins hasn’t occurred to Rumble – he’s hilarious only thinking about his personal predicament.

Shockwave tranforms into his flying gun and jets to confront Prime. The leaders do battle over two pages, with Shockwave declaring that it was “always logical” that he should be the one to deal with Prime personally. Instead, Optimus hoists him up and throw him into the centre of the swamp where he rapidly starts to sink. The sensible, albeit ruthless thing to do here is to blast Shockwave while he’s helpless (it is war after all) but Prime being Prime, he rushes away (in robot mode, oddly) to go to Buster’s aid. It’s almost as if the other Autobots have forgotten that they too have weapons as they passively allow Shockwave to sink rather than press the advantage. There’s a hint he will return.

Back at the plant the other workers have freed Buster. Optimus thanks him for saving the day and expresses his regret for endangering the young human. It’s a nice moment where Prime acknowledges he couldn’t have found a better being – human or Autobot – to safeguard the Matrix, before taking it back.

After 18 issues the storyline is complete, and the total defeat suffered by the Autobots is turned around. Now it is the Decepticons who are beaten and leaderless. All it took was for Optimus Prime to become whole again, showing what a gamechanger he is. This is Prime at his most awesome, but this is Transformers and that means there is always trouble and strife around the corner for the Autobots. But all in good time, first there is the matter of the Christmas story.

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Brainstorm!

Shockwave is furious to learn that the Creation Matrix has slipped through his hands and launches an investigation to find out who has it! And Jetfire takes to the sky for the first time in this penultimate instalment of Bob Budiansky’s Matrix saga.

The cover of the US version – I prefer the UK wording: ‘Introducing Jetfire! Fast-furious-and fatal?’

Soundwave has become a real star of the UK Transformers comic, not so much for his story appearances but for his hilarious put-downs (and putt-ups!) as host of the letters page. His comments about neuro-shocking the printers for mistakes is a good example. Unfortunately, the decision to have Soundwave (aka Simon Furman) take over the Transformation page for TFUK#37 is spoiled by yellow text on white – it’s barely legible, oops.

This issue from late November 1985 and the next reprints the US Transformers story ‘Brainstorm’, by Bob Budiansky and with art from the late Herbe Trimpe (who worked on three strips and several covers for Transformers and was the artist on the TF GI Joe spin-off crossover during his years at Marvel).

The story opens with the Autobots’ human friend (and unwitting custodian of the Creation Matrix) Buster Witwicky laying on his bed reading a book titled Advanced Physics (no prizes for guessing what it is about). Metal objects are levitating around him and Buster, an A grade student we’re told, is hoping to find the answer to it in the books. We’re reminded how it started – when he was zapped by Optimus Prime’s head in TFUK #24.

This amazing new ability to manipulate and assemble machines with a single thought, was certainly useful while Buster’s father Sparkplug was convalescing in hospital. It enabled Buster to mend all of the vehicles in his father’s garage despite knowing next to nothing about engines previously. Trouble is, Sparkplug is now convinced his son has developed a sudden interest in auto mechanics. He’s even thinking about renaming the family business to S Witwicky & Son! For now, Buster is playing along to avoid worrying his father, given the older man’s recent heart attack.

At the Blackrock’s assembly plant, which is currently serving as a base for Shockwave’s Decepticons, the human workforce has been reduced to slave labour. They are doing well though, recording an 18.7% increase in productivity (it’s amazing what a bit of menace can do!). Or maybe it’s the food they been receiving? Budiansky’s quirky humour and fondness for human side characters is evident as pizza delivery man ‘Mozzarella Mike’ arrives with food for the hostages. He’s waved through by the army presence surrounding the plant and a one soldier kids that Mike’s peperoni and onion pies have been known to wipe out a platoon.

Shockwave is less happy with Optimus Prime’s efficiency. With the Matrix essence inside Prime’s mind gone, the Decepticons’ latest warrior Jetfire is destined to remain lifeless. Shockwave begins to suspect that Prime has transferred the Matrix somewhere, but where and to whom?

As the Autobots’ acting commander Prowl listens in (courtesy of a bugged phone in the plant) we’re shown the clever way that Shockwave uncovers the truth. He summons Rumble (who had been on guard duty at the Ark) and connects his gun arm to the back of the mini-Decepticon’s head, interfacing directly with his memories. It’s a painful process, but Shockwave has no concern for the comfort of his underling. He identifies movement from the periphery of Rumble’s vision and enhances the image, revealing Buster. Laserbeak squarks to declare that he recognises the human.

Prime took a huge gamble by involving Buster – in many ways it was against his entire code of ethics – and now he realises it hasn’t paid off, as Buster is in supreme danger. Thankfully the Autobots are alive to the situation and Prowl dispatches Bumblebee and the talkative Bluestreak to find them.

At the plant, workers Gabe and Ferdy are grumbling about cold pizza when an eye blast from Laserbeak rapidly warms it (probably scaring the shit out of the two humans). Laserbeak reverts to his cassette mode and is delivered by Mozzarella Mike to the army commander outside. He plays a warning from Shockwave that the army must withdraw, or hostages will be terminated. They have little choice. Laserbeak ejects and easily avoids a hail of bullets from the soldiers.

There’s a welcome return for Jessie, Buster’s girlfriend, who we last saw getting turfed out of the Witwicky garage – along with their friend O – when Buster wanted some time alone to contemplate his problems. She now arrives on a bicycle, having forgiven his jerkish behaviour and looking hotter than ever. It’s good timing as Buster was about to get roped into helping Sparkplug fix up a vehicle they just towed. Instead the young lovers cycle away, a short while before Bumblebee arrives with a cryptic warning for Sparkplug that his son has something the Decepticons want and is a target. Sparkplug gives Bumblebee short shrift but then promptly jumps in his pick-up and heads off, with Bluestreak in tail.

The second part opens with Buster and Jessie cycling towards the falls. He wants to explain why he has been acting strange lately, but Jessie is deliberately avoiding the conversation. Using the power of the Matrix, Buster removes the master link from her bike chain and she soon stops. Both seem genuinely sorry for the argument they had a while back, and as they make up, they are found by Sparkplug. Bumblebee and Bluestreak also arrive, having followed Sparkplug. Bluestreak observed Buster and Jessie sharing a kiss, and in a comical if slightly awkward moment, enquires as to what that the function of the act was! Not for the first time, Bumblebee is forced to tell him to put a sock in it – they have serious business to discuss. High above, Laserbeak is watching – he’s really getting some time in the spotlight this story.

Shockwave has anticipated that the Autobots would seek out Buster. This suggests he’s aware of the listening device that the enemy have been using, even though he doesn’t mention it explicitly. Once again, we see Shockwave’s ability to fire a beam from his lone eye – in this case, using it to program the mindless Jetfire with Buster’s coordinates and order him to transform and recover the target.

Bumblebee encourages Buster to tell his father about the power Optimus Prime has given him, but the youth is reluctant to admit anything. They are attacked by Laserbeak, who after a bit of evasive flying is eventually brought down by Bluestreak – mouth still running away with him.

Jetfire swoops down, easily avoiding a boulder thrown by Bumblebee, and returning fire. BlueStreak’s missile scores a hit but Jetfire feels no pain, convincing Bumblebee that this opponent is not alive. He tells Buster he has the power to control any unliving machine and he agrees. Buster rises and unleashes the Matrix – with Jetfire coming apart spectacularly.

It’s a stunning reveal and well deserving of the full-page treatment that Budiansky and Trimpe give it. You wonder why Prime doesn’t use these Matrix-inspired Jedi powers in battle, though perhaps they don’t work so well against living opponents. After a moment of stunned silence, Buster confesses to his father that does have this ‘Creation Matrix’ the Autobots alluded to, then proceeds to reassemble Jetfire – at Bumblebee’s suggestion – and infuse him with new commands. The Decepticons will hunt Buster so long as he has the Matrix, but perhaps Jetfire can be used to defeat the enemy and rescue the head of Optimus Prime…

In epilogue, the army continue to reinforce come across as woefully inept. One soldier noticed that vehicles travelling with them, that have now peeled off, appeared to be driverless. Despite having skirmishes with robots who have demonstrated the ability to disguise as vehicles, no-one seems to have put two and two together. In fact, it’s Prowl and the Autobots heading to the Decepticon base to try to rescue Optimus. Thanks to the listening device they know that Shockwave has decided that Prime no longer has the Matrix and will be terminated immediately!

In closing, Jetfire is becoming well known to the fans as part of Hasbro’s line of Autobot toys. Having him debut as a Decepticon is a fascinating twist but ultimately, we know he’s destined to join the Autobots. Sparkplug’s frosty attitude towards the Autobots appears to be thawing a little. He knows they are trouble for his family but can also see they are the only ones who can help Buster in his current predicament. And so to the epic conclusion next issue.

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