Legacy of Unicron (Parts 5 & 6)

Death’s Head journeys into Unicron’s mind and learns the origin of the Transformers as Rodimus travels to Junk for the final showdown with the Chaos Bringer!

January 1988 saw Marvel UK’s flagship comic, The Transformers, notch up another milestone of its eight-year run – the 150th issue.

For issue #50 we had a fight to the death between Grimlock and Sludge in the epic Dinobot Hunt (one of my faves) and on reaching triple figures readers were treated to a fantastic wraparound cover poster and an extended story featuring Optimus doing battle with barbaric cyborg apes! Yes, every bit as weird as it sounds.

Issue #150 also provides a wraparound poster that is something really special. Jerry Paris, who drew the cover of issue #1, that memorable and dare I say iconic Prime versus Soundwave cover, now turns his hand to depicting Unicron in his planet devouring glory. This sets us up nicely for issue #150’s story – the honest to gosh origin of the Transformers.

It’s a bold move into unchartered territory and moving beyond anything we’ve seen so far from the Transformers’ American parent title. This was Simon Furman and the UK comic laying the foundations of the franchise and staking a claim to being the main canon. It also makes #150 one of the most significant issues in the Transformers run. Arguably an origin story was needed following the events of the 1986 movie which established the relationship between Unicron and the Matrix.

So, to the story, which is pencilled this time by Jeff Anderson. It begins with Wreck-Gar deploying explosives in a cavern underneath the head of Unicron. It’s like a modern-day Guy Fawkes moment.

Unicron, for all his vast mental ability is strangely oblivious. His attention is focused on Death’s Head who has somehow managed to inject his consciousness into Unicron’s vast mindscape. The planet eater is impressed by his slave’s resourcefulness and ‘bare faced effrontery’. Whilst it will not be enough to spare Death’s Head from oblivion, as a last request Unicron will share with him a story unheard of by any mortal – Unicron’s origin!

‘Elsewhere in the real world’ Rodimus Prime’s shuttle soars towards the planet of Junk. The Autobot leader ponders who Unicron really is and why he’s so hell bent on destroying Cybertron. He also watches Smokescreen at the ship’s controls with barely concealed contempt for abandoning Prime’s pal Wreck-Gar. Smokescreen takes it on the chin as he’s desperately disappointed by his own actions, but it’s hardly fair.

We learn from Unicron that he was once a god of chaos and fury who was pitched in an eternal battle against his counterpart, Primus, leader of the light gods and protector of all life in the universe. According to Unicron, he had the measure of Primus, both in the physical realm and the astral plane (perhaps wishful thinking on his part as the two seem essentially to be in stalemate). Primus knew this and outsmarted Unicron. He fled the astral plane with Unicron pursuing and materialised them both within enormous barren asteroids.

They appeared to be trapped for all eternity. However, as the millennia passed, Unicron used his fury and hatred to physically reshape his prison, becoming a mobile planet. Much later he was able to restructure himself further, adding a robot form. In effect he had become the first Transformer!

Primus had also shaped his body but rather than become a giant robot and continue their evenly matched battle, he instead chose to become the habitable world of Cybertron. He created the Transformers to succeed him and distilled his essence into a Matrix capable of giving life but also destroying Unicron. Pretty clever.

We also learn that Primus and Unicron shared a mental link and therefore is aware of the other’s motives and plans. Unicron knew the danger of the Matrix, which is why in the Movie he recruits Megatron and transforms him into Galvatron to act as his agent to capture and destroy the Matrix. As we know, Galvatron failed and Hot Rod eventually unleashed the power of the Matrix, becoming elevated into Rodimus Prime and destroying the planet eater.

Unicron’s concentration is broken as Rodimus’ shuttle arrives and begins a bombing run. He returns fire using the deadly laser eye beams we saw in the Movie. The Junkions are ordered to counterattack along with Death’s Head, who resists and is lucky to escape a Unicron eye beam in his direction. It’s enough, however, to send Wreck-Gar tumbling inside the underground shaft, burying him under rubble just as the detonator counts down. Eeks!

A Rodimus fact file rounds off the treats for issue #150 before we move on to the next issue and the concluding part of the Legacy of Unicron. There’s a hint on the Transformations page about a ‘major new development’ in the pipeline, which will turn out to be the closure of the weekly Action Force comic and amalgamating it into Transformers as the regular back-up strip. Bryan Hitch, one of the AF artists, makes his TF debut and makes an instant impact with a truly demonic depiction of Unicron’s head.

As Prime decamps to the surface of Junk, Smokescreen continues to strafe Unicron’s eye beams in an apparent death wish. He’s giving Scattershot the jitters and perhaps Unicron too, as the demi-god orders Cyclonus and Scourge to head for Junk to bolster his defences. With their departure from the battle on Cybertron, Soundwave can see no point in continuing the suicide attack and orders a strategic Decepticon retreat. This is the point where Soundwave can be said to have taken over the leadership of the future Decepticons.

Hitch strikes an incredibly dramatic pose for Rodimus Prime, who is wracked with guilt at the fate of the Junkion slaves (whom the Dinobots are busy dismantling). Death’s Head arrives with an appeal for Prime to trust him. Next thing he’s holding the Matrix up to Unicron alongside a defeated Rodimus and asking to bargain. Unicron immediately prepares to capture Death’s Head’s mind again and the bounty hunter propels Prime into the psychic plane where he confronts Unicron (appearing as regular sized) as a surrogate for Primus.

I’m not sure of what the point of the confrontation is. Rodimus is hopelessly out of his depth and runs a real of risk of losing the Matrix to the great enemy. Thankfully Death’s Head pulls him out in the nick of time, having also freed Wreck-Gar from his entombment.

Things then rush to a swift conclusion over the space of two pages. Cyclonus and Scourge arrive just as the explosives begin to detonate. Death’s Head knows the only route of escape – the only way to fulfil his contract on the pair – is to bundles all three of them into Unicron’s time portal so that they can fight another day. They vanish just as Unicron is engulfed in a catastrophic explosion that rains debris on to Rodimus and his allies.

As the dust settles, we learn that Unicron’s essence has been absorbed into the Matrix. Such a powerful evil would surely taint the sacred lifeforce but that’s a story for another time. In the short postscript we discover that Cyclonus and Scourge were transported to Cybertron’s past where they joined Scorponok’s army and this explains how the pair are able to exist in the past as Target Masters. Nicely done Simon Furman.

We end on a line about the real star of the show, ‘of Death’s Head there was no trace’. What happens to him? He’ll encounter Doctor Who at the crossroads of time but shrunk to human size and then wind up in Earth’s distant future in a springboard to his own monthly Marvel title.

So ends the first epic tale of 1988 with a lot more still to come.

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Legacy of Unicron (Parts 3 & 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ark Duty

Hot Rod is ordered to guard the Ark from Decepticon attack but can’t resist leaving his post when he sees Kup under attack from the Stunticons

At the end of March 2020, as the UK went into lockdown, and have some unexpected time on my hands due to no longer commuting for 1.5 hours a day, I embarked on this project to re-read and review all of my classic 1980s and 90s Transformers comics. It’s been a lot of fun, I might say a blast from the past and I’ve been struck by how good those stories still are despite the passage of time. A year and two weeks later, I’ve reached the end of 1987 with Ark Duty… a story from the Transformers Annual of that year.

Somewhat unusually there are none of the usual credits, so it’s difficult to be sure who the production team is. I would hazard a guess though that its a Simon Furman story with Will Simpson on art duties; I’m pretty sure its his style.
This seven page story is a nice, compact little tale, which fills in some of the gaps between the then ‘present day’ (1980s) era and the Transformers the Movie set up.

It defies the usual Furman practice of setting future stories exactly 20 years on from the publication date by being set in 2003. Ultra Magnus is now the Autobot commander on Earth (no explanation is given for Optimus Prime’s absence, but we might assume that he’s on Cybertron’s moons at this put overseeing the operation to retake the homeworld) and plans have been drawn up to build Autobot City Earth. Obviously in the Movie, which is set in 2005/6 depending on whether you follow cartoon or comic continuity, the city is built.

We open with Magnus in the Ark showing the gathered Autobots a video simulation of how Autobot City will be able to withstand and repel a Decepticon attack. Magnus alludes to the fact that the Ark contains many valuable secrets that cannot be allowed to fall into Decepticon hands – this is intriguing as we have no idea what these secrets may be. My feeling it’s something in the Ark/Auntie’s data banks. He also speaks of the Autobots having been given land and all the materials they need by Earth’s governments, which rather suggests that humanity has finally accepted the Autobots as their protectors. It’s taken a while. I wonder if even Circuit Breaker has stopped attacking Autobots and is targeting Decepticons at last by 2003?

Magnus explains that all Autobots will take part in the convoy to collect the materials they need for the city, except for Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr. Oddly enough the trio are not Targetmasters, despite becoming bonded to Nebulans over the course of 1987, and the Ark is still embedded in the side of Mount St Hillary, that’s despite it being repaired and returned to orbit in the main Transformers strip by the end of the year. This begs the question of whether Ark Duty is in the same continuity as the regular comic. It’s likely that its in the Transformers Movie alternate reality. For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean, the Transformers comic departed from the Movie future by having Unicron show up and attack Cybertron in 1991 and not 2005/6. This pretty much cast the Movie into a different reality to the comic stories.

The Decepticon spy Ravage observes from the wings, his electro-magnetic shield ensuring that he remains undetected. When Magnus reveals that Kup will deliver a top secret data tape to the human authorities, Ravage determines to steal it and tasks the Stunticons with intercepting the Autobot old timer. (It’s great to see the under-used Stunticons again).

Kup made a point of ordered Hot Rod to guard the Ark and not to leave under any circumstances. Blurr is uttering dialogue similar to his lines in the Movie (“positively absolutely certain” sounding like his “absolutely positively definitely”) but unlike the Movie which Blurr is something of a novelty character and quite fun, here he’s just plain annoying. When Hot Rod sees Kup getting roughed up by Motormaster and his crew on screen, he wastes no time in defying orders and setting out after his colleague.

After checking Kup is okay, he takes off after the Stunticon convoy to retrieve the stolen tape. Hot Rod doesn’t stick around to allow Kup to tell him something important, namely that the tape is a fake and they wanted the Decepticons to steal it. Hot Rod catches up with the Stunticons and challenges them. Shortly after, Kup arrives and finds Hot Rod beaten up and left bruised and battered at the roadside.

He explains the plan and thanks Hot Rod for making it seem all the more convincing. Now they will be left alone to build the city as the Decepticons will believe they know its secrets, he says. The obvious flaw in the logic is that the Decepticons will surely know that the Autobots are aware that their plans have been stolen and are likely to change the plans. Hot Rod apologises and insists he will stay in the Ark next time, but Kup somehow doubts it. They hobble off together into the sunset.

I liked this story overall because it bridges the divide between the present day 80s set-up and the Autobots we see in the Transformers Movie. It’s also a welcome to see Ravage back to his cunning best (he hasn’t been seen since he disappeared down a mine shaft of course) and the Stunticons are rarely used, compared to other special teams. The dynamic between Hot Rod and Kup is established by this point. They are polar opposites but true friends.

Now its time to fast forward from 2003 to January 2008 and a post-Movie showdown on the Planet of Junk between Death’s Head, Cyclonus and Scourge.

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Brothers in Armour!

“See you in the next world” – Lord Zarak, slowly being consumed by Scorponok, realises he must free Galen and the Autobots in order to save Nebulos from destruction.

Brothers in Armour, which I always thought of as a play on the title of the Dire Straits song, is the fourth and final instalment of Headmasters. Even with the frequent art blunders, the series has easily been the best and most original of Marvel’s occasional spin-off titles (the others being the Transformers the Movie adaptation and the very turgid Transformers vs GI Joe). At this point the Autobot Headmasters have been defeated by Scorponok’s Decepticons and things look extremely bleak for the Autobots who remain at large.

The tension in the series is that the good guys can’t seem to get a break. Having fled the neverending war on Cybertron, Fortress Maximum and his fellow refugees arrived on Nebulos where they were shown only fear and hatred – and were even attacked by the pacifist Nebulans. Then, having surrendered their heads as a gesture of peace, Lord Zarak gave away their location to Scorponok, their sworn Decepticon enemy. And just as the Autobots regained the upper hand by becoming Headmasters, Zarak and his followers bonded-up with the Decepticons to inflict a terrible defeat on the Autobots.

It’s just like Bob Budiansky’s stories of the Transformers’ early years on Earth where Shockwave and the Decepticons had overcome the Autobots. A similar situation is occurring on Nebulos and as a reader you have to keep coming back to find out how the heroic forces can possibly recover the situation.

The final instalment opens at the gardens of Melanossus – a place of outstanding natural beauty – now the latest casualty of war. Nothing is sacred for Scorponok and his forces who have invaded paradise to persecute and destroy the remaining Autobot fugitives. We were briefly introduced to the Monsterbots in part one. Now Grotesque, Doublecross and Repugnus get another showing (just as the Technobots and Terrorcons did last issue) as part of the obligatory toy product placement. The trio are the sole survivors and make a strategic retreat. It’s fun to see Doublecross’ two heads arguing about whether they should fight or flee. It’s a shame there isn’t the space to see more of the Monsterbots.

Zarak and his fellow Headmaster Nebulans have become drunk on their new power. With the Decepticons at their side there is no curb on their ambitions. The Nebulan media arrive via some interesting looking hover planes. They invite Zarak to repeat his claims that Galen is a traitor to Nebulos, which Zarak does without hesitation. It should be pretty obvious to right thinking folk that Zarak is equally as guilty of what he accuses Galen of, namely teaming up with robots to acquire power, and clearly Zarak’s victories over the Autobots are having a cataclysmic effect on Nebulan cities (as he speaks Melanossus lies in ruins). Yet nobody seems to be questioning why Zarak is in league with the very Decepticons who were laying siege to Koraja not so long ago. Could it be that everyone is in fear of this new power in the Nebulan government? Echoes of Nazi Germany here.

At the Autobot base camp in the swamps (where even the Decepticons won’t venture) Point Blank appears to have taken a position of leadership. Like Fortress Maximus before him, he’s having to reign in a frustrated Kup. Luckily they have six new Nebulan recruits who are working with them at great personal risk to resist the Decepticons. They have undergone bio-mechanical engineering to become the weapons of Pointblank and five others – becoming the Autobot Targetmasters. We’re introduced to the sextet but sadly Firebolt is referred to as Sparks; another production team mistake?

Hot Rod has detected a distress signal from Earth. It’s one that Goldbug will send in issue 155 and Crosshairs is up for abandoning Nebulos and trying their luck at this new world. Blurr disagrees, reminding colleagues that their brethren are captives of the Decepticons and they can’t leave until Fortress Maximus and the others are rescued. With that, the Targetmasters depart to protect the latest Nebulan sanctuary under threat.

Zarak’s very hard-working ally Vorath (who monitors communications and builds Targetmasters in his spare time!) has also picked up the transmission, so now the Decepticons know of Earth as well. Zarak visits his archenemy Galen, who is held in a state of unconsciousness in some sort of energy vine, only to find his daughter Llyra there. Her ex love Galen is now the most hated being on Nebulos. Zarak has Galen ‘reactivated’ but Llyra storms out rather than stick around and listen to his plea for her understanding.

Galen can see clearly that Zarak is becoming consumed by his own power and will end up tearing apart Nebulos unless he wakes up to what is happening. Zarak refuses to accept this but at the back of his mind he knows Galen speaks the truth.

At The Nursery, a sacred facility that provides Nebulan food and medicine needs, Peacemaker and his fellow Targetmaster Nebulans meet with Selani, one of the facility administrators. The suggestion here is that The Nursery are fearful of being seized by Zarak and the Decepticons. Sure enough, they are soon under attack by Zarak, atop Scorponok, and joined in battle by the Terrorcons. Zarak is pleased to see the Autobots are apparently defenceless and he is in no mood to show mercy – they attack.

In response the six armoured Nebulans transform to the weapons of Blurr, Crosshairs, Hotrod, Kup, Pointblank and Sureshot. They unleash a variable volley of laser fire unlike anything seen before and cut down their Decepticon opponents. However, attacks from the Terrorcons Cutthroat and Hun-grr destroy the Nursery supports and the structure comes crashing down. The Autobots realise that their presence is only exposing the Nursery to more danger and they have no choice but to withdraw. As the adrenaline fades, Zarak begins to realise that Galen was right and he is losing his mind the longer he spends in a mental link with Scorponok.

It’s weird because at this point Scorponok seems to have ceased to be an independent Decepticon. When his head is transformed in Zarak he just stands around like a total non-entity. It’s become the Zarak show and its difficult to see any great advantage from Scorponok’s perspective.

In a matter of days, Vorath has succeeded in duplicating the Autobots’ technological advantage and has created the Decepticon Targetmasters – Slugslinger, Triggerhappy, Misfire, Cyclonus and Scourge. The latter two, Cyclonus and Scourge, would fill numerous columns on the comic’s letters pages with fans wondering how they could possibly be on Nebulos in 1987 when they are not created until 2006. Grimlock (on the Grim Grams page) hints that the answer will be revealed in the next big Transformers story – the 1988 new year opener – whose title is being kept strictly under wraps!

Zarak seems barely interested in the Decepticon Targetmasters (they do seem like an afterthought for the story too in all honestly) and even ignores his daughter Llyra as he brushes past her and into the detention cell for another face-to-face with Galen. Ironically his hated is the only one who understands his dilemma. In a very telling scene Zarak confesses to feeling like he’s been controlled by Scorponok and mentions that he and Galen will meet in the “next world”. Galen naturally takes this as a reference to his receiving the death penalty (again its bizarre that a world at peace for thousands of years has not abolished the practice of capital punishment) but the world Zarak is speaking of is Earth.

He knocks Krunk unconscious and deactivates the field holding Galen and his allies, allowing them to break out and recombine with their Autobot partners. Annoyingly Gort and Stylor have been miscoloured as each other; the level of production team errors in the mini-series is astounding but thank goodness the standard of story makes up for it. The Autobots break-out and are soon engaged in a pitched battle with the Decepticon Targetmasters at the iconic Nebulan globe monument.

The real drama for me is the scene with Llyra questioning how Galen and the Autobots could have escaped and realising that her father must have freed them. But Zarak is losing his mind at this point, mesmerised by the call of battle and soon he is riding atop of Scorponok and joining in. Llyra realises that the Decepticons are destroying the city and at long last the penny drops. Fortress Maximus orders a retreat to avoid Nebulan casualties and they return to the swamp for a reunion with their fellow Autobots. There, Galen informs them that they must leave Nebulos and he is certain that Zarak and the Decepticons will follow; it’s the only way to save the planet.

There’s a very poignant moment where a repentant Llyra arrives and basically tells Galen that if he tells her the truth she will believe him. Finally! Tragically Galen coldly rebuffs her overture and sends her off in tears. She now hates him more than ever. As Galen explains to his followers, if Llyra still loved him he could not leave Nebulos as he must. Galen, heroic to the last, sacrifices his own happiness for patriotism. Soon the Autobot ship Steelhaven is warping away bound for Earth (and a starring role in the main Transformers comic) leaving their dreams of a world where robot and Nebulan can peaceful coexist in tatters. Days later, Zarak and the Decepticons board their own ship and give chase, leaving Llyra and the Nebulan people to rebuild their shattered lives. Wow.

It’s a great end to the series but I must confess to feeling a little cheated for poor old Galen. He really can’t get a break and even when things finally go his way he has to abandon his world to save it. It’s a shame he couldn’t have taken Llyra with him, or maybe reversed the binary bond process and sent the Autobots off without their Nebulans? Perhaps that wasn’t practical. We’ll revisit Nebulos again on a couple of occasions – one in the 1988 story People Power and then two decades later in Simon Furman’s Transformers Regeneration One series – however we aren’t destined to see Llyra again. I hope that in the fullness of time she came to realise the truth about Galen and her father.

In closing, the art blunders aside this is a great story from Bob Budiansky. It must have been challenging to weave an engaging tale while hampered by having to introduce legions of new characters – but it all works. I’ve read that there was some talk at the time of making Headmasters an ongoing series. When you consider that the main comic had to print the UK story Man of Iron to give themselves breathing space to work on Headmasters, I doubt the team could have managed two books every month. Instead the Headmasters and Targetmasters are destined to play a big role in the Earth adventures of the Transformers – a mouth watering prospect.

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Broken Glass!

The Autobot presence on the planet Nebulos has triggered a wave of panic and protests and matters are about to get worse when the Decepticons show up!

I’ve got a lot of love for the Headmasters saga. It was published by Marvel as a four comic spin-off series in 1987 and reprinted in the back pages of Transformers UK.

It’s writer Bob Budiansky at the top of his game in my opinion. His task is to provide a story vehicle to introduce a large array of new Transformers toys and characters (Autobots, Decepticons and Nebulans) that has Hasbro were releasing that summer. And to provide a plausible reason why Transformers would wish to join forces with humanoids as Headmasters and Targetmasters.
Bob ably rises to the challenge and weaves a story of heroism , tragedy, sacrifice, love and treachery, with compelling lead characters in Fortress Maximus and Scorponok and their Nebulan counterparts Galen and Zarak.

It’s a testament to the story that it does not need to rely on big name draws like Optimus Prime or Megatron to sell it (in fact the only established characters to appear are Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr, Cyclonus and Scourge, and even then as bit players) and so it succeeds under its its own steam.

In the first instalment, we met the noble Fortress Maximus, an Autobot leader in the Optimus Prime mould, who had grown weary of the never-ending cycle of civil war and realised the Autobots were equally culpable of propagating the conflict as their enemies the Decepticons. The only way to break the circle of violence was for his side to leave Cybertron forever. Their logical destination would be Nebulos, where peace had reigned for ten thousand years. However, the arrival of giant alien robots in their midst proved so destabilising that the Nebulans reactivated their long dormant weapons of war and attacked the newcomers. Fortress Maximus surrendered his head as the ultimate gesture of peace, as did four of his followers, while six others disarmed. Crisis was averted temporarily.

So, as we pick up the story in Broken Glass! the Nebulan capital Koraja is in a state of civil unrest with protestors waving anti-robot placards and climbing on the globe monument to burn an effigy. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and a member of the ruling council, watches the situation with alarm. He feels responsible because it was his decision to accept the surrender of Fortress Maximus and allow the other Autobots to remain. Evidently public opinion does not share his assessment that these robots do not pose a threat.

Lord Zarak is an intriguing character. We see him at this point, standing alongside Galen as a fellow council member. The dovish Galen and hawkish Zarak have very different political perspectives but for now they are nominally on the same side. Zarak is of course, responsible for first contact between Blurr and the Nebulans going so awry in the last issue, and he’s busy stirring the pot even now, with hired thugs in the crowd to ensure the protests erupt into violence. Galen appears not to suspect the lengths Zarak will go to. And matters are complicated by the fact that Galen’s lover, Llyra, is Zarak’s daughter. She also seems to dismiss her father as a harmless crank.

So what are Zarak’s motives here? On the one hand it would seem to be power grab, by using the crisis to bring down Galen and advance himself. On the other, maybe he’s looking for an opportunity break up his daughter’s relationship with this guy he despises. We can only speculate what it is he dislikes so much about Galen: could it be Zarak finds Galen’s nobility intolerable as it reveals his (Zarak’s) own failings as a man and leader? Or maybe he detests Galen’s flamboyant choice of clothes, i.e. the bright red outfit with the slightly naff green globe on it. What we can say with some certainty is that Zarak’s daughter is smoking hot!
It’s interesting to see how Earthlike these Nebulans are in terms of their actions and passions. It’s no wonder that they can come to Earth later on and integrate pretty seamlessly. Perhaps this is a missed opportunity on Bob’s part to create something more alien (that said the cartoon’s answer was simply to make the Nebulans green).

As a fight breaks out and Galen leaps into the crowd to break it up (let’s skirt over the fact that he was two storeys up and would have broken his legs) only to be punched out by one of Zarak’s goons. Nebulan security forces step in and Llyra rushes to the aid of her love, who has just been punched in the face by a protester. Galen insists on taking the blame and says the man should not be arrested. Bad judgement I think – what sort of precedent is that setting if a mob is allowed to physically assault a leading politician without consequence? Zarak is soon trying to poison Llyra against Galen, saying the deal with the Autobots is Galen’s way of seizing more power. She won’t hear of it.

Later we see what has become of Fortress Maximus and the other surrendered Autobots. Their heads are in an abandoned munitions warehouse along with their bodies and weapons. The head of Fortress Maximus has become a wise counsel to Galen and is growing ever more extreme in his selflessness as time goes on. Not only is he prepared to accept life as a decapitated prisoner, he now urges Galen to destroy them all if it will maintain the peace on Nebulos. Galen feels that would run counter to all his stands for (luckily).

Lord Zarak, meanwhile, keeps up the pressure with a speech in the Council urging his fellow law makers to listen to the voices of the people. Galen is losing the argument but Gort comes to his aid. Having recovered from the injuries he received at the forest encounter with Highbrow, he takes the platform and explains to councillors that he was not attacked at all – his fall was an accident. The speech proves to be a game changer and tensions ease a little.

So much so that Galen, Zarak are soon leading a delegation to meet Kup, Blurr, Pointblank and the other Autobots to see how construction of their forest base is going. Hot Rod is establishing one-way contact with their old base on Cybertron so that they can listen in on events happening on the homeworld. The Autobots will not broadcast to Cybertron in case the Decepticons should learn of their location. Zarak’s assistant Vorath secretly records the location of the Cybertron base, and later in a powerful observatory Zarak transmits a message to Cybertron asking for help in ridding Nebulos of the Autobots.

That message arrives, with perfect timing, as Scorponok and his Decepticons have infiltrated the deserted Autobot base on Cybertron to try to find out what has become of their regular sparring partners. When an unintelligible message starts broadcasting out of a console they activate translators and hear Zarak’s appeal for assistance against Fortress Maximus! Soon his his army is setting course for Nebulos to crush the Autobots and conquer the planet!

Natural justice demands that Zarak should be locked up for a very long time as a traitor to Nebulos for exposing his people to such danger, but that’s not what happens. My other thoughts are around Scorponok’s motives. They supposedly fight to conquer Cybertron, and with the Autobots gone that goal becomes more achievable, but Scorponok would rather up-sticks and follow Fortress Maximus. For him and his troops, conquering the enemy has long become the primary goal. In a real sense they are in a symbiotic relationship with the Autobots and are lost without them.

In one of the panels, Scorponok is meant to be speaking to Cyclonus. Instead, artist Frank Springer has drawn one of the Nebulan robots. Rather than open up a can of worms that would get readers writing in, UK editor Simon Furman simply replaces the name Cyclonus with Krunix. It won’t be the only mistake Springer makes (drawing Cerebros’ head in place of Fortress Maximus is another glaring one) but I can only imagine the number of new character specs to learn was overwhelming. It’s sloppy but is forgivable only because the standard of art is good overall and the story is of a high standard.

Before too long Scorponok and his followers arrive on Nebulos in force. Zarak is alarmed by the numbers of them and more so when Scorpnok announces they will ignore the Autobots in the forest for now and attack the city where Fortress Maximus is being held. It should be pretty apparent to Zarak that he has messed up in a major way, particularly as Scorponok makes plain that he’ll deal with Zarak and his cronies when he returns.

Galen is woken by security chief Duros, who tells him ‘robots are attacking’ apparently in contravention of their agreement. Galen gets dressed and rushes outside, where it’s quickly apparent that these are the enemies of their allies the Autobots. As the Decepticon assault on the city begins, Galen convenes with the head of Fortress Maximus, who warns him that Scorponok would interpret any surrender of the captive heads as weakness and destroy the city anyway.

Since they cannot reconnect the Autobots to their bodies without violating the promises Galen made to the Nebulan people, another way must be found. Remote controlling the Autobot bodies will not be enough to counter a heavily armed Decepticon attack and so Fortress Maximus suggests a way for the Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots and control their bodies. It’s a novel idea and makes you wonder whether Max dreamed it up or there has been previous instances in Transformers history where the Headmaster process has been attempted.

Arcana, an expert in bio-engineering is summoned. He quickly advances the plan to allow Nebulans to become the heads of the Autobots, allowing them to ‘take control’ of the robotic bodies and fight back against the Decepticons. When I say quickly, I mean insanely fast. An engineering feat like this, which has never been attempted before, would surely take months or years to design and test, and yet here is Arcana creating the process in a matter of hours, while the city is under siege. Plus, he volunteers to be one of the five being operated on, so while he should be overseeing the crucial stage of the experiment he’s actually going on the operating table for a very risky physical process (which, when you consider involves replacing joints and strengthening bones, you would think it would take the volunteers a long time to recover from such surgery).

Gort, Duros and Stylor step up and Galen will be the fifth volunteer. He is implored by Llyra not to do become a man of war, but he feels he must lead by example if he is to save Nebulos. An operation that looks and reads like something out of a Frankenstein horror, gets underway. It is a stunning success. Finally, the five emerge from the operating theatre in robotic suits, not quite Autobots but now more than Nebulans. They fold up and transform into the heads of the Autobots and thus the Headmasters are born!

Duros’ men have fought valiantly but perimeter defences have been breached (presumably many Nebulans will have died, though this is not addressed). Skullcruncher can’t wait to start stomping organic creatures. Scorponok feels that won’t be necessary, as iron doors open to reveal Fortress Maximus (his head drawn as Cerebros, annoyingly) and fellow Autobots. Scorponok is expecting their surrender, but instead they are hear to fight.

A great battle ensues, with the five warriors now sharper, faster and more agile than before. The Decepticons are soon on the run, despite having the superior numbers. Scorponok sounds a general retreat and the Autobots do a victory march into Koraja. Many Nebulans are fearful of the ‘monstrous’ newcomers and aren’t sure if they have traded one set of conquerors for another. To ease their fears, each Autobot head disconnects and transforms back in/to its Nebulan component. They are quickly mobbed.

Llyra is aghast that Galen went ahead with this. She gives no credit at all to the fact that he has just saved the Nebulan capital and its people from destruction at the hands of a murderous alien robot mob. To be fair, Galen doesn’t help himself by speaking in terms of ‘the Autobots’ power being theirs to control’. It’s really the worst thing he could say as it makes Llyra believe that her father was right about Galen all along – he is power hungry and now longer the peaceful man she fell in love with. Ouch.

So ends Broken Glass. The title is meant to relate to the fragility of the peace on Nebulos and the civil unrest but it could also relate to Galen’s own situation. His relationship is now shattered and he may not be able to piece it back together. Even if he could, he has extensively surgically altered, a freak essentially, and it is naïve to think he can just slot back into his old life and things will be as they were.

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Kup’s Story

Centuries ago, Kup lost his fighting edge and exiled himself to deep space rather than become a liability to his fellow Autobots… and that was how he met Hot Rod and Blurr.

Kup’s story, from September 1987, is a rarity for the Marvel UK Transformers comic in that it’s a single edition story in a sea of mostly two-parters. Although later in the run the UK material mainly be standalone strips in black and white (while Simon Furman was focused on writing the US comic) at this point in the comic’s evolution single stories were mostly reserved for the Christmas edition.

Still, as the saying goes, sometimes less is more, and this compact story by Simon Furman and with atmospheric art by Dan Reed is a gem. It’s an origin tale for Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr, the three ‘future Autobots’ who were first introduced to us in Target: 2006 but it is so much more than that as we’ll discuss shortly.

Thanks to the Headmasters saga in the UK comic’s back-up strip, readers have learned that Kup and his two close buddies are not future Autobots after all. They were not born out of the events of Transformers: The Movie like the ‘future Decepticons’ Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, but have been around for centuries as members of the Fortress Maximus led resistance on Cybertron. In Kup’s case, he’s been around for a very long time before that. (This makes sense when you think about it, as his character in the Movie is that of an old veteran Autobot with a seemingly unending array of war experiences).

At the point in his life where Kup’s Story takes place, he’s burned out, has lost his fighting edge and become a liabilty to his fellow Autobots. Kup is suffering from ‘combat fatigue’ according to the medics. No doubt it’s the psychological impact of millions of years in the firing line and this is where I think the story breaks new ground. We’ve seen that Transformers are pretty much immortal. Other than extreme circumstances like being melted down (like Scrounge in The Smelting Pool) or blown-up so that their brain modules are destroyed, as happened to Prime in Afterdeath, they can usually be repaired and recover from most traumas. However, what about those of a psychological nature? Just as armed forces and the police can succumb to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, leading to medical retirement, Kup has the Autobot equivalent.

Rather than shutting himself down, as Cerebros tries to do in the Headmasters Rebirth cartoon, Kup has elected to exile and has ‘ridden off’ into the sunset, or in this case boarded a ship and set course for deep space. As we join him for the opening page, he’s sat in a command chair on his bridge feeling sorry for himself and remembering the good old days when he was a hero for the cause and accounted for more than his share of Decepticon casualties. These days, the most he can hope for is a swift and painless end.

It isn’t to be. His ship is rocked by shockwaves cascading out from a space battle nearby. From his view screen he sees a small craft being pursued by two larger insect-like vessels. The pursuers are prolonging the chase for the enjoyment of it. This reminds Kup of sort of thing the Decepticons would do and for a moment he’s about to lend a hand, but then he checks himself and remembers that in his condition he could easily miss and blow the pilot out of the sky himself! The aliens close in until finally Kup open fire, crippling one of the enemy vessels and causing the other one to flee.

He teleports the pilot aboard, in what looks very much like a Star Trek reference, and is shocked to discover that a fellow Autobot standing in front of him – Hot Rod!

Kup’s guest explains that he and Blurr had been exploring habitable worlds for Fortress Maximus (a suggestion that Max may have been looking for a place to escape from Cybertron’s civil war for many centuries before he settled on Nebulos) and they got captured by the Tyroxians. Hot Rod got away in a stolen shuttle and is hoping that Kup will accompany him back to the planet to recover Blurr. That is out of the question as far as Kup is concerned: he is a retired Autobot and long past such daring do. Still, he can’t help but admire Hot Rod’s boldness and it reminds him of someone.

Later, while Kup is reclining, the proximity alarm sounds. They could not have arrived at Cybertron already and yet they are in orbit of somewhere. Kup realises that Hot Rod had changed their course to Tyroxia and has used a pod to go down to the planet to attempt a rescue all on his own, with no back-up or plan. That has to be the stupidest thing he’s ever seen, but also one of the bravest… and Kup realises it’s something he might have done back in the day. Suddenly he wants his old life back and, with Hot Rod in mortal danger on the planet below – being confronted by a magnificent four armed and axe-wielding giant, he finally has the impetus he needs to re-join the battle.

Hot Rod is bounced off several walls and is about to be chopped into tiny pieces when Kup bursts in through a window and opens fire (using one of the generic chunky blasters that is a Reed trademark) and shouting his defiance at the doubters. Hot Rod stops him and points to the smouldering guard on the floor in front of them, it looks like he got the message!

Things wrap up quite quickly with Hot Rod and Blurr back aboard Kup’s shuttle and thanking him for the rescue and saying they’ll let him get back to his retirement. Kup is having none of it: he’s going with them. If these two are standard issue these days, the Autobots will need all the help they can get, he declares. This also begins the young versus old, youth against experience dynamic of Kup and Hot Rod where the two tease and antagonise one another but are actually very fond of one another.

Interestingly, earlier in the story Kup talks about living out his ‘remaining years’ in isolation, suggesting that Transformers might have a finite lifespan. James Roberts runs with the idea in his novel Eugenesis (written some years before his work on IDW) that brain modules eventually burn out and therefore it is possible for Transformers to naturally die.

In closing, this is a nice Kup tribute and a forerunner to Nick Roche’s Spotlight Kup for IDW in April 2007, which shows the character in the grip of a psychosis. We now have the explanation of how Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr come be on Nebulos to become Targetmasters and all that remains is to find out how Cyclonus and Scourge are there too. All will be revealed in an upcoming story, Grimlock hinted on his letters page. And so, from the past we jump to the future for the next story, back to the year 2007 and more from Rodimus Prime and Death’s Head.

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Ring of Hate!

Frustrated by the never-ending war on Cybertron, Fortress Maximus and his Autobots leave for a new life on the peaceful world of Nebulos, but their arrival is met with fear and hostility by the native Nebulans.

In September 1987 readers of the Marvel UK Transformers comic were introduced to a new species of Transformer – the Headmasters and Targetmasters. Simon Furman’s two parter, Worlds Apart, whet fans’ collective appetites for these unique new Autobots and Decepticons who are bonded with natives of the planet Nebulos who become their heads and weapons.

Furman’s story in issues #130-131 was a fun throwaway introduction, but the real meat in the sandwich was a four issue mini-series in the United States, written by Bob Budiansky, which established the origin of these new Transformers. That series was serialised in the UK Transformers comic via the back-up strip, so for 16 weeks in late 1987 readers were spoilt rotten with cover to cover Transformers stories.

‘Uncle Bob’ was instrumental in creating and defining the original Transformers characters on behalf of Hasbro in the early eighties. In 1986, as regular writer of the US book, he introduced the dystopian Cybertron where the Decepticons are in control and the heroic Autobots are reduced to scattered pockets of resistance (see the iconic Smelting Pool story). So Bob is the perfect writer to be tasked with mapping out the backstory of the Headmasters and Targetmasters, the Nebulans and a whole host of other characters. It’s a tall order to accomplish that while weaving a coherent story, but Bob does it with aplomb.

The mini-series tackles some big concepts, like love and sacrifice, betrayal, greed, revenge, and how war takes its toll on the characters.

Right off the bat we know we’re on to something interesting, as Scorponok shows what a cruel and sadistic bastard he is by unleashing his scorpion’s sting against an Autobot prisoner who is marching too slowly – possibly executing the poor soul. These survivors are being marched by Scorponok and his henchmen towards a slow and painful death in the Smelting Pool. (Whether this is the Straxus pool or Scorponok has his own, we don’t know).

Salvation arrives in the shape of Autobot leader Fortress Maximus – nemesis of Scorponok – who sets his army against the unsuspecting Decepticons leading to a fierce battle (told over two pages to give it a sense of epic). Fort Max is one-robot engine of destruction laying waste to the enemy while lambasting them as “evil stains” on the world. There’s a nice line from Scorponok of how the cowardice of his men “desecrates the name Decepticon” but their “destruction would serve no purpose” – so he signals a retreat, showing that he is smart enough not to waste resources in what is a long game. The enemy may win a battle but not the war… as the saying goes.

The Autobots return to their base in the Manganese Mountains jubilant. However, Fortress Maximus is no mood to celebrate (and bawls out Kup and Hot Rod for their triumphalism). He is weary of the war and has come to view Autobot and Decepticon as equally culpable in propagating the cycle. Max’s solution is for them to leave the battlefield and he has just the place… the planet Nebulos, a Saturn-like world he has observed for centuries, which has been at peace for thousands of years. With Cybertron passing closing to the Nebulan system, his intention is to leave for an exile on the planet. His followers can come with him or they can stay. Everyone is shocked but gradually the Autobots are convinced by Max’s argument and agree to follow him.
The slightly out of place reference to Optimus Prime (as a previous leader who disappeared and was never seen again) lets us know that Ring of Hate is set before the arrival of the message from Earth during the Smelting Pool story in mid 1986.

The Autobots devote their efforts to the rapid construction of the star ship Steelhaven and, as word spreads, comrades come from far and wide to join the exodus – the Technobots and Monsterbots among them – and soon they are warping away from Cybertron perhaps never to return. Once in orbit of Nebulos, the Autobots waste no time in disembarking. They find the planet to be a lush paradise full of organic life.

Max entrusts Highbrow with a device containing a message for the Nebulan leadership to announce their arrival and peaceful intent. Highbrow quite quickly stumbles across Gort, his youthful future binary bond partner, locked in an embrace with girlfriend Marita. It’s all a bit cringe-worthy as the cerebral Autobot geekily observes that they must have been engaged in data transfer (Bob always does a good job of showing the Transformers as alien and clueless as to the ways of humankind) but Highbrow only succeeds in startling the pair and causing Gort to fall and hurt his head. He departs with an earnest comment about hoping Marita’s companion “can be repaired”.

The plot moves fast, with the planet’s ruling council of peers meeting in the capital Koraja the following day to discuss their response to the Autobot message. When you consider that the Transformers have been on Earth for three years at this point and their presence has never been properly acknowledged by the US government (other than through the Robot Master hoax). Headmasters is already breaking new ground in terms of first contact.

Among the Nebulan senators, Lord Zarak is one of hawks who regards the Autobots’ arrival as the greatest threat to his people and urges them to rearm. Gort’s injuries are cited as evidence of the aliens’ ill-intent, despite Marita’s attempts to interject from the gallery. Galen, leader of the World Watchers, and hated by Zarak, argues that they hold true to their values of peace and understanding and hear the aliens out. So, the Autobots’ emissary Blurr is permitted into the Nebulan capital the following day to deliver his message of peace.

Krunk, acting on orders from Zarak, aims a magnetic polarizer gun at Blurr causing his arm to be drawn to a fountain monument of a Nebulan globe, knocking it from its moorings and sending it into the crowd. Pandemonium breaks out and Blurr is forced to flee from a volley of fire from Zarak’s personal militia. The ambush of Blurr by Zarak’s forces was a spectacular success, proving that luck is on their side and against the Autobots. They could not have known that Blurr would stand at exactly the right distance to the globe or even know that his body would react to magnetism.

This causes a dilemma for the Autobots. If attacked do they fight back? Fortress Maximus is adamant: absolutely not. Little do they realise that Galen has been instructed by the council to unlock the armoury containing the Nebulans long-abandoned machines of war. Galen and Duros are soon leading an armada of war machines against the Autobots. Kup returns fire and is confronted by Max who tells him they will never convince the Nebulans of their peaceful intent if they fight. If Kup wants to battle the Nebulans he’ll have to go through his own leader. He backs down and they flee into the woods and swamp where the cumbersome vehicles cannot pursue.

Kup’s willingness to challenge authority is not a side of him we’ve seen before but it will surface again, much later when they are on Earth and Kup has serious misgivings about Fortress Maximus’ new headmaster partner Spike Witwicky, and later still when Optimus Prime proposes that the Autobots surrender to Scorponok to forge an alliance against Unicron.

It must be something about human nature (admittedly these are Nebulans but they certainly looks and act like Earth people) that a tradition of peace for ten millennia can be so easily cast aside the minute they feel threatened. It’s frankly a miracle that they have had peace for so long, especially considering the suspicious and manipulative ways of some of their number. While the noble Galen fears he may have betrayed his countrymen by acting in such haste, Zarak believes his manipulation of Galen has been necessary to manoeuvre the Nebulan leader into doing the sensible thing.

The Autobots are in a bind. They cannot return to Cybertron and the war, but neither can they risk igniting a new conflict. Fortress Maximus decides to take another of his bold risks. Accompanied by Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm, Highbrow, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Sureshot, Pointblank and Crosshairs, he advances on the Nebulan capital and pleads for peace. Zarak implores Galen to order the attack, and so to prove his good faith, Max offers the most he has to give… his head. In a macabre gesture he removes his head from his shoulders and surrenders it to the Nebulans. Hardhead, Chromedome, Highbrow and Brainstorm do the same. The others were a bit more sensible and merely surrendered their weapons!

Galen comes to his senses and realises that a moment of distrust can destroy 10,000 years of peace. He declares they will work with the Autobots and there will be no war this day. From the look on Zarak’s face its clear that he is not done yet.

The saga continues in the second instalment Broken Glass.

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Fire on High!

Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and their warriors launch an assault on Galvatron to buy Wreck-Gar enough time to rig a device capable of sending everyone back to the year 2007.


We’re almost there, but not quite. The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but at this point is starting to feel repetitive and a slog, as various characters run up and down a mountain to challenge Galvatron and invariably come off worse. Reset and repeat. At this point the story feels two issues too long and its not over yet as the grand conclusion will not arrive until an 11-page story in the 1987 Transformers Annual.

Fire on High! was almost the story that never happened. Marvel UK’s new hiring, artist Dan Reed, was living in Paris and in the habit of sending his work to London via Fed Ex. On this occasion he decided to travel over in person but got detained by British customs, who confiscated his artwork and deported him back to France. Dan had to do pull off some serious late hours to complete the issue in the nick of time (see my interview with Dan for more details) and if you look closely there are clues of how close the team came to having to run a reprint or bring forward the next US material. First there’s the preview image on the Transformations page which is actually Geoff Senior art from the next edition (issue #120) and the splash page has Rodimus with a Decepticon insignia!! Presumably this is the sort of obvious blooper that would have been changed if time had allowed. Thankfully the issue came out on schedule – at least I don’t remember any delay from my perspective. I was in the habit of buying the latest edition at 7am every Friday to read before school.

At the Italian-sounding Mount Verona, which is actually in Oregon USA, Cindy Newell schools Rodimus Prime and his ‘council of war’ on the ecological threat posed by Galvatron’s plan. Her ‘humansplaining’ feels slightly patronising seeing as the Autobots are actual experienced combatants on the fight against Decepticons, whereas she’s literally only just appeared on the scene. Nevertheless as someone with a PHD in geology she confidently predicts that if Galvatron triggers and eruption and keeps it contained, siphoning the energy, it’ll trigger a chain reaction along the West Coast that could destroy a large swathe of the country – millions could die! Rodimus is aghast. They have to stop Galvatron, but how when he’s now super powerful thanks to the energy he’s already absorbed?

Wreck-Gar’s TV talk is unwelcome at such a tense moment and Rodimus snaps. But Goldbug intervenes to ensure Wreck-Gar gets a hearing. He has a workable plan, that if the others can provide a distraction, with his engineering skills they could rig Galvatron’s time jump trigger with their own to send all of the 2007 combatants back where they came from – including of course Galvatron. Ultra Magnus makes an emotional farewell to Cindy, telling her that he has to fight Galvatron again and this time he may not be coming back. She runs away in tears and Wreck-Gar manages to make himself unpopular with Magnus too, after giving him a nudge and a wink over his borderline romantic connection with Cindy. Cringey.

At the volcano summit, Galvatron is demonstrating an unexpected use for his particle cannon – to weild broken parts of his structure back together. No sooner are repairs complete when company arrives. Wreck-Gar in motorcycle mode roars up the mountain side with his rider, Goldbug, opening fire and Wreck-Gar transforms and bounces an axe off the startled Decepticon.

Next comes Kup and Blurr, but the element of surprise is lost by then and Galvatron easily dispatches both Autobots with a couple of well-placed blasts. Really, if you ask yourself what Kup and Blurr have achieved on this mission, the answer is nothing at all, other than flanking Rodimus Prime and providing cannon fodder. Goldbug is at least better at dodging particle cannon blasts!

As Wreck-Gar works begins work on the time-jump device, with Rodimus over his shoulder, it falls to poor old Ultra Magnus to keep Galvatron busy. Thinking back to the successful team-up of Optimus Prime and Magnus against Megatron (back in issue #104) I can’t help wondering why Rodimus and Magnus couldn’t have double-teamed Galvatron. Not only would it have made for exciting scenes, it might have been a successful strategy. Instead the Autobots’ greatest warrior gets a pummelling for his trouble and once Galvatron has finished bouncing him off the walls he hoists him up and casts him into the lava below! Brutal. It’s a shocking end for Magnus on the face of it but this being comics we know he will survive somehow.

Issue #119’s Grim Grams teases the impending release of Transformers the Movie on VHS video and also mentions Simon Furman’s appearance on the weekend kids TV show Get Fresh, where he showed off uncoloured art from issue #114. Grimlock complains that he can’t believe he didn’t get a mention in the whole three minute segment, lol. Inhumanoids has been replaced as the back-up strip by the Iron Man of 2020. This was intended as a temporary move but if memory serves, Inhumanoids never returned. Not that Transformers fans will have been particularly concerned, as we learn in issue #120 that we’re shortly to get cover to cover Transformers action as the comic runs the Headmasters mini-series in the back-up spot from issue #130. The treats keep coming at this point in the comic’s history.

Issue #120 sees the final instalment of the saga so far as the weekly Marvel comic is concerned. Although it isn’t the end of course as we know the story will ultimately be wrapped up in the 1987 annual. The story has felt padded in places so the news of an additional chapter should produce mixed feelings among readers. With the book due out in August, there’s around six weeks to wait… unless you’re unlucky enough to be receiving it for Christmas. Thankfully the penultimate part is really quite excellent and it’s all thanks to one man in my opinion and that’s the amazing Geoff Senior. His art is consistently good but he really excels himself with the Galvatron-Rodimus high noon showdown. No words are necessary and in fact would only detract from the art, it’s that stunning!

Just prior to that, Galvatron lifts his arms in victory and declares he’s won! Sure, he just dispatched Ultra Magnus and is on the brink of absorbing the volcano power, transforming him into a living god. Hubris and all that though. It’s premature to declare victory while Rodimus Prime and the other Autobots are still at large, or perhaps Galvatron just thinks there’s nothing they can do to stop him. He soon has cause to re-evaluate that though when he discovers his time-jump control mechanism is missing. Just like the TV remote, it was last seen in plain sight and now its vanished!

Galvatron realises it has to be the work of Rodimus, and as Wreck-Gar works furiously on adapting the device Galvatron shows up and he and Prime face off. They eyeball one another while reaching for their trigger and finally unleashing. Prime ducks and dives to the ground, getting three shots in on Galvatron but still failing to stop him. Finally, he targets a cable just behind Galvatron’s feet which unleashes a powerful electrical discharge. Galvatron falls at least. This should be enough to take down anyone, but Galvatron is in a different league and the moment and sure enough his eyes glow into life once more and he jumps to his feet, reigning blow after blow on Rodimus before stomping his face into the dirt.

As he puts his particle cannon to Prime’s head, lady luck intervenes in the form of Death’s Head who has concluded that he needs Prime alive if he is to collect his bounty!

Death’s Head strikes Galvatron with a missile and strikes him with his mace. Galvatron destroys the plug in weapon, forcing the mercenary to reach for a new prosthetic. Galvatron immediately tears off Death’s Head’s left arm, leaving him vulnerable. Phew! Can the situation get any worse?

Goldbug revives Rodimus and tells him that Wreck-Gar is as ready as he’ll ever be. The device is activated and triggers a temporary vortex which sweeps up all of the combatants up and transports them back to the year 2007 – that is save for Goldbug. He admits that Wreck-Gar was worried that Galvatron, now content to stay in the past, had rigged his device to prevent it from transporting him, but perhaps not. A shadow looms behind him – Goldbug turns and finds himself face to face with Galvatron!! Oops.

This looks like an unavoidable death for the plucky mini-Autobot except that the coming attractions page reveals that he’ll be back in the next story taking on the Mechanic (a breeze after going toe to toe with Galvatron). How does he survive? It’s fair to say that readers will have been keen to make sure they had a copy of the annual that year.

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Hunters

Galvatron has escaped to Earth’s past where he’s working on a plan to absorb the raw power of a live volcano – that is if Rodimus Prime or the bounty hunter Death’s Head can stop him first!

The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but then the pace seemed to fall off a cliff in the sequel instalment Burning Sky (at least in the opening part) before recovering a bit by the end. Now as the third segment Hunters gets under way, the reappearance of the badass bounty hunter Death’s Head – an exciting new character and show stealer – things look to be getting back on track.

The cover for Transformers #117, dated June 1987, carries an impressive wild west themed image featuring Rodimus, Galvatron and Death’s Head as ‘The Good, the Mad and the Ugly’ and drawn by the inimitable Geoff Senior. The story begins with Death’s Head at an uninhabited island off the Florida Keys, which as well all know is home to this era’s Decepticons – courtesy of a vast undersea base beneath the island. Death’s Head, narrating via a mission log entry, reveals that the history tapes had placed the base at a coal mine in eastern Wyoming and consequently he’d wasted valuable time on a wild goose chase.

It’s curious that Death’s Head feels under pressure to track down Galvatron before a rival does. No doubt he operates in that sort of cut throat competitive environment usually, however any would be rival who is capable of time travel could simply jump to the previous month and have a clear crack at apprehending Galvatron, it wouldn’t matter how swiftly Death’s Head moves. And as I’ve mentioned before, travelling to 1987 should mean Galvatron is around in 2007 too, as he’d live out the intervening years.

Death’s Head swaps his right hand for an axe before launching himself at Soundwave, who is taking a nice stroll on the beach (the perks of having a tropical island base!). He slices and disables Soundwave’s concussion blaster before punching and booting the Decepticon in the chest plate, leaving an almighty dent. Soundwave’s mind reading abilities allow him to quickly learn the intentions of his attacker, its a very useful ability, and whilst the Decepticons would like to see Galvatron neutralised there’s no reason why they should assist “space scum” such as Death’s Head. He ejects Laserbeak to counter attack, but the birdlike Decepticon is quickly brought down by Death’s Head’s splinter missile. Soundwave has no alternative but to talk.

Elsewhere, somebody has tracked down Galvatron! It’s Rodimus Prime, who issued the original bounty. He’s watching Galvatron through binoculars while updating Cindy on events so far. Most of it goes over her head; her only concern is the welfare of her friend Ultra Magnus who appears to be at Galvatron’s mercy up at the volcano mouth. Although Rodimus defeated Galvatron once, he’s not sure if he could do it again, even with Kup and Blurr to back him up. This is disappointing as Galvatron being more powerful than any adversary is starting to become cliche and it would be good for at least one Autobot to be his equal. A couple of explanations exist. First, Rodimus may have been at peak strength in the Movie having just infused by Matrix energy, and Galvatron has given himself a power up courtesy of his siphon.

At Mount Verona’s summit, yards from a pool of molten lava, Galvatron boasts of absorbing the volcano energy to be a living god. He could conquer galaxies!! Fair enough, but he’s already the most powerful Decepticon on Earth in this era, so why not take over the leadership if the Decepticons that are available to him, especially since he’s decided to stay in the 1980s. Harnessing a volcano and running the risk of getting consumed by the eruption seems like a lot of unnecessary pissing about to me, and not to mention the materials and painstaking work involved in building the siphon. But I suppose the story would be very different if Galvatron had simply gone to Decepticon HQ and busted a few heads.

A pathetic half-attempt at a fightback by the weary Magnus is quickly put down by Galvatron, who hauls his foe overhead and prepares to cast him into the lava. He turns to see Rodimus Prime charging up the side of the mountain, deciding in an instant to use Magnus as a flying object to take down Kup and Blurr. It likes like a showdown between Rodimus and his arch foe, which is perhaps as it should be… but suddenly Death’s Head appears telling Prime to stand aside and let him collect the bounty.

In summary, an enjoyable instalment capped off by the entertaining battle between Death’s Head and Soundwave. On the letters page Grimlock responds to one of the many letters he’s had from kids wondering how Prime can be killed off when he’s alive for the Transformers Movie set in 2005/6, by suggesting that Prime’s death may not be as cut and dried as it seems. Ethan Zachary had saved Prime to a floppy disk and this would seem to be a way back for the Autobot leader.

And so to the second part of Hunters, drawn by Jeff Anderson, which sees Wreck-Gar kneeling over the wreckage of Bumblebee and referring to 1980s TV show Jim’ll fix it. Awkwardly, though writer Simon Furman couldn’t have known at the time, the host of this BBC children’s programme, Jimmy Saville, would turn out to be one of the UK’s most notorious sex offenders and paedophiles in revelations that emerged after his death. Consequently this panel is quite cringe-worthy to read these days.

Meanwhile at Mount Verona, Rodimus rather inexplicably decides to ignore Galvatron and wind-up the thin-skinned Death’s Head by telling him he’s insane. It’s a stupid move because Prime might as well enlist the help of Death’s Head as a bit of support in bringing down Galvatron. It’s not like they are in the middle of a human settlement where there’s the prospect of collateral damage, so the worst that can happen is he’ll end up having to part with 10,000 Shanix for Death’s Head’s help.

Instead the pair have an argument about whether the contract is still valid, while Galvatron grows ever more indignant at being the object of haggling. He blasts Death’s Head in the shoulder, wounding him and forcing his retreat, before scrapping with Rodimus.

Cindy succeeds in waking up Ultra Magnus who decides to help by shooting at Galvatron’s power siphon. This creates a distraction enough for Rodimus to transform and escape.

Meanwhile, Wreck Gar has completed his repairs. Bumblebee is no more and in his place stands the new and improved Goldbug! He actually looks mighty impressive. It’s Anderson’s best panel in the issue. In the US, a Transformers/GI Joe mini-series (which is truly terrible and thankfully wasn’t part of the UK continuity) resulted in Bumblebee being blown up by the Joes and rebuilt as Goldbug and so Furman needed to explain why Bee would appear in the next US material as Goldbug so this has had to be woven into the Galvatron saga.

Aside from the Goldbug debut, it’s a pretty pedestrian issue. The confrontation between Galvatron and Rodimus is neither earth shattering nor particularly conclusive and ends with all parties buggering off to regroup and plan their next move. There would be another two regular issues and an 11 page story in that year’s annual to conclude the saga and it will start to drag. It’s a least a couple of issues too long unfortunately.

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Burning Sky!

Ultra Magnus is chilling out on Earth and enjoying a well earned break from the war when earth tremors and a forest fire interrupts his tranquillity – not to mention the reappearance of his arch nemesis Galvatron!

After Wanted Galvatron! introduced us to Rodimus Prime and the galaxy’s meanest bounty hunter Death’s Head – setting up the tantalising prospect of these two meeting up with Galvatron in Earth’s past, we’re fully expecting events to gather pace. Instead issue #115 is rather more sedate as the bulk of the story deals with Ultra Magnus befriending a trio of humans and contending with ecological disasters until the pay off on the last panel.

Probably the most interesting thing about the first part is the distinctive style of the new artist, Dan Reed, making his Transformers debut. Dan was an American living in Paris in 1987 and since he wasn’t permitted to work in France, he “hitched a ride with an 18 wheeler” over to London and offered his services to Simon Furman at the Marvel offices. On the strength of his past work for Marvel US drawing Indiana Jones, he was asked to draw issue #115 of the flagship Transformers comic and landed a semi-regular gig doing several issues on and off after that. If you want to read more about Dan’s involvement with Transformers, check out the interview I did with him.

The story starts with a relaxed Magnus enjoying the peace and calm of the night sky and counting his lucky stars (pardon the pun) that he’s managed to get a break from the never-ending cycle of war on Cybertron. Since he was inadvertently transported to Earth in the earlier story Resurrection! Magnus is meant to be searching for the Ark. He’s clearly in no particular hurry even though he’s presumably got no means of refuelling given that we know Transformers can’t simply ingest Earth fuels without conversion. So either Magnus is very fuel efficient or he’s found a way to run on regular gasoline.

A radio message on an Autobot frequency or a distress call would presumably hasten his search for the Ark but no. His sabbatical is about to come to an abrupt end however, when there’s a sudden a violent tremor that sends him crashing to the ground. He detects the sound of humans in distress a kilometre away and races over their in his truck mode (which is adapted to an Earth form – perhaps Magnus retained the setting from his earlier visit during Target: 2006?). He finds a camper van on its side and two women – one of whom is Cindy Newell who is desperately trying to rescue her friend who is trapped in the vehicle.

Magnus gets her out and shields her from the exploding van. It’s enough to convince the trio that he’s and before long they are heading away aboard Magnus and all getting along nicely. There’s a cool moment where Judy refers to the nearby volcano (Mount Verona) and this triggers a traumatic memory for Magnus of Operation Volcano and his failure to get back in time to save Impactor, leader of the Wreckers. Reed depicts this scene in an elegant way as a reflection in Magnus’ cab windows.

The story skips forward 20 years to the Ultra Magnus of 2007 who desperate to persuade Rodimus Prime not to travel to the past as he’s needed on Cybertron at this critical stage in the renewed war. But Rodimus feels an acute sense of responsibility for unleashing Galvatron and Death’s Head on Earth’s past is resolved to travel back. Magnus’ comment about leaving Galvatron to the Autobots of 1987 to sort out is an odd one. He seems to have no recollection of what his past self is experiencing or his impending encounter with Galvatron which rather suggests that history is being rewritten and perhaps the future is a parallel universe as a result.

Reed draws Rodimus with short legs and on a par, height-wise, with Kup and Blurr which is a bit jarring. As the trio time-jump, Wreck-Gar steps up and allows himself to be engulfed by the anti-mater and also disappears. What was his reason for tagging along? We don’t know but it makes the point that Wreck-Gar is a bit of a maverick. He’s an ally but can’t be relied upon to follow orders. Presumably what he did by interfering with the jump could have been dangerous to the other jumpers?

As future Magnus is left hoping that the jump was a success, his past self is confronted by a raging forest fire and is encouraged by Cindy to knock down some trees and create a firebreak. He does this but starts wondering whether the fire might have been started deliberately? On cue Cindy arrives, distressed and apologetic. She encountered another robot and mistaking him for a friend, let him know where to find Magnus. Then she noticed the badge and maniacal glint in his optics… we all know what’s coming next: Galvatron emerges from the fire, though what is unexpected is the terrifying and demonic look Reed gives him. It looks truly menacing and makes for quite the cliff-hanger.

Grimlock’s letters page confirms that the Magnus and Galvatron saga will conclude in that year’s Transformers Annual, which suggests neither will be taking over the leadership of their respective factions. Also, Brawl survived his head being crushed by Megatron in issue #107 which is a bit of a relief. There would be no Bruticus without him. And a letter from R. Ratcliffe of Warrington ask why the comic treats Optimus Prime so badly, citing a long list of offences. Anyone who read Afterdeath! would scarcely disagree.

After the slow pacing of the opening part of Burning Sky, it’s is a relief that the story picks up steam following to the reappearance of Galvatron. Geoff Senior, who pencilled the original showdown between Magnus and his archenemy so memorably and vividly in Target 2006 part 8, is fittingly back in the saddle for the rematch.
The issue opens with a Budianskyesque comedy moment of a chubby cop making light of the forest fire situation, when Magnus is sent reeling backwards by a blow from Galvatron and flattens the ranger station.

The two cops flee. Galvatron literally rips a tree from the ground and attempts to batter his foe with it. Magnus rolls clear and boots Galvatron’s chest – he knows has no choice but to fight on if he is to save the life of his new human friend Cindy.

Galvatron’s seems a few sandwiches short of a picnic as he’s rambling on about Rodimus Prime. Magnus blasts him at close range, reminding him that the Autobots of this era serve Optimus Prime (or rather they did). Galvatron absorbs the hit and crushes Magnus’ gun before shattering the glass of his eye sockets, ouch. Thinking of Cindy, who he has only just met but is growing quite attached to, Magnus lets rip his fury and reigns down blows until he succeeds in rendering Galvatron unconscious. What do you know, he wins!

Victory is short-lived. Galvatron revives, and while Magnus walks away with his back turned, transforms into canon mode and blasts him. Magnus kind of deserves it as it ought to have made sure he had destroyed Galvatron while he had the chance. Now the tables have turned once again.

As for Cindy, she’s all alone (the two friends she was with last issue have vanished for the rest of the story) and is fleeing the fire when she runs into two sets of robotic feet. As Magnus is dragged up the summit of Mount Verona by Galvatron, he’s witness to a huge structure on the volcano mouth that is intended to siphon the mountain’s fury and transform Galvatron into a god. And Rodimus, Kup and Blurr, posing all heroic, inform Cindy they are there to Galvatron – if they can’t do it, no-one can!

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