Resurrection!

The good guys are in the ascendance for a change as Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus lead the fight back on Cybertron! While in the Decepticon camp the crippled Lord Straxus launches a desperate attempt to rid himself of Megatron.

‘Resurrection!’ is a two-part story published in March 1987 by Marvel UK in the pages of Transformers #103 and #104. Simon Furman swiftly and skilfully concludes his ‘return to Cybertron’ saga that began with ‘Prey!’ in issue #96 and took the comic up to and past its milestone one hundredth issue.

This slew of stories represents an audacious move by Furman – who literally swipes all the ideas that his Transformers US counterpart Bob Budiansky has planned for his next few stories! However, it’s almost as if the two comics are alternate realities where similar events unfold in a slightly different way. Bob’s upcoming stories ‘Afterdeath!’ and ‘Gone But Not Forgotten!’ deal with Optimus Prime’s death and Megatron’s madness as well as the introduction of the Predacons. And ‘Funeral for a Friend’ deals with Prime’s final send off and these are all elements that are present in this collection of UK issues.

The first thing to note about issue #103 is the Martin Griffiths/Robin Bouttell cover (above) which may well be the first time Prime and Magnus have appeared together in the same frame. The headline ‘Prime and Magnus side by side on Cybertron’ reads like a fanboy’s dream and actually it’s pretty cool that what seemed like a throwaway line from Magnus at the end of Target: 2006 “tell your leader that someday Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus will fight side by side” was something Simon Furman actually intended to make happen. The cover looks good at a casual glance but some of the proportions on Ultra Magnus are a bit off, particularly his head in relation to the rest of him, though the readers’ eye is distracted by the colouring.

Our story begins with a hilarious account from Octane about his ‘heroics’ in battle after Optimus Prime led a raid on one of the Decepticons’ Energon depots on Cybertron. In fact, Octane had been about to batter a slave robot like the cowardly thug he is, when a laser blast ignited an Energon Cube, temporarily blinding the Decepticons present. His vision cleared and he witnessed his personal nightmare come to life: Prime and Magnus leading a full-scale assault. Octane made a run for it and in his panic, he had tripped and injured himself. So much for his heroics!

It’s great fun for the readers as we’re able to juxtapose Octane’s spoken account with the visuals which show what really happened. Naturally his boss, Lord Straxus is not taken in for a moment, he knows Octane far too well. But this is the fifth raid in as many days since Prime began leading the Autobots again. As far as Straxus is concerned Megatron brought the Autobot leader with him from Earth and he’s responsible. Ratbat reports that their unwanted guest had also lashed out a pair of guards and he’s turning into a huge liability. Straxus’ technicians are busy rigging up equipment to his life support bubble – the hour of his revenge is nigh!

Prime has really given the beleaguered Cybertron Autobots new impetus. Their resistance base beneath Iacon reverberates with the sound of celebration (quite a novelty) but good things can’t last forever, as soon Prime must return to Earth to re-join the fight to stop the Decepticons from plundering the planet’s resources. Interestingly, Prime borrows the now famous line from the Movie ‘Till all are one’, varying it as ‘All will be one’.

A quick check in on Earth, reveals that the Cybertron seven have found their way to the Ark. Ironhide is shocked to hear from them that their deadliest enemy Galvatron has returned from the future – and in turn the seven are left reeling by the news that Optimus Prime is dead! For the explanation see ‘Prey!’.

On Cybertron, Megatron taunts the seemingly helpless Straxus, threatening to crush his life support. Straxus responds by unleashing a burst of energy against Megatron’s head. His intention is to swap over their two minds – Megatron will experience the living hell that is Straxus’ existence – and Straxus will be whole again in a powerful new body! The process works – or appears to – as Megatron rises to his feet and smashes the life support bubble, squishing Straxus’ head. “Fear not…” he tells his followers, “Megatron is dead, and Lord Straxus lives on in his place…” Wow!

And so, part one ends on a pretty decent cliff-hanger. Straxus gamble appears to have paid off for now, though nobody will seriously think this is the last we’ll see of the mighty Megatron. Straxus was taking a hell of a risk though. He really ought to have had the technicians build him a new body and transfer to that, rather than launch an attack on Megatron with untested equipment. Flicking through the issue, there’s a new back-up strip – the Inhumanoids – and an advert for Thundercats crisps! A sign of how big the cats were in those days, and of course their Marvel UK comic was just about to launch.

Geoff senior provides a striking cover for part two captioned ‘No mercy for Megatron’. It’s got Prime and Magnus training their guns on a helpless looking Decepticon leader. In the strip, Jeff Anderson takes over the art duties from Will Simpson with an opening splash page on the funeral of Optimus Prime. This is another theme that Furman has stolen from an upcoming US story but to make it a little different he’s committing Prime to the ground rather than having him blast off into space.

They gather around a grave and headstone, while Ratchet delivers a eulogy. Omega Supreme towers over the mourners. It’s our first glimpse of him since his debut and already he’s half the size and in a later story he’ll be able to fit in the Ark. Prime’s death may have come in mysterious circumstances, but it was almost certainly in battle against the Decepticons and upholding Autobot principles.

Light-years away on Cybertron, a far from dead Optimus addresses the Autobot resistance in untypical style: he wants Megatron’s head! This is uncharacteristic of Prime, he’s not normally so aggressive but he can’t return to Earth while Megatron is still at large so needs must. The Wreckers will create a diversion and Prime and Magnus will sneak into the Decepticon stronghold.

Meanwhile, shock, horror (not!) Straxus’ attempt to switch bodies appears to have gone awry. Megatron’s personality is reasserting itself but for now he’s in the grip of a fog of amnesia. Ratbat arrives to warn of the Autobot attack in progress and quickly realises that all is not well with his leader.

Moments later, Megatron wanders into familiar face – Optimus Prime! And he’s not alone as Ultra Magnus appears and starts laying into him. He’s been looking for someone to unleash on since Impactor died. For the good of two worlds Megatron must die… but the Decepticon leader’s survival instinct is strong, and even in his amnesiac state he is canny enough to draw out his rare and unstable ability to generate lethal anti-matter energy.

Ratbat views the situation with alarm and realises they must act now to get rid of Megatron! With the Predacons having stepped off the Space Bridge, Ratbat redirects the bridge to materialise around Megatron, Prime and Magnus and whisk them all away to Earth. Megatron materialises in the Decepticon coalmine base where Shockwave – initially fearing he’s about to be executed for his treachery – discovers that Megatron has forgotten all about recent events. A lucky reprieve!

Prime gate-crashes his own funeral, much to the surprise and delight of his fellow Autobots… and Ultra Magnus stands alone an unknown distance away. He had wanted to visit Earth again and now he has a chance to explore it while looking for The Ark. It’s a rather rapid conclusion to the story but one that neatly ties up the loose ends and puts both leaders back in situ for the next US stories… the stage is set for one of Bob Budiansky most shocking and fan-controversial tales ever!

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Under Fire!

On Cybertron, Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers prepare to execute Optimus Prime, believing him to be a Decepticon spy.

‘Any last requests prisoner?’ That’s the question asked of Optimus Prime on the cover of Transformers #99 by Ultra Magnus at the head of an Autobot firing squad! If you’d missed the previous issue, you’d be unaware that Megatron had put the word around of a Decepticon infiltrator designed to look and sound like the great Optimus and the Wreckers and Magnus had caught up with him and passed a death sentence without trial – all of which sounds distinctly un-Autobot behaviour but this is war I suppose. As the purpose of a cover is to make you buy the comic and find out what the hell is going on then Lee Sullivan’s efforts here are likely to hit the spot. And if that doesn’t do the job, there’s a free Ultra Magnus sticker badge too!

The issue’s Transformations page has two preoccupations: the first being its impending one hundredth issue (naturally) and the other is the launch of three new Marvel UK comics for March 1987 – Action Force, Zoids monthly, and Thundercats! Of the three I was most easily the most excited about Thundercats – it was undeniably one of the best kids’ cartoons on TV at the time and I collected the comic for a good couple of years. Reading the blurb though, I get the impression that Marvel is really pinning its hopes on Action Force becoming the next big thing. Like Transformers it is underpinned by a major toy line and has a lot of cool vehicles and figures. I was never wild about AF though. The Ancient Relics crossover with Transformers (in issue #125) was pretty good but it seemed a bit forced for the comic to pretend that AF were ‘Europe’s anti-terrorist force’ when it was blatantly the GI Joe comic rebranded and with stories predominately set in the US. In case you’re wondering the AF comic was cancelled in 1988 after fifty issues and then relaunched as a monthly which itself lasted for 15 issues before being cancelled.

Back to Transformers… As mentioned, Prime finds himself under arrest and put in front of a firing squad. If he’s worried about dying at this point, he’s not alone; Outback, who he saved from a Decepticon bully in the previous issue, is about to put himself between Optimus and the loaded guns. We get some insight into his situation – he’s a rule breaker and risk taker, his fellow Autobots resent him for it and consequently he’s not well thought of. So much so that Magnus is unwilling to listen to Outback’s claims that they are making a big mistake. He’d rather believe their spy sources who have never been wrong in the past. Outback foolishly provokes Magnus by suggesting that he is acting rashly in a bid to atone for his failure to save Impactor during Operation: Volcano. He’s hit a nerve as Magnus erupts and orders Outback to take a hike or else, he can share in the prisoner’s fate!

Outback places a small device on Prime’s chest which causes the shackles behind his back disappear or dissolve. He then lobs a gas particle bomb and creates a smokescreen allowing Prime and himself to escape. It’s interesting to see how reluctant Optimus is to flee – for some reason he thinks he can talk sense into Magnus and the Wreckers, even though he’s failed dismally so far.

Magnus tells Springer that he will take three Guardian units and hunt them down himself. All the while the Decepticon Ratbat observes from a safe distance, before returning to base to delivers the news of Prime’s escape to Lord Straxus. Megatron’s plan has failed, and Lord Straxus takes great pleasure in rubbing it in. Megatron reminds his host of his precarious position – it would be laughably simple to reach into Straxus’ life support bubble and crush what remains of him! Megatron orders a search party be sent after Prime, surely, he cannot evade the Decepticons and the Autobots! He then departs leaving Ratbat to question Straxus on just how long they must tolerate Megatron’s unstable presence. Straxus reveals that he has something up his sleeve. I must say I’m really enjoying the Megatron-Straxus antagonism, it’s great!

Meanwhile Magnus and a Guardian unit follow the trail of the escapees. Magnus reflects on Outback’s home truths from earlier and now wishes that he hadn’t divided his search party – Guardian units are loyal but tend to interpret orders too literally. Sure enough, there is an explosion nearby which suggests the Guardians have caught up with the fugitives. Outback blasts one, just as a second unit seizes Prime from behind and starts to crush his body. Outback tries to get a clear shot but the first Guardian recovers and tears through Outback’s side with his huge nails. Ouch!

The mini Autobot collapses and spurs Prime into action. He draws on his considerable strength and tears the head off the Guardian unit holding him. Though peace loving and abhorring of violence, it’s a timely reminder that Prime is one of the most powerful and formidable Autobot fighters.

Prime scoops up the fallen Outback. Once again, he (Optimus) has cheated death but perhaps at the cost of the life of a truly heroic Autobot. Magnus remains out of site as he watches Prime carry his friend into the distance. He does nothing to intervene which is a big clue that he’s starting to wonder whether this really is the real Optimus Prime. About time too!

On the letters page, Grimlock is asked by a fan whether the TF Movie adaptation will be reprinted when 2006 comes around. His reply that it would be ‘possible though daunting’ if the comic were still going! That might be the first acknowledgement from the creative team that the comic, though going gangbusters in 1987, has a finite lifespan and perhaps this is also why hitting the big 100 is such a cause for celebration. As we know the Marvel Transformers UK comic ran out of road in 1992, ending at issue #332. But the franchise has continued in one form or another ever since. At the time of writing Transformers is in its fourth decade (36 years old) and still going strong.

For now, let’s revisit that first big milestone – Transformers’ one hundredth issue!

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The Harder They Die!

Optimus Prime sets foot on Cybertron for the first time in four million years only to discover it reduced to a mechanical wasteland… while Megatron is also ‘home’ – an unwanted guest of the local Decepticons – and hatches a truly diabolical scheme!

The conclusion of the previous issue’s story ‘Prey!’ looked pretty cut and dried: Optimus Prime was at the mercy of the Predacons, who leapt towards him with teeth and claws barred, and the Autobots arrived shortly after to find their leader torn to shreds. However, there was the matter of the secret plot that Shockwave had hatched with Predacon team leader Razorclaw and the mysterious cargo in Prime’s trailer which suggested that perhaps everything was not as it seemed.

Sure enough, issue #98 begins with Optimus walking the desolate landscape of Cybertron – he is finally home after four million years! There are some great, vivid descriptions of the ravaged home-world: once towering cities have been levelled and the sky is polluted by the stench of a thousand battles. Up ahead Prime sees signs of life – a large Decepticon pummelling the mini-Autobot Outback. Prime’s huge figure looms over him – how would he like to take on someone larger?

What I love about the set-up of this issue is that it’s completely unexpected. Readers will have sussed that the robotic body that was destroyed last issue was not the real Prime but that he should suddenly turn up on Cybertron of all places is right out of leftfield. It’s an opportunity for Furman and Senior (the writer and artist) to deliver their own take to US writer Bob Budiansky’s masterpiece Return to Cybertron saga of the previous year and provide a sequel of sorts.

The Decepticon picking on Outback is not of the toy range, thus we can already guess at his fate, but looks the business with a head shaped like a paratrooper’s helmet and is wearing his insignia on his head module, Straxus-style (that shows a certain admirable commitment to the cause). He mocks Prime’s threat, in his experience, “the bigger they are”…. “THE HARDER THEY DIE” insists Prime!

He lifts the Decepticon off the ground by the throat, educating him on the number of comrades he’s seen fall in battle, while he has consistently cheated death due to some warped good fortune. The Decepticon seems unimpressed and unleashes a surprise eye-blast to the face… which looks pretty darn cool. Prime is temporarily blinded and throws his opponent as far as he can before falling in pain. The enemy has grown powerful in his long absence and expecting the Decepticon to finish him off at any moment, he thinks his luck has finally run out!!!

The expected onslaught never comes. It turns out that Prime’s throw had resulted in the Decepticon becoming impaled on a huge spike! The curse of the non-toy range robots strikes again! Outback is shocked to learn that this is none other than the great Optimus Prime, believing him to be long dead. Prime’s thoughts turn to the situation on Earth where he imagines his followers discovered the body parts of the facsimile construct ‘fake Prime’ which Wheeljack built so that Optimus could fake his death and now believe their leader to be dead. Prime had wanted to see how they coped without him and will now get the chance.

Prime bids Outback farewell, there are things he must do alone – but as he departs Outback transforms and follows (into a nifty Cybertronian hover car I might add). We now check in on Megatron, who is also on Cybertron, inside a Decepticon stronghold in Polyhex, which may or may not be Castle Darkmount. Megatron surveys the destruction which stretches as far as he can see and finds it be magnificent! Decepticon standards have not slackened in his absence, but an italicised voice off panel sounds less than happy with his presence. It notes that Megatron has brought with him trouble – the last thing the Cybertron Decepticons need is for the demoralised Autobot resistance to be galvanised by Optimus Prime.

Megatron erupts in a rage, recalling for the benefit of the reader how Rampage and Razorclaw had leapt clear of Optimus Prime and the Predacons had attacked Megatron himself, fleeing with his fusion canon! The situation smacked of a ‘Shockwave set-up’ he works out astutely: he’d been left to face Optimus Prime alone, though not unarmed it turns out, as Megatron carries a spare gun. He found ‘Prime’ propped up against his trailer and blew him to pieces… only to discover that it was a fake and he was rugby tackled from behind by the real Optimus. Megatron, being throttled, had summonsed the Space Bridge and Optimus hurled the two of them into it before it had fully materialised, hoping to carry Megatron to his death. Instead the pair had survived intact, but on the other side of the galaxy.

Now we see Megatron’s tormentor… it’s none other than the salvaged head of Polyhex’s ruler Lord Straxus, who eerily floats in green liquid. He has been confined to a life support bubble after the events of issue #69 and having made such a great first impression in the aforementioned Return to Cybertron saga, his return is a real treat for the readers. It’s another unexpected twist in a short 11-page story that is blessed with them. And Megatron has wasted no time in making himself at home. Having procured a new fusion canon, he’s passed word through to the Decepticon informers that a spy designed to resemble Optimus Prime will try and infiltrate the Autobot resistance. He feels sure that when the Autobots learn of this they will kill Optimus Prime for him! Despite being unhinged of late, Megatron shows he has lost none of his cunning.

Meanwhile, Prime stands high above Iacon, the once great capital of Cybertron – it too has been turned into a barren wasteland, can any Autobots still inhabit this place? Suddenly he is whacked in the face by the hammer arm belonging to Rack ‘n’ Ruin, one of the Wreckers. And a huge Guardian unit (a much stronger version than we have seen before) pummels Prime’s face into the ground. He blacks out and when he comes to, he finds himself a prisoner of the Wreckers and Ultra Magnus: without a trial he has been found guilty of impersonating the Autobots’ greatest leader… and the sentence is death!

In summary, what a cracking story! It’s class from beginning to end. The twist of Prime and Megatron’s return to Cybertron is not one I saw coming, and the encounter with the Deception – his cool eye blasts and the gruesome way Prime dispatches him – was hugely enjoyable. Outback was a recent edition to the Hasbro toy line up and it was nice to see him make a cameo here. The best bit for me though, is probably the clash of the two great egotists, Megatron and Straxus. The latter doesn’t appreciate his unwanted guest one little bit and Megatron makes no attempt to endear himself, but for now Straxus is not in much of a position to do anything about it. By the end it looks like Megatron’s ruse has worked a treat: Magnus and the Wreckers are ready to pass a death sentence on Optimus without even interrogating him to see what he has to say for himself.

It’s worth noting that while this is essentially a two-part story, the next instalment appears under a different title. This is unusual for the comic. It also comes with a Galvatron sticker badge on the cover.

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The Bridge to Nowhere!

Lord Straxus activates his Space Bridge, linking Cybertron to Earth. Unless the Autobots stop them, the Decepticons could send unlimited reinforcements to plunder our world. The stakes are high in the Marvel TF classic by Budiansky and artist Don Perlin.

July 1986. As I entered the final weeks of my first year at secondary school, good things were afoot in the world of Transformers comics (my escape from stresses of everyday life). We’d just had the fantastic Smelting Pool story, introducing a host of new characters from the wider toy range and my new favourite Autobot, Blaster. I’d been blown away by that story, which was (and would remain) one of Bob Budiansky’s finest, and equally delighted that we’d be getting a further instalment – The Bridge to Nowhere. I knew it would struggle to reach the uncommon heights of the Smelting Pool (and would be correct) but Phil Gascoine’s fine cover to TFUK#68, depicting the two planets joined and the faces of Prime, Megatron, Perceptor and Straxus, created the impression of more excitement to come.

The Transformation page sets the scene – after four million years of radio silence, contact is made with Cybertron, but it’s the Decepticons getting in touch. As we saw last issue, Straxus (ruler of the Polyhex province) was overseeing the frantic construction of something epic. It was a project that required the kidnap of a neutral scientist – Spanner – who Blaster, a leading light of the local Autobot resistance, is obsessed with for reasons we never find out. Perhaps there’s a back history there we’re not privy too, or maybe just Blaster’s innate concern for any innocent taken captive by the Decepticons. In this story we find out that the construction project was in fact a Space Bridge, and Spanner is very closely involved (more on that later).

If last issue was unusual for the absence of Earth and humans (save for a glimpse via Soundwave’s message) this issue resumes normal service. It opens on the Columbia River Gorge, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Northern Oregon. ‘Charlie and Rita’ are driving through a rugged track overlooked by mountains and pine, when they spot a gigantic metal bridge that piques their curiosity. They drive their red Jeep onto it, only to slam on the brakes when they realise to their horror that it stops halfway!

As the couple make a hasty U-turn, a gigantic robot appears from nowhere and explodes spectacularly! They drive away at speed just as the bridge begins to vanish… only to re-materialise on Cybertron, several light years away, where it reconnects to its other half.

Lord Straxus, the badass Decepticon despot, already showed the cruel contempt he holds for his Autobot prisoners. It seems this also extends to his Decepticon lackies as well – as he orders a robot onto the bridge to investigate the malfunction. He promptly explodes as well. Shrapnel contacts Spanner to identify the issue (a faulty fuel line). Blaster is watching and recording from above in his Cybertronian communications device mode. It’s a pretty useless alt mode when it comes to travel or combat, it must be said. Luckily, someone with a more useful alternative form – the plane Powerglide – arrives to collect him and they return to the Autobot secret underground base.

Blaster is keen to rescue Spanner. In some way this would allow him to atone, at least partially, for having to abandon Scrounge last issue. But the news that the bridge is almost operational is top priority for Perceptor, who needs every Autobot to play their part in destroying it. The Decepticons must not be allowed to reach Earth and endanger that distant world.

And what of the Earth? We see it now surrounded by a weird cloud (like Roadrunner has zipped around it). I’m not sure why Don Perlin drew the Earth so strangely. In Wyoming, Megatron and Soundwave are holed up in the coal mine along with the human captive Donny Finkleberg, aka Robot Master. Ravage now arrives with a vending machine full of candy bars for the prisoner’s food. Robot Master has just finished another Autobot-bashing broadcast to North America but tests the limited patience of Megatron even further by complaining about his poor treatment and lack of appreciation.

Shockwave arrives with the other flying Decepticons and the two square-up briefly. Interestingly, three of the panels have been altered in the UK comic to reflect the situation from Transformers #65 where Megatron and Shockwave agreed to try out a joint leadership. In the US none of the UK extras are published, so as far as the American audience is concerned this is the first meeting between the two leaders since Megatron reappeared. The square up for a fight but are interrupted by the holographic form of Lord Straxus. He acknowledges Soundwave’s (sent in issue #36) and offers to help the Decepticons conquer Earth, adding that they have a means of instantaneous travel between the two distant worlds.

The news is enough to restore the truce between Shockwave and Megatron. And in the US version it becomes the reason for the pair agreeing to put their differences and make the necessary preparations. Donny hears about the Earth being drained of its natural resources and realises he must escape and warn the Autobots.

In the second half (published in TFUK#69), Straxus oversees the final stages of the Space Bridge’s activation from viewpoint high up in Darkmount. Little does he realise that Perceptor and his crew have tunnelled underneath the stronghold and are busy planting explosives. Everything Warpath utters seems to be related to shooting or warfare, and his line now “nothing pleases me more than a big blast”, raises a smile. Two ‘extras’, Corkscrew and Borebit, drill an escape tunnel to the surface, where the Autobots come under instant attack. It’s not clear if the pair are the first victims, but as a rule, any character who is not part of the Hasbro toy line is usually guaranteed to die.

Darkmount explodes and crumbles. Straxus falls, transforming into a fearsome-looking flying cannon, and vowing revenge. This little act of destruction is but a diversion to allow Blaster on to the Space Bridge to plant more explosives. He’s busy doing that when the bridge begins to transform. It reveals itself to be none other than the missing Spanner. In a nice twist, which for once I’d not had an inkling about, he’d not only been used by the Decepticons for his physics know how but they built him into the bridge. As punishments go its pretty sadistic, or perhaps it simply works more efficiently with a living Transformer at its heart. Spanner pleads with Blaster to plant the explosives and free him, but Blaster falters.

Straxus, meanwhile, is blasting anything that moves. Shrapnel alerts him to the attack on Darkmount being a ruse – pointing out the Autobot presence on the bridge. If Blaster’s flaw is his compassion which causes him to flinch from what must be done, Straxus’ weakness is surely his impatience. It’s not very sensible to activate the bridge while the battle is raging but he orders Shrapnel to do just that. This allows Blaster a glimpse of the strange world that is Earth.

A Decepticon seeker zapped by Blaster’s disorientating Electro Scrambler spins out of control and into the swirling void at side of the bridge, being destroyed instantly (this is the compressed space that the bridge spans – very deadly). A misplaced blast from Straxus also crosses the bridge, disintegrating trees on the Earth side, which is noticed by a passing Police car. Truly this is a battle between the worlds!

The main event soon arrives as Straxus blasts the Autobots unconscious and squares up the last man standing – Blaster (who has lost his scrambler). Straxus swings his axe furiously at Blaster, who does well to avoid most of the blows until one cuts into his leg. He spots the fuel line he noted earlier (the one that caused the malfunction at the start of the story). A huge swing from Straxus’ axe cuts the line, and, with the bridge now unstable, Blaster boots Straxus towards the Cybertron side of the bridge where he dies immediately (though not in the UK continuity where he’ll be back for a swansong or two).

Blaster is left off balance but saved by Powerglide (not for the first time). The seven remaining Autobots exit the malfunctioning bridge on to the Earth side as it begins to vanish. Although it won’t take the Decepticons long to repair it, they’ve bought a little time to warn the Autobots on Earth. It’s time for ‘Cybertron seven’ to bid greetings to the Earthlings (police and military) who approach them.

And so, we conclude the Return to Cybertron story. A head to head between the main hero and villain was really the only way to end this brief but excellent saga. Straxus ultimately goes the way of all who are not part of the toy range, but as mentioned he’ll appear again in the UK comics. Blaster, Perceptor and the others finish up on Earth, allowing them to eventually be part of the regular characters. However, we won’t learn their fate until issue #90, which is about five months away at the time the comic was published.

The Space Bridge idea has been lifted from the Sunbow Transformers cartoons (along with Energon Cubes previously) and with this now a feature, it will be a highly useful vehicle for bringing new characters into the comic relatively simply as Bob Budiansky would be under constant pressure to do. In the next issue it’s back to the adventures of the Earth-bound Autobots and the debut of Omega Supreme.

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The Smelting Pool

One of – IF NOT THE – finest Transformers story Bob Budiansky ever wrote. The Smelting Pool is an instant classic, transporting readers to the dystopian world of present day Cybertron, inhabited by powerful good and evil archetypes. It’s a story of hope and despair, horror and heroism.

We thought it would be good, but not THIS good! The return to Cybertron story had been hinted as far back as issue 40, some six months previous, and was eagerly awaited by the readers (myself very much included). I was looking forward to it from a novelty point of view – a chance to see the home world again, some of the toy line characters we hadn’t seen yet, and the story wouldn’t have to be too good for it to be an exciting event.

On picking up my copy of Marvel UK Transformers #66 before school on a Friday in June 1986, that amazing cover by Herb Trimpe which appeared on the UK and US editions (Blaster plunging head first towards a pit of lava and melting wrecks) was the first hint of something above average, and in fact a very special event for the comic.

And Bob’s story and the characters he created blew me away. Blaster, the classic Western hero whose tough exterior disguises a big heart – Scrounge the plucky underdog, desperate to prove his critics wrong – and the axe-wielding total bastard of villain (that we’d love to hate) Lord Straxus. Added to that the concepts of underground Autobot resistance, Transformer down-and-outs, industrialised murder (courtesy of the Decepticons’ Smelting Pool), comic debuts of the new mini Autobot, seeker jets and Insecticons toys, and even Cybertronian time concepts. Frankly, its impressive quite how much Bob packed into the first 11 pages of story.

Our first glimpse of Cybertron reveals it to have two moons, just like in the upcoming (at the time) 1986 Transformers Movie. Marvel universe Cybertron also bears little resemblance to the Sunbow cartoons, appearing dark and bleak, almost reminiscent of the apocalyptic future in The Terminator.

Don Perlin’s pencils bring the horrors of Polyhex province to life from the get-go, as three civilian robots flee from a trio of Decepticon seekers, using them as sport. On Cybertron these days, anyone who is not part of the ruling class or useful to them, is likely to be exterminated as an unnecessary drain on the planet’s dwindling fuel supply. It begs a question of what naturally occurring fuel Cybertron has? Not fossil fuels as its a metallic world and even solar power will be difficult to harness, as the Transformers home world is not tethered to any star.

Two of the robots – Telus and Rotorbolt – are destroyed by a Decepticon called Ferak. A third watches in horror as his friends are scooped up a by Decepticon harvester unit as scrap to be recycled. He flees in the direction of Blaster, the red shouldered hero of our story. Blaster is irritated about being stood-up by his fellow Autobot, Scrounge, who was meant to be delivering information 12 breems ago (we learn that one breem is a very precise 8.3 Earth minutes!).

Blaster is however perfectly placed to go to the aid of the third runner.  Stepping into the open, he deploys his Electro Scrambler gun against Ferak, causing the Decepticon to spin out of control. In a demonstration of his raw strength, Blaster seizes the Decepticon and throws him into a derelict structure, which collapses over him. The small transformer thanks his saviour, but Blaster insists he has better things to do than save his “rusty hide”! These rough words are at odds with Blaster’s thought bubbles, which earlier revealed his concern for the ‘little fella’ being picked on by a Decepticon bully.

Elsewhere, the mini Autobot spy Scrounge is in his wheel form outside the enemy stronghold, Darkmount. He has acquired information that a missing neutral called Spanner – a scientist with specialist knowledge in inter-dimensional engineering – is being held inside. Scrounge sees an opportunity to finally prove his worth to his fellow Autobots. Any readers who have ever felt inadequate or not quite accepted, can immediately sympathise with Scrounge. He reminds me a little of Bumblebee but has an extraordinary ability to extend his finger, deftly steering them through long winding shafts without tripping alarms, in order to listen on the Decepticons inside – in this case Shrapnel and two technicians who are discussing an all important transmission they have received. It’s the most profound revelation for 50,000 vorns (83 Earth years!) apparently. It is of course the message transmitted by Soundwave from Earth in the Next Best Thing to Being There.

In his excitement Scrounge gets careless and triggers an intruder alarm. He rolls for it, radioing Blaster on the way that he is returning with a big catch. Blaster is sceptical as they’ve all heard Scrounge’s tall stories before. Then, in one of my favourite scenes, Scrounge rolls through the Dead End, which is inhabited by Transformer down-and-outs called the Empties. They are a forgotten class of Transformer, a symbol of the despair and inequity in Polyhex, and reduced to begging for fuel. Poor Scrounge is seized by Shrapnel in his giant insect form and carried off.

Blaster lifts what appears to be a stray wall plate to descend into the secret underground ‘Autobase’. As a 12-year-old reading this in 1986 I thought that was supercool and mysterious. He is greeted there by Powerglide, Cosmos, Seaspray, Warpath and Beachcomber – all making their comics’ debut – along with Perceptor, who commands the resistance cell.

The tensions between Blaster and his commander are immediately apparent. They are very different characters – one impulsive, emotional, daring, and the other (Perceptor) patient and prone to cold realism. Both embody different leadership qualities. I got the impression that Blaster’s daring-do would win the respect and loyalty of the unit if he had really wanted to lead it, but he has no time for politics, ambition or the sort of long-term strategizing needed to run a successful resistance cell, so Perceptor – who is better suited to the long game – leads.  You can practically see the steam rising from Blaster’s ears when he demands they search for Scrounge and Perceptor refuses to risk the group on a fool’s errand (guessing correctly that their missing mini bot is probably captured on his way to the Smelting Pool). However, the sympathies of the group are with Blaster on this occasion and Perceptor wisely backs down, but they will make one attempt only.

In the shadows of Darkmount lies the awesome spectacle of the Smelting Pool. Blood-red molten metal boils with the devastated bodies of Transformers disgorged into it by Decepticon Harvester units. Its perimeter is lined with heavily armed Decepticon guards who make sure that none who go in ever come out, except as remoulded raw materials for future use. Despite having only 11 pages to play with (22 for the full story) its bloody marvellous that Bob devotes a full page of art to showing us this final solution in its full horror.

Shrapnel lands at Darkmount, threatening poor Scrounge with the pit. He will enjoy hearing the Autobot’s screams but first he wants to take Scrounge for interrogation by Lord Straxus. Shrapnel is ever hoping to win the favour of his master, but ever failing. We then meet Straxus – holding court flanked by Ramjet, Thrust, Dirge and the other Insecticons, Bombshell, and Kickback. As villains go, he looks utterly the business – cutting two unfortunate victims in half with a swing of his Energo Axe and uttering the immortal line: “Mercy is not dispensed here fools, only death!”

Straxus is less than grateful to Shrapnel for his capture. And when Scrounge refuses to talk, his special arm is wrenched off by Straxus and crushed. You can almost feel Scrounge’s despair at this, and he is dragged off to meet his fate. Whatever information he has learned, he will not live long enough to pass on.

Sadly, there is no preview page in TFUK #66 to tell us about the following issue. We just had to endure an agonising seven day wait for the concluding part. Lew Stringer’s Robo Capers strip again features Transformers – Bumblebee and the embarrassed joke of an Autobot called Push-Along, who transforms into a pram! It follows on from the Optimus Prime “It’s rude to stare at someone when they are changing” strip last issue, that was also rather good.

In part two, the Autobots travel to the Dead End in search of information. Perceptor creates a holographic image of the missing Scrounge, hoping to jog a few decaying memory circuits from the Empties. However, where they are concerned everything has a price. Wheezel (who we met in the first half) hints at information, and beaker of donated fuel seals the deal – along with the threat of violence from Blaster – elicits the sorry news that Scrounge was captured and taken to Darkmount. At this Perceptor orders everyone back to base – the chances of finding Scrounge alive are minimal. Blaster is determined to discover his friend’s fate and goes on alone.

At the rim of the Smelting Pool, he attacks the guards. He’s quickly captured, (as planned) but prevented from being thrown into the pool by Shrapnel, who has spotted another prisoner he can deliver to Straxus. Blaster is marched inside Darkmount where the Decepticons are busy constructing a huge Space Bridge. Straxus is not impressed with Shrapnel for bringing him yet another distraction and threatens the Insecticon with his own dip in the pool if he doesn’t stop wasting time.

Finally, Blaster is thrown into molten pit, echoing the cover of last issue. The incredible heat scolds his metallic skin, but he’s able to climb onto a small ledge. He finds Scrounge barely alive and suddenly one of the gun turrets explodes above, as Powerglide arrives having disobeyed orders. He lowers a cable and as Blaster grabs on, he yanks Scrounge from the pool and is shocked to see his friend already melted from the waist down! Scrounge insists on being left to his fate and wriggles free. Before he sinks, he throws Blaster a recording of the Decepticon transmission (thankfully Blaster is a good catch) and asks that he be remembered as doing something right.

Outside the other Autobots minus Perceptor are involved in their own pitched battles with Decepticons. As they escape in vehicle modes, they are attacked by the Decepticon jets and Insecticons. Once again Blaster shows he’s the man. He rips out huge pipes which suck molten metal from the Smelting Pool and turns the hot jet on the Decepticons.

Back at Autobase, Perceptor plays Scrounge’s recording. Soundwave is heard and video shows the distant planet Earth, rich in resources and ruled by the primitive organic lifeform man. A group of long thought dead Decepticons crash landed here millions of years ago. The recording suggests they are led by Megatron, which wasn’t the case when Soundwave sent the message. And opposed by Optimus Prime (who was a Decepticon captive at the time of sending). That aside, the message is huge for the beleaguered resistance, just to know that the great Optimus lives gives them hope. Blaster hopes that wherever Scrounge is, he knows he did good.

In summary, Blaster’s stock-in-trade rocketed after this incredibly strong debut. He would go on to become one of the most popular Autobots among the readers, even taking up the mantle of letters page answerer in the UK comic towards the end of the run. For a time, it even looked like Blaster could become leader of the Earthbound Autobots in place of Grimlock, though it wasn’t to be. He is one of the characters Bob cared about and wrote brilliantly, bringing him back and again throughout his run on the US book. While Simon Furman used Blaster occasionally in the UK book, there wasn’t the same spark. I guess Furman preferred to cultivate his own favourites (Grimlock, Galvatron, Nightbeat etc).

Should Scrounge have detached his head and thrown that to Blaster, allowing him to survive with message intact? Perhaps. I don’t know that this was ever an option but his death, though tragic, was purposeful and heroic (which is more than most made-for-comics/hi-then-die characters get). Blaster would feel the loss of Scrounge and guilt at not saving him for some time to come.

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