Ancient Relics (parts 2-5)

Megatron has returned and is loose within the tunnels under London. It will be up to Action Force and their Autobots allies to stop him – if they can!

If you live in the UK you’ll probably have seen TV adverts that are obviously American but the voices have been dubbed over by actors with English accents. The syncing is not quite right and there’s something a little inauthentic about it. That’s how I feel about the decision to repackage GI Joe for the UK market as ‘Action Force’. Their Marvel UK comic maintains the fiction that the team and Cobra are Europe’s counter terror squad and terror squads, with battles set on Salisbury Plains and now London.

Trouble is that the US stories that were reprinted in the weekly Action Force comic (from 1987 to mid 1988) were very obviously set in the States. And there are characters like Wild Bill who is your quintessential mid-western cowboy type and a former Vietnam vet to boot, who the UK Action Force comic tried to pass off as coming from Hull! Sheesh.

The thing is, it’s all rather unnecessary as British audiences are not deterred in the slightest by a series being set in the US. We grew up watching American TV shows and films for goodness sake, plus Marvel and DC superhero comics, and 99% of the stories in Marvel’s flagship Transformers are US based. It’s a non issue. That said, as a London native it is nice to see a story like Ancient Relics set on this side of the Atlantic.

Ancient Relics, for the uninitiated, is a five part story that began in the pages of Marvel UK’s flagship Transformers comic (in issue #125) and played out over the next four issues of the Action Force comic (issues #24-27). The intention was to introduce Transformers readers to the sister comic and hopefully convert them to regular subscribers. I can’t say whether the Action Force readership was significantly boosted, but if so it wasn’t a long term success as AF folded a year later. It rebirthed as a monthly but that was also short-lived.

As I mentioned in the review of part one, there have been all manner of Transformers crossovers and most suck to a greater or lesser extent. This, by the dream team of Simon Furman and artist Geoff Senior, is one of the better ones.

In the first instalment, Blades tracked down a Transformer life signal beneath London. He radioed it in to Autobot commander Grimlock who figured it was the deserters Blaster and Goldbug and is en route. Action Force also investigated the sighting with archaeologist Susan Hoffman, who had barely escaped the sewer creature with her life. To cut a long story short it turned out to be Megatron, and now Autobot and human alike are in big trouble!

Part 2 starts with a monologue from Flint, the Action Force commander. He knows when to stand and fight and when to withdraw. As a mangled-face Megatron, looking truly monstrous, advances towards them, this qualifies as one of those times to get the hell out of there! Previous events are recapped, including Megatron’s swift dispactch of Protectobot Blades and they clamber to the surface to be confronted with yet mechanical monster – Grimlock in T-Rex mode and flanked by the formidable looking Centurion.

Grimlock has a low opinion of humans at this point in the story and fighting side by side with Action Force will prompt him into a grudging respect. Whether he’s aware that Centurion is controlled remotely by Professor Morris, a human, is unclear – and certainly Centurion gives no indication that he’s anything other than a non-transforming mechanoid allied to the Dinobot cause. Suddenly Megatron breaks free and he’s soon launching himself at Grimlock. It’s good to see the new Autobot leader cutting it up rough with the erstwhile Decepticon leader, a right of passage I’d say – and he’s holding his own just about.

Scarlett fears the battle could destroy the whole of Dockside, which I think was still to be redeveloped at that stage. Flint summons Dragonfly helicopters and the Mauler tanks for a bit of needed toy product placement but also to show that Action Force has heavy artillery at its disposal. Wild Bill commands the fleet to open fire on Megatron who reels in pain. He curses the fleshlings and promptly unleashes a fusion cannon blast, setting up a suitable cliff-hanger as Wild Bill’s rotors are disintegrated and he’s plummeting to earth!

Part 3 – Blades leaps from the Thames and lands on the pier. It’s a great couple of panels from Geoff. The Protectobot is no fan of getting wet but unfortunately a trip through the river was required in order for him to escape from the underground tunnels. Cue a quick recap of his encounter with Action Force and getting blasted by a mystery Decepticon. Blades climbs to the surface to witness a scene of carnage: Grimlock and Megatron in battle and Centurion running to catch the falling chopper of Wild Bill.

Blades takes to the air, just as Bill bails out and the Autobot catches him mid-air. Flint, however, thinks his friend perished in the fireball that results from the crashed helicopter and Scarlett has to hold him back from running into the flames. Emotion gets the better of Flint and he orders the Mauler tanks move in and hit Megatron with everything they’ve got.

Wild Bill arrives with Blades, who seem to have become immediate friends. He warns Flint that they call off the maulers fast. All they’ll do is succeed in making the already demented Megatron even more mad!

Sure enough, the cover for Part 4 depicts the giant hand of Megatron crushing a Mauler. The instalment switches perspectives between the key characters, starting with Megatron who remembers the satisfying feeling of tearing a foe limb from limb. It’s how he earned his justified rep as the most feared Decepticon of all. Now, however, he’s left to pull apart human tanks and propel one – on fire – at Action Force.

Flint remembers allowing emotion to cloud his judgement, with the Maulers paying the price. Whether the crews lost their lives is unclear. He’s at a loss to work out what to do next to stop Megatron and even Blades and Centurion seem powerless, while Grimlock is unconscious, having taken a beating from Megatron.
Centurion remembers his previous battle with Megatron stateside where he’d been properly roughed up, and punched through a building no less! He’s been beaten again now and even saving the life of Wild Bill had proved beyond him. Perhaps Wheeljack had been right to call him an ‘ancient relic’, he thinks (even though he was only constructed a year earlier right?).

Grimlock rallies and remembers… a time not long ago when he’d have happily left humans to their fate. Action Force has given him cause to reconsider his opinion of mankind as weak, helpless and undeserving. In fact their interventions against Megatron may well of saved the Autobot leader’s life and Grimlock does not take such debts lightly. With savage fury he renews his attack, charging into Megatron’s back and clamping his powerful jaws on Decepticon’s fusion cannon, snatching it away from the Decepticon. The pair of them battle through a fence into a gas works plant… I think we can see where this is going to end up.

Lastly, Wild Bill remembers… a mission to South East Asia on a last-ditch rescue mission. They’d rescued six men and Bill was prevented from going back for the seventh by his commanding officer. It’s an interesting backstory for the man from Hull, North East England!! Now Flint gives the order to blow the gas tanks, sacrificing Grimlock to take out Megatron. Flint can’t help remembering about that seventh man!

Part 5 sees the story racing towards an explosive finale. It’s been action packed so far, if perhaps a little too drawn out over five weeks. This would have made a good two part story over the standard 11 pages per issue I think.

It’s not stated who drew the cover for Action Force #27 but it’s a nice one of Blades and a rare cover appearance for him. I can’t think of another time outside of Ancient Relics where he appeared solo on a cover. More AF product placement as the sky strikers jets zoom dip beneath the clouds over London. Wild Bill continues to protests to Flint about taking out Grimlock along with Megatron. It’s the sort of tough call that a leader has to make and Flint proves his mettle here. Centurion, meanwhile, seems frozen to the spot, paralysed with indecision or fear. Wild Bill and Blades figure they can’t count on him and set off to help Grimlock alone. But then Centurion has a plan.

It involves Blades flying Centurion in and allowing him to drop-kick Megatron and get off a few punches. The distraction allows Blades to drag Grimlock clear as the sky strikers unleash their deadly missile payload. Centurion grins and moments later a gigantic explosion engulfs them. Flint and Wild Bill catch sight of what looks like the two robots falling out of the conflagration and into the Thames – but Flint refuses to believe anything could have survived it. That’s likely to be a lot of Londoners without a gas supply for a while!
Later Blades, Flint and Wild Bill gather at the water’s edge, with Blades paying tribute to Centurion’s remarkable sacrifice. Rather than an ancient relic, Flint describes him better as an old soldier and as such Action Force salutes him.

So ends the first of many Transformers/GI Joe crossovers and this is one of the best ones I reckon. The characters are likeable, particularly Flint, who is in the Optimus Prime or Autobot leader mould and the two franchises fit together rather well with each getting roughly equal airtime. Some may lament the absence of Cobra but Megatron is more than enough for all of them to handle and certainly would not have needed the help. This will be the last we’ll see of Megatron and Centurion for a while until they are fished out of the Thames by none other than Richard Branson in the 1988 story Salvage!

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Ancient Relics

Transformers comic joins with Action Force as the elite counter-terror team investigates a deadly giant robot loose in the sewers under London.

Transformers crossovers. There’s sure been a lot of them over the years! It seems that every franchise from The Avengers to the Justice League, the crew of starship Enterprise, the X-Files, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and even My Little Pony, have encountered the Autobots and Decepticons on the printed page at some point. Most of these are throwaway fun and I tend to think best avoided.

A handful have been very good and integrated well into Transformers. I’m thinking here of the GI vs Transformers title that Dreamwave that was set in an alternative World War Two and the Marvel story Prisoner of War which saw Gears team up with Spider-Man to rescue Sparkplug Witwicky from Megatron’s clutches and is one of my favourites. In more recent years IDW attempted to forge an shared Hasbro universe which included having the transforming from its MASK reboot being made possible by plundered Cybertron tech. And even Death’s Head’s encounter with Doctor Who in the 1988 Marvel UK story Crossroads of Time counts, I would argue, as a crossover with the Transformers universe.

The point is that there have been many, many attempts at crossovers and most have never warranted more than a one off novelty. GI Joe (Action Force as they were known in the UK) is more enduring and has spawned crossovers via a number of comics publishers over the years, but it started with Marvel in the 1980s. In the US there was a four issue mini-series. A piss poor tale that was thankfully ignored by the UK continuity, though later reprinted as a back-up strip when material ran short in the late 200s but on the understanding that it was not part of the regular continuity.

That uninspiring US mini-series in 1987 set-up the destruction of Bumblebee and his rebirth as Goldbug and meant Simon Furman had to write an alternative for the UK comic, which was that Death’s Head destroyed Bumblebee and fellow time-traveller Wreck-Gar reconstructed him (events from the Wanted Galvatron saga). This was necessary to explain why Goldbug would appear in the comic going forwards. And whereas I suspect the US crossover was motivated by the desire on Hasbro’s part to shift toy product, for Marvel UK crossover between its flagship weekly title Transformers, and the still fledgling Action Force title, was in the hopes of generating more readers for the latter. It didn’t work as ultimately AF folded in 1988 and was absorbed into Transformers as the back-up strip.

So it was that, just as the Blaster/Goldbug/Scraplets story was getting interesting, the UK comic hit pause and whisked off to London for a one-week interlude (in issue #125) to kick off the Ancient Relics crossover story, from Simon Furman and with art by Geoff Senior, that would continue into #24-27 of Action Force. Young collectors would need to fund two comics for the month that followed, and obviously Marvel hoped it would be for longer after that. In my case, I was happy to collect both Transformers and Thundercats but Action Force never appealed that strongly.

In the streets under the Capital is a network of undiscovered Roman tunnels – that is undiscovered until recently. Susan Hoffman – a character modelled on the Bangles singer Sussanna Hoffs – and her three companions are hoping to uncover fascinating relics for their heritage society. Their flashlight catches a glimpse of something metallic; not a building as first thought but a battle-damaged midrift. Next their torches illuminate a terrifying and deformed, though recognisable, robot face! A huge fist punches the wall causing the ceiling to collapse as the humans run for their lives. Hoffman escapes the falling debris – just! Her companions are buried. Had this been the US comic the whole party would have survived but the Marvel UK comic tended to have a grittier ‘2000AD’ edge, as Simon Furman has said.

Across the pond in Oregon USA, Autobot commander Grimlock is not a happy bunny (or T-Rex). He called a meeting of all available warriors and nobody turned up! He strides into Wheeljack’s workshop in the Ark where the engineer is just completing repairs to Centurion (previously ripped to bits by Galvatron). Senior’s Grimlock is twice the size of Wheeljack which may not be consistent with past appearances but makes him appear more imposing and leaderly. While Centurion, who now sports a humanoid face as opposed rather than his much better and more distinctive visor, is bigger than both of them.

Bob Budiansky made Grimlock a tyrannical, petty, obsessive, narcissistic oaf of a leader in his stories – a kind of Donald Trump without the fanbase – but Furman to his credit presents a more mature and agreeable characterisation without undermining Bob. The crown has been ditched (thankfully) and Grimlock’s obsession with finding Blaster and Goldbug is more an insistence on not tolerating failure (or running away after failing).

Wheeljack is surprisingly flippant in his remarks to Grimlock, chastising his leader for tasking the Autobots with fools errands such as the Centurion repair. If Grimlock is as dictatorial and intolerant of dissent as Budiansky presents him, then Wheeljack would not have dared to speak so disrespectfully. It’s a nice nod to Wheeljack’s later role in the US stories as a sidekick whose working against Grimlock.

The mention of Blaster and Goldbug is a nice tie-in to last week’s story Crater Critters as well as upcoming stuff. It shows us how their split is being viewed in the Autobot camp and that Grimlock is not taking it lightly. This helps the build up for eventual reckoning in the US storyline. Centurion is presumably still being controlled by Professor Morris but there’s no mention of that. My guess is that Furman was thinking about the Action Force readership here and didn’t want to muddy the waters with complicated backstory at this point. So Centurion would appear to recent readers as just another Autobot.

Wheeljack brands him an ancient relic (harsh considering he was constructed a year previously) and taking up time that he could be spending repairing fallen colleagues. Centurion looks forlorn but says nothing. Grimlock points out that this mechanoid is a personal friend and of his and that should be enough to prioritise him.

Blades radios in that he has picked up a Transformer life signal beneath London and Grimlock is convinced it is his fugitives. Despite there being any number of Transformers it could be, it makes sense to him that the pair would want to put as much distance between him and them as possible. He orders Wheeljack to ready a shuttle and place Centurion aboard – hands-on leader Grimlock will go to London to settle business personally!

Blades transforms and lands in the Docklands. He too is deeply unhappy that Grimlock has got them all hunting for two fellow Autobots rather than fighting Decepticons. If he finds Blaster or Goldbug, should he bring them in or join them? It’s a fascinating dilemma, though interestingly not one he seems to grapple with in a few issues time when Blades and his fellow Protectobots do actually encounter Blaster.

Enter Action Force – Flint, Scarlet, Bazooka, Airtight and Barbecue – who are accompanying Susan Hoffman back to the Roman tunnels to find her mystery robot. Considering the traumatic experience that Susan has been through its to her credit that she would step foot in there again. And Scarlett is remarkably unsympathetic that this lady has lost her colleagues, even alleging that she made the whole story up. Flint does a good job of reigning in the fiery personalities and keeping them focused on the task.

A robotic shape emerges from the tunnels. It’s Blades, still wrestling with his loyalties, and stumbles into the line of fire as Action Force unleashes on him! Blades is struck by rockets and flame and becomes enraged, firing a burst of blinding light against the humans. Whatever Blades might say, it’s clear that Grimlock’s negative opinions of humans is rubbing off on him. Thankfully he comes to his senses before he can do any serious harm and he declares that he bears Action Force no malice.

However, the comotion has drawn out the mysterious transformer from earlier. A familiar looking cannon emerges from the shadows. The hated Autobot insignia is sighted, and the Transformer opens fire, striking Blades in the back and sending him crashing to the ground. Hoffman recognises the attacker as the one who killed her friends earlier – and as Flint scrambles to find out “what is it?” the answer comes back – Megatron!!
Phew! It’s fair to say that most fans would have sussed out who the Transformer was from the first couple of clues, in particularly the mangled face which was clearly the one Megatron was left with after his battle with the Predacons. At the end of Gone But Not Forgotten, a mentally ill Megatron blew up the Space Bridge with himself on it to escape from Optimus Prime, who he had convinced himself was coming to get him.

It appears that the Bridge transported Megatron to London, where he’s been lurking in the underground tunnels ever since. This is a huge risk that Simon Furman is taking in using Megatron. There is every chance that Bob Budiansky would have reintroduced Megatron at some point and had him reappear on Cybertron in direct continuation from the events on the Space Bridge. In depositing him to London for the Ancient Relics story, Furman achieves his aim of having a big nemesis for the Autobots and Action Force, but he will at some point have to put right the big continuity rift that he’s opening up.

Indeed, Megatron will return in the 1989 US story Back From The Dead, showing up in the Dead End of Cybertron after his accident. Furman ironically will be writing the US comic by then and will come up with the explanation that the Megatron in London was a duplicate created by Straxus in case his attempt to take over Megatron’s mind went awry. Okay, but that doesn’t explain why the London Megatron has the battle scars that the real Megatron picked up in his battle with the Predacons some time after the encounter with Straxus.

Up until this point Furman has been masterful in weaving original UK stories that seamlessly intergrate with the US master continuity but this will be a departure too far. Though it wouldn’t become evident for a couple of years yet. For now let’s kick back and enjoy Megatron versus Action Force and Grimlock as the story continues.

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Gone But Not Forgotten!

Megatron descends into madness over the death of Optimus Prime, striking terror into his troops and prompting Shockwave to again plot a coup de tat involving the Predacons.

The destruction of Optimus Prime in the previous story was easily one of the most shocking moments of the original Marvel Comics run. Not only were readers left reeling at the sight of the iconic Optimus being blown to bits, it the way it happened just seemed to rub salt in the wounds. Prime had won the virtual showdown in Multi-World in spite of Megatron’s cheating. The Decepticon leader had thoroughly deserved his defeat. Instead Prime stepped in to save his greatest foe, by arguing that he (Optimus) had violated sacred Autobot principles by allowing the computer generated inhabitants of Multi-World to be sacrificed in order to win. Therefore he deserved to be executed rather than Megatron! As a teenage fan reading this in March 1987 this was a bitter pill to swallow, it was not even though the Multi-World lifeforms were even real. So, Prime’s actions were in one sense remarkably noble, but on the other incredibly stupid.

Having arrived at this watershed moment there’s a big question mark about whether Transformers story goes next. It reminds me a little of those big DC moments where Doomsday killed Superman and Bane broke the bat – though these stories would come after Bob Budiansky killed off Optimus Prime. All of these great stories contain a protagonist and antagonist who exist in a symbiotic relationship – so think Superman and Lex Luther, Batman and the Joker, Holmes and Moriarty. So it is with Optimus Prime and Megatron and after millions of years of being adversaries, it’s perhaps not surprising that Megatron should have a difficult time of adjusting to the new reality. In fact he even feels cheated of his destiny, having had the opportunity to destroy Optimus slip through his hands.

It’s a fascinating premise which is ably developed in ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’, as well as the concept of mental illness and what happens when a powerful and feared leader begins to lose his mind and become irrational and unpredictable. Having witnessed the exit of Optimus Prime, we’re now along for the ride for the demise of Megatron. Strap yourself in as its quite a ride!

The story begins with the US army advancing on foot and with tanks toward the Decepticons’ coal mine base in Wyoming. Triple I’s Walter Barnett is overseeing the attack and its interesting (at least to me) that with Circuit Breaker and her obsession with targeting the Autobots now off the scene, the US government is at last turning its attention to the real threat. We learn that “environmental concerns” prevented a strike on the Decepticon base previously but what those concerns are or what has changed is unclear. The sensible tactic would surely be to carpet bomb the base from the air rather than risk a land assault against a heavily fortified compound.

Inside the pit, Soundwave contacts the Decepticons on Cybertron with an update on their plans. Having secured the Hydrothermocline technology, they will shortly be abandoning the mine and moving to a remote island off the Florida Keys where they can begin to harness the power of the sea for their energy needs. A secondary reason appears in the narration box in the US version of the story only, and that is to be closer to the Decepticons’ new Cobra allies. This is a reference to the GI Joe vs Transformers mini-series, publishing in the States at the time and which was ignored by the UK comic. Thankfully so, as it’s a terrible story and inferior to the UK crossover ‘Ancient Relics’ which started at Transformers #125. The UK audience would eventually get to read the US crossover as a filler story which ran from issues #265 to #281 during a low point for the UK comic.

Going back to the story, Laserbeak flies in squawking loudly about the imminent ‘fleshling’ attack. Shockwave decides that whatever Megatron’s current mental state, he still commands the Decepticons and must be informed immediately. However, he finds Megatron, seated on a throne of crushed cars, curiously disinterested; “Only Optimus Prime concerns me…” he says.

Brawl unwisely tries to bring his boss to his senses by reminding Megatron that Prime died in the lab and they all saw it. In an instant Megatron is on his feet and wrapping his mighty hands around the Combaticon’s head – how can he be sure that Prime is dead, he tells him? He demonstrates what he would have liked to have done to Prime, by crushing Brawl’s head and throwing his body against the cliff-face!! We’ve previously seen Megatron hitting Soundwave in the face with an exhaust, giving Onslaught a kick up the rear and dropping a boulder just whiskers away from Motormaster while in his rages, but Brawl’s fate is a whole new order of magnitude. It’s hard to imagine that the Combaticon could survive these injuries but he’ll be repaired and restored for the UK story Ladies Night in issue #137.

Megatron’s anxiety is revealed. “I waited 4,000,000 years to destroy Optimus Prime and a fleshling does it for me!” he cries. Rather than face the facts that his chance to conquer his greatest foe has been denied him, Megatron would rather believe that Prime’s death was a trick. Shockwave decides to stoke the fires a bit, suggesting that Prime death in a computer game could also have been simulated. Megatron mulls it over and erupts with savage fury, firing his fusion cannon is all directions! Prime lives and he is coming!! The US Army is taking the fall out from the blasts and decides to beat a retreat – clearly they were woefully under equipped to try to challenge the Decepticons.

As the time for moving arrives, Megatron orders his warriors to assemble and transform, as he shrinks to gun mode and boards Deadend. The convoy moves for the two day journey to Florida, leaving Shockwave within the communications cave to contact the Predacon leader Razorclaw (on Cybertron) and arrange another assassination attempt against Megatron. Here’s where Simon Furman’s audacity in swiping the Budiansky story elements for the UK Prey comes back to bite him, as the issue requires quite a bit of editing to cover the fact that this will be the second attempt and that Megatron’s mental state has deteriorated thanks to the bungled Straxus mind swop.

Shockwave jets away to Florida riding on the Hydrothermacline (now fitted with rockets) content that, Hannibal Smith style, a plan is coming together.

Meanwhile on the open highway Megatron spies a red truck approaching. He leaps from Deadend and transforms, blasting the vehicle to bits. A human driver flees from the explosion and boxes of fruit fall out of the trailer. It becomes clear (even to Megatron) that this is an ordinary truck and not Prime. Megatron tells Deadend that had it been Prime he would now be dead… In the US version Deadend replies ‘But Commander he is already dead’ and in the UK this has been adapted too, “and death will come for Optimus Prime!”

Some other novelties in Transformers #107: we’ve got a tie-in with Kellogg’s Ricicles where kids have to hunt for Captain Ric hidden somewhere in the comic (hint, he’s in the next week box) and cut him out to claim a pack of felt tips. It would have had to be a major prize indeed for me to be tempted to cut up my Transformers comic, and pens doesn’t cut it (literally). Its interesting that the comic has recently carried adverts for Weetabix amongst the usual plugs for toys and other Marvel titles. Kellogg’s must feel that comics are a good way to reach young consumers who are obviously influential when it comes to deciding what cereals the parents buy. I like Ricicles but not enough to cut up my comic for them, lol. There’s a fun new theme from Robo Capers – the robots of history (I do enjoy Lew Stringer’s work) – and Grimlock is asked if he could beat Soundwave in a fight!

The cover #108 is an adaptation of the US cover ‘Megatron’s Last Stand’ except here the Predacons are alluding to their previous encounter: ‘Strike two Megatron… you’re out’. Or is he? The story resumes with the Predacons preparing to cross the Space Bridge to begin their hunt on Earth. Again the dialog has had to be heavily altered to reflect the UK continuity but new UK editor Simon Furman takes it in his stride. The cadre are welcomed by Shockwave and we’re reminded that Megatron has forgotten his previous encounted with the team. They switch their Decepticon badges for Autobot insignias, to make the attack more authentic and take up their positions.

Human holidaymakers at a clams bar observe Deadend storming down the winding roads at 80mph. Out of sight he transforms, as does his passenger Megatron. Vortex ferries Deadend to the nearby island base leaving Megatron alone and expecting Optimus Prime to make his move. Instead he’s confronted with five animal-like Transformers, who unleash a swift (and deadly) assault. As Rampage tears a new opening in Megatron’s head, the Decepticon leader spies the hated Autobot insignia. Clearly Optimus Prime has sent these minions to destroy him – but Megatron will show them who is the stronger!

He repels Rampage and Tantrum just as Divebomb and Headstrong attack. The rhino’s horn pierces Megatron’s side and the mighty Decepticon is now spewing smoke and circuitry – but there’s no sign that any of this is slowing him down! As Razorclaw opens fire, Megatron is sent cascading into the clams bar. The holidaymakers flee in panic (with handfulls of food) in one of the few comedic moments in an otherwise serious story. Megatron rises to his feet and renews his offensive, as Razorclaw pounces, tearing off the right-hand-side of Megatron’s face. This outrage only exacerbates the Decepticon leader’s fury! This is shaping up to be a hell of a battle.

Meanwhile, with the Decepticons operation to transfer energy from the sea across the space bridge going according to plan, Shockwave breaks off his supervision to go an check on Megatron. He arrives to find the finds that things are not going well from his perspective. Even with the weight of numbers on their side, Megatron is just too powerful. Razorclaw gives the order for the Predacons to combine and moments later, Megatron is facing the 80 foot titan Predaking! He has to move fast to avoid a blast from Predaking’s X-ray cannon.

Shockwave soars into view and offers help but Megatron rejects this; he needs no assistance to destroy his enemies, as he ably demonstrates by throwing a tree into Predaking and wounding him, before unleashing a deadly blast of his fusion cannon. Predaking falls leaving Megatron to raise his hands in victory – none can challenge him! This is an awesome end to the battle. Despite being severely unbalanced mentally Megatron is still massively powerful and maybe even more so than usual. His survival instinct is strong.

Now for the slightly daft bit, the corrollory to Optimus Prime’s sacrificing himself in many ways. At the island base Megatron’s victory has done him the power of good and restored his confidence that were Prime still alive he would conquer him as easily as he did Predaking. Then the disk is discovered within the unconscious Predaking that reveals Shockwave’s treachery. Megatron prepares to execute this traitor when Shockwave informs him that he recorded major portions of his personality on to the disk – he had controlled the Predacons as surely as if he had been in the battle himself.

It is a lie but Megatron takes the bait. His thoughts skip back to Ethan Zachary’s lab and sees an image of the human holding a similar disk – it must have contained Optimus Prime! The thought that his adversary still lives is enough to tip Megatron over the edge and he steps on to the space bridge, firing indiscriminately until the bridge starts to explode and vanishes, taking the Decepticon leader with it. As the sun sets it appears that Megatron’s tumultuous reign is over and Shockwave commands once again. Soundwave congratulates him but the new leader cannot take full credit. Although things went precisely to plan it was not Shockwave who destroyed Megatron… “a memory did”.

And so a new era dawns. Megatron would be out of the comic for another two years although he would reappear in the UK continuity in the interim (creating Simon Furman’s greatest continuity headache – but more on that another time).

In closing, Gone But Not Forgotten is one of Bob Budiansky’s best stories. Megatron’s descent into madness is expertly done and the fight with Predacons is supremely satisfying. If there’s a weakness its the way that Megatron falls for Shockwave’s ruse at the end. And so to the next issue where we find out how Prime’s death is impacting on the Autobots. We’re in the midst of another strong batch of US stories at this point.

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Afterdeath!

It’s March 1987 and after two and a half years of writing the Marvel US Transformers comic, Bob Budiansky is about to do something incredibly bold to shake things up – he’s about to kill off the two stars of the franchise, Optimus Prime and Megatron!

Pictured: The US cover to the Afterdeath! story

Of course, with this being comics, death is never really permanent but for the best part of the next 18 months or longer these two much loved characters (or love to hate in Megatron’s case) are about to disappear from the pages of our favourite comic.

The question is how to do it in an original way. After all the two leaders have clashed on countless occasions on the battlefield and had been seen in a fight to the death in the Transformers Movie less than four months previous. Bob being the super imaginative writer that he is, comes up with a novel way of having his two main protagonists do battle for the ‘last time’ by having them duke it out in a computer game. This is a game with very high stakes as the loser must be destroyed in real life. For this reason Afterdeath! is one of the most controversial stories in the history of Transformers comics. It’s a decent story but is detested by many because of the ending, as we will see.

First a quick mention of the cover to issue #105. Lee Sullivan, who admittedly is not one of my favourites when he’s illustrating the main strip – mostly for his tendency to draw saliva in the mouths of his robots (I’m picky I know) – nevertheless has been turning in some really solid covers of late. There was the Battlechargers on Transformers UK #94 and his latest effort has Defensor and Bruticus squaring up alongside Prime and Megatron. Deadlock indeed! It’s great to see the two remaining Special Teams finally making their debut.

Following a public health warning on the Transformation page, letting readers know that the demise of one of the two leaders is coming up, the stakes and the stage is set for the story to come. It begins with the genius programmer and gaming enthusiast, Ethan Zachary, playing his Multi-World creation on a huge wall-sized screen. His character is overwhelmed by the hordes of Hazzak just as his colleague Margaret arrives and wonders why Ethan wastes so much time playing silly video games. We learn that they are working inside a top security facility which houses the Hydrothermocline, a revolutionary new technology for extracting energy from the thermal layers in the ocean. (Eighties kids were already learning about green technology years before they became a thing!)

Ethan demonstrates his technique for restoring his game character to life using the command ‘AFTERDEATH’, which is a pretty significant detail as we later find out.

Little do they know they are being monitored from above by Vortex in helicopter mode. Here’s our first glimpse of a Combaticon in the comic for real as opposed to appearing as part of Buster’s Matrix-induced dream. As Ethan re-immerses himself in the Multi-World, at the Ark, Wheeljack is extracting the Cerebro Shell which the Insecticon Bombshell had implanted within Optimus Prime’s head module (as seen in the story Heavy Traffic). This shell has already served its purpose as the Decepticons were able to use it to siphon off the Matrix as Prime was giving life to the Aerialbots, allowing them to breathe life into the Stunticons. Now can assume that the same thing happened in respect to the Combaticons and Protectobots.

Wheeljack turns the tables by using the device to eavesdrop on the Decepticons and they learn of Megatron’s plans to seize the Hydrothermocline. And later that evening, when Onslaught, Brawl and Swindle roll through the perimeter fence, they are met with the sight of Optimus Prime and the Protectobots laying in wait. Megatron jumps out from Onslaught’s cab and they are joined by Vortex and Blastoff. In a blatant bit of product placement both teams combine to their respective gestalts and it’s clear that the situation is a stalemate. That is until Ethan Zachary decides to make a run for it right by Bruticus and is easily snatched by the fearsome but insanely stupid Decepticon. His request to crush the Zachary is denied, as Megatron thinks he might make a useful hostage.

Ethan suggests a way the two sides could fight it out without destroying the plant, by connecting to his Multi-World. Amazingly they all agree and pretty soon the teams and their leaders are attaching cables to their heads in order to appear as avatars in the game (a good thing Ethan keeps these cables handy eh?). The rules are simple, if the Decepticons destroy Optimus Prime in the game they can take the Hydrothermocline, but Megatron is loses then they can’t. Ethan assures a sceptical Groove that there is no way to cheat (famous last words!) and Megatron decides to up the ante by insisting that the loser must be destroyed in real life.

So Ethan controls two joysticks that can trigger a lethal explosion in one or other leader, which strikes me as incredibly trusting of Megatron to allow a human he’s only just met to hold the power of life or death over him. Additionally, it was only a few weeks ago that Prime was so concerned about his warriors’ inability to cope without him that he was faked his own death to test them, and yet now he’s entering into an agreement where the outcome could well be his actual death! Very strange.

The first half ends with Optimus Prime and the Protectobots arriving in the strange computer generated landscape that makes up Multi-World, and Prime preparing to lead his troops. Issue #106 again reminds readers of the stakes. This is the honest to gosh ‘final battle’ between Prime and Megatron we’re told… and one will die! The story then resumes with Hotspot basically ordering Optimus to stay put and allow the Protectobots to fan out and pick off the enemy. After all in this game their deaths are meaningless whereas if Prime dies they all lose. Prime agrees, but reminds his warriors that even though nothing is real, they must all remain true to their Autobot principles avoid harming any of this world’s inhabitants.

Hilariously, we see the mirror situation with Megatron and the Combaticons. Onslaught is almost cocky about inviting Megatron to take the lead. That earns him a swift boot up the rear as the more canny Megatron realises that he must be preserved and his Combaticons are mere fodder. He sends them ahead and tells them “let nothing stop you” – Multi-World inhabitants need to beware!

Now usually the Autobot concern for innocent life tends to be handicap in their encounters with the Decepticons but this is one of those rare occasions where doing the right thing brings powerful dividends. Streetwise and First Aid take great care to avoid harming any of the vines in their path, which leaves them open to ambush from Brawl and Swindle, who also take out many of the vines in the process. The two Combaticons transform and are ensnared by the vines, who it turns out possess sentience. This allows First Aid to crystallise the stunned pair with his roof mounted gun (it’s nice to see their weapons being spotlighted in addition to the characters) and Streetwise to shattering them with a blast of compressed air. Back in the real world, Ethan Zachary cheers the victory.

In the Cloud-steppes region, Blast Off and Vortex cut the skyway support cables, sending Grove and many of the Cloudstepper inhabitants falling. Blades swoops down to save his comrade, but is told to catch the Cloudsteppers instead as Groove just manages to grab a ledge. Blades does so, leaving himself wide open to a Combaticon attack. But one of the Cloudsteppers lets off a smoke bomb, blinding the two Decepticons who crash into each other while Grove finishes them off with his Photon Pistol.

Two more down and one to go as Hotspot and Onslaught face off in the Slimepit region. Onslaught makes use of the mud to launch a surprise ambush. His random laser blasts decimating the homes of the local Slimepit people and Hotspot uses his body to shield the defenceless creatures. They reward him by pulling him and resurfacing behind the Decepticon. A powerful blast from Hotspot allows him to claim an unlikely victory. Ethan applauds the win, while Megatron screams to know what is going on.

With the Combaticons failing to return, Megatron goes searching for Prime and soon finds his foe in the Metropipe region. As the pair stand either end of a bridge over a bottomless chasm, It would appear that the final battle now comes down to just the two leaders – or not, as the ominous form of Defensor appears behind Prime! Megatron screams at his fellow Combaticons to aid him, but with all having been defeated he can only lash out at them blindly in the real world. Vortex explains there’s a way to cheat by inputting the word “Afterdeath” when you lose. Thus when Defensor carries himself and Megatron over the ledge to their dooms, Megatron reappears behind Optimus and blasts him with full force. In the real world the Protectobots and Ethan are puzzled as to what just happened.

Back in the game, Prime hangs off the edge by a single arm, with the other a mangled wreck. Megatron looks down at his helpless foe when suddenly with the last of his strength, Prime yanks at one of the support pipes toppling one of the towers above and knocking Megatron to his death a second time. This time there is no reprieve as Megatron and many of the small Metropipe inhabitants plunge to their doom. The game over message appears, with Prime the sole character left on screen, and the Protectobots hailing their leader as everyone’s optics are switched back on.

Streetwise tells Ethan to press Megatron’s detonator before he can escape, but a far from happy Optimus Prime speaks his disapproval of the win. He argues that because he deliberately caused the deaths of the innocent inhabitants of Metropipe he in fact violated his own sacred Autobot principles. He cannot accept this victory and insists that Ethan press his detonator, which the incredulous human reluctantly does. In a full page to convey the sheer enormity, Prime explodes spectacularly as the Protectobots – and the readers presumably – watch in utter shock and horror!

Pictured: Don Perlin’s iconic depiction of Optimus Prime’s destruction!

With the battle over, Megatron and the Combaticons prepare the Hydrothermocline for transport and the Protectobots round-up the remains of their fallen leader before departing in utter silence. Now alone, Ethan reflects on what he witnessed, Optimus Prime was the most noble being he had ever met in his entire life. In a final, teasing image he writes the name Optimus Prime on a disk and files it away, taking comfort that in the realm of Multi-world, for a character such as Optimus Prime there is always the Afterdeath!

Wow! So where do I start? Optimus Prime is dead (just like in issue #78 and #97 of course) but this time he really is! So what will happen now for the Autobots? Who can pick up the mantle of the greatest Autobot of them all? Prowl, Ultra Magnus? Intriguing questions remain and of course Bob will have plenty more surprises in store. In the end I really enjoyed the video game scenario, but the way Prime insists on his own death is disturbing, and many people despise this story for that single reason. The fact that Megatron cheated just seems to rub it in, and the way this fact is unaddressed at the end leaves readers feeling angry and dismayed. But hey, great art and literature is meant to have an emotional impact right, and why shouldn’t that apply to comic books?

The final scene where Ethan Zachary appears to save Optimus Prime’s mind onto disk also brings up a lot of points. If a Transformers mind can apparently be backed up (as shown back in issue #53 using high density crystals) then why don’t all Transformers do this as an insurance policy against death, not to mention the fact you could potentially use this to create as many Optimus Primes as you wish. Lastly, it seems unlikely that Prime’s vast personality and millions of years worth of memories could be backed up onto a single floppy disk. In 1987 a gigabyte of data was practically unheard of, and you would expect Prime’s memory to be vastly in excess of that.

The US comic was running a Transformers/GI Joe crossover series in parallel to this and the next few issues. Although initially excluded from the UK continuity, it was printed much later on as a space-filler in UK #265-281.

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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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Prey!

Optimus Prime plans to test his followers by faking his death. Trouble is, with the Decepticons’ deadly cadre of hunters – the Predacons – on his trail, his demise may become a reality!

1986 ended on a real high note with the awe-inspiring Transformers the Movie and its comic tie-in Target: 2006. Entering the new year there was the question of ‘what next?’ and could the Marvel UK team raise the bar any higher? The immediate big event on the horizon was the comic’s ‘incredible 100th issue’ and looking back across the decades, I remember that felt like a huge milestone. It was a fantastic achievement for this title based on a toy line to reach triple figures and a sure sign of how successful the comic had grown. On the Transformation page we learn that its even selling in the United States and Australia at that point – a global phenomenon in the making! There’s a nod to Australia in the Robo Capers strip for #96 which is fitting in the circumstances.

But the countdown to that milestone begins with Prey, a Simon Furman two-parter published in the pages of Transformers #96 and #97. Once again Optimus Prime is the lead character, which is always good but especially more so since his enforced absence of some 11 issues during Target: 2006. The story also provides the UK debut of the Predacons, ahead of their US appearance no less. Although the elite hunting cadre were never released as toys in the UK, a kid at school had discovered a leaflet showing Hasbro’s extended toy range in his Transformers toy box. This is how I got my first glimpse of this exciting team of wild beasts who combine.

Jeff Anderson’s cover depicts the encounter between Prime and the Predacons. The Autobot leader is flat on his front, and a tortoise-like foot stomps his laser rifle. I’m thinking this foot belongs to Headstrong. ‘Prime’s the prey… and he hasn’t got a prayer!’ is the teaser/catch line. Jeff will be unleashed on the main strip in the second part but the first instalment we’re in the hands of Will Simpson, one of my favourites.

Will creates a striking opening page. Prime is safe within the Ark, but he looks poised for battle, like he’s under immediate threat. The source of his anxiety is giant screens showing recent events: the Decepticon Space Bridge delivering enemy reinforcements and Scourge’s ninja-like attack on the Autobots at the steel refinery.

The Space Bridge features prominently in the Sun Bow cartoon series as a means of travel between Earth and Cybertron. US writer Bob Budiansky is widely thought to have introduced it into the Transformers comic as a convenient way to be able to bring in the new toy releases that he was under constant pressure to showcase. But the issue of this being a massive, massive threat to the Autobots has never really been addressed until now. It stands to reason though that this is a major gamechanger in the war on Earth, as for the first time the Decepticons have access to unlimited reinforcements. Prime realises that it must either be captured (unwise as the enemy would not rest until it repossessed it) or destroyed.

So far so good, but then Prime’s thoughts take a sharp turn down a slightly odd tangent. He’s always been willing to sacrifice his life for the Autobot cause without hesitation but having seen how poorly his followers coped without him (during his spell in the Limbo dimension during Target: 2006) he worries that things could fall apart without him. So, he begins to formulate a plan to remove himself from the picture, to test his followers and allow him to work on the destruction of the Space Bridge. Why do I say the plan is ‘slightly odd’? Well, it’s a distraction from the main objective of destroying the bridge for a start; and rather pointless as he’s already seen how crappy an outfit the Autobots were without him. Would it not be better to strengthen the command structure, training and building confidence and resilience? No. Instead Optimus hatches a plan to fake his own death with help from Wheeljack who he instructs to work on a secret project for him.

At the Decepticon base Megatron’s obsession with his Autobot opposite number continues to grow. A flippant comment from Motormaster sends him into a rage – only he, Megatron, can defeat Optimus Prime – no-one else! Motormaster cowers in fear as Megatron just misses him with a giant boulder. We don’t know what the Stunticon leader said exactly but it’s not beyond the realms of fantasy that, as the two share an alt-mode, he sees Optimus as a personal rival.

Simpson draws Megatron with a trigger waist like his toy, while his Motormaster has a ‘regular head’ rather than the boxed-in look of his toy and previous depictions in the comic. This Motormaster looks better.

Soundwave watches Megatron’s paranoia with interest. With the leader’s mental state rapidly deteriorating, Soundwave knows that his best interests are served by helping Shockwave to re-take command. He plants a seed about flushing Prime into the open using a specialised team of hunters… Megatron takes the bait – the Predacons still exist on Cybertron and would be perfect for the job. He orders Soundwave to summon them. Meanwhile Shockwave is monitoring the conversation from within a nearby cave. His plan is going perfectly, soon he will manoeuvre Prime and Megatron into a situation where the only winner is Shockwave!

Shockwave alludes to a different side of Prime that he witnessed in the Limbo dimension. And the editorial footnote drops a major revelation: we will see this story in the landmark issue 100! The suggestion is that Megatron would come off worse in a straight fight, yet in issue 100 we don’t see a fighting mad Prime but an intelligent one who knows when and when not to fight. You could easily favour Megatron because he is not handicapped by Prime’s compassion for other beings, so Shockwave’s logic is not clear.

A week later at the Ark, Prime is ready to put his own plan into action. His fellow Autobots are aghast to learn that their leader plans to embark on an unimportant reconnaissance mission to the Decepticons base, alone! Let’s not forget that the enemy base is in another State – it’s a fair distance away if he gets into trouble. Prime is too important to risk, surely one of them should go in his place. Prime is saddened to hear his warriors speak so, but it only strengthens his resolve to proceed and he assures them that he’ll alert Wheeljack (who stands close-by looking decidedly uncomfortable) if he runs into trouble.

After ordering them to return to their duties, Prime has a final chat with Wheeljack. They load a mysterious cargo into Prime’s trailer and Optimus tells Wheeljack that he is relying on him to sound the alarm in two hours. That should give him enough time to fake his death!

While over at the Decepticon base, Megatron has found a practical use for Motormaster – target practice for the newly arrived Predacons! Their hunting skills are still as exceptional Megatron remembers, and he is satisfied. And after Soundwave announces Optimus Prime’s is ‘heading this way’ (surely on an interstate trip he could detour in any number of directions) the hunt is about to begin! Shockwave has a quick word with team leader Razorclaw, serve him well and the Predacons have a glorious place in the new Decepticon hierarchy!

Nearby, Prime’s uneventful ride through the peaceful Wyoming countryside takes an unexpected twist when the road ahead explodes leaving to revert to robot mode. He is momentarily stunned and reaches for his gun, just as it is crushed by a giant foot before he can grasp it! Prime looks up to find himself at the mercy of Megatron and the Predacons in animal mode. It’s quite a cliff-hanger!

And so, we’re on to part 2 – announced via a Geoff Senior cover as ‘Terror of the Predacons’. In addition to the wild animals there’s a proverbial elephant in the room in the shape of the comic’s 2p price rise. To their credit the team do not duck the issue – its announced in the Transformation page as due to ‘increased production costs’ and is the first rise in 70 issues. It’s interesting that they mention ‘unless you’re reading this in the shop’ as its likely that a few kids will have arrived at the shop with the exact pocket money and found themselves short. Clearly the team were concerned about this. To be fair, I would have been similarly caught out but for some reason on that day, my dad was going to the shop and offered to collect my issue. I remember it well as I worried, he might have come back with the wrong edition!

The second instalment begins with Prime in a tricky spot. He’s alone, unarmed, with no means of calling for help (no internal radio?) and being hunted by the deadly Predacons! The feline forms of Rampage and Razorclaw spring from nowhere and leap – with fangs and teeth bared! Prime punches out Rampage but takes a scratch across the torso from Razorclaw, before dodging a blast and landing on the Predacon leader. Tantrum’s charging bull mode is easily evaded by Prime, who simply transforms and drives away (one of my favourite moments in the story) but up ahead is ‘rhino’ Headstrong coming straight for him and Divebomb circling above in eagle mode! At the last moment Prime transforms to robot mode, launches at Divebomb leaving Tantrum and Headstrong to collide. After raining a few blows on Divebomb Prime lands and sets off again.

A flashback reveals that Prime had been given a sporting 10-minute head start to make the hunt interesting. Readers are reminded of Prime’s plan to fake his death and that Wheeljack is not due to raise the alarm for another 20 minutes. By then it could be too late! Suddenly his daydream is cut short by a huge boulder propelled in his direction by the Predacon-combined form, Predaking! Optimus had not realised that the Predacons were combiners and now things are even worse!

He heads for his trailer and runs into Megatron. A blast from his Fusion Canon impacts the trailer and causes Prime to feel the pain. Injury to either part (or roller) is felt by the whole. When you think about it, this is a significant weakness that the Decepticons rarely exploit.

Finally, Prime is at the mercy of his enemy, but the Razorclaw whispers to the team that it’s ‘now or never’ if they are to carry out Shockwave’s plan. The last sight is of the Predacons diving at Prime with claws bared… before the Autobots arrive shortly afterwards and discover a scene of complete and utter devastation – they’ve found what’s left of Optimus Prime, and he’s been to pieces!

As endings go, this is as shocking as they come. Prime’s death looks very cut and dried but there are the clues that nothing is what it seems. For starters we have the mysterious cargo in the trailer, a robot by the looks of it, and one with the same feet as Optimus. Then there is the Predacons about to defy Megatron’s orders, suggesting that their disposing of Prime may not have happened. And so, we’re on to issue #98 ‘The Harder They Die’ – another hugely enjoyable, surprise-filled 11 pages from the Furman/Senior dream team.

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Decepticon Graffiti!

The Battlechargers, Runabout and Runamuck, arrive from Cybertron intent on causing a bit of mayhem – and embark on a graffiti spree across America!

Marvel’s UK weekly Transformers comic enters 1987 brimming with confidence. The title and its creative team are riding high following the success of its recent epic Target: 2006 and basking in the glow of the amazing Transformers the Movie, and its coming off the back of a year of (mostly) strong stories and looking ahead to its landmark one hundredth issue and another solid year. The comic’s devoted fanbase which included my twelve-year-old self at the time also knew we were on to a very good thing.

Just prior to the Christmas edition we’d seen the Aerialbot gestalt Superion squaring off with the Stunticons combined as Menasor – coming off worse after Circuit Breaker intervened. Then insult was added to injury when Donny Finkleberg betrayed the Autobot Skids to Walter Barnett and RAAT.

US writer Bob Budiansky picks up where this cliff-hanger left off and takes the opportunity to spice things up by introducing a pair of newcomers from ever expanding Hasbro toy range in the shape of the Decepticon Battlechargers, Runabout and Runamuck. This was an exciting development for me as I’d recently invested in a Runabout toy. Rather like the less appealing Jump Starters (who the US comic ignored) their gimmick was that you can pull them back and they would release and transform in mid-drive. In the comics universe this translated as them being the ‘fastest Transformers on Earth’.

The first impression is of course the cover. Herbe Trimpe’s cover for issue #23 of the US Transformers comic, the infamous ‘Humans are Wimps’ Statue of Liberty cover appears on TFUK #95. For issue #94, where the story kicks off, we’re treated to a fantastic cover by Lee Sullivan. Now, Lee’s style hasn’t always hit the spot for me, but I really love his work on this cover! The story is about graffiti and the Battlechargers literally look like they’ve been spray painted. There’s a metallic shine that looks fab (whether Lee is responsible for the colouring I don’t know) but it brings the art to life and I remember picking up the issue and thinking that TF had lifted its game even further for the new year.

The title is of course a spoof of the 1973 cult movie American Graffiti. Except here the title is interpreted literally as the Battlechargers go on a spray paint wrecking spree. It wouldn’t be the last time Budiansky would reference a film in his story title… the infamous Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom comes to mind. Could it be that Bob is a Harrison Ford fan? The actor stars in both American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and of course both are directed by the one and only George Lucas.

The story begins at RAAT headquarters where an unusually sedate and gentle looking Circuit Breaker holds a tiny Transformer brain module on the tip of her finger. By generating electrical pulses, she can stimulate movement in the deactivated body of the Autobot Skids. To her this is research, but to Donny Finkleberg it looks like she’s dissecting his erstwhile partner and he’s starting to regret selling out Skids for $50,000. He protests that Skids looks in pain, but Circuit Breaker snaps that this is a machine not a person. Poor Skids is not the only RAAT captive – the hanger wall is adorned with the face plates of twelve other Autobot hunting trophies which includes the Aerialbots and the Cybertron seven. Donny realises that their captivity is leaving the Decepticons with even greater freedom to do what they want on Earth… and he helped – great! We’re starting to see the redemption of Donny at this point.

Over at the Decepticon coal mine base in Eastern Wyoming, one of the themes of the year is starting to emerge: that of Megatron’s mental instability. He is seated on a throne made of the cab of a truck and greeting his latest recruits from Cybertron, the two Battlechargers. They have been summonsed across the galaxy via the Space Bridge for the purpose of taking a challenge to Optimus Prime. When Soundwave helpfully suggests a simple phone call, he is bashed in the face by his boss using a car exhaust! Having seen how Megatron deals with insubordination, neither Runabout nor Runamuck are inclined to argue and promptly roll out. When you consider that Soundwave has been a stand-in leader and very loyally stuck by Megatron against Shockwave, it really is a very poor way to treat him and perhaps a sign of Megatron losing his grip.

Once on the open highway the Battlechargers voice their displeasure at working for this bully. They decide to blow off this rather ridiculous mission and have a good time on their new world. Given that Megatron will probably tear them limb from limb for disobeying him this is either very brave or stupid. It speaks to the childish, fun-seeking natures of the pair.

With no plan of action, they pull up at a service station to look for a bit of inspiration. A typical American nuclear family is taking a break on their cross-country road trip vacation. While the mother wipes a young girl’s face (the daughter, Leah has been eating chocolate coated sushi which sounds positively vile) and her badly behaved older sibling Noah has a bad habit of scrawling graffiti wherever he goes, earning him a severe telling-off from his father. The Battlechargers rather like this defiant little fellow and decide to follow the family. (Re-reading now I’ve noticed that young Noah has a Spider-Man face on the front AND the back of his t-shirt which is a bit odd!)

Three days later at RAAT headquarters, Triple I agent Walter Barnett draws Circuit Breaker’s attention to news reports about weird markings that are appearing on several US landmarks. First it was a Football stadium in Wyoming, then Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and finally the Gateway arch in St. Louis. Barnett thinks they have been left by Transformers and Circuit Breaker is to investigate. Donny suggests that Skids could help but Circuit Breaker is not amused – no human can trust a robot, she says ironically!

In Washington D.C. the next morning, Noah Acton and his family are visiting the Washington Monument. Two cars across the grass and transform into Runabout and Runamuck, now armed with a barrel of spray paint (one wonders how they came by these). Unusually for a couple of land-based vehicles, they possess the ability to fly while in robot mode and soar to the top of monument and spray graffiti, taking delight in the comedic phrase the other is daubing. Since the human crowds are unable to decipher Transformers writing (or the comic’s readers for that matter) nobody is any the wiser what they are writing. However, I like that they make a point of adding punctuation.

Circuit Breaker arrives on the scene along with Barnett and Donny. They are introduced to the Acton family and learn of the strange co-incidence, that the graffiti attacks seem to follow them. Circuit Breaker tells them to travel as normal and her troops will lay in wait at the next stop, Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The Decepticon vandals propel themselves airborne towards the monument, where a squadron of RAAT aerial assault craft swarm around them. The Decepticons are unphased and rain debris on to the innocent bystanders below. RAAT stage a swift withdrawal, but Circuit Breaker refuses to back-off and attacks the robots. Noah is almost hit by falling concrete until Circuit Breaker moves and gets knocked her to the ground. Runabout and Runamuck decide to find safer targets and transform and blend into the traffic.

Circuit Breaker is seen by a doctor and confined to RAAT headquarters, which is incredibly frustrating for her knowing that there is a robot menace on the loose. Donny suggests that if she really wants to stop the Battlechargers she must make use of the ‘help’ around her – namely the deactivated Autobots!  Circuit Breaker is adamant they cannot be trusted but starts to succumb to the idea of fashioning them together in a robot body she could interface with and control. And so, the next day as RAAT commandos take up positions inside the Statue of Liberty, Circuit Breaker and Donny make their way towards the island on commandeered trawler. She’s connected herself to the torso of a bizarre amalgam of Transformer parts and rockets towards the statue.

Runabout and Runamuck unleash their latest bit of graffiti this time in English! It’s unclear how they’ve downloaded the lingo but its an exciting development for the pair as now they are finally able to wind-up the ‘fleshlings’. They deface the noble statue with the words ‘Humans are Wimps!’ before coming under attack by Circuit Breaker’s robotic monstrosity.

The conglomerated creature disintegrates Runamuck’s shoulder mounting and when the Decepticon retaliates with a blast of his own, the amalgam’s giant hand moves to protect Circuit Breaker of its own free will! At last a glimmer of hope that she might finally be seeing the light and recognising that the Autobots are the good guys. Runabout severs the Statue of Liberty torch which threatens to land on the ferry below. Circuit Breaker detaches the hand from her robotic host which catches the torch. She and her ally then emit a blast of full power to frazzle the Battlechargers and their smoking wrecks are last seen plunging into New York harbour!

They’ll certainly be gone a while… Bob Budiansky never brought the duo back in the rest of his tenure (they were literally one issue wonders) but his successor as US writer, Simon Furman, would recover them as part of Shockwave’s group during the Decepticon civil war of 1991.

The story ends with Walter Barnett discovering the hanger empty of the thirteen captive Transformers and firing Circuit Breaker and Donny. Circuit Breaker confesses that she had no choice in order to get their co-operation. The Aerialbots weren’t in there so they were presumably allowed to go free. This issue holds out the hope that Circuit Breaker has mended her attitude towards the Autobots, and we won’t see her for a long while, but when we do, she is still busting away without too much thought for good or bad.

Donny bows out from the franchise. As a support character he’s had a good run, but now he returns home thinking about spending his big pay cheque. He sees a TV news item about the Statue of Liberty and in a fit of conscience writes out a $50,000 cheque to the statue repair fund.

Years later Bob Budiansky would cite this story as one of his favourites (he obviously had a lot of fun writing it) and he even got a fan-mail letter about it from the great Stan Lee! That’s praise indeed.

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“Victory!”

In their dream state the comatose Dinobots battle their enemies and experience victory and defeat… can they wake up before it’s too late?

In the 1986 Transformers Annual there is one story that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the aptly named Victory. It is a coda to one of the biggest story triumphs of the year, that timeless classic Dinobot Hunt. And it is more accurately five mini tales in one as the each Dinobot in turn battles with the demons of their own minds in their own vignette.

Simon Furman at the height of his powers in this story and he’s assisted by a superb creative team: the great Geoff Senior on art duties – his dynamic style bringing each page to life; and regular hands Annie Halfacree on lettering and Gina Hart doing the colours (she captures the yellow tinge which the Megatron toy displays over time, which is a nice touch – though let’s not mention the panel where Starscream is part yellow) and Sheila Cranna as editor bows out from Transformers on a high note with this story.

From the first panel the reader is hooked… “he thinks I’m dead” says Grimlock. “His mistake”. How can you not read on to find out what has happened and what happens next? Grimlock is our narrator – he’s a Furman favourite and its evident in these four pages how well Simon knows this character he’s done so much to build.

The scene is one of devastation, of an Earth city in ruins. A bomb had taken out several of the Autobots including Optimus Prime. The sight of Prime “out of the fight permanently” is jarring and because main characters rarely die it’s a big hint early on that things are not what they seem. The next clue is writ large – it’s Grimlock armed with his Energo Sword and slicing Megatron down the middle! It’s an instantly iconic moment.

Grimlock screams his triumph to the Decepticons! This is pure Grimlock fantasy. He’s the powerful one and he alone among the Autobots can turn the course of the war. In reality of course, the last two times Grimlock has gone toe to toe with Megatron (in Repeat Performance and In the National Interest) he’s taken a pasting. His jealousy towards Optimus Prime which is at the root of his dislike for the Autobot leader and grudging respect is present alongside Grimock’s arrogance – Prime “was good but I’m the best”, he says.

As Grimlock transforming to T-Rex mode and takes full advantage of the Decepticons’ shock and disarray, Starscream still has the wherewithal to see the opportunity in the situation. With Megatron dead the path to leadership is finally open to him. He straps his former leader’s fusion cannon onto his own arm, and fakes being hurt, luring Grimlock closer and then at close range Starscream whips out the fusion cannon and blows a massive hole in Grimlock’s chest. He slips into darkness and voices…

Next it is Swoop’s turn to dream. He has Soundwave in his talons and parades his capture in front of the Autobots and Decepticons. Optimus Prime orders Swoop to release the prisoner but his age-old animosity towards Optimus won’t allow him to obey the request. His mistake is fatal, as Soundwave self-destructs to end his humiliation. Swoop is engulfed in a ball of flame.

Again, the voices continue… it is the outside world intruding on the dream.

Sludge charges through the jungle scape, he’s in Brontosaurus mode and in his element. He encounters Joy Meadows, the ‘shining’ human who nursed him through his illness, she’s come back to him. Joy hugs Sludge before ripping off her face to reveal a horrific robotic skeleton! Truly this is the stuff of nightmares and I reckon there’ll have been a few kids who got pretty freaked out at this point. Android Joy unleashes beams from her eyes that take down Sludge. The last thing he sees before the darkness is Megatron holding a remote control.

Snarl faces up to a bogeyman from his own past – the rogue battle droid Guardian. This time the other Autobots have fallen and only he can save the day. With a mighty whip of his tail, he beheads Guardian and pauses to savour the victory. He foolishly lets his guard down just long enough for the headless Guardian to get to his feet and pummel poor Snarl into unconsciousness!

Finally, Slag relives the confrontation with Shockwave at the Savage Land million years ago. In this version he runs the Decepticon, off a cliff, but in doing so lands in the swamp and is swallowed up by the darkness…

And back in the present, Optimus and Chief Medical Officer Ratchet survey the deactivated Dinobots in the Ark’s repair bay. The damage to their minds has been repaired but they remain comatose. Something is preventing the Dinobots from making the final leap and returning to consciousness. Prime orders Ratchet to make sure they survive – he needs the Dinobots in their fight against the Decepticons. As Prime departs, Ratchet surmises that his monstrous patients will need to take that final step themselves. And in their dream state the Dinobots go to war once more… they will have either victory or death.

Why can’t the Dinobots wake up? Could it be that for all their bravado and arrogance they are masking an insecurity and they don’t believe they can be winners? Perhaps this explains why in each dream they come close to victory, but their mind can’t quite accept it and throws a spanner in works. As we know they did wake eventually, in Second Generation (issue 65).

In summary, the story is undiminished nearly 35 years after it first appeared. It’s among Furman’s best works, perhaps because he’s writing about the Dinobots and Grimlock who he clearly has a lot of affection for, but also because it the pages are exploding with action. The device of dreams allows for stories where the usual limits don’t need to apply. Who could fail to be blown away by sight of Grimlock slicing Megatron in two, or Starscream exploding the Dinobot’s at close range? Grimlock’s sequence is the most attention grabbing, but the other Dinos meet their end in imaginative ways too.

And so we reach the end of 1986, a very fine year for the Transformers comic and enter 1987 full of excitement and expectation… and there’s lots more to come.

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