Totalled

The long awaited grudge match between Blaster and Grimlock takes place, with the leadership of the Autobots in the balance, as the Decepticons prepare an ambush

There are a few things you should never do to your loyal fanbase and one of them is keep them waiting too long for a conclusion.

In Transformers #144, published in the UK at Christmas 1987, the fugitive Blaster surrendered to his increasingly despotic commander Grimlock, to spare the lives of Sky-Lynx and the Space Hiker children. It was the sort of courageous, self-sacrificing act that we’d come to expect from this big-hearted fan favourite (a red shouldered robot in the Optimus Prime mould if ever there was one).

Readers were desperate for answers to their questions: How would Grimlock exact his revenge? Might the Autobots find a spine and rise-up against his tyranny at long last? Could Blaster be installed as Autobot Commander in Grimlock’s place (something I doubt this reader was alone in wanting to see).

Instead, we had to wait seven long months – until well into the summer of 1988 – for the continuation. The delay was made bearable by some great stories along the way like Legacy of Unicron, Trial by Fire, City of Fear, etc, but even so.

That long awaited sequel, Totalled, by Bob Budiansky was finally published in the pages of UK Transformers #174 and 175. Is it worth the wait? You betcha!

Not only do we get Blaster and Grimlock settling their differences mano-a-mano, but the crew of the Steelhaven are in the mix, the old guard meeting the new for the first time, and a massive ensemble cast on – of all places the Moon – including original characters we haven’t seen in a long while.

The scenes of the Steelhaven and Ark crews strolling onto the lunar surface are a visual representation of how the sheer number of characters, and therefore the commercial success of Transformers by this point in the run (mid 1988) which was still the highpoint for the franchise.

Budiansky’s Grimlock, reintroduced after a several months’ hiatus, is still a massive ass and lacking the depths or intelligence that Simon Furman imbues his version with. The Dinobots of the US comics appear to be modelled on the Sunbow cartoons, which to be fare were probably better known by many of the readers – outside of the diehard collectors that is.

The cover for #174 contrasts the old and new. Grimlock’s representing the originals, meets his first Headmaster, and on learning that a human (Spike Witwicky) controls Fortress Maximus, exclaims that it’s a “revoltin’ development!”. Perhaps there are a few purists who may agree with the sentiment to a greater or lesser extent.

The story title, Totalled, suggests something or something is about to be destroyed; I’m not clear what, but I think it probably refers to the devastating Decepticon attack against the Autobot forces, who are caught unawares, or perhaps it’s a reference to Optimus Prime getting blown to bits (again) on the opening page.

Jose Delbo does a good homage to the Don Perlin’s iconic exploding Prime from the 1987 shocker Afterdeath. This time though, it’s not the real Optimus being exploded but a new body built for him by Brainstorm and Highbrow. Either the pair are extremely negligent in their wiring, or somehow attempting to transfer the consciousness of Optimus Prime from a floppy disk has caused a catastrophic feedback loop. The problem is unclear; however, it makes for an attention-grabbing opening page and provides the catalyst for Steelhaven to seek out the Ark; put simply they’ve run out of resources to rebuild the former Autobot leader and they need help.

It’s worth noting Goldbug’s discomfort as he’s told the ‘good news’ that they’ve located the Ark space cruising nearby and are on course to meet them. Whilst Goldbug has fitted in nicely with his new shipmates, he hasn’t entrusted them enough to explain that he and Blaster were deserters from Grimlock’s army. Perhaps he fears that this would be seen as a major black mark.

Aboard the Ark, we are reminded why Grimlock is so loathsome. He’s in his dinosaur mode lounging on a throne, being fed oil, and still wearing that stupid crown (a symbol of hubris if ever there was). Ratchet pleads with Grimlock to return the Ark to Earth where humanity will be at the mercy of the Decepticons. Considering their back-history and the Dinobots would still be in a tar swamp if not for the medic, there is no quarter given.

When Snarl informs Grimlock of the contact from Steelhaven, Grimlock immediately reacts like a territorial animal in the presence of a rival. He will see them, but if there is any suggestion of who’s in charge, it’s going to be him!

Given Grimlock’s paranoia it’s no surprise the meeting does not go well. The towering figure of Fortress Maximus ought to cut an imposing figure, but Grimlock is not impressed, particularly at the suggestion the two crews could work together to rebuild Optimus Prime. Labelling Prime “a peace-loving coward,” and assaulting poor Doc Ratchet for good measure (not for the first time in fact, see the 1985 classic The Wrath of Grimlock) and dismissing humans as “worthless”, Grimlock is horrified when Fortress Maximus’ heads transforms to Cerebros and then to Spike Witwicky. Things have moved on and Grimlock has been left feeling like, well, a dinosaur!

The discovery that the fugitive Goldbug is being harboured aboard the Steelhaven is the final straw and Grimlock challenges Fort Max to a duel to determine who should lead. Max ought to be able to take Grimlock given he two to three times larger, but we’re told he’s still recovering from the injuries he sustained in his assault against the Decepticon base (in The Desert Island of Space). You might wonder why Max, as a robot, is not immediately recovered once his parts are repaired or replaced – much as F1 car, speeds out the pits with a new nose – this is not a human body that takes time to recover. Nevertheless, the threat is that Max will lose unless somebody fights for him…

Goldbug, having surrendered in a futile attempt to bring about harmony between the two Autobot crews, is unceremoniously dumped in the brig where he finds his old buddy Blaster attached to a torture device. If the seven months interim between Space Hikers and now has been tough on the fans, it’s been worse for Blaster, hooked up to the VVH and he’s now reduced to wallowing in self-pity.

Blaster gives a useful recap on what happened to him since he parted company with Goldbug, including that the Autobots had begged him to save them from Grimlock. However, since surrendering to protect his human friends, nobody intervened to prevent him being treated as a prisoner; the status quo of Grimlock’s rule continues. Goldbug suggests that Blaster could fight in Max’s place, and take his revenge on Grimlock, and so the stage is set.

Every great gladiatorial match needs a suitable arena and Bob’s fertile mind has dreamed up the perfect location – a large Moon crater. The stakes of a duel have not been so high since Prime fought a power enhanced Megatron in the cartoon classic Heavy Metal Wars. Meanwhile, Ratbat’s Decepticons (including Soundwave drawn with a mouth in place of his usual plate – argh) are poised to launch a surprise attack on the unsuspecting Autobots. How wonderfully “energy efficient” as Ratbat puts it, once a bean counter always a bean counter.

I’m reminded of a pub fight where one fighter asks a pal to hold their coat; in this case Grimlock hands his crown to Snarl, promising that it will be a quick battle. Blaster meanwhile has been reunited with his beloved Electro Scrambler gun – there’s probably nobody outside of the Dinobots who is rooting for a Grimlock win.

Omega Supreme (who seems smaller every time we see him) is referee. Let’s not forget he was originally a towering giant who bested Megatron and several of his henchmen and is now reduced to taking orders from Grimlock the tyrant. Strange. However, part one concludes in epic style with the battle getting underway and the Decepticons waiting in the wings. Fantastic stuff.

On the Transformations page for UK #174 there’s a reference to ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ – an awesome new sci-fi comic from Furman and Senior for Marvel UK set on Earth of 8162. There’s been quite a bit of build-up and now suddenly we’re told that the title has been renamed ‘Dragon’s Claws’ due to a licensing matter (a bit of googling reveals that Marvel discovered the title was already in use elsewhere – I’ve no idea how many copies of Dragons Teeth #1 had been printed or whether they were pulped). The Claws turned out to be a fun ride, with a cameo from our very own Death’s Head to boot, and one I’ll hopefully get around to reviewing in time.

The return of Sunstreaker warrants a mention as a selling point for the issue. In Streaker’s case he’s been inoperative since The Last Stand in UK #8 and last seen on Ratchet’s operating table in the Constructicon debut story, three years earlier. Now, finally he’s back in the land of the living, along with Prowl, Cliffjumper and others.

In part two, the battle begins in earnest. Grimlock, sword drawn, immediately advances with a huge slice, while Blaster displays incredible agility by ducking and diving, and disorientating Grimlock with an Electro Scrambler blast, before booting him away. Grimlock transforms into T-Rex-mode as he lands and latches his jaws on Blaster’s arm. The assembled Autobots watch in horror. Beachcomber, ever the pacifist bemoans all the violence.

Then, right on cue, the Decepticon rocket base arrives in low orbit and blasts the Autobot spectators. The advantage secured, Ratbat orders Onslaught to the troops outside and to engage the remaining Autobots in hand-to-hand combat.

During what must be described as a spectacular lunar battle (a Transformers fanboy’s dream) in which Soundwave even (near) recites his tech-specs motto of cries and screams being music to his ears, the Constructicons perform a raid on the Ark and recover the neatly packed and stored bodies of the Decepticons put out of commission by Omega Supreme in his 1986 debut story Command Performances.

Ratbat watches the carnage unfold with growing delight, while we’re reminded that Buster Witwicky is still their prisoner and indulged with a ringside seat.

During the battle, Fortress Maximus makes a strategic and fateful decision to dispatch Goldbug back to Steelhaven and order its skeleton crew of Slapdash, Joyride and Getaway (a trio we’re now familiar as Autobot ‘Powermasters’ from the latest Hasbro toy adverts) to depart immediately with the Optimus Prime disk.

All of this seems to have miraculously escaped the attention of Grimlock and Blaster (a situation parodied on the cover of UK #175) while the battle on the Moon’s dark side. Finally, explosions catch Blaster’s attention. He suggests a truce while they investigate. Grimlock on seeing Steelhaven blasting away, suspects treachery from Fort Max (or ‘Fullstrength Motleypuss’ as he nicknames him – in fact Grimlock has a few amusing names for Max this story) but Blaster convinces him that a full scale Decepticon attack is clearly underway and what’s more is their fault for causing the distraction that gave the enemy its opportunity.

Grimlock, rather uncharacteristically offers Blaster a draw, which is gratefully accepted, and the pair fight side by side and begin to turn the tide of battle. This is all fantastic punch the air stuff of course, but difficult to believe that two Autobots, even ones as powerful as Grimlock and Blaster can make all the difference.

Even more unlikely, is that the duo can disable the Decepticon ship with an Scrambler blast and well-placed impact from Grimlock’s sword. The ship begins to shake violently due to circuit overload and Ratbat orders a swift retreat.

There are some tough lessons to learn and clearly the two Autobot crews will need to work together to restore their injured and rebuild their ships. Grimlock requests the help of Max in this endeavour, only to be told that Steelhaven has set a course for Nebulos: the one place in the universe where they can reconstruct the great leader, they now need more than ever – Optimus Prime.

Some points in closing, 1) the lunar battle seems on the face of it like a desperate mismatch in the Autobots favour, as we not only have the full count of regular Autobots but the super-enhanced Pretenders/Head/Target Masters, Fortress Maximus himself and Omega Supreme, versus the regular compliment of the erstwhile Earth-bound Decepticons. Their surprise attack using the firepower of their base for the opening salvo was a tactical masterstroke.

2) Some minor editing was required for the UK version of the story. As the Constructicons retrieve the Decepticon POWs, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Frenzy have already been freed during Target 2006, while Skywarp was blown to bits in the same story, so for the UK edition the names on the caskets have been altered to Buzzsaw and Rumble, the only two left unaccounted for. That’s a lot of trouble to go to for just two minor Decepticon warriors, you might think.

3) The story draws a line under the entertaining Blaster and Goldbug deserters story arc, and the disastrous first phase of Grimlock leadership (he will of course get another chance in 1991 following another of Prime’s demises).

4) Many fans struggle to reconcile why the Autobots are so timid in standing up against Grimlock’s tyranny; even in the face of his abandoning of the Earth and torture of Blaster, they do nothing. One theory is that the Autobots are an incredibly honourable race, and obliged to obey the recognised Autobot leader, which may explain why Blaster and Goldbug’s desertion was so frowned upon.

5) While it’s nice to see so many original characters reappear, there are a couple of errors. Skids is pencilled in the background, when in fact he’s meant to be in Limbo dimension, having been displaced there by Galvatron (though not in the US continuity of course) and in Blaster’s flashback, an Autobot that looks suspiciously like Override is among the Ark crew; when he should of course be on Steelhaven. Given the sheer number of characters in this story its to be expected that there will be some mistakes, and ultimately forgivable… though Soundwave drawn with a mouth does stretch my tolerance.

Overall, Totalled is a fantastic standout story in the Marvel Transformers original run, and one I always enjoy coming back to. It sets the scene nicely for the big event of 1988, the return of Optimus Prime.

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Space Hikers!

The Autobots inadvertently capture a group of human children in their pursuit of the renegade Blaster – will Grimlock really use kids as leverage in his personal battle? And Sky Lynx makes his comics debut.

Blaster was my favourite character in the Marvel comics and so having him centre stage – and in demand for the Autobot leadership no less – is very welcome. However, at the close of Used Autobots, with the Protectobots placing Blaster under arrest for desertion, I was eager to get straight to the inevitable confrontation with Grimlock. Instead Child’s Play seemed to drag things out with a largely unnecessary confrontation between the Protectobots and Combaticons (probably to address the lack of Defensor and Bruticus in the previous story) and to put the four human children in the mix.

In Space Hikers the youngsters’ purpose to the plot is clear. It’s to provide a catalyst for Blaster to surrender rather than whip up a revolution (not to difficult given how fed up the Autobots are with Grimlock at this point) and thus postpone his inevitable showdown with the tyrannical Autobot leader for an incredible 30 more issues! Crikey.

I might sound like a boring parent here, but the idea of taking four little kids into space in a captured Decepticon of all things – with their families completely unaware, and without thought for the massive risks you are exposing them too seemed incredibly unwise. Yes, Blast Off was mode-locked, but just as Blaster remained conscious and was thinking of ways to thwart his captors, surely Blast Off would have been expected to do similar. He might have turned off the air supply for example. Another thought: at the point of his arrest Blaster was keen to get after RAAT and recover the Throttlebots. I’m surprised this was no longer a priority once he was freed. Or perhaps he realised the trail would have gone cold and so the next best thing is to return to the Autobots and force a change of leader.

Childs Play ended with the kids and Blaster, in orbit with the Ark bearing down on them. For Space Hikers (published in the UK in mid December 1987) writer Bob Budiansky rewinds the clocks a few hours and makes another toy introduction – the space shuttle/bird/big cat Autobot Sky Lynx. After millions of years of scrapping with Decepticons on the Transformers home world, Sky Lynx was looking for a change and so when Wheeljack asked for his assistance in the Grimlock situation he was only too willing.

Meanwhile, Wheeljack is piloting the Ark after Blast Off. They are using the mode lock’s signal as a homing beacon and Grimlock cites the Decepticon warrior Blast Off as further evidence of Blaster’s treachery. Even Wheeljack is puzzled by this and questioning his admiration for Blaster. The four kids had been having the time of their lives but with the Ark bearing down and likely to shoot them out of the sky, Blaster decides his own recourse is to surrender. Sammy decides instead to throws Blaster out of the airlock – he saved them and now the Space Hikers can return the favour.

A huge claw reaches out from below the Ark (while theatrical I can’t help thinking about the unnecessary storage space this must be taking and surely a tractor beam is more efficient) and swallows the tiny craft. Inside, the Autobots with weapons drawn have Blast Off surrounded. The four children emerge, and Wheeljack convinces the Dinobots that they don’t present any danger…

I’m not sure if the Alzamora family of New Jersey have any significance to the production team or are simply made up, but in two panels we see their TV viewing suddenly disrupted as Blaster commandeers a satellite and uses its stabilising rockets to propel himself to the Ark. Wheeljack leads the four nervous children on a tour, getting them to stand in a chamber where space suits materialise around them (and not forgetting Robin’s teddy either, lol). The suits carry two hours of air, which is significant to the plot later.

Suddenly Slag interrupts – commander Grimlock wants the see the “slime squirts” now! And despite Wheeljack’s reassurances that the commander probably only wants to meet them, they arrive to find a court in session with the crown-wearing King Grimlock presiding. This is truly ridiculous given that the children have every reason to be ignorant of Autobot affairs. Any help they have given Blaster is inconsequential you would think.

Instead, Grimlock orders them to be thrown out of the airlock – in effect executed. The faces of the other Autobots is of utter horror, but WHY DON’T THEY SAY SOMETHING? Grimlock may be a tyrant but the rest are a bunch of wimps!! Snarl questions whether this is a wise move given the other Autobots strong sympathies for humans but Grimlock only intends to use the children to draw Blaster out. Frankly, its incredible at this point that the Autobots are so cowered that they are prepared to stand idly by and allow they sacred principles to be violated.

Wheeljack, having earlier already been throttled by Grimlock, suspects his loyalties are being questioned but throws caution to the wind by calling Sky Lynx and having him swoop down and rescue the Space Hikers as they drift into space. Grimlock orders his warriors back inside to pursue this new arrival. Blaster finally gets within reach of the Ark, only for its huge engines to seemingly flame-grill the Autobot before he can grab a hold. By rights Blaster should be obliterated here or at least propelled to the other side of space by such force! He’s not.

Sky Lynx introduces himself to his passengers and – with the Ark gaining on him – he travels into a meteor shower and reverts to Lynx mode to hop between rocks as the Dinobots exit the Ark and pursue.

Blaster makes a nice reference to not feeling this bad since he swam in the smelting pools of Polyhex (an encounter we fans remember all to well – a great story). He gets into the Ark through a hatch and is warmly greeted by his fellow Autobots. After explaining that he hadn’t teamed-up with Blast-Off, the Decepticon was mode-locked and under control, the Autobots including Prime’s old number two Prowl want him to stay and take charge. As a Blaster fan this idea appealed to me greatly at the time also! But true to his character, Blaster has to put his the four young charges first.

When Sky Lynx radios in to say that the Dinobots have surrounded him and are playing a waiting game its clear that the kids will run out of air unless something is done. Jetfire offers to lead a strike against the Dinobots but Blaster refuses – that might endanger Sky Lynx and the humans. There is only one way to ensure their safety… Blaster goes outside and surrenders! Darn it!

So what happens to Blaster after this shock ending? Readers were not destined to find out until issue #174, well over four months away! The US material seems to drop this whole storyline to concentrate on the Headmasters’ arrival on Earth. We’ll shortly be heading back to the future for one of the most momentous stories of the run, which will take the UK comic up to and past its milestone 150th issue… But first it’s time for a change of pace and the annual tradition that was the Transformers Christmas edition.

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King of the Hill!

Grimlock stakes his claim for the vacant leadership of the Autobots just as the monstrous Trypticon arrives from Cybertron intent on making sure there’s nobody left alive to lead!

May 1987. In Britain a general election campaign is getting underway (which would result in a third term for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party) and this is referenced in the Transformation page of issue #111 as being of secondary importance to another big contest underway – who should govern the Autobots as the successor the late Optimus Prime! Lee Sullivan’s fantastic cover makes it clear that Grimlock is making an aggressive play for the top job. The big shake-up of the Transformers status quo initiated by writer Bob Budiansky through his decision to kill of both Prime and Megatron nears its conclusion but not before we marvel at the debut of the biggest, baddest robotic dinosaur of all… the unstoppable Trypticon!

As is also typical for a Budiansky Transformers story there is a human support character. In the case of ‘King of the Hill’ that role is filled by a young palaeontology student named Rachel Becker. The story opens with Rachel up in the wooded mountains in Oregon showing her professor and his assistant an “exciting find” – fresh dinosaur footprints! It could be a stegasaurus or triceratops she claims, but Professor Paaswell knows better. He points out the even lines suggesting the prints were mechanically carved and therefore an elaborate hoax. Rachel is disheartened but the group’s attention is attracted to a pterodactyl soaring in the sky above them. They decide to stick around and pitch their tents.

That prehistoric bird is of course the Dinobot Swoop. He’s on a mission to procure a fuel source for his comrades and finds his target in the form of a petrol tanker parked at a diner 158 miles south east. It’s odd that Swoop can’t find anything more local but perhaps he simply enjoys a chance to stretch his wings and get away from the other Dinobots for a bit. He steals the drum clean off the tanker vehicle and makes off with it (as a waitress in the diner overfills a coffee cup while watching in shock!). Soon the Dinobots are feasting in the manner of a pack of hungry lions. Curiously, when the Transformers first arrived they were unable to ingest Earth fossil fuels but that’s no longer a problem it seems. Possibly the Dinobots have been modified following the agreement between G.B. Blackrock and the Autobots for him to provide them with free fuel?

We learn that Grimlock and his team have a certain disdain for humanity that is at sharp odds with that of their fellow Autobots. There’s also an arrogant belief in their own strength and superiority over humanity and the other Autobots. Word has reached them that a successor to Optimus Prime is to be chosen and Grimlock intends to claim the empty throne. The Dinobots’ self-imposed exile (since they walked out in the prologue to Target: 2006) will shortly be ended. Their bellies filled, their hunger now is for power.

A quick check in with the Decepticons reveals that the small Florida Keys island they commandeered in Gone But Not Forgotten is now a top cover for a massive underwater base. This is impressive progress considering that the enemy forces won’t have been there much more than a month by this point. I wondered whether the Constructicons could have been sent ahead? But I’m not so sure, as the hydrothermacline technology is the reason for the base’s location and the Decepticons only acquired that fairly recently (in Afterdeath!).

Inside the base, Shockwave again commands but the change of regime has done nothing to reassure their bottom-line-obsessed fuel auditor Ratbat – who is stationed on Cybertron and now appears on screen. Ratbat is convinced that the Earth-bound operation is costing more in fuel than it brings in and they will have to pull the plug. Shockwave pins the blame for their inefficiency on the flawed leadership of his predecessor Megatron and persuades Ratbat to give them one more chance, by sending the mightiest Decepticon available for an assault on the Ark. If they can capture the Autobot headquarters they will have access to abundant resources.

At the Ark, Perceptor has convened a meeting of the senior Autobots to discuss the appointment of Optimus Prime’s successor. Jetfire, who endured a disastrous spell of temporary command during Prime’s disappearance is present, Blaster, Ratchet, Omega Supreme (now about a fifth he was on his debut) and the Special Teams leaders Silverbolt and Hotspot. Interestingly, Prowl is absent. As Prime’s deputy I would expect to see him there as a frontrunner, particularly as we know he’s now operational against (see Funeral For a Friend). As for Perceptor himself, for someone who very recently arrived from Cybertron, he’s in a very senior role. I put this down to the years (perhaps millennia?) that he commanded a resistance unit on Cybertron. That has to count for a lot. Perceptor praises the qualities of the great Optimus: strength, wisdom, leadership, compassion and generosity.

These are attributes that are mostly lacking in the oafish Grimlock, who blunders in swings his energo sword through a hologram of Prime. He declares that strength is all that matters and as the strongest Autobot he should lead. Where Prime avoided conflict in order to spare humanity the fallout, Grimlock has no such qualms. Everyone is horrified and the Dinobot commander stomps off in a huff.

Part one finishes where it began, with Rachel Becker. She awakened in her tent by a blinding light outside. She goes to investigate and witnesses the manifestation of the Space Bridge and a gigantic and imposing war machine travelling across it – the ‘unspeakable terror’ that is Trypticon! Fans cheer. Rachel screams!

As an interesting footnote to the story, this will be the first time US readers will have seen the Dinobots in a major way since their debut two years ago (save from a cameo in Command Performances). The lack of character development Stateside means that Grimlock is now portrayed as the ‘dumb dino’ with speech difficulties just as he is in the now well-established Sunbow cartoons. Trouble is that this portrayal is at odds with the UK continuity where he’s talked normally up until now. UK writer Simon Furman would have to move his Grimlock closer to the Budiansky portrayal after this. The Grim Grams page carries a letter from a reader in the USA who has discovered the UK comic and is enquiring about Target: 2006, showing again the growing global reach of the comic.

Part 2 – issue #112 – kicks off with the fabulous ‘Dinosaur war’ cover by Herbe Trimpe and Tim Perkins which adorns the US version of the story. Rachel Becker flees in panic at the terrible sight of Trypticon but as her terror abates she realises that the giant dinosaur has not even noticed her. She settles down for the night to wait for morning (obviously it takes more than a close encounter with an extra-terrestrial dinosaur to put her off her sleep!).

Trypticon quickly makes his way to the Ark and reveals his impressive battlestation mode. He dispatches his servant Wipe-Out in car mode to scout the area, and fires ‘sonic scrambler’ missiles at the Ark entrance. The devices begin to disorientate the Autobots inside. Perceptor and his ‘Cybertron Seven’ comrades staggers outside to investigate and come under heavy bombardment. The Dinobots, like Rachel, are attracted by the noises and the light show and have a ringside seat for the slaughter.

While Slag, Snarl and Sludge are enjoying the show (and admiring Trypticon’s marksmanship) Grimlock seems to have come over all responsible and leaderlike and is aghast to see his would-be troops getting cut down. He steps away to resolve his inner conflict and comes face to face with Rachel, who this time holds her ground (she had previously been disappointed with herself for running from Trypticon instead of indulging her scientific curiosity). Grimlock is impressed by her courage but as he leaves, Wipe-Out sneaks up and steals Rachel as a gift to his master.

As Blaster follows Perceptor in taking a direct hit in the chest, Omega Supreme and the other Autobots emerge from the Ark and also suffer immediate disorientation. If they can’t destroy the scramblers they’ll be sitting ducks! Grimlock takes no enjoyment from the carnage. He was prepared to throw his weight around to obtain the leadership but he has no wish to see the Autobots slaughtered.

So, when Rachel is delivered to Trypticon as a snack. Grimlock leaps into action and sinks his teeth in the giant Decepticon’s head and the other Dinobots rush to his aid. Slag bathes Trypticon in fire and Snack appears to break Wipe-Out apart with a mighty flick of his tail. Swoop as usual comes off worse, taking a blast through the wings from Trypticon’s head cannon but still gets off a missile.

Trypticon’s size and raw power means he is a formidable adversary for all five Dinobots at once, but the Space Bridge suddenly appears and Ratbat commands Trypticon to retreat – he has exceeded his energy budget for this mission (either Ratbat is worried about him running out of fuel and being overcome, or he’s that anal about the budget that he won’t countenance an overspend even if Trypticon may well have emerged victorious).

While Rachel re-joins her fellow humans, the battered Autobots regroup within the Ark. They are extremely grateful for the Dinobots’ timely intervention and impressed by Grimlock’s performance on the battlefield. Jetfire tells him that he has earned the position of Autobot leader if he still wants it. Grimlock for once is humbled and respectfully declines. He had thought that being the strongest was enough, but now he realises that it takes more than that to command the Autobots, because of his selfishness many of his comrades were unnecessarily hurt.

Ratchet enters telling Grimlock that his patients (Blaster and Perceptor) wish to disagree: Grimlock has displayed courage, compassion, military skill and charisma in the battle – in short, exactly what the Autobots could hope for in a great leader. Perceptor tells the others that their search is over, and they all hail Grimlock – Leader of the Autobots!

In summary, the Autobots have a new leader but his earlier abrasive style and questionable values must still raise some serious question marks about his suitability. It appears that the Autobots, perhaps in their desperation, have acted in the heat of the moment and in the cold light of day might come to regret their choice (which of course they do). But it must also be recognised that the humble and selfless Grimlock who manifested in defence of Rachel was a worthy contender in that moment.

I rather enjoyed Trypticon’s butt-kissing sidekick Wipe-Out. It appeared that he’d been left behind when his boss fled. However, it might not be the last we see of him. On the cover to issue #169 Trypticon has a car chest plate which on the toy version is Wipe-Out.

This ends a run of US stories. Next issue it’s back to the UK team for the latest Transformers The Movie inspired time-travelling saga – Wanted: Galvatron.

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Funeral for a Friend

It’s April 1987 and in the Marvel UK Transformers comic the fall-out from the shocking death of Optimus Prime continues.

In the previous story we saw how Megatron was driven insane by the realisation that he had waited four million years to destroy his arch nemesis only for the opportunity to slip through his hands. Unable to comprehend this, Megatron eventually blew up the Space Bridge with himself on it. Is he also dead? No seasoned comic book reader would bet on it, but for now he’s out of the picture and a new era has descended on the Decepticon camp with Shockwave once again in command.

In Funeral For A Friend we get to see how the Autobots are reacting to the loss of their inspirational leader and talisman – the being who more than anyone else embodies their cause. Writer Bob Budiansky’s big reset is in full swing and will conclude with the appointment of the next Autobot leader (and a controversial successor indeed) but for now there is the gut wrenching business of saying goodbye.

The story begins in the Ark’s medical bay as chief physician Ratchet welds together the broken frame of Optimus Prime. Just to add to the enormous pressure on the surgeon’s shoulders, he’s being observed from the gallery by a couple of dozen of his colleagues, all waiting for him to restore life to the dead. No pressure then!

It’s interesting to note who is there and who isn’t – Jetfire, the Protectobots, the Aerialbots, the Cybertron seven, Omega Supreme and the new Autobots (Hoist, Grapple and co) so all of the newer characters basically. The original cast is represented only by Wheeljack and Ratchet himself which goes to show the importance of Hasbro’s latest toyline over the old characters it is phasing out, and the comic reflects this by and large. Thank goodness that Bob keeps the faith with old favourites such as Ratchet.

Skids also appears in the assembly in the US version of the story but has been airbrushed out for the UK comic (since in the UK continuity he was displaced to Limbo by the time travelling Galvatron). It’s lucky that Skids appeared at the back and was easy to erase and I find myself wondering whether this is serendipitous or Simon Furman agreed it with the US team.

We discover that Ratchet has been working non-stop to repair Optimus Prime for 238 hours – which is almost 10 days! He administers a 2,000,000 volt charge to revive their fallen leader, Frankenstein-style… but nothing. The terrible truth is that Optimus is beyond fixing.

Some hours later Omega Supreme (still large but quite a bit smaller than on his comics debut) demonstrates an array of new defences which he built into the mountainside surrounding the Ark. They are activated by a radio signal or by pulling on a power booster rod inside the base. Perceptor is pleased that the base will be secure while everyone is attending Prime’s funeral. He seems to be pretty senior within the Earthbound Autobots despite being a recent arrival. I suppose because he commanded a unit on Cybertron…

Ratchet is haunted by his failure to revive Optimus Prime and refuses to attend the send-off. We see First Aid trying to console him and I imagine it might be a big help for Ratchet to finally have a second medic to split the burden. However, First Aid is newly created and Ratchet thinks the young Protectobot is too inexperienced to understand what it’s like to lose comrades. First Aid does offer a good piece of advice though: “where there’s life there’s hope” – Ratchet must concern himself with the living.

As the convoy departs, Ratchet is alone in the Ark and with his moping. He checks on Prowl and other patients in the life support area, oddly reminiscent of a laundrette with a row washers. Each window contains a fallen Autobot and Ratchet might be able to repair them if he had replacement parts. He decides to heads to a scrap yard under the cover of darkness to see what he can salvage… quite a bit as it turns out. However, he hears human voices and is forced to revert to ambulance mode to avoid detection.

In the Transformation page for issue #109, readers are warned to expect the debut of the Transformers latest and most deadly human foe – Nestor Forbes aka The Mechanic. That’s probably overstating his abilities somewhat but as threats go he’s not insignificant. We join the Mechanic’s assistant, the car thief Juan, who is being pressured by a buyer to let him deal the boss rather than a middleman. The Mechanic steps out of the shadows – perhaps now the customer will do business properly? Suddenly the buyer pulls out a police badge and sqaud come screaming in. The Mechanic is reduced to a quivering wreck (so much for being a super villain) and flees with Juan into the waiting Ratchet. They take off with the cops in hot pursuit.

The Mechanic has a real phobia about the police. He did an eight year stretch behind bars and is terrified of going back. As he cowers in the back of Ratchet, the Autobot uses his cryogenic scalpel medical tool to ice up the road and assist their escape. He’s hoping the Mechanic is too freaked out to notice. No such luck. Pretty soon he’s got a screwdriver out and has removed the tools from Ratchet’s interior. Once back in the Mechanic’s garage HQ, Ratchet reveals his robot form and announces he’s taking his weapons back and will be leaving. While elsewhere, Omega Supreme places the body of Optimus Prime in a funeral barge and the vessel is blasted off to the stars. So long Prime!

In the second instalment, things have turned decidedly frosty for Chief Medical Officer Ratchet who has been turned into a giant snowman by a blast from his own cryogenic scalpel, now wielded by the Mechanic. Frozen to the spot, he has no choice but to stay put until he thaws. He then sets off to drive back to the Ark with the Mechanic and Juan following and hoping to score some more advanced technology.

At the funeral, Perceptor delivers the eulogy and remarks that Optimus was a beacon in this dark alien world. He’s speaking for all I suppose but its odd in that Perceptor literally only arrived at the ark seven issues previously so he’s had little or no opportunity to experience Prime’s leadership on Earth. As the Autobots begin their return to base, Ratchet is there ahead of them and transmits the radio signal to deactivates Omega’s defences. The Mechanic’s pick-up truck parks nearby and the wily criminal slips in on foot.

Once there he observes Ratchet reactivate the defences using the rod. Mechanic is feeling pretty brave now he’s in possession of weapons (and irritated at being labelled a thief) and he uses one of stolen lasers to blast a gaping hole in Ratchet’s knee. The medic crashes to the floor, leaking fuel, but the tables are about to be turned as the other Autobots appear on the monitor, having arrived outside. The Mechanic knows he is finished if they get into the Ark but he cannily switches the gun turrets back on and decides to hold on to the power booster rod, which miraculously makes even the heaviest equipment light as a feather.

As Omega Supreme and the other Autobots take heavy damage, Ratchet flees the Mechanic in ambulance mode, still leaking fuel, and retreats into his medical bay. He props himself against Prowl’s life support capsule. It looks like he may never get the chance to repair his friend… or will he. He still has a few minutes before the Mechanic finds him, so he decides to use them to install the scrap yard parts. In Prowls case that was a set of lights, however we’re supposed to believe that this was enough to revive Prowl. So much so that when the Mechanic appears and uses the rod to haul a hunk of machinery into the air intending to crush Ratchet, he’s startled by the wail of a police siren and makes a swift run for it. He joins the waiting Juan in the pick-up outside and exclaims that it was police trap. Juan thinks his boss has taken leave of his senses and not surprisingly.

Ratchet and First Aid get to work patching up the latest casualties. First Aid is pleased to see his comrade in better spirits. Ratchet has not yet put the loss of Optimus Prime behind him but he’s been too busy concerning himself with helping the living! As he speaks the funeral barge containing Optimus streaks across the sky.
In closing – poor old Ratchet. He’s been a favourite character of mine since the 1985 story arc where he was the last surviving Autobot and had to take on the Decepticons alone. This time he’s not looking too clever getting outsmarted by the latest annoying human enemy. In light of the pressure on Bob Budiansky to continually introduce new characters from the ever expanding Hasbro toy range we can be grateful that older characters like Ratchet still get to go centre stage.

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Command Performances

Omega Supreme bests Megatron and seven other Decepticons on his debut, as Optimus Prime takes the fight to the enemy by leading a full-scale assault on the Decepticon base.

Transformers US writer Bob Budiansky continues his recent run of good form with another cracker of a story, and once again it introduces a new character from the toy range – the immensely powerful Omega Supreme. As the cover to TFUS#19 proclaims “You asked for him – you got him!”. I’m not sure there was any great clamour in the UK for Omega to appear, mostly because he was not included in the truncated Hasbro toy range we had over here.

Command Performances was published in TFUK#70 and #71 in July 1986, about a month before its release in the States. Omega Supreme is talked up in the UK comic’s opener ‘Transformation’, as a “rocket and tank rolled into one giant package, making him the Autobots’ most powerful weapon”. He would certainly live up to the billing once we saw him in action. Though, as a friend of mine wryly observed back in the day, Omega Supreme suffered from “diminishing hardness”, which is to say he was unbeatable on his debut but would become more run-of-the-mill regular in subsequent appearances, culminating in his defeat by a super-powered Starscream in a much later issue.

As this one begins, every functioning Autobot is assembled outside the Ark to hear Optimus Prime unveil their newest warrior. Designed and built by Grapple to be the Ark’s last line of defence, he is Omega Supreme. There’s a reference to the previous story Rock and Roll Out where Grapple was side-lined to work on a special project for Optimus – this is it.

Prime explains that with Omega protecting the Ark, the Autobots will launch an assault on the Decepticon base in order to provoke Devastator into battle. They hope to capture his combination sequence and use it to assist in building their own combiner teams, the Aerialbots and Protectobots. Omega Supreme transforms into a huge robot that towers over a sceptical Ratchet and the others. He looks every bit the ultimate Autobot that Prowl wanted to build at the start of the year and Prime refused to sanction. To be fair Prowl was talking at the time about super soldiers to pursue an aggressive strategy of hunting down and destroying the Decepticons, while Omega’s function is defensive.

The disgruntled Dinobots, not seen in the US storyline since their debut (but recently recovered from their psychosis from the Dinobot Hunt in the UK expanded continuity), refuse to take part in the attack. In the US comic their reason is that they are fed up with being locked down in the Ark because their alt-modes are too conspicuous, and finally with some action in the offering they are pissed off to find out that the Autobots will retreat when they have secured Devastator’s codes. The UK version is less coherent, with speech bubbles doctored to have Grimlock dismissing the mission as a fool’s errand.

Prime gives the impression that this mission is a major deal and he has planned for every eventuality, including the Dinobots being difficult. Skids has his doubts about the wisdom of assaulting the no-doubt fortified Decepticon base for something they might not be able to use, in a premonition of trouble to come.

Over at the coal strip mine in Wyoming which serves as an unlikely base for the Decepticons (now under the joint leadership of Shockwave and Megatron) the Constructicons have been hard at work erecting fortifications around the rim. It’s good timing all things considered. In the US version Shockwave mentions that he ‘found and brought them back’. This begs the question of where they wandered off to. The wording is tweaked in the UK version to avoid this.

Once again, we see poor Donny Finkleberg, aka Robot Master, still wisecracking his captors but terrified that his number could be up at any minute. How he can possibly escape these giant megalomaniacs with Ravage constantly breathing down his neck?

To Shockwave, Donny is evidence of Megatron’s unfitness to command. Whereas Megatron takes a blast at the defences out of frustration at their hiding behind fortifications – Decepticons should be free to go where they please and conquer he says, illustrating the two very different leadership styles. Megatron summons Starscream and the seekers, along with Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble and Frenzy, and they go to greet their Decepticon brethren who should have arrived across the Space Bridge by now (obviously unknowing of last issue’s events).

The Autobot convoy rolls through Wyoming. They are depicted eight abreast which suggests to me a very wide road. Skids watches humans doing things like washing their cars and starts thinking how much nicer it might be to have an Earth vehicle’s life (a clue as to next issue’s plot). While daydreaming he clips a Lamborghini being driven Jake Dalrymple – a massive douche who speaks about himself in the third person, and immediate vows to get revenge on Skids (who left the scene of the accident without stopping, albeit on the orders of Optimus Prime). Jetfire causes a diversion as the Autobots smash through an army barrier to advance on the Decepticon base. Jake and his girlfriend follow and are immediate stopped by the army at gunpoint.

John Stokes’ cover of this issue depicting the Autobot attack, is then mirrored by events in the story as Prime orders his Autobots to charge the Decepticon gun turrets… with predictable results. You might think the Autobots would have spied on the Decepticon base to learn of its fortifications, rather than running blindly towards them – and what if the Decepticons were not even there, this would have been a pointless exercise?!

Megatron meanwhile discovers that the new arrivals they were expecting are not Decepticons at all – they are Autobots: Blaster and the rest of the ‘Cybertron Seven’. He’s about to order the attack, when Shockwave radios the news that the Decepticon base is under siege. Megatron realises that the Ark must be vulnerable, and they head there to capture it.

Part two, opens with Skids snared by a tentacle and a gigantic axe poised to cut him in two. Optimus frees him but takes a hit from the blade. Shockwave decides that it is time for Devastator to turn the tide of the battle. We learn that the combination sequence takes less than 30 seconds – this sounds quite slow in the heat of a battle and lends credence to the claim that the Special Teams are a technological advancement – and the giant soon appears holding a huge bolder. However, the Autobots react faster and destroy it.

Bumblebee has recorded the Constructicons’ combination sequence and with the objective secured, the Autobots retreat. Shockwave is happy to let them go, while Ravage realises that Donny Finkleberg has made a run for it. As the smoke dies down, he picks up the scent, and follows….

Megatron and the other Decepticons approach the Ark and are pleased to see just a tank and rocket booster guarding it. Their overconfidence proves their undoing. Skywarp is blown to pieces with one shot, and when the Decepticons revert to robot modes and advance, they are swiftly repelled by the intense electrical current generating from Omega’s track.

Omega Supreme transforms into his humongous robot mode – and dispatches the Decepticons one-by-one, with a series of wordy but instantly iconic phrases – “I am the guardian of the gates, the planner of your obsolescence, the number you cannot compute”. Megatron reels as his warriors are picked off and left mangled, smoking and crumpled. It is rare to see the Decepticon leader so comprehensively beaten – even his infamous Fusion Cannon has no effect on this opponent. A huge swing then takes Megatron down and he’s about to be reduced to scrap (as we learned from the full-page fact-file on Omega Supreme, he can shatter mountains and pulverise steel) – but Laserbeak swoops in and retrieves his leader. The pair disappear east.

The still satisfying results are transmitted to the Autobot convoy racing away from the Decepticon base. Skids apologises to Optimus for doubting his plan, but they are not home and dry yet. Jake Dalrymple runs out in front of Skids causing him to swerve, and Ravage seizes the opportunity to score a direct missile hit on Skids, sending him tumbling into the ravine. The Autobots cannot afford (can’t think why!) and press on.

But for this late setback Prime’s ‘command performance’ had been exemplary – Megatron’s on the other hand has not. At the Decepticon base, Shockwave is resolved to execute him for gross incompetence. A battered Megatron rises to his feet to accuse Shockwave of allowing a trap to spring up around him. The Decepticon warriors lost “mean nothing and can be replaced” (I love this line, it’s such a Decepticon thing to say – and since the advent of the Space Bridge, very true) and at least with Megatron’s actions the Autobots know that the Decepticons are ready to strike at any time. Shockwave ponders this before accepting his failure and acknowledging Megatron as the leader.

Ever since Megatron was relieved of his command and then beaten in battle by Shockwave, I always expected he would win the leadership back. However, I do have a hard time seeing how Shockwave can logically view Megatron’s approach as the better one, given that his unprepared attack ensured they took a solid beating from the Autobots and six of their warriors have ended up deactivated and put into cold storage. It’s hard to see this as anything other than abject failure.

Overall though, another solid story and very successful in toy advertisement terms, with most readers probably wanting to get Omega Supreme at the earliest opportunity after this (too bad if you lived in the UK though!). There is the first two instalments of the new back-up strip, Hercules, in which the Greek god enjoys intergalactic adventures with his robotic friend, The Recorder. It’s easily the best back-up that the UK comic would have – and a distinct improvement on Rocket Racoon which I found weird (though he’s great in the Guardians of the Galaxy films). There’s a teaser for upcoming stories (I always loved those) hinting at another Dinobot epic and the biggest, most ambitious story the comic has ever attempted. It’ll star Ultra Magnus and Galvatron and tie-in with the hotly anticipated Transformers Movie – we’ll come to know it as Target:2006. The comic feels like its going from strength to strength in this moment. Next issue – Skids versus Ravage (and Jake the douche).

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