Target:2006 Prologue

Possibly Simon Furman’s finest story for the Marvel Transformers comic – Target:2006 spans the future and the present, Cybertron and Earth, tying in with the eagerly anticipated Transformers Movie and introducing a host of new characters. It begins with a shocking departure and an arrival.

“G’day cobbers!” announces the Transformation/welcome page for issue #78 of the Marvel UK Transformers comic. It’s early September 1986 and the UK’s premier comic has just gone on sale in Australia too. Whether Aussie readers would have appreciated the cliched and slightly patronising references to ‘cobbers’ and ‘sports’, I’m not sure. Perhaps people were less sensitive then? In any case it’s a good jumping on point for readers of whatever nationality. The comic has been enjoying a fine run of form in both its US and homegrown stories of late, and Target:2006 is about as good as it gets.

I have a vague memory of walking back from my local newsagent with this issue in my eager hands. It will have been the last week of the summer holidays, just before my second year at ‘big school’ and I remember being surprised and concerned by Alister Pearson’s cover (Prime, Prowl and Ratchet engulfed in entropy) and corresponding scenes inside. It felt like the comic was delving into unfamiliar territory, which can turn out either good or bad, and I was concerned that Optimus Prime might not feature in this much-promised epic 11 issue storyline. As it happened, Prime would be absent, but this would add to the sense of desperation and drama in the Autobot camp – and certainly made things more interesting – while also creating an opening for Ultra Magnus to step in as a new leader (as he’s described in the toy ads).

Jeff Anderson, who would illustrate some of the great T:2006 moments, is on board for the prologue. It opens with Optimus barging his way through woodland, felling trees and sending squirrels scurrying for safety. Prowl orders the Autobot leader to stop and take note of the damage he is causing. Prime is instantly remorseful about losing his temper. He doesn’t do it often but in flashbacks we find out that the Dinobots had wound up the pair of them by refusing to explain the battle they had just been involved in (and lost) or the presence of a non-Transformer mechanoid (Centurion).

Grimlock is drawn quite a bit larger than Optimus, which feels like a mistake (unless Prime is stood further away). I get the impression that the Dinobots are frustrated at taking a pasting by Megatron, Soundwave and the Constructicons and are feeling a bit embarrassed. They particularly don’t like losing face in front of Optimus Prime.  It’s interesting to see the Dinobots are now a faction within a faction – fighting for the Autobot cause but on their own terms. They’ll be off goodness knows where for the next few months, resurfacing in issue #101 in time for Galvatron’s second visit.

On Cybertron – recently reintroduced to readers via the US stories The Smelting Pool and Bridge to Nowhere – Emirate Xaaron wanders through the devastated ruins of Iacon, at one time the planet’s capital city. The Autobot elder previously appeared in the 1985 annual and is making his debut in the main comic here. He activates a lift that descends him into a secret Autobot base deep underground. There are shades of Perceptor’s resistance cell and their subterranean hideout here. He is met by Skater, a green an orange robot with a blue face that now reminds me of an Andorian from Star Trek. He warns Xaaron that Impactor (another made-for-comics character) is being difficult.

When we meet Impactor, he’s just as prickly as we’ve been led to expect. On behalf of his elite squadron, the Wreckers (great name), he wants assurances that Ultra Magnus will be ready to assist them in something called Operation Volcano. We can assume that this is a major strike being planned by the resistance against Cybertron’s Decepticon rulers. There’s no sign of Magnus himself yet, which adds to his mistique.

In Polyhex, the province we were introduced to in The Smelting Pool, an Autobot suffers at the hands of Shrapnel. To save himself he offers information in exchange for sparing his life. Shrapnel agrees and learns of plans for a secret meeting of Xaaron and other Autobot resistance leaders in Iacon. Shrapnel is pleased – his superiors will reward him handsomely for the information (presumably they are more grateful than his old boss Straxus?!) – and now for the Autobot’s reward – a fatal dose of electricity!

There’s a great line from the unfortunate wretch, “Wha – ? Noo! You Promised!” and Shrapnel’s gleeful retort, “I lied!”. In recent years there’s been a blurring of the lines in Transformers, making Decepticons not altogether bad and Autobots not all good. For example, Thundercracker befriending a dog in IDW’s Optimus Prime title and the ultimate expression of that being Megatron joining the Autobots in More Than Meets the Eye/The Lost Light. As good as those characterisations are (and Megatron was written extremely well) – I’m a bit of a traditionalist in the sense that I like my Autobots to be heroic and my Decepticons to be evil. I find one-dimensional bad guys like Megatron and Straxus quite fun, and therefore Shrapnel’s ruthlessness in this moment also raises a smile – what a bastard he is! Lol.

Roadbuster, another debutant, is watching from the side lines. He’d leaked the information to the deceased robot and, though he is sickened at the sight of even a traitorous colleague dying at the hands of “scum” like Shrapnel, it means that Operation Volcano is on. Evidently a trap of some kind for the Decepticons with Xaaron providing the bait. Intriguing.

Back on Earth the Autobots gather in the Ark for a pep talk from their leader, Optimus Prime, flanked by his two lieutenants Prowl and Ratchet. He’s interrupted in mid-flow by sudden pain and becoming engulfed in antimatter. There’s a burst of light and all three are gone. The Autobots are shell shocked, and on Cybertron the Matrix Flame (described as the living embodiment of the Matrix) flickers and dies. What is the Matrix Flame and what does it do? Can it be used to give life to new Transformers like the actual Matrix? We don’t find out. Suffice to say it’s a device to ensure that the Cybertron-based Autobots are clued in that something has happened to Optimus.

On a cereal farm in Oregon the stillness is broke as three unknown Transformers materialise, provoking a sudden and violent thunderstorm. We only see a glimpse of their feet and various body parts, but any fans who know their toys (which will have been the serious readers) know this is Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge. Three humans in rain coats arrive with torches expecting to find a plane crash or worse. Instead they are confronted with three powerful Decepticons. Galvatron demands to know the year and is pleased to learn it is 1986 and within their target date. Galvatron reveals they have travelled from 20 years in the future – a future where humans and Autobot kneel before him… As it is in 2006 so shall it be in this time.

In summary, it’s an intriguing opening part that poses many questions – the whereabouts of Prime, Prowl and Ratchet (are they now in 2006 having traded places with the three Decepticons?), what will happen with Operation Volcano, and why has Galvatron travelled to present day Earth? Anticipation is building for the Transformers Movie and T:2006 will link into it in a major way we’re told. Galvatron looks a bit too close to his toy model on the splash page but is drawn better later and I’m not sure I quite realised at the time, what a significant character he would become. At this point fans had no idea of his origin as Megatron so there would be some surprises in store.

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Dinobot Hunt

One of the most eagerly anticipated Simon Furman stories of the early Marvel UK Transformers. The Dinobots have reverted to primal states – their brains addled by millions of years spent in a tar pit. It’s up to the Autobots to bring them in before they unleash havoc, but the Decepticons are determined to exploit the situation for maximum advantage.

Bob Budiansky said that one of the challenges he faced as the writer of the American Transformers comic was the constant requirement to introduce new characters. This was to ensure the comic kept pace with Hasbro’s ever-expanding toy line – but with only 12 monthly issues per year it inevitably meant that characters would be introduced and then vanish for long periods (the Constructicons for example).

The Dinobots were criminally under-used in the US comic for two years after their introduction. However, this created an opportunity for Simon Furman to utilise them in the weekly UK Transformers comic without conflicting with anything Bob was doing. So, in 1985/6 we had the Wrath of Guardian/Grimlock, Dinobot Hunt, Victory and In the National Interest.

Dinobot Hunt, published in February 1986 (with Will Simpson and Barry Kitson alternating on the art), was our first meaty Dinobot story. It follows on from The Icarus Theory which reintroduced Swoop and alerted the Autobots to the fact that the Dinobots had reverted to their baser instincts. Optimus Prime declared that their top priority was now to track down and subdue the Dinobots before human lives were lost.

Issue #47 kicks off the hunt in the Nevada Black Rock desert where three human soldiers venture into a sandstorm to investigate giant spikes protruding from the ground. These solar collectors are attached the missing Dinobot Snarl, who is submerged in the sand. One of the men uses a laser saw (standard issue for the US army in the 80s?) and tries to cut into a spike. The predicable result is that the sleeping Dinobot roars into life and attacks the humans. They are saved only by the arrival of Mirage, Brawn and Trailbreaker.

In flashback, we see Optimus Prime and Prowl briefing the hunter teams of situation and their targets – Grimlock, whose jaws that can cut an opponent in two; Snarl, whose strength increases ten-fold in sunlight; Slag, fast, ferocious and fire-breathing; and Sludge, deadly in water.

Snarl’s vision appears to be severely pixelated. Whether this is due to his condition is unclear, but if not then he really should go to Specsavers. He makes out the three enemy forms and charges, injuring Mirage before escaping into the storm. Prowl, who is coordinating via a shuttle, tracks the Dinobot heading west – where he runs into a secret military base (literally), taking out the fence and coming under heavy fire.

General Carl Thompson, commanding, finds the alarms a welcome relief from the boredom. On seeing Snarl, he realises that “only a nuclear strike” will do – this sounds incredibly like ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’, but their weapon alters molecular structure and in this case is useful for making Snarl revert to his robot mode and collapse.

Simpson does a solid job on the art, but it’s a slow start to the story. Unfortunately, neither Snarl or the hunters get up-to much and we’re missing the involvement of the Decepticons. With Laserbeak spying on the Autobots at the end though, it’s an indication that they are about to enter the fray.

Things hot up in the second part as we head to Little Wood, a “vast inland waterway” in Northern California. It’s popular with tourists apparently (despite looking like a midgie-filled swamp) and three newcomers have shown up today – trouble is they are Decepticons! We don’t see who until the end of the story, leading to speculation from my comic reading schoolfriends back in the day that it might be the Insecticons – no such luck. They bully a couple of locals to spill the beans about a monster sighting in the swamp, before blowing their home to bits. Harsh!

The Autobots have sent A-Team (no not that A-Team) of Gears, Cliffjumper and team leader Windcharger to track-down the Dinobot Sludge, who they think is in the area. In those pre-google days I imagine Furman having to pour over an atlas of North America to identify swamps and deserts that can feature in the story. Interestingly, according to Mr Google, only Black Rock Desert which is a real location.

Sludge is not far away, quietly munching on vegetation (his condition having turned him docile) and has been befriended by a TV reporter named Joy Meadows who eyes him as her ticket to the big time.

After some mirth with Gears getting pulled out of the swamp by Windcharger’s magnetic powers, the Autobots are confronted by the river police who are responding to all the local destruction caused by the Decepticons and decide these three robots are the culprits. It’s a nice opportunity for Cliffjumper to deploy his glass-gas gun (not seen for a long while) against one of the vessels.

The Autobots see blaster fire in a clearing and run towards it. They find poor Joy Meadows “dealt with” (though she’ll survive and return) and Sludge unconscious. The trio are cut down by a volley of fire, as Soundwave, Skywarp, and the Scavenger (yay!) reveal themselves. I’m genuinely excited to see Scavenger reappearing (although annoyingly drawn with a regular face instead of his distinctive ‘gas mask’ in one panel) as the Constructicons have been is conspicuous by their absence.

You have to wonder how Sludge made it as far as Northern California without being noticed by anyone. Or Grimlock all the way to Canada for that matter! The issue features a ‘Who’s Who’ flowchart about the Decepticons which also provides a reminder of previous stories.

From the muddy swamps of California, we’re off to Cowboy country for part 3. Slag, amusingly described in the blurb as “as mean a critter as you’ll ever come across” is causing havoc by trampling a ranch and gets pursued by hot-headed human Greg and his brother. I’m quite fond of this instalment, partly for the ridiculousness of cowboys lassoing Slag and for Jetfire showing up still wearing his Decepticon badge.

Soundwave, Skywarp and Scavanger arrive in Idaho to discover a buckled Decepticon insignia and evidence of a recent battle. They find Laserbeak in bad shape but still able to transform and deliver his report (interestingly he makes bird like noises while in robot/bird mode but can ‘speak’ while delivering playback. Perhaps it’s like Bumblebee in the Bay films being unable to speak and communicating through his radio).

Laserbeak had observed two “suicidal” human brothers on horseback pursuing Slag and one of them unloading a rifle on him at close range. The crude weapon only served to get his attention. D-Team, consisting of Jazz, Ironhide and the Decepticon defector Jetfire came to their rescue.

The bad attitude Jetfire gets from Ironhide over his Decepticon badge shows that things must be uncomfortable for him at the moment. Jazz alludes to there having been no time to perform the ‘Rite of Autobrand’ (giving him his badge) which rather pre-empts the upcoming US story Rock and Roll-out. Slag might be a triceratops, not a bull, but that’s close enough for Furman who has him ‘see red’ and charge at Ironhide. This allows Jetfire to swoop down, transform and wrestle the Dinobot to the ground.

Jazz gets Greg safely out of the way but pays the price with a fireball at close range. We’ve always known that Transformers have the ability to grow or shrink in transformation, but the rule also applies to their weaponry. We see Jazz remove a gun from a compartment in his mid-section, and it promptly enlarges to actual size. It’s a nice detail.

Jetfire got pierced by Slag’s horn, explaining the amputated badge that would later be found by Scavenger, and Laserbeak was rendered unconscious by being thrown into Slag’s maw by the Autobots. This turned Slag’s flame inwards and he overheated. Laserbeak proves himself amazingly durable.

His offer to take responsibility for the failure to apprehend Slag shows a certain honour among thieves, while Soundwave’s refusal to apportion blame is perhaps indicative of his respect for Laserbeak, loyalty towards one of his cassettes and good leadership skills (better to keep the troops on side). We learn that Soundwave hopes to set their captured and manacled Sludge against any other Dinobots they can find – and having lit a fuse they’ll sit back and watch the Autobot casualties mount. Soundwave may only be interim Decepticon leader, but he’s demonstrating a flair for exploiting the weaknesses of his enemy in order to make quick gains.

So, to the concluding part, which also happens to be Transformers UK’s landmark 50th edition. To mark the occasion readers are promised a clash between two frenzied Dinobots and the issue doesn’t disappoint.

The Decepticons have travelled to Doonstown in Canada where the last remaining Dinobot, Grimlock, is located. They rigged up a device in their captured Autobot shuttle (the one used by A-Team, who are manacled inside) to broadcast a signal to Sludge, keeping him in a fighting mad state, then set him against Grimlock. The result was explosive – the destruction of the town and C-Team also down. Bluestreak and Huffer are unconscious and a wounded Sideswipe was radioing Prime for reinforcements when the Dinobots rampaged through the shuttle.

The splash page shows the Dinobots fighting each other over a cliff. It actually looks like Grimlock would have no trouble biting Sludge’s head off, but they plunge down a scope and into a frozen lake, where Sludge is the stronger in water. Scavenger and Soundwave watch with satisfaction and Skywarp announces the arrival of Prime’s shuttle as well as the discovery of an oil rig nearby which they can plunder. All in all, a successful little mission.

As Ratchet recovers C-Team and Bumblebee scouts investigates how Sludge came to be there, it falls to Prime to engage the Dinobots and prevent them from getting out of the lake. His gun overheats and explodes in his hands. Luckily, he buys enough time for Prowl to arrive in a shuttle, electrify the hull and bail out as it hits the lake. The charge is enough to knock out Grimlock. However, Sludge recovers and turns his aggression towards Optimus.

Bumblebee using a piece of kit we haven’t seen before (a Portable Energy Tracer – PET) locates their missing shuttle, finding it cloaked. This wouldn’t be the first time Furman would use a Star Trek concept. He drags Windcharger and co. to safety before triggering Scavenger’s booby-trap and exploding the shuttle. This immediately renders Sludge unconscious. The hunt is over, but it is Soundwave who declares victory!

That’s it for Dinobots for a while, though they do return in TFUK#65 and in the scarily good 1986 Annual story ‘Victory’, which delves into their dreams while they recover in Ratchet’s medical bay. On the Transformations page we hear the buzzword for the next 50 issues – ‘Special Teams’. We’d soon find out that this meant more combiners on the way. This were heady days for young Transformers fans.

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Crisis of Command

Optimus Prime is suffering post-traumatic stress from his months as a prisoner of war. His followers are turning on each other and the Decepticons’ interim leader Soundwave hatches a fiendish plot to exploit their weaknesses. Marvel UK presents the exceptional Crisis of Command.

If I were to think of my top 10 all-time favourite Transformers stories, I’m certain Crisis of Command would be up there. What is it about this tale, published over three weeks in January 1986, which still strikes a chord more than 34-years later? Put simply, Crisis has all the elements of a great Transformers story. It’s a personal journey of redemption for Optimus Prime, who we see at his most vulnerable and later at his best; it’s the values of the Autobots and the cruelty of the enemy brought into sharp contrast; and its Soundwave at his magnificent cruel and calculating best.

Remarkably, Crisis is one of the few Marvel UK Transformers stories that was not written by Simon Furman. Instead, Mike Collins (of Man of Iron fame) and James Hill share the honours. The superlative Geoff Senior (my favourite TF artist of the era) debuts on the first two parts, with John Stokes illustrating the third and final instalment.

Crisis takes place in between the US story Prime Time (in which Shockwave is hurled into a swamp by Optimus Prime) and Rock and Roll Out where he reappears. As far as the American audience was aware, the Decepticons were quickly reunited with Shockwave and it was business as usual. In the UK comics however, nearly three months passed in which the Decepticons were missing both Shockwave and Megatron.

So, with Optimus restored and the enemy leaderless and outnumbered, the Autobots enter the new year with the advantage. However, that’s not how things pan out, as we soon see.

The story opens on the Ark and a heated argument between two camps of Autobots. Hawks led by Prowl argue they must use the Creation Matrix to create an army of super soldiers against the Decepticons. Jazz and fellow doves are horrified by talk of hunting down and destroying the enemy, calling it “Decepticon thinking”. This is somewhat naïve – they are at war and have been for millions of years. A continuation of the status quo would inevitably mean more lives lost, so a case can be made for the ends justifying the means. Jazz does make an important point though; how would they fuel these super warriors given they have barely enough for themselves? Prime, meanwhile, sits on a golden throne in the middle of all this, his thoughts elsewhere. As Ratchet implores him to give some guidance it is apparent that Prime’s odd behaviour at Christmas is getting worse.

Finally, he speaks, reminding the Autobots (in typical Optimus speak) that he is “not a warrior by choice”, he fights because he must. He allows Prowl to expand on his ideas and Senior does a great job in drawing the imagined giant Autobots in their full menacing majesty (looking like a cross between Omega Supreme and Sunstreaker). Prime gives the plan short shrift saying the price the Earth would pay would be cataclysmic.

His words settle the argument for now, but there is discontent and several Autobots wonder if Prime is fully himself. In the shadows the Decepticon master spy Ravage is fascinated by the prospect of the Autobots starting to doubt their leader.

We get the strongest indication that Prime is likely to be suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his long spell detached from his body as a helpless captive of the Decepticons. The Autobots had not hesitated in making him leader again, but Prime is having doubts whether he is still the right robot for the job. He thinks the discontent he heard suggests others are starting to doubt him too.

Ravage places a paw into the light and triggers an intruder alarm. A small nit-pick, but how are these alarms are not routinely sprung by the Autobots themselves? Ravage leaps across Prime and past Prowl and a couple of unidentified warriors – Prowl and Jazz and unified against this common enemy. Ravage fires a missile into a group of Autobots, proving that he’s able to cause serious damage despite being alone and outnumbered. However, once outside he’s deceived by a Mirage hologram and ensnared by Hound’s energy net. On a cliff high above, Laserbeak observes the capture.

And so, to the Decepticons, the other half of this crisis equation. They have regrouped at Fortress Sinister, their original base. Poor Starscream, you almost feel sorry for him. He’s craved command for so long, and with Megatron and Shockwave out of the way, this should be his moment. However, he’s easily dismissed by Soundwave (with one of the best put-downs ever) as a “missile with a mouth”. If they followed his foolhardy instincts and attacked, not knowing what forces lay in wait, they could be utterly defeated. Even Starscream’s attempt to turn the tables on Soundwave – blaming him for Ravage’s capture falls flat – as it’s revealed that this is part of a master plan.

Sure enough, Ravage uses his electromagnetic abilities to easily disrupt the force field in his cell and escape through it. The Autobots have seen his abilities before (in the encounter with Aunty) and should have known better than to leave the cell unguarded.

Fact files on new, still-to-be-introduced characters Blitzwing and Tracks, and the conclusion to the Machine Man of 2020 back-up strip, ensures a fantastic start to 1986 for the UK Transformers comic.

James Hill picks up the writer’s baton for part two. It opens with Bumblebee racing across the desert in search of the escaped Ravage. We learn, via flashback, that Bumblebee had discovered the Decepticon’s cell empty and had reported the news to Optimus Prime. He was shocked by Prime’s indecision and how he was easy prey to his deputy Prowl’s more aggressive instincts. Instead of ordering Mirage and Hound to affect the capture (as instructed) he decide to go after Ravage himself.

Bumblebee apparently possesses infrared vision. We see him use it to pick out Ravage against the arid landscape and then pursue him through a narrow canyon. What happens next is superbly executed. Hill has Prime narrate over the action as the penny drops that Ravage was captured far too-easily – he must have planned to escape all along in order to lure as many Autobots as possible into a Decepticon trap!

This is exactly what Bumblebee now stumbles into, as he’s suddenly face-to-face with eight heavily armed Decepticons. Even with their most powerful warriors absent, the Decepticons are a force to be reckoned with, especially how Senior draws them here. Forget fair play – they are more than willing gang up on a lone opponent and enjoy playing the playground bullies.

First, Bumblebee is thrown in the air by a Laserbeak missile attack, then Skywarp easily absorbs a punch the Autobot throws, before making him eat dirt. The seeds that were planted last issue come to fruition as the Soundwave reveals his sinister plan is to exchange an Autobot hostage in return for Optimus Prime. To be fair to Bumblebee, what he lacks in strength he makes up for in courage. He makes a final desperate attempt to escape, transforming to vehicle mode (and almost succeeding) until he runs into Starscream (this allows Screamer an opportunity to redeem himself in front of his comrades after last issue’s humiliation).

If the ambush was the first shock of the issue, then what follows is the second. The Ark’s sensors pick up a distress signal – it could be Bumblebee, except its airborne. The Autobots rush outside and see Laserbeak drop something. Thinking it’s a bomb, they dive for cover. There’s no explosion and as the dust clears, they are confronted with the severed arm of their missing comrade. Harsh!

Fans of Bumblebee were warned they would not enjoy this issue! However, it’s a powerful ending and ably demonstrates the ruthless and devious side of Soundwave, who is effectively accepted by the other Decepticons as acting leader from this point. He knows the Decepticons are numerically inferior to the Autobots at this point and unable to repel a full-scale attack, but if they can eliminate the Autobot leader it could be a game changer.

In the concluding part (by Mike Collins with John Stokes taking over the art) Laserbeak throws down the metaphorical gauntlet (Bumblebee’s arm) to Prime to come and rescue him alone. It’s one of the rare times Laserbeak speaks but it might be that he’s playing back a message from Soundwave. And so, the stage is set for some vintage Optimus Prime action. With the great Autobot having regained the resolve that had earlier deserted him, he announces he take up the challenge alone.

I think Prime is being a little hard on himself for blaming Bumblebee’s capture on himself. Sure, he could have seen through the charade of Ravage’s capture, but he wasn’t to know that Bumblebee would have gone after the Decepticon alone. It certainly seems incredibly foolhardy for him to go into the viper’s nest alone at this point, but it does make for great drama.

The news of Prime’s approach is music to the ears of Soundwave – and we also see Bumblebee captive but very much alive. Rumble shakes the ground from under Prime forcing him to crash and revert to robot mode. He fakes injury, luring Rumble in and the mini-Decepticon is easily beaten. The pay-off from the cover (depicting a ‘Jet Trap’) comes now as Thundercracker deafens Prime, Skywarp appears out of nowhere to blast him in the shoulder and self-proclaimed ‘leader killer’ Starscream arrives to finish the job.

But the enemy’s boasts serve to remind Prime of his greater purpose. The words of Emirate Xaaron who entrusted him with command and with stopping the Decepticons millennia ago (in the 1985 annual) come back into focus. Prime revives, punches out Skywarp and Thundercracker and then takes on the quivering Starscream. In fact, he gives Starscream a free shot before punching the wings off him (any claim he had to leading the Decepticons as Primes equal and opposite look ridiculous now).

There’s then the pay off as Soundwave is taunting Bumblebee with the reports that Optimus was defeated. “Where is your saviour now?” he asks, as Prime throws Starscream’s weapon into the room and walks in looking bruised and battered but every bit the unstoppable force. Soundwave, having been taken by surprise is easily repelled, and Laserbeak succumbs to a single punch. In Soundwave’s defence he is much more of a strategist than a fighter, tending to use his cassettes to do the dirty work. Bumblebee, jubilant, tells Prime to finish off the Decepticons. It’s either foolish, or to Prime’s credit (depending on how you look at it) that Optimus passes up the opportunity in order to get his wounded comrade back safely. One thing is for sure, the Decepticons will be back.

Later, Prime tells his men that he has considered the argument for creating super soldiers and rejected the plan. The Matrix will not be perverted. This time there though, there is no dissent, as everyone recognises that Optimus is back to his best. Ironically, he has the Decepticons to thank for snapping him out of his melancholy.

In summary, Crisis is a story about courage and the triumph of good over evil. It’s also about leadership and different examples of it. Prime took up command for selfless reasons, and his position stems from the respect of the Autobots. Soundwave earns primacy through his sense of strategy, cunning and opportunism that inspires the confidence of his comrades. Starscream fails as he basically seeks the leadership out of an overinflated opinion of himself.

Having praised Senior’s incredible job on parts one and two, Stokes also deserves plaudits for the way he conveys the emotions of the characters – Starscream’s fear, Bumblebee’s despair and relief – really well. The pay-off of Prime’s triumphant entrance into Soundwave’s lair to save the day is his best work on the title. The scene is enough to make even the most cynical fan punch the air in triumph.

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Plague of the Insecticons

What do Ronald Reagan, Roller and the Insecticons have in common? Answer, they all make their Transformers comic debut in the 1985 annual story, Plague of the Insecticons – a UK exclusive by Simon Furman with art from Mike Collins and Jeff Anderson.

Annuals are something of a tradition in the UK. Growing up in the 1980s it seemed that every popular children’s TV show or comic had one. I remember receiving the Knight Rider, Spider-Man, Metal Mickey, Roland Rat and Thundercats annuals at various Christmases, and probably more books that have since faded from memory.

These tended to hardbacked, containing text stories and comic strips (my favourites) plus puzzles, interviews and anything else they could think of. So, a real mixed bag and of varying qualities. If they were connected to an ongoing comic there was no guarantee that the stories would actually fit into any established continuity, and so it was with the first Transformers Annual, released to popular demand in the UK in late 1985.

Of the four stories, arguably only There Shall Come a Leader, a prequel, gelled with the weekly Transformers comic. The rest simply jarred. So, we had Hunted which featured Topspin and Twin Twist as part of the Ark’s crew; Missing in Action in which Tracks, Inferno, Grapple and Hoist were also part of the set-up. Though three of those would be introduced in early 1986, Inferno doesn’t make his debut until issue #188. So, these stories are mainly there to showcase new Transformer toys but not to sweat it about where they fit into the overall picture.

The Insecticon story is the biggest muddle of all. Kickback, Shrapnel and Bombshell are not due to join the Earthbound Decepticons until TFUK#89 in late 1986, and by this time Ravage is out of the picture (having disappeared down a mineshaft, so they could not appear together). On the other hand the Insecticons in the story appeared to have been hatched in a lab and perhaps they are clones of the actual Insecticons. This might explain why it is necessary for Ravage to control them remotely. Warpath’s presence is similarly problematic (he won’t join the Earth setup until after Ravage is written out and the genuine Insecticons are on Earth).

Putting that aside, Collins and Anderson have done a good job in capturing Reagan’s likeness and capturing the drama and carnage caused by the Insecticon attack. Their depiction of Warpath with his feet joined together is accurate to the toy design but in practical terms, if this is not a serious weakness in battle, I don’t know what is.

The story sets out to answer the question of why the Autobots haven’t announced their presence to humanity and forged a common alliance against the Decepticons (after all the Autobots are sworn to protect mankind from the Decepticon tyranny). The scene opens at nightfall over Washington DC, and troops sweating it out as they await the arrival of actual aliens – the Autobots! Optimus Prime, Prowl and Warpath drive on to the White House lawn where Ronald Reagan strolls out to greet them.

The meeting is presumably secret, hence the absence of the world’s media at this historic moment, so you wonder why it’s in the very public location of the President’s front lawn?! I also question the wisdom of Prime bringing Warpath along as a tank doesn’t exactly convey ‘we come in peace’. Reagan extends the hand of peace and friendship, while wryly observing it’s the first time he’s conversed with a truck. Optimus transforms to echo the president’s wishes for peaceful relations.

At that moment, the ground shakes and our three Insecticons spring up and declare they will “kill all the humans in the name of the Autobots”. The phrase ‘public relations disaster’ doesn’t quite cut it. Prime is shocked and surprised – he had instructed Jazz to reach out to the US government and talks were held under the tightest security to stop the enemy from finding out. In flashback, we see a military man making a careless call without a scrambler, allowing Soundwave to pick it up in one of his routine sweeps. Megatron responded by releasing the Insecticons from booths where they had been in suspended animation, or perhaps growing.

At the White House, Prime and his warriors return fire. Bombshell declares “Great Optimus we hear your command” and withdraws to attack the Capital. Despite seeing the Autobots fighting these Decepticons, the military fall for the ruse and turn their anger against the Autobots.

As Optimus sets out to discover who is remote controlling the trio of saboteurs, Prowl and Warpath hit the streets to track down the Insecticons. They find the city ablaze and people fleeing for their lives. The trio are introduced along with a short summary of their main abilities: Bombshell can control minds; Kickback is a master of espionage, and Shrapnel is a master of electricity.

Prowl takes out Kickback with a missile but succumbs to Shrapnel’s splinter grenade. Warpath rams Shrapnel, looking like he destroys the Insecticon, but evidently not, for when Prime dispatches his drone Roller from his trailer, it arrives to engulf Shrapnel in a ball of fire.

We know that Prime’s trailer and Roller are extensions of him, so much so that he feels any pain inflicted on to his other components. As Optimus confronts Ravage (who has been operating the Insecticons) he’s unaware of Bombshell swooping down to inject him with one of his mind-controlling cerebro shell. Conveniently, at the crucial moment Kickback blows up Roller and causes the Autobot leader to lurch forward in pain. Bombshell completely misses him and injects Ravage instead. This leaves the controller mindless and the Insecticons inert.

At this point the way is clear for Prime, Prowl and Warpath to explain the situation to the President. Instead they return to the Ark convinced the humans would not believe them and lamenting a lost opportunity. I suppose Furman couldn’t realistically plot a major game-changer like the Autobots joining forces with the US government, tension in the story demands that the Autobots are typically on the backfoot.

However, as mentioned this story is far removed from the comics continuity and therefore it allows Furman more creative licence. As a reader it is a little frustrating that Prime just accepted the smear on the Autobots’ name and didn’t try to explain. It’s nice to see Roller used in a story (this being his only appearance outside of the cartoon series) even if questions are unanswered such as Ravage how recovers from the surprisingly creepy and horrific depiction of his invaded mind.

All in all, not a bad story if you’re willing to overlook the jarring conflicts with the US and UK comics continuities, and a nice showcase for Roller, Warpath and the Insecticons.

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Prime Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brainstorm!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Next Best Thing to Being There

Creating the Constructions – the comic’s first combiner team makes their debut; the Decepticons attempt to ‘phone home’ and Huffer gets his moment in the spotlight. It’s all in this Bob Budiansky fan favourite from November 1985.

The Next Best Thing To Being There. It was a memorable title for sure, but if you’d asked 11-year-old me from 1985 what it meant I wouldn’t have had a clue. Years later as a married father of three in my mid-40s (who probably should know better than to still be obsessed with Transformers, but hey-ho) I can’t say I’m any the wiser. If it’s about being present at the birth of the Constructicons – the Decepticons’ newest warriors and the first combiner team to grace the pages of a Transformers comic – well we ARE there at the bedside, or factory floor in this case. So, my best guess is it refers in some way to contacting ‘home’ – the next best thing to actually being there. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. One thing I know is that this enigmatic title continues to confound me.

The story occupies issue #10 of the US Transformers comic and issues #35 and #36 of the UK weekly edition. It opens with the eagerly awaited return of Gabe and Ferdy! Who? You ask. Why, the moustached pair of halfwits who carried Soundwave through security and into Blackrock’s aerospace planet some weeks ago. They and their fellow workers have now been reduced to slave labour, but at least they get a ringside seat for a momentous occasion – the first Transformers born on Earth.

Ever since Shockwave took Optimus Prime’s head hostage, he’s been threatening to plunder the Creation Matrix nested in the great Autobot’s mind to create a new generation of Decepticon warriors. Finally, that plot is coming to fruition – six brain modules have been prepared and are finally ready to be fused into robotic bodies. Shockwave’s narrative is an attempt to give it a respectable build-up but it comes off like the nonsensical technobabble we would get used to hearing from Star Trek engineers. Shockwave’s genuine bafflement at how Prime could stay leader of the Autobots for so long, with such a glaring weakness as caring about lesser beings, shows how they really are worlds apart.

Gabe and Ferdy, our baffled human bystanders provide the comedy element (complaining of singed facial hair) in what would otherwise be a Frankenstein moment, as the six purple and green distinctive robotic forms begin to come to life.

As a kid I was super excited for the debut of the Constructicons (even though I initially misread their name as Constructions). We’d glimpsed Longhaul in the previous comic (the next week feature) and I was blown away by this new character with his distinctly different green. Although Budiansky would later bemoan the constant pressure to introduce new characters (a result of Hasbro forever expanding the toy line) he did it very well, and by and large, as a reader, I was always thrilled to see new characters (with the possible exception of the Pretenders, who were just silly).

The Constructicons add another string to the Decepticon bow, as they can build literally anything required. For example the solar weapon in Target 2006 and the defences around the Decepticon coal mine base, both in later issues. Though, after this the team would largely fade into the background in the US stories and it will fall to the UK writers to give them more of a presence.

Who leads the team? We’re never quite sure, but Scavenger steps up to acknowledge Shockwave and receive their orders. He’s my favourite Constructicon based on the toy and his bio, but his motto, “everything is worth something, even me”, suggests a lack of confidence that you expect would preclude him from the team leadership.

Laserbeak paves the way for the Constructicons to depart on their first mission, but firing missiles at the army surrounding the plant. This provides a smoke cover and melts their tanks and machinery. This being a family friendly comic, no humans are killed in the making of that escape, but the military are really being shown up by the Decepticons.

Meanwhile, GB Blackrock gets a guided tour of the Ark from acting Autobot commander Prowl. We’re reminded about the deal agreed last issue by GB and Jazz. He’ll provide the Autobots with fuel in return for Autobot protection of his assets. The quest for a fuel source preoccupied but the Autobots and Decepticons in the early issues, so its good to see this resolved and not forgotten about. GB is awestruck by the Autobots’ advanced technology and his business mind is busy thinking about whether he could use it to gain a competitive edge in his business. He might sound like a bit of a bastard but to be fair he wouldn’t be a billionaire industrialist if he wasn’t someone who spots opportunities.

On learning that Optimus Prime is being held prisoner in the aerospace plant, Blackrock mentions that he bugged all the phones (to spy on his employees if he needs to – nice). That gives the Autobots an opportunity to listen in to Decepticon plans.

With Bumblebee spying on the plant, the Autobots are aware of the Constructicons departure and Prowl dispatches a group to intercept (including Huffer who could use some action to take his mind off things).

We’re then introduced to another of the oft-annoying human guest stars who Budiansky would introduce throughout his run. They’ll often provide some comedy relief or hold up a mirror to the Transformers alien natures. Bomber Bill – driver of a large red truck he calls Bessie – looks like a bearded Hell’s Angel but he’s actually a big softy who delights in showing the waitress at a diner, the photos of his kids he carries in his wallet.

We also meet Shockwave’s next project – Jetfire. This enormous jet is still in production but will shortly be ready to be infused with life. Of course, Prime no longer has the Matrix and thus he knows his usefulness will soon be at an end – but denying Shockwave the Matrix is as worthy a victory he thinks. Sparkplug Witwicky is finally home from hospital and pleasantly surprised to discover his son, Buster, has been able to repair all the cars in the garage. Readers know the truth, that its thanks to Buster now possessing Matrix superpowers.

Another Robot War recap preludes the second half of the story. As well as being an enjoyable read, it is probably useful and necessary to bring the comic’s newer readers up to date. Interestingly, there would only be three of these features with the final one appearing in issue #63.

In the first part we were introduced to Bomber Bill and his longing to go home, which echoed Huffer’s earlier sentiments. The two are clearly destined to cross paths and it is the Constructicons who provide the catalyst. Bill feels the diner shake as the Decepticon team scoops up vehicles and the roof of the diner itself, to be used as raw materials.

Everyone flees but Bomber Bill pursues on foot (his beloved six-wheeler Bessie having been stolen too). He flags down Huffer and, as always happens when someone meets an Autobot, is shocked to find nobody driving. Nel Yomtov has made a mess of colouring the Autobot convoy. Ironhide is coloured as Ratchet, Bluestreak (leading the mission) is depicted in Jazz’s colours and thereafter coloured to look like Prowl. Later Ironhide is coloured green and purple, which really smacks of someone not paying attention.

Unbeknown to readers, Soundwave has tagged along with the Constructicons. As they pull up alongside an enormous satellite dish, he transforms, erects a disruptive field and sets the Constructicons to work to enhance and amplify the equipment, before plugging himself in. The plan is to transmit a message to Cybertron!

The Autobots arrive and Soundwave insists the scrambler must be defended – he gives the order for the Constructicons to combine. Six Decepticons merge to become one ‘terrifying titan’ – Devastator! Normally this would have been a huge, exciting twist, but readers will have known what was coming thanks to the cover, but it’s cool nevertheless. The combination sequence feels a bit wasted though, having been covered in a single panel. We soon learn that for all of his size and power, Devastator is slow and clunky (the fusing of six minds is clearly an imperfect science) and as such he struggles to respond to Soundwave’s instructions.

Huffer has a perfect opportunity to unplug Soundwave before he can send the transmission, but not wanting to lose an opportunity to re-establish contact with Cybertron, he hesitates. When he hears Ironhide’s warning that the Decepticons will be able to bring an army to Earth, he tries to act but by then it’s too late. Huffer is downed by Devastator, Bomber Bill, having found his truck, drives it at Soundwave, and Huffer returns the favour by saving him. Their message sent, Soundwave and the Constructions depart rather than continue a fight they’ve already won.

Huffer asks the forgiveness of his comrades and gets some reassurance from his new pal Bomber Bill. The difference is that Bill can now go home but Huffer can’t.

Back at the aerospace plant, the Autobot eavesdropping device is functioning and Prowl overhears Shockwave bemoaning Prime’s failure to breathe life into Jetfire – if he no longer has the Matrix then there is no longer a logical reason to keep him alive. Suspense is building for the finale of this saga in four issues time.

In summary, it’s respectable enough debut for the Constructicons. We may not have a sense of them as individual personalities yet, but if the purpose was to showcase a new toy line and get kids excited enough to buy them then it will have achieved its purpose. Of course, sadly the toys will not be available in the UK. Devastator proved somewhat inept in battle due to his slowness – a case of brawn not brains.

Soundwave (coloured purple throughout) succeeds in sending a message to Cybertron which will have consequences in later issues. Re-establishing contact with Cybertron will also provide a means for Budiansky to introduce new characters without the need for gimmicks.

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Dis-integrated Circuits

Autobots, Decepticons and now Humans! Josie Beller ‘transforms’ from paralysed victim of Shockwave to a robot-busting avenger known as Circuit Breaker! Unfortunately, her wrath is not reserved only for the Decepticons. It’s Dis-integrated Circuits, by Bob Budiansky.

After a four-week interlude of homegrown material, the Transformers UK comic returned to another run of reprinting stories from its US parent. Bob Budiansky continues on writing duties, accompanied by artist and one hit wonder Mike Manley (this being his only outing on Transformers).

There’s been quite a bit of build up to this issue on both sides of the pond. In the earlier story ‘The Worse of Two Evils’, Bob went to pains to put a human face on Shockwave’s attack on the oil drilling platform. We were introduced the industrialist GB Blackrock (owner of the platform) and his brilliant young engineering talent, Josie Beller. Ultimately, she got fried during the attack and has been in her boss’s private hospital ever since – severely paralysed but using the equipment he provided to plot her next move. Blackrock received a second kick in the proverbials when his aerospace plant was taken over by the Decepticons. It is now their new base.

At last its time for Bob to show us where he’s been going with these characters. Transformers has always been about humanity alongside Transformers and Bob’s stories more than most, so it’s perhaps inevitable that we would eventually see a human on equal terms to the giant robots (arguably two, if we consider Buster Witwicky who now holds the power of the Creation Matrix). As this is a Marvel publication, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a superhero/villain feature.

The story begins at Blackrock’s racetrack (yes, he owns a racetrack too!) where’s he interrupted five minutes before the end of the session. He’s not happy but it’s due to the arrival of General Capshaw of the US military. He’s heard about Blackrock’s intention to unveil a new “weapon” capable of destroying Transformers, and feels it will needlessly publicise the robot presence. The army want to avoid this until it can work out who is responsible for the Transformer menace (they assume it’s an enemy nation).

Blackrock is a bit of dick at this point. He’s testy with his staff and not used to hearing no for an answer. He gives Capshaw short shrift and explains he has shareholders to keep happy – and the giant robots have been bad for business. Oddly, considering he got out of the car dripping in sweat, Blackrock puts his suit on while he talks to the general! We know he’s got a tight schedule but surely there’s time for a shower? Particularly as his next port of call is to the hospital where Josie is being looked after. She shows him a flying device she has created which becomes airborne by using electro-magnetics to repel from metal objects. Blackrock is impressed but he gets a bad vibe about Josie’s obsession with getting back to work and helping in his fight against the Transformers.

Sadly, the two pages where the Autobots make their re-entrance and another page have been mis-coloured in the UK version (the page above is from the US comic). I’m vaguely aware that colouring is achieved by transposing the primary colours over each other and I suspect that those pages one of the three are missing. It’s a shame because this is a big moment – the Autobots once again in the land of the living and back as a fighting force. All had seemed lost only a few weeks earlier. That said, things are not back to normal. The presence of Optimus Prime’s headless body is a reminder to all that their leader is a prisoner of the Decepticons, and they cannot rest until he has been recovered.

The matter of how the Autobots can function without a securing fuel is explained on page seven – they are using the limited supplies very considerately left behind by the Decepticons. In the US version of page 7 Ratchet refers to himself as being in command. In the UK the words have been changed to “and no matter who’s in command”. I suspect the explanation is that, in the next story, Prowl is established as stand-in leader. Perhaps the UK team just felt it was less confusing to leave out the mention of Ratchet commanding.

It’s apparent that Jazz is going to feature as a main character in the story. He’s the only one not to transform on command (because he’s listening to Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’). His radio picks up a news item of Blackrock boasting about his anti-robot weapon. Jazz wants to educate him that not all Transformers are the enemy and thinks an alliance would solve the Autobots ongoing fuel needs. In return they can offer Blackrock protection from the Decepticons. It’s a good plan and Prowl gives permission, providing Wheeljack accompanies Jazz.

Over at the aerospace plant Starscream informs Commander Shockwave that the Autobots are free and have regained the Ark – all because of the “incompetence” of the “fool Megatron”. Shockwave is surprisingly nonchalant. This should be a massive disaster for the Decepticons and his leadership – they had utterly defeated the Autobots and now the situation is reversed, and their mortal enemy has been allowed to recover. They even left a handy fuel reserve behind.

Perhaps it is a sign of Shockwave’s preoccupation with his grand plan of creating a new Decepticon army, but he dismisses the Autobot threat, saying they are unwilling to take the fuel the need through misguided ethics. And he calculates that Megatron will not return to be defeated by him again. This hubris is astounding in one so calculating and logical.

Frenzy having a tantrum in reaction to Blackrock’s public threats is good fun – also the ruthless way Buzzsaw instinctively understands his commander’s wish and silences Frenzy by slicing the metal he holds into ribbons. Next time Buzzsaw will aim for Frenzy’s body! Gulp! Interestingly, the mini-Decepticon’s emotionally-charged response is completely the opposite that of his boss. Shockwave dismisses human threats as too trivial to be concerned about, however he agrees to Starscream’s suggestion that destroying the weapon would be a good way to exercise the troops and a bit of mayhem at Blackrock’s expense is no bad thing. Also enjoyable is Starscream’s treacherous thoughts of stealing the weapon to use against Shockwave. It’s this type of thing that makes the Decepticon camp much more entertaining to read about.

For the first time, US readers are shown the six brain modules which Shockwave has nurtured and Prime’s mind has breathed life into (thanks to the last vestiges of the Creation Matrix in his mind), and for the first time we see how small a Transformer brain is, fitting on to the top of Shockwave’s finger (incidentally here they are round, whereas they were drawn as larger boxes in the last UK issue).

The rest of the Matrix is of course in the mind of Buster Witwicky who is growing in his understanding of it. While failing miserably to fill in for his father (recovering in hospital from a Transformer induced heart attack) he suddenly sees the faulty engine with total clarity and is able to reassemble it using the power of his mind (now that’s using the Force!).

Elsewhere, Blackrock is working late at this office penthouse. He takes a call from the Josie Beller’s doctors saying the patient has escaped via a fifth storey window. At that moment a shadowy figure enters the building, disabling security cameras on the way. She flies up several floors and strips off her coat to reveal her body sans clothing and coated in circuitry – Josie Beller has become Circuit Breaker!

In part two, Beller reveals that while she wears the Circuit Breaker costume she is no longer paralysed. What’s more she can assess computer files and reprogram them with a thought (such as Blackrock’s giant laser project). She can fly and emit powerful bursts of electricity. Blackrock is awed by her abilities but has no wish to involve her further in his private battle. He orders her to go back to the hospital, but she refuses and walks out.

The next day Blackrock is back at his racetrack dodging the media. Jazz, in Porsche mode forces him inside and speeds off – he already has proven credentials as a kidnapper (see Man of Iron) and attempts to explain to a very confused GB that he is looking to partner-up against the Decepticons. The police give chase and Jazz crashes through a barrier, plunging over a cliff. He transforms and catches Blackrock as they fall. A Decepticon would have let him bounce, he explains. Despite this odd way to start a partnership, it seems they have a deal.

Later, Blackrock unveils his huge anti-robot cannon (with Jazz and Wheeljack parked discretely nearby). The weapon is a dud and fizzles out. There’s raucous laughter and further humiliation for Blackrock. As Circuit Breaker steps up, she reveals she sabotaged the gun and now Blackrock will have to unveil her as his secret weapon.

Suddenly, Starscream and Frenzy attack. Jazz transforms to defend Blackrock from Frenzy but Circuit Breaker zaps his gun and then unleashes a powerful burst of electricity against him! Blackrock pleads with her that Jazz is one of the good guys. Wheeljack blasts Frenzy with his magnetic weapon that causes vehicles to attract on to the Decepticon’s body and encase him. It’s a neat attack that makes a change from the standard laser blasts (and arguably not enough is made of Transformers’ weapons, which are distinct and personal).

Circuit Breaker attacks Starscream (possibly the one and only time in this part of the comic’s run where we see her attack a Decepticon) and majorly fries Wheeljack (after he thanks her for the helping hand – harsh). Starscream flees with the smouldering Frenzy, and Blackrock pleads for the lives of his Autobot friends. Circuit Breaker destroys the target the canon was supposed to obliterate and then flounces off. She won’t allow any loyalty to Blackrock to get in the way next time.

In summary, it’s an issue of mixed fortunes for the Autobots. They have a powerful ally and a source of fuel at last, but a new adversary too. Readers will find Circuit Breaker pretty infuriating in upcoming stories while she keeps attacking the good guys. Ironically, she has become the very thing she seeks to destroy: a cold, unfeeling machine!

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The Wrath of Grimlock

As Ratchet labours to reactivate the fallen Autobots, there’s a rogue battle droid on the loose, stuffed full of explosives, and the Dinobots are about to blow him to bits! It’s the second part of the Wrath story from Simon Furman and drawn by Barry Kitson.

There’s a sense of counting down to disaster which kicks in right at the off in Transformers UK #32 (published 26 October 1985). When we last left the Dinobots they had Guardian at their mercy (the ‘rouge’ battle droid as the narrative misspells it). Trouble is, if Grimlock pulls the trigger he’ll detonate the thermo nuclear charge and wipe out the Ark and everyone in it and probably the whole mountainside too!

Conveniently (for the drama) if not the protagonists, communications are down in that part of the Ark. So being unable to raise the alarm, Wheeljack does the next best thing by using remote control to commandeer the headless body of Optimus Prime and seize Grimlock’s arm. This is a nice surprise because when Ratchet ran into Prime last issue, it seemed like his body was incidental to the plot and merely reminding readers of Prime’s current predicament. Just like last issue where Grimlock’s head was drawn at the size of Ratchet’s chest, Kitson’s got the dimensions wrong again, with Prime towering over Grimlock.

The Dinobots go from being pumped-up aggressive to finding Grimlock’s helpless situation rather funny. While larking around they forget that Guardian is down but not out and he’s able to engage power reserves and punch his way loose. Prime and Grimlock are physically separated, with the Dinobot leader suffering a severed hand. He’s in a foul mood by now and later, once Ratchet reconnects the hand, he tests it by punching the medic in the face! As last week’s teaser pre-empted, it’s the ‘Wrath of Grimlock and look who’s on the receiving end’.

Ratchet dismisses the assault as a case of the terminal sulks. There are more important things to worry about like repairing the other Autobots, starting with Windcharger as his magnetic abilities were so useful against Guardian the last time around. Though Grimlock’s attitude is dismissed, its an early indication of the Dinobots being loose canons in future.

As Guardian recharges we get a flashback to Soundwave and Shockwave referring to the nuclear charge as a failsafe should Megatron or the Autobots return. I wonder if this means they also saw the TV footage of Megatron’s ski-slope battle with the Dinobots. Rather than send a search party for Megatron, Shockwave seems to be content to think he was either destroyed or has gone AWOL. Guardian calculates that, with fourteen Autobots active, the odds are now against him and therefore he activates his detonation sequence… one hundred seconds and counting! He seeks out the largest concentration of the enemy, which as it turns out is quite handy.

As Ratchet puts the final touches to Swoop, with Grimlock looking over his shoulder. Guardian bursts in and attacks. The Dinobots lay waste to him and Grimlock bites his arm – not so much an eye for an eye than an arm for an arm. Windcharger is denied another moment of glory, as Swoop revives, attempts to shoot Guardian and blows a hole in the roof, after Ratchet throws his aim off. Hearing that Guardian is packed with explosives, Swoop transforms into pteranadon mode and flies Guardian outside. He reaches a decent height and distance and he lets go only to get caught up in the blast as Guardian explodes!

I like how Furman is able to revisit the opening narrative about so much being possible in so few seconds, but in Swoop’s case not quite enough. He saved the Ark but apparently paid the ultimate price (chances are that most readers will expect him to return at some point, as nobody ever really dies in comics – well except Guardian, he looks toast). In epilogue, the Autobots hold a memorial service for Swoop and afterwards the Dinobots leave to go their own way. We wonder what will become of them. Ratchet is able to complete repairs on all but one of his fallen comrades (Sunstreaker being the unlucky one) and in a hospital bed Josie Beller, now reborn as Circuit Breaker, is preparing to undo all of his hard work!

In summary, it’s an ending to the saga of the Autobots being dead/captive which began with The Last Stand some months ago. It’s a moment of tragedy and optimism. Things are back to approaching the status quo, with Autobot and Decepticon armies back in situ, except with obvious absence of Optimus Prime from the Autobot ranks. That’s a big loose end for them to tie up!

On the Soundwaves page the mystery of why Shockwave’s toy is not available in the UK is solved. In response to a letter from Paul Sherwood of Loughborough, we’re told Shockwave forbid Hasbro from making a toy replica because they could not possibly capture his true greatness! There’s also a welcome Factfile on Inferno – a character who will not feature for another two and a half years.

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The Wrath of Guardian

Ratchet and the Dinobots reclaim the Ark, only to run into a Guardian unit who’s been reprogrammed to kill anything wearing an Autobot badge. It’s a classic Transformers UK early years story from Simon Furman.

The Dinobots ‘no more mister nice guys’ teases the front cover strip of Transformers UK #31 (from October 1985), alongside with artwork of Snarl, Slag, Sludge and Grimlock looking like they mean business – and usually, they are depicted in their robot modes. Unless I’m mistaken this could be Will Simpson’s artist debut (one of my favourites).

The Wrath of Guardian picks up directly from where the previous issue left off, with the Dinobots arriving at the Ark to find Guardian cradling the battered body of their team-mate Swoop. It’s a strong return for Guardian, who despite looking menacing in UK issues #19 and #20 was largely wasted as a threat. This time he’s back as a more formidable foe and ready to give the comic’s new stars a run for their money. Plus, Swoop’s treatment at Guardian’s hands has given them a powerful motivation for revenge!

Even at this point Swoop is showing an unlucky streak. He was the first to be cast into the tar pit, the one who fell victim to Guardian and there is more to come.

This story and the next are actually a standard two parter but are regarded as two stories due their separate titles. Once again Simon Furman has found a way to weave a tale from the loose threads of the US storyline (the main canon) and Wrath of Guardian really gives added value. In the US, following the destruction of Megatron in Repeat Performance, the Ark had been reclaimed and the Autobots reactivated by the next issue. UK readers got to find out what happened in between and more importantly to see the hugely popular Dinobots in action (in the US comic they vanished until Command Performances in July 1986, and even then as a cameo appearance. I’ve always said that the US got the better deal where the toys were concerned and Brits did better out of the comics (enjoying a weekly not a monthly).

And so to this instalment. It begins with the five ton powerhouse,  Guardian, an Autobot omega class battle droid now reprogrammed by the Decepticons to kill any Autobots who try to enter the Ark! Swoop was the first to feel those clunking great fists and now it’s the other turn of his Dinobot comrades, who launch a four-against one attack. Just a thought, if Transformers have battle droids, why not fight the war through these proxies rather than endangering themselves?

Guardian holds his own, even swinging Snarl by the tail to knock down the others. Ratchet knows brute force won’t be enough, but if he can just fire a beam down a recharging port on Guardian’s neck – which he does, and sends the droid into overload and retreating into the Ark.

Up till now relations between Ratchet and the Dinobots have been congenial, with the team regarding him as a guide and mentor in this new environment. However, we get a glimpse of what will become long standing tensions between the Dinobots and the Autobots as Ratchet insists that Swoop will have to wait his turn for repairs. He says its because others must take precedence but there’s probably also an element of Swoop having ignored warnings and been foolhardy in flying ahead to the Ark and having brought his current predicament on himself.

In the meantime, the four Dinobots can help by tracking down Guardian. Ratchet enters the deserted Ark and finds Optimus Prime’s headless body standing there. It’s all a bit creepy – Prime’s head now safely away in the Decepticon’s captured aerospace plant – and oddly enough Prime has two arms. In the battle where he fell (The Last Stand) Optimus lost his forearm to a blast from Megatron’s fusion canon. This seems to been conveniently forgotten, or if not then the Decepticons repaired Prime’s arm for some reason.

At the Decepticon base Shockwave has succeeded in accessing the Creation Matrix programme in Prime’s mind to give life to six Decepticon brain modules (more from them in the upcoming story The Next Best Thing to Being There). Soon the group will have bodies and become the first of a new generation of warriors born on Earth. Little does Shockwave realise that Prime has transferred the rest of Matrix to Buster Witwicky, leaving only these vestiges that have now been used up. We’re then shown Buster Witwicky toiling over his dismantled stereo. He has an attack of headache and discovers the stereo fixed and playing Springsteen (not Brick Springhorn thank goodness – a little joke for a later story).

Ratchet has reactivated several Autobots including Wheeljack who is losing concentration. Prowl tells him feeling “sluggish and disconnected” is an after effect of their long period offline. I like that Furman has put some thought into this and the Autobots would take some time to warm up. The reason for the Autobots being offline, let’s not forget, is that they donated all their remaining power to Prime and four others, so we have to assume that the Decepticons had left some fuel at the Ark that Ratchet is using to recharge (as well as repair) them.

Guardian is not the smartest. He thinks he’s sneaking up on the Dinobots but they are aware and turn around hit him with their energo swords while Sludge opens fire. They prepare to finish him. Trouble is, as Wheeljack has discovered, Guardian is a walking bomb – he’s been booby-trapped full of explosives by the Decepticons and the Dinobots, in taking him out, could blow Mount St Hillary off the face of the Earth!

It’s a solid cliff-hanger to end on and the issue also features an unexpected treat in the form of a fact file on Bombshell. Robo Capers, Matt and the Cat and Machine Man – now reawakened in a futuristic looking 2020 – provide the back-up strips.

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