Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom!

One of the most bizarre Transformers stories of writer Bob Budiansky’s reign sees Buster Witwicky uncover a plot by Ratbat to steal gasoline by hypnotising motorists in his Wash and Roll car washes!

Simon Furman titled one of his early Marvel UK Transformers stories Raiders of the Last Ark and in 1987 it was the turn of US writer Bob Budiansky to run with the Indiana Jones theme. His story, Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom is one of his most off-the-wall and rather sounds like the title came to him in the shower one morning and he decided to craft a story around it.

On the up side it’s got Ratbat as a main character, offering us a chance to enjoy more of his obsessive penny pinching and complete absence of morals – and it’s a welcome return for the Buster Witwicky (who saves the day without help from any of his Autobot friends). On the downside its a stand-out silly story that even the UK editorial team are struggling to take seriously and raises questions about whether Bob was starting to get a bit bored with the book by this point.

Car Wash has been a few issues in the making. Bob introduced us to Ratbat an his role as Decepticon fuel auditor and bean counter in chief in the Trypticon story. Crater Critters established that he’d sent a mysterious cargo to Earth and in The Cure, Astrotrain darted GB Blackrock with a brainwashing microchip that allowed him to be manipulated for what’s to follow. At this point in the US run, readers last saw Buster at the end of the 1985 story Prime Time where he returned the Matrix to Optimus Prime and returned to a normal life. In the UK Buster returned a couple more times, not least in a major way for the Special Teams debut story Second Generation, but even this side of the pond he’s been absent for a good nine months. And what an infamous story to return to!

The story is printed in the UK in the pages of Transformers #128, with a cover depicting Shockwave setting his ‘dogs’ (Ramjet, Thrust and Vortex against a Blackrock tanker). I like it a lot. Now, Blackrock must be one of the most unlucky billionaires there is! Literally every time the Decepticons target a rig or a plant its always one his, never a competitor. (Having said that Blackrock did comment in UK#123 that tankers were going missing so perhaps the Decepticons have been targeting indiscriminately). On this occasion one of Blackrock’s tankers is attacked in a bit of piracy on the high seas by the Conehead jets, Vortex and the Insecticons (all fairly recent additions to the Earth Decepticons’ ranks).

Before too long the vessel is seized and the crew rounded up. Bombshell hits one poor soul with a mind-controlling Cerebro Shell in order to have the man direct them to the control room. It’s a waste of a good shell as Kickback suggests – he’d have rather used his own powers of persuasion! – but Bombshell reveals their effectiveness is being tested. This being a family comic, the crew are put to sea in lifeboats rather than be executed (which might have been easier). The ship is towed to a small uncharted island, or rather the Decepticon’s undersea base which is concealed below. Commander Shockwave and the newly arrived Ratbat fly out to it.

Shockwave is smugly content that the operation went flawlessly, thanks to his “infallible logic” (naturally). But when Ratbat sinks his fangs into a pipe line there’s red faces all round – the tanker is empty!! It appears the tanker had already delivered its cargo when the Decepticons attacked. Shockwave is furious, immediately laying the blame with his warriors! Ratbat makes sure to rub it in by calculating the units of lost energy. The dynamic between the two is highly amusing. Clearly there’s no love lost between them but Shockwave has to be on his best behaviour to avoid Ratbat pulling the plug on the Earth operation. It’s difficult to imagine Megatron controlling himself and not roasting Ratbat with his fusion cannon and the first sign of condescension.

Ratbat suggests that they ought to be making use of the planets natives. Shockwave has little time for the idea and warns Ratbat not to bother – but Ratbat reveals that he already has plans in place…

Back on the mainland, in Portland, Oregon, Sparkplug Witwicky’s auto dealership now has a vulgar-looking Wash and Roll car wash adjacent (presumably this would have required months of applying for planning permission or perhaps not). Business seems to be booming with a queue formed on the forecourt. Sparkplug arrives to take over filling the customers’ tanks from Buster, mentioning that he also wants to fill his own tank – very strange as it was only filled an hour ago. Suddenly Buster’s girlfriend Jessie arrives on her bike and invites Buster to join her for a drink. He is forced to decline as another customer pulls up. Jessie shows Buster the local paper reporting a feared fuel shortage in the north west. Could it all be linked?

Elsewhere, at his corporate headquarters, GB Blackrock holds a press conference to reveal the success of the Wash and Roll – the “cleansing experience for both car and driver” – and reveals his plans for Wash and Roll mark two. After the reporters leave, Blackrock’s mind turns blank like he’s been hypnotised. He removes a tiny cassette from his inside pocket, which transforms into the fearsome form of Ratbat – his plan working perfectly.

Later that evening, Buster is sweeping up the forecourt when a final customer pulls up – Jessie! Her brother’s car needed a wash, and Buster reluctantly accepts her invitation to join her through the Wash and Roll! As the car slowly moves through, various flashing lights and heavy metal music blaze out, but Buster spends every day at this place so he’s not too excited. She decides to cheer him up another way – i.e. jumping on him! All of a sudden a light flashes into Jessie’s eyes, and the effect is instant. As the cycle soon finishes, Jessie tells Buster she has to go and then drives off zombie-like. Buster is confused and concerned and decides to follow her for an hour’s drive until she turns off the highway into a Blackrock fuel depot…

Elsewhere in the issue, we’ve got our first advert for the Hasbro Headmasters toys, and Grimlock defends the decision to conclude the Wanted Galvatron saga in the annual. It seems the marketing gimmick is not to everyone’s liking, though I would have thought most Transformers fans would want to pick up the annual anyway. We’re also at the start of a long an enjoyable Robo Capers saga with King Nonose and the Inventor on Earth’s moon.

In part two (UK #129) Buster uncovers the Decepticon plan. He follows Jessie into the Blackrock depot wondering whether she has a night job that she hadn’t mentioned before. He sees her ‘fill up’ her tank before driving off again and blocks her path with his car. Jessie doesn’t seem to acknowledge him until he flashes his headlights, snapping her back into reality. Suddenly Laserbeak swoops down and blasts at Buster’s car. He hasn’t been recognised the human as an Autobot as first thought, just a human who is out of line
The cons are actually siphoning fuel from hypnotised motorists before sending them on their way.

Presumably there is an art to leaving just the right amount of fuel in the tank or there would be a lot of folk breaking down on the drive home? Ratbat’s plan seems very inefficient compared to just stealing the oil directly as per Shockwave’s approach. The only justifiable reason for the laborious process of stealing gasoline from drivers must simply be down to its discreteness, but then you can only wonder how long people would take to notice their partners constantly staring into space and going on late night drives. Plus spending all the household income on petrol!

Buster and Jessie climb to the roof of an adjacent building where they can see Blackrock, flanked by Ratbat, addressing the crowd. He helpfully explains (for the readers – it’s difficult to imagine why the hypnotised crowds need to know) that Astrotrain zapped him with a hypnotising chip and he’d witnessed the Decepticon’s cargo transform into the first Wash and Roll car wash. Blackrock then instructed his organisation to begin mas production of the washes. The only problem is that the hypnosis quickly wears off – however Wash and Roll mark II will be a lot more permanent. He selects someone from the crowd to test it out, and picks on Buster’s dad Sparkplug (who oddly gives his name as Irving Witwicky and not William as he did previously in Prisoner of War – Bob probably forgot).

Buster must act right away, and after sending Jessie to find help, he speeds his own car into his dad’s path. The brainwashed humans soon surround him, leaving Buster no choice but to flee into the Wash and Roll (not the most sensible escape route given that it washes brains!) and Ratbat follows him, jumping onto Buster’s bonnet, and draining the cars fuel vampire-like. Buster rolls out of the door, covering his eyes, and gripping a tyre iron. He kicks a water pipe, splashing Ratbat in the face who releases him. Suddenly Jessie comes speeding in and shunts Ratbat (she couldn’t leave Buster to face this monster alone, she says). Buster decides there is no time to call the Autobots, this must be ended now.

He smashes the neon Car Wash sign with a throw of the iron, creating a big flash that wakes everyone from their trances. The crowd bombard the Laserbeak and Ratbat with spanners forcing the Decepticons into a rather pathetic retreat. Buster has saved the day and is congratulated by his dad and GB Blackrock (amazingly this is the first time the two have met considering they are both so closely linked to the Autobots). Blackrock vows to dismantle all the Wash and Rolls and Jessie thanks Buster with a big smooch.

In summary, the infamous Car Wash of Doom is not one of the best examples of the Marvel Transformers run, which is a shame seeing as it sees the welcome return of Buster, Jessie and Sparkplug. The story has its moments, in particular the moment where the Decepticons discover the tanker they went to all the trouble to hijack is empty! It’s odd to think that an operation run by the calculating Shockwave could be incompetent. Mind you Ratbat may not be in a position to criticise after this, now that his ropey scheme to hypnotise people into handing over their fuel tanks has literally run out of gas. Why not capture a rig or demand fuel in return for not destroying a city or something? Bizarre.

Next issue we go off-world for our first glimpse of the planet Nebulos, home of the most unique Autobots and Decepticons yet – the Headmasters!

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The Cure!

Ratbat dispatches the Throttlebots to Earth on a mission to meltdown any Transformer infected with Scraplets – which is bad news for our heroes Blaster and Goldbug!

Crater Critters and its sequel The Cure are two absolute favourites of mine from the Marvel Transformers comics of the 1980s – Bob Budiansky at his best. In the first story we were introduced to the Scraplets – and infestation of tiny creatures that feast on robots – for a Transformer it’s difficult to imagine a more deadly menace.

Our intrepid Autobot deserters, Blaster and Goldbug, had gone to investigate a crash-landed Decepticon freighter, encountered the Decepticon Triple Changers – Astrotrain, Octane and Blitzwing – and had become infected by Scraplets, along with the Decepticons. The story had ended on a gut-wrenching note with Goldbug having had to flee in order to find a cure for the Scraplets in order to save Blaster, and his friend thinking Goldbug was a coward who had run away and left him to the mercy of the Decepticons.

And to top it off Goldbug had become infected too, and ran out of steam in the middle of the desert. Truly desperate times for the mini-bot and his new human friend Charlie Fong.

The sequel provides an opportunity for Bob to introduce the latest of Hasbro’s 1987 releases – the Throttlebots! I had all six of the toys, and mostly off the back of this fantastic debut for the team. You could pull them back and release and they would propel across the floor with decent pace. Their leader was Rollbar and we see him in action, battering poor Goldbug with a wooden beam, in Lee Sullivan’s excellent cover.

Rollbar and Wideload are coloured with a spray paint effect (like Sullivan’s brilliant Runabout and Runamuck cover that kicked off the year) and finished off with a pink background and Ratbat silhouette. It’s an iconic image that relates to actual events in the story (a great thing about covers in those days) and is one I like a lot.

The story starts with a welcome return to Bob Budiansky’s Decepticon-ruled dystopian Cybertron. The Throttlebots were raiding a fuel depot and now find themselves having to repel a full scale attack from Decepticon droids. They level of resistance is far in excess of what they were expecting and is a sign that something else is a afoot!

A couple of things: In the UK version the opening page has been extended, and if you look carefully you can see Rollbar’s feet have been added later. We see an example of ‘Earth culture’ as the fuel storage section is helpfully signed in English. Nel Yomtov, who coloured the story, seems to be completely unable to tell one Throttlebot from the next, so we’ve got Chase, Freeway and Searchlight all out of sync with the dialogue. Insofar as we can ascertain their personalities, Freeway seems to be the joker (black humour), Wideload is vain and worried about picking up dents, while Rollbar is their serious no-nonsense commander.

Just recently it seems that every Transformer on Cybertron has made their way to Earth and so it is with the Throttlebots this issue, joining the Triple Changers, Predacons, Insecticons, Decepticon jets and probably some I can’t think of. At the moment Ratbat seems to be the only prominent Decepticon on the homeworld and even he will be packing and going soon. The idea of the Throttlebots as a gang of terrorists works well and I would have enjoyed seeing some back stories of their exploits.

They encounter a huge Decepticon – a ‘titanium class destruction drone’ – and are offered a chance to live if they surrender their weapons. It’s unexpectedly generous considering they are at the Decepticon’s mercy. Soon the team are presented before Ratbat, their hands bound, and watch on screen as Astrotrain updates Ratbat on the desperate situation on Earth – without the Scraplet cure, they will all die, putting the Decepticon’s secret plan in jeopardy. After the link is cut, Ratbat dismisses talk of a cure and reveals that he is prepared to destroy all life on Earth if it means preventing a Scraplet epidemic from spreading.

The Throttlebots are told that if they want to avoid that, then they must travel to Earth and destroy anyone who is infected. They arrive on Earth via the Space Bridge, where Chase discovers tracks leading away from the crater. Rollbar thinks they must assume that whoever they belong is infected, and so he and Wide Load transform into their new Earth modes and follow into the distance.

Goldbug is of course the Transformer who escaped from the crater along with his human scientist friend Charlie Fong. He is now so heavily infected that he is unable to drive and so Charlie is slowly pushing him across the Arizona wilderness in the burning afternoon sun. It’s amazing they’ve travelled 108 miles! Suddenly he hears the sound of a car and discovers not only a road but a Blackrock filling station! A huge relief.

Charlie pushes Goldbug onto the forecourt, where one of the service station workers kindly gives him a drink of water, accidentally splashing some on Goldbug. Charlie watches in amazement as the wet Scraplets begin to rust and fall off dead. It’s the cure! It’s a beautiful irony, that something so abundant on Earth as water is the remedy for the Scraplets. Surely though there is water of some kind on Cybertron? It certainly looks that way in the 1990 story Primal Scream.

So, now Charlie wants to hose Goldbug, but he’s restrained by the garage staff. Water is hard to come by out here and is not to be wasted on wrecks! As they try to calm him, Rollbar and Wideload arrive. Ignoring the fact that their quarry is a fellow Autobot, the pair transform and prepare to dissolve him with corrosive acid.
Back at the crater, the Triple Changers realise they’ve been encircled by Autobots. Blitzwing transforms to jet mode, but can barely get airborne, he’s so weak. Scraplets detach from his nosecone and transform into an array of freakish looking robots who start to advance on the Throttlebots.

Back at the garage Charlie shouts a warning to Goldbug who who just manages to transform and jump out of the way of the acid blast. Rollbar rips off a garage roof and uses a beam to deck Goldbug (as per the cover). Charlie really is a good friend to Goldbug. In order to save his friend prove there is a cure, he throws some Scraplets on to Wide Load.

On the letters page for issue #126 Grimlock answers a question from Christopher Johnson of Woodbridge about who the Targetmasters are – saying we’ll soon be seeing rather a lot of them, and the Headmasters, when they feature in the main strip in issues #130-131 and in back-up strip. Exciting stuff. Another kid – Andrew Grant of Croydon – says he has to read Transformers in secret because he gets teased by the other kids at school. I remember what that was like, although would never have let such peer pressure stop me collecting. There’s also a full page advert for the 1987 Transformers Annual which had gone on sale. August does seem early for a book that is traditionally a Christmas purchase.

Robin Smith provides the cover for issue #127 depicting the Scraplet monster and the Throttlebots. It’s not as good as the previous issue. Chase is being pulled by the arm in a stance that reminds me of a reluctant toddler getting dragged around a supermarket. The story, however, remains gripping. Picking up from last time, Charlie Fong had just infected Wideload with Scraplets and now chucks a bucket of water over him, proving that there is a cure and no need for them to acid-melt Goldbug. Amusingly Widload is more concerned about the damage to his “finish” than the miracle he’s just witnessed. Thankfully Rollbar gets it.

Goldbug gets a hosing and recovers some of his strength. The trouble is that they are in the desert and water is hard to come by, so what to do? Goldbug quickly comes up with a plan and puts in a call to GB Blackrock (with his receptionist hilariously introducing him as Mr Goldberg) and arranges for GB to have tankers filled with water and sent to the crater. It’s this quick thinking and local Earth knowledge that will see Goldbug in a pre-eminent role in the Throttlebot team going forward, even is Rollbar is still nominally the leader.

Nearly 10 hours later, Ratbat’s deadline is almost up. Wideload and Rollbar rejoin their fellow Throttlebots at the crater rim, towing Goldbug behind them. As Goldbug calls down to Blaster – he has a cure and is preparing to spray it – and the Triple Changers perk up at the prospect of knowing that they too will be cured. Blaster wont be the cause of any Decepticons living on and insists they unleash the acid. Reluctantly Goldbug accepts, but after learning of their imminent demise, the Scraplets have plans of their own…

Suddenly a giant form rises out from the crater, the Scraplets have combined to form a huge and hungry monster!! It’s a lovely twist from Bob, and while some might find it a silly idea, I think it’s a lot of fun (and let’s face it, they make an easier target). The creature is extremely agile for its size, and easily avoids the Throttlebots’ attacks by manipulating its body shape. It hurls one of their two water tankers across the canyon before laying into the Throttlebots.

Goldbug realises the futility of the struggle, he must cure Blaster and the Decepticons because he needs their help. Water rains down on the four of them and they quickly regain their strength. The powerful Decepticons fly up and attack the Scraplet monster with fire, ray guns and swords. The tide begins to turn, and the weary monster stumbles in front of Blaster, who crashes down the second water tanker drum on top of it.

With the Scraplets destroyed, Astrotrain decides that GB Blackrock (who arrived with the tanker convoy) is perfect for their next plan. He fires a tiny mind-control microchip at him unnoticed before joining his fellow Decepticons back inside the crater. As Blaster thanks Goldbug for rescuing him, he is sorry for thinking that he had been abandoned. Every malady has its cure, it seems. Suddenly they look up as the Decepticons fly off with the space freighter’s huge and mysterious cargo.


In closing, yes it’s hard to believe that the Throttlebots have never heard of water and after reading Crater Critters you could interpret that the Transformers had simply forgotten the Cure was water over the ages. The Decepticons recover perhaps a little fast for my liking. They go from decaying wrecks to full power in mere seconds. All in all, one of Bob’s best and most memorable stories – which is just as well, as we’re about to go straight into one of his worst!

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Crater Critters

Blaster and Goldbug encounter the Decepticon Triple Changers and pick-up a nasty infection of Scraplets!

‘Trouble times three!’ declares the cover of Transformers #123 alongside spiffy art by Lee Sullivan depicting the Decepticon Triple Changers – Octane, Blitzwing and Astrotrain – in a Charlies Angels pose.

It’s a great cover and feels like trio are making their comics debut. In one sense they are. Their appearance in this issue’s story Crater Critters is their first in an American storyline, and their first time on Earth of course. However, UK readers will have seen them in action already in the totemic Target: 2006, and Octane famously made a cowardly run for it in Resurrection.

When you consider that Bob Budiansky was constantly introducing Hasbro toy releases as new characters in his stories, its perhaps surprising that he took so long to feature these three (and he would never get around the the Autobot Triple Changers at all!). Blitzwing and Astrotrain were part of the 1985 Hasbro toy line and Octane was released a year later, so they’d been around for a while when this story came out in mid 1987.

As good as the cover is, it’s a little misleading as this is not a story with the Decepticon Triple Changers as the main characters. Instead they are supporting cast and the Autobot deserters Blaster and Goldbug are focus. At the end of Mechanical Difficulties, having failed again to capture the Mechanic and recover the stolen Autobot tools, the pair had made a major life-changing decision, seemingly on the spur of the moment and born out of frustration, to repudiate their tyrannical leader Grimlock by quitting the Autobot army.

As we join them in this story they are attempting to carve out a role as a Decepticon-fighting dynamic duo and in order to survive they need fuel – hence why they go to G.B. Blackrock seeking help. They’ve had a bit of time to reflect and perhaps take in the ramifications of their choices, and it’s interesting to see a change in Blaster’s personality in this story. He’s more snappy with Goldbug and is on edge. He’s fearful that his companion, who he hasn’t properly got to know yet, might drop him and run back to the Autobots. And of course Bob engineers a situation in the story where those doubts are brought to the fore.

Blaster was, lest we forget, something of a loner and a rebel on Cybertron. He disliked the methods and caution of resistance leader Perceptor and openly questioned his orders, even disobeying them when it came to rescuing Scrounge. This may have impacted his standing with his fellow Autobots but there was no suggestion of punishment from Perceptor, however Grimlock is a different kettle of fish, and Blaster knows it. Goldbug appears more level headed and has walked into the situation with his eyes open.

Crater Critters begins with a spacecraft crash-landing in a barren part of the American South West. As the dust settles over the huge crater which results from the impact, a barely functioning mechanoid claws his way to the rim before falling backwards. A nut detaches from a hole in the robot’s hand and appears to partially transform to reveal a head with gnashing teeth! It’s our first glimpse of a Scraplet… and unlike the fat overalls-wearing Mechanic, this new menace is a far more chilling threat to the Transformers. They literally eat robots from the inside out!

Goldbug and Blaster stake out a very exclusive restaurant hoping to spot the oil tycoon GB Blackrock. Sure enough the billionaire soon appears with a snooty young lady on his arm and sees the familiar-looking yellow/gold Volkswagen pull up behind his limo. Cue some comedic scenes as Blackrock invites the Autobot to take a hike and Goldbug insists they talk by part running over poor GB’s foot, then ruining his evening when he’s forced to suggest to to his dinner date that he’ll drive her home in the VW rather than the limo!

Later at a Blackrock petrol station, Goldbug receives a top up of fuel and introduces GB to Blaster, revealing that they are now operating independently of the Autobots. Their new leader Grimlock is a “mechanical moron” as Blaster delicately puts in. GB is unsure whether to trust the pair, after all he’s never met Blaster and ‘Bumblebee’ looks different to before. Cue Blaster losing his getting in GB’s face and aggressively protesting that he’s not soft on Decepticons, backing this up with a recap about the sad death of Scrounge.

It’s all a bit odd and erratic, and would normally ring a few alarm bells. Goldbug doesn’t help matters by expresses surprise that Blaster allowed a fellow Autobot to die. Blaster insists that he would not allow the same fate to befall Goldbug – but if his colleague doubts that then he is welcome to turn-tail and run back to Grimlock. Ouch.

It’s quite possible that hanging around with a smaller yellow Autobot is bringing back painful memories for Blaster of his last partner in crime, who of course met a tragic end in the fires of the Decepticon smelting pool (a fantastic story and well worth a read).

Blackrock informs the pair of the strange radio signals coming out of the crater! Thinking this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for, the pair immediately roar off to investigate, leaving poor GB Blackrock stranded at his own petrol station in the middle of the night!

Light-years away on Cybertron, the Triple Changers are summoned to the office of the Decepticon fuel auditor Ratbat and informed that an important package, sent via low energy cost space freighter, reached Earth but there has been no word from the pilot. In the circumstances Ratbat is compelled to reactivate the spacebridge and send the triple-changers to Earth to find out what has happened and bring the secret cargo online. The mission will involves enlisting the help of wealthy and high profile human, preferably connected to the automotive industry. No prizes for guessing who that might be!

Budiansky’s Ratbat is a show stealer. He talks in management speak and is obsessed with the bottom line cost of each mission. Far from being just another Soundwave cassette as he could have been, Bob is taking the character under his wing (pun intended) as he’s done with the likes of Shockwave, Ratchet, Blaster and Skids previously, and will make him a main character, even installing him as the next Decepticon leader. Few will have seen that coming.

At the Arizona impact site, a team of scientists from the federal government are there to investigate. Scientist Charlie Fong is aching to get down there and is admonished by a superior for his impatience. A bright light heralds the arrival of the space bridge and the Triple Changers take to the sky in plane modes and order the humans back. Next they land on the crater floor and approach the barely functioning pilot. They ignore his pleas for them to stay back, intending to meet out some punishment, but then Blitzwing cries out in pain as bolts strewn across the floor attach themselves to his foot!!

A few hours later, the National Guard have sealed off the area, and Charlie Fong thinks he will have to wait even longer to begin his research. He passes a VW Beetle which speaks to him. Charlie is then amazed when Goldbug and Blaster transform. His scientific curiosity prevents him from running away and the Autobots are able to convince him to help them get past the army blockade. He does so with a very silly explanation that the cassette deck Blaster is actually an adapted this seismometer to detect the robots’ movements. Incredibly, as its very obviously a tall story, the gullible troop allows them through even praising Charlie (in his thought bubble) for his bravery and selflessness.

The next week box and the cover for Transformers UK #124 gives the game away as to what’s coming next: Blaster is about to get a nasty dose of Scraplets! Will Simpson and John Burns produce another quality cover with a battered looking Blaster with a Scraplet shown in magnification. You can see it below right, and it’s interesting that the team could simply have recycled the cover from the US version but chose for some reason to do their own, although somebody must have liked the big green Scraplet as they’ve redrawn him on the UK version.

At the crater rim Blaster, Goldbug and Charlie quickly come under attack from the Triple Changers in the airborne modes but a few zaps from Blaster’s electro scrambler gun sends them into a spiral. Somehow Blitzwing succeeds in blasting out the cliff out from under Charlie and Goldbug moves swiftly to catch his human friend. The pair end up on the crater floor where they encounter the freighter pilot. He reveals that he’d been hired by the Decepticons to transport some cargo to Earth and had passed through what he thought was a dust cloud (actually the space-borne Scraplets) and got infected him. Moments later, in horror film style, his head promptly topples off his shoulders.

Charlie notices thousands of tiny creatures advancing on Goldbug. Since they are not interested in his organic life, he’s able to kick and swipe them away but there are a lot of them!

Back at the battle, the Triple Changers revert to vehicle modes and the tank Blitzwing (my favourite when I collected the three toys in the 1980s incidentally) opens fire, alerting the US army nearby. Considering its three against one, Blaster is holding his own. He heroically leaps clear as the charging Decepticons plough over the cliff, but a shot from Blitzwing’s cannon crumbles the cliff beneath Blaster sending him tumbling and into contact with Scraplets. Astrotrain reveals that they are all infected and as good as dead!

We find out that Scraplets have the ability to resemble harmless nuts, bolts and screws but are in fact the most deadly disease known to mechanical life forms in the galaxy. Octane reveals that the last outbreak on Cybertron, thousands of vorns ago (a vorn being 83 Earth years remember), was ended by the discovery of a cure, but its a very rare chemical on Cybertron which has been forgotten over time.

Blaster secretly radios Goldbug – in their weakened state they should be able to take the Decepticons on his signal. Goldbug agrees but Charlie argues that they must instead look for the cure or otherwise Blaster is dead already. Goldbug makes the painful decision to leave, and just hopes that Blaster will understand. But as Goldbug disappears up the side of the crater, Blaster (incandescent with rage), brands Goldbug a coward, and vows that after finishing these Decepticons he will come for him next.

Goldbug stops to look back, seriously conflicted a fearing he is leaving Blaster to die. At that moment a single Scraplet jumps onto Goldbug’s foot! Charlie desperately tries to pull off but can’t. Suddenly it splits in half creating two Scraplets – it is spreading!!

Hours later Goldbug is in desperate need of help, his bodywork riddled with Scraplets he admits that he can’t go on much further – but Charlie tells him to hold on, surely a town is nearby…. Half an hour later and Goldbug lets out a plea for help, his body is devastated, and begs not to be left to die in the middle of nowhere, especially not with Blaster thinking he was betrayed. Charlie has no answer, and offers no reassurance – he is silenced by despair….

In summary, it’s a shocking cliff-hanger as Blaster and Goldbug look doomed. Even a healthy Goldbug would have a job to find a cure with no clue as to what it might be. In his present state it looks like an impossible task. Unfortunately readers had wait an agonising TWO weeks for the next instalment as the Marvel UK comic’s Action Force crossover would provide an interlude in the following issue.

Despite some strange characterisation (Blaster really is a rogue figure these days), this story seems to have that special touch which has been missing from some of Budiansky’s recent work. The carefully introduced Scraplets really are a unique and original idea, and quite a fearsome prospect for any unsuspecting Transformer. It all amounts to one of the better US stories overall, and together with the sequel The Cure one of my favourite Blaster outings since the glorious Smelting Pool.

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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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Resurrection!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Under Fire!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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