Plight of the Bumblebee

Feeling unwanted, Bumblebee decides to go it alone, only to become a target for human car thieves and the Decepticons, in this two-part story from April 1986 by stand-in US writer Len Kaminski and art by Graham Nolan.

April 1986. Marvel UK’s Transformers comic has printed six weeks of stories from its US counterpart and has two more to go before kicking off with a seven-part epic introducing the new combiner teams. Plight of the Bumblebee is unusual in that it is the first US story since issue #8 to be written by someone other than Bob Budiansky. It could be that Bob took some time off or needed a little extra help to get ahead of his deadlines.

Whatever the reason, a young Len Kaminski was handed the writing cudgels for his one and only Transformers credit. According to his TF Wiki page, Kaminski joined Marvel in 1984 and was 23 when he wrote his Bumblebee story. He stayed with Marvel eight years before going freelance and is best known for his work on Iron Man and Ghost Rider. The artist tasked with bringing his script to life is Graham Nolan of similar age – this is also his one and only Transformers story.

Both do a solid job but its fair to say that the story is fun but forgettable. Recent issues of Bob’s such as Megatron controlled by a human gangster, Hoist at a rock concert and Robot Master, have been slightly silly and off the wall but have made their mark in ways this story doesn’t. To be fair, I suspect Kaminski is doing his best to avoid treading on Bob’s toes in terms of any plot threads he’s been developing, so the events in this issue largely stand alone. It’s just a shame for the UK audience that its fairly similar in concept to the second part of Crisis of Command where Bumblebee also faces the Decepticons alone.

Having abandoned their captured oil rig and aerospace plant, it’s unclear where the Decepticon base is these days. Nevertheless, the story begins ‘deep within a makeshift fortress’ where Shockwave (unaware of the recent events in the Wyoming coal mine, see last issue for Megatron’s return) is unveiling his latest plan against the Autobots. This time it involves capturing and controlling a member of the enemy camp, and their data suggests Bumblebee is the perfect candidate. Has Bumblebee been targeted as he’s the weakest Autobot or have they something specific in mind? We don’t know.

At the Ark, Wheeljack and Prowl are receiving maintenance from a recent skirmish which must have occurred ‘off camera’. The TV news which Prime is watching refers to ‘yesterday’s robot battle’ with the editor’s note suggesting this means the events of last issue (where the Autobots took a pounding from the human armed forces at the coal mine).

Bumblebee, watching through the window, is suffering a bout of low confidence making him believe he is not pulling is weight and that the other Autobots would be better off without him. As I say, this works fine in isolation, but in context of recent stories with Bumblebee leading the new recruits in Rock and Roll Out and accompanying Prime on the mission to recover Megatron last issue, there’s been no sign of him being undervalued or any way a liability, so this lack of esteem on his part is rather out of the blue (not to mention that Prime took on the whole Decepticon army to rescue Bumblebee a few issues UK back).

His decision to head for the hills and feel sorry for himself is happily coincidental for the Decepticons, who have been looking for their opportunity. Laserbeak sights Bumblebee and tips off the others. Within minutes Shockwave and the other flying Decepticons attack – and Nolan shows his skills in capturing the shock on Bumblebee’s face and the violence of the attack against the mini-Autobot.

Bumblebee survives and, though losing power, drives on to the freeway, taking evasive action under an aerial volley. It’s apparent that the pursuit is risking the lives of the other motorists. Knowing he can’t possibly outrun the Decepticons, and with his communicator damaged, Bumblebee drives into a nearby filled car lot and shuts down. With the signal lost the Decepticons pull back but remain ready to pounce when he reappears. As yellow beetles are not especially common you would have thought one of the jets would have spotted the parked-up Autobot, but apparently not.

That night, two men climb into the car lot and decide to steal Bumblebee, thinking there’s less chance anyone will be bothered by the loss of a Volkswagen! Unaware of the dangers ahead they take off at speed. While back at the Ark, footage of the Decepticons firing on Bumblebee is aired on the TV news, prompting Prime and the others to strike up some suitably dramatic poses and vow to rescue their missing colleague before it’s too late!

A couple of trivial points… the UK editor has changed the ‘maneuvers’ in the TV reporter’s speech to the UK spelling manoeuvres – and misspelled it. Oops. To be fair it’s not the easiest of words. Page 8 is numbered at the top and the bottom too, which is a little weird.

In part 2, as the Autobots and the Decepticons search for Bumblebee, his two joyriders Ernest and Waldo (whose names sound like they ought to be a couple of pensioners rather than young thrill-seekers) are causing all sorts of commotion uptown. Bumblebee seems oddly happy to help his passengers show off, even when they are driving up pavements and forcing pedestrians to flee for their lives. Could it be that he’s getting a confidence boost out of being adopted by the two humans? Bee is even happy to help the pair show off by pushing 200 in a race against a challenger in a sporty car. He’s leaving the guy for dust until his engine blows and he splutters to an embarrassing halt.

One of the men tries to make head or tails of Bumblebee’s damaged alien engine and as luck would have it, succeeds in reconnecting damaged power lines. Ernest and Waldo ride again but are soon under fire from the skies – in the shape of the Decepticons. Hilariously the two car thieves are baffled as to why the Air Force is after them for ‘pinching a lousy Volkswagen’ – and they are even more confused when their car starts driving on its own (Bumblebee has no choice but to take control to protect his passengers from the Decepticon bombardment). Pretty soon the police are on their tails and the US Airforce has been scrambled. You get the impression the Ernest and Waldo will be wondering what on earth they’ve got themselves into.

Shockwave and his warriors might light work of the Air Force. Usually we’ll see the pilots ejecting (to keep the story family friendly) but no sign of that in Kaminski’s story. Bumblebee, cornered at last, transforms to make a final stand in defence of his human ‘friends’. Suddenly, Jetfire soars into view, taking out Buzzsaw, but getting himself shot down by a Decepticon jet. It’s great to see Jetfire in action but disappointing that he’s already a shadow of the awesome ultimate warrior that he was billed as at his introduction.

Events then move to a rapid conclusion. In the space of a single page, Bumblebee rescues the two humans from a collapsing bridge, is confronted by Shockwave… and the Autobots, police and Air Force arrive, forcing a hasty Decepticon retreat. The two Humans have a lot of questions to answer with the police, while Bumblebee recognises that the Autobots came to his rescue and he was wrong to question his place in the team.

Some closing thoughts: it’s not a bad story, if largely inconsequential to the wider plot – fast paced with a decent chase at the end. The art is also suitably dramatic. Probably the weakest element is Shockwave’s plot to capture Bumblebee, which we never see put into action and just feels like a device to ensure that Bumblebee is a Decepticon target while out on his own. The best bit for me is the way Bee takes his two human abductors under his wing – he’s completely cool about them stealing him and wants to help and protect them. It’s a good illustration of the parental way that Autobots look on humanity.

The UK covers of two instalments are also ace. John Stokes draws a wonderful, toy-realistic version of Shockwave (including leg springs) and Herb Trimpe’s cover for issue #58 (which is also the cover of the US version) offers the mouth-watering prospect of Bumblebee against impossible odds.

For the next issue, it’s back to the UK stories and the return of Buster Witwicky.

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Rock and Roll-Out!

Jetfire joins the Autobot club and gets a free badge, as five reinforcements – Grapple, Hoist, Skids, Tracks and Smokescreen – debut and uncover a Decepticon presence at Brick Springhorn’s concert!

A key difference for me between Bob Budiansky, the writer of the US Transformers comic (and cover artist for this issue – see above) and his Marvel UK counterpart Simon Furman, was the way they approached the storytelling.

Simon’s stuff tends to be more serious, pitched to an older audience and leans towards the epic, while Bob’s style was more light-hearted and tongue in cheek (though always well structured and paced). Even when he’s writing about the serious business of Ratchet shouldering the burden of being the last surviving Autobot, or Megatron’s explosive showdown with Shockwave, Bob will keep the fun factor by inserting comedy moments involving baffled or freaked out humans.

Thanks to sillier ideas such as Robot Master and the infamous Carwash of Doom, Bob tends to get unfairly compared to Simon. In truth both made exceptional contributions to Transformers comics and both have had great moments. The cool thing about being a UK Transformers fan was that we our weekly comic ran every US story as well the homegrown material, so we had a best of both worlds.

Budiansky’s ‘Rock and Roll Out!’ appears in TFUK #53 and #54 in March 1986. It’s the first of his more ‘offbeat’ stories. The story opens with Jetfire undergoing the sacred Rite of the Autobrand. It’s an age-old ceremony which involves burning an Autobot insignia on to a recruit and them accepting fuel donated by their new comrades. Prime’s words “May your lustre never dull and your wires never cross” had a bit of charm to it, and years later I added the line to my email signature for a while. Another geek confession: even now, if we’re going somewhere, I might say to the kids ‘lets rock and roll out’ so this story must have left an impression.

Jetfire was of course created by the Decepticons, but stolen away by the Autobots. Optimus Prime used his Creation Matrix to give him life and a new purpose. He is the first of a new generation of Autobots, constructed on Earth, and as the Special Teams pull-out included with issue #54 amply illustrates, there are more on their way. A visit to Ratchet’s medical bay shows why new recruits are needed: it’s full of injured warriors, some in a bad way. As far as US readers are concerned these copped it during Prime Time, but in the UK expanded continuity they were casualties of the Dinobot Hunt. Luckily in Wheeljack’s lab, are five robotic bodies waiting to house the personalities of Grapple, Hoist, Smokescreen, Skids, and Tracks.

Budiansky was under constant pressure to keep up with the ever-expanding Hasbro toy line. These five, released in 1985, were overdue an appearance in the comic. The obvious way to bring them in would be to have the Autobots build them and Prime give them life with his Creation Matrix. To Budiansky’s credit he avoids the predictable solution and comes up with something novel (if a little flawed). We find out that these five previously existed on Cybertron and allowed the Ark to copy their minds in case reinforcements were needed (on the original mission to blast a safe passage for Cybertron through the asteroid belt, four million years ago). It begs the question of why not just just take the five along in the first place, rather than go to the trouble of building new bodies during the mission? Also, since we know that Transformers are basically immortal, isn’t it possible that the originals and are kicking around on the home world? Awkward.

Prime and Jetfire step into Wheeljack’s lab, where we witness crystals containing coded memories transfer via laser beams into five newly created robot bodies. With that they wake up as if from a deep sleep.

After the welcomes, Grapple is tasked by Optimus Prime to work on a secret task (we discover what that is in the upcoming story Command Performances). Meanwhile, Bumblebee will help the four other newbies to get acquainted with Earth.

Elsewhere, a fleet of navy vessels closes in on the Decepticon-controlled oil rig. G.B. Blackrock, the rig’s rightful owner, is on the deck of a ship with Walter Barnet from the government agency Triple III. This is Walter’s first appearance in the comic, but he’ll be a recurring character from this point onwards. Blackrock is depicted without his trademark moustache. It could be that artist Don Perlin forgot or just prefers him clean shaven!

It turns out that Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp have been toiling away on the rig, harvesting fuel for their recently returned commander, Shockwave. It’s been weeks already and Starscream is in mutinous mood. They are soon joined by Shockwave himself – who blows a hole in a cliff and emerges in flying gun mode (sending a couple of lovebirds diving for cover). He easily evades the navy’s fire and shows his warriors the power siphon he invented. It can convert energy from any sources into Energon cubes and will reduce their reliance on isolated outposts such as the rig. His every word is being eavesdropped by the navy who hear of a plan to harvest a huge release of sonic energy.

Incidentally this is the first time the US comic has acknowledged the existence of Energon cubes (which appear constantly in the cartoons). They do feature in the UK story Decepticon Dambusters, which is itself based on an episode of the Sunbow cartoon. Also, Shockwave’s return is handled without any fanfare. He simply got out of the swamp that he was chucked in by Optimus two US issues ago. In the UK continuity the Decepticons were leaderless for a time.

So, next morning Bumblebee and his trainees are blending into the Oregon traffic. Tracks is already admiring his sleak new vehicle mode. Thanks to modifications, the Autobots can now hide their insignias if necessary and create an illusion of a driver – a mannequin springs up on the driving seat at each Autobots command. After explaining such things as a speed limit, Bumblebee takes them into a Blackrock petrol station where they converse rather awkwardly with the attendants (who think they are either ventriloquists or double jointed). Hehehe!!!

Skids, the more sociable of the Autobots, is intrigued by the song on the station attendants’ radio. He’s told it is Brick Springstern and the Tenth Avenue Band! The lyrics are near identical to Dancing in the Dark, except with a few key word changes. Oddly, Springstern becomes Springhorn later in the story. That one obviously slipped by Editor Michael Carlin. I’m guessing that it was easier for the team to spoof Bruce Springsteen rather than go to all the trouble of asking permission to feature him.

So, to the second part which begins with Prime passing on information to Bumblebee that G.B. Blackrock has warned of a Decepticon plot to steal sonic energy. Both agree that it is likely to involve the Springhorn concert and Bumblebee is told to investigate, but not engage the enemy.

At the Washington DC, offices of Triple I (Intelligence and Information Institute), Walter Barnet calls on his boss Forrest Forsythe. The agency still has no idea what the Transformers are or what they want, and steps must be taken to contain the growing public hysteria. Barnett is told to come up with a plan. The interlude lays the seeds of the next story.

Bumblebee and his trainees drive into the concert parking area without paying the entrance fee. Fortunately, by deactivating their mannequins they park up and fool the security. There are 80,000 fans singing along to ‘Born in America’ when the noise is suddenly drained away. Hoist severs a mysterious cable leading from the stage to somewhere underground and suddenly the three Decepticon jets burst through the ground to attack.

Bumblebee falls in the hole, leaving the four rookie warriors to fight the Decepticons unguided. Luckily the fans all think the missiles and explosions are part of the concert (so much for Triple I’s fears of hysteria), even when Hoist steps up to the stage to weld a piece of rigging back together.

Shockwave is under the stadium, generating cubes from his siphon. It’s all a bit undignified for the Decepticon leader, who you would think wouldn’t have to do the graft himself. He decides to take his revenge for the Autobots spoiling the plan by soaring into the air in gun mode and preparing to incinerate the crowd. Bumblebee throws an Energon Cube at him and the blasts lights up the sky, sending Shockwave spinning off. We don’t find out whether the siphon Shockwave spent weeks making is retrieved or left under the stadium.

Despite Bumblebee disobeying orders, Prime is pleased at the way the new warriors acquitted themselves and they all learned an important motto from the day: the show must go on!

Included free with TFUK#54 is a pull-out mini comic featuring the new combining teams – or Special Teams as Marvel UK is referring to them – the Stunticons, Aerialbots, Combaticons and Protectobots. At a stroke the headcount is increased by 24. The three-page story sees the teams squaring off outside and power plant and demonstrating their combining abilities. The story is a little underwhelming but works as an advert for the new toys, which is what it’s intended to be. The story will be expanded on and put into a proper context by Marvel UK in issue #64.

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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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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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Repeat Performance!

Transformers UK celebrates one year in print by going weekly and full colour! In the main story, Ratchet journeys to the Savage Land to locate the Dinobots and hopes they can assist him in defeating Megatron.

Issue #27 of the Marvel UK Transformers comic heralds some big changes for the book. After a successful 12 months as a fortnightly publication the team has taken the major step of going weekly. This reflects the growing confidence in the title (it would quickly become Marvel UK’s flagship) but also in the team’s abilities to generate the flow of home-grown material that will now be needed with even more issues to fill in between reprinting the American stories. I’m sure the presence of Simon Furman on the UK team will have encouraged them to think a weekly could work.

For now, Simon has a bit of breathing space while the UK comic runs the Marvel US story ‘Repeat Performace!’ by Bob Budiansky and artist William Johnson in its issues #27 and #28. It begins in one of the most improbable places, a hidden pocket of prehistoric jungle on the continent of Antarctica. I remember being aware of the Savage Land from other Marvel comics but I didn’t quite appreciate at the time that Antarctica is actually a frozen waste land and certainly not a place where lifeforms dependent on a hot climate would last very long.

For those who are interested, the explanation for the Savage Land is that it was created by technologically advanced aliens who set up game reserves on a number of worlds in order to observe the evolution of the wildlife. The Savage Land was one such reserve, and even though it has long been abandoned by the alien observers, the technology which maintains the tropical climate in the zone continues to function. So there we are. Incidentally this will be the last time that Transformers and the wider Marvel universe continue to co-exist. After this it isn’t stated that they are separate but in practice those paths never cross.

The story opens with Ratchet navigate swampland atop his M.A.R.B (Mobile Autobot Repair Bay). He’s forced to use a surgical weapon on a huge snake which attaches itself to his neck. Under normal circumstances the ever curious Ratchet would pause to learn more about this tubular life form (just as he was fascinated by a log fire last issue) but he has work to do. Cue a flashback to his discovery of the Autobots laying deactivated and captive in the Ark and Prime’s words that he must learn to think like a warrior. He bought himself time by striking a bargain with Megatron that he will defeat Shockwave for him in return for reclaiming the Ark. But the possibility of betrayal is high.

Shockwave travels to the Ark to check in on Megatron. I like that, walking computer that he is, Shockwave has calculated the odds of having to terminate his rival for insubordination. So far, he’s adjusting well to “taking orders not giving them” and has prepared Optimus Prime’s head for transport as instructed. As we’ll soon see, Prime’s head will be relocating to the recently captured aerospace plant where Shockwave intends to manufacture the next generation of Decepticon warriors.

Ratchet, meanwhile, detects Transformers life signals in a tar pit and uses a power hose to unearth the Dinobot Slag in unexpectedly quick time. He taps into Slag’s memory banks with the MARB and finally we’re privy to the origin of the Dinobots (and their fateful encounter with Shockwave). The account is narrated by Slag in a gruff but coherent way (he certainly doesn’t sound like the dumb dino of the Transformers cartoon).

Readers had been led to believe that the Ark and all aboard where rendered inoperative when the ship crashed into Mount St Hilary four million years ago. Apparently not. The ship still functioned, but rather than repair the fallen Autobots it had dispatched a probe to the Savage Land to spy on Shockwave and then revived five Autobots to take him on. They had been invested with the ability to change into dinosaurs in order to blend in. Oddly the Ark was able to recognise ‘organic life’ (dinosaurs) in this case, but when it reactivated again in 1984 it ignored humans and animals and instead mistook vehicles, planes and machines as the planet’s life forms!

So, we see the Dinobots tackle Shockwave, five against one. He is repels them all, sending them crashing down a cliff alongside the tar pit where Ratchet now is. Shockwave had cast Swoop into the tar, causing him to sink – “a bad way to go” Slag says – and Snarl brought down the cliff with a swish of his powerful tail. The result was the Dinobots falling into the tar and Shockwave getting buried under tons of rubble. The Decepticon would eventually be reawakened by the probe Ratchet dispatched in the original mini-series. The rest is history as they say. Annoyingly Nel Yomtov has coloured Shockwave in white and blue, obviously confusing him with Megatron which is all a bit amateur hour.

In a nice moment, Slag revives and charges at Ratchet, but the doc peels back tar to reveal his Autobot insignia. Slag transforms for a proper introduction, and on hearing that Shockwave lives again, he’s determined to finish the job.

Part 2 begins with GB Blackrock and the military speaking to reporters outside his imprisoned aerospace plant. Shockwave soars overhead in robot mode carrying equipment that looks like a tank but could well be a container of some sort carrying the head of Optimus Prime. He opens fire on the military and makes short work of them. Further humiliation for Blackrock who really should stop doing these media engagements.

Elsewhere, his paralysed employee Josie Beller has succeeded in coating her right arm in circuitry. For some reason the words ‘she cannot move of lift it on her own’ have been substituted in the UK version with ‘moving it causes her great pain’. She’ll feature again on the last page, tooled up and ready to ‘check out’ from the hospital, but only in the US version of the story. The UK reprint will substitute that half page for a fact file on Snarl (it being a month before we’ll see Josie Beller reborn as Circuit Breaker).

Megatron is ruing the day he allowed Ratchet to go free. He’s sure he’s fled like a coward and the attack on Shockwave won’t happen, despite his obligations under Cybertronian custom. But then Ratchet gets in touch with images of Shockwave being brought down. Little does Megatron realise that this is old footage from Slag’s memories, and even though it would be startlingly simple to contact Shockwave and check whether he’s still around or not, amazingly he does not and believes he’s been shown a genuine take-down.

The stage is set for one of the greatest Ratchet moments in the comic. He is confronted by Megatron on a snow-coated mountain (skiers fleeing in fright) and told by the Decepticon that he never had any intention of upholding their bargain (quell surprise). Megatron goes on to mock Ratchet as failed warrior – he should have found a way to fight his enemy not trust him, he says – but suddenly the Dinobots rise from under the snow and the tables are turned. I think on some level Megatron is actually impressed.

He’s quickly attacked by the Dinobots, but their time in the tar pit has dulled their effectiveness and they are easily repelled. It falls to Ratchet to remember Optimus Prime’s words and prove himself as a warrior. He charges Megatron, hoping to carry them both over a cliff to their doom. Megatron absorbs the impact and is set to grant Ratchet an honourable death, when the ground beneath him crumbles and he falls hundreds of feet, transforming and shrinking into his gun mode until he is swallowed up by the snow (he’s gone, but obviously not for good – we’ll see him again in TFUK #51). The way is now clear for Ratchet and the Dinobots to reclaim the Ark and revive the fallen Autobots.

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Warrior School

Ratchet is the last Autobot standing and must learn to become a warrior if he is to survive and rescue his comrades. Meanwhile the Decepticons continue to target installations owned by GB Blackrock and the UK comic announces some exciting changes going forwards.

Warrior School. 35 years after it was first published it remains in my mind one of the standout stories of the original Marvel G1 and one I have an abiding affection for. Essentially it is a coming of age story – Chief Medical Officer Ratchet stepping out his comfort zone in a major way and learning the ways of the warrior. His stepping up to the plate shows real, genuine courage and is an example to all of us, young impressionable readers as we were at the time. The scale of his challenge is enormous, and the stakes incredibly high. This is a classic success against impossible odds story that great comics (and fiction generally) are made of and, together with the second instalment ‘Repeat Performance’ cements Ratchet’s reputation and standing as a major character in Transformers.

I can still remember stepping out of my local newsagent with a copy of TFUK#26 in my eager 11-year-old hands, being blown away by the usual 11 page story being increased to an incredible 23 pages. And the full-page announcement on page 30 that the comic is celebrating its first year in print by GOING WEEKLY and full colour was tremendous news! Of course, it would mean having to swallow a 3p increase, but in view of what we were getting in I considered this to be no hardship.

Once again, it’s Bob Budiansky writing the script (as he would until US issue #55) and joined on the art by a new credit, William Johnson. He had worked on a bunch of Marvel superhero titles but would only illustrate this Transformers story and the next. I wondered why and his entry in TFWiki provides a clue. It mentions a comment Budiansky made to a fansite, that Johnson was “a very nice guy with a lot of talent” but struggled to meet the deadlines of a monthly comic book. So perhaps that was the reason for his short association, but his art on Warrior School is emotive and enjoyable.

The story begins in the woods near the Ark, with a romantic narration of “the sweet scent of Douglas Fir and a dome of stars in the indigo sky” – I wondered whether Budiansky was a fan of camping? Four college students are around a camp fire when a falling tree causes them to scatter. The cause of the interruption is the Autobot Ratchet, who had collided with the “brown pipe” while looking for the road. Buster Witwicky, his teenage friend and ally is on Ratchet’s shoulder and is happy to interpret for the young people. He knows from experience that a giant talking robot can be a difficult concept to come to terms with.

Ratchet is fascinated by the concept of burning wood to generate fire (there’s nothing like it on Cybertron) and demonstrates how his laser scalpel can cook hotdogs more efficiently. The gentle way Ratchet interacts with humanity is a real contrast to what we’re used to seeing from the Decepticons at this time. When Buster recoils in sudden, inexplicable pain we’re reminded that Optimus Prime did something to him when the pair were mind-linked recently.

It’s agreed that the students will take Buster home and Ratchet is reminded that he has more important problems. Never a truer word spoken, he is the last Autobot and the burden of stopping the Decepticons rests entirely on his shoulders. The encounter with the students was an enjoyable distraction but he can’t put off his responsibilities much longer.

‘Hey, what about GB Blackrock?’ I hear nobody ask. Well, he’s about to become possibly the unluckiest CEO in America as first his oil drilling platform was annexed by the Decepticons and now his aerospace plant is in the crosshairs too. In a slapstick moment, two workers, Gabe and Ferdy stop to claim an abandoned cassette deck that’s been left in the parking lot, then proceed to walk it passed the wall mounted gun defences. It is of course the Decepticon Soundwave, who transforms and bursts out of the locker in which he’s been placed. It’s obviously a room with very high ceilings as Soundwave is able to stand at full height while ejecting Laserbeak skywarps to assist in putting down any resistance. The plant was clearly unprepared for an attack from within and quickly falls. Blackrock is crestfallen and humiliated, particularly as Soundwave has been broadcasting the footage far and wide. Clearly some good PR for the Decepticons to advertise their menace and that they have hostages.

We’re briefly shown Blackrock visiting his paralysed employee Josie Beller and delivering equipment she asked for. Josie has use of one arm and hints to the reader that she is determined to take her revenge. This is clearly a developing situation and she and Blackrock are being established as ongoing characters. I’m a little indifferent to them at this point.

And so to the main events of the issue. Ratchet has sneaked into the Ark and finds it deserted. The Decepticons are elsewhere at their temporary new base, the Blackrock rig, and Commander Shockwave has left Megatron on Ark guard duty. Ratchet is horrified to discover the Autobots all inoperative and suspended from the ceiling like some macabre nightmare. He then finds the head of Optimus Prime descends into despair – could everything be lost?

Amazingly Prime speaks, uttering one of the truly memorable lines: “Put aside your grief Ratchet, now is time for valour”. He explains that the Decepticons intend to extract the Matrix from him and he has taken steps to thwart them (clearly in reference to Buster). But just as Ratchet trained to be a medic on Cybertron, on Earth he must become a warrior and use his guile and cunning to find a way to defeat Megatron. His own survival will be his ultimate test. All well and good but Prime is surely placing unrealistic expectations on his Chief Medical Officer here – there is no way Ratchet can best Megatron in one-to-one combat and to put himself in that position is surely suicidal.

There’s an interlude where Buster is joined at his dad’s repair shop by friends Jessie and ‘O’. He’s under a lot of stress, worrying about his dad, the Autobots and keeping the family business going when he knows next to nothing about repairing cars. He snaps at his friends, causing them to leave. In O’s case this will be permanent as this issue turns out to be his last appearance. No sooner is he alone, Buster feels the pains again the various tools around him start levitating! Interesting.

Ratchet goes looking for Megatron (you immediately know this is a bad idea) and fails to notice the Decepticon ex-leader sneaking up. Megatron’s giant hand grasps Ratchet’s shoulder and partially crushes it. He wants to add the medic to his “collection of scrapped Autobots” and will alleviate the boredom by taking his time over it! Ratchet punches Megatron as hard as he can and zaps him with his hold and cold medical tools but to no effect. With brute force not an option, he will need to outsmart Megatron. And so, Ratchet offers to help Megatron regain his command by locating the Dinobots and setting them against Shockwave. In return Megatron will hand back custody of the Ark to Ratchet.

Megatron treats the readers to a brief history of his rivalry. On Cybertron Shockwave had been supreme Decepticon military operations officer and the strategist who had plotted their ambush of the Ark. Shockwave had stayed behind on the Decepticon ship as a back-up. Megatron perceived this as self-serving and was already making plans to destroy this rival.

We then learn (through Megatron’s continuing narration) that Shockwave travelled to Earth to investigate the disappearance of the Ark (which had collided with the planet) and the radiation belt effected his navigation systems, causing him to touch down in timeless region of Antarctica where dinosaurs still roamed (Marvel Comics’ Savage Land). The Ark had revived five Autobots and gave them the dinosaur alt-modes, and the team had battled Shockwave. It is not known what happened next or why they or Shockwave disappeared for four million years.

While helpful for the readers, I’m unclear as to how Megatron has learned about the Dinobots. It’s unlikely Shockwave has revealed anything more to him, so perhaps Megatron has accessed the Ark’s databanks similar to Ratchet did some issues ago?

He agrees to Ratchet’s suggestion – mainly to provide an amusing distraction, rather than an expectation of success – and the two seal the deal by contributing fuel to beaker and setting it alight. We’re told this is an ancient Cybertron ritual and no about has broken such a pact. Megatron, of course, is no Autobot! And so, the stage is set for the dramatic debut of the Dinobots. With the sequel arriving in just seven (not 14) days these were exciting times for the UK Transformers comic.

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The Worse of Two Evils

The Decepticons are under new management as the reign of Shockwave begins! Meanwhile Optimus Prime’s head is a prisoner of the Decepticons and his troops are all non-functioning, saving for the surgeon Ratchet. Phew! Things sure aren’t looking good for the good guys at this point.

As first impressions go, Shockwave takes some beating! With impeccable timing, he showed-up and blasted the victorious Autobots into next week, single-handedly saving the Decepticon army from certain defeat. His cold logic and awesome firepower ensured he was quickly able to press his advantage and consolidate control of the Decepticon forces, ruthlessly ejecting Megatron from power. He has big bold plans and has identified exactly how to use Optimus Prime for maximum advantage. And to top it off Shockwave has featured solo on one of the most stunning covers in Transformers comic history. All in all, not bad for a newcomer.

In terms of a comparison with the raw power and cunning of Megatron, which of them is the worse of the two evils? This is the question for eager readers to ponder, as posed by the title of this instalment. It was published in UK issues #24 and #25 in August and early September 1985.

The story opens at an oil drilling platform off the Oregon coast. This gleaming steel example of man’s struggle to conquer the natural elements is billed as the ‘most productive and technologically advanced’ facility of its kind, and well defended too. We’re told the roustabouts (a new term on me, but it means unskilled workers) are proud of the rigs industry-leading reputation and want everyone to know about it. Trouble is they now have the wrong kind of attention as Shockwave soars overhead in space gun mode and claims the facility for himself.

Surprisingly, G.B. Blackrock, the millionaire industrialist who owns the platform has got an office on board! Likewise, the young technology hotshot who designed the rig, Josie Beller, is also present and at the controls of the rig’s defences. At Blackrock’s command, cannons spring up and security staff in laser-equipped helicopters mount a counterattack. For a business venture, the rig is surprisingly well defended!

Shockwave blasts the rig repeatedly. You would think this would be enough to reduce it to rubble floating on the sea surface, but not so. Josie obeys an order to unleash harpoons, which piece the Decepticon leader’s armour. Shockwave soars higher and rips the harpoons from their moorings. We also learn that he can deploy bursts of light from his gun barrel which are enough to blind his opponents.

Blackrock orders staff to abandon the rig. Josie Beller refuses the instruction (not for the last time, as well see in later stories). She pays the price as falling debris sets off a chain reaction that sees Beller fried by a huge electrical discharge. Blackrock carries the wounded young woman topside where they are confronted by Shockwave in his full robot glory. He will allow the survivors to depart, but only so that they can spread the word that reign of the Decepticons has begun!

Meanwhile, Megatron is feeling like yesterday’s news as seething with anger as he sees his erstwhile warriors now following Shockwave’s orders. But what can he do while he’s manacled to a wall, undergoing repairs and well below his normal strength. He’s cutting a pretty pathetic figure at this point. Likewise, Optimus Prime is also in a bad spot thanks to Shockwave. He head has been removed from his body and is suspended by several beams. Prime is being kept alive because Shockwave plans to plunder the Creation Matrix energy which resides in the Autobot leader. With it he can create a new generation of Decepticon warriors.

Last time we saw Buster infiltrate the Ark and discover Prime’s fate. He’s now informed by the stricken Optimus that the fate of the Autobots is in his hands, whatever that could mean. Though Buster promised his father he wouldn’t get involved any further, it’s clear the situation is desperate and so he agrees to Prime’s demand that they establish a mind link. Buster attaches a cable to either side of his head, which immediately earths and administers a severe shock, rendering him unconscious! Just what is Prime playing at?

The story continues in TFUK#25 a fortnight later. The comic’s editorial page Transformation promises the ‘fight of the century’ as Megatron and Shockwave resolve their differences robot to robot. From the looks of the cover it you’d have to figure that Megatron is about to meet his match.

Though evenly matched in brute strength and firepower in normal circumstances, timing is a huge element in success or failure. Megatron knows that now is the wrong time to make a move on Shockwave – he is not fully recovered and is too weak to succeed, but his pride will no longer allow him to stand by passively while another assumes his rightful command. It must be particularly galling to be on the receiving end of Shockwave’s put downs about securing a defendable new base (the rig) and fuel source, which were goals that alluded Megatron as leader.

Ratchet, watching from a safe distance outside, has seen Shockwave return to the Ark. Buster staggers out, looking like he’s been caught in the middle of Megatron-Shockwave grudge match. He tells Ratchet that the Autobots are all dead and Prime is a prisoner!

Now it’s the moment fans have been waiting for. Megatron breaks free and with the immortal line “Shockwave, you are relieved of command” -unleashes the full power of his fusion cannon against his rival. Shockwave is propelled through the side of the mountain and crashes into a football stadium in the heart of a human settlement. One player’s comment “I hope he’s not playing for Deforest High this Saturday” shows once again how Bob Budiansky, the writer, loves to inject a bit of camp humour into proceedings – even in a fight to the finish between Decepticon rivals!

There’s a nice touch with Megatron stepping over a supermarket’s roof and presumably flattening a car or two as he pursues Shockwave. He’s repelled backwards, through a wall by Shockwave, who accuses Megatron of foolishness for attacking at less than full strength. Shockwave’s claim that even at full strength he is the stronger is curious. If this were true you wonder why Megatron had not been deposed before now.

Even in battle Shockwave continues to analyse and deduce the strength of his opponent based on his reaction time. He exploits Megatron’s unhealed wounds by battering him with a water tower and causing him to short circuit. Transforming into gun mode, Shockwave finishes the job.

Poor Megatron, he is beaten and about to be given the humiliation of his life. Shockwave refuses him the death he asks for and instead takes him back to the Ark to become an example to the other Decepticons of the fate of any who defy Shockwave. The Decepticons in unison pledge their lives and loyalty to their new commander. Megatron raises his arm and does the same. His humiliation is complete.

In summary, wow – what a battle. It really summed up the difference in style between the terrifyingly smart and calculating Shockwave and emotional and foolhardy Megatron. The outcome was never in any doubt but Shockwave’s humiliation of his rival is brutal. We may not have had the Autobots in the story for a while but I’m not missing them at this point – the drama in the Decepticon ranks is more than enough.

The final panel sees Ratchet drawn with a red Decepticon insignia – oops! And issue #25’s Soundwaves settles a long running debate over whether Ravage is a dog. We’re told he’s in fact closest to a jaguar.

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