Showdown!

Skids returns in a heart-warming ‘robot meets girl’ story with flashes of The Terminator and High Noon thrown in for fun. Can he be the first Autobot to successfully ‘check out’ from the Transformers war?

Showdown! was published in Marvel UK’s weekly Transformers comic in two instalments cover dated August 1986. The tendency was to release the comic about a week before the actual date stated on the cover. I know this, as my copy of issue #72 – with the brilliant Ravage close-up by Geoff Senior – took some battle damage from an apple crumble I made in Home Economics (cookery) class and transported home in the same rucksack. That was on the last week of school in late July, and sadly the comic still bears the scars 34 years later!

The story is from the US team, and is written as brilliantly as ever by Bob Budiansky with art from Herbe Trimpe (who also provides the Skids vs Megatron cover for the second instalment). As mentioned in the intro, it’s a mixed bag of themes – part love story, part facing up to responsibilities, and it’s also a chase thriller. Skids, Charlene and Donny are relentlessly pursued by Ravage and (in Skids’ case) by an unhinged sports car driver.

While not exactly slow, it is a more sedate story than Bob’s recent work which has included the epic Return to Cybertron saga and action-packed Command Performances. Some may not take to it as a result, but for this reviewer Showdown! is one of my favourites, mostly for the core relationship between Skids and Charlene.

Skids is a likeable character, particularly for his curiosity. That was evident from the petrol station comedy scene in Rock and Roll Out, and for me he stood out as the best of the new bunch of Autobots introduced in that story. It’s great to see Skids strike out on his own here, and be given a spotlight in a comic that is getting pretty crowded for characters by this point.

Bob specialises in grounding his Transformers stories with human characters and interactions. He does it well and constantly, so perhaps exploring a romance between a human and a Transformer was inevitable at some point. It’s tastefully done, avoiding suggestions of anything sexual for the most part, with the notable exception of Charlene in hotpants ‘pleasuring’ Skids by polishing his hubcaps!

The story is also a final outing for Ravage. I’m not sure if it was ever Bob’s intention to write him out permanently, but with a constant supply of new characters to be introduced he never got around to bringing Ravage back (though he would reappear courtesy of the UK stories – in issue 200!).

Geoff Senior’s cover, Ravage ripping up Robot Master’s cape with his jaws, sets up the story nicely. The Decepticon jaguar is swiftly crossing the Wyoming wilderness ‘like a midnight breeze’ in pursuit of the escaped Donny Finkleberg, who the Decepticons were using to put out anti-Autobot propaganda, but who legged it last issue.

Not too far ahead, Donny is still wearing the ridiculous Robot Master costume but stumbles across a small camp that is luckily unoccupied at this moment. Even better, there’s spare clothes that he can change into. He leaves money and buries the orange costume. He must contact the Autobots as soon as possible to warn them of Decepticon reinforcements coming over the Space Bridge. Ironically, in his haste to find an Autobot he passes by the injured Autobot Skids, who after toppling from a cliff remains helpless.

Ravage reaches the small camp site, and after incinerating it with a fire blast, checks the debris – there is no seared flesh or charred bones, and no fleshling!! Here it becomes apparent that Ravage’s mission is not to recapture Donny, but to eliminate him – presumably this in order to stop him spilling the beans about the Robot Master hoax but perhaps also for professional pride, after all this human dared to give Ravage the slip and this humiliation must be avenged.

In a small town several miles away, a checkout woman called Charlene is missing her old car. She would often use it to get away from the hum-drum of life. Her co-worker and admirer, Wendell, can see she is down and offers to take her for a drive after work, which she gratefully accepts. Charlene’s thirst for adventure leads the pair to head towards an old gold mine. They encounter the injured Skids, who despite being incapable of speaking, manages to put his radio on to get some attention. It’s like something Bumblebee would do in the Bay films years later.

Charlene assumes the van to be abandoned and is keen to claim it and get it roadworthy again. Money could be a problem, but luckily Wendell’s cousin is a mechanic (and presumably a sucker for a pretty girl with a hard luck story as he does the work for free). I assumed Wendell was a surname, but since his cousin also calls him it, perhaps it’s an unusual first name?

Whatever, in no time the familiar Honda van is fixed in the workshop. A contented Skids stays silent, he finds the idea of being Charlene’s car quite interesting and certainly a lot safer than being part of the never-ending Transformers civil war. As he’s leaving the garage with Charlene, trouble appears in the shape of our old friend Jake Dalrymple (of the pink Lamborghini) and his long-suffering partner Frannie. Recognising Skids as the one who dented him (in issue 70), and apparently causing Skids to tumble down the mountain side wasn’t revenge enough, he takes up the tail.

Skids demonstrates that Autobots have some extraordinary abilities on the road compared to your average car, such as leaping in the air and driving along a fence (how it can support his weight I don’t know). All these things should convince Dalrymple to stay clear, but he is a determined chap it seems. He ends up colliding with a workman’s ladder and getting his beloved car covered in green paint, which serves him right.

Of course, it means that the game is up for Skids. As Charlene flees, he’s forced to transform and reveal himself. He displays holograms of Megatron and the war on Cybertron and tells her how he wants to escape that life and just be her car. In his old life had been an anthropologist, and his natural curiosity about the surroundings dovetails nicely with Charlene’s own interests. He quickly becomes the companion she’s been looking for.

Meanwhile, Donny overhears Jake and Frannie in a bar discussing Skids. He realises there’s an Autobot nearby and sets out to find him. Charlene and Skids develop their friendship over the next few days. He chats to her through the bedroom window and she educates him about the old west, with artefacts, memorabilia and her love for that age of adventure. She shows Skids her favourite film ‘High Noon’, in which the hero marshal is willing to die for what he believes in. Skids is impressed, but also uncomfortable as it’s a reminder that he is essentially an Autobot deserter and running away from his duty to fight the Decepticons.

Skids cuts a tragic figure at times, telling Charlene that his only memories are of war. She is determined to change that, and the pair set out to explore the tranquillity of the unspoilt wilderness. Poor Wendell asks if she is up for a date, but Charlene has no time for him now that she’s got Skids.

Soon enough, the outside world comes crashing in. Charlene is hosing down the ex-Autobot in her driveway when the pair are confronted by Donny (who is hilariously still wearing the borrowed clothes from earlier, even though this is several days later). Skids stays silent, letting Charlene issue denials – he doesn’t want to go back to his old life – but then Ravage attacks and he’s forced to bundle both humans aboard and take off at speed.

Ravage is hot in pursuit, deploying his fire breath, and so is Jake Dalrymple, who was checking the successful paint removal job on his Lamborghini when he Skids thundered past. Now comes the High Noon element as Skids, Donny and Charlene hide out in an old abandoned mining town. Dalrymple, who has followed them, walks up to Skids and smashes his front windscreen with a swing of his tire iron. (This guy has got a serious obsession!) Skids screams in pain, and hallucinates about Megatron holding Charlene and demanding a wild west showdown. Skids doesn’t want to fight anymore and is ripped in two by Megatron’s fusion cannon…

Thankfully, it was all a dream. Charlene is fine, but perhaps not for much longer if Skids cannot stop Ravage. The Decepticon crashes through a wooden building, knocking Skids on to his side. Jake drives his Lamborghini into the charging Decepticon, leaving him momentarily stunned. What happened here exactly? Did Jake have an attack of conscience, or was he just trying to protect his girlfriend? It buys Skids enough time to transform and accept that his fate is to be an Autobot warrior and defend the humans.

Ravage collapses a building on Skids, but he deflects the Decepticon with a piece of debris. Ravage fires a missile which hits Skids hard in the back, but as he pounces to finish him, Skids rolls clear and Ravage plunges down a deep mine shaft. Charlene is just pleased the ordeal is over, but Skids has realised that he cannot escape his fate and must return to the Autobots.

It’s a sad note to end their relationship on, but Skids reminds her that she still has Wendell. I’d like to think they ended up happily ever after, but if Charlene was keen she wouldn’t have side-lined the poor guy for an Autobot. So he’ll have his work cut out. Interestingly, a speech bubble from Skids on the final page has been altered – “I’m going back with Donny, back to my people – the Autobots!” has been altered to – “When my wounds heal, I’m going back to the Autobots”.

In closing, Showdown! is a nice story and a touching, if at times sickly-sweet friendship between Skids and Charlene, with Donny providing the comedy element. With so many characters in the comic these days, it is a rare thing that two can get such a prominent show and prove quite easily that a smaller amount of characters can provide just as good a tale as an epic battle.

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Command Performances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I, Robot Master

Desperate for fuel, Megatron attacks a coal mining plant and becomes rooted to the spot! And a washed-up comic book writer is recruited by the US government to claim to be the terrorist mastermind behind the Transformers.

April 1986. Bob Budiansky’s most offbeat story since… well, his last two where Megatron was controlled by a small-time hoodlum, and Hoist stole the show at a rock concert, arrives on UK shores. The Marvel UK Transformers comic is mid-way through an eight-week run of US stories at this point. Don Perlin is once again on art duties.

After taking his leave of Joey Slick, Megatron apparently spent weeks walking through the American North West in search of fuel. I say apparently because it seems somewhat unfathomable that a giant Decepticon with a hair-trigger temper such as he, could possibly wander around and not attract an awful lot of attention. Particularly when you consider that he can’t exactly convert into a vehicle and blend in.

His sensors have bought him to a coal mine which is high in hydrocarbons. Megatron attacks the huge machinery and in his desperation, showers himself in coals. He finds these black rocks indigestible in their current form. Suddenly, he stops dead in his tracks, drained of fuel, paralysed and helpless! A worker notes that he “just ran out of gas”. We’ve previously seen Transformers dangerously low on fuel but this is a new situation.

Walter Barnett, the Triple I agent we met in the last story, arrives at a restricted government building at the behest of his boss, Forest Forsythe. Along with the rest of the board, they are shown footage of recent high-profile robot incidents (Megatron and Shockwave’s battle, the capture of G.B. Blackrock’s aerospace plant, Hoist at the Springhorn concert and the incident with Megatron at the coal mine in Wyoming).  

Blackrock has been invited to give his insight to the group and attempts to persuade them that the Transformers are two factions, one good and one evil. It’s a huge waste of time as Forsythe is not interested in hearing this and after showing Blackrock out, tells Triple I that the policy will be to treat all robots as a threat. For a group called the Intelligence and Information Institute they really are lacking in basic intelligence. Despite acknowledging that there is evidence to back-up Blackrock’s claims they are willing to throw away the chance of an alliance with the Autobots that might solve their Decepticon problem. Instead they’ve decided to invest in a cover-up. I suppose this will have been only a dozen years after Watergate and cynical government cover-ups will have been in the public consciousness, including Bob’s. This feels like a spoof of the government cover-up cliché.

Barnett comes across like a real deadbeat dad and husband as he arrives home. His young son is excited to see him but all Walt does is tell him to tidy up his toys. He then spots the boy’s Robot Master comic, about a guy who controls an army of robots, and before you can say co-incidence he rushes off to catch a plane to New York. You have to wonder if his family see much of him. I’m not sure if his destination, 387 Park Ave, might be another in-joke, perhaps it was Marvel’s address in the day. He’s in time to catch the writer of the Robot Master comic, Donny Finkleberg, on his way out of the building, having had his book cancelled.

According to TFWiki and other knowledgeable fans, Donny is based on an actual comic book writer called Danny Fingeroth, who worked with Bob on Marvel’s Avengers in 1981. It’s not clear whether Bob or Don Perlin created Robot Master in his likeness as a hilarious office in-joke or whether Bob’s getting his own back. Certainly, Donny Finkleberg is not presented as a great guy. Instead he’s greedy, unscrupulous, a geeky loser and has a rather incessant smoking habit to boot.

Barnett takes Donny to lunch and offers him $25,000 if he can help come up with a Robot Master story to hoodwink the American public. Naturally he suggests bringing to life the character he created (Barnett could have saved £25k by simply reading the comic). They could say the Transformers are being controlled by a human terrorist mastermind, which apparently is less likely to result in a public scare that giant alien robots. If Donny would like to play Robot Master, he can double his money (and best of all, no acting experience appears to be necessary).

The idea is loopy on several levels. When Donny appears on TV he’s likely to be recognised by someone (like his old boss perhaps) and outed, and it wouldn’t take the media very long to discover the similarity to the Robot Master comic and expose the whole hoax. Triple I are playing with fire and it’s a wonder and it’s a wonder that Barnett he was not laughed out of the agency for coming up with such a foolhardy plan.

Nevertheless, the next day Donny is broadcasting as Robot Master and claiming to be the human leader of a robotic army. Optimus Prime is alerted as is Mr Blackrock, who realises that Triple I must be behind this.

He suggests to the media that the whole thing might be a hoax. Triple I are furious but it shows what a house of cards their plan is – it really could fall apart in a moment. Blackrock shuns his limo to drive away in a VW Beetle, which is hilarious (though his calling Bumblebee ‘Bum’ is not really the sort of nickname you’d want).

A photo of frozen Megatron makes the news, much to the horror of Barnett and Forsythe (honestly, how was that ever going to stay private seeing as Megatron attacked a mine full of workers). They decide to offer Donny a way to double his money, with another broadcast.

In part two, the Autobots have been monitoring the TV news and Optimus Prime sets out to capture his old nemesis with assistance from Skids, Tracks and Bumblebee (once again the comic is showcasing its recently introduced characters, and Hoist also appears earlier in the issue making a nuisance of himself by taking charge of Autobots maintenance schedules). This small band, albeit including Optimus, seems decidedly light to capture a Transformer as powerful as Megatron. Even if he is currently immobilised, why take the chance? So much better to go in overwhelming numbers.

In downtown Portland, Soundwave is hanging out at a TV and video store in his cassette deck mode for some totally inexplicable reason. When the shop worker/owner (who oddly enough has been drawn exactly like G.B. Blackrock before they started forgetting his moustache) tests whether it is working, apparently intending to sell this equipment he found on the doorstep. There’s a deafening sound, followed by Ravage transforming and escaping with Soundwave, who are picked up and flown away by Laserbeak and Buzzsaw. They all head off in the direction of Wyoming, some 1,022 miles away. The sequence doesn’t add-up. Why not hang out a store more local to Megatron, or monitor TV from the Decepticon base?

There’s a nice scene however, where Barnett and Donny (in his Robot Master threads) arrive at the mine and Megatron’s eyes burn as Donny refers to him as “old junkpile” and strikes a match on his foot. Apparently with Robot Master broadcasting next to a giant robot, the story’s credibility will be bolstered by a thousand percent! Blackrock arrives (minus tache) to make a final attempt to persuade Barnet to drop the crazy plan, pointing out that Triple I are lumping potential allies (the Autobots) in with the enemy – and inviting Decepticon attack.

The Autobots arrive and are promptly fired upon by the US military and of course they can’t return fire. Barnett’s comment about them coming to free a comrade is ridiculous, given that the Autobots are clearly not being hostile even under extreme provocation. However, it’s all too late as Soundwave and his cassettes arrive with a casket of fuel (and a petrol hose) and quickly restore Megatron to working order. The Decepticons make very short work of the army and the Autobots, in their weakened state are forced to withdraw. It’s odd seeing them leave humans to the mercy of Megatron (even if it’s the army’s own silly fault) it seems to run contrary to Autobot principles.

Laserbeak retrieves Donny and plonks him in front of Megatron for termination. Donny’s quick talking saves his own neck. He offers the Decepticons his assistance in continuing the dark propaganda so that they can continue to cast fear and suspicion about the Autobots. At this point Megatron really should’ve blasted him into oblivion but with Soundwave thinking it’s a good idea, he also agrees. A second broadcast occurs, with Robot Master backed up Megatron’s raw power (crushing huge boulders for effect). Afterwards Donny very stupidly strikes another match on Megatron’s foot (does he not have a matchbox?) and gets hoisted by the cape (if not his own petard) and warned by Megatron, in full-on public health warning mode, never to presume his value to the Decepticons or he may discover that smoking is hazardous to his health!

So, there you have it kids, smoking is not cool – as Donny’s habit gets him in trouble with Megatron! Overall, it’s a fun, slightly camp and off the wall story from Bob Budiansky that helps keep momentum with the Decepticons and the Autobots on the backfoot, which is important for the drama and tension. Robot Master is a rather ridiculous figure. He looks more like a bloke going to a comic convention in a silly outfit than a potential world dominator or terrorist mastermind. If you think about the concept seriously it quickly unravels – people will know Donny Finkleberg from his regular life and it wouldn’t take the cops or the media long to find out he’s a struggling comic book writer. I guess the story is meant to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously.

Interestingly, Shockwave won’t learn of Megatron’s return until TFUK#65 in another nine issues, which is strange since the ex-Decepticon leader has appeared on every TV channel with Robot Master.

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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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