Target: 2006 (Parts 7 & 8)

As Simon Furman’s future epic builds to its crescendo, there’s further humiliation for the leaderless Autobots, Starscream switches sides and Galvatron and Ultra Magnus do battle.

I’ve lost track of the amount of money I’ve spent on comics over the years. As a schoolboy in the 1980s, cycling to my newsagent to pick up the latest issue of Marvel UK’s flagship title, The Transformers, was a weekly ritual. I certainly parted with quite a lot of 30ps back in the day.

Re-reading those stories three and a half decades later, I’m often struck by how well they endure – and Target: 2006 is a real case in point. These issues are every bit as good now as they were then, and I’ve had literally decades of enjoyment from them. Not a bad return for my money I reckon.

The first thing you notice about Transformers #85 (cover date 1st Nov ’86) is Robin Smith’s cover and the strapline ‘Galvatron’s Autobot zombie’. It depicts events from the story with a mindless Jazz beating up on his comrades, Smokescreen and Tracks. Usually, the comic’s loyal readers would have a fair idea of what to expect, thanks to the Next Week/coming attractions teaser (much beloved of this reviewer) on the penultimate page of each issue. We’d been led to believe that this issue’s main event would be Starscream joining Team Galvatron, so the shocking fate of Jazz was, well that, shocking. Once again Simon Furman shows himself to be more than capable of weaving a tale that is full of unexpected twists.

Another unforeseen turn of events occurs at the start of the issue. The Decepticons’ original star-ship, long forgotten by writers and the fans, which was used to pursue the Ark four million years ago, makes a surprise reappearance. Not for long mind, as it is very quickly blown to smithereens as a demonstration of the destructive power of Galvatron’s solar weapon.

Simon must have felt on safe grounds to dispense with it, as Bob Budiansky, writing the master narrative in the US had never revisited the ship and it was a fair bet he wouldn’t in future. Despite being in Earth orbit for millions of years, the ship has been conveniently shielded from sensors. With its spectacular demise, Galvatron is content. Once the weapon has recharged, he will return to 2006 and use it against his actual intended target, his master Unicron.

First there are loose ends to tie up, namely recovering Scourge from Autobot captivity. For this task Galvatron has accepted the services of the treacherous opportunist Starscream, who joins him now. He’s clearly uncomfortable in the presence of Cyclonus who roughed Starscream up off camera a couple of issues ago, but Galvatron is much more cordial and welcoming. As Starscream jets away, eager to serve his new master, Galvatron and Cyclonus share a joke at his expense – thanks to them, in 2006 Starscream “has no future”!

As fans now know, Starscream is destined to be reduced to ash by Galvatron during the Transformers Movie. But in November 1986 the film was still a couple of weeks away from it’s release. Target: 2006 is doing a great job of building anticipation for the big screen event, that’s for sure.

As prominent as Galvatron has been in the story so far, we’ve seen significantly less of his fellow ‘new leader’ and counterpart Ultra Magnus. The mighty Autobot has been spending his time trying and failing to recover Optimus Prime from wherever he ended up. Now he’s finally about to get a break Hotrod, Kup and Blurr, the newest refugees from the future, arrive with the vital answers Magnus needs. It’s a favourite scene of mine – with Hot Rod kneeling in tribute to Magnus as a Matrix holder, only to get a whispered reminder from Kup that “he hasn’t got it yet” (another hint of future events there) and Kup’s brilliant description of Blurr as “fidgeting like there’s about nine different places he wants to be”. The Movie really illustrates that well.

Galvatron personally oversees the prisoner exchange, handing a battered and unconscious Jazz over to Jetfire, Smokescreen, Tracks and Brawn, while receiving Scourge whose arms and legs are manacled behind his back – it sure doesn’t look comfortable. The Autobots under Jetfire have repeatedly underestimated Galvatron and now do so again. The Decepticon produces a remote control and activates Jazz, who immediately launches a savage attack on his comrades, who of course are completely taken by surprise and unwilling to use deadly force. The result is that all four are quickly defeated.

Megatron, meanwhile, has used the opportunity of Galvatron’s absence to get close solar weapon. He gets mugged by Cyclonus who starts throttling him, but when Soundwave uses the butt of his concussion blaster to clonk Cyclonus over the head, it provides the distraction Megatron needs to punch his lights out. This is about right I think – for all his Unicron enhanced power, Cyclonus should not be in the same league as Megatron in power terms, and of course in much later issues he’s quite a bit weaker. At this moment in the comic he’s still able to strangle Megatron, which is a pretty major statement.

Also punching above his weight is Starscream. He ambushes Megatron and Soundwave, cutting them down with two sudden and powerful blasts. He’s about to finish Megatron off when Galvatron arrives and punches Starscream’s lights out. Phew! It’s all happening in this instalment.

But while all of this has been going on, Magnus has been learning from Kup that when a Transformer time-jumps, they lock on to beings of a comparable mass in their target year and displace them to a limbo between dimensions. The mystery of Prime, Prowl and Ratchet’s disappearance is finally solved. Kup is about to explain more when Magnus high-tails it away to confront Galvatron – and so the issue ends with the mouth-watering prospect of the new leaders doing battle. It’s been eagerly awaited!

Onwards to Part 8 of Target: 2006, published in #86 of Transformers UK. The cover’s strapline declares, ‘it’s crunch time’ and that certainly sums up the situation. Geoff Senior’s splash page of Galvatron riding atop of Magnus is breathtakingly brilliant and is the iconic image that encapsulates Target: 2006 more than any other. I also love how much Magnus in truck mode so closely resembles Optimus Prime (no surprise as the Magnus toy is a remake and enhancement of Optimus) but as the stand-in leader it’s fitting.

Furman opens with a recap of Galvatron’s triumphs – the assembly of the solar weapon and the fall of his enemies. The mindless Jazz standing among the bodies of his comrades is such a powerful image, as is the acid injury to Trailbreaker. Grapple, you imagine, would have recovered and been back on his feet quite quickly if Ratchet had been there.

Magnus thunders down the highway, sending cars swerving and crashing as Galvatron hangs on to him for dear life (or perhaps sheer fury). Magnus cuts through the divider and heads on to an overpass that is in mid construction. At the last moment he slams on the brakes and sends Galvatron flying off the bridge. He plummets to the ground and his impact with concrete can almost be felt by the reader! Senior is doing a fantastic job of capturing the drama.

Of course, 11 pages of fighting would be difficult to sustain, and would probably be a fast read. So, I’m grateful to Furman for the flashback which explains the difference between Magnus’ arrival at the end of the previous issue and their presence on the freeway.

We learn that Magnus had confronted Galvatron in order force him to return to the future. Critically, he cannot allow Galvatron to die in case this should prevent the return of Optimus Prime, so he’s already fighting with a handicap. Galvatron, as we saw, had reacted with fury at Magnus’ imposition and had opened fire, leaving a hole in his weapon. He had leapt on to Magnus and been kicked away, crashing into the solar laser and breaking off more components.  Though Magnus had given a fair account of himself, it was clear that Galvatron is the tougher opponent (and certainly the more unhinged).

Magnus had received an internal communication from Kup, asking him to buy some time by getting Galvatron clear of the solar weapon. He had transformed and begun to drive off only for Galvatron to dig his fingers into Magnus’ steel skin and thus the events which opened the story came to pass.

Back to present, and Galvatron recovers. In an instant he disintegrates the motorway floor under the daydreaming Magnus and causes him to fall to the ground also. He lands smack back in the firing line of Galvatron’s cannon mode. Magnus leapfrogs the blast but is knocked aside. He throws a petrol tanker in Galvatron’s direction, which the Decepticon destroys and engulfs both Transformers in a terrible inferno. Further explosions follow until finally a victor emerges from the conflagration… and it is Galvatron!

The end? Well not quite. Magnus is down but not yet out, though it certainly looks like Galvatron is the conqueror at the end of this issue. To be fair, it would have made a lousy cliff hanger to have the good guy win. And so, the tension continues into the penultimate instalment next issue. Target: 2006 has been amazing so far and is building to its stunning conclusion.

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Target: 2006 (Parts 5 & 6)

Simon Furman’s masterpiece Target: 2006 enters its second half with revelations about the origins of Galvatron and more arrivals from the future.

The Devil You Know. It’s the sub-title of part 5 Target: 2006 – Simon Furman’s epic Transformers the Movie tie-in, published in October 1986 by Marvel – which contains a double meaning. I’ll come to that shortly.

Things have been pretty eventful in the story so far. Optimus Prime, Prowl and Ratchet disappeared in a flash of anti-mater as three future Decepticons arrived from 2006. Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge wasted no time in making their presence felt. They buried Megatron and Soundwave under rocks and put the Constructicons to work building a powerful solar weapon. Meanwhile, on the Cybertron the Autobots about to spring a carefully orchestrated trap on the planet’s Decepticon rulers, when the centrepiece of Operation Volcano (Ultra Magnus) is compelled to travel to Earth to investigate the disappearance of Prime and the Creation Matrix. He faces a race against time to get back!

I might add, we’ve also seen the Autobots handed one of their worst ever defeats, by Galvatron, and when we last saw them Ironhide was busy freeing Megatron from his rocky tomb. Robin Smith’s cover (captioned: Scourge is scrapped… and not by an Autobot!) teases the main slice of action for this instalment, hinting at the expected Autobot-Megatron team up. It’s been a hell of a first half to Target: 2006 and things are about to get even more exciting!

It begins with Starscream punching free from a capsule within the Ark. When we last saw him, he was rendered inoperative by Omega Supreme – along with Rumble, Frenzy, Skywarp, Buzzsaw and Thundercracker. All are undergoing repairs in cocoons. Starscream wonders whether the Autobots’ “contemptible compassion” extends to restoring those they have defeated. We learn that, of the others, only Frenzy and Thundercracker are on the way to recovery – the rest are too badly broken. Starscream gravitates cautiously towards the sound of voices raised in anger. He cannot believe his eyes – Megatron has teamed up with the Autobots!

Geoff Senior does a fine job of conveying the shock on Starscream’s face, and the defiance of Megatron (not easy for robot faces) but Starscream’s posture is a little weird, looking like he’s squatting to use a loo! I don’t mean to disparage the art though, as it’s of a generally high standard and with some outstanding moments (Scourge spearing Grapple with a sheet of steel being one).

The row between Megatron and Jetfire, with Ironhide stepping-in to calm things serves as a good way of recapping the previous indignities heaped on both sides. (I particularly enjoy the sight of Megatron seizing Ironhide by the throat after the latter frees him – it’s such a typical Megatron reflex). Jetfire continues his poor run of judgement, once again allowing emotion to cloud his view. He’s on the brink of calling off this alliance before it gets going. Thankfully wise-old-hand Ironhide reminds both camps of their shared enemy and Megatron has a workable plan that they can get behind. His words carry the day and others vote in favour.

That said, what were they thinking reviving Starscream? Sure, they could use his raw power but the last thing you need when the chips are down is a potential traitor in the camp. And having gone to the effort, nobody seems to notice Starscream sneaking off – having decided that a being powerful enough to unite sworn enemies is worthy of an alliance.

We’re reminded that Magnus is still around, and still under a time pressure to get back for Volcano, when Hound visits him to give an update on developments. The scene feels a little padded but does further illustrate the bond between the two of them. Hound owes his life to Magnus, and having seen his bravery in battle, he’s loyal to Magnus even though Jetfire and the others distrust him. Oddly, Magnus seems to have grown since last time (or Hound has shrunk!). He’s now at least twice the size the smaller Autobot and his head is comparable to Hound’s torso in one panel. Magnus is horrified to learn that the Autobots are working with Megatron – a case of ‘better the devil they know’ explains Hound, in a nod to the title of the story. Magnus suggests Megatron and Galvatron are as “insidiously evil” as one another (big hint there).

Next comes the meat in the sandwich of the issue. At the Portland Iron and Steel foundry, Scourge arrives in search of supplies. There is no question he would be happier hunting Autobots than ferrying stocks of metal – and he may get his wish! Sensing enemy Transformers hidden behind a nearby wall, Scourge reacts with lightning speed. A blast from his acid ray penetrates the concrete and fries Trailbreaker, but it soon becomes apparent that the place is crawling with Autobots.

How they knew where to find him is never explained, but it quickly becomes apparent to Scourge that this is an organised ambushed. A well-aimed laser blast reduces him to fighting with his bare hands and making use the materials around him ninja style. Even with these odds Scourge is still surprisingly adept and (as previously mentioned) impales Grapple with a sheet of metal. Senior’s art is fantastic and dramatic here. Scourge’s communications have been jammed (though unsaid, we know this will be Soundwave’s doing) and trapped inside, he can’t utilise the weaponry of his jet form. One thing for it – get outside. Scourge smashes his way through a wall and into the open, only for his escape to be cut short by a blast from the one and only Megatron. And so it becomes clear, the identity of the tactical genius who has organised the Autobot ‘rabble’.

The issue’s finale focuses on a one-page scene between the captive Jazz and his tormentor Galvatron. Whereas earlier Starscream Jazz could not believe his eyes, Jazz cannot believe his ears. He had awoken from his injuries to be told of the Autobots’ failed attempt to rescue him. Galvatron had delivered the news with relish and Jazz had accused Galvatron of being “just like Megatron”. Galvatron laughs, not “like” Megatron, He “IS” Megatron! The devil we know.

Anyone reading now will say ‘well of course Megatron is Galvatron’ but remember when this issue was published it was still about two months before The Movie arrived in UK cinemas. Even so, the clues were there for readers to work it out. Those captured Decepticons Starscream, Thundercracker, Frenzy and co. get an early return to duty in this story, contrary to the US continuity where they are only retrieved by the Constructicons in UK#175 during an attack on the Ark.

And so, to part 6 subtitled ‘Trios’. I really can’t praise this instalment highly enough. It’s simply an 11-page masterpiece, and still a joy to read three and a half decades later. Why? Well has everything really – six new characters making their comics debut (always exciting for fans), the big reveal about Galvatron’s origins, our first look at Unicron courtesy of Phil Gascoine cover and Senior’s interior art (both amazing). And the issue offers tantalising glimpses of the eagerly awaited (at the time) Transformers Movie. Issue 84’s Transformation page sums it up succinctly as: “Six new characters and the origin of Galvatron… in one issue! This is the one you’ve been waiting for!” It certainly is.

The story begins in the most attention-grabbing way, with Impactor taking a punch to the chin. His attackers are three ‘Decepticon’ triple changers, who look to be a handful for even the fearless leader of the Wreckers. We know from the teaser in the previous issue, that Springer, Sandstorm and Broadside are Impactor’s assailants, but we also know they are part of the Autobot toy range. I remember wondering at the time whether the trio would be Decepticons who switch sides, but surely if that’s the case there’s not room in the story for yet another major sub-plot?

However, as we discover, there is if you’ll pardon the pun ‘more than meets the eye’ about the situation. After rough-handling Impactor for several minutes, they break off and Springer hands him a communications cube. Xaaron’s face appears on it, looking rather pleased with himself. He announces that Impactor has just ‘met’ the Autobot triple changers, who will be filling in for Ultra Magnus should he fail to make it back for Operation: Volcano. The disguises were for Impactor’s benefit and the rough treatment was the quickest way to convince him that they are up to the task. It’s great to see the dynamic between the two, and you can also see how the wily Xaaron has survived this long, knowing how to stay a step ahead of friend and foe. Impactor’s reaction, sheer frustration and not knowing whether to thank Xaaron or tear his head off, says it all!

Other points from this great little scene… Springer demonstrates his leaping ability to great effect (landing in front of Impactor and sending him sprawling). We also see Sandstorm and Broadside, transforming into their helicopter and plane modes. This is perfectly consistent with their toys, but makes less sense when you think about it, as why would Cybertron Autobots have Earth modes? I hate to suggest it as I’m fan of Senior’s work, but perhaps it was a laziness on his part, to skip having to design Cybertronic alt modes, or maybe an oversight? Likewise, I feel like the inhibitor claw placed on Impactor’s back and which stops him transforming, deprives readers of seeing his other mode.

If Impactor was having one of his worst days, on Earth, all Galvatron’s days are good ones, we’re told (particularly since he crushed the Autobots so comprehensively in part 3). Jazz, his captive, has just learned that Galvatron is an upgraded version of Megatron, and now he mocks him, hoping to learn more. Galvatron for some reckless reason is only too happy to oblige (you can almost hear Doc Brown screaming warnings in the background about messing with the space-time continuum!).

Galvatron describes an epic battle between himself as Megatron and his oldest foe Optimus Prime. They had fought to a standstill on the spot where Galvatron’s weapon now resides. The fight will of course become very, very well known to anyone watching the Movie (and let’s face it, most of us have seen that film A LOT of times!) but from the panels here, it looks like Megatron comes off worse. There’s no inkling that Optimus will be fatally injured and therefore that major plot is preserved for the filmgoers. At the time it confirmed my suspicions that Prime has the edge on Megatron in a straight fight.

We see Starscream, still treacherous as ever in 2006, casting Megatron into space, where he encounters the living planet Unicron. Again, we’re so used to seeing Unicron now that it’s easy to forget what a huge moment this is. I recall thinking that he looked like the Death Star and it totally made sense that a being powerful enough to be the master of Galvatron would have to be immense – and they don’t come bigger than planet-sized. It didn’t occur to me at the time that he might be able to transform!

Galvatron tells Jazz that he was given a simple choice, ‘serve Unicron or die’, and of course he chose the former. He was reconstructed as Galvatron, but his every indiscretion was instantly punished. We learn that he fled to Earth’s past with Cyclonus and Scourge to build a weapon of unimaginable power. He’s just about to tell Jazz that it will be dormant under Autobot City and trigger the moment they return to the future, destroy the city and Unicron – which suggests he doesn’t intend to let Jazz live to tell the tale – when Cyclonus interrupts. He informs Galvatron that Scourge is missing and that he found Starscream nearby, hoping to join the winning side. He had information to trade, which Cyclonus beat out of him – Megatron is free and has teamed up with the Autobots! Jazz breaks out into laughter – it’s Megatron versus Megatron – and Galvatron, infuriated renders the Autobot very quickly unconscious.

This raises a question of course, why Galvatron has no memories of his earlier self-teaming up with the Autobots. Could it be that he’s from an alternate future and not descended from this Megatron? Perhaps it’s best to not worry about these things too much and simply enjoy the story.

And so, to the Decepticon coal mine base, where Shockwave has returned and found it deserted save for the recently revived Frenzy and Thundercracker. They have questions – but as the scene flicks between Hot Road, Kup and Blurr in 2006 preparing to time travel – they don’t get the opportunity for answers, as the Decepticon trio are engulfed in the same antimatter that consumed Prime, Prowl and Ratchet. (So, this explains for readers what we already suspected, that future visitors displace persons in the present). They vanish making way for the future Autobots to arrive in spectacular fashion. Their mission, we learn is to stop Galvatron. Who sent them? The cryptic clue of Simon Furman’s closing narration hints at the answer – a ‘haunting, malevolent laugh’ that stirs their subconscious (big hint here) and echoes off the coalmine, reverberating off the surface of Cybertron and reaching Galvatron, producing a sudden chill that owes nothing to the climate. Unicron?

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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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Crisis of Command

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Enemy Within

March 1985 was a significant month in the history of Transformers comics. Issue #13 marked the debut of Simon Furman – the writer who even more than Bob Budiansky most deserves the title Mr Transformers. Furman is responsible for the vast majority of the UK stories in the comic’s 332 issue run and a good number of the Marvel US classics too! And his contribution in the years which followed, with stories for successive license-holders Dreamwave, Titan and IDW.

But it all began with The Enemy Within – a four part story, later hastily stretched to five – produced during the seven months interlude where Transformers UK was fresh out of stories from the US comic to reprint and had to fill the gap with home grown material.

The story is essentially a duel between Starscream and Brawn, two hitherto supporting characters, with the stakes being either death or redemption; but it’s the Decepticon side of the equation that is arguably the more interesting.

The Enemy Within builds on the dynamic between the two biggest Decepticon egos, commander Megatron and his would-be leadership rival Starscream. It was often hinted in the initial mini-series that Starscream thought he would make a better leader, and was just looking for his opportunity to strike. With patience not one of his virtues, his mask eventually slipped and (during The Last Stand) Starscream was openly critical of Megatron and quickly found himself on the receiving end of the leader’s all-powerful fusion canon!

Save for that comedic moment, we haven’t seen Starscream at his most cunning and plotting until now. Furman’s debut story delves in, and unlike the Sunbow cartoons where Starscream is forever undermining the leader and getting away with it, there’s a sense of real consequences here. The Decepticons are like a mafia outfit and if you’re on manoeuvres against the Don, you’re definitely taking a massive risk with your life.

The story grabs the reader from the first panel, opening on a close-up of a Megatron who is outraged! We soon find out why. Starscream is stirring unrest by suggesting they all-out attack the Autobots, something he knows the others will support him on. In doing so, he’s openly questioning Megatron’s chosen course of action. A fusion cannon blast across his bows puts Starscream back in his place, but there is lingering unease in the camp. Megatron instructs Ravage to spy on Starscream and bring back evidence of his treachery, so that he can be silenced for good!

There’s a sense that Ravage is a trusted confidant and someone with whom Megatron can let his guard down. And unlike Ravage’s cartoon depiction, where he’s more animal-like, in the comic he speaks and is like any other Decepticon except with a jaguar robot form.

Unlike the previous UK story Man of Iron, which is out on a limb, we can see that Furman is making a conscious effort to fit his story into the established US canon. So, he has Megatron mention the encounter with Spider-Man and the talk of attacking the Autobots feels like a build-up to what eventually happens in The Last Stand.

Meanwhile, at the Ark, Brawn is lifting a heavy piece of equipment that Mirage is working on when both receive what looks like a very nasty electric shock. In Mirage’s case it will enhance his illusion abilities but Brawn suffers a personality change and becomes selfish, angry and resentful. He goes on a rampage and batters his way through the Ark’s hull and escapes.

Starscream is planning to attack an army base. He thinks that when the Autobots come to the human’s rescue, the Decepticons will come to his – and will be convinced by his leadership qualities. For some stupid reason Starscream articulates all this out loud (why?) and is overheard by Ravage. He offers Ravage a chance to join the plot or else be destroyed. You get a sense of some mutual respect between the two of the other’s abilities – I think when Starscream offers the alliance it’s not only because he’s been caught red-handed, he genuinely thinks Ravage would be an asset.

We see each of their abilities play out in a head to head. Ravage is able to blend into the desert and spring up out of nowhere to launch a missile attack, but the agile flier Starscream is able to evade the threat. The battle concludes with Ravage being blasted and disappearing under falling rocks. There’s no longer any turning back.

In part 2 (TFUK #14) we learn that Ravage survived. He staggers home to the Decepticons and reveals it was Starscream who attacked him. We also see Brawn causing a really nasty (probably fatal) road smash as he takes revenge on humans for ‘enslaving’ his fellow machines (cars). Those hook hands of his are probably useless at picking things up but they are pretty handy for battering the crap out of stationary vehicles, as Brawn does to a cop car which he ‘freed from servitude’ to mankind but which appeared ungrateful. Oh dear.

Starscream causes havoc by shooting down US jets and appearing on television challenging the Autobots to take him on! However, with their own problems to sort out, they swerve the invite and show up to confront the renegade Brawn. It is the Decepticons and Megatron who arrive to take down Starscream!

Cue part 3 where Brawn refuses to come quietly and repels his one-time comrades (fairly successfully) until being taken down by – of all people – Red Alert. Why is that strange, well for one thing he’s never appeared in the line up of Earthbound Autobots before and his appearance here feels like a continuity error. They really ought to have coloured him red and said it was Sideswipe, getting his revenge from earlier.

While Starscream is in a fight for his life – pursued by his former wingmen Skywarp and Thundercracker, he is shot down in the desert and confronted by Megatron. He begs for trial by combat, which apparently he is entitled to, but really Megatron should take no notice of this and press the advantage. That he doesn’t is an indication that there are limits to his authority and he has to keep the troops on side.

In a nice touch, we’re treated to an incident (via historical tapes) of two Cybertronians called Tornado and Earthquake who accepted trial by combat and destroyed each other. With names like that, perhaps it was unsurprising? This could be a perfect resolution, Megatron thinks. Once Brawn is repaired and realises his terrible error, he readily accepts the challenge laid down by the Decepticons to do battle.

Part 4 was billed in advance as the concluding part, but over the fortnight the production team must have discovered that the wait for US material was going to be longer than they expected. The result was that they decided to split the final 11 pages over two issues, and the next story (Raiders of the Last Ark would be told over four issues not two).

That disappointment aside, TFUK #16 is an exciting issue with both Brawn and Starscream showcasing their respective talents (strength and deadly aerial abilities). Brawn throws a giant bolder, Starscream rains down volleys from above. Brawn leaps off a ledge and on to his opponent but ends up hitting the ground hard. Starscream unleashes on the helpless Autobot, seemingly blowing him to bits… or has he? The narrative states that ‘no emotion registered on Optimus Prime’s face’ (how many emotions can a guy without a face show anyway?) and we start to realise that things might not all be as they seem.

In part 5 we find out Mirage had used his abilities to simulate Brawn’s destruction while pulling him clear. Ravage, meanwhile, is in wait with a massive gun strapped to his back, which he uses to take out Starscream! Revenge is a dish best served cold. This can neatly be blamed on the Autobots and serve as a premise for Megatron to lead the attack his troops have been itching for.

In summary, this is action-packed debut story from Simon Furman and nice in that it gives the lesser-seen Brawn a turn in the spotlight. The art, by Ridgway and Collins, sees characters drawn like their toy incarnations but after a while you get used it. One of the letters to the editor asks why Megatron looks different every week. Their reply: none of the artists have been able to get close enough to him, which I guess is fair enough!

The story would be reprinted twice more – the first time in ‘Collected Comics 4’ in full colour, and much later as a back-up strip filler in TFUK #308-318 (in 1991). Robo Capers by Lew Stringer launches to provide regular comedy value but the other back up strips are by and large pretty mediocre. It’s a shame at this point that they are outnumbering the Transformers pages. That US material can’t come quick enough.

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Man of Iron

Jazz shows up in the woods in southern England – and scares the hell out of young Sammy Harker! It’s the other worldly, slightly bizarre and baffling UK four-part story, Man of Iron.

January 1985. Readers of Marvel UK’s fortnightly Transformers comic are still reeling from last issue’s shock ending (where Shockwave showed up and blasted the Autobots into unconsciousness – single-handedly ending the Transformers’ war on Earth in the Decepticons’ favour). Anyone buying the next issue to find out what happens next will have been thoroughly perplexed to find a very different story in its place.

It will be six to seven months before the US material is available (in Transformers UK #22) so the UK creative team will have to fill the void by coming up with their own original stories in the interim.

The first one out the blocks is this off-beat, slightly weird but at times compelling tale by Steve Parkhouse. Man of Iron would be his one and only writing credit for Transformers, though he later did the lettering for the 1988 story ‘Wrecking Havoc’. Steve’s TF Wiki page suggests he knew “almost nothing” about the Transformers franchise when writing the story. Marvel only told him the bare bones of the set-up and as a result Man of Iron “stays far away from any of the US plots” to avoid a clash.

We later find out (courtesy of the ‘Robot War’ recap in UK #22) that this story takes place between the events of Power Play and Prisoner of War. After Sparkplug’s capture, the Autobots returned to the Ark to learn of a message in a Transformers language (evidence to suggest Transformers don’t speak English) emanating from Southern England. The Autobots investigate believing it to be a rescue craft from their home-world holding vital information on its whereabouts. Soundwave has also picked up this signal and the search begins!

The story centres around a medieval castle near a small village, which is bombed by Decepticon jets. While the army is called in to search for an unexploded bomb the castle curator, Roy Harker, goes looking for his son in the woods. Sammy Harker does not want to go home and hides from his father, but after a brief encounter with Jazz – he runs home while Jazz follows him in vehicle mode and reports his address to Optimus Prime (there are a lot of unclear events in this story). Later, Roy Harker shows Sammy a drawing of the Man of Iron – a legendary metal being who showed up at the castle more than 900 years ago! The pair wonder whether this was the mysterious robot in the woods.

Things get weirder in part two as we see Sammy dreaming of Mirage appearing at his bedroom window. Next thing Sammy is floating above the house seeing a Decepticon plane, and the ancient drawing of the Man of Iron flying out the window into Mirage’s hand. His father charges in to find him sleeping peacefully, and a giant figure walking off into the distance. Was it a dream after all or reality masked by a Mirage illusion? Much is left to the reader’s imagination at this point.

The next morning, Roy finds the entire castle cordoned off. An object the size of an ocean liner has been found buried underneath the castle ruins! Sammy meanwhile is looking at a Porsche in his street (Jazz) when he notices the picture of the Man of Iron on the back seat. The car door opens and Jazz beckons him to get in. This is where it all gets a bit uncomfortable; Sammy tells Jazz he’s not allowed to accept lifts from strangers and Jazz replies (in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of a child abductor) that he isn’t a stranger and he can show Sammy an adventure. He then drives off at speed as Sammy’s panicked mother screams! There’s a short message of advice to readers about never accepting lifts from strangers. This is just as well but the scene feels just a little disturbing, even irresponsible.

It really isn’t clear at this point why the Autobots are interested in Sammy and their tactics in getting him to talk to them leave a lot to be desired. Man of Iron is a different kind of story in that it is told from the humans’ perspective and with Transformers making cameos. In this way they are able to appear a lot more mysterious and alien.

In part 3 Mike Collins picks up the artist duties from John Ridgeway and does a fantastic job of capturing the drama and realism of the battle scenes in way I have seldom seen in a comic. As Jazz and Sammy rendezvous with Trailbreaker and Mirage on the highway they come under aerial attack by the Decepticon jets. Trailbreaker is literally blown to pieces by a missile impact, while Mirage deploys his illusionary abilities to cause their opponent to crash into a bridge (and practically disintegrate on impact!). Bluestreak appears on a flyover and shoots down another of the jets, again blowing the Decepticon to pieces. Despite these devastating looking injuries, most of the Transformers will appear quite soon back in one piece!

The scene where Jazz and Sammy arrive at the Autobot shuttle is like something from an alien encounter movie. The boy meets Optimus Prime. Prime and we learn that the signal which brought them to England is coming from a rescue craft, sent from Cybertron, that is beneath the castle. For reasons unknown, Prime is convinced the Decepticons will try to destroy the ship (why when they could learn its secrets or pilot it back to Cybertron instead?).

In the final instalment we at last meet the Man of Iron. A ground tremor heralds his arrival as he emerges from a concealed hatch to attack the army! It’s not clear why, and moments later he’s blown to bits by Starscream – who is in turn rammed at full speed by Jazz! We never do learn the secrets of the rescue craft or the dormant Autobot within, known as Navigator. This is because the Autobots take the fateful decision to destroy the rescue craft rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands.
Soon the tourists are back, this time with the stories of UFO sightings, but see nothing new that is out of the ordinary. Sammy never sees the Autobots again but the Man of Iron continues to walk in his dreams.

Following its original publication in TF UK#9-12 it received a full colour reprint in US issues #33 and #34. The cover of #33 is something of a tribute to the Brits with William Shakespeare taking the place of Spider-man in bottom-left-corner box. The editorial pitches the story as “from the land that gave us the Fab Four, Dickens and Princess Di”, which I find rather charming. I’m not sure of the truth to the claim though, that UK material is being printed due to “overwhelming” reader demand. It’s more likely that this was to give breathing space to the creative team, who will have been busy working on the Headmasters spin-off series at this time.

Had I been choosing a story to showcase to an American audience I might well have picked The Enemy Within, Dinobot Hunt or In the National Interest, any of which will have excited US fans more than this one. Perhaps it is the Englishness of the story with its castles, leafy suburbs and military types who say things like ‘what’s going on old boy?’ or it might be that it simply reads well as a standalone.

As mentioned above, it takes place between Powerplay and Prisoner of War. This niggles a little as we’re invited to believe that the Autobots – who at this time were so low on fuel as to be running on vapours – went on a jaunt across the Atlantic while Sparkplug had just been snatched by the Decepticons and was in immediate need of a rescue. Fitting this story and the subsequent two into continuity would prove tricky.

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Prisoner of War

The Decepticons have made Sparkplug Witwicky their ‘Prisoner of War’ and put him to work converting earth fuels for their consumption. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of the lesser-seen character Gears… and the Amazing Spider-Man himself!

Generally, I’m not a fan of crossovers. They usually stretch the realms of credibility (even for comics) and feel super contrived. All too often they fail to match up to the hype, for example the 2007 Avengers vs Transformers, though GI Joe and the Transformers arguably had some success in marrying their two properties. While Prisoner of War and the Last Stand (which features the Savage Land) establishes The Transformers as part of the Marvel universe, the two will shortly diverge and remain separate for the rest of the comic’s seven year run.

On paper there’s no reason that Spider-Man and the Transformers should make comfortable bedfellows but incredibly it works! In fact, this is one of my favourite stories from the early years. It has humour, much improved art – Frank Springer is hitting his stride and now drawing the bots more like their cartoon forms rather than the toys – and the action is fast paced and exciting. Fans of Spider-man will not be disappointed and may also be encouraged to continue picking up The Transformers, which is of course the publisher’s intention. Marvel is pulling out the big guns in the form of their most prominent superhero to give the TF comic a big boost at this point.

The action picks up where the previous story left off, with Starscream having abducted Sparkplug in the midst of a battle with the Autobots in the Witwicky auto yard. The humour rolls from the start with Sparkplug protesting to be let out and Starscream pointing out that at the altitude they are travelling at this be most unwise! They arrive at the Fortress Sinister, which has been constructed in super quick time by the Decepticons from machinery they salvaged from the Harrison Nuclear Plant only the previous issue.

Sparkplug is informed by Megatron that he will make fuel for their cause or die. He realises that, for all of their advanced technology, the Decepticons are out of their element when it comes to adapting to a more primitive world such as Earth. Cue another laugh-out-loud moment where Sparkplug, having rattled off his rank like when he was previously a Korean prisoner of war, is hoist upside down by an impatient Megatron!

As before Starscream’s actions are shown to be highly political. He exploits his role in capturing the human as a showcase for his suitability to command. Megatron praises him but thought bubbles reveal he is biding his time to deal with this would-be assassin. In fact that reckoning will come, but only for UK audiences in Simon Furman’s debut story for
The Autobots are really on the backfoot at this point. After their exertions in battle they are dangerously low on fuel and can barely make the return journey to the Ark (sending a motorcycle traffic careering off the road with the ‘there’s no-one driving’ recurring gag). Prime orders that several Autobots including himself are refuelled, including Gears, who will feature prominently in the rest of the story.

Laserbeak’s shows off his precision eye beams to put the heat on Sparkplug, who agrees to cooperate. Obtaining a lab and a gasoline source is a small matter for the Decepticons, who demonstrate that they have the size, ability and power to take literally anything they want.
The US army massing outside the Fortress Sinister is the response you would expect if alien robots showed up on Earth, so it is a little strange how everyone is content to leave the building alone once its abandoned in subsequent issues. Naturally word of alien arrival is a major media story too and this provides an opportunity Spider-Man’s alter-ego, press photographer Peter Parker to be dispatched to the scene.

Unsurprisingly the military is no match for a Decepticon aerial onslaught and are soon driven back. Gears, now refuelled, arrives to observe and, after transforming to robot mode, is tackled by Spider-Man. He proves his good intentions by catching a tank that has been propelled in the direction of a group of humans by Skywarp. Again, we’re treated to a fun skirmish between the Autobots and Decepticon troops, with Sunstreaker taking out Skywarp with a missile, and Brawn punching out Rumble before succumbing to Frenzy’s sonic power.

The eye-catching cover to Transformers US issue #3 featuring Spidey
The eye-catching cover to Transformers US issue #3 featuring Spidey

The cantankerous Gears and wise-cracking Spider-Man form an unlikely double act. They really rub off well as they maraud their way through the Decepticon HQ dispatching a series of foes with lively humour throughout. This issue is a great platform for Gears, though sadly he would be destined to fade into the background again under successive writers. The cover of the US edition features Megatron being webbed by Spider-Man. This actually happens (it’s always good when covers depict actual events in the story rather than an exaggeration) as Spidey and Gears infiltrate Megatron’s command centre. Of course, the webbing is insufficient to bind the mighty Decepticon leader. He promptly and blasts a hole in the floor to dispatch the intruders. Spider-Man catches Sparkplug with a line of webbing, but the heavier Gears falls seemingly to his doom!

Later, Gears recovers under Ratchet’s auspices just long enough to deliver the devastating news that Megatron ‘got what he wanted’ from Sparkplug. Awkward. It’s another great cliff hanger that ramps up the tension with Autobots now majorly disadvantaged in this war.

A couple of other things of note: Ratchet’s mention of a discovery in the Ark’s memory banks will prove majorly significant in the next issue, and Prime, interestingly, doesn’t feature much at all in this issue. Though early in the series the writers are already confident enough to put more minor characters like Gears forward, or perhaps it was easier with Spider-Man providing the big name draw. This story will be the first and only time a Marvel hero or villain appears in Transformers. From here on the super-powered guest stars will be home grown, in the form of Circuit Breaker, the Neo Knights and The Mechanic.

TF UK #6 has a Megatron fact file and a feature on Sieve Head, a robot from Saturday Superstore (a kids TV show of the era). A reader writes in to demand a Transformers annual and is told that one is in the pipeline for 1985 – a sign perhaps that even at this early stage Marvel UK had realised it had a long-term success on its hands.

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