Space Hikers!

The Autobots inadvertently capture a group of human children in their pursuit of the renegade Blaster – will Grimlock really use kids as leverage in his personal battle? And Sky Lynx makes his comics debut.

Blaster was my favourite character in the Marvel comics and so having him centre stage – and in demand for the Autobot leadership no less – is very welcome. However, at the close of Used Autobots, with the Protectobots placing Blaster under arrest for desertion, I was eager to get straight to the inevitable confrontation with Grimlock. Instead Child’s Play seemed to drag things out with a largely unnecessary confrontation between the Protectobots and Combaticons (probably to address the lack of Defensor and Bruticus in the previous story) and to put the four human children in the mix.

In Space Hikers the youngsters’ purpose to the plot is clear. It’s to provide a catalyst for Blaster to surrender rather than whip up a revolution (not to difficult given how fed up the Autobots are with Grimlock at this point) and thus postpone his inevitable showdown with the tyrannical Autobot leader for an incredible 30 more issues! Crikey.

I might sound like a boring parent here, but the idea of taking four little kids into space in a captured Decepticon of all things – with their families completely unaware, and without thought for the massive risks you are exposing them too seemed incredibly unwise. Yes, Blast Off was mode-locked, but just as Blaster remained conscious and was thinking of ways to thwart his captors, surely Blast Off would have been expected to do similar. He might have turned off the air supply for example. Another thought: at the point of his arrest Blaster was keen to get after RAAT and recover the Throttlebots. I’m surprised this was no longer a priority once he was freed. Or perhaps he realised the trail would have gone cold and so the next best thing is to return to the Autobots and force a change of leader.

Childs Play ended with the kids and Blaster, in orbit with the Ark bearing down on them. For Space Hikers (published in the UK in mid December 1987) writer Bob Budiansky rewinds the clocks a few hours and makes another toy introduction – the space shuttle/bird/big cat Autobot Sky Lynx. After millions of years of scrapping with Decepticons on the Transformers home world, Sky Lynx was looking for a change and so when Wheeljack asked for his assistance in the Grimlock situation he was only too willing.

Meanwhile, Wheeljack is piloting the Ark after Blast Off. They are using the mode lock’s signal as a homing beacon and Grimlock cites the Decepticon warrior Blast Off as further evidence of Blaster’s treachery. Even Wheeljack is puzzled by this and questioning his admiration for Blaster. The four kids had been having the time of their lives but with the Ark bearing down and likely to shoot them out of the sky, Blaster decides his own recourse is to surrender. Sammy decides instead to throws Blaster out of the airlock – he saved them and now the Space Hikers can return the favour.

A huge claw reaches out from below the Ark (while theatrical I can’t help thinking about the unnecessary storage space this must be taking and surely a tractor beam is more efficient) and swallows the tiny craft. Inside, the Autobots with weapons drawn have Blast Off surrounded. The four children emerge, and Wheeljack convinces the Dinobots that they don’t present any danger…

I’m not sure if the Alzamora family of New Jersey have any significance to the production team or are simply made up, but in two panels we see their TV viewing suddenly disrupted as Blaster commandeers a satellite and uses its stabilising rockets to propel himself to the Ark. Wheeljack leads the four nervous children on a tour, getting them to stand in a chamber where space suits materialise around them (and not forgetting Robin’s teddy either, lol). The suits carry two hours of air, which is significant to the plot later.

Suddenly Slag interrupts – commander Grimlock wants the see the “slime squirts” now! And despite Wheeljack’s reassurances that the commander probably only wants to meet them, they arrive to find a court in session with the crown-wearing King Grimlock presiding. This is truly ridiculous given that the children have every reason to be ignorant of Autobot affairs. Any help they have given Blaster is inconsequential you would think.

Instead, Grimlock orders them to be thrown out of the airlock – in effect executed. The faces of the other Autobots is of utter horror, but WHY DON’T THEY SAY SOMETHING? Grimlock may be a tyrant but the rest are a bunch of wimps!! Snarl questions whether this is a wise move given the other Autobots strong sympathies for humans but Grimlock only intends to use the children to draw Blaster out. Frankly, its incredible at this point that the Autobots are so cowered that they are prepared to stand idly by and allow they sacred principles to be violated.

Wheeljack, having earlier already been throttled by Grimlock, suspects his loyalties are being questioned but throws caution to the wind by calling Sky Lynx and having him swoop down and rescue the Space Hikers as they drift into space. Grimlock orders his warriors back inside to pursue this new arrival. Blaster finally gets within reach of the Ark, only for its huge engines to seemingly flame-grill the Autobot before he can grab a hold. By rights Blaster should be obliterated here or at least propelled to the other side of space by such force! He’s not.

Sky Lynx introduces himself to his passengers and – with the Ark gaining on him – he travels into a meteor shower and reverts to Lynx mode to hop between rocks as the Dinobots exit the Ark and pursue.

Blaster makes a nice reference to not feeling this bad since he swam in the smelting pools of Polyhex (an encounter we fans remember all to well – a great story). He gets into the Ark through a hatch and is warmly greeted by his fellow Autobots. After explaining that he hadn’t teamed-up with Blast-Off, the Decepticon was mode-locked and under control, the Autobots including Prime’s old number two Prowl want him to stay and take charge. As a Blaster fan this idea appealed to me greatly at the time also! But true to his character, Blaster has to put his the four young charges first.

When Sky Lynx radios in to say that the Dinobots have surrounded him and are playing a waiting game its clear that the kids will run out of air unless something is done. Jetfire offers to lead a strike against the Dinobots but Blaster refuses – that might endanger Sky Lynx and the humans. There is only one way to ensure their safety… Blaster goes outside and surrenders! Darn it!

So what happens to Blaster after this shock ending? Readers were not destined to find out until issue #174, well over four months away! The US material seems to drop this whole storyline to concentrate on the Headmasters’ arrival on Earth. We’ll shortly be heading back to the future for one of the most momentous stories of the run, which will take the UK comic up to and past its milestone 150th issue… But first it’s time for a change of pace and the annual tradition that was the Transformers Christmas edition.

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Grudge Match

Swoop goes looking for Divebomb to settle an old score and stop a humiliating secret from his past from becoming known… and their respective teams, the Dinobots and the Predacons, are close behind

Forget Rodimus Prime versus Galvatron or Blaster and Goldbug locking horns with the Mechanic… or even Buster Witwicky’s soapy showdown with Ratbat in a car wash (as if we could), the big fight of the year 1987 is, insofar as Simon Furman is concerned, the Dinobots versus the Predacons! According to the Transformers UK comic, fans have been demanding that the two teams meet in battle. While I’m not so sure of the claim myself, in those pre-internet days it would have impossible to disprove. In any case, in October 1987 this is what Furman (and artist Jeff Anderson) was poised to deliver…

The pre-text for the big fight was a throwaway line in the (much) earlier story, The Icarus Theory, about the Dinobot Swoop being known as Divebomb when he was on Cybertron as a member of the Autobot Elite Flying Corps. He’d resented Optimus Prime’s authority back then and, in the story, Prime is able to leverage this to force Swoop’s personality to reassert itself and override Professor Morris mind control.

So, when Hasbro subsequently brought out an actual Decepticon toy called Divebomb, Furman had a problem. He explained the discrepancy away by saying Swoop had lost the name due to being defeated in combat. The Annual story What’s In a Name? explains all this and sets up the events of Grudge Match rather neatly.

The story opens at a circus big top in Florida where the ring master whips up the crowd for a night of surprises… He’s not wrong. Moments later the Predacon Headstrong charges through O’Connor’s Circus scattering performers and spectators alike and crashing through the side of the tent. Nearby, a boy is pestering his father to see the big cats, and right on cue Razorclaw and Rampage pounce on to assembled funfair and trample the amusements. Rampage tosses a Big Wheel in the direction of Tantrum, who presumably was supposed to catch it but instead manages to shatter it into so many pieces. What’s the purpose of all this? Nothing really, it’s just a bit of mindless mayhem that the team have been needing since relocating to Earth. As Divebomb, who is nearby but finds the idea of tormenting lesser creatures beneath his status as an elite hunter, notes that things had started well: Optimus Prime and Megatron had been worthy quarry but since then Earth has been deadly dull.

Despite not having seen Swoop in four million years, Divebomb’s thoughts turn to his old sparring partner and wondering what happened to him. Does he know that Swoop is also on Earth and now part of a team? If not its mightily coincidental that Divebomb should be thinking of this memory from his long distant past on this very night.

Through Divebomb’s dialogue, are reminded that the Predacons combine to form Predaking (which is as well as the gestalt is sadly absent from the story – a missed opportunity perhaps?) and we cut to the Ark where the Swoop and Sludge see the circus rampage on the TV news.

Sludge finds it all very funny for some odd and inappropriate reason, but Swoop is visibly shocked at Divebomb’s reappearance. Sludge doesn’t understand his colleague’s strong emotional response, after all they’ve all lost battles before so why does this one matter? For Swoop, the fact that he got beaten by Divebomb and only survived due to the intervention of Optimus Prime, is a source of eternal shame. He thinks he’ll be disgraced if the truth comes out and he must silence Divebomb. It’s a massive overreaction but it speaks to Swoop’s emotional personality which we’ve seen lead him into trouble so many times before. Rather than come clean to his fellow Dinobots, Swoop explains his reaction with the immortal line: “he’s still usin’ my name.”

Shortly after, Divebomb is circling the Florida swamps in bird of prey mode. Suddenly a missile clips his wing and he spins around to see Swoop gunning for him. Divebomb is overjoyed! This is exactly the sort of excitement he’s been craving, and he wastes no time in getting stuck in. Unfortunately, it appears that the years since their last encounter has not shifted the balance in Swoop’s favour – he’s still weaker and less accomplished in battle than Divebomb. Pretty soon he’s dumped in the swamp and Divebomb as transforms and lands. Swoop is not done yet. He too reverts to robot mode and the pair are settling old scores with their fists when suddenly they are distracted by a noise off panel… the other Predacons have arrived (to the displeasure of both winged warriors) but that’s especially bad news for Swoop.

The second half begins with Swoop getting a good beating from the Predacons, with leader Razorclaw delivers the blows. Divebomb is taking no part in the punishment. This battle with Swoop is personal and he doesn’t appreciate his Predacon teammates muscling in on his fun, but neither does he say as much, it’s left to his actions. Interestingly, Swoop’s internal monologue still thinks he would have avenged himself against Divebomb had the other Predacons not arrived. I’m not sure that even Swoop is convinced by that.

As Razorclaw bends down to pick up his sword, the huge foot of Grimlock steps on it. The Dinobots look after their own, declares Grimlock, before booting Razorclaw aside. Slag and Snarl waste no time in squaring up to Headstrong and Tantrum and Divebomb goads Swoop with the threat that he might just tell the other Dinobots about Swoop’s disgrace. “I’ll kill you first,” is Swoop impassioned response, which is of course music to the Predacon’s ears. They take to the sky for round four.

Despite the billing, this does seem to be a one-sided fight. Grimlock is making light work of Razorclaw, despite the latter being a supposedly deadly predator, while Slag is just softening Tantrum up before exposing him to his fiery breath; while Headstrong is feeling the power of Snarl’s tail and Rampage will soon be worn down by Sludge (who is too stupid to admit defeat – a great line). If there was ever a time that the Predacons needed to pull their combiner trick it’s at this moment, but it never comes.

Swoop and Divebomb continue their battle in the skies above. He’s holding his own, but for how long? Swoop calculates a way to win through deception – he places himself in the firing line to Grimlock to make it appear that Divebomb has unleashed a missile attack against the Dinobot leader. Grimlock responds in typical fashion by using Razorclaw’s sword to clip the Predacon’s wings. Moments later, Grimlock is throttling Divebomb with his bare hands and Swoop only feels even more wretched.

Divebomb, naturally, attempts to save his skin by telling Grimlock that he is being played by Swoop and then spills the beans about the events on Cybertron. Grimlock listens attentively before dropping Divebomb and hoisting a huge boulder aloft. The Predacon cowers as Grimlock reveals that he’s known all about the incident for ages – since he became Autobot leader and had access to all of Prime’s unlogged reports. He doesn’t care because Swoop is a member of his team, and Dinobots look after their own. This is welcome characterisation from Furman, showing that Grimlock is a lot smarter than the crown-wearing oaf that the US stories make him out to be. His response to Swoop’s predicament is measured and proportionate and he’s looking out for someone under his command by keeping the secret.

As Divebomb cowers, awaiting the impact of the boulder, Swoop steps in to spare him. It’s time he stopped letting others fight his battles, he says. Grimlock understands that this is Swoop’s battle and is content to go along with how his colleague chooses to resolve it. The upshot is that the Predacons are allow to walk away, albeit humiliated (so much for the Decepticons’ elite hunting cadre). Swoop decides it’s time to come clean to his teammates about what that ‘certain battle on Cybertron’. Meanwhile, Razorclaw offers Divebomb a pistol and suggests that he “take out Swoop and scarper” (somewhat odd language for a Transformer but I digress). Divebomb declines: for the first time in a while he is finally starting to have fun – his playmate is back, and he intends to enjoy himself.

It’s a strong end the story and sets up the prospect of further encounters. Sadly, Simon Furman would not get around to giving us the rematch these two deserved and we wouldn’t see much of the Predacons from this point on, save for an appearance in the 1988 story Toy Soldiers (chasing Throttlebot brain modules in remote controlled cars) and then reduced to background cameos thereafter.

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What’s In A Name?

This is the story of what happened, millions of years ago on Cybertron, when Swoop went looking for the Decepticon who stole his name

Ah Swoop. My favourite Dinobot in the comics, even though ironically he was the worst of the toys. I’ve had a soft spot for the poor bugger ever since he got beaten to a pulp by Guardian, recovered, then was engulfed by a massive explosion as he flew the aforementioned bomb-laden mechanoid away from the Ark. He’s also been bashed up by Megatron, had his mind taken over by the human scientist Professor Morris, and had a huge hole blasted in his wings by Trypticon. Swoop is probably the most unlucky Dinobot of the lot, and yet he’s also a great survivor, always battling back from whatever scrape he’s involved in.

One of two Shakespearean titled Transformers stories from Simon Furman (the other being Purchase to Dream, in 1990), What’s In A Name? is arguably the standout story in the 1987 Transformers Annual. At five pages its short and sweet but so much better than the vast majority of the Earthforce stories of the later run, many of which were turgid.

So, what is in a name? Quite a lot as it turns out. In fact a stolen name, taken by an enemy who bested Swoop in battle is the catalyst for a bitter rivalry spanning millions of years. To explain, in Transformers UK #45, Simon Furman included a throwaway line about Swoop having been known as Divebomb back on Cybertron and that he’d been part of a stuck-up elite flying corps of Autobots who resented the authority of commander Optimus Prime. Furman couldn’t have known (or at least I don’t think it was planned) that Hasbro would actually release a Predacon called Divebomb in their toy line up a year after that story was published. So, Furman takes advantage of that awkward development to weave a really compelling rivalry, that of Swoop versus Divebomb. It would play out in the 1987 story Grudge Match (where the Dinobots and the Predacons clash) and this short annual story is the warm up act.

It’s drawn by Will Simpson, whose work I like a lot, and is a real treat to see Swoop’s pre-Earth aerial mode. (In many ways the story is like a dry run for the hugely enjoyable War Within prequels that Furman wrote for Dreamwave from 2002-04). It starts with Swoop as a sleek, agile jet (a mode he says he much prefers to his current pterodactyl form) trespassing deep into Decepticon territory in direct defiance of his orders.

He’s looking for one Decepticon in particular: an airborne foe who’s real name he never found out, who bested him in combat and then adopted the name Divebomb as a consequence of winning their fight. Swoop had been humiliated and faced taunts from the other flying corps members (with friends like them, eh?) and so he’s coming looking for rematch. He doesn’t have long to wait…

As Swoop skulks around in robot mode, Divebomb spies him from the air, and sweeps past in a lightening quick strafing run, throwing off Swoop’s aim. He taunts Swoop ‘if he wants the name back he’ll have to fight for it’. Both take to the air and there is a clash of wings. Divebomb is supremely confident – he’s either stronger or just the better fighter. He unleashes a fragment rocket which makes contact with Swoop and sends him spiralling to the ground with smoke trails billowing from his engines.

Divebomb lands and transforms, a little disappointed that Swoop didn’t put up more of a fight. He closes in for the kill and is ambushed by Swoop’s afterburners, full-force in his face. Divebomb careers backwards, but is quickly able to counterattack with a blast from his sword. Swoop ends up at Divebomb’s mercy and this time he knows he is finished. Or is he? Suddenly Divebomb is cut down in a burst of laser fire from none other than Optimus Prime! Swoop’s life has been saved by the commanding officer he despises, and now his humiliation is complete.

Fast forward four million years to Earth. Prime is now dead, succeeded as Autobot leader by Swoop’s Dinobot colleague Grimlock, and the truth of Swoop’s defeat has died with him. However, Sludge shows Swoop TV footage of the Predacons rampaging on Earth, with Divebomb among them. Not as dead as he’d lead the Dinobots to believe. Grimlock joins Sludge outside and, on seeing Swoop striding away, asks what’s going on. Sludge replies that Swoop had looked like he was about to confess some secret about his history with this Decepticon but in the end all he said was “He’s still usin’ my name”. A great closing line.

It’s a neat little story which gives a good insight into Swoop’s big problem, his sense of pride. Having made it into an elite team, he feels he has to live up to the macho image and it eats him up when he falls short and is humiliated. That to Swoop is worse than death and revenge becomes an imperative. Instead he ends up making matters worse by having to be saved by Optimus Prime, who once again shows his great humanity and care for his warriors (even those who detest him) by sparing Swoop the further shame of disclosure. Rather than being grateful to Prime, Swoop appears to have only resented him more.

Divebomb, in turn, is in a league above Swoop either through training or strength, I’m not sure. But he has an almost affection for this plucky Autobot who is desperate to challenge him and can’t quite measure up. He rather admires the way Swoop won’t accept defeat I think. It makes the otherwise humdrum existence of never-ending warfare that bit more interesting and more so when Divebomb is posted to Earth and homesick for Cybertron.

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King of the Hill!

Grimlock stakes his claim for the vacant leadership of the Autobots just as the monstrous Trypticon arrives from Cybertron intent on making sure there’s nobody left alive to lead!

May 1987. In Britain a general election campaign is getting underway (which would result in a third term for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party) and this is referenced in the Transformation page of issue #111 as being of secondary importance to another big contest underway – who should govern the Autobots as the successor the late Optimus Prime! Lee Sullivan’s fantastic cover makes it clear that Grimlock is making an aggressive play for the top job. The big shake-up of the Transformers status quo initiated by writer Bob Budiansky through his decision to kill of both Prime and Megatron nears its conclusion but not before we marvel at the debut of the biggest, baddest robotic dinosaur of all… the unstoppable Trypticon!

As is also typical for a Budiansky Transformers story there is a human support character. In the case of ‘King of the Hill’ that role is filled by a young palaeontology student named Rachel Becker. The story opens with Rachel up in the wooded mountains in Oregon showing her professor and his assistant an “exciting find” – fresh dinosaur footprints! It could be a stegasaurus or triceratops she claims, but Professor Paaswell knows better. He points out the even lines suggesting the prints were mechanically carved and therefore an elaborate hoax. Rachel is disheartened but the group’s attention is attracted to a pterodactyl soaring in the sky above them. They decide to stick around and pitch their tents.

That prehistoric bird is of course the Dinobot Swoop. He’s on a mission to procure a fuel source for his comrades and finds his target in the form of a petrol tanker parked at a diner 158 miles south east. It’s odd that Swoop can’t find anything more local but perhaps he simply enjoys a chance to stretch his wings and get away from the other Dinobots for a bit. He steals the drum clean off the tanker vehicle and makes off with it (as a waitress in the diner overfills a coffee cup while watching in shock!). Soon the Dinobots are feasting in the manner of a pack of hungry lions. Curiously, when the Transformers first arrived they were unable to ingest Earth fossil fuels but that’s no longer a problem it seems. Possibly the Dinobots have been modified following the agreement between G.B. Blackrock and the Autobots for him to provide them with free fuel?

We learn that Grimlock and his team have a certain disdain for humanity that is at sharp odds with that of their fellow Autobots. There’s also an arrogant belief in their own strength and superiority over humanity and the other Autobots. Word has reached them that a successor to Optimus Prime is to be chosen and Grimlock intends to claim the empty throne. The Dinobots’ self-imposed exile (since they walked out in the prologue to Target: 2006) will shortly be ended. Their bellies filled, their hunger now is for power.

A quick check in with the Decepticons reveals that the small Florida Keys island they commandeered in Gone But Not Forgotten is now a top cover for a massive underwater base. This is impressive progress considering that the enemy forces won’t have been there much more than a month by this point. I wondered whether the Constructicons could have been sent ahead? But I’m not so sure, as the hydrothermacline technology is the reason for the base’s location and the Decepticons only acquired that fairly recently (in Afterdeath!).

Inside the base, Shockwave again commands but the change of regime has done nothing to reassure their bottom-line-obsessed fuel auditor Ratbat – who is stationed on Cybertron and now appears on screen. Ratbat is convinced that the Earth-bound operation is costing more in fuel than it brings in and they will have to pull the plug. Shockwave pins the blame for their inefficiency on the flawed leadership of his predecessor Megatron and persuades Ratbat to give them one more chance, by sending the mightiest Decepticon available for an assault on the Ark. If they can capture the Autobot headquarters they will have access to abundant resources.

At the Ark, Perceptor has convened a meeting of the senior Autobots to discuss the appointment of Optimus Prime’s successor. Jetfire, who endured a disastrous spell of temporary command during Prime’s disappearance is present, Blaster, Ratchet, Omega Supreme (now about a fifth he was on his debut) and the Special Teams leaders Silverbolt and Hotspot. Interestingly, Prowl is absent. As Prime’s deputy I would expect to see him there as a frontrunner, particularly as we know he’s now operational against (see Funeral For a Friend). As for Perceptor himself, for someone who very recently arrived from Cybertron, he’s in a very senior role. I put this down to the years (perhaps millennia?) that he commanded a resistance unit on Cybertron. That has to count for a lot. Perceptor praises the qualities of the great Optimus: strength, wisdom, leadership, compassion and generosity.

These are attributes that are mostly lacking in the oafish Grimlock, who blunders in swings his energo sword through a hologram of Prime. He declares that strength is all that matters and as the strongest Autobot he should lead. Where Prime avoided conflict in order to spare humanity the fallout, Grimlock has no such qualms. Everyone is horrified and the Dinobot commander stomps off in a huff.

Part one finishes where it began, with Rachel Becker. She awakened in her tent by a blinding light outside. She goes to investigate and witnesses the manifestation of the Space Bridge and a gigantic and imposing war machine travelling across it – the ‘unspeakable terror’ that is Trypticon! Fans cheer. Rachel screams!

As an interesting footnote to the story, this will be the first time US readers will have seen the Dinobots in a major way since their debut two years ago (save from a cameo in Command Performances). The lack of character development Stateside means that Grimlock is now portrayed as the ‘dumb dino’ with speech difficulties just as he is in the now well-established Sunbow cartoons. Trouble is that this portrayal is at odds with the UK continuity where he’s talked normally up until now. UK writer Simon Furman would have to move his Grimlock closer to the Budiansky portrayal after this. The Grim Grams page carries a letter from a reader in the USA who has discovered the UK comic and is enquiring about Target: 2006, showing again the growing global reach of the comic.

Part 2 – issue #112 – kicks off with the fabulous ‘Dinosaur war’ cover by Herbe Trimpe and Tim Perkins which adorns the US version of the story. Rachel Becker flees in panic at the terrible sight of Trypticon but as her terror abates she realises that the giant dinosaur has not even noticed her. She settles down for the night to wait for morning (obviously it takes more than a close encounter with an extra-terrestrial dinosaur to put her off her sleep!).

Trypticon quickly makes his way to the Ark and reveals his impressive battlestation mode. He dispatches his servant Wipe-Out in car mode to scout the area, and fires ‘sonic scrambler’ missiles at the Ark entrance. The devices begin to disorientate the Autobots inside. Perceptor and his ‘Cybertron Seven’ comrades staggers outside to investigate and come under heavy bombardment. The Dinobots, like Rachel, are attracted by the noises and the light show and have a ringside seat for the slaughter.

While Slag, Snarl and Sludge are enjoying the show (and admiring Trypticon’s marksmanship) Grimlock seems to have come over all responsible and leaderlike and is aghast to see his would-be troops getting cut down. He steps away to resolve his inner conflict and comes face to face with Rachel, who this time holds her ground (she had previously been disappointed with herself for running from Trypticon instead of indulging her scientific curiosity). Grimlock is impressed by her courage but as he leaves, Wipe-Out sneaks up and steals Rachel as a gift to his master.

As Blaster follows Perceptor in taking a direct hit in the chest, Omega Supreme and the other Autobots emerge from the Ark and also suffer immediate disorientation. If they can’t destroy the scramblers they’ll be sitting ducks! Grimlock takes no enjoyment from the carnage. He was prepared to throw his weight around to obtain the leadership but he has no wish to see the Autobots slaughtered.

So, when Rachel is delivered to Trypticon as a snack. Grimlock leaps into action and sinks his teeth in the giant Decepticon’s head and the other Dinobots rush to his aid. Slag bathes Trypticon in fire and Snack appears to break Wipe-Out apart with a mighty flick of his tail. Swoop as usual comes off worse, taking a blast through the wings from Trypticon’s head cannon but still gets off a missile.

Trypticon’s size and raw power means he is a formidable adversary for all five Dinobots at once, but the Space Bridge suddenly appears and Ratbat commands Trypticon to retreat – he has exceeded his energy budget for this mission (either Ratbat is worried about him running out of fuel and being overcome, or he’s that anal about the budget that he won’t countenance an overspend even if Trypticon may well have emerged victorious).

While Rachel re-joins her fellow humans, the battered Autobots regroup within the Ark. They are extremely grateful for the Dinobots’ timely intervention and impressed by Grimlock’s performance on the battlefield. Jetfire tells him that he has earned the position of Autobot leader if he still wants it. Grimlock for once is humbled and respectfully declines. He had thought that being the strongest was enough, but now he realises that it takes more than that to command the Autobots, because of his selfishness many of his comrades were unnecessarily hurt.

Ratchet enters telling Grimlock that his patients (Blaster and Perceptor) wish to disagree: Grimlock has displayed courage, compassion, military skill and charisma in the battle – in short, exactly what the Autobots could hope for in a great leader. Perceptor tells the others that their search is over, and they all hail Grimlock – Leader of the Autobots!

In summary, the Autobots have a new leader but his earlier abrasive style and questionable values must still raise some serious question marks about his suitability. It appears that the Autobots, perhaps in their desperation, have acted in the heat of the moment and in the cold light of day might come to regret their choice (which of course they do). But it must also be recognised that the humble and selfless Grimlock who manifested in defence of Rachel was a worthy contender in that moment.

I rather enjoyed Trypticon’s butt-kissing sidekick Wipe-Out. It appeared that he’d been left behind when his boss fled. However, it might not be the last we see of him. On the cover to issue #169 Trypticon has a car chest plate which on the toy version is Wipe-Out.

This ends a run of US stories. Next issue it’s back to the UK team for the latest Transformers The Movie inspired time-travelling saga – Wanted: Galvatron.

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Fallen Angel

Galvatron is back from the future… and this time he’s here to stay. That’s bad news for Centurion, the Cybertron seven, the Dinobots, Shockwave and pretty much everyone else!

Simon Furman’s masterpiece Target: 2006 unleashed the phenomenon that was Galvatron on to the unsuspecting readers of the UK Transformers comic. Without doubt this was the ultimate nemesis that either the Autobots or the Decepticons for that matter had faced; a more cunning, more powerful and more indestructible version of Megatron. Galvatron was the great disruptor that shook up both Autobot and Decepticon camps, even forcing them into an unlikely alliance with one another.

The trouble is, when you establish a big bad adversary such as this you can’t feature them too often or they start to lose their shock value and potency (think The Borg on Star Trek). So, I must confess to feeling a certain trepidation when I saw Galvatron on the cover of the Christmas edition (Transformers #95) and learned of his impending return in issue #101. Here we are in January 1987, just three months / thirteen issues after the conclusion of Target: 2006 and Galvatron is back. I’m sure that many readers will have been ecstatic but for me it felt a little too soon.

So, what’s going on? My take on it is that Transformers has just notched up its centenary issue and Simon Furman is looking ahead to the next hundred and thinking of how he can keep up the momentum and up the ante. One idea he has come up with it is to reintroduce Galvatron but this time as a regular recurring character and in Fallen Angel he’s pitting the fugitive future Decepticon leader against one of the readership’s (and Furman’s) favourite teams, the Dinobots!

On paper it’s a good idea (and yes, I realise comics are printed on paper) but in practice the Dinobots have been royally stuffed by Megatron at every encounter, so can they really expect to prevail against his more powerful future incarnation? Well, no and yes, as we find out in the story.

It begins with Skids and the ‘Cybertron seven’ – Blaster, Perceptor, Cosmos, Seaspray, Beachcomber, Warpath and Powerglide – walking leisurely towards the sanctuary of the Ark following their release by Circuit Breaker. This is odd for a couple of reasons, first because several of them including Skids have vehicle modes and are capable of transporting the whole group, and second the headquarters of their former captors RAAT was in New Jersey on the East Coast, whereas the Ark is on the West Coast – that is a long way to travel on foot, even for a giant robot.

The reason for the walking is quickly apparent. It means Skids is in robot mode and we’re able to see him engulfed by the familiar dark antimatter and vanish, heralding an arrival from the future. As we know from Target: 2006 when one Transformer arrives from the future, they clear a space for themselves by mass-displaying a present-day Transformer into the Limbo dimension. Poor Skids!

Furman would have had to be confident that his US writer counterpart Bob Budiansky was not planning to use Skids again in a major way, otherwise it would have created a very tricky problem plot wise.

And so, the way is clear for Galvatron’s return to the Earth of the 1980s. He materialises above the planet and falls to the surface in one huge fireball. This attracts the attention of the mute mechanoid Centurion, who unbeknownst to his new comrades the Dinobots is controlled by Professor Morris, the scientist who once took over the mind of Swoop. Being a man of science, he is drawn by the unknown and approaches the impact crater. A hand reaches out and in dramatic fashion seizes Centurion’s wrist!

Galvatron emerges, looking utterly crazed in a fantastic splash panel by Geoff Senior and tears poor Centurion to bits mistaking him for Rodimus Prime! When Galvatron’s rage subsides, he remembers being thrown out of Unicron into space by Rodimus (at the end of Transformers the Movie) and using his time jump trigger to transport him back to the past. The planet fall disorientated him, much to the misfortune of Centurion. Not that Galvatron is particularly remorseful.

Another robotic hand finds the head of Centurion and clenches a fist. We don’t see who it is but its fair to conclude its one of the Dinobots.

Meanwhile, Perceptor in giant microscope/cannon mode is scanning for a Transformer life sign they have detected – trouble is that it’s not Skids, it’s Galvatron. Not recognising him but not wanting to get into a fight, Perceptor and Warpath fire a couple of warning shots across his bows. Galvatron responds by transforming into cannon mode and blasting the pair of them skywards! The explosion is sufficient to get the attention of Shockwave, over at the Decepticon coal mine base in Wyoming, who thinks Megatron may have returned to exact his revenge for the recent coup attempt involving the Predacons. He assembles his warriors to go and meet the threat.

Back at the main action, Blaster hits Galvatron with him high frequency sonics, causing his earlier madness to resurface! And the Dinobots to claim revenge for the death of their friend Centurion. As part one ends, the scene is set for a battle royal as the story continues in Transformers #102.

Following a recap from Blaster about their various misfortunes since arriving on Earth (having their heads put on a wall as hunting trophies of Circuit Breaker was a pretty major one) we see Galvatron lays into the Dinobots. He meets Grimlock’s brute force in kind and floors the Dinobot leader. Blaster, having not used sonic energy in previous stories now seems to be doing it all the time.

He transforms into his tape deck mode (now having an Earth mode rather than the Cybertron version we saw previously) and unleashes a further burst on Galvatron, who falls to his knees and throws a sword in Blaster’s direction (with deadly accuracy). Luckily for my favourite Autobot, he’s plucked out of harm’s way by one of my other favourites, Swoop. And in fact, Swoop is about to be a big player in this instalment of the story.

The Dinobots show good teamwork by flooring, trampling and fire roasting Galvatron.  But this is no ordinary opponent and he’s quickly back on his feet and laying waste to the Autobots. While flat on his back and dazed, Swoop is contacted by Centurion (or rather Professor Morris) via the mental link they share, which he’s conveniently just discovered.

Morris reveals himself and asks Swoop to trust him and work with him. If he takes control, they might stand a chance of saving the others. Swoop is understandably reluctant but agrees. He attacks Galvatron from the air, pecking frantically at the Decepticon’s face. And salvation arrives in the form of Shockwave and his Decepticons who conclude that Galvatron is the bigger threat and turn their fire on him. Though Galvatron would gladly like to claim the Decepticon leadership he decides it is best to flee and plan for his conquest, rather than being forced to destroy his future troops. So, off he goes…

And Shockwave is off too. He concludes that further action against the Dinobots would also be a waste of resources, and he has bigger fish to fry in the shape of Galvatron. Of course, he has Swoop with an unsettling thought: when Galvatron returns the Dinobots are likely to be his first target!

Some closing thoughts:

Just how much punishment can Galvatron take? Not only has he fallen from orbit and landed intact, but he also is able to absorb attacks from the Autobots, Dinobots and Decepticons simultaneously. Professor Morris is officially one of the good guys now after finally atoning for his treatment of Swoop in The Icarus Theory. However, he’s now without a body to control and he only has a year’s supply of food and water in the Triple III vault where he’s holed up. It’s quite a predicament. Could he be the Fallen Angel of the title, or is this Galvatron? He’s certainly fallen from previous heights of his near omnipotence in 2006 but he’s hardly an angel, more like a devil.

While not one of my favourite stories, there are good moments. The scene with Galvatron destroying Centurion is awesome and gives you a real idea of the amount of raw unchecked power he has. Galvatron is incredibly dangerous and nobody apart from maybe Rodimus Prime can stop him! It’s good to have the Cybertron seven back, and Blaster is one of my favourites, but Furman’s Blaster feels like a different character to the one written so impeccably by US writer Bob Budiansky.

The roots of Shockwave’s long-running rivalry with Galvatron are planted here, when he sets his warriors on the future Decepticon. That’ll play out over the next one hundred or so issues.

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“Victory!”

In their dream state the comatose Dinobots battle their enemies and experience victory and defeat… can they wake up before it’s too late?

In the 1986 Transformers Annual there is one story that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the aptly named Victory. It is a coda to one of the biggest story triumphs of the year, that timeless classic Dinobot Hunt. And it is more accurately five mini tales in one as the each Dinobot in turn battles with the demons of their own minds in their own vignette.

Simon Furman at the height of his powers in this story and he’s assisted by a superb creative team: the great Geoff Senior on art duties – his dynamic style bringing each page to life; and regular hands Annie Halfacree on lettering and Gina Hart doing the colours (she captures the yellow tinge which the Megatron toy displays over time, which is a nice touch – though let’s not mention the panel where Starscream is part yellow) and Sheila Cranna as editor bows out from Transformers on a high note with this story.

From the first panel the reader is hooked… “he thinks I’m dead” says Grimlock. “His mistake”. How can you not read on to find out what has happened and what happens next? Grimlock is our narrator – he’s a Furman favourite and its evident in these four pages how well Simon knows this character he’s done so much to build.

The scene is one of devastation, of an Earth city in ruins. A bomb had taken out several of the Autobots including Optimus Prime. The sight of Prime “out of the fight permanently” is jarring and because main characters rarely die it’s a big hint early on that things are not what they seem. The next clue is writ large – it’s Grimlock armed with his Energo Sword and slicing Megatron down the middle! It’s an instantly iconic moment.

Grimlock screams his triumph to the Decepticons! This is pure Grimlock fantasy. He’s the powerful one and he alone among the Autobots can turn the course of the war. In reality of course, the last two times Grimlock has gone toe to toe with Megatron (in Repeat Performance and In the National Interest) he’s taken a pasting. His jealousy towards Optimus Prime which is at the root of his dislike for the Autobot leader and grudging respect is present alongside Grimock’s arrogance – Prime “was good but I’m the best”, he says.

As Grimlock transforming to T-Rex mode and takes full advantage of the Decepticons’ shock and disarray, Starscream still has the wherewithal to see the opportunity in the situation. With Megatron dead the path to leadership is finally open to him. He straps his former leader’s fusion cannon onto his own arm, and fakes being hurt, luring Grimlock closer and then at close range Starscream whips out the fusion cannon and blows a massive hole in Grimlock’s chest. He slips into darkness and voices…

Next it is Swoop’s turn to dream. He has Soundwave in his talons and parades his capture in front of the Autobots and Decepticons. Optimus Prime orders Swoop to release the prisoner but his age-old animosity towards Optimus won’t allow him to obey the request. His mistake is fatal, as Soundwave self-destructs to end his humiliation. Swoop is engulfed in a ball of flame.

Again, the voices continue… it is the outside world intruding on the dream.

Sludge charges through the jungle scape, he’s in Brontosaurus mode and in his element. He encounters Joy Meadows, the ‘shining’ human who nursed him through his illness, she’s come back to him. Joy hugs Sludge before ripping off her face to reveal a horrific robotic skeleton! Truly this is the stuff of nightmares and I reckon there’ll have been a few kids who got pretty freaked out at this point. Android Joy unleashes beams from her eyes that take down Sludge. The last thing he sees before the darkness is Megatron holding a remote control.

Snarl faces up to a bogeyman from his own past – the rogue battle droid Guardian. This time the other Autobots have fallen and only he can save the day. With a mighty whip of his tail, he beheads Guardian and pauses to savour the victory. He foolishly lets his guard down just long enough for the headless Guardian to get to his feet and pummel poor Snarl into unconsciousness!

Finally, Slag relives the confrontation with Shockwave at the Savage Land million years ago. In this version he runs the Decepticon, off a cliff, but in doing so lands in the swamp and is swallowed up by the darkness…

And back in the present, Optimus and Chief Medical Officer Ratchet survey the deactivated Dinobots in the Ark’s repair bay. The damage to their minds has been repaired but they remain comatose. Something is preventing the Dinobots from making the final leap and returning to consciousness. Prime orders Ratchet to make sure they survive – he needs the Dinobots in their fight against the Decepticons. As Prime departs, Ratchet surmises that his monstrous patients will need to take that final step themselves. And in their dream state the Dinobots go to war once more… they will have either victory or death.

Why can’t the Dinobots wake up? Could it be that for all their bravado and arrogance they are masking an insecurity and they don’t believe they can be winners? Perhaps this explains why in each dream they come close to victory, but their mind can’t quite accept it and throws a spanner in works. As we know they did wake eventually, in Second Generation (issue 65).

In summary, the story is undiminished nearly 35 years after it first appeared. It’s among Furman’s best works, perhaps because he’s writing about the Dinobots and Grimlock who he clearly has a lot of affection for, but also because it the pages are exploding with action. The device of dreams allows for stories where the usual limits don’t need to apply. Who could fail to be blown away by sight of Grimlock slicing Megatron in two, or Starscream exploding the Dinobot’s at close range? Grimlock’s sequence is the most attention grabbing, but the other Dinos meet their end in imaginative ways too.

And so we reach the end of 1986, a very fine year for the Transformers comic and enter 1987 full of excitement and expectation… and there’s lots more to come.

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In The National Interest

In August 1986, Marvel UK’s flagship Transformers comic itself ‘transformed’ with a fresh new look and a four-part story starring the Dinobots, taking on the deceitful Triple I and the Decepticons, in order to expose the Robot Master lie.

As much as I enjoyed going on summer holidays as a kid there was a major downside – my parents didn’t own a video recorder until I was mid-teens, so I’d miss my favourite shows and would have to hope the newsagent saved me whatever comics I happened to be collecting. Such things seemed to matter a lot at the time and is very different to today where favourite entertainments are available wherever you go thanks to the internet.

So it was that in August 1986 I was spending the week in a caravan off the southern coast of England, aged 12, when Transformers transformed. I caught a glimpse of the new format (which started in issue #74) in a shop at the campsite but, having asked the newsagent back home to save me a copy, I decided to wait to buy it. I have to say it was well worth the wait.

While outwardly the comic looked the same – Alister Pearson’s cover of the Dinobots ‘cutting loose’ was cool but along familiar lines – the Transformation page had a great new look. The panel was bordered by a circuit board design, with an image from the story appearing in viewscreen-shaped panel (making it feel like you were getting a proper preview of the contents) and brightly coloured new headings. The main strip itself, drawn by Will Simpson (whose work I’ve always liked) appeared more striking and creative in terms of its arrangement. And of course, it helped no end that we were being treated to the first four-part story with the Dinobots in the driving seat (as their normal selves, rather than malfunctioning savages in the Dinobot Hunt). The team were, and would continue to be, firm fan favourites. And, continuing the theme, Grimlock was replacing Soundwave as the letter answerer, as revealed on a full page Robo Capers (it was also great to see this feature getting more prominence – it was always so much better than Matt and the Cat).

The title ‘In the National Interest’ refers to the justification cited by the diabolical clowns in the fictional US intelligence agency Triple I, for their decisions to cover up at the Transformers presence on Earth. They’ve concluded the American public cannot handle the idea of alien robots, so they concocted a fantasy about a terrorist leader called Robot Master who commands the machines. The fact they stole the concept of a comic book and paid its writer (Donny Finkleberg) to put on the Robot Master costume, is real Stan and Ollie stuff. Bob Budiansky, writer of the Marvel US Transformers comic, wrote the Robot Master stuff as a kind of parody, but in this Simon Furman four-parter, Triple I come across as something far more sinister.

The story begins with TV reporter Joy Meadows, hinting that she will blow the lid on the Robot Master hoax. Any half decent reporter would put out their exclusive immediately rather than tip off the competition and risk getting scooped, but Meadows seems happy to wait until next week’s edition of Between the Lines. (Presumably rival stations/programmes will now be scrambling around to find out what she knows and broadcast first.) This buys a little time for Triple I who conclude she must be stopped… permanently if need be… because it’s in the national interest of course. They will need to accelerate the completion of Project Centurion!

In a courtroom in Portland, Oregon, Professor P. Morris stands trial for the murder of a security guard (whom he killed while in control of Swoop in earlier story, The Icarus Theory). The doors are flung open and masked gunmen storm in – gas Morris – and carry him off, making a swift getaway. (This would also be a very big story in media world).

At the Ark, the Dinobots are working out (despite not having muscles to tone). They have been confined to base for weeks due to their conspicuous Earth modes and are pent up and frustrated. Sludge rushes in holding a TV (tiny in his huge hands) with the frozen image of Joy Meadows on it. The ‘beautiful golden human’ who ‘cared’ for him when he was ill still lives!

Meadows is driving along a windy mountain road towards Mount St Hillary, where her contact GB Blackrock had suggested she would find proof of the Robot Master Hoax. Her car looks suspiciously like the Stunticon Dead End and she’s violently rammed into the barrier by Triple I’s masked men. They approach with guns drawn, as the Dinobots arrive from the other direction. (The team had decided to find Meadows and help her, as it is a good enough excuse to get out of the Ark as any). Sludge immediately charges into the hail of bullets and the gunman flee – after giving Meadows’ car a kick over the cliff. Sludge is distraught. Thankfully Swoop had reacting in time and caught the vehicle in mid fall.

Part one ends with Morris being into Triple I’s top security lab, where his mind control equipment has been reassembled by the agency and he is introduced to his new charge… an awesome foot thick titanium titan known as Centurion!

Part two opens in downtown Portland. It’s 5:23pm, the aftermath of chaos. Furman then winds back the clock four hours to the beach at Talon’s Point, where Meadows and the Dinobots confer. Grimlock and Swoop explain about the civil war with the Decepticons, that Robot Master has nothing to do with – Optimus Prime, who Swoop starts to say “our leader” before correcting himself and saying the “Autobots’ leader” (a nice touch that shows how the group considers itself separate from the Autobots) believes he’s a fake, created by the US government. Meadows, initially disbelieving, realises this makes perfect sense. She’ll need an interview on camera, and lovesick Sludge could be the bot for the job. However, first Swoop will need to airlift Meadows’ film crew to the beach.

And what of the Decepticons, who we’ve not seen in the story until now? At their coal mine base, Megatron is anxious about the disappearance of Robot Master (evidently Ravage failed to recapture the human – last issue) and his leadership rival Shockwave will use this as ammunition. Soundwave is monitoring the airwaves and picks-up a call from Meadows to her film crew.

Morris meanwhile has been mind-linked to Centurion. Agent Grady reveals they’d planted evidence to exonerate him, intending to have him work for Triple I all along, but plans had to be brought forward. Morris, presumably, could use Centurion attack Triple I at this point, but he seems to be playing ball, however reluctantly.

3:57pm. The camera crew are waiting for the “unexpected”. A green construction truck is parked opposite them. Naturally, it is no ordinary vehicle, and neither is its occupant – Megatron! The Decepticon leader springs out of Mixmaster’s cab, transforming to robot mode and seizing the humans. Swoop launches a surprise attack but Megatron soon recovers and slams him into a wall. Then Centurion bursts out of the ground – finally an opportunity to repay his past debt to Swoop – and wrestles with the Decepticon leader. Joy’s camera crew figure out the unconscious Swoop had been sent to pick them up and they are in all sorts of trouble!

Issue #76, which contains part three, has an article headlined ‘Hot stuff from Hasbro’ which describes Hot Rod as coming from Earth’s future but “here now in all good toyshops” – and reveals that a 6ft 6ins Hot Rod will be touring British toy shops during the summer. He’ll be talking to customers and organising free giveaways. Exciting stuff for young fans. I remember our local toy store, Zodiac (in Hounslow High Street) was visited by Darth Vader and Skeletor back in the day (separately I might add) so these sorts of promos were a thing. Hot Rod’s tour was presumably done with the Movie and its related toy line in mind. The comic is also dropping hints at this point about the ‘new leaders’ Ultra Magnus and Galvatron who will be featuring in an upcoming epic storyline, tying in with the movie (the epic and still awesome, Target:2006).

Back to the story. Part three opens with Swoop laying buried in the rubble and cameramen Tony and Rick trying to revive him. He casts his mind back over recent events to regain his bearings (and of course bring readers up to speed). We learn that Megatron had given him a thrashing for 10 minutes! All I can say is that Swoop must be tougher than he looks to withstand such a pounding.

He comes to and looks around – yep, that was no dream! Centurion is pitched in battle with Megatron. His arsenal is formidable, but Megatron has firepower of his own and transforms into gun mode, allowing Mixmaster to catch him and open fire. Megatron then punches Centurion so hard that he goes airborne and crashes through the fourth storey of a nearby building. Ouch!

Swoop makes his getaway, airlifting the humans and their van out of Megatron’s reach with seconds to spare. But he’s marked by a tracer dart fired by a Triple I operative from a nearby window. At the agency’s HQ, they are in crisis as Morris has put the lab in lockdown and sealed himself behind impenetrable blast doors. He has control of Centurion and enough supplies in the bunker to last a year! Let’s hope it also has loos!

Poor Swoop becomes an object of ridicule as the tracer causes him to become stuck in mid-transformation. Why is this? I’m thinking perhaps the signal it is broadcasting interferes with the electrical signals in Swoops body. Slag squishes the device but it’s too – they have been tracked down by Megatron, Soundwave and the Constructicons (who sneak up unnoticed!?). It makes for one of the great Grimlock lines: “this is a Dinobot you’re talking to, we don’t walk away from any fight”. Bold words considering Megatron bested all five Dinobots in their last encounter (the 1985 story Repeat Performance) and this time he’s got back-up!

The concluding part is narrated by Professor Morris, now Centurion, recapping recent events and letting us know that he’s decided to redress his past mistakes by aiding the Dinobots and taking down Triple I. He arrives at Talon’s Point to see the Dinobots, to coin a phrase, fighting them on the beaches – as they are in pitched battle with Megatron and the Constructicons.

Megatron and Grimlock are having a private battle, with the Dinobot commander coming off worse. Sludge is holding his own, and Snarl dispatches Scrapper before turning to confront Soundwave. In one of the best moments of the issue, the Decepticon number two again demonstrates his cunning and why he rarely needs to get his hands dirty, by ejecting Laserbeak at close range and clawing Snarl’s face.

Centurion’s intervention on the side of the Dinobots begins to turn the tide. So, Soundwave sticks a blaster in the faces of Meadows and her crew to force them to hand over their incriminating information about the Robot Master hoax. Laserbeak then publicly burns this in front all the combatants, which decisively ends the battle and the Decepticons depart.

Morris notes the Dinobots’ wounded pride and Meadows’ superficial defiance – underneath she has been badly shaken. “Someday perhaps”, he says in a reference to I’m not sure what – possibly that she’ll get the story out in the future, or he’s thinking of a romantic liaison between himself and Joy, which is a bit weird if he’s thinking that. The final words of Triple I’s chief, that they’ve covered up their tracks (as always) and Morris will be dealt with by the law when the time comes, convinces him to use the year to destroy Triple I. In actual fact he’d get torn to bits by Galvatron, rebuilt and then bombed with Megatron and the pair would end up in the Thames. So, Triple I would have a lucky escape in the end.  

In summary, this is another fantastic story in what is becoming a golden age for the Marvel UK’s flagship comic. Simpson’s art is of a high standard throughout. It’s great to see the Dinobots centre stage in their first solo adventure, with more of their distinctive no-nonsense brand of heroism… and Sludge loved-up!! Whatever next?!

Oddly enough, with the comic about to embark on its greatest ever UK story the following week, the comic has sold an extra ad for BMX bike oil and there’s no room for the usual Next Week half page to talk up the big event. Instead there’s a small panel on the Grim Grams page to tell us that our next lead story will take readers on a journey from ‘Cybertron to Earth and 1986 to 2006’. The future is coming.

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The Icarus Theory

The Autobots have a run-in with Professor P Morris, a brilliant but embittered scientist who has invented a machine that enables him to control Transformers. The story sees the return of a character thought dead, and the emergence of a major new problem for the Autobots.

‘This man is mad. And he also has the power to control Transformers’. So declared the teaser for The Icarus Theory. It’s fair to say that if this were published now, rather than January 1986, the comic would probably be in trouble for propagating ‘negative stereotypes of mental ill health’. In fact, Morris, the main protagonist in Simon Furman’s story, is not insane he’s just obsessed with the Transformers in an unhealthy way (unlike we fans of course!). He is angry, bitter and resentful at the world because he isn’t getting any respect from his employers.

The story opens with Morris fishing at Lake Dena, a man-made reservoir with no fish (!). He thinks over events from the previous day, where he’d presented to a room of Roxxon Oil executives, setting out in breathless fashion his wild theory that G.B. Blackrock is controlling the ‘robots’ who recently attacked his plants. These well publicised incidents were merely a cover to throw others off the scent, he claims. However, with funding Morris can take control of the Transformers.

The cigar smoking Mister Hemmings has heard enough (strangely enough all the rest of the execs are smoking too which is another 80s anachronism). Hemmings calls Morris a crackpot and throws him out. The professor is desperate to prove himself and get even, and an object he snags in the lake may be the answer.

In another flashback we see Morris seated in a chair with various equipment attached to his body. He is using the apparatus to control a robot that is beating the crap out of a dummy, which helps to relieve his frustrations at the recent turn of events.

Five days later, at the Ark, Optimus Prime checks in on Bumblebee, who is recovering under Ratchet’s auspices and both have apologies to make over the mini-Autobot’s capture by the Decepticons. The scene is pleasant enough but doesn’t serve much purpose, other than perhaps to point out that everyone has the capacity for error (whether we’re supposed to relate this to Morris, I’m not sure). Prime has also been drawn in a weirdly overdramatic pose by Kitson as he’s walking down the corridor. I imagine he’d have got some funny looks from the other Autobots strolling around like that!

In the skies above Oregon we see the tip of a plane’s nose, or is it a beak, with an Autobot insignia. Most fans will have clicked immediately who this Transformer was. Morris controls it and sees the world below, he’s enjoying the sensation of flight. However, a security guard hears sounds coming from the lab and stumbles across Morris. The guard, being a massive dick, points a gun in the professor’s face and suggests he Morris gives him a little hush money if he wants to avoid being ruined.

It’s strange, because the professor could surely could have come up with a perfectly plausible excuse for why he is working on the equipment (after all he was hired to work on it). I’m not sure why would the guard automatically assume he’s up to no good. However, Morris is enraged by the blackmail attempt and before he can stop himself the robot under his control strikes the guard with a huge claw, killing him! Morris didn’t mean for this to happen and considers turning himself in, then resolves to see his mission through. He might need his flying robot to do a spot of body disposal (perhaps at the lake with no fish).

Later, at the Ark, in a scene reminiscent of Crisis of Command part 2, Huffer detects an airborne Transformer signal heading their way. It’s apparently too small to be a Decepticon seeker jet and too big for Laserbeak or Buzzsaw. The Autobots take-up defensive positions outside. Suddenly two rockets fly in, clouding the area with a ton of dust. Moments later their attacker shows himself – it is the missing Dinobot Swoop! If you guessed it, well done.

This issue has fact files on Cosmos and Beachcomber (two characters due to be introduced in TFUK#66) and a mini-Autobots poster. A kid called Kevin Wootton has created a pretty good drawing of Soundwave on computer which takes up half of the letters page. With only two letters this is one of the shortest in a while.

Following the big reveal, part 2 begins with a tale of two beings – Swoop and Morris. Swoop had flown “too close to the sun” we’re told (actually it was the exploding Guardian) and had plunged into Lake Dena. Morris, who was trapped in the prison of his life, had created a machine that set him free – he found Swoop and a way to fly.

Now he’s using the Dinobot (who appears heat scarred but still deadly) to attack the Autobots. He flies Trailbreaker into a rockface but Hound blinds Swoop momentarily. Morris covers his human eyes in reflex. The Autobots pile on Swoop but he breaks free.

Prime tries a different tack. Standing firm, he orders Swoop to transform and halt. A fury stirs within and Swoop, who appears to be getting his mind back. He takes to the air and the Autobots follow on the ground, tracking him by radar. Prime reveals an interesting vignette, of how Swoop had been Divebomb, a member of the Elite Flying Corps on Cybertron, and had despised his authority. It’s no doubt meant to be a throw-away piece of back story from Furman but would require a remedy around a year later when the Predacon Divebomb was released by Hasbro. The result would be ‘What’s in a Name?’, a story in the 1987 annual which reveals how the Predacon and Swoop fought for the use of the Divebomb name. Here’s a spoiler – Swoop lost.

Meanwhile, Swoop transforms and puts a blaster to Morris’ head. The professor pleads for mercy, saying he had no idea the Transformers were living beings, but then concedes that he killed a man and deserves whatever punishment Swoop is about to dish out.  

When the Autobots arrive, Swoop brings the professor out, who confesses his sins to Optimus while comparing himself to Icarus who flew with wings made of wax (why he would assume alien robots know the story of Icarus, I don’t know). Prime declares that human justice must decide what happens to Morris – he must turn himself in after he has destroyed the machine. Then comes a twist. Swoop goes vacant before attacking Ratchet, transforming and going berserk again! Morris protests that it is not his doing, and Prime agrees. Nevertheless, they can use the mind control device to bring the attack to an end.

Back at HQ, Ratchet diagnoses Swoop as suffering from corrosion brought about by the millions of years he spent buried in tar. This has caused him to revert to a primal state, and if anything, Morris’ device probably stopped it happening sooner. Prime is aghast – he knows that out there are four more Dinobots, probably also succumbed to madness and who are now a threat to any human life they encounter. There is only one thing for it, they must find the Dinobots without delay!

In conclusion, it’s an okay story which is not too spectacular but is elevated somewhat by the return of Swoop (though most will have guessed before the big reveal) and the mouth-watering prospect of the Autobots versus the Dinobots in conclusion. However, it’s really just a prelude for the main event starting in issue #47 and which takes us to the comic’s exciting half centenary milestone.

One final thought: did Morris stumble upon Swoop by accident in Lake Dena? It looks that way, but the editorial makes it clear there are no fish in the lake, so Morris had to be looking for something else. Although it’s not stated, it’s likely he had a means of tracking down Transformers, which also explains how he knew to attack the Ark.

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The Wrath of Grimlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Decepticon Dambusters

The Dinobots encounter human life for the first time, and it doesn’t go well! Ratchet decides to tell them a story of when the Autobots saved ungrateful townsfolk from a Decepticon attack on their dam, in this comic adaptation of a cartoon classic.

In the 1980s the Transformers were a global toy phenomenon first and foremost but also a hugely successful Sunbow cartoon and Marvel comic. Aside from adhering to a common origin story and character profiles, the cartoons and comics then went in completely different directions.

Both would develop the characters and introduce new ones in their own ways. To my mind the comics were more tightly woven and coherent but there are others who will argue for the cartoon being the official canon. Transformers the Movie in 1986 was something of an exception. It was such a massive event that the UK comic embraced it into its timeline, while the US comic continued its policy of ignoring the cartoons (with one notable exception being the awful 1988 story ‘The Big Broadcast of 2006’, so bad it makes me shudder to think of it.

Decepticon Dambusters is something of a rarity as it incorporates a storyline from a cartoon episode (More Than Meets The Eye part 2). It’s top and tailed by current events in the form of a story told to the Dinobots by Ratchet. This is only Simon Furman’s third Transformers story for Marvel UK and follows on from seven weeks of major US stories. By comparison it feels a little underwhelming and personally I find the top and tailed events more interesting that the main segment, which is basically a reinterpretation of a cartoon story I’ve (and most readers at the time) was already familiar with.

The story opens in bar where the TV news is showing scenes of Megatron’s battle with the Dinobots in a ski resort (in last issue’s story Repeat Performance). One grumpy patron wants the “rubbish” turned off. He’s far from convinced by claims of a giant robot invasion and steps out into the night… only to be confronted in the parking lot by Grimlock! Artist John Stokes draws the Dinobot leader, probably the closest to his toy form as I’ve seen in the comic, though smaller than he ought to be.

The incredulous bar-goer runs face-first into the leg of another Dinobot. All in all the team isn’t very impressed with their first specimen of carbon-based life and are not quite sure how this is the dominant lifeform. The man runs towards an approaching ambulance thinking he’s saved, only for it to transform into an apologetic Ratchet. Seconds later he’s running for his life in the opposite direction!

As the Dinobots continue their long march back to the Ark, Ratchet attempts to explain the complicated relationship between the Autobots and humanity. He flashes back to the early days of the Transformers war on Earth when Megatron was still Decepticon leader and their base was Fortress Sinister. The Autobots had been “monitoring” the base, whatever that means. It’s hard to imagine that a listening device would not have been detected by Soundwave as it transmitted.

The Decepticon are interested in Sherman Dam and in particular forcing water through it to generate an electrical surge that they could harness as a crude fuel substitute. Megatron blasts his way into the control centre (the ceilings are high enough for him to fit inside, luckily) and reveals that he is the reason the dam is about to burst – or rather Rumble is. He’s on the riverbed using his pile drivers to generate a tidal wave.

The Autobots assembled, led by Optimus Prime. Hound was dispatched into the water while Prime and Megatron engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Both leaders revealed an ability to substitute their hand for a weapon, in Megatron’s case a ball and chain, while Prime wields an axe. Starscream leads a bunch of anonymous looking Decepticons in a counter attack while other non-descripts are loading energon cubes into Thundercracker under Soundwave’s supervision. Again, who were these foot soldiers? The first part ends on not so much a cliff hanger but a fall – as Prime (distracted by Hound being propelled out of the water by Rumble’s powerful piledriver arms) is sent flying over the dam by Megatron!

The conclusion is billed as a ‘tidal wave of terror’ on the cover to TFUK#30. Furman has got his dams confused and now refers to it as Boulder Dam (rather than Sherman). Prime survives his plunge and is quickly fished out, but Megatron transforms to gun mode and blows the dam wide open. Prowl leads Jazz, Mirage, Ironhide, Bumblebee and Sideswipe to the human settlement below, while the other Autobots collapse rocks and carve out trenches with their blasters in order to halt the coming tsunami. Bumblebee, despite being ordered to leave with Prowl, is present with Optimus (and gets swept away by the water) and on the following page he’s back with Prowl’s group again. This is sloppy stuff and makes me wonder whether the story was rushed, or perhaps writer or artist felt a bit half hearted about it (like this reader).

Ironhide outruns the coming water with Bumblebee in the back blasting a trench in the road behind. Finally, the water calms down leaving no more than ankle deep flooding. They’ve saved the town but residents have heard that giant robots were responsible for destroying the dam and they turn their anger on the Autobots. Mirage has an outburst but Prime orders him to control himself. Optimus decided they had best leave, and so all the hard work had gained no appreciation – only more hate.

And so, back to current events. We see Josie Beller/Circuit Breaker with her arm coated in circuitry and thirsting for revenge, and GB Blackrock examining a huge laser gun that he plans to deploy against the Transformers. In my favourite scene in the story, Swoop flies ahead to Mount St Hillary, eager to see the mountain again after four million years; it is after all the nearest thing the Transformers have to a home on Earth. Ratchet is worried – there could be Decepticons guarding the Ark. Grimlock reassures him about Swoop: he can look after himself, he’s fast and real strong… famous last words, they arrive to Swoop having been battered by the huge muscle-bound menace that is Guardian!

In closing, many wonder where Decepticon Dambusters actually fits into continuity. This is finally mentioned in TFUK#63’s Robot War round-up. We’re told it happened right after the Transformers returned from searching for the Man of Iron in England. So that means that Sparkplug’s time as a Decepticon prisoner lasted much longer than we thought. Even worse the Autobots had taken their sweet time about rescuing him.

Another thought, how come Ratchet and the Dinobots are walking to the Ark anyway? What happened to the shuttle craft he used to travel to Antarctica and presumably back?

Stokes’ art gives the sense of this being a throwback to the early days as we’ve got Ironhide and others drawn true to their toys rather than their better-established cartoon forms. Last time Guardian had been squandered as a character as he was easily defeated by Windcharger and Ravage but now he’s back, having been reprogrammed to target and destroy anyone wearing an Autobot badge and it looks like he means business. From the largely irrelevant flashback to the dam we’re now back in the thick of the action the stage is set for an epic showdown next issue.

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