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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Repeat Performance!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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