Ark Duty

Hot Rod is ordered to guard the Ark from Decepticon attack but can’t resist leaving his post when he sees Kup under attack from the Stunticons

At the end of March 2020, as the UK went into lockdown, and have some unexpected time on my hands due to no longer commuting for 1.5 hours a day, I embarked on this project to re-read and review all of my classic 1980s and 90s Transformers comics. It’s been a lot of fun, I might say a blast from the past and I’ve been struck by how good those stories still are despite the passage of time. A year and two weeks later, I’ve reached the end of 1987 with Ark Duty… a story from the Transformers Annual of that year.

Somewhat unusually there are none of the usual credits, so it’s difficult to be sure who the production team is. I would hazard a guess though that its a Simon Furman story with Will Simpson on art duties; I’m pretty sure its his style.
This seven page story is a nice, compact little tale, which fills in some of the gaps between the then ‘present day’ (1980s) era and the Transformers the Movie set up.

It defies the usual Furman practice of setting future stories exactly 20 years on from the publication date by being set in 2003. Ultra Magnus is now the Autobot commander on Earth (no explanation is given for Optimus Prime’s absence, but we might assume that he’s on Cybertron’s moons at this put overseeing the operation to retake the homeworld) and plans have been drawn up to build Autobot City Earth. Obviously in the Movie, which is set in 2005/6 depending on whether you follow cartoon or comic continuity, the city is built.

We open with Magnus in the Ark showing the gathered Autobots a video simulation of how Autobot City will be able to withstand and repel a Decepticon attack. Magnus alludes to the fact that the Ark contains many valuable secrets that cannot be allowed to fall into Decepticon hands – this is intriguing as we have no idea what these secrets may be. My feeling it’s something in the Ark/Auntie’s data banks. He also speaks of the Autobots having been given land and all the materials they need by Earth’s governments, which rather suggests that humanity has finally accepted the Autobots as their protectors. It’s taken a while. I wonder if even Circuit Breaker has stopped attacking Autobots and is targeting Decepticons at last by 2003?

Magnus explains that all Autobots will take part in the convoy to collect the materials they need for the city, except for Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr. Oddly enough the trio are not Targetmasters, despite becoming bonded to Nebulans over the course of 1987, and the Ark is still embedded in the side of Mount St Hillary, that’s despite it being repaired and returned to orbit in the main Transformers strip by the end of the year. This begs the question of whether Ark Duty is in the same continuity as the regular comic. It’s likely that its in the Transformers Movie alternate reality. For anyone who doesn’t know what I mean, the Transformers comic departed from the Movie future by having Unicron show up and attack Cybertron in 1991 and not 2005/6. This pretty much cast the Movie into a different reality to the comic stories.

The Decepticon spy Ravage observes from the wings, his electro-magnetic shield ensuring that he remains undetected. When Magnus reveals that Kup will deliver a top secret data tape to the human authorities, Ravage determines to steal it and tasks the Stunticons with intercepting the Autobot old timer. (It’s great to see the under-used Stunticons again).

Kup made a point of ordered Hot Rod to guard the Ark and not to leave under any circumstances. Blurr is uttering dialogue similar to his lines in the Movie (“positively absolutely certain” sounding like his “absolutely positively definitely”) but unlike the Movie which Blurr is something of a novelty character and quite fun, here he’s just plain annoying. When Hot Rod sees Kup getting roughed up by Motormaster and his crew on screen, he wastes no time in defying orders and setting out after his colleague.

After checking Kup is okay, he takes off after the Stunticon convoy to retrieve the stolen tape. Hot Rod doesn’t stick around to allow Kup to tell him something important, namely that the tape is a fake and they wanted the Decepticons to steal it. Hot Rod catches up with the Stunticons and challenges them. Shortly after, Kup arrives and finds Hot Rod beaten up and left bruised and battered at the roadside.

He explains the plan and thanks Hot Rod for making it seem all the more convincing. Now they will be left alone to build the city as the Decepticons will believe they know its secrets, he says. The obvious flaw in the logic is that the Decepticons will surely know that the Autobots are aware that their plans have been stolen and are likely to change the plans. Hot Rod apologises and insists he will stay in the Ark next time, but Kup somehow doubts it. They hobble off together into the sunset.

I liked this story overall because it bridges the divide between the present day 80s set-up and the Autobots we see in the Transformers Movie. It’s also a welcome to see Ravage back to his cunning best (he hasn’t been seen since he disappeared down a mine shaft of course) and the Stunticons are rarely used, compared to other special teams. The dynamic between Hot Rod and Kup is established by this point. They are polar opposites but true friends.

Now its time to fast forward from 2003 to January 2008 and a post-Movie showdown on the Planet of Junk between Death’s Head, Cyclonus and Scourge.

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Ladies’ Night

Susan Hoffman is on the brink of the greatest find of her archaeological career – the fossilised remains of Ultra Magnus and Galvatron!

Transformers is and has always been a bit of a sausage fest. Not that giant alien robots have a gender either way, at least not officially. But in appearance, personality, voice and behaviour they’ve always been depicted as male. That was certainly true in the 1980s when the Marvel comic was on sale, and the arrival of Arcee (the first Autobot of female Autobot) in the 1986 Transformers Movie only cemented the idea that the rest were male.

So, the premise of Simon Furman’s 1987 story Ladies’ Night – that the sisters are doing it and taking centre stage in the fight against the Decepticons – was something of a novelty. Is it sexist? I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. The dictionary definition of sexism is prejudice and discrimination based on gender and I don’t think that’s in play here. But take a look at the cover with the ‘fellas’ Rollbar and Goldbug being shocked at being relegated to the side lines by the three ladies and there’s a whiff of something patronising and gender stereotyping, that looks a bit antiquated these days.

That said, the story is pretty good and advances the Ultra Magnus and Galvatron plot a little, as well as the rivalry and paranoia of Shockwave in relation to the threat that he perceives Galvatron to be to his command. We catch up with the human characters we haven’t seen in a while and the story provides a plausible explanation for the Combaticons’ pursuit of the Throttlebots which would be the plot of the next US story Used Autobots. But mostly for me, the highlight of the entire story is Dan Reed’s rendition of Magnus and Galvatron petrified in stone. It’s a kind of nightmarish Pompeii meets Han Solo in Carbonite.

The tale begins with Susan Hoffman, the archaeologist we met in the Ancient Relics story earlier in 1987. You might have been forgiven for thinking her specialism was Roman architecture given that this was what she was investigating under London.

However, in Ladies Night she’s half a world away in Southern Oregon about to descend into Mount Verona to uncover the secret of its sudden and mysterious eruption recently (and the presence of metal debris at the volcano mouth). We’ll just have to suspend our belief and go with it. She doesn’t have to descend far before she lands on something. A spotlight quickly illuminates what it is – Galvatron’s shoulder! Susan has found the fossilised remains of the future Decepticon leader and his greatest enemy (in this era at least) Ultra Magnus.

Incidentally Simon Furman later confirmed that Susan Hoffman was modelled on Susanna Hoffs, lead single of the 80s the band The Bangles, who he evidently had a crush on.

Fast forward a week and Goldbug is helping Rollbar get acquainted with Earth but parking up outside an electronics store that has closed for the night. They are watching TV with Blaster on hand to intercept the sound at source and provide the volume. As he notes, it’s “sorta inconsiderate” of the shopkeepers to turn the sound off on the sets! A news broadcast catches Goldbug’s attention – it is Joy Meadows, the investigative reporter who got involved in the Transformers war when she attempted to uncover the Robot Master hoax with help from the Dinobots – and she’s broadcasting her Ladies Night show from the summit of Mount Verona. Joy is interviewing Susan Hoffman about her amazing find and Goldbug is shocked to see a close-up of the petrified Magnus. He’d thought his friend had perished along with Galvatron but evidently not. (It’s that old rule of comics that nobody actually stays dead for good).

Elsewhere Cindy Newell, the student who befriended Ultra Magnus during the Galvatron saga, is suffering a recurring nightmare about the monstrous Galvatron. Its fair to say that coming up close to a being that powerful and evil, coupled with the loss of her friend, probably has left some post traumatic stress. Incidentally the scene looks really reminiscent of Buster Witwicky in his bedroom, with Cindy even wearing Buster’s trademark colours of pink top and blue jeans. I digress, she wakes from her dream to sees the face of Galvatron on her TV screen!

The Decepticons have seen the broadcast too. Soundwave, who monitors human channels routinely, flags it up to his commander. Shockwave’s response is not to order Soundwave to accompany the Combaticons to Mount Verona, not to free Galvatron but to finish him off. It’s a risk for Shockwave and one that will come back to haunt him later, but no doubt his logical mind has concluded that he would be unable to withstand a leadership challenge from Galvatron so he must take advantage of his rival’s current helplessness.

With the key players mobilised, the story flips back to Mount Verona where the US military is keeping guard (with several tanks and jeeps securing the scene) as Hoffman and Meadows talk post-interview. There’s a scuffle as Cindy attempts to reach them and has her way blocked by a soldier. Joy appeals for her to be let through but she’s wittering on about Magnus and not making a great deal of sense.

Suddenly an explosion rocks the area, as Combaticons arrive and lay waste to the military. (I particularly enjoy Brawl verses a tank. It’s actually something of a relief to see him functional again after the particularly gruesome way that Megatron squashed his head back earlier in the year (in Gone But Not Forgotten). With the humans in retreat Soundwave instructs the Combaticons to proceed with the plan to destroy Galvatron.

Nearby, Goldbug and Rollbar and watching and listening. When you consider that they were watching the TV news from 200 miles away they’ve wasted no time in getting there. However, on learning that the Decepticons are there to rub out Galvatron, Goldbug concludes that they would be wise to withdraw and let them get on with it.

Cindy confronts Goldbug and appeals to him to rescue Magnus. He rightly points out that if the Autobots did that, Magnus’ original sacrifice would be in vain, and tells Cindy to go home. She insists that, on the contrary, the fight has only just begun!
On the letters page Grimlock confirms to reader Andrew Jackson that the Terrorcons and Technobots will feature in next issue’s Headmasters instalment and Runabout and Runamuck are still at the bottom of New York harbour. Going back to what I was saying about TFs never truly being dead, you have to wonder at this juncture whether anyone will be coming to fish them out (they will eventually). And a letter from Christopher Millwood asking for Transformers reprints as the back-up story would sadly become rather prescient as the comic cut corners in its latter years! In the Robo Capers strip, one Margaret Thatcher makes a cameo (with the banned spook memoir Spycatcher in her bin!).

Part two begins with a great splash page by Geoff Senior of Swindle planting an explosive just as a flaming jeep comes bearing down on him. He can’t react in time and takes the impact full on. He turns, angry, to see who has dared attack, only to see a tank approaching. Next thing he’s hit square in the chest with a projectile and collapses backwards bemoaning his resale value in true Swindle/Ferenghi fashion.

It turns out that Joy Meadows operated the tank. The Ladies Night edition she did with a female tank driver surprisingly provided all the training required. Hmm.

The trio are jubilant at taking first blood and we get an insight into why Hoffman and Meadows are helping Cindy. In the former’s case its protect the Decepticons from destroying the greatest find of her archaeological career and for the later it’s the prospect of a great news story.

Nearby Soundwave completes his work priming the detonator, while the Combaticons are wondering why Swindle hasn’t returned. Soundwave sends them to find out while he remains to guard the detonator. Elsewhere, the Throttlebots and Blaster are concerned that the humans might be attempting to tangle with the Decepticons and implore Goldbug to rethink his earlier decision to step away. It’s the first time that Goldbug has appeared to be the defacto leader of this group, even though Rollbar commands the Throttlebots. I suspect its because Goldbug has the most experience of Earth while the rest of relative newcomers and he’s also a fairly switched on chap most of the time (and in fact in the IDW verse Goldbug’s alter ego Bumblebee would enjoy stints as an Autobot civilian leader).

Finding Swindle unconscious, the Combaticons look for signs of the perpetrators. An empty jeep rolls down the mountainside towards them. Only when it arrives do they notice the explosives. Onslaught orders them to scatter but they are too late – as Cindy and Joy fire a tank shell at the powder keg, catapulting the Decepticons into the air. Debris from the explosion lands in the volcano, cracking the solidified lava around Galvatron!

The blast is also enough to upturn the tank and both women crawl out dazed. Onslaught seizes the unconscious Susan Hoffman in his palm. He’s mad enough to squish her but then relents. Cindy and Joy realise why when they spot four Throttlebots present with their weapons drawn. Onslaught withdraws, smarting from the humiliation.

From a safe distance, Soundwave transmits the detonation signal only for there to be no ensuing explosion. The Autobots could not have defused the bombs in time he thinks. The explanation, as if we couldn’t guess, is Blaster in radio mode jamming the signal. This might be the one and only time Soundwave and Blaster have competed, though not in battle more’s the pity. There’s a nice satirical conclusion with Goldbug chastising the girls for trying to take on the Decepticons. That said, he notes they “did pretty well for mere…” and Meadows, triggered, jumps in expecting him to say “mere women”. In fact Goldbug was going to say “mere humans”!

Magnus and Galvatron have been present throughout the story without actually playing an active role. It’s fitting that they have the final scene with the rock around Galvatron cracking and his eyes returning to life. A story for another time we’re told…

In summary. This Ladies Night is an enjoyable two parter that shows that’s that a bit of human ingenuity can actually be a match for a team of heavily armed and dangerous Decepticons. The execution is good and doesn’t stretch the boundaries of belief too far. Onslaught declares that, after their intervention, the Throttlebots will become their primary targets which ties in nicely to the US story arc that starts in the next issue.

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Vicious Circle!

Ultra Magnus must make one final attempt to stop his arch nemesis Galvatron from harnessing the power of a live volcano – but will it be end of one or both them?

The Wanted Galvatron saga ran for eight weeks from May to July 1987 (through issues #113-120). After a strong start, picking up threads left dangling from Transformers The Movie and introducing us to the badass space mercenary Death’s Head (a character who would go on to command his own monthly Marvel comic) the story switched to Earth’s past for a long and drawn-out battle with Galvatron that feel overly padded, despite moments of quality.

By issue #120 I was ready for some closure. I would have been perfectly content for Galvatron to have been whisked away on Wreck-Gar’s time vortex but it was not to be. He had successfully uncoupled himself from the time-jump trigger and was able to remain in 1987, with only Goldbug left to stop him. It was quite a cliff-hanger and like most readers I was curious as to how the mini-Autobot would be able to survive the predicament – but we knew he would survive as he starred in the issue #121 story Mechanical Difficulties.

The answers and the resolution to Wanted Galvatron (finally) would be found in the pages of the 1987 Transformers Annual, courtesy of a further 11-page story Vicious Circle (the story I’m reviewing here). At the time the comic cost a very reasonable 32p and the annual was £3.75 so some young fans may have been peeved at a further raid on their piggy bank (or an expense for mum and dad) but no big deal for me as I would have bought the book come hell or high water. I suppose you can’t fault Marvel on a clever marketing ploy.

This final instalment is penned by Simon Furman (who else) with art from regular Jeff Anderson. It begins with Ultra Magnus clings to inside of Mount Verona. He had been chucked into the volcano by Galvatron at the end of issue #119 and the encounter looked pretty fatal at the time. However, no-one would seriously have thought Magnus was gone for good and sure enough, here he is clawing his way out (saved by a convenient ledge apparently). Magnus notes via the narration that it is as if he and Galvatron are trapped in a ‘vicious circle’ that can only end with one of their deaths… prophetic words.

Several panels are given over to a recap of previous events, which again feels like padding but is justified in this case as it’ll have been three months or so between issue #120 and the annual’s release, longer if kids got the book for Christmas, and maybe they missed the weekly issues anyway. Magnus provides the recap of events that led to him being unceremoniously dumped into the volcano by Galvatron. Once again the luck of the gods had saved him from death. A familiar yellow hand helps him the final way to the surface… it is Goldbug looking very much alive considering where the story left off.

Goldbug updates Magnus on the dire situation. The future Autobots are gone and only the two of them are left to try to prevent Galvatron’s mad plan to erupt Mount Verona and destroy most of the US West Coast. Why they don’t radio the Ark for reinforcements I’m not sure? Now would be a good time particularly as Magnus has run out of fight and cannot summon the strength for yet another confrontation with Galvatron. Goldbug calls the Autobots’ greatest warrior ‘pathetic’ and vows to fight on alone. Magnus can only mumble apologies.

Goldbug finds Galvatron surveying the fiery volcano below and awaiting the eruption that will power him up to god-like levels. Goldbug enters the siphon’s control room and fires off a few rounds at Galvatron before getting dropped by a single blast from the Decepticon’s particle cannon. Previously Galvatron had spared Goldbug as he deemed him insignificant and not worth the effort of killing him, but now he’s earned a painful demise.

As Galvatron warms up for a fatal blast he hears the familiar voice of Ultra Magnus and he cannot believe that his Autobot rival has survived yet again. What must he do to destroy this pest? Galvatron pounds Magnus with his fists. Magnus fights back. He lifts a huge piece of machinery like a boulder to squash Magnus but Magnus rugby tackles Galvatron. He gets thrown through a window but again clings to a rail rather than fall into the pit.

As Goldbug comes to help he spots that the siphon has become damaged in the battle. With it malfunctioning there will be nothing to contain the eruption and all of them will be destroyed! Magnus orders Goldbug to get clear and moments later there is a huge explosion. Thankfully and ironically the structure at the mouth of the volcano contains the worst of the eruption. It is hours before the lava cools sufficiently for Goldbug to return to take a look. There is no sign of Magnus or Galvatron, it appears their circle is finally broken.

In summary, Vicious Circle makes the most of its limited cast of three and actually provides a satisfying conclusion (as well as a decent battle between Ultra Magnus and Galvatron, two hot properties in the toy range at the time). Magnus’ psychological dilemma was not unexpected – it’s a narrative that Furman often employs to have a character overcome their self doubts. Goldbug plays the role of Magnus’ conscience and sets the example of courage which outstrips his diminutive form. The menace was resolved simply in the end by the siphon exploding and bury both the leaders under molten ash. If only Rodimus and company had thought of that four of five issues back instead of messing about? An air strike from Aerialbots might have actually saved everyone a lot of bother.

Anyone who doubts it will be the last we see of Magnus or Galvatron has only to turn to page 44 of the Annual for the story Ark Duty which features a very much alive Magnus. In fact both characters will return before the year is out, in the 1987 story Ladies’ Night.

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Fire on High!

Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus and their warriors launch an assault on Galvatron to buy Wreck-Gar enough time to rig a device capable of sending everyone back to the year 2007.


We’re almost there, but not quite. The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but at this point is starting to feel repetitive and a slog, as various characters run up and down a mountain to challenge Galvatron and invariably come off worse. Reset and repeat. At this point the story feels two issues too long and its not over yet as the grand conclusion will not arrive until an 11-page story in the 1987 Transformers Annual.

Fire on High! was almost the story that never happened. Marvel UK’s new hiring, artist Dan Reed, was living in Paris and in the habit of sending his work to London via Fed Ex. On this occasion he decided to travel over in person but got detained by British customs, who confiscated his artwork and deported him back to France. Dan had to do pull off some serious late hours to complete the issue in the nick of time (see my interview with Dan for more details) and if you look closely there are clues of how close the team came to having to run a reprint or bring forward the next US material. First there’s the preview image on the Transformations page which is actually Geoff Senior art from the next edition (issue #120) and the splash page has Rodimus with a Decepticon insignia!! Presumably this is the sort of obvious blooper that would have been changed if time had allowed. Thankfully the issue came out on schedule – at least I don’t remember any delay from my perspective. I was in the habit of buying the latest edition at 7am every Friday to read before school.

At the Italian-sounding Mount Verona, which is actually in Oregon USA, Cindy Newell schools Rodimus Prime and his ‘council of war’ on the ecological threat posed by Galvatron’s plan. Her ‘humansplaining’ feels slightly patronising seeing as the Autobots are actual experienced combatants on the fight against Decepticons, whereas she’s literally only just appeared on the scene. Nevertheless as someone with a PHD in geology she confidently predicts that if Galvatron triggers and eruption and keeps it contained, siphoning the energy, it’ll trigger a chain reaction along the West Coast that could destroy a large swathe of the country – millions could die! Rodimus is aghast. They have to stop Galvatron, but how when he’s now super powerful thanks to the energy he’s already absorbed?

Wreck-Gar’s TV talk is unwelcome at such a tense moment and Rodimus snaps. But Goldbug intervenes to ensure Wreck-Gar gets a hearing. He has a workable plan, that if the others can provide a distraction, with his engineering skills they could rig Galvatron’s time jump trigger with their own to send all of the 2007 combatants back where they came from – including of course Galvatron. Ultra Magnus makes an emotional farewell to Cindy, telling her that he has to fight Galvatron again and this time he may not be coming back. She runs away in tears and Wreck-Gar manages to make himself unpopular with Magnus too, after giving him a nudge and a wink over his borderline romantic connection with Cindy. Cringey.

At the volcano summit, Galvatron is demonstrating an unexpected use for his particle cannon – to weild broken parts of his structure back together. No sooner are repairs complete when company arrives. Wreck-Gar in motorcycle mode roars up the mountain side with his rider, Goldbug, opening fire and Wreck-Gar transforms and bounces an axe off the startled Decepticon.

Next comes Kup and Blurr, but the element of surprise is lost by then and Galvatron easily dispatches both Autobots with a couple of well-placed blasts. Really, if you ask yourself what Kup and Blurr have achieved on this mission, the answer is nothing at all, other than flanking Rodimus Prime and providing cannon fodder. Goldbug is at least better at dodging particle cannon blasts!

As Wreck-Gar works begins work on the time-jump device, with Rodimus over his shoulder, it falls to poor old Ultra Magnus to keep Galvatron busy. Thinking back to the successful team-up of Optimus Prime and Magnus against Megatron (back in issue #104) I can’t help wondering why Rodimus and Magnus couldn’t have double-teamed Galvatron. Not only would it have made for exciting scenes, it might have been a successful strategy. Instead the Autobots’ greatest warrior gets a pummelling for his trouble and once Galvatron has finished bouncing him off the walls he hoists him up and casts him into the lava below! Brutal. It’s a shocking end for Magnus on the face of it but this being comics we know he will survive somehow.

Issue #119’s Grim Grams teases the impending release of Transformers the Movie on VHS video and also mentions Simon Furman’s appearance on the weekend kids TV show Get Fresh, where he showed off uncoloured art from issue #114. Grimlock complains that he can’t believe he didn’t get a mention in the whole three minute segment, lol. Inhumanoids has been replaced as the back-up strip by the Iron Man of 2020. This was intended as a temporary move but if memory serves, Inhumanoids never returned. Not that Transformers fans will have been particularly concerned, as we learn in issue #120 that we’re shortly to get cover to cover Transformers action as the comic runs the Headmasters mini-series in the back-up spot from issue #130. The treats keep coming at this point in the comic’s history.

Issue #120 sees the final instalment of the saga so far as the weekly Marvel comic is concerned. Although it isn’t the end of course as we know the story will ultimately be wrapped up in the 1987 annual. The story has felt padded in places so the news of an additional chapter should produce mixed feelings among readers. With the book due out in August, there’s around six weeks to wait… unless you’re unlucky enough to be receiving it for Christmas. Thankfully the penultimate part is really quite excellent and it’s all thanks to one man in my opinion and that’s the amazing Geoff Senior. His art is consistently good but he really excels himself with the Galvatron-Rodimus high noon showdown. No words are necessary and in fact would only detract from the art, it’s that stunning!

Just prior to that, Galvatron lifts his arms in victory and declares he’s won! Sure, he just dispatched Ultra Magnus and is on the brink of absorbing the volcano power, transforming him into a living god. Hubris and all that though. It’s premature to declare victory while Rodimus Prime and the other Autobots are still at large, or perhaps Galvatron just thinks there’s nothing they can do to stop him. He soon has cause to re-evaluate that though when he discovers his time-jump control mechanism is missing. Just like the TV remote, it was last seen in plain sight and now its vanished!

Galvatron realises it has to be the work of Rodimus, and as Wreck-Gar works furiously on adapting the device Galvatron shows up and he and Prime face off. They eyeball one another while reaching for their trigger and finally unleashing. Prime ducks and dives to the ground, getting three shots in on Galvatron but still failing to stop him. Finally, he targets a cable just behind Galvatron’s feet which unleashes a powerful electrical discharge. Galvatron falls at least. This should be enough to take down anyone, but Galvatron is in a different league and the moment and sure enough his eyes glow into life once more and he jumps to his feet, reigning blow after blow on Rodimus before stomping his face into the dirt.

As he puts his particle cannon to Prime’s head, lady luck intervenes in the form of Death’s Head who has concluded that he needs Prime alive if he is to collect his bounty!

Death’s Head strikes Galvatron with a missile and strikes him with his mace. Galvatron destroys the plug in weapon, forcing the mercenary to reach for a new prosthetic. Galvatron immediately tears off Death’s Head’s left arm, leaving him vulnerable. Phew! Can the situation get any worse?

Goldbug revives Rodimus and tells him that Wreck-Gar is as ready as he’ll ever be. The device is activated and triggers a temporary vortex which sweeps up all of the combatants up and transports them back to the year 2007 – that is save for Goldbug. He admits that Wreck-Gar was worried that Galvatron, now content to stay in the past, had rigged his device to prevent it from transporting him, but perhaps not. A shadow looms behind him – Goldbug turns and finds himself face to face with Galvatron!! Oops.

This looks like an unavoidable death for the plucky mini-Autobot except that the coming attractions page reveals that he’ll be back in the next story taking on the Mechanic (a breeze after going toe to toe with Galvatron). How does he survive? It’s fair to say that readers will have been keen to make sure they had a copy of the annual that year.

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Hunters

Galvatron has escaped to Earth’s past where he’s working on a plan to absorb the raw power of a live volcano – that is if Rodimus Prime or the bounty hunter Death’s Head can stop him first!

The Wanted Galvatron saga started strongly but then the pace seemed to fall off a cliff in the sequel instalment Burning Sky (at least in the opening part) before recovering a bit by the end. Now as the third segment Hunters gets under way, the reappearance of the badass bounty hunter Death’s Head – an exciting new character and show stealer – things look to be getting back on track.

The cover for Transformers #117, dated June 1987, carries an impressive wild west themed image featuring Rodimus, Galvatron and Death’s Head as ‘The Good, the Mad and the Ugly’ and drawn by the inimitable Geoff Senior. The story begins with Death’s Head at an uninhabited island off the Florida Keys, which as well all know is home to this era’s Decepticons – courtesy of a vast undersea base beneath the island. Death’s Head, narrating via a mission log entry, reveals that the history tapes had placed the base at a coal mine in eastern Wyoming and consequently he’d wasted valuable time on a wild goose chase.

It’s curious that Death’s Head feels under pressure to track down Galvatron before a rival does. No doubt he operates in that sort of cut throat competitive environment usually, however any would be rival who is capable of time travel could simply jump to the previous month and have a clear crack at apprehending Galvatron, it wouldn’t matter how swiftly Death’s Head moves. And as I’ve mentioned before, travelling to 1987 should mean Galvatron is around in 2007 too, as he’d live out the intervening years.

Death’s Head swaps his right hand for an axe before launching himself at Soundwave, who is taking a nice stroll on the beach (the perks of having a tropical island base!). He slices and disables Soundwave’s concussion blaster before punching and booting the Decepticon in the chest plate, leaving an almighty dent. Soundwave’s mind reading abilities allow him to quickly learn the intentions of his attacker, its a very useful ability, and whilst the Decepticons would like to see Galvatron neutralised there’s no reason why they should assist “space scum” such as Death’s Head. He ejects Laserbeak to counter attack, but the birdlike Decepticon is quickly brought down by Death’s Head’s splinter missile. Soundwave has no alternative but to talk.

Elsewhere, somebody has tracked down Galvatron! It’s Rodimus Prime, who issued the original bounty. He’s watching Galvatron through binoculars while updating Cindy on events so far. Most of it goes over her head; her only concern is the welfare of her friend Ultra Magnus who appears to be at Galvatron’s mercy up at the volcano mouth. Although Rodimus defeated Galvatron once, he’s not sure if he could do it again, even with Kup and Blurr to back him up. This is disappointing as Galvatron being more powerful than any adversary is starting to become cliche and it would be good for at least one Autobot to be his equal. A couple of explanations exist. First, Rodimus may have been at peak strength in the Movie having just infused by Matrix energy, and Galvatron has given himself a power up courtesy of his siphon.

At Mount Verona’s summit, yards from a pool of molten lava, Galvatron boasts of absorbing the volcano energy to be a living god. He could conquer galaxies!! Fair enough, but he’s already the most powerful Decepticon on Earth in this era, so why not take over the leadership if the Decepticons that are available to him, especially since he’s decided to stay in the 1980s. Harnessing a volcano and running the risk of getting consumed by the eruption seems like a lot of unnecessary pissing about to me, and not to mention the materials and painstaking work involved in building the siphon. But I suppose the story would be very different if Galvatron had simply gone to Decepticon HQ and busted a few heads.

A pathetic half-attempt at a fightback by the weary Magnus is quickly put down by Galvatron, who hauls his foe overhead and prepares to cast him into the lava. He turns to see Rodimus Prime charging up the side of the mountain, deciding in an instant to use Magnus as a flying object to take down Kup and Blurr. It likes like a showdown between Rodimus and his arch foe, which is perhaps as it should be… but suddenly Death’s Head appears telling Prime to stand aside and let him collect the bounty.

In summary, an enjoyable instalment capped off by the entertaining battle between Death’s Head and Soundwave. On the letters page Grimlock responds to one of the many letters he’s had from kids wondering how Prime can be killed off when he’s alive for the Transformers Movie set in 2005/6, by suggesting that Prime’s death may not be as cut and dried as it seems. Ethan Zachary had saved Prime to a floppy disk and this would seem to be a way back for the Autobot leader.

And so to the second part of Hunters, drawn by Jeff Anderson, which sees Wreck-Gar kneeling over the wreckage of Bumblebee and referring to 1980s TV show Jim’ll fix it. Awkwardly, though writer Simon Furman couldn’t have known at the time, the host of this BBC children’s programme, Jimmy Saville, would turn out to be one of the UK’s most notorious sex offenders and paedophiles in revelations that emerged after his death. Consequently this panel is quite cringe-worthy to read these days.

Meanwhile at Mount Verona, Rodimus rather inexplicably decides to ignore Galvatron and wind-up the thin-skinned Death’s Head by telling him he’s insane. It’s a stupid move because Prime might as well enlist the help of Death’s Head as a bit of support in bringing down Galvatron. It’s not like they are in the middle of a human settlement where there’s the prospect of collateral damage, so the worst that can happen is he’ll end up having to part with 10,000 Shanix for Death’s Head’s help.

Instead the pair have an argument about whether the contract is still valid, while Galvatron grows ever more indignant at being the object of haggling. He blasts Death’s Head in the shoulder, wounding him and forcing his retreat, before scrapping with Rodimus.

Cindy succeeds in waking up Ultra Magnus who decides to help by shooting at Galvatron’s power siphon. This creates a distraction enough for Rodimus to transform and escape.

Meanwhile, Wreck Gar has completed his repairs. Bumblebee is no more and in his place stands the new and improved Goldbug! He actually looks mighty impressive. It’s Anderson’s best panel in the issue. In the US, a Transformers/GI Joe mini-series (which is truly terrible and thankfully wasn’t part of the UK continuity) resulted in Bumblebee being blown up by the Joes and rebuilt as Goldbug and so Furman needed to explain why Bee would appear in the next US material as Goldbug so this has had to be woven into the Galvatron saga.

Aside from the Goldbug debut, it’s a pretty pedestrian issue. The confrontation between Galvatron and Rodimus is neither earth shattering nor particularly conclusive and ends with all parties buggering off to regroup and plan their next move. There would be another two regular issues and an 11 page story in that year’s annual to conclude the saga and it will start to drag. It’s a least a couple of issues too long unfortunately.

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Burning Sky!

Ultra Magnus is chilling out on Earth and enjoying a well earned break from the war when earth tremors and a forest fire interrupts his tranquillity – not to mention the reappearance of his arch nemesis Galvatron!

After Wanted Galvatron! introduced us to Rodimus Prime and the galaxy’s meanest bounty hunter Death’s Head – setting up the tantalising prospect of these two meeting up with Galvatron in Earth’s past, we’re fully expecting events to gather pace. Instead issue #115 is rather more sedate as the bulk of the story deals with Ultra Magnus befriending a trio of humans and contending with ecological disasters until the pay off on the last panel.

Probably the most interesting thing about the first part is the distinctive style of the new artist, Dan Reed, making his Transformers debut. Dan was an American living in Paris in 1987 and since he wasn’t permitted to work in France, he “hitched a ride with an 18 wheeler” over to London and offered his services to Simon Furman at the Marvel offices. On the strength of his past work for Marvel US drawing Indiana Jones, he was asked to draw issue #115 of the flagship Transformers comic and landed a semi-regular gig doing several issues on and off after that. If you want to read more about Dan’s involvement with Transformers, check out the interview I did with him.

The story starts with a relaxed Magnus enjoying the peace and calm of the night sky and counting his lucky stars (pardon the pun) that he’s managed to get a break from the never-ending cycle of war on Cybertron. Since he was inadvertently transported to Earth in the earlier story Resurrection! Magnus is meant to be searching for the Ark. He’s clearly in no particular hurry even though he’s presumably got no means of refuelling given that we know Transformers can’t simply ingest Earth fuels without conversion. So either Magnus is very fuel efficient or he’s found a way to run on regular gasoline.

A radio message on an Autobot frequency or a distress call would presumably hasten his search for the Ark but no. His sabbatical is about to come to an abrupt end however, when there’s a sudden a violent tremor that sends him crashing to the ground. He detects the sound of humans in distress a kilometre away and races over their in his truck mode (which is adapted to an Earth form – perhaps Magnus retained the setting from his earlier visit during Target: 2006?). He finds a camper van on its side and two women – one of whom is Cindy Newell who is desperately trying to rescue her friend who is trapped in the vehicle.

Magnus gets her out and shields her from the exploding van. It’s enough to convince the trio that he’s and before long they are heading away aboard Magnus and all getting along nicely. There’s a cool moment where Judy refers to the nearby volcano (Mount Verona) and this triggers a traumatic memory for Magnus of Operation Volcano and his failure to get back in time to save Impactor, leader of the Wreckers. Reed depicts this scene in an elegant way as a reflection in Magnus’ cab windows.

The story skips forward 20 years to the Ultra Magnus of 2007 who desperate to persuade Rodimus Prime not to travel to the past as he’s needed on Cybertron at this critical stage in the renewed war. But Rodimus feels an acute sense of responsibility for unleashing Galvatron and Death’s Head on Earth’s past is resolved to travel back. Magnus’ comment about leaving Galvatron to the Autobots of 1987 to sort out is an odd one. He seems to have no recollection of what his past self is experiencing or his impending encounter with Galvatron which rather suggests that history is being rewritten and perhaps the future is a parallel universe as a result.

Reed draws Rodimus with short legs and on a par, height-wise, with Kup and Blurr which is a bit jarring. As the trio time-jump, Wreck-Gar steps up and allows himself to be engulfed by the anti-mater and also disappears. What was his reason for tagging along? We don’t know but it makes the point that Wreck-Gar is a bit of a maverick. He’s an ally but can’t be relied upon to follow orders. Presumably what he did by interfering with the jump could have been dangerous to the other jumpers?

As future Magnus is left hoping that the jump was a success, his past self is confronted by a raging forest fire and is encouraged by Cindy to knock down some trees and create a firebreak. He does this but starts wondering whether the fire might have been started deliberately? On cue Cindy arrives, distressed and apologetic. She encountered another robot and mistaking him for a friend, let him know where to find Magnus. Then she noticed the badge and maniacal glint in his optics… we all know what’s coming next: Galvatron emerges from the fire, though what is unexpected is the terrifying and demonic look Reed gives him. It looks truly menacing and makes for quite the cliff-hanger.

Grimlock’s letters page confirms that the Magnus and Galvatron saga will conclude in that year’s Transformers Annual, which suggests neither will be taking over the leadership of their respective factions. Also, Brawl survived his head being crushed by Megatron in issue #107 which is a bit of a relief. There would be no Bruticus without him. And a letter from R. Ratcliffe of Warrington ask why the comic treats Optimus Prime so badly, citing a long list of offences. Anyone who read Afterdeath! would scarcely disagree.

After the slow pacing of the opening part of Burning Sky, it’s is a relief that the story picks up steam following to the reappearance of Galvatron. Geoff Senior, who pencilled the original showdown between Magnus and his archenemy so memorably and vividly in Target 2006 part 8, is fittingly back in the saddle for the rematch.
The issue opens with a Budianskyesque comedy moment of a chubby cop making light of the forest fire situation, when Magnus is sent reeling backwards by a blow from Galvatron and flattens the ranger station.

The two cops flee. Galvatron literally rips a tree from the ground and attempts to batter his foe with it. Magnus rolls clear and boots Galvatron’s chest – he knows has no choice but to fight on if he is to save the life of his new human friend Cindy.

Galvatron’s seems a few sandwiches short of a picnic as he’s rambling on about Rodimus Prime. Magnus blasts him at close range, reminding him that the Autobots of this era serve Optimus Prime (or rather they did). Galvatron absorbs the hit and crushes Magnus’ gun before shattering the glass of his eye sockets, ouch. Thinking of Cindy, who he has only just met but is growing quite attached to, Magnus lets rip his fury and reigns down blows until he succeeds in rendering Galvatron unconscious. What do you know, he wins!

Victory is short-lived. Galvatron revives, and while Magnus walks away with his back turned, transforms into canon mode and blasts him. Magnus kind of deserves it as it ought to have made sure he had destroyed Galvatron while he had the chance. Now the tables have turned once again.

As for Cindy, she’s all alone (the two friends she was with last issue have vanished for the rest of the story) and is fleeing the fire when she runs into two sets of robotic feet. As Magnus is dragged up the summit of Mount Verona by Galvatron, he’s witness to a huge structure on the volcano mouth that is intended to siphon the mountain’s fury and transform Galvatron into a god. And Rodimus, Kup and Blurr, posing all heroic, inform Cindy they are there to Galvatron – if they can’t do it, no-one can!

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Resurrection!

The good guys are in the ascendance for a change as Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus lead the fight back on Cybertron! While in the Decepticon camp the crippled Lord Straxus launches a desperate attempt to rid himself of Megatron.

‘Resurrection!’ is a two-part story published in March 1987 by Marvel UK in the pages of Transformers #103 and #104. Simon Furman swiftly and skilfully concludes his ‘return to Cybertron’ saga that began with ‘Prey!’ in issue #96 and took the comic up to and past its milestone one hundredth issue.

This slew of stories represents an audacious move by Furman – who literally swipes all the ideas that his Transformers US counterpart Bob Budiansky has planned for his next few stories! However, it’s almost as if the two comics are alternate realities where similar events unfold in a slightly different way. Bob’s upcoming stories ‘Afterdeath!’ and ‘Gone But Not Forgotten!’ deal with Optimus Prime’s death and Megatron’s madness as well as the introduction of the Predacons. And ‘Funeral for a Friend’ deals with Prime’s final send off and these are all elements that are present in this collection of UK issues.

The first thing to note about issue #103 is the Martin Griffiths/Robin Bouttell cover (above) which may well be the first time Prime and Magnus have appeared together in the same frame. The headline ‘Prime and Magnus side by side on Cybertron’ reads like a fanboy’s dream and actually it’s pretty cool that what seemed like a throwaway line from Magnus at the end of Target: 2006 “tell your leader that someday Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus will fight side by side” was something Simon Furman actually intended to make happen. The cover looks good at a casual glance but some of the proportions on Ultra Magnus are a bit off, particularly his head in relation to the rest of him, though the readers’ eye is distracted by the colouring.

Our story begins with a hilarious account from Octane about his ‘heroics’ in battle after Optimus Prime led a raid on one of the Decepticons’ Energon depots on Cybertron. In fact, Octane had been about to batter a slave robot like the cowardly thug he is, when a laser blast ignited an Energon Cube, temporarily blinding the Decepticons present. His vision cleared and he witnessed his personal nightmare come to life: Prime and Magnus leading a full-scale assault. Octane made a run for it and in his panic, he had tripped and injured himself. So much for his heroics!

It’s great fun for the readers as we’re able to juxtapose Octane’s spoken account with the visuals which show what really happened. Naturally his boss, Lord Straxus is not taken in for a moment, he knows Octane far too well. But this is the fifth raid in as many days since Prime began leading the Autobots again. As far as Straxus is concerned Megatron brought the Autobot leader with him from Earth and he’s responsible. Ratbat reports that their unwanted guest had also lashed out a pair of guards and he’s turning into a huge liability. Straxus’ technicians are busy rigging up equipment to his life support bubble – the hour of his revenge is nigh!

Prime has really given the beleaguered Cybertron Autobots new impetus. Their resistance base beneath Iacon reverberates with the sound of celebration (quite a novelty) but good things can’t last forever, as soon Prime must return to Earth to re-join the fight to stop the Decepticons from plundering the planet’s resources. Interestingly, Prime borrows the now famous line from the Movie ‘Till all are one’, varying it as ‘All will be one’.

A quick check in on Earth, reveals that the Cybertron seven have found their way to the Ark. Ironhide is shocked to hear from them that their deadliest enemy Galvatron has returned from the future – and in turn the seven are left reeling by the news that Optimus Prime is dead! For the explanation see ‘Prey!’.

On Cybertron, Megatron taunts the seemingly helpless Straxus, threatening to crush his life support. Straxus responds by unleashing a burst of energy against Megatron’s head. His intention is to swap over their two minds – Megatron will experience the living hell that is Straxus’ existence – and Straxus will be whole again in a powerful new body! The process works – or appears to – as Megatron rises to his feet and smashes the life support bubble, squishing Straxus’ head. “Fear not…” he tells his followers, “Megatron is dead, and Lord Straxus lives on in his place…” Wow!

And so, part one ends on a pretty decent cliff-hanger. Straxus gamble appears to have paid off for now, though nobody will seriously think this is the last we’ll see of the mighty Megatron. Straxus was taking a hell of a risk though. He really ought to have had the technicians build him a new body and transfer to that, rather than launch an attack on Megatron with untested equipment. Flicking through the issue, there’s a new back-up strip – the Inhumanoids – and an advert for Thundercats crisps! A sign of how big the cats were in those days, and of course their Marvel UK comic was just about to launch.

Geoff senior provides a striking cover for part two captioned ‘No mercy for Megatron’. It’s got Prime and Magnus training their guns on a helpless looking Decepticon leader. In the strip, Jeff Anderson takes over the art duties from Will Simpson with an opening splash page on the funeral of Optimus Prime. This is another theme that Furman has stolen from an upcoming US story but to make it a little different he’s committing Prime to the ground rather than having him blast off into space.

They gather around a grave and headstone, while Ratchet delivers a eulogy. Omega Supreme towers over the mourners. It’s our first glimpse of him since his debut and already he’s half the size and in a later story he’ll be able to fit in the Ark. Prime’s death may have come in mysterious circumstances, but it was almost certainly in battle against the Decepticons and upholding Autobot principles.

Light-years away on Cybertron, a far from dead Optimus addresses the Autobot resistance in untypical style: he wants Megatron’s head! This is uncharacteristic of Prime, he’s not normally so aggressive but he can’t return to Earth while Megatron is still at large so needs must. The Wreckers will create a diversion and Prime and Magnus will sneak into the Decepticon stronghold.

Meanwhile, shock, horror (not!) Straxus’ attempt to switch bodies appears to have gone awry. Megatron’s personality is reasserting itself but for now he’s in the grip of a fog of amnesia. Ratbat arrives to warn of the Autobot attack in progress and quickly realises that all is not well with his leader.

Moments later, Megatron wanders into familiar face – Optimus Prime! And he’s not alone as Ultra Magnus appears and starts laying into him. He’s been looking for someone to unleash on since Impactor died. For the good of two worlds Megatron must die… but the Decepticon leader’s survival instinct is strong, and even in his amnesiac state he is canny enough to draw out his rare and unstable ability to generate lethal anti-matter energy.

Ratbat views the situation with alarm and realises they must act now to get rid of Megatron! With the Predacons having stepped off the Space Bridge, Ratbat redirects the bridge to materialise around Megatron, Prime and Magnus and whisk them all away to Earth. Megatron materialises in the Decepticon coalmine base where Shockwave – initially fearing he’s about to be executed for his treachery – discovers that Megatron has forgotten all about recent events. A lucky reprieve!

Prime gate-crashes his own funeral, much to the surprise and delight of his fellow Autobots… and Ultra Magnus stands alone an unknown distance away. He had wanted to visit Earth again and now he has a chance to explore it while looking for The Ark. It’s a rather rapid conclusion to the story but one that neatly ties up the loose ends and puts both leaders back in situ for the next US stories… the stage is set for one of Bob Budiansky most shocking and fan-controversial tales ever!

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Under Fire!

On Cybertron, Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers prepare to execute Optimus Prime, believing him to be a Decepticon spy.

‘Any last requests prisoner?’ That’s the question asked of Optimus Prime on the cover of Transformers #99 by Ultra Magnus at the head of an Autobot firing squad! If you’d missed the previous issue, you’d be unaware that Megatron had put the word around of a Decepticon infiltrator designed to look and sound like the great Optimus and the Wreckers and Magnus had caught up with him and passed a death sentence without trial – all of which sounds distinctly un-Autobot behaviour but this is war I suppose. As the purpose of a cover is to make you buy the comic and find out what the hell is going on then Lee Sullivan’s efforts here are likely to hit the spot. And if that doesn’t do the job, there’s a free Ultra Magnus sticker badge too!

The issue’s Transformations page has two preoccupations: the first being its impending one hundredth issue (naturally) and the other is the launch of three new Marvel UK comics for March 1987 – Action Force, Zoids monthly, and Thundercats! Of the three I was most easily the most excited about Thundercats – it was undeniably one of the best kids’ cartoons on TV at the time and I collected the comic for a good couple of years. Reading the blurb though, I get the impression that Marvel is really pinning its hopes on Action Force becoming the next big thing. Like Transformers it is underpinned by a major toy line and has a lot of cool vehicles and figures. I was never wild about AF though. The Ancient Relics crossover with Transformers (in issue #125) was pretty good but it seemed a bit forced for the comic to pretend that AF were ‘Europe’s anti-terrorist force’ when it was blatantly the GI Joe comic rebranded and with stories predominately set in the US. In case you’re wondering the AF comic was cancelled in 1988 after fifty issues and then relaunched as a monthly which itself lasted for 15 issues before being cancelled.

Back to Transformers… As mentioned, Prime finds himself under arrest and put in front of a firing squad. If he’s worried about dying at this point, he’s not alone; Outback, who he saved from a Decepticon bully in the previous issue, is about to put himself between Optimus and the loaded guns. We get some insight into his situation – he’s a rule breaker and risk taker, his fellow Autobots resent him for it and consequently he’s not well thought of. So much so that Magnus is unwilling to listen to Outback’s claims that they are making a big mistake. He’d rather believe their spy sources who have never been wrong in the past. Outback foolishly provokes Magnus by suggesting that he is acting rashly in a bid to atone for his failure to save Impactor during Operation: Volcano. He’s hit a nerve as Magnus erupts and orders Outback to take a hike or else, he can share in the prisoner’s fate!

Outback places a small device on Prime’s chest which causes the shackles behind his back disappear or dissolve. He then lobs a gas particle bomb and creates a smokescreen allowing Prime and himself to escape. It’s interesting to see how reluctant Optimus is to flee – for some reason he thinks he can talk sense into Magnus and the Wreckers, even though he’s failed dismally so far.

Magnus tells Springer that he will take three Guardian units and hunt them down himself. All the while the Decepticon Ratbat observes from a safe distance, before returning to base to delivers the news of Prime’s escape to Lord Straxus. Megatron’s plan has failed, and Lord Straxus takes great pleasure in rubbing it in. Megatron reminds his host of his precarious position – it would be laughably simple to reach into Straxus’ life support bubble and crush what remains of him! Megatron orders a search party be sent after Prime, surely, he cannot evade the Decepticons and the Autobots! He then departs leaving Ratbat to question Straxus on just how long they must tolerate Megatron’s unstable presence. Straxus reveals that he has something up his sleeve. I must say I’m really enjoying the Megatron-Straxus antagonism, it’s great!

Meanwhile Magnus and a Guardian unit follow the trail of the escapees. Magnus reflects on Outback’s home truths from earlier and now wishes that he hadn’t divided his search party – Guardian units are loyal but tend to interpret orders too literally. Sure enough, there is an explosion nearby which suggests the Guardians have caught up with the fugitives. Outback blasts one, just as a second unit seizes Prime from behind and starts to crush his body. Outback tries to get a clear shot but the first Guardian recovers and tears through Outback’s side with his huge nails. Ouch!

The mini Autobot collapses and spurs Prime into action. He draws on his considerable strength and tears the head off the Guardian unit holding him. Though peace loving and abhorring of violence, it’s a timely reminder that Prime is one of the most powerful and formidable Autobot fighters.

Prime scoops up the fallen Outback. Once again, he (Optimus) has cheated death but perhaps at the cost of the life of a truly heroic Autobot. Magnus remains out of site as he watches Prime carry his friend into the distance. He does nothing to intervene which is a big clue that he’s starting to wonder whether this really is the real Optimus Prime. About time too!

On the letters page, Grimlock is asked by a fan whether the TF Movie adaptation will be reprinted when 2006 comes around. His reply that it would be ‘possible though daunting’ if the comic were still going! That might be the first acknowledgement from the creative team that the comic, though going gangbusters in 1987, has a finite lifespan and perhaps this is also why hitting the big 100 is such a cause for celebration. As we know the Marvel Transformers UK comic ran out of road in 1992, ending at issue #332. But the franchise has continued in one form or another ever since. At the time of writing Transformers is in its fourth decade (36 years old) and still going strong.

For now, let’s revisit that first big milestone – Transformers’ one hundredth issue!

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The Harder They Die!

Optimus Prime sets foot on Cybertron for the first time in four million years only to discover it reduced to a mechanical wasteland… while Megatron is also ‘home’ – an unwanted guest of the local Decepticons – and hatches a truly diabolical scheme!

The conclusion of the previous issue’s story ‘Prey!’ looked pretty cut and dried: Optimus Prime was at the mercy of the Predacons, who leapt towards him with teeth and claws barred, and the Autobots arrived shortly after to find their leader torn to shreds. However, there was the matter of the secret plot that Shockwave had hatched with Predacon team leader Razorclaw and the mysterious cargo in Prime’s trailer which suggested that perhaps everything was not as it seemed.

Sure enough, issue #98 begins with Optimus walking the desolate landscape of Cybertron – he is finally home after four million years! There are some great, vivid descriptions of the ravaged home-world: once towering cities have been levelled and the sky is polluted by the stench of a thousand battles. Up ahead Prime sees signs of life – a large Decepticon pummelling the mini-Autobot Outback. Prime’s huge figure looms over him – how would he like to take on someone larger?

What I love about the set-up of this issue is that it’s completely unexpected. Readers will have sussed that the robotic body that was destroyed last issue was not the real Prime but that he should suddenly turn up on Cybertron of all places is right out of leftfield. It’s an opportunity for Furman and Senior (the writer and artist) to deliver their own take to US writer Bob Budiansky’s masterpiece Return to Cybertron saga of the previous year and provide a sequel of sorts.

The Decepticon picking on Outback is not of the toy range, thus we can already guess at his fate, but looks the business with a head shaped like a paratrooper’s helmet and is wearing his insignia on his head module, Straxus-style (that shows a certain admirable commitment to the cause). He mocks Prime’s threat, in his experience, “the bigger they are”…. “THE HARDER THEY DIE” insists Prime!

He lifts the Decepticon off the ground by the throat, educating him on the number of comrades he’s seen fall in battle, while he has consistently cheated death due to some warped good fortune. The Decepticon seems unimpressed and unleashes a surprise eye-blast to the face… which looks pretty darn cool. Prime is temporarily blinded and throws his opponent as far as he can before falling in pain. The enemy has grown powerful in his long absence and expecting the Decepticon to finish him off at any moment, he thinks his luck has finally run out!!!

The expected onslaught never comes. It turns out that Prime’s throw had resulted in the Decepticon becoming impaled on a huge spike! The curse of the non-toy range robots strikes again! Outback is shocked to learn that this is none other than the great Optimus Prime, believing him to be long dead. Prime’s thoughts turn to the situation on Earth where he imagines his followers discovered the body parts of the facsimile construct ‘fake Prime’ which Wheeljack built so that Optimus could fake his death and now believe their leader to be dead. Prime had wanted to see how they coped without him and will now get the chance.

Prime bids Outback farewell, there are things he must do alone – but as he departs Outback transforms and follows (into a nifty Cybertronian hover car I might add). We now check in on Megatron, who is also on Cybertron, inside a Decepticon stronghold in Polyhex, which may or may not be Castle Darkmount. Megatron surveys the destruction which stretches as far as he can see and finds it be magnificent! Decepticon standards have not slackened in his absence, but an italicised voice off panel sounds less than happy with his presence. It notes that Megatron has brought with him trouble – the last thing the Cybertron Decepticons need is for the demoralised Autobot resistance to be galvanised by Optimus Prime.

Megatron erupts in a rage, recalling for the benefit of the reader how Rampage and Razorclaw had leapt clear of Optimus Prime and the Predacons had attacked Megatron himself, fleeing with his fusion canon! The situation smacked of a ‘Shockwave set-up’ he works out astutely: he’d been left to face Optimus Prime alone, though not unarmed it turns out, as Megatron carries a spare gun. He found ‘Prime’ propped up against his trailer and blew him to pieces… only to discover that it was a fake and he was rugby tackled from behind by the real Optimus. Megatron, being throttled, had summonsed the Space Bridge and Optimus hurled the two of them into it before it had fully materialised, hoping to carry Megatron to his death. Instead the pair had survived intact, but on the other side of the galaxy.

Now we see Megatron’s tormentor… it’s none other than the salvaged head of Polyhex’s ruler Lord Straxus, who eerily floats in green liquid. He has been confined to a life support bubble after the events of issue #69 and having made such a great first impression in the aforementioned Return to Cybertron saga, his return is a real treat for the readers. It’s another unexpected twist in a short 11-page story that is blessed with them. And Megatron has wasted no time in making himself at home. Having procured a new fusion canon, he’s passed word through to the Decepticon informers that a spy designed to resemble Optimus Prime will try and infiltrate the Autobot resistance. He feels sure that when the Autobots learn of this they will kill Optimus Prime for him! Despite being unhinged of late, Megatron shows he has lost none of his cunning.

Meanwhile, Prime stands high above Iacon, the once great capital of Cybertron – it too has been turned into a barren wasteland, can any Autobots still inhabit this place? Suddenly he is whacked in the face by the hammer arm belonging to Rack ‘n’ Ruin, one of the Wreckers. And a huge Guardian unit (a much stronger version than we have seen before) pummels Prime’s face into the ground. He blacks out and when he comes to, he finds himself a prisoner of the Wreckers and Ultra Magnus: without a trial he has been found guilty of impersonating the Autobots’ greatest leader… and the sentence is death!

In summary, what a cracking story! It’s class from beginning to end. The twist of Prime and Megatron’s return to Cybertron is not one I saw coming, and the encounter with the Deception – his cool eye blasts and the gruesome way Prime dispatches him – was hugely enjoyable. Outback was a recent edition to the Hasbro toy line up and it was nice to see him make a cameo here. The best bit for me though, is probably the clash of the two great egotists, Megatron and Straxus. The latter doesn’t appreciate his unwanted guest one little bit and Megatron makes no attempt to endear himself, but for now Straxus is not in much of a position to do anything about it. By the end it looks like Megatron’s ruse has worked a treat: Magnus and the Wreckers are ready to pass a death sentence on Optimus without even interrogating him to see what he has to say for himself.

It’s worth noting that while this is essentially a two-part story, the next instalment appears under a different title. This is unusual for the comic. It also comes with a Galvatron sticker badge on the cover.

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Target: 2006 (Part 9 & Epilogue)

Simon Furman’s Transformers masterpiece reaches its dramatic conclusion – will Galvatron return to the future defeated or as master of all he surveys? And tragedy strikes on Cybertron as Operation: Volcano begins without Magnus.

Simon Furman has written some great Transformers stories during his now 35-year association with the franchise, but I think Target: 2006 may still be his finest. Whether he would agree with that, or prefer more recognition to be afforded to his later works is something I’d like to ask him one day.

One thing that is apparent to me on re-reading issues #87 and #88 of Marvel UK Transformers, is that here we have a writer and a title that are at the top of their game and riding the crest of a wave. November 1986 was a fortnight before the release of that other classic Transformers: The Movie and so these were truly halcyon days for the TF fans in the UK. Issue #87’s Transformation page references the Movie, apologising for the delayed release but promising fans that it would be worth the extra two week wait: “We’ve seen the movie, so take it from us – it’s absolutely superb!” It sure was (and still is).

As warm-up acts for a film go, they don’t come much better or more epic than Target: 2006. So far we’ve seen the Autobots rendered leaderless and in disarray, the arrival from the future of Galvatron, his incredible origin, the Autobots’ crack commandos the Wreckers in action, Autobot Triple Changers, the zombification of Jazz, Magnus versus Galvatron, the return of Starscream and the debut of Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr! Phew! That’s really some list, and the action isn’t over yet.

The story picks up where the previous issue left off, with Galvatron having defeated Ultra Magnus, the last foe standing in his way. Little did he realise that while he was beating-up on poor Magnus, the three future Autobots were rigging up a little show for him back at his solar weapon.

The opening is narrated in film vernacular, with the set, the make-up, special effects, props and support cast. The make-up part is certainly interesting – we see Hot Rod spraying Skywarp in the colours of Starscream. The effects they deploy are evidently explosives, and the real Starscream (knocked out by Galvatron two issues previous) is dragged out of sight. Likewise, Cyclonus and Scourge and rendered unconscious by the fists of these Autobots. This, however, feels a little incongruent, as a few issues ago we saw Galvatron’s henchmen best a whole legion of Autobots and heard the boast that even 100 foes could not defeat them. Suddenly they are looking a bit ordinary. Perhaps the trio have been augmented for this mission by a higher power?!! See later, for who’s pulling their strings.

Galvatron returns, dragging a defeated and pathetic looking Magnus with him. Finding his deputies out cold and realising that Megatron and Soundwave are still unconscious, he figures it must be the work of Starscream. This of course is exactly what the future Autobots want him to think, but surely Galvatron should be asking himself how a lone Decepticon seeker could do this? After all he said 100 Autobots could not best Cyclonus and Scourge.

A quick recap of what’s at stake for Magnus (time is running out for him to get back to Cybertron) and he musters just enough energy to rugby tackle Galvatron. He is easily batted off, and Galvatron appears to contemplate destroying Magnus, regardless of any damaging effects to the timeline, when Jetfire, Brawn, Smokescreen and Tracks arrive for a last ditch attempt at stopping him. Earlier we’d seen Jetfire conceding that they (and he) are out of their depth against Galvatron. Poor Jetfire – he’s been a woeful stand-in commander. Though brave, his inexperience and hot headedness counted against him massively. He rushed into battle underprepared and was humiliated. It took their arch enemy Megatron to organise the ‘rabble’ so that they could capture Scourge, and then Jetfire was outsmarted by Galvatron at the prisoner exchange. Could it be though, that in realising he was wrong (in his approach and about Magnus) Jetfire is starting to learn the lessons and from defeat comes maturity?

Luckily for Jetfire and his three colleagues, Galvatron has no time to destroy them. Kup triggers the explosives and the solar weapon blows, burying all and sundry. Finally, when Galvatron emerges, mad as hell, he’s confronted by Starscream in all his arrogance. Galvatron lets rip, blowing Starscream to pieces! Now here’s the fascinating bit. He concludes that as Starscream is essential to his becoming Galvatron in 2006, by rights he should now cease to exist. The fact he is still there, suggests to Galvatron that he probably created (or ended up) in a parallel universe when he time travelled, and therefore he cannot affect change in the 2006 he originated from. So, Galvatron gathers up his lieutenants and leaves. I love the parting narration that ‘he knows he has all the time in the world’. Very apt.

A couple of things puzzle me though. Why would Galvatron expect to return to the dimension where he started, rather than arrive 20 years into the future of his current reality? And why assume Starscream was dead for good? Transformers can be blown to bits and repaired. In fact I think Skywarp even makes reappears in a later story. The disintegration ray Galvatron hit Starscream with in the Movie was of course far more conclusive! Again, in telling us that Screamer is destined to die at Galvatron’s hands, here’s Target: 2006 offering us a nugget from the Movie plot and whetting the appetites of the fans still further.

Any readers who are sorry to see the back of Galvatron can take ample consolation from the New Leaders fact file on their favourite villain on page 14 which describes him as ‘invulnerable to injury and even less subject to emotion or decency’ (not that he suffered from these things much as Megatron of course!). The Grim Grams page also has some decent hints as to upcoming stories, with the Predacons due to debut, the Swoop/Divebomb rivalry and a suggestion that we’ll get to see where Prime, Shockwave and the others were displaced to.

With Galvatron now having exited the stage, there is the question of whether final instalment of Target: 2006 will be something of a damp squib. As we’ll see however, Mr Furman is not done with twists and turns.

Issue #88 immediately wows with a fantastic cover by Geoff Senior featuring the exciting new Autobot Triple Changers – Broadside, Springer and Sandstorm – ready for action. ‘Volcano erupts without Magnus, but maybe it doesn’t matter’ reads the cover blurb. It certainly looks like we’re in for an epic conclusion.

And then the next surprise… our narrator for opening part of the issue is none other than Unicron himself! Now that is truly epic! I love how his speech bubbles have an uneven red border, making them feel echoing and menacing. Unicron surveys the wreckage of his “puppet’s” solar weapon and he is content. We cut to Galvatron in 2006 writhing in pain, being taught another lesson by his master. He had underestimated Galvatron, not realising until it was too late, that his creation had fled into the past to plot against him. But Unicron had enlisted Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr as his agents – exercising a subliminal control over their minds and sending them after Galvatron and co. to thwart their plan. Later, he is able to return the trio to their place of origin, removing all knowledge of what they’ve done. Thus, everyone is reintegrated into their proper place in the Transformers: The Movie storyline.

Much later of course, once Simon Furman had got hold of the reins of Marvel’s American Transformers comic (the parent continuity) he decided to part ways with the Movie timeline altogether and have Unicron attack in 1990. There’s no real explanation for the timeline divergence, but is it possible Unicron used his three Autobot agents to send a message to his 1986 counterpart, advising that Unicron of the location of Cybertron? This could explain how he arrived fifteen or sixteen years early. But most likely the explanation was that the Movie took place in one of many possible futures.

Anyway, going back to the story… after putting Starscream into cold storage (where he’ll stay for another year) the future Autobots also returned to 2006 and Unicron indulged himself by planting a thought in Smokescreen’s mind, that the site of Galvatron’s weapon would make an excellent location for the first Autobot City on Earth! One assumes that’s exactly what happens, circa 2003. The thing is, if Galvatron’s plan had worked, it’s difficult to see how he could have buried the weapon beneath the city without it being detected by the Autobots during the city’s construction. It’s a minor nit-pick and not to detract from what is overall a great storyline.

Just as Ultra Magnus has finally earned the trust and respect of the earth based Autobots, its time for him to return to Cybertron (via a portal) as Operation: Volcano is under way. Magnus’ parting wish, that he should one day fight side-by-side with Optimus Prime is a mouth-watering prospect, and happily one that will come to pass in issue #103.

On Cybertron, Emirate Xaaron stands before twenty-two Autobot resistance leaders, or rather facsimile constructs. Kickback watches from a vantage point and returns to base to report that they have an unprecedented opportunity to wipe out the Autobot high command. Soon enough, Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust, the Insecticons, Triple Changers and a never-before-seen nasty opportunist type called Macabre are on the march. The latter is particularly keen to slay Xaaron rather than follow the plan to capture him alive, as he sees Xaaron as his ticket to the big leagues. It’s almost something Starscream would do.

However, the plan rapidly falls apart when, on Earth, Laserbeak succeeds in freeing Megatron from the wreckage of Galvatron’s weapon, and the Decepticon leader issues a summons for the Insecticons and coneheads to reinforce him on Earth. None of them dare disobey and so they break off their ambush. That is, all apart from Macabre, who continues, determined to take out Xaaron.

And so, the final twist in the tale… as Impactor breaks the news to Xaaron that Volcano has failed to erupt, Macabre opens fire from the side lines using a huge blaster. Impactor throws Xaaron clear and takes the blast himself. He passes the mantle of the Wreckers’ leadership to Springer before dying a heroes’ death. The Autobots cut down Macabre with multiple blasts. Once again, characters who are not part of the toy line are doomed to die, such is the way of things in TF! Still, for a throwaway character, Impactor made a hell of an impression on the fans and would return (albeit as a zombie) a couple of years later, and then in his full glory in the 2010 IDW story ‘Last Stand of the Wreckers’.

At last, Optimus Prime is back (and we have missed him) but once again the Autobots are counting the cost of a Decepticon victory. Jazz, Grapple and Trailbreaker are the latest casualties, while the others bear the psychological scars. Having once again survived a brush with destruction, Prime is certain they can pull together and prevail.

Thus, ends Target: 2006, a Transformers epic that spanned two worlds and two eras, tying into the amazing Transformers: The Movie. Like the movie itself it has stood the test of time and rightly deserves to be called a classic.

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