The Protectobots are escorting the Autobot deserter Blaster back to the Ark for trial when they run into a Combaticon ambush – and four human children get caught in the middle.
In issue #122, when Blaster and Goldbug deserted rather than put up with Grimlock’s tyrannical leadership, it was obvious that a reckoning would be coming. Last issue it looked like that moment had arrived, when the Protectobots caught up with Blaster and placed him under arrest. Anyone reading Child’s Play and expecting a showdown between Blaster and his old commander will be disappointed, as the situation is destined to drag out for two more stories before taking a long hiatus and coming to a head in issue #174 – eight months on from this point.
For the moment Blaster is wearing a mode locked (the Transformer equivalent of a car clamp) trapping him in cassette-deck form, and chained to Groove, who is in turn in the back of First Aid, as the Protectobots keep the prisoner secure for the journey back to the Ark. We’re about to meet four human children – Sammy, Allen, Jed and little sister Robin, and Daisy her teddy bear, who look like being this issue’s human support cast but are destined to be around for a surprisingly long while (much to the annoyance of some fans).
Bob Budiansky’s story (which is published in Transformers UK issues #141/2 in November 1987) opens in a rail yard in northern California where the boys are playing with toy guns. Little Robin just wants the game to finish so she can go home. When the children see a police car approaching they decide to hide. However, it’s not the authorities come to reprimand them for playing where they shouldn’t, but Streetwise leading the Protectobot convoy.
Their update to HQ triggers Grimlock, who makes another embarrassing outburst about Blaster being “leader of traitors” and will be punished. Wheeljack, who is fast becoming Grimlock’s whipping boy, is thinking he can hardly blame Blaster for going his own way. Grimlock orders the Protectobots to hurry back as the Ark is repaired and ready for take off! Why there is a need to get space-borne is unclear, particularly as Wheeljack has just constructed a device which draws heat from the volcano in order to supply the Autobots’ fuel needs.
As Blaster contemplates the diminishing possibility of escape, Blades spots tanks treads in the area, possibly belonging to the Combaticon Brawl and suggesting an ambush (in fact the Combaticons have been hanging around like a bad smell since the events of Ladies Night two stories ago). Groove is told to deposit Blaster somewhere out of the way for safe keeping. Jed witnesses the driverless motorbike and tries to persuade his doubtful friends, while Blaster is stuck in an open water pipe and sees the kids. There’s nothing he can do to keep them out of harm’s way.
In a train shed a mile away, Brawl and Swindle lay in wait and startle a railway worker. When Vortex gives the signal they roll-out, demolishing the shed, and confront Hotspot’s team. Sammy is shocked to find a talking cassette deck and run back to tell the others, who think his winding them up. Robin collects who tells the kids to evacuate the area (wise advice given the fierce battle ensuing nearby).
With too much going on the previous issue to feature the Combaticon and Protectobot combined forms, Budiansky makes up for that now by having Bruticus enter the fray and blast the Protectobots. They retaliate by forming Defensor and the two giant gestalts go at it, throwing carriages at each other. A quick check in at the Ark, shows Cosmos and Beachcomber completing Grimlock’s infamous ‘Variable Voltage Harness’ torture chamber for Blaster, their old colleague in the Cybertron resistance. (You have to wonder when exactly the Autobots are going to stand-up to Grimlock and his ever more extreme ways).
Back at the fight, a dialogue box which I think is intended for Bruticus is ascribed to Defensor. The giant Autobot shows off his forcefield ability to repel his opponent’s weapons discharge. Meanwhile two of the boys are arguing with each other again in a tedious and unnecessary way that brings to mind that old Harry Enfield Scousers sketch until Allen pulls the mode lock off Blaster, enabling him to transform. He goes on to win the kids’ trust by saving them from a falling pylon.
When Bruticus uses a train to batter Defensor into submission (echoing Dan Reed’s cover), Blaster shows up claiming to have turned against the Protectobots who had kept him prisoner. Bruticus asks Blaster to prove it by destroying one of the kids (which reading that now feels a little uncomfortable). He pretends to open fire on Sammy who fakes being dead. The distraction is enough for Blaster to whack Bruticus with the downed pylon, sending thousands of volts coursing through the Decepticon’s body and causing him to break into his component parts.
Later Blaster offers his surrender to the Protectobots but Hotspot has other ideas: if he arrested someone who does a better job of protecting than he does he ought to ‘turn in his engine’. Instead they decide to mode-lock Blast Off in shuttle mode and allow Blaster to take the kids for a trip into orbit as a thank you. As they launch you get the impression that the Protectobots are now going to be in a world of trouble with Grimlock, since they have now effectively defied orders too and should also be fugitives like Blaster.
Finally, the children are just starting to enjoy weightlessness, when Jed spots a large ship bearing down on them – it’s the Ark! After four million years of be buried inside Mount St Hillary it is free and space-bourne again, and what timing. To be continued…
In closing the Ark has been under repair for a long time but ironically it’s under Grimlock’s otherwise disastrous leadership that progress has been made. (He obviously has ways of motivating his troops to deliver). Now we know what the Autobots were doing during the period of Grimlock’s tyrannical reign, because they weren’t out battling Decepticons, although some were looking for Blaster and Goldbug! Luckily the Decepticons have been quite idle as well with a hypnotising car wash the height of their global masterplans of late.
Hunted by the Combaticons, RAAT and the Protectobots, the Throttlebots hide out in Big Steve’s auto dealership – but how far can they trust a guy with morals lower than a snake pit?
By this point in the series (Marvel UK’s Transformers #139) I’d grown quite fond of the Throttlebots. Since they arrived to purge the Scraplet plague and then teamed-up with our favourite deserters Blaster and Goldbug they’ve made a credible unit operating independently of Grimlock’s Autobots. It would have been nice to see them notch up a few more successes against the Decepticons, really making a nuisance of themselves and a target for the bad guys, before fate caught up with them. Alas Used Autobots marks a (rather premature for me) parting of the ways between them and Blaster.
The story opens on a California highway with the team under fire from Vortex in his helicopter mode. We’re told via the Transformations page that the Combaticons are fuming after they were prevented from completing their mission to destroy Mount Verona and Galvatron (and from executing the pesky fleshlings that caused them so much trouble). The US audience will not have seen the events of Ladies Night, as it was a Transformer UK story, so presumably for the majority of the readership, Vortex’s attack is a random thing, literally a case of him spotting six Autobots and using them for target practice.
Although its seven against one, the advantage is with Vortex as the Throttlebots are stuck in the traffic and unable to retaliate. Blaster, hot headed as ever, has no qualms about returning the fight. He ejects from Goldbug’s dashboard, transforming to robot mode and straddling Chase and Rollbar as he aims his electro scrambler at the airborne pest, while on the move. The moment is captured on the cover to issue #139, published in November 1987, with a rather constipated looking Blaster riding the cars with no context – and a tree lined highway (in the story he actually on a river bridge). It’s not one of my favourites.
As Rollbar is forced to swerve, Blaster takes a tumble, but holding on to bridge, he’s finally able to zap Vortex and send the Decepticon spinning away with his circuits running haywire (the good old Electro Scrambler strikes again). The Throttlebots have had a lucky escape but they are low on fuel now and must find a Blackrock garage to top up their tanks.
Things get a bit daft at this point as our old friends RAAT (Rapid Anti Robot Assault Team) are up to their old tricks hunting Transformers, Autobots mainly. Having figured out the link between the Transformers and Blackrock they are staking out his garages. Now when you consider how many petrol stations there must be in California, this is a pretty major labour intensive operation, and not to mention the wisdom of having a pitched battle on top of highly flammable petroleum!
As misfortune would have it, RAAT are waiting in ambush at the very station that the Throttlebots pick, and emerge from a garage in an Action Force/GI Joe style tank type vehicle with a detachable small plane. Again, Blaster leaps out to save the day, but his gun is out of energy. He’s forced to do things by uprooting the Blackrock sign and giving the tank a might whack. It demolishes a pump and creates an eruption of gasoline – which the plane’s shooting ignites. Blaster frees the RAAT troopers from the overturned tank and shields him from the resulting explosion. The RAAT plane is sent crashing to the ground, but not before it inflicts a nasty wound on Rollbar’s rear chasis.
Having expended even more fuel, and with a trail of destruction behind them, the Throttlebots make their escape. Unbeknown to them, Vortex is monitoring from above.
Back at Mount St Hillary, home to the Ark, all of the UK writer Simon Furman’s efforts to pass Grimlock off as a tough for shrewd Autobot leader and once again massively undermined by US writer Budiansky’s portrayal of Grims as a massive egotist and dimwit. This Grimlock is still wearing that embarrassing crown and seems oblivious that he’d tasked Wheeljack with solving their fuel problem. In fact Wheeljack has come up trumps by building a geothermal generator which taps heat from the volcano core to generate Energon Cubes. They’ll no longer be dependent on humans like GB Blackrock for fuel.
Rather than praise his engineer for this significant step forward, Grimlock goes on a mini tirade about “taking” he needs and humans being weak and unimportant. He shows a complete lack of awareness for the obvious discomfort this will cause his troops. It can’t be in his interests to undermine his own leadership this way. It’s just moronic and I’ll bet Simon Furman cringes to read the dialogue – its difficult for him to square the circle between his Grimlock and the US one at this point.
Slag informs them of radio reports about Autobot sightings, and suggests it might be Blaster and Goldbug in trouble. Grimlock orders Hotspot to gather his Protectobots and bring them in, adding ominously “they’ll be in trouble no more”.
The Throttlebots, still concerned about the injuries to Rollbar and their fuel situation, decide to lay low to consider their next move. Goldbug leads them into what they think is a car park full of “abandoned vehicles”, but is actually Big Steve’s used car lot. As morning comes we meet the unscrupulous slippery Steve. He’s visited by a couple of cops who leave him a piece of literature about six vehicles the authorities are looking for (yep, its the Throttlebots) but he takes no notice at this point as he wants the police off the premises before they scare the customers away.
Steve then establishes his credentials as the ultimate cliche car salesman, pressuring a poor unsuspecting couple with bogus claims of a special offer. His assistant Clifford goes to work on an old car, knocking 100,000 miles off the clock, and marking it up by a thousand dollars. Big Steve palms the vehicle off on the young family and retires to his office light up a fat cigar.
Clifford shows him a cassette deck (Blaster) he found in one of the new vehicles that have magically appeared in the lot. Steve says he can keep it (he’ll deduct from Clifford’s next pay cheque) and inspects the new cars. He’ll try to “make a few bucks” off them, even though he has no idea where they came from, whether they are stolen, and has no paperwork!! However, Steve wants Rollbar junked as an obvious embarrassment.
At this point the Throttlebots decide to brake cover by transforming and taking Big Steve into their confidence (bad move). All they want is a refuel and they’ll be gone by nightfall they tell him. Blaster, communicating with the team through internal radio, cautions Chase that “humans often act out of self interest”. Sure enough, Steve’s now reviewing the letter that the cops delivered which promises a $50,000 reward per Autobot, and dispatches Clifford to buy a vat load of extra sugary soda pop. He’ll stick that in the Throttlebots’ tanks and disable them.
Walter Barnett of Triple I soon arrives in combat fatigues leading a RAAT convoy of tanks and a car transporter. The Throttlebots are unable to move and are sitting ducks!
At this point the Combaticons come crashing into the yard. Onslaught transforms and stakes his claim to the stricken Autobots. Hotspot and his team arrive to complete the stand-off. Big Steve hilariously suggests a bidding war (rather than an actual war that might make a huge mess of his cars). Stupidly the parties consider this, with Onslaught even suggesting the Decepticons could “steal” whatever money they need!
Swindle, who is the obvious candidate to hold such an auction (and in fact is depicted on the cover inviting bids for Big Steve) is oddly out of the picture. He’s got Big Steve in his sights and is preparing to open fire, perhaps a distraction that the Combaticons can take advantage of? Blaster leaps out of Steve’s office and seizes Swindle, throwing the surprised Combaticon into a parked car.
The Protectobots and Combaticons go at each other and RAAT take the opportunity to load the Throttlebots onto their transporter (amazingly none of the transformers notice this happening). Still, it’s nice to see First Aid in one of the panels, proving that he made it back safely from being mass-displaced to Limbo by the time travelling Death’s Head (back in issue #114).
Blaster saves Hotspot from being shot in the back by Brawl and generally turns the tide, with Onslaught forced to signal a humiliating retreat. Big Steve is aghast at the site of his wrecked inventory but at least he still has Walter Barnett’s cheque for $300,000 – or does he? A zap from Blaster’s Electro Scrambler sees the paper disintegrate before the crooked salesman’s eyes. Blaster tells him its bad enough he lost his friends saving Steve’s life, he won’t allow him to get rich off it. At this point you’d think Steve would be calling back Barnett to ask for a new cheque or even for funds to be deposited in his account – and not to mention calling his insurers.
We then get one of the best cliff-hangers of the year, with Blaster turning to Hotspot and saying he’ll skip thanking the Protectobots for showing up, as they need to get after RAAT while the trail is warm. Hotspot’s men circle Blaster with their weapons drawn – Grimlock didn’t send them to affect a rescue, but to arrest Blaster for desertion and to bring him back to the Ark for trial and execution! Crikey.
A couple of nit picks: Vortex is drawn twice as big as Streetwise, and Blast-off is similarly out of proportion to Hotspot. You’ve also got to say that it doesn’t say much for Autobot justice that execution is the preordained outcome here. What about presumption of innocence? Why have a trial at all? It’s all very ‘un-Autobot’. With Goldbug being on Grimlock’s wanted list also I’m surprised the Protectobots would not want to retrieve him from RAAT as well, plus the rest of the Throttlebots for aiding and abetting the fugitives.
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.
One of the most bizarre Transformers stories of writer Bob Budiansky’s reign sees Buster Witwicky uncover a plot by Ratbat to steal gasoline by hypnotising motorists in his Wash and Roll car washes!
Simon Furman titled one of his early Marvel UK Transformers stories Raiders of the Last Ark and in 1987 it was the turn of US writer Bob Budiansky to run with the Indiana Jones theme. His story, Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom is one of his most off-the-wall and rather sounds like the title came to him in the shower one morning and he decided to craft a story around it.
On the up side it’s got Ratbat as a main character, offering us a chance to enjoy more of his obsessive penny pinching and complete absence of morals – and it’s a welcome return for the Buster Witwicky (who saves the day without help from any of his Autobot friends). On the downside its a stand-out silly story that even the UK editorial team are struggling to take seriously and raises questions about whether Bob was starting to get a bit bored with the book by this point.
Car Wash has been a few issues in the making. Bob introduced us to Ratbat an his role as Decepticon fuel auditor and bean counter in chief in the Trypticon story. Crater Critters established that he’d sent a mysterious cargo to Earth and in The Cure, Astrotrain darted GB Blackrock with a brainwashing microchip that allowed him to be manipulated for what’s to follow. At this point in the US run, readers last saw Buster at the end of the 1985 story Prime Time where he returned the Matrix to Optimus Prime and returned to a normal life. In the UK Buster returned a couple more times, not least in a major way for the Special Teams debut story Second Generation, but even this side of the pond he’s been absent for a good nine months. And what an infamous story to return to!
The story is printed in the UK in the pages of Transformers #128, with a cover depicting Shockwave setting his ‘dogs’ (Ramjet, Thrust and Vortex against a Blackrock tanker). I like it a lot. Now, Blackrock must be one of the most unlucky billionaires there is! Literally every time the Decepticons target a rig or a plant its always one his, never a competitor. (Having said that Blackrock did comment in UK#123 that tankers were going missing so perhaps the Decepticons have been targeting indiscriminately). On this occasion one of Blackrock’s tankers is attacked in a bit of piracy on the high seas by the Conehead jets, Vortex and the Insecticons (all fairly recent additions to the Earth Decepticons’ ranks).
Before too long the vessel is seized and the crew rounded up. Bombshell hits one poor soul with a mind-controlling Cerebro Shell in order to have the man direct them to the control room. It’s a waste of a good shell as Kickback suggests – he’d have rather used his own powers of persuasion! – but Bombshell reveals their effectiveness is being tested. This being a family comic, the crew are put to sea in lifeboats rather than be executed (which might have been easier). The ship is towed to a small uncharted island, or rather the Decepticon’s undersea base which is concealed below. Commander Shockwave and the newly arrived Ratbat fly out to it.
Shockwave is smugly content that the operation went flawlessly, thanks to his “infallible logic” (naturally). But when Ratbat sinks his fangs into a pipe line there’s red faces all round – the tanker is empty!! It appears the tanker had already delivered its cargo when the Decepticons attacked. Shockwave is furious, immediately laying the blame with his warriors! Ratbat makes sure to rub it in by calculating the units of lost energy. The dynamic between the two is highly amusing. Clearly there’s no love lost between them but Shockwave has to be on his best behaviour to avoid Ratbat pulling the plug on the Earth operation. It’s difficult to imagine Megatron controlling himself and not roasting Ratbat with his fusion cannon and the first sign of condescension.
Ratbat suggests that they ought to be making use of the planets natives. Shockwave has little time for the idea and warns Ratbat not to bother – but Ratbat reveals that he already has plans in place…
Back on the mainland, in Portland, Oregon, Sparkplug Witwicky’s auto dealership now has a vulgar-looking Wash and Roll car wash adjacent (presumably this would have required months of applying for planning permission or perhaps not). Business seems to be booming with a queue formed on the forecourt. Sparkplug arrives to take over filling the customers’ tanks from Buster, mentioning that he also wants to fill his own tank – very strange as it was only filled an hour ago. Suddenly Buster’s girlfriend Jessie arrives on her bike and invites Buster to join her for a drink. He is forced to decline as another customer pulls up. Jessie shows Buster the local paper reporting a feared fuel shortage in the north west. Could it all be linked?
Elsewhere, at his corporate headquarters, GB Blackrock holds a press conference to reveal the success of the Wash and Roll – the “cleansing experience for both car and driver” – and reveals his plans for Wash and Roll mark two. After the reporters leave, Blackrock’s mind turns blank like he’s been hypnotised. He removes a tiny cassette from his inside pocket, which transforms into the fearsome form of Ratbat – his plan working perfectly.
Later that evening, Buster is sweeping up the forecourt when a final customer pulls up – Jessie! Her brother’s car needed a wash, and Buster reluctantly accepts her invitation to join her through the Wash and Roll! As the car slowly moves through, various flashing lights and heavy metal music blaze out, but Buster spends every day at this place so he’s not too excited. She decides to cheer him up another way – i.e. jumping on him! All of a sudden a light flashes into Jessie’s eyes, and the effect is instant. As the cycle soon finishes, Jessie tells Buster she has to go and then drives off zombie-like. Buster is confused and concerned and decides to follow her for an hour’s drive until she turns off the highway into a Blackrock fuel depot…
Elsewhere in the issue, we’ve got our first advert for the Hasbro Headmasters toys, and Grimlock defends the decision to conclude the Wanted Galvatron saga in the annual. It seems the marketing gimmick is not to everyone’s liking, though I would have thought most Transformers fans would want to pick up the annual anyway. We’re also at the start of a long an enjoyable Robo Capers saga with King Nonose and the Inventor on Earth’s moon.
In part two (UK #129) Buster uncovers the Decepticon plan. He follows Jessie into the Blackrock depot wondering whether she has a night job that she hadn’t mentioned before. He sees her ‘fill up’ her tank before driving off again and blocks her path with his car. Jessie doesn’t seem to acknowledge him until he flashes his headlights, snapping her back into reality. Suddenly Laserbeak swoops down and blasts at Buster’s car. He hasn’t been recognised the human as an Autobot as first thought, just a human who is out of line The cons are actually siphoning fuel from hypnotised motorists before sending them on their way.
Presumably there is an art to leaving just the right amount of fuel in the tank or there would be a lot of folk breaking down on the drive home? Ratbat’s plan seems very inefficient compared to just stealing the oil directly as per Shockwave’s approach. The only justifiable reason for the laborious process of stealing gasoline from drivers must simply be down to its discreteness, but then you can only wonder how long people would take to notice their partners constantly staring into space and going on late night drives. Plus spending all the household income on petrol!
Buster and Jessie climb to the roof of an adjacent building where they can see Blackrock, flanked by Ratbat, addressing the crowd. He helpfully explains (for the readers – it’s difficult to imagine why the hypnotised crowds need to know) that Astrotrain zapped him with a hypnotising chip and he’d witnessed the Decepticon’s cargo transform into the first Wash and Roll car wash. Blackrock then instructed his organisation to begin mas production of the washes. The only problem is that the hypnosis quickly wears off – however Wash and Roll mark II will be a lot more permanent. He selects someone from the crowd to test it out, and picks on Buster’s dad Sparkplug (who oddly gives his name as Irving Witwicky and not William as he did previously in Prisoner of War – Bob probably forgot).
Buster must act right away, and after sending Jessie to find help, he speeds his own car into his dad’s path. The brainwashed humans soon surround him, leaving Buster no choice but to flee into the Wash and Roll (not the most sensible escape route given that it washes brains!) and Ratbat follows him, jumping onto Buster’s bonnet, and draining the cars fuel vampire-like. Buster rolls out of the door, covering his eyes, and gripping a tyre iron. He kicks a water pipe, splashing Ratbat in the face who releases him. Suddenly Jessie comes speeding in and shunts Ratbat (she couldn’t leave Buster to face this monster alone, she says). Buster decides there is no time to call the Autobots, this must be ended now.
He smashes the neon Car Wash sign with a throw of the iron, creating a big flash that wakes everyone from their trances. The crowd bombard the Laserbeak and Ratbat with spanners forcing the Decepticons into a rather pathetic retreat. Buster has saved the day and is congratulated by his dad and GB Blackrock (amazingly this is the first time the two have met considering they are both so closely linked to the Autobots). Blackrock vows to dismantle all the Wash and Rolls and Jessie thanks Buster with a big smooch.
In summary, the infamous Car Wash of Doom is not one of the best examples of the Marvel Transformers run, which is a shame seeing as it sees the welcome return of Buster, Jessie and Sparkplug. The story has its moments, in particular the moment where the Decepticons discover the tanker they went to all the trouble to hijack is empty! It’s odd to think that an operation run by the calculating Shockwave could be incompetent. Mind you Ratbat may not be in a position to criticise after this, now that his ropey scheme to hypnotise people into handing over their fuel tanks has literally run out of gas. Why not capture a rig or demand fuel in return for not destroying a city or something? Bizarre.
Next issue we go off-world for our first glimpse of the planet Nebulos, home of the most unique Autobots and Decepticons yet – the Headmasters!
It’s March 1987 and after two and a half years of writing the Marvel US Transformers comic, Bob Budiansky is about to do something incredibly bold to shake things up – he’s about to kill off the two stars of the franchise, Optimus Prime and Megatron!
Of course, with this being comics, death is never really permanent but for the best part of the next 18 months or longer these two much loved characters (or love to hate in Megatron’s case) are about to disappear from the pages of our favourite comic.
The question is how to do it in an original way. After all the two leaders have clashed on countless occasions on the battlefield and had been seen in a fight to the death in the Transformers Movie less than four months previous. Bob being the super imaginative writer that he is, comes up with a novel way of having his two main protagonists do battle for the ‘last time’ by having them duke it out in a computer game. This is a game with very high stakes as the loser must be destroyed in real life. For this reason Afterdeath! is one of the most controversial stories in the history of Transformers comics. It’s a decent story but is detested by many because of the ending, as we will see.
First a quick mention of the cover to issue #105. Lee Sullivan, who admittedly is not one of my favourites when he’s illustrating the main strip – mostly for his tendency to draw saliva in the mouths of his robots (I’m picky I know) – nevertheless has been turning in some really solid covers of late. There was the Battlechargers on Transformers UK #94 and his latest effort has Defensor and Bruticus squaring up alongside Prime and Megatron. Deadlock indeed! It’s great to see the two remaining Special Teams finally making their debut.
Following a public health warning on the Transformation page, letting readers know that the demise of one of the two leaders is coming up, the stakes and the stage is set for the story to come. It begins with the genius programmer and gaming enthusiast, Ethan Zachary, playing his Multi-World creation on a huge wall-sized screen. His character is overwhelmed by the hordes of Hazzak just as his colleague Margaret arrives and wonders why Ethan wastes so much time playing silly video games. We learn that they are working inside a top security facility which houses the Hydrothermocline, a revolutionary new technology for extracting energy from the thermal layers in the ocean. (Eighties kids were already learning about green technology years before they became a thing!)
Ethan demonstrates his technique for restoring his game character to life using the command ‘AFTERDEATH’, which is a pretty significant detail as we later find out.
Little do they know they are being monitored from above by Vortex in helicopter mode. Here’s our first glimpse of a Combaticon in the comic for real as opposed to appearing as part of Buster’s Matrix-induced dream. As Ethan re-immerses himself in the Multi-World, at the Ark, Wheeljack is extracting the Cerebro Shell which the Insecticon Bombshell had implanted within Optimus Prime’s head module (as seen in the story Heavy Traffic). This shell has already served its purpose as the Decepticons were able to use it to siphon off the Matrix as Prime was giving life to the Aerialbots, allowing them to breathe life into the Stunticons. Now can assume that the same thing happened in respect to the Combaticons and Protectobots.
Wheeljack turns the tables by using the device to eavesdrop on the Decepticons and they learn of Megatron’s plans to seize the Hydrothermocline. And later that evening, when Onslaught, Brawl and Swindle roll through the perimeter fence, they are met with the sight of Optimus Prime and the Protectobots laying in wait. Megatron jumps out from Onslaught’s cab and they are joined by Vortex and Blastoff. In a blatant bit of product placement both teams combine to their respective gestalts and it’s clear that the situation is a stalemate. That is until Ethan Zachary decides to make a run for it right by Bruticus and is easily snatched by the fearsome but insanely stupid Decepticon. His request to crush the Zachary is denied, as Megatron thinks he might make a useful hostage.
Ethan suggests a way the two sides could fight it out without destroying the plant, by connecting to his Multi-World. Amazingly they all agree and pretty soon the teams and their leaders are attaching cables to their heads in order to appear as avatars in the game (a good thing Ethan keeps these cables handy eh?). The rules are simple, if the Decepticons destroy Optimus Prime in the game they can take the Hydrothermocline, but Megatron is loses then they can’t. Ethan assures a sceptical Groove that there is no way to cheat (famous last words!) and Megatron decides to up the ante by insisting that the loser must be destroyed in real life.
So Ethan controls two joysticks that can trigger a lethal explosion in one or other leader, which strikes me as incredibly trusting of Megatron to allow a human he’s only just met to hold the power of life or death over him. Additionally, it was only a few weeks ago that Prime was so concerned about his warriors’ inability to cope without him that he was faked his own death to test them, and yet now he’s entering into an agreement where the outcome could well be his actual death! Very strange.
The first half ends with Optimus Prime and the Protectobots arriving in the strange computer generated landscape that makes up Multi-World, and Prime preparing to lead his troops. Issue #106 again reminds readers of the stakes. This is the honest to gosh ‘final battle’ between Prime and Megatron we’re told… and one will die! The story then resumes with Hotspot basically ordering Optimus to stay put and allow the Protectobots to fan out and pick off the enemy. After all in this game their deaths are meaningless whereas if Prime dies they all lose. Prime agrees, but reminds his warriors that even though nothing is real, they must all remain true to their Autobot principles avoid harming any of this world’s inhabitants.
Hilariously, we see the mirror situation with Megatron and the Combaticons. Onslaught is almost cocky about inviting Megatron to take the lead. That earns him a swift boot up the rear as the more canny Megatron realises that he must be preserved and his Combaticons are mere fodder. He sends them ahead and tells them “let nothing stop you” – Multi-World inhabitants need to beware!
Now usually the Autobot concern for innocent life tends to be handicap in their encounters with the Decepticons but this is one of those rare occasions where doing the right thing brings powerful dividends. Streetwise and First Aid take great care to avoid harming any of the vines in their path, which leaves them open to ambush from Brawl and Swindle, who also take out many of the vines in the process. The two Combaticons transform and are ensnared by the vines, who it turns out possess sentience. This allows First Aid to crystallise the stunned pair with his roof mounted gun (it’s nice to see their weapons being spotlighted in addition to the characters) and Streetwise to shattering them with a blast of compressed air. Back in the real world, Ethan Zachary cheers the victory.
In the Cloud-steppes region, Blast Off and Vortex cut the skyway support cables, sending Grove and many of the Cloudstepper inhabitants falling. Blades swoops down to save his comrade, but is told to catch the Cloudsteppers instead as Groove just manages to grab a ledge. Blades does so, leaving himself wide open to a Combaticon attack. But one of the Cloudsteppers lets off a smoke bomb, blinding the two Decepticons who crash into each other while Grove finishes them off with his Photon Pistol.
Two more down and one to go as Hotspot and Onslaught face off in the Slimepit region. Onslaught makes use of the mud to launch a surprise ambush. His random laser blasts decimating the homes of the local Slimepit people and Hotspot uses his body to shield the defenceless creatures. They reward him by pulling him and resurfacing behind the Decepticon. A powerful blast from Hotspot allows him to claim an unlikely victory. Ethan applauds the win, while Megatron screams to know what is going on.
With the Combaticons failing to return, Megatron goes searching for Prime and soon finds his foe in the Metropipe region. As the pair stand either end of a bridge over a bottomless chasm, It would appear that the final battle now comes down to just the two leaders – or not, as the ominous form of Defensor appears behind Prime! Megatron screams at his fellow Combaticons to aid him, but with all having been defeated he can only lash out at them blindly in the real world. Vortex explains there’s a way to cheat by inputting the word “Afterdeath” when you lose. Thus when Defensor carries himself and Megatron over the ledge to their dooms, Megatron reappears behind Optimus and blasts him with full force. In the real world the Protectobots and Ethan are puzzled as to what just happened.
Back in the game, Prime hangs off the edge by a single arm, with the other a mangled wreck. Megatron looks down at his helpless foe when suddenly with the last of his strength, Prime yanks at one of the support pipes toppling one of the towers above and knocking Megatron to his death a second time. This time there is no reprieve as Megatron and many of the small Metropipe inhabitants plunge to their doom. The game over message appears, with Prime the sole character left on screen, and the Protectobots hailing their leader as everyone’s optics are switched back on.
Streetwise tells Ethan to press Megatron’s detonator before he can escape, but a far from happy Optimus Prime speaks his disapproval of the win. He argues that because he deliberately caused the deaths of the innocent inhabitants of Metropipe he in fact violated his own sacred Autobot principles. He cannot accept this victory and insists that Ethan press his detonator, which the incredulous human reluctantly does. In a full page to convey the sheer enormity, Prime explodes spectacularly as the Protectobots – and the readers presumably – watch in utter shock and horror!
With the battle over, Megatron and the Combaticons prepare the Hydrothermocline for transport and the Protectobots round-up the remains of their fallen leader before departing in utter silence. Now alone, Ethan reflects on what he witnessed, Optimus Prime was the most noble being he had ever met in his entire life. In a final, teasing image he writes the name Optimus Prime on a disk and files it away, taking comfort that in the realm of Multi-world, for a character such as Optimus Prime there is always the Afterdeath!
Wow! So where do I start? Optimus Prime is dead (just like in issue #78 and #97 of course) but this time he really is! So what will happen now for the Autobots? Who can pick up the mantle of the greatest Autobot of them all? Prowl, Ultra Magnus? Intriguing questions remain and of course Bob will have plenty more surprises in store. In the end I really enjoyed the video game scenario, but the way Prime insists on his own death is disturbing, and many people despise this story for that single reason. The fact that Megatron cheated just seems to rub it in, and the way this fact is unaddressed at the end leaves readers feeling angry and dismayed. But hey, great art and literature is meant to have an emotional impact right, and why shouldn’t that apply to comic books?
The final scene where Ethan Zachary appears to save Optimus Prime’s mind onto disk also brings up a lot of points. If a Transformers mind can apparently be backed up (as shown back in issue #53 using high density crystals) then why don’t all Transformers do this as an insurance policy against death, not to mention the fact you could potentially use this to create as many Optimus Primes as you wish. Lastly, it seems unlikely that Prime’s vast personality and millions of years worth of memories could be backed up onto a single floppy disk. In 1987 a gigabyte of data was practically unheard of, and you would expect Prime’s memory to be vastly in excess of that.
The US comic was running a Transformers/GI Joe crossover series in parallel to this and the next few issues. Although initially excluded from the UK continuity, it was printed much later on as a space-filler in UK #265-281.