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THE TRANSFORMERS: COMICS, BOOKS AND MANGA

IDW Publishing
(2005-now)
Devil's Due
(2003-2007)
Dreamwave
(2002-2004)
Club/Con
(2001-now)
Titan Books
(2001-now)
Marvel Comics
(1984-1994)
Japanese
Manga
Other Books
and Titles

MARVEL TRANSFORMERS COMICS GUIDE

Marvel UK nav: UK Intro | Story List | #1-10 | #11-20 | #21-30 | #31-40 | #41-50 | #51-60 | #61-70 | #71-80
#81-90 | #91-100 | #101-110 | #111-120 | #121-130 | #131-140 | #141-150 | #151-160 | #161-170
#171-180 | #181-190 | #191-200 | #201-210 | #211-220 | #221-230 | #231-240 | #241-250 | #252-260
#261-270 | #271-280 | #281-290 | #291-300 | #301-310 | #311-320 | #321-330 | #331-332 | Cover Images
Annuals: 1985 Annual | 1986 Annual | 1987 Annual | 1988 Annual | 1989 Annual | 1990 Annual | 1991 Annual
Other titles / G2: Action Force #24-27 | Specials & Collected Comics | UK G2 Intro | UK G2 #1-5 | UK G2 Annual

Introduction to the UK comic

[cover]

With Hasbro deciding to push Transformers in the UK soon after their initial American launch, an arrangement was made with Marvel for their British branch to reprint the limited series being published in America. The comic had been a sizeable success in the American market, but the British comic market had proven a difficult one for Marvel to crack, with titles regularly succumbing to amalgamation or cancellation.

Editor Sheila Cranna mooted the UK series as a large-format fortnightly comic, reprinting half of an American Transformers comic, with another Marvel USA reprint, initially 'Machine Man', peppered with general robot articles, as well as product updates. Issue #1, priced at 25p, was released on September 9th 1984, featuring a brand new, slightly irrelevant Jerry Paris cover and a free poster and transfers. More transfers were included with #2, while posters were included in most early issues.

From issue #2, the series would feature a number of black and white pages in both the Transformers and back-up strips as a cost-cutting measure. Sales were very good, later boosted by extra features such as fact files, smaller back-up strips such as 'Matt and the Cat' and 'Chromobots', a letters page [containing penpal addresses and general feedback] and competitions.

[image]

The series was confirmed an extension when the American series was confirmed as an ongoing series, but there was one problem - a three-month gap between the conclusion of the American limited series with #4 [printed in UK #7-8] and the start of the ongoing series.

For UK #9, new material was needed, and Marvel UK brought in Steve Parkhouse, who had written a number of in-house strips, including work for 'Doctor Who Weekly', with John Ridgway, another Marvel UK regular, brought in to do the art. The four-part "Man of Iron" was the first Transformers story written for the UK, and would later find itself printed in America in US #33 & #34. It would also be set in Britain, which would go on to be a rare occurrence for even the UK-originated strips. At the time, the emphasis was clearly on simply producing an entertaining story for readers, rather than slotting the plot in with the American material.

[image]

The price increased to a princely 27p from #11, to cover the cost of in-house creative work. There were still 9 more issues to fill before US #5 was available, and occasional Marvel editor Simon Furman [whose previous work included the horror magazine Scream! and The Mighty World of Marvel, and would continue onto the doomed second Captain Britain series into 1985] was brought into write two storylines. These went down well, and from now on Furman would write the vast bulk of UK-exclusive storylines. The first three stories showed little respect for continuity, although the ending of US #4, with the Autobots defeated by Shockwave and the story set to continue in US #5, meant that little could be done anyway, and basically meant the UK material functioned as stand-alone stories.

[image]

From issue 22, the American storyline continued, while the rest of the comic began to evolve. From #22, the letters page was radically rethought as relaunched Soundwaves, began with the letters edited in the style of the Decepticon character. Issue #26 saw "Warrior School", from US #7, printed in its entirety, with the back-up dropped. Though from #27 the back-up returned, the comic was in full colour also switched to a weekly publishing schedule, albeit with an increased price of 30p, and would stay in full colour until #215, and weekly until #308. Aside from the back-up strip, the non-Transformers contents were heavily pruned, replaced by detailed Transformers fact files and the like.

Then, for the UK-originated storyline in #29-30, the story was woven in between the narrative of American comics, a state of affairs that would become de riguer until around #255. With the American comic now solidly monthly, there was a backlog of material allowing solid future planning of UK arcs by Furman. By now a number of artists were available to the Transformers staff. Comic veteran John Stokes debuted on #29; Barry Kitson [later to draw many DC titles] on #31, Will Simpson [a fixture with 2000AD ] on #41, Geoff Senior on #44 and Jeff Anderson on #48 [after inking #19-21].

[image]

Issue #41 had seen the first purpose-drawn Christmas story [as well as the hijacking of the letters page by Ratchet for the one-off 'Rat-Chat'], and #47-50 gave the book its first home-grown epic, "Dinobot Hunt", continuing seamlessly from the preceding "Icarus Theory". From late 1985, Marvel also began a semi-regular reprint series, named Collected Comics, to back up the main title by making older stories available in one comic, while the same Christmas saw the release of the first hardback Transformers annual, made up entirely of original material. Each new group of characters were heavily promoted, ensuring Hasbro were happy from the business angle, and Furman gave a number a debut ahead of the US reprints to keep the schedules in sync. From #74, 'Grim-Grams', hosted by Grimlock [in actuality, Simon Furman] took over from Soundwaves as the letters page. Sales continued to rise, and #74-88, two huge UK-exclusive storylines were printed solidly, "In the National Interest" and the seminal "Target 2006", an 11-part epic with a text prologue that introduced the ad-hoc team of Autobot commandos known as the Wreckers, and tied into TF:TM [which hadn't been quite released at the time in the UK... though Grimlock did get to review it in a 'Film 2006' column for #91]. The 'Transformers the Movie' comic adaptation was repackaged as a one-off Special.

[image]

For the big 100th issue, which came after a flurry of promotion, the Transformers strip was extended to 19 pages and adorned with a wraparound cover by Alan Davis [of Excalibur, Captain Britain, X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic 4, Miracleman and in fact just about anything else you care to mention fame], whose children were fans. With huge sales, in early 1987 the comic was clearly Marvel UK's flagship title. And still it picked up speed.

Marvel USA's 'GI Joe and the Transformers' series was jettisoned in favour of a home-grown arc that introduced the mechanoid bounty hunter Death's Head, who after a trio of Transformers guest spots, gleaned his own title via Doctor Who Magazine and Dragons' Claws [another Furman Marvel UK comic] before cannoning off to America to appear in Fantastic 4 and Sensational She-Hulk, being reformatted as Death's Head II and conquering America for a month in the early-90s boom-and-bust comic market. The arc also had another big surprise - the 1987 Transformers annual would contain the conclusion, something not popular with readers... In issue #125, however, Hasbro were appeased over the dumping of the GIJoe storyline [which would have been impractical, as GI Joe, in their European incarnation of Action Force, had only recently received their own title in the UK, and the crossover was happening far in advance of the reprints then being sold in the UK] by an indigenous crossover with Action Force, which then continued in Action Force Weekly #24-27. The American 'Transformers Headmasters' mini-series was then broken up into sixteen small segments, printed as back-up to other material, including US reprints from the main Transformers book as well as new storylines. However, the Headmasters were introduced via a two-part strip in #130-131.

[image]

For issue #150, a real trump card was played. For inside another wraparound cover, by Paris, was the origin of the Transformers, something Marvel USA hadn't even hinted at. Then, from #153, Action Force was merged with Transformers [bringing Lew Stringer's Combat Colin with it], though the former was clearly a back-up strip rather than a double feature. However, the comic continued with verve, with another epic planned to bridge the 200th issue. Grim-Grams had changed over to Dread Tidings, hosted by Furman again in the guise of Dreadwind and Throttle, in #183. By now the divide between the UK material and US material was becoming difficult to hide, and the latter was being treated increasingly worse. American stopgap"The Big Broadcast of 2006" was given a new prologue and epilogue, turning the story into a lie told by Wreck-Gar as a prelude to the "Space Pirates" UK arc, while the four-part US story arc "The Underbase Saga" was unashamedly cut in half to ensure that British epic "Time Wars" was in #200 [which had a wraparound cover by Lee Sullivan]. Issue #200 also featured a free booklet full of factlets about Transformers, as well as creative team profiles.

[image]

However, sales had been falling for some time, and in #213 the Transformers comic was cut down to six pages of fresh material, with the back-up strip and American or British Transformers reprints filling the rest of the comic, despite a price increase to 38p. From #215, the British UK strips reverted to black and white. Soon after this, Furman was appointed successor to the unhappy Bob Budiansky at Marvel USA. While Furman would remain as writer on the UK title, storylines on the whole in the UK were less inventive, partly due to the format and partly in the hopes of avoiding a massive continuity mess when Furman's American material came to be printed in the UK title. There were initially high hopes that Furman's appointment would mean total unity between the US and UK material. However, the deadlines and logistics involved meant that this wouldn't come about.

These shorter UK stories took various approaches to this problem. Some provided build-up material for forthcoming US stories ["Race with the Devil", "Deathbringer", "Two Megatrons"], some concentrated on minor characters yet to appear in the American storyline ["The Big Shutdown", and the subsequent Thunderwing arc], some used the future setting ["Aspects of Evil", the Dark Rodimus arc], and some tidied up a few loose ends from previous UK stories ["The Survivors"]. These stories used a mix of established and new artists, with the likes of Geoff Senior [who had taken a break from Transformers to draw Dragon's Claws], Jeff Anderson, John Stokes, Lee Sullivan and Andy Wildman [who had debuted on #198] mixing with Simon Coleby, Stewart 'Staz' Johnson, Cam Smith and Art Wetherall.

[image]
Any hope of tying the American and British strips into a single, cohesive storyline quickly proved to be impossible due to the deadlines involved, and the UK storylines, from #255 on, departed off on the continuity-bothering Earthforce thread, which served mainly to allow Furman not to worry about it, while simultaneously plugging Hasbro UK's Classic Hero reissue range. Initially these stories were meant to tie in with the American Unicron War storyline, but as it became clear this would cause huge problems, they ambled off on a tangent to them. By now, Marvel UK's premier artists, such as Geoff Senior and Andrew Wildman [who drew the wraparound for #250] were following Furman to America. More new artists would arrive on the title, such as Pete Knifton and John Marshall, mixing with more established names like Jeff Anderson, Simon Coleby and Staz. In #289, "End of the Road" brought the cycle of UK-exclusive storylines. From hereon in, the book would only reprint US issues and a few older British strips.

However, a reprinting of the G. I Joe crossover, as well as selected Transformers storylines, meant there was now a backlog of Furman's Marvel US material. But by now, it wasn't just the comic's sales that were falling, but the popularity of Transformers as a whole. Since 1987, Hasbro had successively tried to revamp the lines, with diminishing returns each time.

[image]
Issue #300 had another wraparound [this time drawn by John Marshall, and featured Blaster taking over the letters page, now named Darn and Blast. From #305, GI Joe left the comic, and Transformers UK reprints began, backing up the "new" American material, but from #309 the comic switched to being a fortnightly publication.

In July, the American comic was cancelled, and Transformers UK's future was up in the air. It still had a cult following, but plans to continue after the American material ran out as a monthly with a short new strip balanced by reprints failed to be realised.

By #321, the news came out Hasbro wouldn't be continuing the toyline in America. Although the European wing would produce toys right up to the start of Generation 2, but not enough to justify the expenditure. The final issue of Transformers UK, a reprint of the second part of Furman's American conclusion, ironically also named "End of the Road", was published on January 4th 1992.

The comic left an enduring legacy, however, eclipsing the cartoon and even the toyline in British fans' affection, and gathering ever-more fans as Transformers fandom went global via the Internet in the late 1990s, culminating in Titan's ongoing reprints of the UK stories in trade paperback form.

 

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