MARVEL TRANSFORMERS COMICS GUIDE
Marvel US nav: US Intro | Story List | US #1-10 | US #11-20 | US #21-30 | US #31-40 | US #41-50 | US #51-60
US #61-70 | US #71-80 | Comics Magazine | Transformers Universe | Transformers the Movie | Headmasters
G.I. Joe and the TFs | US G2 Intro | G.I. Joe #138-142 | G2 Special | US G2 #1-6 | US G2 #7-12 | Cover Images
Introduction to the US comic
Marvel also decided to launch a comic series based on the franchise. Initially, a four-issue bimonthly limited series was planned. Due to Marvel policy, as editor Budiansky was unable to write the series himself. Bill Mantlo plotted the first two issues, while Ralph Macchio submitted the finished scripts. Veteran artist Frank Springer handled the art chores, though the in-progress status of the character models hindered his work, meaning many characters change their looks from page to page. Jim Salicrup took over the scripting duties for the second half of the mini-series.
The title was launched in the summer of 1984, with a typically idiosyncratic cover from Bill Sienkiwicz for #1. Sales were superb from the start, and midway through the limited series Marvel decided to continue the title as a monthly. Salicrup's script for #4 was rewritten with a cliff-hanger ending. Jim Owsley took over the editorial reins, allowing Budiansky to switch to scripting duties - though he would continue to write profiles for new characters as they appeared, and act as a liaison with Hasbro. Three months passed before #5 was released in spring 1985, with a variety of artists, including William Johnson and Herb Trimpe [who, after drawing #11-12, would take over as regular cover artist]. Sales were high, and from #13 Don Perlin took over as regular artist. Peter David, of Incredible Hulk fame, was due to write a offbeat Bumblebee solo story for #16. This fell though, with Len Kaminski providing a similarly-themed script. Budiansky returned for #17.
The next major change for the title came in late 1986, when Hasbro produced Transformers The Movie, shifting the animated series forward to 2005. The decision was taken to keep the comic series in the present day, though Marvel would produce a three-part limited series based on the film, written by Macchio and drawn by Perlin. Also in late 1986, the character models and profiles were dusted down, modified and issued as a four-part limited series, named The Transformers Universe. These expansions were joined at the turn of the year by The Transformers Comic Magazine, reprinting early adventures in pocket-sized digests.
Despite retaining the 1980s setting, Budiansky was still required to write out the original leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron. Issues #24 through #27 became a loose arc, writing out the pair in #24 and #25 respectively, with Optimus Prime's funeral coming in #26, and Grimlock becoming the new Autobot leader in #27. These changes coincided with a third limited series, a perhaps inevitable crossover with GI Joe, penned by Michael Higgins. In an unconventional move, Budiansky set up Ratbat as new Decepticon leader, also writing Grimlock as a bombastic, unpopular reader, shifting his main focus to anti-hero Blaster. Considering the volume of new toys released in 1985-1986, Budiansky did well to keep the focus on any characters, although the 1980s setting, coupled with the Transformers The Movie limited series, did simplify this task to some extent. Budiansky managed to find a way around saturating the title with the large number of new figures released in 1987. He persuaded Hasbro and Marvel to produced a four-issue limited series named The Headmasters, introducing the new characters in a separate plotline. The hectic schedule saw #33 & #34 contain recoloured reprints of material printed in the British Transformers comic. The series was a success, and Marvel briefly considered running it as an ongoing series, but instead the characters dovetailed into the regular series at #37. José Delbo was by now the regular penciller on the title, having started on #36. Optimus Prime, in his new Powermaster form, would return to the title from #42, though deadline problems intervened the following issue. With the regular story delayed, Macchio adapted his television script for "The Big Broadcast of 2006!" for the comic. From #44 the regular story continued, with Budiansky beginning the four-issue Underbase Saga in #47, building up to the giant-sized #50, which wrote out a large number of characters, including Grimlock, Ratbat, Blaster and Starscream.
However, sales had been falling since 1987, mirroring the fall of the Transformers toyline. A mooted second series of the Transformers Universe did not happen, though many of the profiles would be used as back-up to pad out the comic. The digest reprints would stop after their tenth edition. New characters were being foisted on the series that weren't capturing the imagination of the readers, or of Budiansky. The quality of the scripts dropped, with Budiansky becoming unhappy on the book. He left after #55. His replacement was Simon Furman, who had been the principal writer on the British series since early 1985, recommended by Budiansky himself. Furman immediately brought back Megatron for his first arc, and the Classic Pretender toyline allowed crowd-pleasing returns for Grimlock, Bumblebee, Jazz and Starscream. Hasbro's dwindling interest in the comic allowed Furman to build up existing characters, as new arrivals were less frequent. Delbo initially remained as regular artist, but #61 saw the first member of Transformers UK's art team, Geoff Senior, arrive. The story introduced Unicron, setting up a series of stories than would take a over year, building up to a battle with the Chaos Bringer. Furman imported his origin for the Transformers, previously revealed in UK #150, reinvigorating the title. Issue #62 saw the start of the five-part Matrix Quest, adding to the growing Transformers mythos. Sales, while still less than spectacular, had stabilised, and the comic, considered to be near cancellation when Furman took over, would continue. Classic characters such as Optimus Prime, Starscream, Grimlock and Shockwave were restored to key players; the likes of Kup and Scorponok were given new depths, while newer characters including Thunderwing and Nightbeat became firms favourites.
After introducing Galvatron [who had been a regular in the UK series, but had only appeared in America in the TF:TM mini and #43] in #67, and the Neo-Knights [a superhuman team gathered by long-time supporting character GB Blackrock, and featuring Circuit Breaker] in #68, Furman had all the pieces for his plan in place. Andy Wildman, another former Transformers UK artist, took over as regular penciller from #69 as the plot moved towards the confrontation with Unicron. Wildman's humanistic style was well received, and captured the emotions of Furman's scripting. However, sales simply weren't good enough, especially when the US toyline was cancelled after 1990, and the title was planned to finish after a giant-size #75, which killed off Optimus Prime and Scorponok, amongst many others. Senior returned to draw the dramatic battle with Unicron, but the title won a reprieve. An epilogue page was added to #75, and Furman continued with his complex plans. Sadly, the cancellation was only delayed for a short while, and the creative team were required to wrap up as much as possible by #80. Optimus Prime promptly returned for a happy ending to the saga, with the cover proudly bearing the indica "#80 in a Four-Issue Limited Series", and signed off with a farewell letter from Furman.
Furman would be the first choice to write the new Transformers Generation 2 title two years later, while since 2001 Titan have issued all of the original US series [bar the fill-in issues #33, #34 and #43] and the Headmasters mini-series across fourteen collections, finding a new audience for what was once considered the TV series' poorer cousin. Very few toy-based comics command the respect that Transformers does today.