Reprinting: The Transformers #25-30 (Marvel US)
Writer: Bob Budiansky (25,26,27,28,29,30)
Pencils: Don Perlin (25,26,27,28,29,30)
Inks: Ian Akin & Brian Garvey (25,27,28,29,30) Brett Breeding (26)
Letters: Janice Chiang (25,26,27,28,29,30)
Colors: Nel Yomtov (25,26,27,28,29,30)
Editor: Don Daley (25,26,27,28,29,30)
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter (25,26,27,28,29,30)
One-and-a-half decent stories, and Megatron goes the way of Optimus Prime.
Reading through Breakdown, it becomes very obvious that Bob Budiansky was getting sick of writing for Transformers. It isn't that the the stories are uniformly bad, rather that the characterisation jumps around all over the place and many installments from this point forward in the author's run are marred by execution or increasingly inane ideas.
"Gone But Not Forgotten" sees Megatron going insane. Not in the sense of beserker rage, either, though there's a bit of that too. No, were he human he'd be drooling into cereal and hiding from space penguins. This has to do with the events chronicled in the previous volume (Showdown) and the death of Optimus Prime. Megatron doesn't believe that Prime is dead... not an entirely ill-founded assumption from the point of view of a long-term Transformers fan, but for the Decepticon leader it extends to shooting up traffic and trashing Brawl for pointing out that he saw Optimus die. Meanwhile, a convoy of human tanks have arrived to lay seige to the Decepticon base, and Shockwave has arranged for the Predacons to put in an appearance, assassinate Megatron and give him the leadership.
Readers who were following this through reprints in the original UK comic will have been especially confused... that's because a month before "Gone But Not Forgotten" was printed in the US, they were reading about the Predacons trying to assassinate Megatron in the UK story "Prey". I don't think anyone is quite sure how this series of events came about, but at a guess Simon Furman was asked to introduce the same set of characters as his US counterpart... and communication in those days was usually a matter of airmail and the occasional phone call. Very occasional—Marvel US and Marvel UK hardly spoke to each other, if interviews with creators in recent years can be believed. What's certain is that Furman's take on things was barely less schitzophrenic, but also redeemed by such stories as "The Harder They Die".
"Gone But Not Forgotten" doesn't manage to redeem itself. After running around shooting things, Megatron overcomes Predaking through raw firepower, conveniently discovers that Shockwave was responsible for the attempted assassination, realises in a massive leap of momentarily sane deduction that a disk copy of Prime's personality probably still exists, and blows up the space bridge whilst standing on it. Shockwave then claims that he planned this. Now, Shockwave is intelligent, I'll grant you... but this (certainly the way it's written) is just a bit too much to swallow. Shockwave supposedly predicts that, rather than wildly blasting Shockwave into a pile of subatomic purple goo, Megatron will commit suicide. Nuh-uh, no dice.
"Funeral For A Friend!" juxtaposes the funeral of Optimus Prime with our first encounter of The Mechanic. Yup, more humans with daft titles and the ability to run rings around TFs when convenient to the writer... but we'll get to that in a moment. The funeral parts, intercut with the rest of the action, are perhaps the best bits of the book. Having given Prime and Megatron both fatal nervous breakdowns (and not to get too Freudian, but I suspect this says something about how happy Budiansky was with his job) the author moves on to the aftermath. We open with Ratchet still toiling away at the end of ten days of repair work on Optimus, every Autobot optic sensor on the final process... which fails. It's a remarkably solemn and effective mesh of text and art. First Aid attempts to console Ratchet as a fellow medic. And the story rounds off with the well-delivered line: "I've been too busy to think about the dead... I've been too concerned with helping the living."
It's just a shame about the bits in which Ratchet goes to a junkyard and gets used as a getaway vehicle (a generally overused plot), can apparently repair Prowl with nothing more than a scrap exhaust and light-assembly, and succumbs to everything The Mechanic throws at him. The way Budiansky views Transformers, they're close in construction to Earth vehicles, and when Omega Supreme sets up defences for the Ark, he adds a clearly marked On/Off switch with a removable power booster that makes it easy for a human to operate bulky Transformer tech. Made a bit tighter (and with some kind of explanation for why the characters always seem to avoid keeping radio contact, etc) this could be a really strong story. Some might say it teeters on the brink of being.
"King of the Hill" is also quite good, especially in comparison to the story that comes directly afterwards and even considering the largish role played by humans in the story. The Dinobots had previously left the Autobot ranks, and here we discover they've been living off stolen oil—glossing over complaints about them tearing into a fuel tanker in their dino modes, Swoop carrying said tanker and the silhouette shots in this story manage to be both likeable and effective. A paleontology student and her professors are investigating Dinobot tracks in the woods, and catch a glimpse of Swoop as he absconds with the tanker. They camp.
Meanwhile, the Decepticons on Cybertron have grown tired on the incompetence of the Decepticons on Earth—if they don't justify the energy and resources that have been transferred to Earth, the space bridge will be shut down. Shockwave declares that things will improve under his leadership, and Ratbat agrees to send over one last temporary reinforcement in the shape of Trypticon, in a attempt to take over the Ark and the resources it represents. Trypticon lays seige to the Autobots, and the Dinobots eventually intervene, Grimlock helping the student on account of her 'bravery' when they met in passing in the forest. Lines such as "Get your teeth out of my head!" and "Hey, no chewin' on the boss!" keep the grins coming and fit characterisation nicely, especially as the earlier parts of the story have gotten out of the way most of the times the author is compelled to have characters refer to each other needlessly by name so that new readers can keep up—which is accomplished more deftly than usual this issue, actually. It does get a little annoying that everything Perceptor says is 'translated' by an Autobot standing nearby, but at least these spots go to Blaster and Warpath, characters most likely to get frustrated by Perceptor.
Having saved the day, the Autobots offer Grimlock the leadership he's been after. He declines, saying that his selfishness in not coming to their aid sooner was unwise and selfish. The Autobots nonetheless see potential in him, repeat their offer and are accepted. This wraps up the last really good story for another thirty or forty issues. Seriously, stop reading and cut to the US stories that begin in Titan's Primal Screen paperback. Or go read some reviews of UK volumes, and try those. No-one will blame you, there are no points for masochism.
Still here? Okay, "Mechanical Difficulties" it is then. The Mechanic is on a crime spree, assisted by the laser scalpel and cryogenic ray he stole from Ratchet, plus the crazy 'power booster' thing that lets him pick up and walk off with radar dishes, and throw cars. Meanwhile, Grimlock is picking out crowns and working out ways to punish Blaster and Goldbug for failing to find The Mechanic. Yes, picking out crowns. He sends them off to keep looking... which sees the pair working with police, failing to capture either a prisoner or reclaim the stolen weapons, and deciding to desert rather than return to base empty- handed a second time. All that decent characterisation of last issue is completely lost.
"Crater Critters" and "The Cure" form a two-parter, introducing the Decepticon Triple Changers and the Throttlebots in one of the worst stories the US comic has to offer. First off, a space freighter crashes on Earth. Blaster and Goldbug have tracked down industrial millionaire G.B. Blackrock to ask for his help in tracking down Decepticons... he tells them about the crash, in-between Blaster and Goldbug bickering like a couple of kids. The framing switches to Cybertron, where we learn that Ratbat sent the freighter, but lost contact when it crashed and intends to send the Triple Changers to recover the contents. Oh, and they're also to locate and enlist the aid of a fleshling with 'bucks' and connections with the automotive industry. Ho ho, I wonder what story link will be made later.
When the Decepticons arrive at the crash site, they're attacked by what seem to be nuts and bolts that have eaten the pilot of the freighter. Specifically these things are Scraplets, tiny robots that transform into nuts and bolts. Sigh. Blaster and Goldbug also contract the critters, and whilst Blaster fights the 'Cons, Goldbug and random human Charlie Fong go to look for the cure... a "rare chemical"... and, well, you've guessed the rest, haven't you?
Those who haven't can wait a minute for the resolution. Back on Cybertron, Ratbat recruits the Throttlebots (caught breaking into a fuel depot for supplies) and makes a deal with them to destroy all those infected within ten hours or Ratbat will find a way to wipe out all life on the planet (in order to certainly eliminate the Scraplet plague.) It's stressed that the cure is "a chemical so rare that its very existence is suspect!" And, stacking improbability atop improbability, Ratbat apparently modifies the Throttlebots to transform into Earth vehicles "in order to handle the terrain".
Once the random human character has discovered that the cure is water, Goldbug phones in support from G.B. Blackrock and there's some running around after the Scraplets merge into a giant purple blob monster... which in combined form is vulnerable to conventional weapons, taken down, and hit with one of the acid barrels brought by the 'Cons. In the confusion Astrotrain plants a device on Blackrock, before the Triple Changers make off with the freighter cargo, presumably to radio in the space bridge and return to Cybertron.
If you can get over the silly sci-fi cliché that underpins the story, mostly faceless new characters and glut of humans, I suppose you may manage to enjoy this. I don't. There are a great many other books—comics and otherwise and TF and otherwise—I'd rather read.
The cover art has a reasonable amount to do with the contents this time, featuring Predaking, a wounded Megatron, Ratchet in ambulance mode, Optimus Prime's funeral bier, and part of Ratbat's head split so that it will join up with the Treason cover. As mentioned the art a couple of the stories is particularly effective, though mostly in contrast to the rest. There are even times when Nel Yomtov uses more than four colours per panel—things can certainly be worse on the US stories.
For my money, "King of the Hill" and half of "Gone But Not Forgotten" don't redeem this collection. Original issues of US comics in the #25-30 range aren't particularly rare or expensive, and give you the opportunity of avoiding some really bad stories. ("Gone But Not Forgotten" and "King of the Hill" were republished in UK #109-112 for those who'd prefer to collect UK reprints.) If you're completist enough to want an unbroken story run, don't say you weren't warned. And stay tuned for a review extolling the many virtues of Treason, starring more of that most excellent leader King Grimlock, and the underrated kitsch classic, "Buster Witwicky And The Carwash Of Doom". Every time you close your eyes to sleep...
Reviewed by Denyer
This review has been written on the basis of the original comic issues. Information about any bonus features in the Titan reprint (such as interviews and creator bios) will be incorporated as it becomes available.