Reprinting: The Transformers #13-18 (Marvel US)
Writer: Bob Budiansky (13,14,17,18) Len Kaminski (16)
Inker: Alan Gordon (13,14) Tom Morgan (16) Keith Williams (15,17) Williams/Colleta (18)
Color: Nel Yomtov (13,14,15,16,17,18)
Pencils: Don Perlin (13,14,15,17,18) Graham Nolan (16)
Letters: Janice Chiang (13,14,15,17,18) Bill Oakley (16)
Editor: Michael Carlin (13,14,16,17,18)
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter (13,14,15,16,17,18)
We catch a glimpse of the war back on Cybertron. And some sillier stuff.
I swear Titan goes out of its way to begin its volumes reprinting early US material with comedy material. Indeed, as long as you don't think too hard about stories such as "Shooting Star!" they can be fairly amusing. The throwaway lead human character, a down-and-out by the name of Joey Slick (yes, you read that right) happens upon the inactive alt-mode form of Megatron.
Later we discover that Megatron's higher functions were damaged by the fall Ratchet caused him back in "Repeat Performances!" (see previous volume.) The rest of the story involves Joey fending off gangsters, turning to crime and going on a hold-up spree. The resolution involves Megatron getting his mind back, and Joey surrendering himself to police—goddamn that Comics Code, eh? For a human-led story, "Shooting Star!" is surprisingly endearing.
Onto "Rock and Roll-Out!" in which Jetfire is inducted as an Autobot and Wheeljack revives Grapple, Hoist, Smokescreen, Skids and Tracks from engrams embedded in crystalline containment vessels. The way Prime talks it's rather ambiguous whether their personalities were copied (and the originals later killed in battle) or simply stored, ahead of continuing life at a later date.
Bumblebee takes the revived Autobots on a tour of Earth, whilst Shockwave steals petro-chemicals from Blackrock and then electricity from a concert's power-lines. The Autobots end up fighting off a Decepticon attack at the concert, leading to a slightly cheesy ending but an overall decent story.
"I, Robot Master" stirs things up as Triple I (a covert government agency) attempt to media-manage the appearance of giant robotic war machines on the American continent. In a plot which gets more convoluted by the second, Donny Finkleberg is fired from Marvel Comics (in the story) and picked up by Triple I to play his character, Robot Master, and thereby explain the Transformers to the public as being controlled by a terrorist.
It isn't a bad plot in itself, though in execution it falters a little. Finkleberg makes a comedic super-villain, and it makes Spider-Man's appearance in another issue of the US comic seem even more of an anomaly. It also assumes the populance to be incredibly stupid (and, to be fair, in these stories they tend consistently to be presented just so. Blackrock too often feels like a lone voice of reason in Budiansky material.)
A generous reading would focus on Robot Master as a critique of media suggestion, or a fond look back by the author at times he and friends had as newcomers to Marvel. If nothing else, this story does underline the severity of the fuel shortages facing the Transformers stranded on Earth.
Thankfully, "Plight Of The Bumblebee!" signals a return to stories with slightly more emphasis on giant robots, although only slightly. An angsty Bumblebee wanders off and is hijacked by joyriders, unable to transform or radio base. By the end of an unusually action-oriented story, Bumblebee realises that his place is with the Autobots.
With "Smelting Pool!" we genuinely do get back to having robots as the lead characters. On Cybertron, even! This is the first extended glimpse of the Transformers' homeworld we've had since issue one, and the first real mapping out of the territory by Budiansky. It's also a convenient juncture for him to introduce the 1985 minibots, Blaster, Perceptor, coneheads, Insecticons and Lord Straxus.
We're told that the Autobots have fared badly since the disappearance of Optimus Prime and the others four million years ago, before Blaster ends up commando trying to rescue his spy friend (Scrounge) from Straxus. Scrounge dies heroically, passing on his information—a data chip containing the message broadcast by Soundwave in "The Next Best Thing To Being There". It reveals that Optimus and the others survived, and fills the Autobots on Cybertron with a new sense of hope.
It's stories such as this that can be held up against Budiansky nay-sayers, as he manages to interweave ongoing plot strands against compelling self-contained stories. It gives us a rendition of Blaster as a badass, sight of the scale of the TF civil war, and some solid characterisation of the Autobots as genuine self-sacrificing heroes. Bravo! (And about time, mutter those of us with less-than-charitable feelings about the glut of human-focused stories to date.)
The volume isn't over, however. "The Bridge To Nowhere" sees the Autobots on Cybertron fight to destroy the Decepticon's prototype space-bridge, the means by which they intend to ferry reinforcements to Megatron and Shockwave and plunder Earth's resources for transport back to Cybertron. There's another pitched battle and Straxus is depicted as being as tyrannical as Decepticons come, treating the lives of his underlings as entirely disposable. It ends, a little predictably, with the bridge damaged and the Autobots stranded on Earth.
Nothing very impressive art-wise, although it suffers more because of the awful and uninspired colouring. There are times Yomtov doesn't even manage to stay within the lines (how much of this is due to the printing process itself, I couldn't say.) The cover features Ramhorn as prominently as Blaster, though he doesn't appear within.
Three out of six stories are decent, two especially so. On the other hand, half of this volume tends towards comic relief and plots involving Transformers stuck in their alt-modes. I can certainly think of more desirable Titan books worth picking up before this.
Reviewed by Denyer
This 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.