Reprinting: The Transformers #46-50 (Marvel US)
Written by: Bob Budiansky
Pencils by: Jose Delbo
Inks by: Danny Bulanadi (46,48,50) Dave Hunt (47,49)
Colours by: Nel Yomotov
Editor: Don Daley
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco.
Have you ever wondered what "The Dark Phoenix" saga would be like if Toad had gotten the Phoenix power? Well, Bob Budiansky did as well…
The stories in this collection are a more muted bunch than those in the preceding Maximum Force TPB, there’s still plenty of badly thought out silly ideas, but nothing quite as barking as Monstercon From Mars. You’re left with the impression that one of the editors has briefly woken up and told Bob to tone it down a bit before nodding off again. The end result is a much duller set of issues that tend to become a chore to read as the wackiness in the previous issues was the best thing about them.
First up is Ca$h and Carnage, the only standalone issue in this collection. In this Lord Zarek invents a device that can completely immobilise Transformers. Exactly the sort of machine that could, en mass finally let the Decepticons win the war. So naturally, rather than launching a full scale offensive of Decepticons armed with these jammers, he instead gives them to some Mad Max reject Bounty Hunters. And then offers them money if they hunt down Autobots and Decepticons. And is then surprised when it all backfires on him. Plus, he releases three Autobots he’s already captured because he couldn’t find any on Earth to test the devices on (why not just have the prison guards test them on the Autobots in their cell?). Another annoyance is the blatant toy advertising in featuring six new Autobots even though there’s only enough plot for three of them. And as for the art… Well, as I don’t want to repeat myself to much throughout this review I’ll say it here, just the once: Jose Delbo draws slightly less well than three blind hedgehogs in a sack, whilst Nel Yomotov’s only possible excuse is that he was smacked up to the eyeballs.
Next we have the first part of the alleged epic that is The Underbase Saga!. Club Con (which has a wonderfully camp pink logo) has the Decepticon’s running a holiday resort on their island base for… well for very little good reason except to make sure the Autobots know exactly where they are without having to bother with any of that tedious searching. Which was nice of them. It also gives Bob a good excuse to put Jesse in a bikini, but wouldn’t it have been more entertaining to see Sparkplug in a pair of Speedos?
A major revision to established continuity is the revelation that the Autobots always knew Prime and the others were on Earth, and there was a good chance they were still alive. So naturally, rather than sending a full rescue force, they just send Prime a couple of cassettes warning him that something bad might happen in four million years. Strategies like that explain why the Autobots so firmly got their behinds handed to them after the Ark vanished. Then again, the Decepticon’s don’t do any better, after seeing Blaster on the island, they don’t think to keep an optic out for any red boom box’s, even though Jesse makes no attempt to hide him whilst in a seeker cockpit. And as if to prove all species are equally stupid, the humans merrily go to a resort ran by the robots they’ve been fearing and hating for nearly fifty issues. All in all, this issue conclusively proved that whatever Nel smoked was handed round the Marvel offices regularly.
Issue 48- The Flames of Boltax!, has a cover which promises The Return of Megatron… The End of Optimus Prime?!?. Sounds exciting don’t it? Well, don’t get worked up, it’s just a flashback, courtesy of the message on the tapes that were so fussed over in the previous issue, recounting Prime’s shocking discovery of the Underbase! (Yes, even though the message was meant for Prime, it contains a lengthy recording of events he was present for, thoughtfully helping any enemies that intercept the cassettes rather more that a shorter “The Underbase is coming!” post-it note would.)
It’s also worth noting that Bob was obviously a fan of the then newish Star Trek: The Next Generation: first we have Hi-Q bearing a uncanny resemblance to Patrick Stewart, now we have what's a Holodeck in all but name used for playing back the message. Poor old Ratbat and Starscream clearly haven’t watched much Trek though, as they don’t seem to grasp it’s an old recording as they’re constantly surprised at Prime’s survival.
Ultimately this is pure filler that could have been covered in a few lines. Having Prime be responsible for the seeming destruction of Cybertron’s greatest store of knowledge is a interesting bit of character background, but other than that it just seems to be a reminder to readers of Megatron in advance of his forthcoming resurrection (telling one of the “See issue…” boxes refers to Megs as just having “disappeared” rather than killed- Up to now US readers have had no reason to assume the latter wasn’t the case).
The penultimate Underbase story- Cold War, is easily the best in this collection, which isn’t a huge boast to be sure, but there is fun to be had in Starscream’s manipulation of Raty and Skorpy’s troops into fighting so he can scarper away to collect the Underbase whilst no ones looking. We also get a nice dilemma for Buster, does he freeze to death or use the Autobot distress beacon he’s been given to summon them into a trap? We also have a fine display of unarmed combat from Apeface.
Unfortunately there are still negatives, you have to wonder why Screamer just doesn’t kill Buster and set off the alarm himself, and the fact Ratbat trusts Screamer enough to make him second in command in the first place stretches credulity a tad. We also get horrible, horrible dialog in the big fight- Stuff along the lines of “You taste good Soundwave”. Still, it does set things up fairly well for the big conclusion, it’s just such a shame the next issue firmly throws it all down the pan…
Dark Star, the double length conclusion to a four issue epic, kills off even more TF’s than the movie and features Skorponok getting a genuine bit of character development at the end. So it really speaks volumes that the one thing everyone remembers about it is the infamous Ratbat/Fort Max fight. The whole thing's just so bland, as if Bob’s really just going through the motions at this point. Basically Starscream becomes super powerful, all the pre-1987 toys line up to get zapped (though it’s very hard to tell who’s dead and who’s just injured- Mirage gets ripped apart in the first few pages but shows up again latter for another grizzly death) before Prime uses the age old “trick ‘em into absorbing to much power so they blow up” routine (which every sci-fi franchise does at least once, you can see it in Doctor Who and the Ghosts of N-Space, The Avengers episode Thingamajig and just about any episode of Star Trek with a super smart computer in it). This should be the crowning achievement of Bob’s run, instead it all falls apart. The only remotely interesting thing is Skorponok’s revelation that Prime was working in their best interests all the time. Though his final “And then this truce will be ended” speech (which would have caused UK reader déjà vu as Furman cheekily used almost the same ending a few weeks earlier in Time Wars) suggests a reset switch will be thrown for the next issue, this become the basis of the Prime/Skorponok friendship that Furman will craft when he takes over the comic. But really, other than that one page, this is all throwaway stuff. The really staggering thing is that Bob somehow managed to produce a worse script for the next issue.
Oddly the extra features in this collection are at the front rather than the back as with the others (they probably just didn’t want Jose Delbo art to be the first thing you saw when you opened it). They’re completely irrelevant, being Bob’s pencil sketches to the covers for issues 29 and what would eventually become 36 (though at the time it was 34, before the Man of Iron reprint forced it back). That’s correct, two issues that aren’t in this collection. I’m assuming that despite being involved with Titan since they began reprinting his issues it’s only just occurred to them to ask Bob if he’s got any interesting stuff lying about that could be included- hence them having to force it into a collection it doesn’t really belong in. Apart from that, all we get is covers and an advert for the Aspects of Evil collection that’s mildly interesting because it has a different cover to the book as eventually published- Plus it claims the black and white volumes will let you “Complete your collection!”, which is a barefaced lie.
Whilst these aren't quite the worst Transformers stories ever told, it does come awfully close at times. A volume for the dedicated fan only, I’m afraid.
Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek