Reprints: The Transformers #228, 234, 261-267, 271, 278-281 (Marvel UK).
Written By: Simon Furman.
Art: Staz Johnson (261, 263), Andy Wildman (228, 234, 262, 265), Jeff Anderson (267, 280),
Pencils: Pete Knifton (264, 266, 269, 278, 281), John Marshall (271), Staz Johnson (279)
Inks: Pete Venters (264, 266, 269), Stephen Baskerville (271), Michael Eve (278, 279, 281)
Letters: Stuart Bartlett (228, 261, 262, 263, 264, 267, 280), Helen Stone (234, 271), Peri Godbold (265), Glib (266, 269, 278, 279), Sophie Heath (281)
Wherein it's resolutely underscored that the UK comics form a separate timeline to the US stories, if that wasn't already obvious, and regardless of what the author may have originally intended... all in a very lively, fun style.
The Earthforce stories started during a bit of an upswing for the UK comic, which at the time had been running on reprinted stories and lacklustre US material for months. For a brief period the comic now had Furman-written and Senior-drawn American stories at the front, in balance with the less dark black-and-white strips. It was fortunate most those backup strips were appealing, because Primal Scream and Birds of Prey gave way in #265 to seventeen [expletive] weeks of G.I. Joe crossover reprints.
Being one of the few who got into TF comics this late, I have a soft spot for the era of stories — I do recall wondering why the Transformers story was sandwiched between a G.I. Joe strip in which Transformers occasionally appeared and another G.I. Joe strip, but I was a tenacious little sod. None of this has much to do with anything except to give a bit of background for those who'll only ever see the strips in Titan collections and to lay biases on the table before we start: this is stuff I'm fairly nostalgic about.
Enabled by Hasbro plans to reissue old toys in the UK as part of a Classic Heroes line, Starting Over became Simon Furman's peace offering to the fans who'd stuck with the comic since early days. Many had seen their favourite characters marginalised in favour of new toys with gimmicks, and this new story arc suggested that the characters felt the same way with a "damn kids, get off my lawn!" type conversation between Wheeljack and Prowl about Micromasters, Powermasters, Pretenders and other newcomers. It also set the tone of the stories, which were often whimsical and lighthearted. No explanation was offered, however, for why Megatron was running around on Earth after being blown up with Ratchet a few issues earlier in a US story reprint.
Two Steps Back indicates that Furman initially planned to tie the UK strips together with the US material more closely than ended up being the case, mentioning that Grimlock had reactivated them without the matrix in a nod to the upcoming Nucleon story. Though again lighthearted, it introduced tensions between Prime's cautious leadership style and what Grimlock saw as the realities of combat in the field...
Break Away sees the Dinobots prepare to quit the Autobots, Grimlock throwing in Prime's face the fact the latter brought the war to Earth, then wrestling him to a standstill. This prompts Prime to reconsider, putting Grimlock in charge of an Earthforce to see to the safety of the planet.
Desert Island Risks mostly drops this plotline, suggesting it was rescued from the writing table and pressed into service due to imminent deadlines, with the first page presumably changed a bit to tie in with current events. Ironhide thinks his way across boobytrapped ground to destroy a non-combining (and presumably non-sentient) facsimile of Devastator, without apparently stopping to consider blasting the thing from a distance. Some mention of a forcefield being in operation would've made this seem far less stupid.
Once Upon A Time gets things back on track, Grimlock retelling the history of the TF war for recently joining readers (which I missed by about three issues...) Like several of the stories in the volume, art is by Staz (Stuart Johnson) and places him as one of my favourite pencillers and inkers. There's more of the characters gently ripping the piss out of Target/Head/Powermasters, and at the end of it the newly-gathered Earthforce charge off to help Prowl and Wheeljack.
Life In The Slow Lane ties this running plot thread off, Prowl already having stopped Megatron's satellite macguffin and brought it crashing down in Louisiana. As usual with Furman, flashbacks help to pack far more into five pages than most twenty-two page comic stories do these days.
Snow Fun is a pure gag story, the Dinobots setting Grimlock up for an April Fool's trick and things ending with comedy violence. It's quite likeable, perhaps a bit more so than Mystery and Living Night Lights, which both felt rather disappointing and throwaway back in the 90s... time hasn't really changed that opinion.
Fortunately by The House That Wheeljack Built we see the overarching Earthforce plotline return, again a comedy story but pitting the Autobots against their own base, Wheeljack having forgotten to station someone inside to turn off the automated defences whilst they undergo a test run. This ties directly into Divide And Conquer, with the Decepticons (led by Soundwave) taking advantage and launching a diversionary attack whilst Starscream elsewhere commandeers an oil tanker. Prowl was prepared though, and has Springer and the rest of his Survivors group head off Starscream. This also sows the seed for Soundwave making a play to take out his co-leader, linking further in with the story title.
Note in case that didn't quite make sense: as chronicled in the earlier volume by Titan, Fallen Star, Megatron and Shockwave have been deposed as Decepticon leaders by a Soundwave/Starscream alliance. The printing order is mixed because Furman had lots of ongoing story strands running through the black-and-white stories, whereas Titan have chosen to reorder into story arcs so that each book is more themed.
The 4,000,000 Year Itch and Makin' Tracks both bring Grimlock/Dinobots back for some more comedy relief, Slag going beserk in the first whilst the base is being inspected by Optimus Prime, Grimlock going almost as far as murder to stop Tracks being reactivated in the latter. And it turns out Slag is already a murderer, at least by proxy or exaggeration, having "wiped out" his unit on Cybertron the last time he went berserk... the humour's rather dark if you stop to think about it, though longterm deactivation doesn't actually seem to be viewed as more than a minor inconvenience by Transformers in a lot of cases.
Prime's Rib is one of my favourite UK stories, if only because it lays down that in comic continuity Transformers don't have a biological concept of male and female. The "rib" of the piece is Arcee, who's been built as a PR exercise after complaints from humans that TFs are all male. The story can be seen to operate as Furman's comment on the curvy pink design, stereotypical oldschool feminism, and the Autobots behaving "inadvertently" chauvinistically before being upstaged by the latest addition to their ranks when Decepticons attack. All played for laughs, but anything that underscores robots as not possessing sexes and not being candidates for mecha-yiffing scores points with me.
Double Deal Of The Century rounds things off, with some tensions obvious in the Autobot ranks between Roadhandler and Prime, a rare appearance by Chainclaw and an intro story for Doubledealer that came as a surprise for readers who hadn't seen the back of his box beforehand. It's even semi-credible that neither Prime nor Roadhandler recognise "Double" given the number of troop reinforcements pouring into the
Grimlock punching a table from Break Away is an apt cover, and most of the repro work on the strips inside offers a clean downsizing from A4 British comics format. There isn't any art that stands out as bad. The paper stock (as with the other "manga" size Titan volumes) is to all intents and purposes card, and should survive re-reading.
More hits than misses, and a set of stories that regularly cheers me up. Thoroughly recommended unless you're unhappy when Transformers is other than staid. After reading this, go back to the second half of the Fallen Star collection to get the rest of the Megatron/Shockwave/Soundwave/Starscream plot strand if you haven't already.
Reviewed by Denyer