Reprinting: The Transformers #40-42,44,45 (Marvel US)
Writer: Bob Budansky.
Pencils: Jose Delbo (40,41,42,45), Frank Springer (44)
Inks: Dave Hunt (40,42,45) Danny Bulanadi (41,44) Don Hudson (42)
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colours: Nel Yomtov
Editor: Don Daley
Editor In Chief: Tom Defalco
Optimus Prime returns, and his first great challenge is to stop Hi-Test and Throttle eating all the pies. Oh the drama... plus some stuff with Pretenders that has to be read to be believed. And even then you won't believe it.
These issues are basically the Plan 9 from Outer Space of Transformers. Despite being incredibly awful you can't help loving them. In fact, I often found myself with tears of laughter running down my face whilst reading this, though that probably wasn't Bob's intention.
First up is Pretender to the Throne, a story notable for completely destroying the hugely detailed and conflicted character of Lord Zarak that Bob had spent four issues of Headmasters building up. The devious but fundamentally good man of peace fighting the evil will of Skorponok has become a nutty Megatron clone. Choice Skorpy dialogue includes: "its working! Flesh and metal are mixing together in a manner unimagined by all but me! Only my genius made it possible!" Nothing like self-advertising, is there?
This issue also sees the debut of the Pretenders, who come across as complete prats. The Decepticons are fooled into thinking the Autobots shells are really humans despite the fact they're 20 foot tall, whilst the Autobot Pretenders get their arses handed to them in the few minutes Prime isn't around to guide their movements. Speaking of Prime, he memorably thinks he's a computer character (a result of dying and being saved to a floppy back in Afterdeath). Now this could have been quite interesting as, say, an examination of what makes a Transformer truly alive, or even if it had been suggested Prime was sick of fighting and preferred living in a fantasy world. Instead it's all very Tron lite, with Prime being incredibly annoying as he constantly chirps on about "The next game". Terrible art from Delbo and worse colouring than usual from Yomtov (he has real trouble staying in the lines; perhaps he'd just been to the pub...) don't help things either.
Issue 41, Totaled! is probably the closet thing we get to a "normal" issue in this collection, though we still get the marvellously surreal image of a fight to the death between Rampage and Cosmos (a precursor to the classic Fort Max/Ratbat smackdown in Darkstar.) It's basically a big fight issue that resolves the long-past-its-sell-by-date "Grimlock's a tit" arc. Sadly by this point it's very hard to care, with the Autobots being such weak willed pansies (no-one likes Grimlock, but they all just go along with him) that you just wind up hoping that Grimlock was more sadistic to them. Still, this is the closest the Cons have come to victory since issue 4, and Ratbat does get a few fun one-liners, so it's not completely without merit. As for Delbo and Yomtov's efforts, not even Rolf's Cartoon Club would have used any of this...
People Power has the return of Optimus Prime, and what a return it is. Bob obviously wanted a big and Earth-(or Nebulos)-shattering cataclysm to have as Prime's first problem in this pivotal issue, and so has the Greatest Autobot Of Them All™ fighting the terrible menace of two manic depressive food thieves. What cads. Equally amusing is that the greatest scientists on Nebulos can't think of any other way to stop said cads other than poisoning the entire planet's food supply. Oddly Goldbug still thinks it's a good idea to let them rebuild Prime...
This issue also sees the debut of Hi-Q, who looks like Patrick Stewart dressed in one of Elton John's discarded birthday bash outfits. Complete with purple shades (how chic.) As well as old clothes he also gets an old plot, leaving behind his girlfriend in much the same way Galen did at the end of Headmasters, only published a few months before this. All in all, a deliciously bad issue, and I didn't even mention the art. Go on; guess what I thought of the art, I bet you can't.
The Cosmic Carnival features the long awaited return of those annoying kids last seen in issue 36, and they're just as well rounded, realistic and lovable as before, i.e. not at all. There's one good intentional joke about Prime only having enough money for two tickets, though he's oddly energetic during the fight scenes considering he gave Goldbug the other ticket instead of Hi-Q. The plot is one of those "lead character gets stuck in a circus" ones that every sci-fi show has done at some point, and is so predictable you know what's going to happen from the get-go. Delbo's on holiday, which means that this issues art (by Frank Springer) is very nearly average.
Obviously tired of recycling his old plots, Bob decided to redo a G1 cartoon episode for Monstercon from Mars instead. It's basically Hoist Goes Hollywood with just a smidgen of all those episodes where some random woman found giant robots hit her spot. Budansky Barmines this issue includes Skorponok thinking Skullgrin will pass unnoticed on Earth (keep taking the pills Skorpy), G.B. Blackrock tankers delivering Skullgrin's fuel (if Jose can spot the Transformers connection then old G.B. should as well) and... well... anything involving Skullgrin, which is basically the whole issue. Delbo returns from his holiday refreshed and able to reach new levels of banality, how he manages it I'll never know.
Right, time for a rant. This trade paperback doesn't include issue 43, an adaption of the TV episode The Big Broadcast of 2006 that was done hurriedly as filler when Bob was busy buying more of that special plant that helped inspire his more oddball stories (allegedly.) The reason for this is apparently that issue 43 doesn't fit into continuity and wouldn't make sense to the casual buyer. This ignores the fact that the issues we do get make very little internal logic or sense anyway... plus, the vast majority of people buying this will be dedicated fans (as only dedicated fans and the criminally insane are likely to want to own Monstercon From Mars anyway) and dedicated fans want all the issues presented in chronological order because we've got to have it all, even the rubbish stuff. To rub salt in the wound they don't even offer any explanation or the cover (as they did with the previously skipped Man of Iron), meaning that any casual buyers that do pick this up will probably be left wondering what happened to the really great and exciting sounding story with Rodimus and Galvatron [How wrong can casual buyers be? -Ed] described in the next issue box of People Power. In short: bad Titan.
Despite the shorter than usual comic page count we don't really get much in the way of extras to compensate. No introductions (everyone involved has probably spent the best part of two decades denying all involvement), we instead get Bob's original cover design for issue 45, which looks like it had more effort put into it that the actual contents of the issue, and a character design for Circuit Breaker. To pad things out we get a gallery of all Andy Wildman's covers for the paperbacks, which give you a good way of seeing the drastic decline in quality as the line progressed (though to be fair, the Maximum Force cover is an improvement over the last few, even if the Targetmaster gun seems to be transforming in a odd way...) Compared to Titan's James Bond or Dan Dare collections, which usually have at least half a dozen pages of making-of articles it really is a bit lame. Still, the paper's nice...
Despite the general negativity of the above review, I found it hard to hate these stories, at least they're never dull and there's always some stupidity to raise a smile. However, I can imagine that reading bad comics for pleasure isn't everyone's cup of tea, so I'd recommend having a quick read of one of the stories in the shop before buying to make sure you'll get the same pleasure out of it I did. Cautiously recommended.
Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek