Reprinting: UK #96-100, #103-104, "What's in a Name?" from Annual '87, #135-136, "The Chain Gang" from Annual '89
Script by: Simon Furman [96-100, 103-104, "What's in a Name" from Annual '87, 135-136], Dan Abnett ["The Chain Gang" from Annual '89]
Art by: Geoff Senior , Jeff Anderson [99, 104], Will Simpson , Dan Reed [The Chain Gang" from Annual '89]
Pencils by: Will Simpson [96, "What's in a Name?" from Annual '87] Jeff Anderson [97, 100, 135-136]
Inks by: Tim Perkins [96-97, 100], ? Elliot ["What's in a Name?" from Annual '87], Stephen Baskerville [135-136]
Colours by: Steve White [96-100, 103-104, 135-136], Euan Peters ["The Chain Gang" from Annual '89], "What's in a Name?" from Annual '87
Letters by: Annie Halfacree [96-100, 103-104, 135-136] Gary Gilbert ["The Chain Gang" from Annual '89], "What's in a Name?" from Annual '87
Edited by: Ian Rimmer [96-100, 103-104, "What's in a Name?" from Annual '87, 135-136, "The Chain Gang" from Annual '89]
Wall-to-wall Predacons! Prime and Megatron! Even more Predacons!
Opener "Prey" begins, appropriately, with Optimus Prime feeling hunted. The Decepticons have developed space bridge technology, which they've used to teleport reinforcements and arms from Cybertron. He also ruminates on the events of Target: 2006—specifically, that his troops are incapable of functioning effectively without him.
What follows is convoluted to say the least, in addition to being a little confusing. Prime is planning to fake his own death with the aid of a dummy robot, quietly without any Decepticon interference. What he doesn't know is that the Predacons have other ideas, having been drafted in by Megatron to help him kill Prime once and for all. (They've also struck a deal with Shockwave to kill Megatron.) The two-part story finishes as the Autobots (none of whom except for Wheeljack knew about the facsimile) apparently coming across his shredded corpse. However, the way events turn out, we as readers also don't know if it's the stand-in or Prime.
Cut directly to "The Harder They Die", with no immediate explanation for how Prime survived or how he ended up on Cybertron. The beginning of this strip offers three of the best pages in any Transformers comic. Art by Geoff Senior is complemented by a tight monologue script as Prime reflects how much his homeworld has changed whilst saving Outback from a Decepticon thug—a fight that Prime only survives through blind luck. Elsewhere, Megatron recounts to Straxus the events which brought them to Cybertron.
As Optimus surveys the ruins of Iacon, he's ambushed by... the Wreckers! This leads into "Under Fire" in which the Autobot commando team put Prime on trial as an imposter. He naturally escapes, after which "Distant Thunder" turns out to mostly be taken up with a tale Prime recounts to Outback about his experience in Limbo during Target: 2006—all very bizarre, and I can only assume that this relatively stand-alone tale was printed to attract new readers to the 100th issue of the comic. It concludes with the Wreckers tracking down the pair and Emirate Xaaron hearing Prime out before concluding him not an imposter.
(In general, this story arc seems to indicate that fascimiles, imposters and spys taking the appearance of other Transformers are not exactly uncommon in the guerilla war raging across Cybertron—it certainly makes you feel that Decepticons live up to their image as deceivers, which is welcome.)
"Resurrection" goes on to illustrate the hoops Furman was having to jump through in order to keep UK and US stories in sync with each other. (As a side-note, it's almost impossible to square the Prime and Megatron of issues 103-104 with the rendering of those characters offered by Budiansky in "Afterdeath", a US story which was reprinted in issues 105-106.)
Overall it's a well-written story, opening with Octane embellishing his report to Straxus. The Decepticon leader then announces his plan to procure himself a new body and take Megatron out of the picture in one fell swoop. Elsewhere, Prime declares his intention to return to Earth and defend it from the 'Cons there. There's then a cut-away to Earth, with Blaster's Autobots learning of Prime's 'death'... this is a very packed 22 pages, and the Galvatron references are unlikely to make sense to readers who haven't read the Target: 2006 and Fallen Angel volumes.
Straxus goes ahead and attempts to take over Megatron's mind, a process which is only partially successful and tips Megatron over the edge—when Prime and Magnus show up to confront him, he attempts to utilise his power to link his weaponry with the anti-matter of a black hole. (This is the only use of the power in the context of a story, although it's mentioned in his tech-spec and Marvel Universe profile. Presumably it's a weapon of last resort, given how suicidal and destructive it is.)
Ratbat programs the space bridge to materialise inside the building, throwing Prime and Megatron back to Earth. Megatron is conveniently afflicted with amnesia due to his experiences with Straxus, forgetting that Shockwave set him up to be killed by the Predacons, and Prime appears next to the grave the other Autobots have constructed for the fascimile which was destroyed.
"What's In A Name?" is a fan-favourite story from the 1987 annual. Just five pages long, it recounts a run-in on Cybertron millions of years ago between the Dinobot Swoop and the Predacon Divebomb. Except, as we learn, Swoop was once Divebomb—in defeating him, his Decepticon opponent took his name! Swoop was saved by Optimus Prime, a commanding officer he already resented and subsequently came to resent even more because the Autobot leader knew of his defeat. It's strips such as these which demonstrate Furman to be a master of the economy required to write effective short stories.
"Grudge Match" is a two-parter which builds on the foundations of the annual story, as Swoop goes after Divebomb on Earth. (The way the story is written, comic readers who hadn't purchased the annual could still enjoy it.) They clash, only to have the rest of the Predacons turn up at the end of the first part—something neither of them wants.
In the second part, Furman demonstrates just how similar the two warring factions of Transformers can be, using the simple but deft technique of repeating key phrases. In this case, it's that Predacons and Dinbots both look after their own—and the Grimlock and the others duly arrive.
As he's being throttled to death, Divebomb spills the beans to the Dinobot commander about how Swoop was saved by Prime on Cybertron all those years ago. Grimlock's response is to shrug—he's had access to Prime's reports for a long time. The story concludes with Swoop calling the Dinobots off the defeated Predacons slink away, determined to fight his own battles in future. It's a strong character piece with nuances a quick review such as this can't really do justice to.
(One thing may confuse some readers. "Grudge Match" takes place after events of the US volume Showdown, in which Grimlock is declared Autobot leader. I shan't give spoilers for that here and it's a minor point, but one worth clarifying.) There's an additional random story at the end in the form of "The Chain Gang". This was originally published in the 1989 annual, and served mostly to give some exposure to the original six Autobot/Decepticon Pretenders. It features Bomb-Burst forced by circumstances to team up with Landmine in order to save everyone.
Does anyone else find the cover rather odd? The strip art inside is quite a mix, although Will Simpson offers some sterling work on "Resurrection" (managing to keep toy-inspired designs proportional and darkly effective.)
As far as bonus material goes, there's an overview of UK #161 thru #289, concluding an overview of the UK original material begun in other Titan UK volumes with the declaration: "the series overall remains a staggering triumph in the notoriously fickle UK comics industry." I couldn't agree more. 332 issues plus assorted specials and annuals of a toy tie-in book was an astounding achievement for Marvel UK.
the highlights of this volume for me are "The Harder They Die", "What's In A Name?" and "Grudge Match". "Resurrection" features some nice touches, but ultimately is another installment in the overly-complicated "Prey" storyline. If you have the 1987 annual (and copies are cheap on eBay) I'd be inclined to pass on this volume, at least until you've picked up some of the other UK trades.
Reviewed by Denyer
With thanks to Osku and Ultimate Weapon for copying up information.