Reprinting: The Transformers #19-24 (Marvel US)
Writer: Bob Budiansky (19,20,21,22,23,24)
Pencils: Herb Trimpe (20) Don Perlin (19,21,22,23,24)
Inks: Ian Akins/Brian Garvey (19,20,21,22,23,24)
Letters: Janice Chiang (19,20,21,23,24) Hans IV (22)
Colors: Nel Yomtov (19,20,21,22,23,24)
Editor: Michael Carlin (19,20,21) Don Daley (22,23,24)
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter (19,20,21,22,23,24)
Lots and lots of new Transformers! Watch as Optimus Prime's behaviour becomes increasingly erratic! Skids gets hot and sudsy!
There must have been times during his stint on The Transformers when Bob Budiansky wondered how to integrate bizarre new Transformers into the storyline, and I'm guessing "Command Performances!" was one of them. It features the first appearance of Omega Supreme, a toy that doesn't so much transform as disassemble like Lego. Appropriately, therefore, we get a story in which the Autobots launch a raid on Decepticon HQ to steal the secrets of genuinely effective combination technology from Devastator.
The story has some plus-points (Omega's dialogue here has always defined his character for many fans. Sample: "I am the guardian of the gates...the junction of your destruction...the laser lighting the way to your doom...the planner of your obsolescence...the furnace that fires your demise...I am the number you cannot compute, Decepticon." Omega then knocks out six Decepticon jets, wounds Megatron and send the survivors fleeing for their lives.) It also features Skids veering off a cliff and being left for dead by the other Autobots... and they don't appear to even consider going back for him.
"Showdown!" follows up on a small plot thread from the previous story: Donny Finkelberg has escaped from Decepticon camp, stolen some clothes to replace his Robot Master costume (a move which makes Ravage lose his scent) and very sensibly run away. The rest of the story involves Skids getting the minor repairs he needed and partaking in an exchange of human and Transformer culture with Charlene, which is all the excuse Herb Trimpe needs to pencil a scantily-clad blonde rubbing herself and soap-suds over the front of a talking car...
Charlene and Skids run into Finkelberg, shortly before Ravage picks up on his scent. A chase ensues, which ultimately ends with Ravage deactivated down a mine-shaft. (Trivia: in the US stories, he isn't seen again until "Eye Of The Storm" in issue 69!) This still begs the question of why Skids wasn't either recovered by the Autobots or found by the Decepticons.
At least in "Aerialbots Over America!" Optimus grudgingly admits, "I'm pleased you are still functional, Skids." The story begins with Bombshell mind-controlling a human to slip Megatron into the control room of the Hoover Dam. It goes on to introduce Wheeljack's latest creations, the Aerialbots, and the coneheads from Cybertron. The Decepticon plan is to radio in the space bridge and drill through the dam using a giant bit also teleported in from Cybertron.
The day is saved, not by the Aerialbots but by the human, who breaks free from Bombshell's control and uses Megatron to blast the drill. To be honest, this is rather annoying: Transformers don't really take centre-stage, something emphasised even further in the closing page, which shows Circuit Breaker having captured and decapitated Blaster, Perceptor and the 1985 minibots.
"Heavy Traffic!" introduces us to R.A.A.T. (Rapid Anti-robot Assault Team) as well as reminding us of the government agency, Triple I. It opens with Circuit Breaker describing how she captured the Autobots, before flashing back to the Ark, where Bombshell attempts to take over Optimus Prime using another cerebro-shell. It mysteriously fails, leaving him able to read Prime's thoughts but not influence him. This link is then bizarrely used by Megatron to siphon the life-giving powers of the matrix into the Stunticons as Optimus completes the Aerialbots' programming.
The newly-programmed Decepticons are sent after Skids, even having the nouse to act as if allied with him in order to lure Circuit Breaker into attacking the Autobots. (Don Perlin takes the opportunity to provide a couple of particularly gratuitous butt-shots of the scary lady running around in tin-foil this issue...) The story rounds off with Finkelberg deciding to sell Skids out to R.A.A.T. for $50,000.
By "Decepticon Graffitti!" Circuit Breaker has amassed a veritable menagerie of deactivated Autobots, adding Skids and the Aerialbots to her trophy wall. Elsewhere, Megatron (who's taken to sitting on a throne of scrap-metal) sends the Battlechargers off to deliver a challenge to Optimus Prime, which takes the form of defacing monuments across America. Circuit Breaker goes to stop them, but her increasingly erratic judgement puts civilians in danger, gets her temporarily relieved of command and injured. Finkelberg is regretting signing the Autobots over to her, and suggests she ally with them, crafting a giant robot from their bodies and consciousnesses. With this gestalt, Runabout and Runamuck are easily defeated and Circuit Breaker honours the deal she made with the Autobots to free them after the mission—which gets her fired. Finkelberg signs over his $50,000 blood money to a fund to clean up the Statue of Liberty.
On to what's probably the most controversial story Budiansky wrote: "Afterdeath!" The early portions of the strip are extremely cheesy, reading like a script of sci-fi cliches: a game character called Formulak the Compuzoid, played by Ethan Zachary on the Spectramax 1000 (with the best video game screen in the world!!!11!!1one) The company Ethan works for is developing a device to draw almost inexhaustible power from thermal layers of the ocean, however that works. I suspect it doesn't, or didn't in 1987.
Also squeezed into this setup are introductions for the Combaticons and Protectobots, who don't have a lot to do except provide the mutually-assured destruction factor the rest of the plot hinges upon: rather than fight each other to the death and destroy the plant (and the thing the Decepticons are aiming to steal) the two forces will fight in Ethan's gameworld, with the losing leader being terminated. In the game, Prime takes the lead and instructs his forces to treat the inhabitants of the virtual world by Autobot ethics—in contrast, Megatron sends his forces on ahead, because he realises his 'death' in the game matters most in terms of the final outcome. So far so good.
The Protectobots defeat the Combaticons with the aid of gameworld characters they end up helping. That leaves Defensor and Optimus against Megatron, and Megatron is easily defeated. He jumps straight back into the game, however, using a cheat code. Even this doesn't win him the game, though, as Prime collapses the bridge, killing the 'Con leader again. But in the process, some of the gameworld inhabitants are also killed.
Controversy time: in spite of two wins, Prime doesn't question Megatron's earlier duplicitous reinsertion in the game and declares himself the loser because he sacrificed innocents to obtain his victory. He views this as cheating. Bang, no more Optimus Prime.
This is all very contrived... but let's have a go at explaining it within canon: as recently as "Heavy Traffic!" Prime had a cerebro-shell stuck in his head. We don't know what unnoticed damage that may have done. The other explanation, particularly for fans of the UK material such as that reprinted in the Titan Prey volume, is suicide—effectively a nervous breakdown brought on by the pressures of his responsibility as Autobot leader.
Second controversy: Ethan Zachary saves Prime's game engrams to removable media and, as we know, Prime is eventually revived as a PowerMaster. Ethan refers to this media as floppy disk at the start of the story; surely a magnetic doughnut couldn't hold the personality of a Transformer? Well, as far as Budiansky is concerned, perhaps it could. Autobot brain modules were palm-sized when dissected by Circuit Breaker in earlier issues. I prefer a little more realism; it's an advanced system Zachary is working with, which presumably has equally advanced optical or solid-state media—in this context, 'floppy disk' would be an anachronism, just a familiar term carried over. Even so, it suggests (as did "Rock And Roll-Out!" in the previous volume) that TF personalities can be reduced to a portable form. Anyway, I shall most probably continue this theorising in the review for the volume which concerns the introduction of PowerMasters...
Folks with a fetish for women with mullets wearing stripes of metal will be in their element reading Showdown. The artists working on this era of the comic seemed to take to the scripts Bob was handing them with some gusto. It's all stuff which tells the story, with little else to recommend it. The cover is nothing special either.
"Command Performances!" has some excellent moments, and "Afterdeath!" marks an important event in Marvel TF continuity, whether you like it or not. Beyond this, I think the only reason you might care to read this volume is to witness the first appearances of the main four Scramble City combiner teams. If you're adamant you want to collect the full set of trade paperbacks, this is likely to be one of your last purchases.
Reviewed by Denyer
This review 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.