Reprinting: #160-161,172-173,180-187 + annual story Ark Duty (Marvel UK)
Script: Simon Furman [#160-161,172-173,180-181(bookends),182-187]
Art: Lee Sullivan [#160-161,180-181(bookends),186-187] / Bryan Hitch [#172-173] / Dan Reed [#182-183]
Pencils: Dougie Braithwaite [#184-185]
Inks: Dave Harwood [#184-185]
Letters: Tom Frame [#160] / Glib [#161,180-181(bookends),182-187] / Steve Parkhouse [#172] / Annie Halfacree [#173]
Colour: Euan Peters [#160-161,172-173,182-186] / Steve White [#180-181(bookends),187]
(Note: The 1987 annual story Ark Duty has no credits attached.)
Quintessons! Metroplex! Plus, Rodimus Prime and Soundwave get some dedicated characterisation.
This volume reprints Salvage, Wrecking Havoc and Space Pirates from the UK comic, also throwing in the bookend pages from Big Broadcast of 2006 (a story adapted from the animated series as a space-filler for the US comic, with no apparent regard for where it would fit into continuity. More on that later.)
It's time for returns, first of all. Salvage opens with the retrieval of Megatron and Centurion from the Thames following the events of issue #125 and Action Force #24-27. This bears brief explanation, as at this stage it seems unlikely the Ancient Relics Action Force crossover will be reprinted by Titan Books. Essentially, a deactivated Megatron is reawakened in the London sewers and goes on the rampage until Blades calls in Grimlock to assist. Centurion tags along and ends up sacrificing himself to put Megatron out of commission once again.
Salvage also features a cameo appearance by Richard Branson — quite how Marvel UK wangled that, I have no idea, but probably by catching him in a good mood. His plan is to gain publicity for an environmental project (mirroring the 1988 Keep Britain Tidy campaign) to begin with trawling the Thames for artifacts such as the two deactivated robots, a plan cut short by the appearance of the Seacons, coneheads and Blitzwing, who abscond with the fused mass.
Elsewhere, the Sparkler mini-bots have just finished digging Magnus out from the volcano recently vacated by Galvatron. Entombed alive for several months, Magnus' first sight is of Megatron/Centurion being airlifted back to Shockwave's base, which doesn't help his mental state any. Galvatron is also keeping a watch over Decepticon HQ, and realises what Shockwave's plan is — to re-activate Megatron and send him against Galvatron.
The Autobots decide they must stop this, but Galvatron has other ideas. The second part of the storyline focuses on the mental blocks of Magnus and Megatron, as each faces their greatest nightmare — for Megatron, it's Optimus and Straxus inside his head, whilst Magnus goes up against Galvatron again. Both predictably win, and the strip ends with Shockwave commencing Megatron's brainwashing and with Galvatron limping away from the scene, Magnus having all but exhausted his power reserves but emerging victorious.
It's quite a packed installment, as most of the UK comic tended to be. It also picks up on a lot of running story threads. Megatron was presumed destroyed by a space bridge mishap in Gone But Not Forgotten [#107-108, reprinted from Marvel US], whilst the storyline in which Straxus tried to possess his mind occurred in Resurrection [#103-104]. Straxus had been left bodiless following a run-in with Blaster in Bridge To Nowhere [#68-69, reprinted from Marvel US]. None of this is knowledge necessary to enjoy Salvage, but it demonstrates how many balls Furman was keeping up in the air by interweaving a complex ongoing plot alongside the ongoing plot of the US stories by Budiansky.
Wrecking Havoc picks up on Cyclonus and Scourge after the events of Legacy Of Unicron, challenging Galvatron for the time-travel device they hope can return them to their own future time. The Wreckers (an elite Autobot commando unit) have also been sent after the insane future Decepticon, matters complicated by the battle erupting in a small but densely populated mid-west town! In the end, Springer draws fire from the humans by tricking Cyclonus and Scourge, forcing the Wreckers to assist him whilst Galvatron escapes.
All of which is essentially background noise as far as Space Pirates is concerned. Confused? Don't worry — the meat of the rest of this volume is a single continuous story, and one anyone can enjoy. It begins with a summary of The Big Broadcast Of 2006, a US story adapted from the animated series. Here, it's treated as a story told by Wreck-Gar to his Quintesson captors, and we aren't forced to suffer through it. This leads effectively into Space Pirates itself, a six-part epic charting the Quintesson attempt to take over Autobot City on Earth as the first step to evacuating their dying homeworld by conquering Cybertron!
Wreck-Gar escapes the Quintessons' clutches with the aid of Wheelie... whilst on Earth, Autobot City has already fallen. Arcee is to be used as bait to lure in Rodimus Prime. Meanwhile, on Cybertron, phase two of the plan is underway as the Decepticons (led by Soundwave) are tricked into an ambush.
The Autobots arrive on Earth to the sight of their butchered and deactivated comrades hung and crucified against the walls of Autobot City. Now, remember that this is a kids' comic — I caught this for the first time when it was reprinted in Collected Comics #17, but many readers in September '88 would have been even younger. Needless to say, it's an enduring and quite disturbing image.
Things go from bad to worse at Rodimus falls straight into the trap laid for him and loses possession of the matrix. On Cybertron, the Decepticons are getting slaughtered, prompting a desperate Soundwave to send an SOS to the Autobots commanded by Magnus. So... it's up to Hot Rod to save the day on Earth. This he ultimately accomplishes with the aid of Blaster's cassettes (missed by the Quintessons) and Metroplex, in his only outing in any Marvel TF comic. For me, the simultanoeus fight-back sequences (the Autobots on Earth, the Autobots and Decepticons back-to-back on Cybertron) is worth the price of entry. Whilst all this is going on, Wreck-Gar is busy beaming the colonisation plans of the Quintessons to the entire rest of the galaxy, ensuring them a cold reception wherever they flee.
Finally, Hot Rod proves himself and wrests the matrix back from the Quintesson general, leaving Autobot City won, but at great cost. (As an additional note, the rift which is swallowing the planet Quintesson and which prompted this storyline serves to set up the epic Time Wars saga in later issues.)
Tucked away in the back of the book is a bonus tale, taken from the 1987 Marvel UK Transformers annual. Flashing back to 2003, Ark Duty goes into a some detail as to how the Autobots were able to use a little trickery to build Autobot City right under the Decepticons' noses.
A cover which is surprisingly spoiler-free (simply showing that the volume contains Quintessons and Autobots in trouble) complements the collection — it's nothing incredible art-wise, but it does the job. There's the usual mini-gallery of UK issue covers on the back of the book, none of which really deserve full-page reprints in this instance. Art highlights are Lee Sullivan and Bryan Hitch in the opening two stories, but Space Pirates itself is perfectly competent, especially the last installment with Metroplex laying down the law on the Quintessons.
An additional worthwhile bonus is another four pages of overview at the beginning of the volume covering some of the history of the Action Force crossover and the Branson appearance mentioned earlier, before going on to discuss the stories reprinted in City Of Fear, the UK comic letters page, Christmas stories, the Big Broadcast UK reprint and the 1988 annual. This will definitely provide some context to prevent new readers from feeling too lost in UK continuity. There's also a brief two-page Movie summary for anyone who needs it.
Reading this review you may have concluded that this volume is an eclectic mix, but it hangs together far better when actually in your hands. Ideally it should be read in its intended place between the Legacy Of Unicron and Time Wars reprints, but the main Space Pirates saga can be enjoyed on its own — so, whilst not essential reading, it should be a contender for purchase after the other two reprint volumes mentioned. Considering you get an intro, Wreckers, Galvatron, Megatron, Magnus and then the future cast, Space Pirates is pretty good value.
Reviewed by Denyer