Reprints: #219-222, 229, 237-239, 272-274, 282, 283, 249, 250 (Marvel UK).
Written By: Simon Furman.
Art By: Dan Reed (219, 220), John Stoaks (221, 222), Simon Coleby (229, 237), Lee Sullivan (238), Geoff Senior (239), Staz (249, 250, 273, 282)
Pencils By: Pete Knifton (272, 283), Jeff Anderson (274)
Ink By: Michael Eve (272), Stephen Baskerville (274), Pete Venters (283)
Letters By: Glib (219-222, 237, 238, 272, 273, 282, 283 [Credited As Gary Gilbert on these two issues]) Helen Stone (229, 239, 250) Stuart Bartlett (249, 274)
Editor: Euan Peters.
Carnivac huffs and puffs and blows Snarler's house down. A collection of comics so good the bulk of them were treated to the colour treatment in the last ever Annual and final Collected Comic. The latter used the "Death of a Decepticon!" cover to issue 321, so that should give you a clue as to where this is going...
Oh, and it's nothing to do with Worf's first episode on Star Trek: Deep Space 9.
The bulk of this collection is taken up with the longest running arc the black and white strips attempted, the defection of Decepticon Pretenders (Catilla and Carnivac) to the Autobots and the fall-out from it.
First up is Survivors!, a strip that suffers from the change over from colour to black and white — Written and drawn with the intent of being a two part colour story it wound up as a four part monochrome one. The thing that suffers most from the change is Dan Reed's art, always something of an acquired taste it looks awful uncoloured (and tellingly this was the last time he worked on the comic), with only (a seemingly coincidental?) use of what would become Crosscut's character model for Skids being of any interest. It's a shame because the story is quite interesting, dealing with the fallout from Time Wars — in particular Skids return from limbo after over a hundred issues trapped in limbo after being displaced by Galvatron. In his case his inner demons are literally personified and brought to life in a nuclear power plant. And in the other thread picked up from Time Wars it's up to Springer and the surviving Wreakers to save him, with a little hep from two remaining members of the Mayhem Attack Squad.
Effectively the story is built up around two dilemmaís — should Skids sacrifice himself to kill the demons? And should Catilla and Carnivac disobey orders to help the Autobots that saved their lives during the Galvatron battle? The answer to both questions is fairly obvious (and in the end Skids doesn't need to die after all), but it's well written and John Stoaks' art on the second half is a distinct improvement. The only real duff note is at the end Catilla seems far too eager to accept the Autobrand. Surely he'd never have been considered for the Decepticons crack unit if his loyalties were that easily swayed? However, Carnivac's spurning of the logo whilst still unsure of where he stands with the self-styled "Survivors" sets things up nicely for what's to follow.
Next we have a personal favourite — The Hunting Party (#229), a comic that introduces many characters who'll go on to bigger things, such as Bludgeon and Spinster. It's a simple plot designed to show how hardcore the new Mayhem Attack Squad is by having them take down "solid light simulations" of various Autobot bigwigs on a training mission. It's the details that make it so great, from Bludgeon's casual decapitation of Prime through to Spinster covering for Needlenose's cowardice at the end. Everyone makes an instant impression and the art by Simon Coleby is fantastic. It also makes it clear that this new squad is more than up to the task of hunting down their erstwhile former comrades, which leads us into...
A three issue mini arc from issues 237-239 (Way of the Warrior, Survival Run and A Savage Place!), which is one of the strongest dramatic stories of the comics entire run and easily shows the short B&W format could be used for so much more than light comedy fluff. Everything seems to be pointing towards Carnivac making the noble sacrifice™ that Furman was so fond of. He starts off venting his pent up fury (at living the Autobot way) on Springer, but comes to learn the value of human life and seems ready to lay his own down for it. He doesn't say, "It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees" but veers very close to doing so. So far so predictable, but just as you expect him to be taken out of action (àla Ultra Magnus in Vicious Circle!) Catilla shows up and winds up taking a sword through the chest for his friend. Something that probably helped make Bludgeon the comic's top bastard more than anything else in its last few years. Only Skorponok's death in On the Edge of Extinction beats it for emotional impact, and Carnivac's rage at the end as he cries vengeance is something that'll stick in the mind of the reader for a long time.
Coleby's art on the first part isn't as good as his Hunting Party work — though at least Skids has his own face back — but Lee Sullivan and especially the peerless Geoff Senior do wonderful work on the next few issues. Bludgeon especially looks fantastic in the Senior look.
Another three part story brings the arc to a wonderful conclusion in issues 272-274 (Cry Wolf!, Wolf In The Fold! and Where Wolf?. Carnivac has a Wolf alt-mode/Pretender shell if you didn't know...) As the title implies Cry Wolf! features a bot who keeps telling the same lie until no one will believe him when it really happens. In this case the story picks up on Needlenose's internal fears from The Hunting Party, as he remains the only Mayhem who thinks Carnivac poses a real threat and makes constant drills testing the others battle readiness. Unfortunately they grow sick of his paranoia and ignore him the time his call for help is genuine. The relationship between Spinster and Needlenose is fantastic, and the latterís growing sense of fear helps make Carnivac seem a credible threat without featuring him. If only Furman hadn't felt the need to hammer home the meaning of the title in dialogue it'd be very near perfect.
Wolf In The Fold has the feeling of a bit of a bridging issue, by setting up the appearance of the Autobots in the final part by having Springer debate what the Survivors should do to help Carnivac. Whilst this goes on the main plot at the Mayhem base stalls a bit, with most of the issue taken up with Carnivac trying to sneak up on Bludgeon whilst talking loudly. The issue ends with Carnivac's seeming death, but you don't have to be a genius to realise how a Pretender might fake his own death. After that slight wobble the climax sees a return to form — opening with a comedy gold Grimlock/Prowl scene when Springer goes cap in hand for help from Earthforce.
Then Snarler discovers to his cost what most of last weeks readers would have guessed already (it really would have made sense to check the Pretender shell wasn't empty before declaring Carnivac dead though.) The Autobot/Mayhem fight that follows is a bit static and un-engaging, but saved by three fantastic bits of characterisation. First we have Bludgeons anger at Carnivac not getting a decent warriors death, followed by Spinster's disgust at his comrades' joy in destruction (sadly he seems to kick the bucket as well, but if you place this before Matrix Quest both he and Needlenose get repaired at some point) and finally by Carnivac stopping Springer killing Bludgeon, not out of an Autobot-esque sense of morality but from a desire to stop the Decepticon getting the sort of death he'd crave. All in all a fantastic end to a brilliant storyline. The only real shame is we'll only see Carnivac once more in Divide and Conquer! (#279) as a cameo. Some follow up on his integration into Earthforce would have been very welcome. The art is solid more than spectacular, with Staz' middle installment being stronger than Knifton's surrounding ones.
Issue #283 is a semi-sequel, showing the remaining Mayhem Pretenders' escape from prison in the Earthforce base. Again, the title is apt as Shut up! is literally what the Mayhems are — completely silent. Their guard, the ever-luckless Inferno, finds the lack of noise deeply disconcerting, before learning to his cost that Bludgeon really needs to concentrate before he can levitate things. It's a strong spooky story that plays up Inferno's paranoia wonderfully — though once again the Grimlock/Prowl scene nearly steals the show with Grimlock clearly not giving a toss if Inferno will recover or not. Staz again does well on the art chores, with only the original cover giving away the moment where Inferno gets stabbed as a problem (and not one that affects this collection!)
Manoeuvres! from the following issue is a much slighter story that is closer to the "comedy punch line" style of monochrome strip. There is a bit more bite here as a desperate fuel-laden Octane begs for help from Blitzwing and Astrotrain (after becoming a sitting duck in a US army training exercise) is actually slightly unsettling. Especially as they abandon him to die after learning he only wound up in the situation after stupidly trying to run a human car off the road. However, the "twist" — that the car was Jazz all along is hugely, painfully obvious. Even with his Autobrand hidden you have to wonder how Octane failed to recognise him (and even if they've never met and Octane hasn't been briefed on the alt-modes of high ranking Earthforce members, the lack of a driver is a big giveaway.) Knifton provides a higher standard of art this time, and whilst it's nice to see the Decepticon triple changers again, the story is one that'll be very quickly forgotten.
This collection closes with two linked stories. Whose Lifeforce Is It Anyway? provides a small lead in to Matrix Quest, as Longtooth remembers how Optimus Prime once gave him a fragment of the Matrix to save a comrade's life, only for him to keep it an use it as a guarantee of invulnerability in battle. Normally the introduction of a darker side to an Autobot is a welcome thing, but it doesn't work here. Mainly because Longtooth comes across as more whiny than conflicted. Staz does well once more, but it would have been nice if someone along the line had remembered that Pretender shells shouldn't feature in flashbacks set more than a few years previous (though that's not a problem exclusive to here, and I can understand the desire not to feature the bland Pretender inner robots more than needed.)
The issue ends with Longtooth returning the Matrix fragment to Optimus before embarking on his part of the Matrix Quest, which plays into the 250th issue story The Greatest Gift of All! Previous milestone issues had been marked by multi-character storylines, but the reduced page count and the fact the story would be published in Christmas week required a (most welcome) change of pace. It's a simple story of Optimus having to decide which of the many deactivated Autobots he should revive with the Matrix chunk. Optimus' inner monologue as he tries to pick is fantastic character work, adding depth without making him angst-ridden. His final choice of giving the Matrix energy to Earth to revitalise the biosphere feels absolutely right and manages not to be schmaltzy. All in all, a little gem, and as both the last Christmas and the last "Big issue number" story it stands proud. The only real problem is that whilst Staz does do well, his PM Prime is a little too toy based, and as such the head seems oversized.
Whilst the reproduction is generally fine some of the pages seem to have been gathered from less than pristine sources. The first page of A Savage Place! is particularly badly smudged and faded. The art of Dan Reed doesn't shrink very well either, meaning the first dozen pages look even worse than before (though unlike my original issue from childhood the lack of porridge stuck all over the first part is an improvement.)
Picking a cover must have been a headache — obviously they want to stick a character everyone with even basic Transformers knowledge is going to recognise (as they do here with Springer), but the choices available aren't amongst the best resulting in a so-so front piece taken from issue 222. Wouldn't it have been great if they'd gone for the "Optimus Prime having a Christmas drink" cover from #250 though? As a title for the collection I'd have pumped for Wolf In The Fold as well, it's less generic and sums up both Carnivacís infiltration of the Mayhem base and his place in the Autobots very well.
Other than that the extras are limited to an advert for the Metrodome G1 DVDs.
For your six pounds you get some of the very best work the last days of the UK comic produced, with even the weaker stuff standing head and shoulders above the American issues reprinted alongside them. An utterly essential purchase for anyone who doesn't already have it, not just as an example of quality Transformers work but as a collection of some of the best of British comics.
Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek