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Reprints: The Transformers #59-65, 93, 145, 198 and Dreadwing Down from the Transformers Annual 1989. [Marvel UK]
Plot: Barry Kitson (59, 60), Simon Furman (145)
Written By: Simon Furman (59-64, 198, A89), James Hill (93) Ian Rimmer [Uncredited on the TPB Credits Page] (145)
Art: Barry Kitson (59, 64) Will Simpson (61, 62) John Stoakes (63) Tim Perkins (64) Jeff Anderson (65) Dan Reed (A89)
Pencils: Barry Kitson (60), Martin Griffiths (93), Jeff Anderson (145), Andrew Wildman (198).
Inks: Tim Perkins (60, 93), Stephen Baskerville (145, 198).
Colours: Josie Firmin (59) Tim Cooks (60), John Burns (61, 62), J Firmin, (63) W&D (64), Tony Jozwiak (65) Steve White (93) Euan Peters (145, 198, A89).
Letters: Annie Halfacree (59, 60, 65, 145), Mike Scott (61-64), Robin Rigg (93), GLIB ( 198 A89).
Editors: Ian Rimmer (59-65, 93) Chris Francis [Pseudonym for Simon Furman — only used in-house and un-credited on actual comic] (145, 198, A89).
A rare example of the UK comic being used as a gratuitous toy advert as Furman has to come up with a way of introducing the combiners before they're created in the US reprints — dream sequences ahoy. And also, a very merry Christmas to those of you at home...
For the most part Simon Furman was allowed to do what he liked on the UK comic strip — the US reprints that filled half the year's issues took care of the advert nature of the comic and generally neither Hasbro or Marvel never seemed to shown very much interest in the contents as long as nothing absolutely insane happened.
There are only really three instances of Hasbro directly insisting the UK strip do some toy advertising. The second is the Worlds Apart! two parter (#130-131) that served to give the Headmasters a main strip debut whilst the American mini-series that introduced them was run as a back up, it was simply a matter of giving the characters a little side adventure set during their own title. The third and final time saw Furman being asked to focus on all his favourite characters in the comic's latter black and white days so as to plug the classic hero line, something that was more of a joy than a chore for him. The first time round however he was presented with a perhaps insurmountable problem, writing a story about the special teams (Protectobots, Combaticons etc) some months before the American strips that showed their creation were to be reprinted. This arc makes up the bulk of this trade and perhaps unsurprisingly represents some of the weakest UK strip material.
Things kick of with the two part Robot Buster!, a prelude to the main action but easily the most enjoyable part of the Second Generation storyline. As the title suggests the focus is very much on the Autobot's human ally, young Buster Witwicky, and it tells a very old story seen numerous times across various versions of the franchise — Optimus forbids one of the kids from getting more involved in the War, they go behind his back and wind up proving their worth.
Except this does it with a twist. Prime's anger and shock at Wheeljack and Ratchet wasting time they should be spending on fixing wounded soldiers building a robot suit for Buster instead is ultimately vindicated. Buster might just be able to hold his own against Shockwave when he inadvertently stumbles across him but if the Autobot's hadn't arrived when they did he'd have been toast very shortly after. Sadly this affirmation that the War is a dangerous place for any humans to be is undone by Optimus letting Buster have a room on the Ark — something I don't believe is ever referenced again. This is more than made up for however by some of the best character work Shockwave ever received. His post-traumatic stress after not one but two prolonged periods buried alive is fantastically realised.
Art-wise, Barry Kitson (who also plotted this two parter) does a mostly fine job, though his Shockwave seems to have a cute large head. As the story ends with Shockwave making dark hints about the importance of Buster the comic seems to be setting up another excellent arc.
Sadly though the wheels come off with the next two parter — Devastation Derby!, a weak and clichéd story that barely has enough real plot for one issue. The main meat of the story is Buster's Matrix induced dreams of the combiners, and Soundwave's realisation of the importance of this — interspersed with "wacky" action at a Demolition Derby.
The realisation of the latter is hampered by awful, awful art by Will Simpson, probably the worst penciler the UK comic ever produced. Dan Reed is an acquired taste, but at least his wobbly Transformers seemed a deliberate attempt at style, Simpson frequently seems to be only half trying — and if you're going to do an action story an artist who can't draw action is a serious hindrance. He also manages to make Buster look like a shaven ape on several occasions.
Buster's plot is also filled with extreme silliness — from his father's strawman characterisation (going from hating the Autobots in previous issues to going to them for help here, and then right back to the former viewpoint by the end) to the fact that Soundwave just doesn't grab Buster when he realises his importance everything seems half baked. And one does have to wonder why the Matrix just doesn't tell Optimus directly about its plans for "The Second Generation" rather than going through the mind of a small boy.
Second Generation! is a three part story that, despite the umbrella title, is effectively two stories tenuously linked. The first two issues are to all intents and purposes a dream sequence wrapped up in technobable — all that's missing is Patrick Duffy coming out the shower. The framing McGuffin is Prime is using a mind link device to watch Buster's dreams to learn about the combiners whilst the two Deception 'Waves listen in via Bombshell's cerebral shell.
This is just an excuse for one big extended fight sequence between the various combiners that doesn't need the context of a actual plot. The main saving grace in a return to quality artwork by Jon Stoakes on issue 63 and Barry Kitson on 64. In fact, as a child Stoakes' panel of Shockwave decapitating Ratchet and Jazz became one of my favourite every bits of Transformers art when it was enlarged and recoloured for use in one of the "story so far" sections in one of the Annuals (ironically representing the climax to US issue 4 despite the fact Ratchet's non death in that issue is a rather pivotal plot point...)
Issue 64 also features one of the most well known mistakes in the comics entire run — Menasor getting the name of his own arm wrong (Dead End instead of Drag Strip). The fact that everyone remembers that long after the rest of the plot has been forgotten says a great deal.
Issue 65 sees a rather sudden change in story, effectively being a big fight between Shockwave and Megatron with wry TV commentary by Robot Master. Exactly why Robot Master is being allowed to comment, nor where the TV crew came from, nor indeed why Soundwave arranged for the fight to be broadcast in the first place is all unexplained. At the end it just feels as if someone had realised that they needed an extra issue in a hurry and Furman knocked an extra part out quickly. A sign of the haste is that the potentially interesting joint Decepticon leadership Megs and Shockers begin here turns out to be a dramatic dead end that would only be mentioned once more — and then only in some dialogue changed by the UK team for one of the American reprints.
Jeff Anderson takes over on the art chores, and whilst he's never been a particular favourite of mine (he always seems somewhat lifeless) he produces some of his best work here, and indeed the best in this collection. But frankly, the best part of this whole arc is Mixmaster's sarcasm at becoming yesterday's news on learning of the special teams.
The rest of the collection can effectively be summed up as odds and sods — anything post-Dinobot Hunt that hasn't been reprinted elsewhere by Titan. The bulk of these are the traditional annual Christmas story the UK would put out (not just out of a desire to be festive — a weekly comic published Christmas week probably won't stick in the minds of younger readers amid all the excitement so continuing any of the big epics would be a bit pointless).
Because of Furman's strange embargo on the early UK stories seeing the light of day again Christmas Breaker is AWOL from this collection, so things kick off with The Gift — a straightforward anthology style story of Jetfire telling Buster about his struggles to adapt to sentient life. It's slight, but Jetfire was always a somewhat underutilised character after his initial debut and the chance to give him a bit of attention is very welcome. The art by Martin Griffiths is fine if unspectacular, though not helped by unusually sub par colouring for the UK comic.
A year latter issue 145 gives us Stargazing, the fist story since Raiders of the Last Arc that doesn't easily fit into continuity. Starscream is somehow released from the stasis tube he was place into in Target: 2006 and ditched in a snowy field to learn the true meaning of Christmas from a excessively irritating passing human who, for reasons best known to himself, isn't scared of giant killer robots.
Guest writer Ian Rimmer does get some nice moments from showing up Streetwise when Starscream comes over all nice, and Jeff Anderson is solid if not spectacular. The story's highlight, though, is that the bus full of OAP's Starscream rescues are bound for the Sunnydale Retirement Home. So no doubt they were bitten by vampires, eaten by demons or blown into a hellmouth as soon as they arrived.
The final colour Christmas strip, Cold Comfort and Joy, is most notable for the debut of Andy Wildman — who's Transformers career has spanned two decades and at least four different companies. It's not his best work, but bears all his trademarks and is a respectable debut. The story itself is a light bit of fluff about the Autobot Powermasters "hilariously" misunderstanding Christmas. Unlike the other two strips there's a darker undercurrent here though — Optimus rediscovering his love of Earth after his death and resurrection. It's well-handled and gives a much needed edge to the rather damp squid of his return in the US comic. The issue ends with a hint of a storm coming, thread left dangling for Time Wars to pick up on.
The collection is rounded off with Dreadwing Down!, from the 1989 UK Annual. It's very much aimed at the younger market, with a slight plot about the Autobots needing to rescue a power crystal from a crashed Dreadwing that needs to be used in a medical machine to save the life of a human injured in a Autobot/Decepticon fight. Much hilarity ensures as Slapdash makes an arse of himself in water. And if you're thinking of the obvious punch line about metal robots in water, it does indeed close the strip.
Dan Reed's art is either love or hate it — I rather don't mind it — but as one of the last original Annual comics it's hard not to feel they need a better send off.
The main bonus feature — simply called Transformers UK — is a three page condensed version of the series of articles covering the history of the comic that accompanied earlier trades but with more of a focus on behind the scenes stuff rather than the contents of the comic. I believe this was the first time the names of the titles last two editors, Euan Peters and Harry Papodolous, have been revealed. It's a nice enough read, and contains some nice pics of the Marvel offices, but there's so much more that could have been included. If nothing else they could have thrown in the corrected Collected Comic page where Menasor gets Drag Strip's name right (all the more irritating considering the James Bond collections have included alternate versions of panels produced for other countries...)
As much as I'm a Lee Sullivan fan, his cover here is awful. Not only is it seemingly inspired by the Pat "Porsche" Lee school of art, but it's a thinly disguised reworking of a cover he did for the UK comic.
Second Generation contains much of Furman’s weakest stuff for the UK comic and ends the colour reprints on a low note. It's only really worth getting for the Christmas stories, and mostly for their kitsch value rather than their quality. Somewhat disappointing for a team that was capable of so much more.
Reviewed by Inflatable Dalek