Transformers: A Look Back at the Marvel Comics Series
Part 2: Who Knew Ratchet and Shockwave Could Be So Interesting?
by Ben Smith
Last time, I talked about my obsession with all things Transformers. In particular, my love for the animated series, and the Marvel Comics produced comic book. The comic book was initially supposed to be a four issue mini-series, but I can only assume that it sold so well that they decided to continue it. The series continue right along here with issue five, with two of the most unlikely characters taking center stage (at least, unlikely if all you know about Transformers is from the cartoon). I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but the comic really did a good job of spotlighting characters that didn’t get much attention on the cartoon, and putting them in situations that they never would have been put in anywhere else.
Without further ado, let’s jump into this swimming pool of liquor called the Transformers.
#5. Script: Bob Budiansky; Art: Alan Kupperberg; Editor: Jim Owsley
Shockwave monitors a wall full of TVs with various news and entertainment feeds, in an attempt to learn more about humans. He is not impressed. He focuses on a news broadcast for a new oil-drilling platform. The reporter interviews the owner of the platform, multi-millionaire industrialist G.B. Blackrock (clearly a Tony Stark analogue, complete with porntastic ‘stache), and his computer technician Josie Beller. (Both of these characters will be important to the series going forward.)
Shockwave leaves for another section of what is later revealed to the the Ark, treating us to this amazing and disturbing two-page splash of the “dead” Autobots hanging from the ceiling. (Needless to say, this fascinated young Back Issue Ben, and may have been the root cause of my continued mental instability.)
Shockwave checks in on a rejuvenated Starscream, Ravage, Thundercracker, Buzzsaw, and Laserbeak, as well as a recovering Megatron, who is hooked into a wall by several tubes.
Shockwave has declared himself the new leader of the Decepticons, much to Megatron’s silent displeasure.
|This panel of Shockwave ripping apart an Autobot also fascinated me.|
We rejoin Buster in the hospital parking lot, as Ratchet returns from assisting some EMTs with a emergency call. As they discuss Sparkplug’s mild heart attack, and his plan to give the Decepticons tainted fuel (the results of which were seen last issue), the other humans in proximity try to locate where the voice of Ratchet is coming from, leading to this exchange.
Ratchet expresses his concern in his inability to contact any of the other Autobots. Buster convinces Ratchet to take him back to the Ark with him, but that first he’s going to go upstairs and say goodbye to his father. Buster tells Sparkplug where he’s going, which leads to Sparkplug making him promise to say his final goodbye and then stay away from the Autobots.
Shockwave checks on the continued improvement of Megatron again, leading Megatron to try and determine the circumstances in which Shockwave arrived on Earth, and where he has been since.
Shockwave refuses to give him ideas, instead focusing on the Autobots being repurposed for spare parts. All except Optimus Prime, who Shockwave believes to be the holder of the Creation Matrix, which can be used to create new Transformer life. (The Matrix was introduced here in the comic book, long before the Matrix made its first appearance in the animated movie.)
Shockwave transformers into his gun mode, and departs.
Buster and Ratchet make their way back to the Ark, leading to this humorous exchange with a traffic light.
They arrive to see Frenzy and Rumble guarding the cave entrance to the Ark, confirming Ratchet’s worst fears that the Decepticons won. Ratchet plans to try and find a way inside, but agrees to let the much smaller Buster sneak past the guards and investigate the situation inside. Buster’s worst fears are realized, when we get another grim shot of the devastated Autobot bodies hanging from the ceiling.
Buster gains some hope by not seeing the body of Optimus Prime, which is quickly dashed when he comes across the disembodied head of Prime himself.
My brain thoughts: Shockwave is established as a major player here, seizing control of the Decepticons from an injured Megatron. The various characters that take command of both the Autobots and Decepticons throughout the entire series is one of the more interesting aspects of it. Characters you never would have imagined in a leadership role, get a chance at the helm (Ratbat anyone?). The edgier story and gruesome (as gruesome as mangled robots get at least) artwork were instantly attractive elements to this young reader. This was not your standard after-school entertainment. Additionally, the medical technician Ratchet being the only Autobot left against all the Decepticons was epic storytelling to the younger me. The Creation Matrix would be a key component of the comic series early on. Kupperberg never did get Megatron’s face quite right. So many decapitated robots and mangled Transformer bodies, it’s like sweet music to my ears.
#6. Script: Bob Budiansky; Art: Alan Kupperberg; Editor: Jim Owsley
Shockwave arrives at G.B. Blackrock’s oil-drilling platform and attacks it. He easily weathers their counter attacks and conquers the platform, leading to Josie Beller receiving a massive electrical shock.
Back at the Ark, Megatron continues to recuperate from his defeat in issue four. Shockwave sends a communication for all Decepticons to relocate to the captured oil-rig, leading Megatron to swear revenge on all the Decepticons for turning against him.
Optimus Prime asks Buster for his assistance. He has Buster connect two wires to his head, frying him and causing him to pass out.
Outside, Ratchet wonders where Buster is, and witnesses the return of Shockwave. Shockwave has returned to taunt Megatron some more, leading to Megatron deciding to take action.
Buster awakens, and returns to Ratchet to give him the bad news. Buster is in bad shape from whatever it is that Optimus did to him.
Shockwave is ambushed from behind by Megatron, with a massive blast from his fusion cannon sending him flying from out of the mountain and across the nearby town.
They fight, with the not-fully-recovered Megatron falling easily to Shockwave.
Buster and Ratchet see Shockwave carrying Megatron back into the Ark, with both wondering what doom this spells for them. Shockwave addresses the rest of the Decepticons, using the defeated body of Megatron as an example against all who oppose him. All swear allegiance to him, even the defeated Megatron, while outside, Buster and Ratchet sit in despair.
My brain thoughts: Shockwave versus Megatron for the first time. I always wondered if Shockwave was truly that much more powerful than Megatron, or if it was just the injuries that kept Megatron down. This is a much different Shockwave than the obedient lackey from the cartoon. He is coldly ruled by his own logic, and by his logic, he deserves to rule.
Josie Beller’s injury is a key development for future issues, along with whatever it was that Optimus did to Buster. This was such an interesting way to take this story so early on in the series. Barely any Autobots are seen, with most of the issue focusing on Shockwave and Megatron. (Raise your hand if you considered Ratchet or Shockwave one of your favorite Transformers based on the cartoon. Stop lying, put your hand down.)
I think you can probably count on one hand the times that Optimus Prime and/or Megatron did not make an appearance in an episode of the cartoon (pre–animated movie). The comic series was a lot more courageous when it came to the characters they used or didn’t use. (One of my favorite characters from the cartoon was Tracks, the blue corvette with the red face that could sprout wings and fly. He got two spotlight episodes in the cartoon series, one of which featured Blaster and Soundwave finally squaring off in a Decepticon controlled nightclub. But Tracks gets zilch in the comic book series.) This will only be reinforced as we go along.
#7. Script: Bob Budiansky; Pencils: William Johnson; Inks: Kyle Baker; Editor: Jim Owsley
Ratchet and Buster accidentally bust up a group of college kids on a camping trip. They warm up quickly to the giant alien robot, and soon they’re all roasting hot dogs and having a good time.
|Yet another in a long line of fascinating panels to me as a youngster: |
Ratchet cooking hot dogs with his laser scalpel.
Buster has another mental attack, leading everyone to realize that since Ratchet smashed their tent, maybe they should just pack it up and head home. (Ratchet has more important things to do than roast hot dogs with college chicks anyway. I wouldn’t, but he does.) They give Buster a ride home.
Meanwhile, at G.B. Blackrock’s aerospace plant, an employee is excited to find an abandoned tape deck sitting out in the parking lot. (That is one alt mode that did not age well with time. But boy was it a supremely awesome toy.) He stashes it in his locker, where we see it transform and bust out as the Decepticon Soundwave.
Soundwave is laying waste to the facility, and eventually captures it and takes the workers there hostage.
G.B. Blackrock learns of this from the news, and is less than enthused at yet another of his facilities being attacked and claimed by giant robots. G.B. makes a visit to his employee Josie Beller, who was almost completely paralyzed from the neck down due to an attack by Shockwave in the previous issue. She is using her one operational arm to work on computers provided to her by G.B. (important later).
Ratchet has made his way into the now abandoned Ark, and confirms his worst fears. (Treating us to yet another amazing shot of lifeless Autobots hanging from the ceiling. I really can’t get enough of this.)
The head of Optimus Prime tries to give Ratchet some encouragement, and tells him that he needs “to think like a warrior.”
Buster arrives back at the garage with Jessie and O in tow. Work has fallen behind with Sparkplug in the hospital, and Buster needs to figure out how to fix cars quick so they can earn some money. Frustration winds up making Buster yell at his super hot girlfriend and his chunky best friend. After they leave, he has another mental attack, this time the objects around him float in the air.
Ratchet runs into Megatron, the lone remaining Deception guarding the Ark.
He makes some feeble attempts to attack Megs, squirting him with fluids and trying to damage his hand with his face.
|Sometimes I squirt people with fluids in an attempt to get them to leave too.|
Shockwave calls in to order Megatron to prepare the head of Optimus Prime for transport. Ratchet plays on Megatron’s obvious anger at Shockwave by suggesting that he knows how Shockwave was beaten all those millions of years ago.
Ratchet makes Megatron a proposal. Return the Autobots and the Ark to him, and in return he will destroy Shockwave.
They seal the deal with the Cybertronian version of a blood pact, and Ratchet is left to figure out how he’s actually going to accomplish this, and what he’s going to do once Megatron betrays him.
My brain thoughts: You know, as a kid, I thought the artist just got better and better at drawing the Transformers as they went along. But now, with a lifetime of experience (and crushing disappointment) behind me, I can see that it was just an all new art team on the book starting with this issue. Anyway, I like the way this William Johnson draws the Transformers here. This team specifically does a much better job on Megatron. Ratchet is making his move in this issue, and we’ll see if that pays off for him in the next. (Ratchet had, arguably, the worst robot mode of any of the Transformer toys. It didn’t even have a head. I’m almost certain it didn’t have legs either. Him and Ironhide got the shaft in the toy department.)
#8. Script: Bob Budiansky; Pencils: William Johnson; Inks: Kyle Baker; Editor: Jim Owsley
After the events of the last issue, Ratchet made his way to the Savage Land in search of the Dinobots. He even finds time to make friends with a giant snake.
Back at the Ark, Shockwave arrives to transport the head of Optimus Prime to the aerospace facility they captured in the previous issue.
After zeroing in on some life signals, Ratchet gets lucky pretty quickly be uncovering the body of Slag, one of the Dinobots.
As he’s cleaning and fixing him up, Ratchet gets a replay of the events of four million years ago from Slag’s memory circuits. The Ark had just crashed, and Shockwave arrived on Earth in search of it. The Ark revived all the Autobots it could, and modified them to reflect the local life forms at the time, dinosaurs. Grimlock, Slag, Swoop, Sludge, and Snarl made their way to the Savage Land, where Shockwave had landed.
They battled, with Shockwave proving to be too much for them. As they’re getting thrown around, Snarl makes one last attack with his tail, bashing the cliffside where Shockwave is standing, sending the Dinobots sinking into the tar pits and Shockwave buried under tons of rock.
Slag awakens in the present day, and begins to attack Ratchet before he identifies himself as an Autobot.
Shockwave arrives back at the aerospace planet, where he reveals his plan to build new Decepticon bodies at the facility and then use the Creation Matrix within Optimus Prime to give them life. (See kids, an actual plan is happening here, right under our noses. It’s not just random destruction.) Meanwhile, Josie makes some interesting progress in her hospital room.
Ratchet contacts Megatron, and shows him doctored footage of the Dinobots defeating Shockwave, before they agree to meet at the prearranged place of their deal. They meet, with Megatron predictably planning to break the deal and kill Ratchet. Suddenly, the Dinobots come bursting out of the snow beneath them.
Ratchet had wisely anticipated Megatron’s betrayal, and brought the Dinobots along as backup.
The Dinobots attack, with Megatron handling them easily. (The Dinobots sure do get worked over fairly easily by both Megatron and Shockwave in this issue. Its a wonder why we were supposed to think they were impressive warriors at all.)
Ratchet makes one last ditch effort to attack Megatron himself, with less than stellar results.
Fortunately for him, it did do enough to cause the edge of the cliff Megatron is standing on to crumble, sending him falling to the ground far below, transforming into his gun mode as he does. (This leads directly into what would be the first comic book I ever read, but we’ll get to that later.)
The menace of Megatron apparently neutralized for the time being, Ratchet prepares to head back to the Ark and reactivate the Autobots. Back in her hospital room, Josie Beller looks to be up to something deadly.
My brain thoughts: I can’t recall seeing Megatron fly at all in the comic book series, so I’ll buy this idea that he fell off of a cliff. Why Ratchet and the Dinobots assume that this was enough to take care of Megatron, I don’t know, but what happens to him will be explained later. (Like I mentioned above, in the first comic book I ever read. Not just first Transformers comic, but the first comic book I remember reading.) Anyway, it’s good enough for them, as they will happily return back to a now unguarded Ark to revive their comrades.
I never was a big Dinobot fan, but if I was, I would probably have been mad about how routinely they get trounced in this issue (twice!). I’ve always liked Grimlock well enough, mostly from his portrayal in this comic book series coming up. He’s much more interesting in this series than the bumbling idiot he was on the cartoon. He’s a major player in future stories, so stay tuned.
We see Josie Beller’s transformation (get it) into another character that Marvel would solely own, preventing her from being reprinted by any future license holders, like IDW currently. Don’t get too hyped up for her though; she’s not really that interesting. Except for millionaire playboy (and Decepticon punching bag) G.B. Blackrock, and Buster’s girlfriend Jessie, we don’t care too much about these human characters around these parts. Give us the big alien robots shooting at each other. (I’ll never understand why they always insist on having multiple human characters in every iteration of the Transformers. I understand the need for a Spike or Buster, but more than one is just too much. Nobody cares, we want the robots. Incidentally, “Spike and Buster's” sounds like it could be some kind of restaurant chain.)
My final brain thoughts: An odd yet intriguing block of stories here. We saw the first of what will be many surprising characters take leadership of either the Decepticons or the Autobots, with Shockwave the first to take control. Ratchet was on his own, making power moves and digging up dinosaur robots. We didn’t get nearly enough shots of Buster’s girlfriend Jessie. We saw the spiralling downfall of Megatron. We also got lots and lots of wonderful shots of mangled Autobots hanging from the ceiling like some Texas Chainsaw Massacre flick. We also got to experience the joy of me rereading comics that I have probably read hundreds of times in my lifetime. Because of that, I may lack some perspective on the overall quality of these stories, but I don’t think so. I think they hold up pretty well. Marvel had a pretty good success rate with these licensed properties, between this, G.I. Joe, and Rom (among others). One reason, I believe, is that they didn’t treat them like disposable kids entertainment based on toys. They treated them with the same level of passion towards telling a good story as they did all their other comics. Which only makes sense, because the Marvel logo was still featured on the front cover.
Bonus Back Issue Ben Moment: Once again from my 1986 comic book, here is young Back Issue Ben's depiction of the Dinobots rising from the snow against Megatron.
That’s it for this one, folks. Come back next time to see what Josie Beller is up to, the fate of Optimus Prime’s head, and the debut of... the Constructicons! Same ‘bot time, same ‘bot channel.