Sep 10, 2012

Back Issue Ben: Transformers, Part 3

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Transformers: A Look Back at the Marvel Comics Series
Part 3: Enough With the Human Characters Already
by Ben Smith

When we left off last time, Ratchet had just "outsmarted" Megatron with the help of the Dinobots. The decapitated head of Optimus Prime is under the control of Shockwave and the Decepticons, who intends to force him to use the Creation Matrix to create new warriors. The Matrix was transferred to Buster, who is allowing O to spend all his time with this hot girlfriend Jessie. (Seriously, O is always with Jessie, and Buster never is. Makes me think they have a Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza situation where they combine their forces to be man enough to handle one woman. O puts in all the mundane work and hanging out, while Buster comes around when it's time to make-out in the front seat of the car at a drive-in, while O eats popcorn in back.)

Without further ado, let's transform your lack of knowledge about Transformers comics to full-blown expertise. (I tried being clever there, not sure if it worked. If it didn't, please email Duy.)

#9. Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Mike Manley; Inks: M. Hands; Editor: Jim Owsley

We come in at Blackrock Motor Speedway, where G.B. Blackrock is driving his racecar.

An Army General has come by to demand that Blackrock share the new weapon he claims can destroy giant robots. G.B. isn't interested in sharing, and leaves to visit Josie Beller, still in the hospital after her accident.

Meanwhile, Ratchet is testing the Autobots functionality after having recently rescued and repaired them all.

Rescuing the head of Optimus Prime is still their top priority, and finding fuel. Jazz has an idea on how to get some. (Ratchet mentions how he is in command. Like I've said before, this isn't the first case of an unlikely character being in charge of either side.)

At the Blackrock Aerospace Planet, Frenzy brings news of the Blackrock's supposed weapon to Shockwave, who visits with the head of Optimus Prime, to brag about the Decepticon brain modules he is going to force Optimus to infuse with life via the Creation Matrix. (Unknown to Shockwave, Optimus transferred the Matrix to Buster.)

Buster is still struggling to run the garage while Sparkplug is gone, until he has another Matrix-fueled attack, and suddenly all the mechanics make perfect sense to him.

A mysterious visitor breaks into Blackrock's office late at night. It's Josie Beller, now calling herself Circuit Breaker.

She created circuitry that covers her body, enabling her to move, while also granting her extra powers.

She wants to go after the robots, but Blackrock refuses to support her, not wanting to see her get hurt again.

The next day, at the special unveiling of his weapon, Blackrock is "borrowed" by Jazz.

Jazz breaks down the difference between Autobots and Decepticons, and offers him a deal. They'll protect him from the Decepticons, if he'll provide them with fuel.

After shaking off a police cruiser, Blackrock and Jazz shake on the deal.

Blackrock prepares to unveil his weapon, and meets with an unfortunate misfire.

Circuit Breaker is the source of the misfire.

Starscream and Frenzy arrive, right on schedule, and Jazz transforms to protect Blackrock. Circuit Breaker attacks Jazz, refusing to believe or care that there are any robots that are actually good.

Wheeljack and Jazz battle Starscream and Frenzy, all with Circuit Breaker in the middle attacking both sides.
Starscream and Frenzy retreat. Blackrock finally is able to convince Circuit Breaker that Jazz means them no harm, but only enough to spare his life right then and there. She promises to continue her quest, without him. 

My brain thoughts: I don't know that publicly announcing you have a weapon that destroys giant robots is the best move strategically. Probably better to keep that news under wraps. Jazz gets to star in an issue here, and I think it's his most significant appearance, from what I remember. It's a shame. Everyone loves Jazz. Ratchet is currently in command of the Autobots, probably under the rare "saving all your lives and fixing you" clause. I couldn't stand Circuit Breaker as a kid. More than likely because she went around zapping the Autobots and not listening to reason (women, am I right fellas??). She's kind of shapely though. She's a full creation of Marvel, and they apparently still retain the rights, as she's never included in any subsequent reprints by other companies. Another one of those characters trapped in comic book limbo.

#10. Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Ricardo Villamonte; Inker: Brad Joyce; Editor: Mike Carlin

Shockwave is ready to force the head of Optimus Prime to fill his new warriors with life, using the Creation Matrix. Somehow this works, despite Optimus having transferred the Matrix to Buster (I'm going to "no-prize" this out by saying Optimus still retained a residual amount of the Matrix).

We then witness the debut of the villainous Constructicons. (I vividly remember my dad tracking down each Constructicon for me one year for Christmas. I am fairly certain he thought they were as cool as I did.)

At the Ark, G.B. Blackrock is getting a personal tour, and has apparently shaved off his porntastic ‘stache (probably new artist error, but I'm "no-prizing" again).

Huffer is working on the transdimensional radiowave scrambler, in an effort to talk to Cybertron (this will be important later). Prowl (who now appears to be in charge) reminds him to get back to work on eavesdropping on the Decepticons, so they can recover the head of Optimus. (Those wires just jutting out of the torso of his body are kind of unsettling, like tendons and muscles hanging out.)

Back at the planet, Shockwave unveils the uncompleted body of Jetfire, the next Transformer he intends Optimus to infuse with life.

Sparkplug returns home from the hospital, and is surprised to find out that Buster took care of all the repair work while he was gone. Unknown to him, Buster was able to do this by using the Matrix that was downloaded into his brain by Optimus.

At a truckstop in Idaho, we meet Bomber Bill, a honest trucker just trying to make his way home to his kids.

Unfortunately, outside, the Constructicons snatch a bunch of the semis parked outside and take off with them, including Bomber Bill's. Bomber Bill follows them on foot, until a fleet of cars (Autobots) come roaring by. He is able to flag down Huffer and hitch a ride.

At the top of the mountain, we see that the Constructicons have built a giant satellite, which will be hooked into Soundwave. The Autobots arrive on the scene, and deduce that Soundwave intends to contact Cybertron. They transform and prepare to attack, and the Constructicons combine to form Devastator (one of the great all-time achievements in toy technology, the combiner Transformers).

While the Autobots fight Devastator, Bomber Bill makes his way into his truck. The satellite completed, Soundwave prepares to send his message. A miscolored Ironhide pleads with the nearby Huffer to stop him, but Huffer hesitates, due to his own desire to contact Cybertron. He finally snaps out of it, but Devastator catches him with a left cross.

Bomber Bill decides to help instead of escape, and drives his truck toward the satellite, severing the cables connected to Soundwave. Soundwave lifts the truck to smash it, but Bill is saved by Huffer.

Soundwave declares that most of the message was transmitted, so their mission complete, they retreat.
Huffer apologizes for his inaction, and Bomber Bill offers some words of encouragement, knowing how much he misses his own home. Back at the plant again, Shockwave tries to figure out why Optimus' Creation Matrix will not infuse Jetfire with life. He concludes that if there is a problem with the Matrix, then Optimus' usefulness to them is at an end. While at the Ark, Blackrock and Prowl listen in, with a feeling of total helplessness.

My brain thoughts: Prowl appears to be very much in charge here, which is in direct contrast to Ratchet's words in the previous issue. I'm going to explain this away as Prowl running tactical operations, or Ratchet stepping down as soon as he was sure Prowl was ready to take over.

 The Constructicons make a lackluster debut here, along with the legend that is Bomber Bill. I really hated all these human characters in the books as a kid. Stupid humans, with their feelings and thoughts. Their…brain thoughts, you could say. (My all-time favorite Bender quote from Futurama: "yeah, emotions are dumb…and should be hated.")

Continuity and logic haven't been a strong suit of the series so far to this point, but I like to think it makes up for that by starring my favorite toys from my childhood, and generally being entertaining.

#11. Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Herb Trimpe; Inker: Tom Palmer; Editor: Michael Carlin

 Buster is in his room, contemplating his newfound powers to control machinery, and wondering how he's going to be able to tell his dad about it. Meanwhile, Sparkplug yells up for Buster to come with him on a tow call.

At the aerospace plant, Shockwave continues to threaten Optimus Prime to give Jetfire life. (Jetfire was a toy you had to have back in the day. He was huge. He was also just a repurposed Robotech or Marcross figure or something, but nobody likes that stuff anyway. I had one, and these toys had actual metal parts on them back in the day. His landing gears were especially painful, from what I remember. Solid metal, and every time you hit the little button to make the gear pop up, it would hit your finger at high speed. We knew this, but never compensated for this fact. Nobody ever accused me and my friends of being smart. Also, there was an Inhumanoids toy with a rocket launcher on its back that was surprisingly accurate when it came to hitting me directly in the eye. Ah, the golden age of action figures. Still never did get the crown jewel of them all though, the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier. Alas…)

Shockwave eventually concludes that Optimus must have hidden the Creation Matrix somewhere else. Shockwave painfully probes the memories of Rumble, and discovers Buster sneaking past him into the Ark all those issues ago.

Laserbeak remembers Buster, and where to find him, leaving Optimus to lament his error in judgement. Prowl and Ratchet, listening in on all this going down, send Bumblebee and Bluestreak to protect Buster.

Returning from their tow job, Buster's hot girlfriend Jessie comes biking up, and invites him for a ride out to the falls.

After they leave, Bumblebee arrives and talks to Sparkplug, telling him of how the Decepticons will be after him.

Sparkplug sends him away and heads after Buster himself, but is followed by Bluestreak.

Buster uses his powers to break Jessie's bike chain (what a jerk!) so they have to stop, and give him a chance to apologize for being a jerk (separate incident).

He's rewarded with a kiss, until his dad shows up, trailed by Bluestreak and Bumblebee.

Laserbeak tracked the Autobots to Buster, and after relaying the coordinates, Shockwave sends a programmed Jetfire after Buster. Laserbeak attacks, and is quickly dispatched by Bluestreak. Jetfire arrives, and does serious damage to Bumblebee and Bluestreak.

When one of Bluestreak's missiles hit the mark on Jetfire, and Jetfire doesn't respond at all, Bumblebee surmises that he isn't truly alive, and that Buster can control him. Reluctant to reveal his secret at first, Buster eventually steps up and takes care of Jetfire in spectacular fashion.

After some quick reprogramming by Bumblebee, Buster reassembles Jetfire. Then Buster apologizes to his dad for keeping it a secret from him, and they make amends.

Back at the plant, Shockwave once again threatens to dispose of Optimus permanently, with Prowl listening in, wondering what to do.

My brain thoughts: Jessie is my favorite character in the series so far. She's a human I don't mind seeing show up. She doesn't show up enough, if you ask me. In other news, I'm a bit of a weirdo.

#12. Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Herb Trimpe; Inker: Al Gordon; Editor: Mike Carlin

Buster flies back to the aerospace plant in Jetfire, who is under his control.

He and the Autobots came up with a plan where Buster will appear to be Jetfire's captive, before he uses Jetfire and his powers to rescue the head of Optimus Prime. Two Air Force jets interrupt this plan, and Jetfire's resulting fight maneuvers succeed in knocking Buster unconscious.

Inside the plant, Shockwave assigns Rumble to monitor duty on the humans, as punishment for allowing Buster to slip past him at the Ark.

The depiction of a Transformer sweating was hilarious to me.

Soundwave reports to Shockwave about the listening device he discovered that the Autobots have been using to spy on them. Shockwave uses this newfound knowledge to trick the Autobots, by having them "overhear" a command to dump the head of Optimus into a nearby swamp.

Jetfire arrives with the unconscious Buster, who Shockwave prepares to extract the Creation Matrix from.

The Autobots roll out to the swamp location, just in time for Jetfire to come flying by and drop in the head.

It's not the real head of Optimus Prime though, and once it's connected to his body, he starts blasting Autobots.

Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Frenzy, Ravage, and Laserbeak drop by to join in on the fun, while back at the plant, Buster wakes up, and uses a returned Jetfire to lay out Shockwave with one punch (one punch!).

Then, he orders him to take the real head of Optimus back to the swamp location, where the Autobots are getting wasted.

Great shot of a injured Prowl. I can never get
enough of mangled Transformer bodies.

The real Optimus regains remote control over his body, and has it pull off the imposter melon, so he can reattach his real one.

Optimus then starts laying the smack down on the Decepticons.

Why you gotta kick the dog, Optimus?

Shockwave awakens, and heads out to the swamp himself.

Great groveling by Rumble here.

We are treated to a short but sweet battle between Shockwave and Optimus Prime, with Optimus throwing Shockwave into the swamp.

Shockwave boasts about Buster giving life to new Decepticon warriors cause Optimus to hightail it back to the plant.

Could this be the end of Shockwave?

Optimus makes it back in time to see Buster is fine, having been freed by the workers that were held hostage there.

Optimus finally takes back the Creation Matrix from Buster, and vows never to endanger the life of another innocent human again.

My brain thoughts: This is a bit of a wrapup to the ongoing plot lines of the past 7 issues. Optimus Prime's head is finally reunited with his body. The Creation Matrix is recovered from Buster. Shockwave is defeated, for the time being. The next issue blurb even teases the return of Megatron. This was an entertaining closer to the beginning part of this series.

My final brain thoughts: As I've said before, the TRANSFORMERS comic book series was definitely an offbeat approach to the franchise. Show me any other series that has its lead character as a bodiless captive of the enemy for eight out of its first twelve issues. We saw the introduction of Circuit Breaker, who will eventually be back. Soundwave's message to Cybertron will be integral in upcoming issues. Finally, we got the resolution to Optimus Prime's captivity and Buster holding the Creation Matrix. With the promise of the return of Megatron (in possibly the weirdest issue of TRANSFORMERS you could ever imagine, and also my first comic book ever, as I've stated before), we have the potential to see much more traditional Transformer lineups in the series coming up. The series does level out for a little bit in terms of being more traditional, but it doesn't last forever, as things eventually get even more offbeat than you can imagine (Ratbat?). That's why I loved, and still love, this series so much.

Bonus Back Issue Ben Moment: Here's another page from the comic I made 12 April, 1986, when I was 8 years old. Do you see Ratchet addressing the Autobots, including a headless Optimus Prime? It's fair to say I loved these comic books as a kid.

When we return to Transformers, we’ll see the very first comic book I ever read, Hoist and Bruce Springsteen teaming up, the debut of the Robot Master (do not get excited for the Robot Master), and the introduction of Blaster, who will be much more important to this series than you could ever guess. If that doesn’t keep you coming back, then…there will be nude girls mud wrestling.

(Disclaimer: there will NOT be live nude mud wrestling.)

See you then.

1 comment:

Victor Nunez said...

Very nice review, i just finished reading the Titan collection of these Transformers back issues too. This storyarc is really weird and delightful. Ratchet trying to outsmart Megatron is one of my earliest memories :)

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