Nov 2, 2015

Transformers: A Continued Dissection of My Childhood Nostalgia

Transformers: A Continued Dissection of My Childhood Nostalgia
Ben Smith

Marvel’s Transformers series was my introduction to comic books. One of the most intriguing things about reading the comic in those days was the way it contrasted the cartoons. The comic, probably purposefully, focused on a different set of characters on a monthly basis. The cartoon had a primary focus on Optimus Prime and Megatron, as the leaders, nearly every single episode featured them in some capacity. (One of the exceptions was "A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur’s Court," a weird little tale about a group of Transformers that weren’t often the leads, stuck in medieval times.) The comic series was much more sporadic, putting most of the Autobots out of commission by the fifth issue of the series to focus on Ratchet, while Shockwave (a loyal lapdog in the cartoon) seized control of the Decepticons from Megatron.

The comic took a Transformers the Animated Movie approach to character turnover, often disabling or destroying the older characters to make way for each wave of the new. I suspect one of the biggest challenges of writing these toy licensed comics was the constant influx of new characters based on the new releases of the action figures. I’m assuming these characters were required by the toy company to appear in the cartoon and the comic book, because debates about quality aside, these were still toy advertisements at the heart of it. Working in all these new characters was a little bit easier for a syndicated cartoon with dozens of shows in production at any one time, but a little bit harder for a monthly comic book. The series was somewhat jumbled following those early headless Optimus Prime issues, having to introduce handfuls of new characters nearly every single issue.

This particular run of comics holds a prominent place in my memory of the series, as it was the first time I had discovered a comic shop, and was consistently getting each new issue as it came out, instead of piecing the series together through back issues. (I’m pretty sure it took me a while to figure out the shelves at the front of the store had the new releases, and that I could look for comics there too, not just in the back issue boxes in the back of the store.) New characters would still consistently appear in this collection of issues, but the ongoing narrative seemed to be much more focused than it had been previously. Optimus Prime and Megatron had recently been “killed” off in the series, so now the comic could get even more experimental in the stories they were telling.

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Don Perlin; Inker: Brett Breeding; Editor: Don Daley

While on a hunt for spare parts to use for repairs, Ratchet runs across a car thief named The Mechanic, and gets some of his advanced tools stolen in the encounter.

I liked: Ratchet all alone holds an unusual power over me thanks to the early issues of the series. The Autobots holding a funeral for their fallen leader is such a weird plot point for a kid’s toy comic to have.
I disliked: By this point in the series, most of the original lineup of Transformers had been relegated to the repair bay. Transformers just isn’t the same without Jazz and Starscream, as the post-movie cartoon would soon find out.
I didn’t understand: Budiansky’s tendency to create new human characters. I didn’t care about the humans in this series, only the Transformers. Nobody read this comic to see some idiot named the Mechanic.

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Don Perlin; Inkers: Akin & Garvey; Editor: Don Daley

The Dinobots come to the aid of the Autobots after they are attacked by the massive Decepticon dinosaur Trypticon. Due to his wisdom and courage, the Autobots elect Grimlock as their new leader.

I liked: For some reason the cover of this issue holds a prominent place in my memory. Maybe this was the first issue I discovered on the “new comics” rack at the comic store. Also, Ratbat held the position of Fuel Auditor.
I disliked: Trypticon’s thoughts and speech patterns were far too normal.
I didn’t understand: Why Ratbat, one of Soundwave’s cassette tapes, held such an influential position in the Decepticon hierarchy.

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Don Perlin; Inkers: Akin & Garvey; Editor: Don Daley

Grimlock orders Blaster and Goldbug (formerly Bumblebee) to recover Ratchet’s gear from the Mechanic, but they fail by putting human lives above completing their mission.

I liked: This is the start of the Blaster and Goldbug road trip that would dominate the series for the near future, after they desert the Autobots due to Grimlock’s poor leadership. It’s one of the most prominent things I think about when it comes to the series.
I disliked: The cover price of the comic went up from 75 cents to one dollar. This was the first time I realized that comics could go up in price without warning or justification.
I didn’t understand: After showing such promise as a leader in the previous issue, Grimlock immediately reverted to a dim-witted bully more in line with his cartoon depiction. (Me Grimlock…)

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Don Perlin; Inkers: Akin & Garvey; Editor: Don Daley

A spaceship carrying secret Decepticon cargo crashlands in the desert, but it brings with it a deadly plague called the Scraplets.

I liked: That Ratbat has what are considered “plush offices” on Cybertron. The plague that affects only Transformers is reminiscent of one of my favorite episodes of the cartoon, “Cosmic Rust.” Something about seeing these favorite characters of mine rust and fall apart fills me with joy. I’m damaged.

I disliked: Yet another human sidekick. At least they brought back G.B. Blackrock too, he’s okay. (His lady friend comes off as a bit of a spoiled gold digger though, no judgement.) Did Blaster really think Goldbug was going to abandon him to die? Silly Blaster.

I didn’t understand: How the comic book Blaster could be such a battle-hardened badass warrior, and the cartoon version was such a care-free pop enthusiast. This dichotomy between comic and cartoon versions really helped prepare me for a future reading superhero comics, with their multiple dimensions and multiple versions of characters.

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Don Perlin; Inkers: Akin & Garvey; Editor: Don Daley

Ratbat sends a group of captured Autobots, the Throttlebots, to cleanse the Scraplets with acid, and any infected Transformers along with them, before the threat spreads further.

I liked: That the mythical rare element that is able to cure Transformers of Scraplets turns out to be water. (I’m pretty sure I had all the Throttlebots as a kid, since they were the bargain priced small cars. This is about all it takes to make a kid just that more excited about reading a comic.)

I disliked: That the scenes of them fighting and eradicating the Scraplets weren’t nearly as dynamic as the cover art.
I didn’t understand: I know now that Shockwave is still technically supposed to be the Decepticon commander, but as a kid I could have sworn it was Ratbat, because he spends all of his time bossing Shockwave around. I didn’t understand then (and I still don’t) why he didn’t just smash his rat face. As a former accountant, I can appreciate Ratbat having such a prominent voice in things, but Shockwave should still overrule him if he wants. Or not, what do I care. (Between this and G.I. Joe, I was far too invested in imaginary command structures.)

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Breakdowns: Don Perlin; Finishes: Jim Fern; Editor: Don Daley

The secret cargo sent by the Decepticons in the previous issues, turns out to be ready-build carwashes that hypnotize human patrons into bringing the Decepticons all of their fuel.

I liked: I suppose it was cool to see Buster Witwicky, Sparkplug, and Jessie make return appearances after what seemed like a long absence, but there isn’t an Autobot to be found in this story.
I disliked: That there wasn’t an Autobot to be found in this story.
I didn’t understand: Why Jessie is so into Buster. That guy is like clueless and distracted and she still keeps coming around and making sure he remembers to hook up with her with little to no effort on his part. (This partially explains my anemic Junior High dating situation actually.) She's like the girlfriend equivalent of Netflix.

Writer: Bob Budiansky; Pencil Breakdowns: Don Perlin; Finishes: Akin & Garvey; Editor: Don Daley

Blaster, Goldbug, and the Throttlebots are on the run from the human’s anti-Transformer task force (RAAT). After they hide out for the night in a used car lot, the task force, the Autobots, the Decepticons, and the lot owner all converge upon them.

I liked: That the Protectobots were not there to save Blaster and Goldbug, but to arrest them on Grimlock’s orders. I love Grimlock’s crown. I spent $300 on a Masterpiece Grimlock toy just because it came with a replication of that crown.

I disliked: Despite the enjoyable offbeat stories, Blaster is the only character that I gave a damn about that has been in the comics for quite some time. The stories have been fun, and I like Blaster and Goldbug as lone rangers, but the book has focused on this weird mix of those two, Ratbat, and Throttlebots.

I didn’t understand: If the Autobots hated following Grimlock so much, why did they continue to do it?

Like I said earlier, this was my formative experience buying new comics month to month as they were released. The comic may not have featured any of my favorite Autobots (or sometimes any Autobots) but they were still some inventive stories for what was essentially a toy comic. Grimlock and Ratbat operating as the leaders of their respective sides, with Blaster and Goldbug deserting the Autobots to right wrongs and fight Decepticons on their own, were things that would never happen in the cartoon. The Autobots, under Grimlock, didn’t fight much of anything. They were too busy listening to Grimlock bully them around. Conversely, the Decepticons were much too concerned about the conservation of fuel, under the guidance of fuel auditor Ratbat. It was a very strange comic, and perhaps that’s why I still love it to this day.

That, and I want one of those cool Grimlock crowns.

1 comment:

Jacco said...

I enjoyed reading your synopsis, thanks!

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