Aug 24, 2015

Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia: Transformers #20

Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia 
Gem One – Transformers (What Else Did You Expect?)
Ben Smith

Welcome back to Back Issue Ben, the column that’s eternal goal is to be Michael Jackson from 1985, and not Michael Jackson from 2005. In an attempt to quantify my ongoing fascination with the decade of my rearing, I will randomly select an issue of a 1980s licensed comic. This offers a far-ranging selection of comics to choose from, but let’s be honest, if you’ve read Back Issue Ben for any length of time, it’s going to be Transformers or G.I. Joe. Now, some might say, “why Transformers? Why not spend your time on the internet instead doing productive things like researching important legislation that will affect us all?” And to them I say, fuck you, read Transformers comics.

This week, I’ll be covering Marvel’s Transformers #20, featuring a little used Autobot character named Skids. Skids, for some reason, was one of the toys I wanted the most as a kid (because what kid doesn’t want a toy robot that transforms into a sensible minivan?). Not surprisingly, Skids didn’t receive much screen time in the cartoon (because what kid wouldn’t want to watch a robot that transforms into a sensible minivan, for mom to take baby Jimmy to the pediatrician). Regardless, I thought Skids looked cool, so an entire issue of a comic dedicated to a robot that sounds like he’s named after an underwear accident, is right up my alley. And if you think I’m joking, you don’t know me all that well.

Transformers #20
Writer: Bob Budiansky; Penciler: Herb Trimpe; Inkers: Ian Akin & Brian Garvey; Editor: Michael Carlin

(As of this writing, Herb Trimpe recently passed away. Herb Trimpe provided incalculable joy to millions of people through his comic work over a long career, without ever receiving the acclaim that he deserved.)

The cassette tape turned jaguar by the name of Ravage tracks his prey.

His prey is a comic book writer named Donny Finkleberg, who recently had been masquerading on TV as the Robot Master, the terrorist mastermind behind the Transformers. The Robot Master was a Decepticon plot to scare humanity into believing that all robots are evil, even the Autobots.

Donny escaped and is trying to locate the Autobots so he can give them some vital information he acquired while in captivity. He happens upon a campsite, steals some clothes, and buries his Robot Master costume. As he leaves, he notices a minivan on its side with laser marks on it, but for some reason doesn’t think “Hey, that’s probably an Autobot.”

Ravage tracks Donny’s scent to the campsite, where he incinerates the buried costume with a deadly laser blast. To his dismay, there is only fragments of fabric, and no charred human remains.

In a small town nearby, Charlene and Wendell are finishing up a shift at the market where they work. Wendell gives her a ride home, but instead of going home, she convinces him to take her on a little adventure near some old abandoned gold mines.

Women: getting nice guys into unnecessary trouble for thousands of years.

Instead, they find the overturned minivan, and she’s able to convince Wendell to help her get it to the local garage so it can be fixed. (Most likely so she doesn’t have to get rides from Wendell anymore. Don’t do it Wendell, you’ll disappear from the rest of this comic!)
Somehow they get this van to Wendell’s cousin Bob, who owns the garage in town. Cousin Bob notices that this is unlike any car he’s ever seen, yet is still able to fix it, and still, nobody thinks “alien robot,” despite it currently being the biggest news story of the last 200 years.

Charlene nearly sideswipes a Lamborghini as she leaves the garage (ironic since it looks exactly like the Autobot Sideswipe). The car’s driver, Jake, didn’t appreciate this, especially since the same exact car apparently scratched his car in a hit-and-run in a previous issue (how coincidental).

Skids, now fully operational, takes control. Jake continues to chase the minivan, despite it driving sideways on walls and jumping over his speeding car. Jake’s girlfriend finally convinces him to stop chasing the magic car.

On a deserted part of road, Skids finally stops, and reveals his robot form to the panicked Charlene. Skids reveals to her the long war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Before the war he was an anthropologist, and would like to return to a life not dominated by combat. He would like to be her car.

Back at a diner in town, Donny overhears Jake talking about the magic van, and makes the stunning conclusion that he’s an idiot.

Skids peeks in on Charlene’s room, completely decorated with an Old West flavor. She shows him her favorite movie, High Noon, which ends with the Marshall dueling alone against four killers. In her words, “He could’ve run, but he was willing to stay and die for what he believed in.” This makes Skids question his decision to be a giant robot baby and hide from the Decepticons trying to subjugate the people of this planet, in so many words.

Over the next several days, they spend plenty of quality time watching sand storms, and beautiful sunlit mountains while sitting by a peaceful lake. One day after work, Wendell asks Charlene if she’d like to go see a movie with him, but she turns him down. Instead, she does this:

Skids asking her to polish his hubcaps, AGAIN, would make even Professor Xavier blush. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this scene is more erotic than anything that happened in 50 Shades of Grey. John Byrne is jealous that he never thought of this. Archie comics found this too suggestive. This panel is most definitely the reason I get erections in minivans.

(I just want to make doubly sure you caught that he asked her to do it "again," meaning his hubcaps were already polished and he would like her to do so a second time. If you don't find this as funny as I do, then we were never going to be friends.)

The most erotic car-washing scene since Bring it On is interrupted by the arrival of Donny. They are, in turn, interrupted by an attacking Ravage, who is clearly the slowest and least effective tracker in history.

Skids scoops in Charlene and Donny and makes a break for it, with Ravage trailing behind.
Jake sees the van go speeding by, and once again decides to insert himself into the situation. Charlene convinces Skids to hide out in the aforementioned abandoned gold mining town.

Skids tells Donny and Charlene to get to safety, when that rascal Jake comes running up out of hiding and smashes his windshield with a crowbar. Apparently this knocks Skids right out, making Skids the least resilient Autobot this side of Bumblebee.

Skids dreams about Megatron holding Charlene captive, and blasting into pieces with his arm cannon.

Donny and Charlene try to explain to Jake why he’s an abnormally huge asshole, instead of just a regular run-of-the-mill asshole, but they’re interrupted by Ravage.

As Ravage pounces around on the dreaming Skids, Jake decides to make a strategic retreat. Jake’s girlfriend (who I would call the most sensible person in the story, except she’s dating Jake) convinces him that he should probably help the two human beings he just endangered.

Begrudgingly he agrees, and uses his expensive luxury sportscar to ram Ravage, saving Skids from what was most likely going to be a devastating pounce.

Charlene finally snaps Skids out of his dream, but it doesn’t really matter all that much, because he continues to get his ass handed to him by a walking cassette tape.

Fortunately, after one of Ravage’s devastating blows, Skids discovers an old mining shaft shoddily covered by lumber. Ravage comes leaping in for yet another devastating pounce, but Skids rolls away at the last moment, sending Ravage falling to his doom.

Charlene is ecstatic that the danger is over, but Skids hits her with the hard truth: he needs to stop hiding, and return to the war against the Decepticons. He also suggests that maybe she should stop being a bitch and take Wendell up on his offer. His words, not mine. I don’t approve of that kind of behavior.

There you have it, the inaugural edition of Random Gems of 1980s Nostalgia. I hope you enjoyed it, because I will probably do more. If you didn’t, fuck you, read Transformers comics. Either way, donate money to the Cube. We are not above soulless corporate sponsorship!

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