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Transformers By Christian Farrell
The two anthologies All Fall Down and End of the Road (Writer - Simon Furman/Pencils - Andrew Wildman/Inker - Stephen Baskerville) collect the last twelve issues of the Transformers comic book. Even after the movie disappeared from the theaters, the cartoon dried up in most markets, and the toys were relegated to the discount rack, the Transformers comic book plodded along, long enough for even the most loyal fans to eventually give up on it. Finally, in 1990, the creators were asked to wrap up the comic book. And they were confident their story would not be vetoed by Hasbro.
Comic books based on toy lines, such as Transformers, are extremely frustrating to produce. Just when the creators get their legs with a certain cast of characters, the toy company calls in to demand that the extra twenty-four characters representing the new line of toys be written into the script, that the leader of the bad guys wear a pith helmet to help sell his latest version, and that most of the battles take place in the ocean so the company can hock an undersea base set. With all that unwelcome input, it is hard to imagine any writers or artists creating a masterpiece.
For these issues, however, Hasbro decided not to interfere. As far as the company was concerned, the Transformers toy line was finished. With no more figures to sell, they allowed the comic book staff to write any plot and choose any characters.
But what could have been a bonus turns into the first strike against these issues. While the creators were free to pick whichever characters they wanted, that doesn’t mean they picked the characters everyone reading the books wanted. Or even knew about.
The last issue of Transformers was published in 1991. Do you remember 1991? That was the year we blew Iraq out of Kuwait. That was the year our economy slid into Recessionland. That was the year you saw the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video one Saturday morning on MTV and later that afternoon bought the album. That was the year your Mom came back from the mall with your first flannel shirt because, “All the kids are wearing them.”
In 1991, do you remember ever thinking about the Transformers?
If you’re like most former fans, then no, you didn’t. The cartoon was probably already off the air in your market, and you hadn’t picked up the comic book in years.
But during all the time that fans had abandoned the product, Hasbro continued to produce new lines of action figures, and continued to demand that they be expressed in the comic book. By the time the comic book creators were asked to end the series, they felt comfortable with other characters beside Bumblebee and Soundwave. See if you remember these:
· Targetmasters, Headmasters, and Micromasters
· A Powermaster Optimus Prime with seemingly curly hair
· Skorponok as the leader of the Earth-based Decepticons
And Pretenders all over the place! One Pretender, Bludgeon - I never even figured out that he was a Transformer until he removed his shell in the next to last issue!
So for 1991, and especially for now when most people’s Transformer memories are fuzzy anyway, there is one strike against these books - there is a vast array of characters, and half of them you’ve never heard of. Still, that in itself doesn’t ruin the book - if the writer and artists use the characters effectively to tell the story, the book will still succeed.
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First, the artwork: The pencils of Andrew Wildman and the inking of Stephen Baskerville are adequate and ordinary. That is not meant to be a put-down - prior to the Image revolution, few mainstream comics featured lavish and enthralling artwork. Most of the art merely moved the story along. Wildman and Baskerville succeed in making the spectacular look spectacular (i.e., Unicron attacking Cybertron), but also leave the unspectacular to look unspectacular (i.e., bystanders in New York). (For a more vivid example of the lackluster approach to comic book art après-Spawn, notice the attention to detail Richard Corben uses to draw Luke Cage in Cage #1. Then, find a copy of the old Power Man & Iron Fist)
Although the ‘80s artwork is not in itself a detriment to the book, it does nothing to offset the unfamiliarity of the characters. Foul tip, strike two.
We’re down to our last swing. So far, the box score indicates that we’re dealing with unfamiliar characters and using not-so-amazing artwork. But one thing can save this book - an incredible story! After all, writer Simon Furman also wrote the much-ballyhooed UK Transformers series. (Did you know about this? What, were they afraid the American comics would lose too much in the translation? Did Blaster keep twirling a handlebar mustache? Did Jazz begin his attacks by yelling “I shall crown thee!”? Did the Decepticons wear the fleur-de-lis? Can someone fill me in?)
Furman must have recognized that he needed to hit it out of the park with a story, because he wrote about fifty of them and crammed them into 12 issues. Here, as briefly as possible, is a synopsis of the action:
After discovering that his ancient enemy Primus lies dormant in the center of Cybertron, Unicron marches toward the Transformer homeworld for a final battle. While he does this, at least five other stories are playing out:
· Optimus Prime risks his leadership of the Autobots and announces that in order to fight Unicron as one unit, the Autobots will surrender to the Decepticons.
· MEANWHILE, Grimlock steals the bodies of the deactivated Dinobots and flies them to Hydrus Four to attempt to revive them with the unstable fuel known as nucleon.
· MEANWHILE, Decepticon leader Skorponok plays the Agamemnon role as his troops bristle under his ineffective leadership.
· MEANWHILE, Starscream, Ravage, and Shockwave, joined by Runamuck, Runabout, Triggerhappy, and Mindwipe (who are these guys?), start a Decepticon civil war.
· MEANWHILE, Unicron plucks Galvatron out of an alternate universe and joins him with Hook, Line, and Sinker (were these guys even Transformers?) to destroy Emirate Xaaron (?) and the rest of the Cybertron-based Autobots.
All of these storylines collide as Primus transports all Transformers (except for the Dinobots and an Autobot to be named later) and a band of metahumans known as the Neo-Knights to Cybertron to battle Unicron. The battle is fierce and costly, but ultimately the metahuman Circuit Breaker gives Optimus Prime the opportunity to sacrifice his life and the Matrix to destroy Unicron. The End.
BUT THERE’S MORE! We’re only one issue into the second book! In his dying breath, Optimus Prime passes over perennial second-banana Prowl and bequeaths Autobot leadership onto Grimlock. Later, as a result of his exposure to nucleon, Grimlock changes into a super-powered robot.
BUT THERE’S MORE! The Decepticons break the shaky alliance and strand the Autobots on a ravaged and dying Cybertron.
BUT THERE’S MORE! On board the Ark, commandeered by Starscream and Shockwave, a stowaway Galvatron meets a reactivated Megatron and initially tries to kill his past self, but later vows to keep him from harm.
BUT THERE’S MORE! The Ark crashes in Canada, and Spike Witwicky, the last Autobot on Earth, forms the head of Cerebros, who forms the head of Fortress Maximus, who battles the escaped Galvatron.
FINALLY, the Autobots and Decepticons have a showdown on the planet Klo, where the Autobots are aided by a not-so-surprising guest.
Whew! For a toy book with no figures to sell, these issues had way too many characters in way too many storylines, and more false finishes than a Wrestlemania main event. Had the series ended with the defeat of Unicron, we could all walk away satisfied. Instead, the story drags on, twisting and turning so far past the logical exit point that the eventual climax is a letdown. Plus, too many loose ends develop. (What happened to the nearly insane Circuit Breaker? Why was Grimlock the only Transformer to morph after using the nucleon? Did any of the other Transformers survive the second crash of the Ark? If not, doesn’t Megatron, one of the best comic book villains ever, deserve better treatment?)
In the cover gallery, the top of the final issue’s cover reads “#80 in a four-issue limited series”. While the statement may have been a joke, it rings too true after reading these books. Strike three, you’re out.
Final score, 2.0/5 Slushies. While it was nice to visit the Transformers again, it definitely wasn’t worth $19.99 each for two books. Next time I’ll leave it to my own imagination.