Check the previous post and you’ll see my review of Marvel’s The Transformers #1. This isn’t a review, because I’ve already posted a review. Twice. This is more like an examination. The Transformers was the first comic book I started collecting regularly. I learned of it at issue #5 and the first issue I picked up was #6. After school I would go to the local drug store and look over the comics, but this was the first one I would regularly spend my allowance on. I would continue to pick them up there, at a local comic store, or the magazine rack at the grocery store, except during the time where I subscribed to it–the only comic I subscribed to unless you count the Superkernel comics I received as part of the book club my mom subscribed me to for a time.
So this series obviously had some impact on me and may be part of the reason I’m such a huge Transformers fan today. And it all started with issue #1 of a 4-issue limited series, released bi-monthly until it grew into an 80 issue monthly series due to overwhelming fan support, and that’s not counting three mini-series (including a movie adaptation) and its own Universe mini-series. I think this deserves a historical analysis based on that as well as its influence on me.
The Transformers #1
Marvel Comics (September, 1984)PLOT: Bill Mantlo SCRIPT: Ralph Macchio PENCILER: Frank Springer INKER: Kim DeMulder LETTERERS: Higgins & Parker COLORIST: Nel Yomtov EDITOR: Bob Budiansky EDITOR IN CHIEF: Jim Shooter
Again, we’re not doing a synopsis because we did that this morning. Instead I’m going over the comic itself. Admittedly, if you haven’t read the comic before you may get a bit lost on some of the stuff I’m going to go over and while I will try to limit that for you, it’s kind of unavoidable.
While Simon Furman would expand on the Transformers’ origin, he did miss a few things. When we first meet the Transformers, Mr. Caption Box tells us that they evolved “through naturally occurring gears, levers, and pulleys”. However, just a few panels earlier we’re told that the world’s origins were “lost in the dead past”, so that doesn’t necessarily contradict the Primus/Unicron origin that has become the official origin of the Transformers. Evolving robots doesn’t make sense to me, since they’re shown to have circuitry and other technological bit, but I’ll get into these origins when I get to issue #61.
Where Furman got it wrong (although I can actually defend it on a technicality) is where he stated that Primus created his robotic lifeforms with the ability to transform. From what I’m reading here I get the impression that Mantlo’s intention was that the ability to transform was a creation of Decepticon technology that the Autobots learned to emulate to defend themselves. Now, you could say that all Megatron did was alter their alt forms into war machines. Considering how many Autobots have non-war alt modes, which would be an odd choice during a war, that’s possible. There is also a later story where we see Optimus Prime as a junior lieutenant and his alternate mode resembles his Earth form rather than the war vehicle we see in this story, when he has already become a great leader.
The other thing that strikes me as odd (outside of what I already mentioned in today’s review) is on Earth, when the Autobots learn that the machines aren’t alive on this planet. I can understand the Autobots and the ship’s computer not recognizing biological lifeforms like humans. Besides, if the Pretenders are any indication, the ability to disguise themselves as humans might be beyond their technology. (If the Marvel TFU has their own Maximals and Predacons in their future, the ability to disguise themselves as animals would be a huge advancement in biotechnology.) However, they didn’t think to monitor audio and video communications? There is a scene this scene.
Didn’t they pick up any television signals? Surely this would have told them that the machines weren’t alive (unless they picked up a science fiction show). Later at the drive-in, Prowl even refers to the “Earthlings” as vehicles, like the Ark. At no point did nobody say “you know, the locals have no means of lifting things or doing other operations that require the use of some kind of hand. These forms could just be forms of transportation like the Ark, unless they, too, can transform”. Again, checking the TV shows would answer that. Outside of anime, shapeshifting robots weren’t a norm on television until the Transformers and GoBots shows hit the airwaves. Even then, the transforming robots in anime weren’t autonomous beings until Machine Robo. Usually they were the creations and servants of robots like Western fiction or piloted mecha, essentially robotic vehicles. Unless the Ark’s computer (and I believe this was the only US issue it was referred to as “Aunty”) sent out more spy satellites on only tapped traffic cameras, you would think they’d have seen a human, if they didn’t know what it was.
There are also a number of differences between here and now, such as Ravage being able to talk, and the fact that everyone resembles their toy. Around issue #3 it was decreed that they be drawn using the cartoon character models, which is odd when you consider there were only two issues left at that time and frankly I wish they had stayed with the toy design. I would liked to have seen what the artists from issue 5 onward, including some of my favorite art from the Marvel run, would have done with the toy designs.
Any further analysis of this comic would require a blow-by-blow accounting, like something Linkara, blogroll member Cferra, or fellow RUer Writrzblok would do in their videos, and someday I may just do that. I’m not trying to come down on this story or in future comics. While someone should have kept tabs on some of this, and frankly I’ve always thought someone should have been reigning Furman in, after all of those years it’s not surprising that a few facts might slip through the cracks. Nowadays we have database software and the Internet to use to close a few of those cracks but at the time unless someone was writing this information in a big reference book, which actually was also possible and considering how many universes and areas of the same universe they had probably a good idea.
As I said this morning, this book has major historical significance for every Transformers fan and is most definitely worth tracking down, either the original or the various reprints from both Marvel and IDW.