Here’s a little note about the arrangement of Transformers comics in my collection, and yes there is a point. The midnight posting for The Transformers this week was issue #32. Next week will be #35 and then we’ll complete the Headmasters run. The continuity feels right to me this way. But you may be asking “what happened to #33 and #34?” since they should be next. Well, that’s what tonight’s article is about.
At the time, Budiansky was writing the US comic, the Headmasters miniseries, and whatever else he might have been doing at the time. I don’t rightly know. So to ease his workload a bit, the first UK-exclusive storyline, “Man Of Iron”, was reprinted in the US. Since the UK creators didn’t have enough US stories to get a sense of the characters’ personalities (only the first four were produced, and the Transformers didn’t have a lot of personality in those stories) or Cybertronian history they made a few differences from what we’ve come to know. I usually put these two aside as a separate universe altogether. So how good is the story?
The Transformers #s 33 & 34
Marvel Comics (October & November, 1987)
originally published in The Transformers (UK) #s 9-12“Man Of Iron” parts 1-4 WRITER: Steve Parkhouse ARTISTS: John Ridgeway (1&2) and Mike Collins (3&4) COLORIST: Nel Yomtov (recolored from Josie Firmin (1&2) and Gina Hart (3&4), I can only judge Yomtov’s work) LETTERER: Richard Starkings EDITOR: Sheila Cranna
Our tale begins at Stansham Castle in England, a popular travel spot until a jet plane bombs the area and sends a second device into the ground. It’s the Decepticon Seekers, but the UK has had no connection with the Transformers at this point. Meanwhile a boy named Sammy, the son of the Castle’s caretaker, runs across a robot in the woods near the castle. It’s Jazz. The boy is so scared that he runs home but Jazz follow him in his car mode, staying undercover under new orders from Optimus to observe the boy. This is already confusing. Sure, the kid saw him in the woods, but how do they know who Sammy is, or that his dad is the caretaker? This is never explained and we could theorize all day but it would a no-prize style retcon at best.
Later, Sam’s dad tells him the tale of the Man Of Iron who could shoot “lighting from his hands” that was spotted during a bloody battle at the castle in 1070 AD, and a drawing of the man resembles a Cybertronian…or at least the usual “we can’t make a Transformer look like he has an alt mode unless he has a toy” that has plagued this franchise in every format I know of. Later that night, after Sammy starts dreaming of Cybertronian crafts (despite never having seen a Cybertronian craft), Mirage, thanks to his invisibility power, tries to take Sammy from his bed, despite Sammy’s refusal to go with him…and for some reason he isn’t nearly as frightened of this as he was meeting Jazz. He seems more annoyed because Mirage won’t take no for an answer until his parents (Sammy’s, not Mirage’s) come in. This will not be the last kidnapping attempt by the Autobots. I know Parkhouse didn’t have a lot to go on at this point but the Autobots–the good guys–kidnapping a child just seems wrong!
Later, the military begins excavating around the area Skywarp dropped the bomb and find it may not be a bomb. Also, they’re picking up signals from an object already there that resembles a spacecraft and adorned with the Autobot symbol. At that moment, Jazz, in car mode, convinces Sammy to climb in and play while asking him about the actions of the military. Then his mom comes out and Jazz shuts his door and runs off, with Sammy still inside. So Jazz is better at kidnapping kids than Mirage. Not sure if that’s a good thing.
Jazz takes Sammy to a shuttlecraft they have waiting, but are attacked by the Decepticons. Trailbreaker is hurt, but Bluestreak manages to chase them off. At the shuttle, Sammy is greeted by Optimus Prime. Sammy tells him about the Man Of Iron and the excavation. Op says that it’s a Cybertronian craft and the signal they’re receiving is a beacon. The Autobots theorize that it’s a rescue craft that can take them home to Cybertron, but if the Decepticons find it they’ll destroy it. Why? Don’t the Decepticons want to get back to Cybertron, too? Remember that this story came out after issue #4, although in the UK version Optimus just gives a speech and apparently let the Decepticons go. I don’t get it, either.
Sure enough the Decepticons attack the next day, only to be greeted by the “Man Of Iron”. Unfortunately Starscream proves a tougher foe than a bunch of human knights and he gets taken out in a few shots, just as the Autobots arrive, with Sammy warning the humans to evacuate. Using the shuttlecraft, the Autobots send the Decepticons scurrying and the rescue craft is saved. For the Autobots to blow up. Wait, what?
So the point of this was to stop the Decepticons from destroying the rescue craft and you’re going to blow it up anyway? So why not let them blow it up and save your resources? Or least salvage the ship and keep the information that will lead you home as soon as you chase of the Decepticons? Or allow you to call for backup? Sadder still is that there is a second robot in there that the Man Of Iron was taking care of and he gets destroyed with the rest of the ship. (It also talks about Jazz thinking of his friendship with Sammy…which again consisted of kidnapping him.)
We’re given an epilogue that the rumors of these events boosted the tourism for a while and that Sammy never saw Jazz again, because the Transformers usually hang out in America. And that ends the story.
I’m not going to fault this comic for continuity errors since it was written so early the comic’s run. I will, however, fault the comic for having the Autobots trying to kidnap children. There could have been a better approach to get the information they wanted. Instead they’re trusting their future to a child her under duress. That doesn’t seem like a smart move.
Besides the other plot questions I brought up I still kind of enjoy the story. It’s got action, a mystery, and the act of keeping the audience in the dark made it feel like a first issue. I didn’t even know the UK was getting US stories until many years later. Parkhouse is one of my favorite writers from his run on Doctor Who and the story is at least well-told through its faults.
The UK at the time also didn’t have the US mandate to use the cartoon models (starting at issue #3) so the Transformers we see in robot mode resemble their toys instead, which I frankly prefer more and wish the US comics had done, and wish the cartoon modelers had at least attempted.
Sadly, nobody seems interested in reprinting any UK stories not written by Simon Furman, who took over the next issue and never left. (Actually, I kind of liked “The Enemy Within”. I think Furman actually gets worse with age instead of better…a fate I hope and pray to avoid.) This is a pretty good story on the surface and I would have liked to have seen what direction Parhouse would have taken the series.