Transformers: The Movie #1
Marvel Comics Group (December, 1986)
ADAPTATION: Ralph Macchio
BREAKDOWNS: Don Perlin
FINISHED ART: Ian Akin & Brian Garvey
COLORIST: Nel Yomtov
LETTERER: Janice Chiang
EDITOR: Bob Budiansky
This is not going to be a regular review. The Marvel adaptation is rather interesting when compared to the final movie. From what I can tell and recall, the comic is based on an earlier version of the script and model sheets. This leads to some interesting alterations between the movie and this first adaptation that the later IDW adaptation lacked having the benefit of the movie being out for years and thus knowing the final designs and story. So this is less a review than an examination of those differences for the sake of curiosity. I forgot I had done one of these already but having just read that one I think this one is better and I don’t have time to come up with something new. You can see my examinations of issues #2 and #3 here. I’ll be doing the IDW adaptation starting next week I guess, unless I want to revisit those two as well. Plus this is neat for the Patreon posting.
First the summary: It is the year 2005, and the Decepticons have forced the Autobots off of Cybertron. From Autobot City on Earth and two Cybertronian moons, the Autobots plan to retake their homeworld, unaware that is the next target of Unicron, a monster, living machine planet who just turned the robot-ruled planet Lithone into lunch. Optimus Prime sends Ironhide, Prowl, Ratchet and Brawn to Earth to get more Energon to power a full-scale assault. However, the Decepticons attack the shuttle and kill the crew, using it to sneak onto Earth and attack Autobot City. Unfortunately for them the young Autobot Hot Rod and his friend Daniel, son of longtime human ally Spike Witwicky, observe the shuttle land and send out the alarm. The city is transformed to fortress mode, but it’s only a delaying tactic until they can call for help. Optimus arrives with the Dinobots and join the battle. Optimus and Megatron have their final battle, but while Megatron is seriously damaged, Optimus dies, passing the Autobot Matrix Of Leadership to the new leader of the Autobots, Ultra Magnus. Meanwhile, Starscream leads a rebellion to expel the injured Decepticons because they’re too heavy for Astrotrain. (That’s how science used to work, kids.) Flung into deep space, Megatron and the other damaged float into Unicron, who changes Megatron into Galvatron and the others into Galvatron’s new army with one mission…destroy the Matrix!
One interesting note right off the bat is how the characters match their comic book counterparts (except for Spike, who didn’t have a comic counterpart, he was replaced by his later-retconned little brother Buster) instead of their comic models. That’s not that big a surprise. The Thundercats characters resembled the Marvel art style adaptation of their show models despite being a Star Comic imprint, while the Star Wars Droids characters looked more at home in another Star comic, Planet Terry. Also, Nel Yomtov, as long time readers remember, was the colorist for the entire original run of The Transformers, so Starscream’s coloring is closer to the comic’s slightly different scheme. (The body is the big giveaway.) The artists also match the look of the comics, and while some of the later iconic lines made their way through by pure luck at times the dialog is closer to what Budiansky and his predecessors used. Optimus trash-talks Megatron a lot more in this fight.
Then there are the things that I assume weren’t in their early files. The Autobot Matrix Of Leadership looks more like a glowing crystal than the classic holder from the movie onward. The shuttle actually lands while in the movie Hot Rod shot at it while it was in the air after seeing Megatron’s entry hole and Decepticons standing in it. Here the Decepticons shoot at the observation towers to keep from being discovered rather than fire back at Hot Rod. Even the deaths of Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet, and Ironhide are lot less grim. While there’s still smoke coming out of Prowl’s mouth it’s far less gruesome here, and Ironhide doesn’t get executed by Megatron, while Brawn gets it in the belly instead of the shoulder…no doubt he’s dead. Also interesting is that Autobot City’s fortress mode is called Fortress Maximus. The first Autobot city toy was called Metroplex, and was the name in the show, while as fans know Fortress Maximus was the name given to the Headmaster city base later on. A name change by Hasbro perhaps? Also, Kranix transforms into a ship, where in the movie he just takes a regular ship.
The two most notable changes though are two other scenes with Hot Rod. In the fight between Megatron and Optimus, Hot Rod is absent. One of the things that critics of Hot Rod point out is that if Hot Rod hadn’t interfered Optimus might have gotten the drop on Megatron. There’s even a fanfic where Hot Rod either stays out of it or simply warns Optimus that Megatron found a gun hidden by debris and Optimus lives while finishing Megatron off. In this version Hot Rod is absent and Megatron grabs a fallen gun Optimus just happens to not see because he’s focused on Megatron. Hot Rod really wasn’t needed, but I can only conclude the writers didn’t want him to go down so easily so blamed Hot Rod, while having the young Autobot try to do the right thing. The other is in the scene where Optimus transfers command to Ultra Magnus. In the final movie, Prime dies before handing the Matrix over. Hot Rod catches it and it starts to glow while Hot Rod momentarily resembles his Rodimus Prime for, a nice bit of foreshadowing to his part in the movie and his destiny as the next chosen one. This is completely absent from the adaptation, which is a shame because it’s a nice bit of visual storytelling possibly cut for space since Macchio seems to have wanted the new status quo in place by the end of the first issue, which would be the first act of the movie really.
And that’s what I recommend about the Marvel adaptation if you really want an adaptation of a movie that nowadays is easy to get on home video. There’s even a new anniversary printing coming out soon or recently came out. This is based on early information, and you’ll really see the changes next issue, which we’ll get into next week.