Previously we’ve looked at the first three Transformers Armada minicomics Dreamwave produced for Hasbro, but there’s one more to go. So it’s time to finish this series. Dreamwave also produced minicomics for Energon so we aren’t done yet but we’ll put this series to bed.
At this point the toyline introduced the subline “The Unicron Battles”. This featured the first ever Unicron toy, long desired by those who grew up with the original toyline and Transformers: The Movie. While the toy had been planned twice in the past, once when the movie came out and once by Takara for the Japanese-exclusive line Beast Wars Neo, neither were ever produced. Finally for this line we got our Unicron and it was worth the wait seeing as the other two designs didn’t really capture the essence of the big villain Simon Furman re-imagined into a god of chaos nearly as well. (When it comes to Unicron I’m actually neutral as to which origin is better, cartoon or comic, but I still prefer the Quintesson origin over Primus.)
It was decided to make Unicron the big threat of the subline and tie the version of him in this continuity to the Mini-Cons, and so the “Unicron Battles” began. And this was the comic that introduced the idea to toy buyers who didn’t see the show or read the regular Dreamwave comics. So how does it do? The first two comics were not that great since they had to force three translations of the same dialog into the panel. The third issue was better for only needing one language but still not that great, so what does this series end on?
Transformers Armada volume 4
CREATED BY: Dreamwave for Hasbro
PUBLISH DATE: 2003
WRITER: Chris Sarracini
PENCILER: James Riaz
COLORISTS: Felipe Smith & David Cheung
Only TWO colorists, Dreamwave? Are you finally realizing you don’t need five colorists on one book, especially a minicomic? Since none of the Energon minicomics have credits we’ll never know.
LETTERING: Dreamer Design
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Matt Moylan
The story opens with Optimus Prime (oddly not in his Unicron Battles color scheme) having defeated and captured Galvatron. Yes, what was surely a huge event takes place BEFORE the story opens. Why wasn’t this the story? Because with only a few pages and the other half dedicated to a longer catalog (there’s more pages or feels like it and it’s mostly catalog) there probably wasn’t room. When the Super Powers Collection is given more to work with you’re doing something wrong. And these really are too short because of that catalog. And because when you’re a company more focused on showing the pretty artwork you already don’t give enough room to the story in your big comics, never mind the mini ones.
Meanwhile in deep space something is flying through space eating planets and heading for Cybertron. It’s admittedly ominous. And short at four panels in a column, It works quite well.
Back to the actual plot we see Optimus Prime bringing Galvatron to jail. Galvatron does not pass go or collect 200 Energon cubes. Look, I have to pad this article out as much as possible because there isn’t much to work with here and I want to you to get your money’s worth. Or time’s worth as it were. He’s joined by Overload and his Mini-Con partner/Headmaster Rollout. Yes the Mini-Con becomes the head. I used him in one of my Mini-Con articles over at The Clutter Reports. Rollout forms Overload’s head, and of course this isn’t played up in the comic. In my headcannon Rollout is a Mini-Con pretending to be the larger Autobot Overload to make sure the Autobots has his group’s best interest given their past history. That’s not what happens here. That would be imaginative.
Galvatron chides Optimus, saying he pretended to be defeated to set-up a trap with the others at base…and why are the other Autobots at base before you transport him? Think about it. This is the leader of the Decepticons and his army is not reported as having been defeated. You don’t think they’d try to break him out? Sure enough Tidal Wave, Galvatron’s biggest and strongest warrior, shows up to attack them. He immediately frees Galvatron and “power fuses” with him. The result…
…looks like that. This is what happens when you give a comic company obsessed with showing off their artwork little room to do anything. Still not as confusing as a Michael Bay Transformers battle but close. Hang on, let’s go to the toy catalog and see if that helps.
Okay, so Tidal Wave is formed from the “Dark Fleet”, a trio of ships Galvatron can wear like battle armor. Not as silly as Cybertron Optimus Prime wearing a giant fist that makes Hellboy’s fist look like a pipe cleaner but still kind of silly. And this offers him armor and firepower…WHICH IS HOW THE MINI-CONS SHOULD HAVE MARKETED! Why is attaching three warships to you better than random weapons, tools, and armor? It’s not even as good as Optimus and Overload’s combination. Yes, Overload can combine with Optimus’s super mode, giving Optimus huge shoulder cannons while Rollout forms an extra handgun. Not that you ever see THAT in the comic! Overload does turn into a gun emplacement that Rollout can use, and the toy did that, but this should have been combination versus combination. It isn’t. Did Saracinni not realize he had to stick Unicron in here? Instead Overload shoots Galvatron, it does nothing, then somehow Overload and Rollout are back in Headmaster robot mode with Galvatron’s fist in his faceplate.
Then some Mini-Con (at least I think it is from the angle, it doesn’t look like Clench, Galvatron’s partner Mini-Con…or Megatron’s partner, Leader-1, who is a color swap of Clench…nor does he look like Ramjet, Tidal Wave’s partner, so who is he?) pops up and directs Galvatron’s attention upward, where all combatants see Unicron about to tear off his first bite of Cybertron! The story ends on a cliffhanger for the kids to continue from as they play with their Transformers. It’s not a bad idea actually, given as these are about jumpstarting kids imagination as to the potential adventures they can have with this figures.
The problem is thus far these Mini-Comics haven’t been so good at that. While they’ve gotten better with each volume it’s still not very good. Again, look at the other comics I look at in this article series and you can quickly see what I mean. They’re able to tell a decent story, sometimes with less page space than these comics have because they have a big catalog attached to them. Compare the two page catalogs in Masters Of The Universe (three if you count the back cover, which is all they have in later series) or the GoBots illustrated booklet. It doesn’t help that you only get one comic per toy wave rather than multiple comics that can better showcase the toys in action. The Armada and Energon offerings are just catalogs with a few pages of comic, and we’ve seen it done better. Even an eight page comic like this could be more interesting as a short battle but even the Secret Wars toys Marvel made with Mattel, a comic strip on the back of the package and nothing more, were better than these at starting a kids imagination of possibilities and those were four panels long.
(By the way, if anyone knows of a website archiving those, let me know. All I can find are images the card fronts with figures attached or the supposed tie-in miniseries nobody knew was supposed to sell a toyline. Secret Wars was a great story but when it came to showing off toys it’s no Total Justice.)
When next we come to Cybertron the toyline will have changes from Armada to Energon and the comics will follow suit, but that won’t be for awhile. Next month we return to the multiverse-spanning adventures of the Atari Force as they visit their first Atari 2600 video game…I mean universe. At least I think that’s what happens. If you want to know for sure subscribe and join us next month.