I never truly leave Cybertron…if only in my spark.
For those of you who weren’t around at the time I was reviewing the various comics, Transformers Armada is based on the toyline in which the Autobots and Decepticons were joined…quite literally…by, or rather to, a third faction called the Mini-Con. If you only know them from the recent Robots In Disguise series it’s a modified version of the original concept. By connecting to certain “hardpoints” on the larger figures the Mini-Con would activate hidden weapons and such, but on the “dead points” kids could pretend they were giving them a huge burst of power, which extended for the next few toylines until the 2010s RID. (Interestingly a couple of toys from the 2000s RID, which came from Car Robot, were able to accept Mini-Cons due to the molding.) To me the gimmick was never fully showcased however.
I wrote about the little Transformers and my love of them over at The Clutter Reports, where I noted that these were small Transformers who turned into vehicles that had things like headlights or little jets. (And as we’ve seen in Rescue Bots and Rescue Bots Academy headlights can double as water cannons, but since they’re headLIGHTS you could argue they’d make for good lasers.) Some of them not only turned into weapon-bearing vehicles but the toy itself may have launching projectiles. The helicopters had spinning blades. One Mini-Con team had a gimmick that they turned into mounted or hand-held weapons, but the only ones anyone following the media would know are the ones that combined into the superpowerful weapons like the Star Saber, Requiem Blaster, and Skyboom Shield. There was so much more play and fight scene potential in the Mini-Cons that was never realized, nor was their non-weapon potential realized outside of being referred to as “smart tools” in the cartoon. This has constantly bothered me but with the gimmick altered after Power Core Combiners (which didn’t even have a non-toy appearance) to what it became in Robots In Disguise it’s just more wasted potential. It’s a sore spot for me because I really love the classic Mini-Con toys and wish we could see the full extent of the gimmick beyond robo-steroids.
Enough about that though, because this getting too long intro hasn’t even touched on UK comics. I’m not from the UK and I’ve only seen a small number of comics from the UK but they don’t appear to come in the traditional comic size but in more of a magazine format. Someone actually from the UK (Gary?) can correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not sure how because my memory is only slightly less damaged than Sam Beckett but I ended up with the first issue of Panini Comics’ Transformers Armada, a comic adapting the toys into comics for the UK rather than simply reprinting the US comics from Dreamwave. And it does appear to be a magazine, as you’ll see from the cover. There are a few character profiles and an activities section that includes how to draw Megatron. Not that this is the artist I would choose to draw Megatron but I’ll get to that. I’ll be focusing on the comic story, which makes four versions of the origin of the Mini-Cons on Earth I own, along with the Dreamwave comic, the cartoon, and a junior novel I may get to some day. Also, this is Simon Furman’s chance to do his own telling of the origin since he came in during the second story arc of the US comic. How well did he do?
Transformers Armada #1
Panini Comics (May, 2003)
WRITER: Simon Furman
PENCILER: Jon Mitchell
INKER: Bambos Georgiou, and Martin Griffiths
LETTERER: Neil Porter
Oddly there is no coloring (or in this case colouring) credit despite the whole magazine being in full color.
We open on Cybertron as Optimus Prime, Hot Shot, and Red Alert are under attack from Decepticon forces. While most other versions start in the past this story begins in present day, alluding to the Mini-Cons escaping. This is probably because UK comics are pretty short in compared to US ones. That’s why the British Transformers two-parter “Man Of Iron” from the Marvel days as well as the Doctor Who comics from Marvel UK were in so many parts during their US printings. The whole magazine is 31 pages because they count the back cover and some of that is devoted to the activity pages and a letters page.
Like in the Dreamwave comics the Mini-Cons escaped on their own but the Decepticons managed to hold onto their toy’s Mini-Cons. Not that it helps Starscream any when Optimus uses his trailer base weapons to shoot him down. The base doesn’t open to a full platform like the toy did. Instead some guns extend out. Megatron, not happy about Starscream’s failure (some things are a multiversal constant), threatens to take Starscream’s partner Mini-Con, Swindle, away from him. While they argue the Autobots manage to escape and somehow Starscream gets full blame, as if Cyclonus did anything or that Megatron himself couldn’t have tried to stop them instead of swiping Swindle. Again, some things are a multiversal constant. Even in realities where Starscream is competent…and that would be the Armada cartoon, Megatron still treats him like dirt.
As Optimus hopes that nobody finds out what happened to the other Mini-Cons, including the Autobots, we cut to Earth as Rad and Carlos do what they usually do and go into a cave. While not mimicking the events as told in the cartoon it does seem to be more inspired by the cartoon. In the Dreamwave comic our heroes found an underground area of their town. Furman even uses the cartoon’s bullies, Fred and Billy, who showed up once in the US comic for no really good reason. Did the Dreamwave version of their school have two separate bully duos? Did they ever fight? Also, the cave in the establishing shot is wide open but when we cut to Fred and Billy the cave is blocked up. Were they at a different entrance because there’s no earthquake like in the cartoon. They do however cause a rock slide, trapping Rad and Carlos inside. They find the remains of the Mini-Con ship and set off the alert signal like the show as Alexis arrives looking for them. In this version Rad doesn’t seem to want Alexis to know about his little find earlier and I don’t know why she’s here now other than she was created for extended media as the third human ally of the Mini-Cons.
Suddenly the boys come out of the…dust out of nowhere along with High-Wire, who seems to be the usual first Mini-Con activated. Did he pulverize the rocks blocking the cave? Alexis acts like they just walked out and starts to chide them about going cave exploring during an earthquake…and if there was supposed to be an earthquake someone did a terrible job showing it to the audience. High Wire starts trying to learn their language, attempting to say “we come in peace” (because that’s what every alien says when they visit Earth unless they don’t care about admitting they want to kill or enslave us all) but after all the activities, character files, and contests Megatron comes through a portal to finish the line, adding “which by the way I do not”. (What did I tell you?
High Wire scans Rad’s bike per usual and assumes it’s form as his alt mode. and tries to get the kids out of there…with his head up like he’s Cy-Kill. He’s not faster than Megatron but luckily Optimus shows up and they fight. Megatron has the advantage because he has Leader-1, not the GoBot but his partner Mini-Con and…wait, is that arm gun supposed to be Leader-1? The mode is wrong if so but I don’t see him anywhere on Megatron. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part. Leader-1’s vehicle mode does have cannons after all and according to the link above a few alternate gun configurations, while Megatron has Powerlink ports on his arms at that spot, one of them revealing a blade. In fact Megatron is loaded with ports. I think he’s an addict.
Rad wants to help the bot that saved them but the other main Mini-Cons show up out of nowhere, and seem to have a better grip on English than High Wire. Grindor, who in the toys can form Perceptor along with High Wire and the also arriving Grindor, introduces himself and his team along with Sparkplug, Longarm, and Jolt, the partners of Optimus, Red Alert, and Hot Shot respectively in the toyline. He also explains in flashback how he and his fellow Mini-Cons were captured and rebuilt by Megatron into power boosters, like in the US comic. Also like the US comic the engine explodes as their escape ship takes off and they crash on Earth’s moon, part of their ship being tossed to Earth. They’ve been here for millions of years but the moment they awake the big bots find them, which is why they’re reluctant to help, as Optimus is about to get scrapped by Megatron.
What is Optimus’s fate? I had to do some research but apparently Rad tries to help Optimus only to get caught and call his team to do a search for Mini-Cons. This inspires the Mini-Cons to help out, giving Optimus a chance to call the other two Autobots currently available as toys. In the end nine issues were produced but unlike the Dreamwave comics didn’t catch on. I can see why. The story is cut off by activity stuff as if this was for little kids or a magazine that happened to contain a comic. That might be fine for an actual magazine with a shorter story, like the ones I grew up with in the 1980s for Masters Of The Universe and GoBots, or even something like Rescue Bots that is targeted to younger readers. For Transformers Armada however it feels a bit too kiddie, and while I don’t consider that an insult in most cases it really doesn’t fit the target audience for the toys and other media. The art is also not very good. The humans are okay as they try to match the universal character models for the kids, but the posing is pretty much at MY level…and this is not a compliment if you’ve read my comics. The Transformers seems to be based more on their toy model but it seems like they didn’t get a real good look at the toys because they’re from similar angles and even more limited posing, like they just saw static shots of the toys and trying to replicate the toys’ articulation via guesswork.
Overall the comic isn’t terrible but it’s not that great and better versions are out there. And when the cartoon is a better version you messed up. Furman seems to do better writing Armada stories than he does on most Transformers stories but the presentation has problems. It’s not really worth trying to track down, especially if you aren’t in the UK.