Arguably the most iconic cover in Transformers comics ever.

While I’m sorting through all of these comic books they’re obviously on my mind. As I write this I’m about to start working on the “T” lettered titles, and I will have probably exhausted myself doing so by the time you read this. It’s a lot of work but I had an interesting idea.

I’ve collected comics for…apparently too long give what I’m doing, but while I was gifted comics prior I didn’t really start collecting them until I learned there was a Transformers comic. Seeing the above issue of The Transformers #5 at my local drug store, as this was back when you could find comics almost anywhere, was my introduction to the series, though I wouldn’t start collecting until the next issue. I was even forbidden from buying issue #9, Circuit Breaker’s debut, as a form of punishment. Thankfully I was eventually forgiven and in my adult years I was able to get a copy, which I actually read in school as one of my teachers had a copy in the room. Stiil, it’s nice not having a hole in your collection.

Over the next few days, unless something comes up, I want to look at the various Transformers comic runs. You can already find reviews of all the comics I own as I’ve reviewed the whole franchise in either Today’s Comic or This Week’s Reviews when they came out, or in back issue/my existing collection in “Yesterday’s” Comic. This is going to be an overview of the comic run as a whole. It makes sense to start with the original. I didn’t enough of the UK run to form a solid opinion because I’m a US kid, but I can explore my comic introduction to the robots. I’ve broken it down into four convenient categories, covering the biggest periods of the run.

The Miniseries

“A bit light on the electrons. I’m not on a diet, you know.”

The Transformers was originally intended to be a four issue miniseries. However, the stories, and the toys, were popular enough that Marvel continued with issue #5. This led to the ending being changed though I don’t know at which point Shockwave was added to lead into the ongoing. Considering that Hasbro initially went to Marvel Comics to help flesh out the backstory the same way they did for G.I. Joe it’s not surprising they did a good job even with more than one writer during the four issues.

The miniseries has a few interesting elements to it. Spider-Man makes his usual third issue appearance, which happened quite often in Marvel runs, although not all the time as I’m sure someone would point out. That same issue had a cameo by SHIELD agents Nick Fury Sr. and Dum-Dum Dugan before being ruined by retconning mentioning the completed Godzilla series that also took place in the main Marvel universe, and Shockwave and the Dinobots would be found in the Savage Land of the Marvel Universe. These connections would eventually be cut, but it was interesting to think what Autobots and Decepticons would have done to good old 616.

It would also have a story arc for one character in particular, the Autobot Mirage. Initially wanting nothing to do with the war on Earth he eventually comes to the realization that he would have to fight after his second encounter with Ravage. Meanwhile, Bumblebee would make the first encounter with human allies Sparkplug and Buster, the latter being the alternate for the cartoon’s Spike until Fortress Maximus’s tech spec figure bio required a Spike in the comics as well. The dialog could rather stilted at times but that’s a product of its time.

What I really liked and wish they had kept was how the designs were more faithful to the toy rather than the cartoon. I know Floro Dery had to make the toy models work for an animated miniseries that might get picked up for a full series, but when you’re a kid and see that Windcharger and Bumblebee, respectively my first Transformer toy and favorite Autobot, look nothing like the toys in your hand it’s disappointing. We’ve all grown used to the Dery design, especially when it comes to Bumblebee as Windcharger was barely present in the show or comics, but I would have rather they took the toy designs and clean them up like the box art tried to so you could see the elbows and knees and whatnot. Yest, this includes the Ratchet and Ironhide figures.

“Now if Starscream were in charge we’d have this war wrapped up by Friday.”

The Budiansky Years

Bob Budiansky, who had served as editor and was responsible for taking Jim Shooter’s early ideas and fleshing out names and personalities, took over at issue #5, and I would assume added Shockwave and the alternate ending to turn the miniseries into an ongoing. Nobody knows or at least knew more about Transformers at the time than he did. He created most of the lore and character profiles…which admittedly even he didn’t always follow properly in his stories. So it was a given for him to take over.

While none of these runs were perfect I did enjoy a lot of Budiansky’s approach to the Transformers. He didn’t dismiss the Earth setting, often using the unique elements of our planet and culture versus Cybertron’s to craft tales like Shockwave trying to use a concert to collect sonic energy, or Bumblebee teaching the new arrivals about Earth culture. There was also a stronger emphasis on the “robots in disguise” angle of the line, as the humans and Transformers didn’t always get along, which was both a strength and a weakness. I’ll get back to that. The Transformers couldn’t come and go whenever they wanted to go back to Cybertron and were trying to understand our world while being limited by our current technology level while trying to retrofit their own into the materials available. It limited them but also held them from the crazier levels of the cartoon, and set it apart from its counterpart.

There were also more personal struggles between and within the various factions. Megatron and Shockwave fought for leadership, burying any story with Starscream’s own desire for power but the cartoons were already doing that. The Dinobots weren’t the dummies they were in the cartoon…at first. Grimlock did slip down to dumb levels as things went on as he had his own ideas about Autobot leadership, leading to issues with Blaster and Goldbug, and eventually him realizing he was in the wrong. While many members of the cast were sadly poorly utilized, Budiansky did a lot of good stuff with the new toys characters Hasbro wanted pushed. It certainly boosted Skids’ profile, gave the Throttlebots a chance to shine, in my opinion had the more interesting take on the Headmasters, and led to some great Transformer stories.

Interesting fact though is that my favorite story was written by fill-in writer Len Kamnisky, and the reason Bumblebee is my favorite Autobot. At this point Budiansky was doing I think the movie adaptation and the Transformers Universe handbook so he was kind of busy and needed a filler story. It fits in okay but you have to squint a bit.

Not that it was perfect. I know fans like to bust on the “Car Wash Of Doom” or that time the Autobot Micromasters joined pro wrestling but that was more of Budiansky playing with Earth culture. I rather liked it in theory and even in execution once you got past the premise. Circuit Breaker made for an interesting threat…but she was only a threat to the Autobots. The one time she attacks a Decepticon he was actually earning fuel properly though a movie career instead of attacking people. The whole idea of the government rejecting the Autobots as potential allies also made them looks stupid for much of the run, and after they finally accepted the truth they never sought to work with the Autobots. the G.I. Joe crossover could have been a good point, and was even when Bumblebee was rebuilt into Goldbug, but apparently the writer of the crossover didn’t consult with Budiansky, who seemed to ignore the rest of the story to continue his own, when the Joes and thus the military should already know where to send the Rapid Anti-Robot Assault Team (RATT, not to be confused with the metal band) to try to make allies against the Decepticons. Then when the Headmasters visit Nebulos the same old story plays out. I know this is the Marvel universe and the civilians stupidly rejecting their heroes is nothing new (just ask Spider-Man and the X-Men), but at some point an alliance should have been formed. Instead RATT learns the truth…and then just disappears from the story. And only part of that is due to Budiansky’s replacement.

Kind of reaction I get reading Furman’s run.

The Furman Years

Considering a I have an incomplete article series about my issues with Simon Furman’s run on the series, which seemed unnecessary when I started reviewing the comics themselves, you can guess where this is going. I am not a fan of Simon’s run on Transformers, and it’s not his silly Furmanisms. That’s just my issue with his writing style. No, I don’t like what he did to the series in the US. If you do, fine, but there is so much I don’t like about his run.

The main issue I have were the changes he made that he created during his run for Marvel UK, which clashed with what Budiansky was doing. Furman liked adding elements of Transformers: The Movie despite not using elements of the show itself. I guess he figured since there was a comic adaptation it was part of the comic universe despite how often even that clashed with what the comics were doing, like Cyclonus and Scourge’s origins or the Creation Matrix versus the Matrix Of Leadership. The Creation Matrix was a computer program that gave Transformers life, closer to Vector Sigma but playing into how Cybertronians are robots rather than organic beings.

During Furman’s run, not helped by Andrew Wildman drawing them like people in costumes, they became more like organic people than robotic people. they seemed more human rather than robots trying to understand humanity, but that’s a minor quibble. His Creation Matrix borrowed more from the Autobot Matrix Of Leadership as it was now an object in Optimus’ body rather than a program in his head. It had quasi-mystical powers because Furman decided to boost up the fantasy element with the introduction of Primus and Unicron as gods of life and death respectively. I accept them now begrudgingly because they have had influence on the Transformers multiverse and have become part of the iconic multiversal continuity but that doesn’t mean I like the idea. It takes away from exploring what it means to be a robotic lifeform when they come off as metal humans.

Then there’s the pet character syndrome he suffers from when it comes to Grimlock. Furman loved his take on Grimlock and I have the opposite opinion. No matter how badly Grimlock screws up he still gets rewarded. He’s the smartest mech in the room, even smarter than Prowl, and Furman HATED Prowl with a passion. He’s always made Prowl an unlikable a-hole and that will continue in other continuities. Grimlock was always treated as superior as was his mistrust, his forceful attitude, and apparently having learned nothing from his adventures in Budiansky’s run. Then there’s the Neo-Knights. I hate the Neo-Knights. I wrote an article about why I hate the Neo-Knights. It was Furman’s attempt to show Marvel US he could work on their mutant titles (I think they gave him Alpha Flight for a while and I hear didn’t go well for the British man writing about the premiere Canadian superteam) and they are just so out of place for the Transformers universe. Circuit Breaker at least wore technology. The others just suddenly have superpowers, which we hadn’t seen once the Marvel and Transformers universes split…and even Spider-Man got his powers from science rather than I Can’t Believe It’s Not X-Gene. So no, I do not look fondly on Furman’s run.

“Me Grimlock 90s badass.”

Generation 2

So imagine my disappointment when he came back for Transformers: Generation 2. I did see an original UK story that had to explain things without the second G.I. Joe crossover that actually wasn’t too bad but sadly that’s not the direction the US series went. A number of the same flaws, especially pet character Grimlock and the Furmanisms that by this point had become a parody of themselves, but it was worse than that.

It was a 1990s comic.

Autobots packing those crazy 90s guns while being triggerhappy already is going to chase me off. Trashing the planet near the end isn’t going be any better. (I guess it divorced itself from the regular G.I. Joe universe despite the numerous appearance of the Joes even after Megatron made Cobra build him a new body…frankly the only good stories in the G2 period so naturally Furman didn’t write them.) The idea of Transformer reproducing through a fission-like process called “budding” instead of building new robots and giving them life like any other robotic lifeform was just stupid, and spoke to how poorly Furman wrote robotic lifeforms versus just making them some kind of pseudo-organic species. Geoff Senior continued Andrew Wildman’s tradition of making bad choices, but rather than cosplayers they were so overexaggerated and flat that to this day I do not understand how it gets any praise at all. It just looks so ugly, the worst aspects of 1990s comic art combined with a very dark story that I just cannot get into. It’s not even war story dark, which at least would make sense. It just makes me the opposite of happy.

The concept of a second group of Decepticons wasn’t bad. In fact there are some ideas Furman had that were good, like the “Matrix Quest” story arc of G1 playing with different genres. However, that wasn’t the point of the toyline and Furman is probably the least interested of all the Transformers writers to really play with toy gimmicks. The Headmasters and Targetmasters lost their partners somewhere along the line, transformation itself was always an afterthought and that continued here as well, and none of the G2 gimmicks saw any life in the short run Budiansky had. Furman just wanted to play with the same characters and you were lucky if he paid lip service because he was still stuck on characters that weren’t even part of the line like Bludgeon. It was like he was just continuing G1 and he didn’t do it very well.

And Furman hasn’t forgotten. Twice he’s tried to make a G1 continuation, and based on the one I read it wasn’t very good. Destroy the planet again, ruin Spike by making him into a Circuit Breaker knock-off called “Circuit Smasher” and kill off Sparkplug and Buster with a planetary bombardment, Megatron..doing everything he did, and just being as bleak as possible. I guess Furman himself didn’t like it because he tried again and that one I really have no interest in.

Next Time: The Dreamwave Run, aka my favorite run, which is why it’s also the most disappointing.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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