Autobots, Transform and Get the Hell Out

I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but I’m not exactly what you’d call a fan of the Transformers.

Admittedly, the idea of a talking semi-truck that fights a talking gun is probably in the top three high concepts of all time–narrowly edged out by “gorilla with a jetpack”–and I think I’ve proven over the past five years that I’m a pretty big fan of robots in general. In practice, though, the property itself does absolutely nothing for me, and my affection starts and stops with Lion’s version of the theme song. As such, I’ve never really bothered to read many of the comics, and that’s probably why I was surprised that just how bad Transformers #24 actually is.

 

 

This little gem from 1987 was actually recommended to me by Chris Piers, the artist of my upcoming comic Woman of A.C.T.I.O.N., and after actually reading it, I’m seriously considering re-evaluating our working relationship to one where I do more screaming and threatening.

So basically it’ll be more like the way I work with Smithy.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, revolves in equal parts around a) the exciting new world of video games, and b) a plug for Hasbro’s many fine playsets and toys that’s so shameless they might as well have ended lines like…

Not yet, Megatron! Not when the Protectobots can combine to form… Defensor!

…should be followed up with “each sold separately at your local Kay-Bee Toys!”

Also: “Protectobots?” Really? I mean, I realize that a devout GI Joe fan like me can’t really throw stones at goofy names when I’m within arm’s reach of both Big Lob and the A.W.E. Striker, but man. Protectobots? I hope somebody took the rest of the day off after they wrote that one down on a piece of paper.

Regardless, the Protectobots and Optimus Prime tumble to what is possibly the vaguest evil scheme of all time, as the Decepticons plot to steal something from a place for some reason. The only one of these Maguffin elements that’s actually discussed in the book is that they’re going to Oregon, and so after Wheeljack’s unfortunate assertion that they’re going to “give the Decepticons a taste of their own lubricant”–yes, really–they’re off for what I foolishly assumed would be an intense round of Robot-on-Robot Violence.

Instead, they just kind of stand around reading from the filecards on the back of their boxes for three pages.

 

 

Eventually, though, enough ad copy is recited to appease Marvel’s sinister licensing paymasters, and at this point, something has to happen, and mercifully, it does. But instead of a throwdown between two giant robots and two even more giant robots that are made up of twelve other giant robots that would level buildings–a scenario that would come perilously close to something that would actually be exciting to read about–they decide to settle things in the cut-throat world of multiplayer video games, recruiting a young bystander to blow the loser up with a controller from an Atari 2600.

 

 

Given the combative nature of the Transformers and the constant assertions that their battle would be so furiously devastating that property damage and human casualties are a foregone conclusion, one would assume that they’d be duking it out in a game built around fighting or war or lumberjacking, but instead they end up getting doppelled into something that looks a lot more like Kirby’s Dream Land, where the most threatening obstacle comes in the form of plant life:

 

 

When you were a kid, did you ever go over to a friend’s house to hang out, but they were playing video games and didn’t want to share so you just ended up watching them play for a while? Remember how boring that is? Well, then you’ve got a pretty good idea what the next five pages are like, only with the added bonus of reading to make sure that the children of the ’80s stay firmly interested.

Eventually Optimus Prime kills Megatron, but Megatron drops some Game Genie shit on him and comes back to life, and then Optimus kills him again, but is so guilt-ridden by the fact that he accidentally threw some NPCs off a bridge that he asks the kid to blow him up.

Although to be honest, he does it in what is probably the most hilarious way possible.

 

 

And then the kid actually does it, which means that at the end of this issue, Optimus Prime commits suicide because he didn’t unlock the Pacifist achievement, a moral that’s dubious at best and doesn’t really seem like it would inspire anyone to buy an action figure, although it might have inspired children to stay away from video games out of fear that they would kill childhood heroes, which I guess would have the side effect of moving a few more Grimlocks off the shelf.

In any event, I’m assuming that it all turns out okay because the kid is able to save Optimus’s brain on a 5″ floppy disk, though it resulted in the tragic overwrite of his copy of Oregon Trail.

 

 

72 thoughts on “Autobots, Transform and Get the Hell Out

  1. Looks like Marvel did with Transformers what DC did with Star Trek: just enough to get paid.

  2. I remember this comic being the reason that, as a kid, I dropped Transformers from my hold box.

    I think I might still have it buried somewhere.

  3. As for “Protectobots,” it’s an easy rant, but I’m going to do it again: Who the hell actually names THEMSELVES Decepticons? Even translated from the Cybertron, it’s just stupid: “Yes, hello, we’re the tribe of giant robots who are NOT to be trusted, and we would like to run this robot civilization, please.”

  4. Also, not knowing anything about the video game series you were referring to, from a strictly comics standpoint, I had much higher hopes for the phrase “Kirby’s Dream Land.” I figured it’d be something like Ditko’s astral planes.

  5. No disrespect to those who worked on the book but I had this issue as a kid and wondered how all that is Optimus Prime could fit on a 5-inch floppy when the G.I.JOE game for the C-64 had to use both sides. Between Prime’s fate here and Emilio Estevez’s loss to the Bishop of Battle, I’m not sure how I stayed hooked on video games.

  6. Has anyone seen the Letterman Top Ten list delivered by Optimus Prime? If you hate Transformers, it’s worth a laugh to see the total disconnect between how cool the movie people obviously thought it would be and Letterman’s usual withering contempt.

  7. I remember as a kid really disliking the character of Prime and though I never got into the comics, characterization like this would be why. I recently got the season 1 dvds and was surprised to find he wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered – Heavy Metal War being the biggest exception – and am left wondering if it’s season 2 where he became annoying or if I just had some weird issues.

    Of course with season 3 they made Rodimus Prime such a douche that it was awesome when they brought Optimus back.

  8. Y…you dislike Transformers?

    Even Beast Wars? (Well, obviously even Beast Wars; we’re not exactly an ENDEARING subfandom.)

    Well…um, it must be noted that although the franchise DOES exist entirely to sell toys, their sheer mercenary DEVOTION to selling toys — and the ingenuity required to both sell toys and try to make up a plot-related reason to spruik the toys — has to be appreciated on some kinda postmodern level?

  9. The Transformers comics did have at least one good story – the humans protesting against the Autobots for only having one female transformer, who was pink.

    I dunno if that was only in the British comic, though (which was genuinely good comics when you’re 8!).

  10. People, you’re going to lose a lot of nerd cred if you keep referring to 5″ floppies. They were 5 1/4″.

  11. “Even Beast Wars? (Well, obviously even Beast Wars; we’re not exactly an ENDEARING subfandom.”
    Really? I’ve just about always seen Beast Wars referred to as the highpoint of Transformers television series. I don’t know much about its partcular fanbase mind you, but I’ve never really heard much about them so they can’t have been THAT annoying.

    I never read the story that Chris just covered. I did read the British Transformers comics as a kid, but I didn’t start until a while later. I think I first picked it up near the end of the Time Wars story arc, and thoroughly enjoyed it through to the end of its run.

    Also, I think it was around the point that the comic developed a black and white section that the Combat Colin back-up strip turned fucking brilliant, so there were a few reasons it was a good time to be a Transformers fan.
    I mean look at the brilliant, shameless absurdity of this!
    http://img193.imageshack.us/img193/7439/pyramidheadscan.jpg

  12. You know, I don’t remember a single kick to the face in any Transformers comic or episode.

    While I do not think a good face kick would be enough to change Mr. Sim’s opinion, that might be a visible symptom of the problems he has with Transformers right there.

  13. “Really? I’ve just about always seen Beast Wars referred to as the highpoint of Transformers television series. I don’t know much about its partcular fanbase mind you, but I’ve never really heard much about them so they can’t have been THAT annoying.”

    Well — we certainly have a vocal contingent of fans, but there’s still a lot of people for whom the poorly-drawn semi-stick-figures of their 80s childhood are the be-all and end-all. And it’s probably less endearing, on first glance, to outsiders: it’s Transformers, but in really primitive CGI, and they’re animals!

    But yes, Beast Wars is easily the best example of Transformers media yet — which isn’t quite an outstanding accolade.

  14. I almost feel bad for you, Sims. Almost. But you had to read it.

    As a kid, I was so sad at how Prime went out like a bitch. As an adult, it’s so easy to read between the lines. “Get rid of the old toys, we have some new ones.”

    In the following issue they killed off Megatron. He couldn’t believe he really won so he blew himself up.

  15. This was my favorite series as a kid … and I don’t think I’ve read it at all since then. Reading your review I wonder if they were really all that bad … though to be fair, I *do* remember there was a solid uptick in quality when Simon Furman took over for the last couple of years. I believe he was the writer on the British series, which people here are saying was better? Maybe you have to read the Furman ones.

    Or maybe they’re all that bad. That would make me really sad for my childhood.

  16. Is this really any different from the time the comics killed off a bunch of the Joes in some Middle Eastern war?

    And the Transformers comics DID get better…

  17. The Marvel Transformers series was pretty terrible. Thankfully IDW’s done a pretty good job of making a lot better books than Transformers have had in the past.

    And, for the record, I collect the damn toys and sometimes even I hate them.

  18. Is it worth mentioning that, when he eventually came back, it was with the help of a little old man that sat in his gut and fed him energy?

    Thought not.

    //\Oo/\\

  19. If I remember correctly, Hasbro approached Marvel Entertainment about creating the backstories and character names for both its GI Joe and Transformers lines of toys.

    The GI Joe story came from a disused Nick Fury script (with a few changes).

    The Transformers stories had to find a way to bridge several disparate toy lines from Japan that provided the Takara Diaclone and Micro Change molds Hasbro used to create the toys. The cartoon and the comic books were both developed as a means of promoting the toys, but the character details for both were canonized in Marvel’s TF Encyclopedia.

  20. Last night, I found issue #40 – the issue where Prime comes back (in digital form and believes that he has only ever been a character in a video game) AND the debut of The Pretenders (Transformers who cover themselves in synthetic skin but still look like evil monsters) – in a box in my attic. It is even more terrible than this one. For the reasons I just parenthetically enumerated.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the best part of any Transformers comic is the letter columns. From, “There’s still a story for the Targetmasters to be told, and it looks like Nebulos’ future won’t be decided for some time to come,” to, “Maybe if he [Grimlock] were to fire on a human, the other Autobots would realize what a jerk he is and impeach him.”

  21. I don’t much care for Transformers, but if “IMPEACH GRIMLOCK” were on a shirt, I would snicker at that shirt and then not buy it.

    That’s high praise coming from me.

  22. The Dreamwave comics had their high points. One fight had one transformer give the other the stunner and a ddt.

    Also, Beast Wars fandom sent a guy death threats. A lot of them. To the point where he won’t go to any conventions at all.

  23. Most of the comics were pretty awful, but the 1986 movie, the dubbed Japanese episodes (where the dubbers just invented names for some people at random), and most of the other names except Protectorbots are awesome.

  24. The GI Joe story came from a disused Nick Fury script (with a few changes).

    That… explains a lot.

    I wonder who wrote the Fury script. (I assume by this time that it was someone other than Steranko, Stan/Jack or Roy Thomas — the guys I associate with the title.)

    Be weird if it turned out to be Howard Chaykin. (Nah… no garter belts anywhere.)

  25. I just recently realized Sims is 10 years younger than me (he’s 26, I believe) so I’m really shocked he’s such a fan of G.I.Joe. I mean, he’s obviously not a “child of the 80s” so did he discover Joe through some old comics bins? Discount VHS copies? An older brother? (Please tell me it wasn’t a toy convention…)

    Anyway, Chris? As a verifiable “child of the 80s,” I can tell you it was tough to ONLY be a fan of Joe or ‘Formers. Every kid at school watched both G.I.Joe AND Transformers after school … as if the two were inseperably linked. However, there were definitely larger fans of one or the other. Now, the comics on the other hand? Whew. The Transformers comics never registered with us U.S. fans. But the Joe comics were “cool” and “realistic” and featured writing by Larry Hama.

    Anyway, I admit to liking both toons. But I was a much bigger fan of G.I.Joe. Over the years, the only animated Transformers I’ve continued to watch was the absolutely rad Transformers: The Movie (excellent on substances), yet I must have watched The M.A.S.S. Device, The Revenge of Cobra, The Pyramids of Darkness, The Rise of Serpentor, and The Games Master dozens of times.

  26. I wonder who wrote the Fury script.

    It was written by Larry Hama, who would go on to write almost every issue of GI Joe. It was his pitch that was just repackaged, with Hydra replaced by Cobra and so on.

    I often wonder if that’s why the GI Joe comics are actually, you know, good. As silly as they can be–and as much as they occasionally wander into ad copy territory with things like the Star Brigade–they were still created by a comics professional to be comics, instead of coming to them the other way around.

    Then again ROM was licensed based on the toy, but as there was only one figure that never actually had a story attached to him, Bill Mantlo ended up creating most of it from whole cloth anyway.

  27. Why? Why am I certain I actually have that somewhere?

    I don’t even LIKE the Transformers.

  28. Holy crap. I have this issue sitting in a basement somewhere (with the other Marvel Transformers) and forgot about it’s very existence until I saw this post.

    Thank you Chris, and thank you for reminding me as to why it’s still sitting in a long box in the basement.

  29. Meh. This issue wasn’t great, but I remember the good issues of Budiansky’s run outweighing the bad, my favorite being the mind-fucking “The Bridge to Nowhere” (insert your own cheap shot at Sarah Palin). And if you count all the cool stuff Simon Furman was doing with the title over in the UK, there are more than enough quality issues to make up for stuff like this.

    I’ve always like Transformers better than G.I. Joe, especially after Furman turned it into a space-faring opera with light religious themes. Whereas G.I. Joe always struck me as the funny book equivalent of a thriller you’d buy in the airport bookstore bearing Tom Clancy’s name, but not actually written by Tom Clancy. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Transformers always had bolder, more recognizable characters, while the Joes were pretty nondescript.

    Oh, and “Protectobots” is still a better name than “Snow Job”.

  30. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was today at work when I went through our Transformers selection and couldn’t find this issue.

  31. You know what the problem is with Transformers?

    The Autobots never DO anything.

    They just sit there, passively waiting for the Decepticons to do something to them.

    You’re at war. Kill the bastards! Don’t just chill, chatting with Sam about dinosaurs.

    Get your kill on, damn it.

  32. After watching season 1 of Transformers, I had to ask how a show that bad could launch a franchise. For some kids, it seemed to be enough that it had cars that turned into giant robots, though I was never one of them (at least until Transformers Animated).

    After watching the G.I. Joe season 1.1 set, I think that G.I. Joe is bad in a lot of the same ways as TF, but at least it seems to have more of a sense of humor about it all. I tend to laugh more at the bad jokes the Joes make (in the show and the comic) than at the humor in the TF world. In fact, I don’t detect that there really IS a lot of humor in the TF world.

    The first few mini-series for G.I. Joe also slip in enough little winks that make me think the writers (or writer – all 3 minis are credited to Ron Friedman) knew exactly how dumb it all was and just said, “Hell with it” and went totally gonzo stupid. Once Steve Gerber shows up to story-edit the daily series, I think it starts to pull the same trick as his run on Defenders in having characters in subversively ridiculous situations taking it all seriously.

    On a somewhat deeper level, I’ve also realized that G.I. Joe taps into the mythic image of what Americans want their military actions to be (“fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble” and “never gives up, stays ’till the fight’s won”). I think that’s always been something that resonated with me with G.I. Joe, even if the show never really lived up to it.

    Plus, G.I. Joe’s theme song kicks all kinds of ass over TF’s.

  33. Well, I’ve founda lot of things I liked as a child, in retrospect, were often Not Very Good. But, they are are still aesome, as they are part of my childhood psyche. So I’ll treasure my complete G.I. Joe and Transformers collections for everything they are and are not.

    And, if it weren’t for the Transformers comic, we wouldn’t have Transformers UK, which gave us Death’s Head, who in turn made Doctor Who a canon character in the Marvel Universe.

    Chris, we’ll always have Lion’s cover of the Transformers Theme.

  34. I don’t detect that there really IS a lot of humor in the TF world.

    I remember season two and three being full of great character moments. And to more or less restate my earlier point, the characters in TF always hd more, well, character that anybody in GI Joe (apart from Cobra Commander and Shipwreck), which made the humor more digestible. Plus the scripts for TF at least tried to get some ideas across (I still think the much maligned season 3 had some of the greatest concepts in an animated series). Plus you could forgive most of the soft-science plot devices in Transformers given the context of the series, whereas in GI Joe, it was just stupid.

    And don’t forget Beast Wars, which is probably the best animated series in the last three decades at least.

    G.I. Joe’s theme song kicks all kinds of ass over TF’s.

    Now that’s just ridiculous.

  35. [i]And don’t forget Beast Wars, which is probably the best animated series in the last three decades at least.[/i]

    Of…of Transformers cartoons? Or of American cartoons? Is Batman the Animated Series suddenly removed from our time-stream? Batman Beyond? Justice League/JLU? Help I’m lost and confused.

  36. I’m not sure if you expected me or not, but here I am, ready to smack you with a wet trout for even thinking of linking Transformers to Tarot!

    At any rate, I find myself having to retcon this issue in a number of spots to make it work in my head, so it’s not a good issue. It is my opinion that Bob Budiansky was just upset that Hasbro was making him kill off Optimus and Megatron, so he went for ideas that would allow him to showcase the personalities and beliefs of both characters, and “eliminate” them in a way that they could be brought back easily (unlike the cartoon).

    If you want a good Marvel-era Transformers story, I’d push you towards #7 & 8, where it’s up to Ratchet the medic to take down Megatron because everyone else is unavailable. And since Cornelius brought it up, I’m of the opposite opinion, and really dislike Furman’s “space/soap opera” approach, as well as a number of other things that I’m planning a whole series of article ranting on. (Especially his recent IDW run.)

    OK, I’m done now.

  37. If you’re a fan of gorillas with flight capability, Optimus Primal, the leader of the Maximals in the Transformers: Beast Wars series had a jet pack in his first incarnation and a flying surfboard (yes, really) in his Transmetal body.

  38. I appreciate your concern, guys, but my dislike of the Transformers isn’t because of a lack of familiarity. I’ve seen the movie and the show. I just don’t like ’em.

  39. Also, I’m Sims’s age and was a big Joe fan growing up, too (and the T-Formers to a lesser extent), so it’s not just children of the ’80s, although I got in to them in the ’80s. The show was on USA well in to elementary school, and the toys were readily available.

  40. The Transformers cartoons/comics are innocuously dumb and I lost interest the second I started growing hair down there. The recent movies are aggressively dumb and their continued success is endlessly depressing to me.

  41. I’ve been told that, but I don’t particularly care for Jeffery Brown.

    Basically what I’m saying is that I hate everything.

  42. “It is starting to sound a bit like an intervention in here, isn’t it?”

    He doesn’t understand what he’s doing the children! :)

    In all seriousness, it isn’t the best comic to judge with, and Transformers is my #1 “thing”. (#2: Dr. Who #3: Godzilla), so the fanboy in me has to rush to the defense. Will reading #7 & 8 change his mind? Probably not. Generation 2 (which I really don’t like) might not, either. But to paraphrase Capt. Picard, if it’s going to be damned it should be damned for what it really is.

    (Yes, I know William S. wrote it first, but I always hear that line in Patrick Stewart’s voice.)

  43. killing Optimus in the contemporary book never made sense to me because, you know, the events of the movie were 20 years in the future and Optimus still had to be alive by 2005. But anyway: killing Optimus enabled them to spend the next year or so on a protracted Autobot civil war, which in retrospect definitely had an Australia-era X-Men vibe to it, although at the time it seemed meandering. (Like: Sky Lynx and Berko in space? Why?)

  44. This comic made me quit reading Transformers as a kid. Ugh. Thanks for the reminder that Michael Bay wasn’t the first person to make the Transformers lame.

  45. “Tim O’Neil:you know, the events of the movie were 20 years in the future and Optimus still had to be alive by 2005”

    *Snort* duh…everyone knows that the comics and the cartoon were completely seperate continuities! This obvious because in one, Shia LeBoof is called Spike and wears a hard hat, whereas in the other, he’s called Buster and wears a pink shirt.*snort*

  46. Isn’t this the issue where Bruticus picks up a human and Megatron says “Careful, they’re slimy.” Classic!

    Seriously, though, it’s a book about cars that turn into robots and fight. What’s not to like?

  47. i get the feeling that without the coke-bottle glasses of childhood nostalgia that I view the Transformers through… I probably wouldn’t enjoy them either.

    as it stands though, my belt buckle has an autobot logo on one side, and a decepticon logo on the other. (it’s reversible)

  48. I love the new “Cool story, bro” posts! And I never was a fan of Transformers either. Picked up a couple issues and never picked it up again. G.I.Joe rocks though. Hama made all the difference.

  49. *Also: “robots from outer space that change into Earth trucks” (hey, that’s how I interpreted TF as a kid when it came out!) never seemed like a cool premise to me. If anybody can sum up this premise better, please correct me.

    @Chris – how high does “Batman: The Idiot Root” rank on your scale of awesome?

  50. Transformers is the only thing from my youth I can’t muster any nostalgia for. I love G.I. Joe, Rom, the Micronauts, etc. as much today as I did as a lad, but Tranformers? Nothing.

    The only exception is Circuit Breaker, the chick covered in electrical circuitry. That endeared her to my ten-year old self, even before she met the Beyonder, or fought Unicron.

  51. Oh come, sure, pick the easy one. :) (Though ‘Car Wash of Doom’ can probably be argued as goofier. Or maybe when Peter Parker showed up)

  52. as a kid, i thought issues 33 & 34 were pretty good. they were the only ones i ever bought!

    now i’m aware that they were reprints of the UK comic.

    and i still think they’re pretty good.

  53. The earlier issues in the comic series were actually not bad. Added a lot more depth and richness to the hollow toy-shilling concept.

    But man, of all the O.P. deaths, that one was the WORST.

  54. I agree 500% with this review. I was always a G.I. Joe cartoon/comic/toy fan, and couldn’t care less about Transformers. Though I can forgive the advertising/schilling throughout, since G.I. Joe did the same damn thing. But a talking semi fighting a talking gun, pretty much sums things up nicely. :)

  55. Oh, God, that image at the end! XD

    And “give the Decepticons a taste of their own lubricant”? Given what that was used as an equivalent for in the movie, ew.