Optimus Prime Vs Megatron!

This is the big one! It’s the first issue of Transformers to feature the two leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, on the cover as it’s their first big fight inside!

But remember, Megatron isn’t available in the UK yet, so I don’t know how you’re going to recreate that on your bedroom floor. Maybe you have a family member visiting North American this side of Christmas to get one for you. It’ll be fine. 35 years ago, you could probably take Megatron on a plane with very little fuss.

I say it’s the big one but really we’re just 4 issues in. Sorry. I’ll calm it down.

A new Machine Man story starts inside!

This issue’s cover is actually a reuse of the cover of the second issue of the American Transformers comic. The artist goes uncredited here (to be fair, the British editorial team may not have even known) but according to the TFWiki, it’s Michael Golden.

Even if you’re not that familiar with comics, you can plainly see that the style of this issue’s cover is a lot different… it’s got that “Marvel” look to it, and the mechanical colouring is not as sophisticated as the painted covers from the first three (British) issues.

Megatron is pretty much portrayed in his final character model here. Though the head looks like it may have been redrawn or modified. I don’t know. His neck seems to have retreated too far into his chest anyhow.

Interestingly, the cover to the first American Transformers comic was painted (by Bill Sienkiewicz), but never used for the British edition. They didn’t even use it as a poster or centre page spread. Shame, really.

Openers

This issue’s Openers features the comic’s second character profile. This time it’s Gears, a proud anti-social misfit. I like him already.

Readers’ letters are coming in. There’s one little kid who’s lucky to have an auntie who buys their comic for them, and another who really isn’t keen on Machine Man. Same here. I mean about Machine Man, not that I have an auntie who buys me comics.

If you get your letter published, you get £5 in return. That’s pretty generous for 1984. Enough for a couple of Mini Autobots (at the then RRP of £2.49). I’d have gone for that yellow Cliffjumper they showed in last issue’s competition and waited for eBay to be invented so I could make a tonne of money. All for a letter to a children’s comic. Foolproof.

Power Play, Part 2

Transformers 4 reprints the second half of Marvel (US)’s second Transformers comic story “Power Play”. Again, partly in black and white. The character models are looking less like the toys and more like the model sheets used for the animated television adverts. You can tell it’s the advert models, and not the cartoon proper, by Megatron’s helmet shape. And there is something quite peculiar about the livery on Optimus Prime’s trailer…

Eagled eyed readers will notice a blocked out part halfway through the stripe on Optimus’s trailer. (For example, look closely look at panel 6 on the lefthand page above.) A look at the original artwork will reveal why!

Original artwork page from Transformers (US) 2! From the collection of P Ference.

You can see that the word “DIACLONE” has been blanked out prior to publication! It seems that the artist, Frank Springer, was making use of the Diaclone versions of the “Transformers” toys as reference. It gives a good indication as to how far ahead production by Marvel et al was at that point to make sure everything was ready for the initial launch of the toy line.

“Power Play” ends on a remarkably desolate note: Sparkplug is abducted by the Decepticons and the Autobots are too fuel-starved to do anything about it. I think it is this cliffhanger ending that really provides the ignition of the series. “The Transformers” was the history lesson, but this second chapter gets to the heart of the concept and gives a compelling story that hooks readers.

I always like to think of that first mini-series (4 issues in the US, 8 issues here in the UK) as if it were a live-action Transformers movie. And if so, the cliffhanger to “Power Play” would make an excellent midpoint for the movie where the plot turns on its axis and everything ramps up.

There are a few nice touches of character: Mirage’s longing to return home is so strong that he even tries to reason with a Decepticon, the two Autobot “brothers” Sunstreaker and Sideswipe actually relish battle, and Starscream wastes no time in undermining Megatron at every opportunity.

“Power Play”, I think, actually works better as an introductory story than “The Transformers” did! It hits the ground running, it paints its characters and its plot well, and it provides enough exposition to keep new readers informed. “Power Play”, to me, is the real start of the Transformers’ story on Earth.

The centre spread this issue again features two stills from the Transformers animated television advert. Soundwave is a nice sort of lilac colour. This could maybe explain his purple colour scheme in the Marvel comics.

Where walk the gods

The remainder of Transformers 4 consists of Machine Man. Clocking in at 10 pages this issue, it’s no wonder readers like Malcolm wrote in to complain. 10 pages. It’s a bit much.

Transformers 4 takes us into November of 1984 and for most kids, Christmas will be on the horizon. Hopefully a lot of them will be asking for Transformers: Autobots if they were good, and Decepticons if they were bad.

Personally, if it meant getting Decepticons, I would have been very bad indeed.

I think by now that the comic has done a pretty good job at introducing the first year’s range of characters/toys to kids and parents through its stories, adverts, competitions and fact files. And it’s deftly managed expectations where it comes to Megatron’s availability in the UK. That is, don’t expect one!

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.

— Graham (@grhmthmsn)

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The sting in the tale!

Three issues in and Marvel UK’s Transformers comic is settling in nicely. It’s been a month (and 35 years!) since the first issue and, while the format has been consistent, the comic/magazine is being subtly refined as it goes.

Bumblebee, friend or foe?

Jerry Paris returns as this issue’s cover artist with a painting of Buster and Sparkplug Witwicky’s first meeting with an Autobot: Bumblebee. The cover blurb, like the previous issues, is still all about the “alien invaders” angle… asking whether Bumblebee is a friend or a foe. You know he’s a friend, I know he’s a friend. But I suppose a first-time reader (or parent/family member seeing the comic in the newsagents) might be wondering.

Speaking of Bumblebee, his entire back side isn’t really based on the toy or character model (not that Jerry would have had access to it at that point) and it’s rendered like a best guess. Still it adds to the sinister and mysterious nature of the cover, which is what the comic seems to be going for during these early stages. It is, in fact, the first cover that depicts the story inside.

Also, and this is a spoiler, there is no “sting in the tale”… Bumblebee is a good guy and will not kill either Buster or his dad. (Though “heroic” Autobot Jazz will shoot at Sparkplug and cause him to have a heart attack, but that’s for another time!)

This issue’s free gift is an iron-on transfer. When I got this issue second-hand back in the 1990s it didn’t come with it, so I’m still on the look out for one. I don’t want to iron it onto anything, I just want that unhealthy sense of completion.

Openers

This issue’s Openers is very much a Transformers time capsule. (See also: the theme of this blog.) In the little blue “WOT, NO MEGATRON?” box, the comic’s editorial explains that a toy shop in Leeds (and by extensions the rest of them up and down the country) is indeed correct that Megatron is not part of the UK’s Transformers range. The good news is that Megatron *may* be available next year. We’ll keep our (trigger) fingers crossed.

This issue features the comic’s first fact file… on Hound! It’s only a very brief introduction to the character. Over the coming issues and years, this feature will evolve into “Fact File Interface” and then “Transformers AtoZ”. I loved those profiles, and I cut them out of the comic and filed them away in a ring binder. I wish now that I hadn’t.

And… aha!… one reader spotted the loss of full colour in issue 2 and wrote in to tell the editor about it. I knew someone would have noticed.

Power Play, Part 1

Transformers 3 reprints the first half of Marvel (US)’s second Transformers comic story “Power Play”. Again, partly in black and white.

Jim Salicrup takes over script writing duties for “Power Play” and gives a more grounded plot than “The Transformers”. It’s less epic, but no less dramatic. The set up is simple. Much like humans stranded on a desert island, the Autobots and Decepticons now stranded on Earth are looking for the two most important things for survival: food (well, fuel) and shelter. The more straightforward plot leaves plenty of space to get to know the cast a little better.

Each Autobot and Decepticon gets their moment, and here it’s done a little less clumsily. It also looks like the character model sheets have been finalised as artist Frank Springer has a much, much better grasp of what everyone’s supposed to look like now.

The differences between Autobot and Decepticon are nicely highlighted in their approach to getting the fuel they need. Needless to say, the ‘Cons are looking to just take what they want. Saying that, things aren’t quite as black and white; Mirage, of the Autobots, stands out as a dissenting voice.

Win a mini vehicle

This issue’s competition is to win one of 100 mini vehicles… including a yellow Cliffjumper! As with previous competitions, readers get to know the characters a bit better. In a nice tie in with the lead story, Bumblebee is described as being “in trouble” this issue. I wonder if anyone did actually win a yellow Cliffjumper (or a red Bumblebee for that matter). The mini vehicles are noted as costing £2.50 in the shops. That’s about £10 today.

The centre spread this issue features two stills from the Transformers animated television advert. If you follow the canon of the Centre Spread Universe (CSU), Jazz and Prowl are actually Decepticons. Update your fanfics accordingly.

Only the heroic Autobots can save Earth!

Transformers 3 features the second full page advert for Hasbro UK. This time its for the heroic Autobots… and it names each character! Let’s see: Sideswipe (he’s pretty smart, I want him), Ratchet (unusual robot mode, yes please), Hound (looks detailed, add him to the list), Mirage (slick as, definite yes), Bluestreak (another smart looking one, so go on then), and Jazz (aww yeah, the James Bond-like guy; definitely want that one!).

This is where it becomes clear that the UK range of Transformers is a lot smaller than the rest of the world. Just six “deluxe” Autobots? Yep, I’m afraid so. But also, it makes the range a bit more affordable. Eagle-eyed super fans like me noticed that the six Autobots in the advert are the same six as on the Hasbro UK 1984 catalogue. And, look! There’s that yellow Cliffjumper again!!

I also noticed that Jazz, Hound and Mirage were the cover stars of last issue so, like issue 1 as well, Marvel UK are making sure to promote the characters/toys that Hasbro UK are actually selling.

If I had been reading Transformers since the beginning I think I would have been about 50:50 on continuing with the comic after the first two issues. But this third issue feels and reads a lot more coherently and it’s shifting more towards being a bona fide Transformers comic than a general robot magazine that features them. I am confident that 7 year old me, having finished this issue, would have been hooked by now and tidying my bedroom before asking my parents for a subscription!

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.

— Graham (@grhmthmsn)

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The metal invasion has begun!

It’s been a fortnight (well, a fortnight and 35 years) since the first issue of the Marvel UK Transformers comic was published. In that time, children up and down the country have been showing their new favourite comic to friends and family telling them how good it is and making sure they’ve got 25p kept aside in a secure place for issue 2. I mean, I’m guessing.

The second issue of Transformers is pretty much more of the same but with one distinction: half of it is now in black and white instead of full-colour! I’m sure a lot of kids (and more likely their parents or grandparents) are somewhat peeved. No matter, there’s a free gift inside and a chance to win a Decepticon plane.

The robots have landed!

The cover, painted by John Ridgway, to issue 2 is quite the contrast to the first issue… it’s not at all violent but instead evokes a kind of sinister, almost War of the Worlds like, quality: aliens emerging from a vessel from outer spaaace.

As with last issue, the designs are based directly on the toys. There’s Jazz, Hound, and Mirage, with Huffer and Brawn in the background. The cover blurb refers to them as robots (who have landed) and that the metal invasion has indeed begun. But these are the “heroic” Autobots so I’m getting some mixed messages here.

The Autobots seem to have landed right in the middle of a Famous Five-esque caper and we have two young boys hiding behind an extremely phallic rock formation (get your hand off that, Dick!!)* while a little girl is more interested in her doll than the five heavily armed alien robots.

(*That’s a clever little Famous Five reference for you there.)

Openers

Among the various robot-themed editorial in this issue’s “Openers” spread is an advert for a transforming Robot Watch. This is in fact a knock off of an actual Takara product, from their Kronoform line. I think most of my friends at school had one of these. I had one, too. Mine was blue and I pretended it was Frenzy. (Similarly I had one of the pencil sharpeners that inadvertently looked like K-9 from Doctor Who, which I pretended was Ravage.)

And the *same* Space Olympics book give-away that was featured last issue is included again. The Marvel UK offices must have been full of them!

The Transformers, Part 2

Transformers 2 reprints the rest of Marvel (US)’s first Transformers comic story “The Transformers” in part black and white, and with two of its pages repurposed into a centre-spread wall chart.

I am a fan of black and white comic strips and while younger me would probably have been disappointed by the lack of colour, I can appreciate it here. It’s subtle but the inking is heavier on Skywarp, distinguishing him from Starscream and Thundercracker. Frenzy and Rumble are, well, colourless and neither red nor blue.

The entire (current) Decepticon cast is given a lengthy roll call and, at last, readers now know who’s who. There is supposed to be a similar spread for the Autobots but that has been removed from the comic story and moved to the centre pages as a full colour wall chart. It’s been replaced with, “Their exit does not go unnoticed… the Autobots, too, have risen”. Though I’m pretty sure any intelligent reader will realise that the wall chart should be slotted between those pages! 

Win your own Decepticon plane

To provide balance to last issue’s competition to win Jazz, this issue has one to win one of the Decepticon planes… Starscream, Thundercracker or Skywarp. It looks like Thundercracker who is pictured but it’s actually the blue Diaclone “Jetrobo”.

The competition closed on Friday 19th October 1984, so you’ve just missed your chance I’m afraid.

As with last issue, Transformers continues to be a general robot magazine (outside of the main comic strip story and competition) and features a second “Robot Roundup” article, and a Doctor Who article about the robots that have appeared in the television series.

Readers are probably wondering at this point if there will ever be a Transformers television series. A Thunderbirds style show using detailed models of the characters along with cool pyrotechnics and special effects, perhaps?

All robots now accounted for

While the first issue only actually named six of the first year’s worth of Transformers toys/character, readers (and potential Hasbro customers) now know the entire cast by the time they’ve read issue 2.

Sure, the second part of “The Transformers” lays the character naming on thick but any reader getting into Transformers for the first time would certainly find it essential. I know I would have done.

This issue’s free gift: a second set of ACTION TRANSFERS

I’m embarrassed to admit this but I thought Wheeljack was Jazz for nearly a year! My next door neighbour gave me Wheeljack (with no packaging or weapons) in exchange for some Matchbox cars in early 1985. My knowledge of Transformers was very limited at that point and I just figured that the “white racing car with numbers on it” was Jazz. It wasn’t until the end of that year when a schoolmate came to visit with Mirage in tow, and saw the “Jazz” I said I had, that I was joylessly corrected. (Kinda like some of the interactions I have on Twitter.)

Thank goodness that in the intervening 35 years we now have things like the TFWiki to help use recognise our Jazzes from our Wheeljacks!

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.

— Graham (@grhmthmsn)

Please help support this blog! If you enjoyed reading please consider buying a virtual coffee for the writer! Thank you!

Robot invaders have arrived!

Each and every issue of the Marvel UK Transformers comic is like its own time capsule. Like a lot of British comics, Transformers was almost as much a magazine as a comic book. In addition to the actual comic stories it published, it also ran comprehensive editorial, features, profiles, competitions and letters pages that, in retrospect, gave a good indication of what was happening in the UK in terms of which Transformers toys were available and when. Essentially, it was the ultimate all-in-one action/adventure companion to burgeoning British Transformers collectors.

Being one such Transformers collector, I came to rely on the comic as a weekly guide. Growing up, my overall Transformers experience was a wonderful, heady after-school combination of the stories in the comics, the few toys I had, and my own imagination. Even now, I find it nearly impossible to separate the comic from the toys… Transformers were and still are, to me, epic heroes and villains in die cast and plastic form. And pretty cool toys in their own right!

Today marks the 35th anniversary of that very first issue of the Marvel UK Transformers comic and I wanted to celebrate such a momentous occasion with an all-new project, simply titled Time Capsule 35, as a way of looking back 35 years in real time and reminding myself of the fun I had reading the comic and playing with the toys as a kid. Opening up each issue really is like opening up a time capsule. I hope that these quick and regular visits to the past will build into a complete story of what it was like to be a UK-based Transformers collector. (You can read an overview of my personal connection to the comic, in the About Section!)

Let’s get started!

Robot invaders!

Looking back at the first issue of a long-running and popular comic book is almost like watching the pilot episode of a television series. It’s tentative, not yet fully formed or even polished, but the spark is there. It’s an invitation to an event and you have no idea who might turn up, if anyone at all.

The cover alone positions Transformers as a violent, science-fiction war epic. The blurb speaks of “evil machines from another world” who want our planet and the fight begins inside. 

The artwork, a painting by Jerry Paris, is vicious and brutal with streams of energy arcing across and off the page as two robots battle above the planet. Poor Optimus Prime! Having two robots with face plates instead of mouths makes the image all the more sinister. 

There are two interesting things to note: both Optimus and Soundwave (and Buzzsaw) are based on their toys, and Megatron is nowhere to be seen. At this point, the creative team only had access to the Transformers toys themselves as reference (animation model sheets weren’t yet available) hence the very “toy-ish” look to the characters (which we’ll see a lot of in these early issues). As for the absence of Megatron? Well it’s a widely held belief that Megatron wasn’t released in the UK at the time of the toy range’s launch in 1984. This is backed up by the pack-in catalogue that came with the toys and editorial in a later issue of comic itself stating so. (More on all that soon!)

There’s a lot of text here and it does cover up a lot of Jerry’s artwork. It won’t be until the Complete Works is released that readers will see it in all its glory. The comic’s title almost exactly matches the toy packaging… at least for the Autobots. It’s the same logo, with the same solid black background. The tagline is “Warrior robots in disguise”, which appears to be unique to Hasbro UK’s marketing strategy to play up on the war-like nature of these robots. It’s like they’re saying to the kids, “these guys hate each other and fight a lot… that’s why you need to buy more of ‘em!”

Openers

Open up the first issue of Transformers and it stops being a Transformers comic and becomes a very general robot-based science fiction magazine. It even has a text book like quality to it, with features on robotics and robot-y advancements. There’s also competitions for robot-based books and games and even a thing that’ll help you organise your homework. So yeah, robots.

The Transformers

Among all of these features, the magazine (I’m calling it a magazine now) does reprint the first 11 pages of Marvel (US)’s first Transformers comic story “The Transformers” in full colour (with a few spelling changes from American English to British English). I will review that story in its entirely in due course.

It also reprints another Marvel US comic, Machine Man. For two reasons: it’s kiiiiind of a robot thing, and, money. 

Marvel UK wouldn’t publish a comic if it didn’t make money. And a first issue (and the rest of the early issues) are a huge gamble so savings have to be made wherever possible. Reprinting other Marvel comics make for big savings. 

The Jerry Paris cover probably ate up most of this first issue’s budget, but it is the most important investment for a comic… that cover is the first impression any potential reader is going to have and it needs to stand out on the newsagent’s magazine racks!

Reprinting two halves of an American comic per issue is a good strategy for a fortnightly British comic. In fact, it could coast along for years in such a manner. However, the editorial team had loftier aspirations than publishing just reprints so all this money saving means that original content will soon be on its way as we’ll see in the coming months!

Win Jazz

As much as Transformers issue 1 feels like a very general robot-based magazine, it does include a competition to win Jazz, one of the Autobots. Outside of the comic reprint, this is the first Transformer readers meet! He’s very much described as the James Bond of the Autobots. I want one!

A few pages later there’s a full page advert from Hasbro UK featuring the NEW Transformers. Oddly, none of the Transformers it features are named but we do know that the Autobots are “terrific” and the Decepticons are “terrifying”! 

There is also a still from the television advert used as a poster, alongside a rendition of the street that Sparkplug Witwicky’s garage is on (spoiler alert… he hasn’t been introduced yet!). You’ll notice that the previous owner of this particular copy saw fit to apply the free gift action transfers here!

Although the subscription coupon makes light of the Marvel UK’s accountant’s apparent heart condition it offers a year’s worth of Transformers for £8 when buying 26 issues from the newsagent at 25p each will cost only £6.50. But you do get a glossy wall poster (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen…) and first class delivery.

Warrior robots in disguise

In terms of being used to advertise and make readers aware of the Transformers characters and toys, this first issue is quite useless. 32 pages later and the reader comes away knowing the names of just a handful… Megatron, Ravage, Optimus Prime, Prowl from the comic reprint, and Jazz from the competition. And even though Soundwave (and Buzzsaw) are on the cover, they aren’t name-checked anywhere!

All we know at this point is that new Transformers are now in shops. Maybe a red sports car one… a yellow VW bug… a blue jet… a red cassette tape. Go find ‘em, kids! With this comic’s launch in September (perfect for all the kids going back to school and asking each other what they did during the holidays) I would guess that the Transformers range launched in the UK sometime over the summer of 1984. Kids often get bought toys over the school holiday, so it would have been an ideal time.

I wasn’t around to see the launch of the Transformers toy range, or indeed the Marvel UK comic. I was still living in Germany by 1984 and wouldn’t yet be living in the UK until Christmas (when I would receive my first Transformers toy).

I can imagine the initial reception to this first issue of Transformers being lukewarm. It’s a kind of confusing package. The comic story itself is more of a history lesson than an introduction to the characters (which won’t come until issue 2, ironically!) and the rest of the magazine is too generic to be all that exciting.

(And do remember that the Transformers cartoon won’t yet be shown in the UK until summer 1985! In fact, this first issue of Marvel UK’s Transformers comic was released just a few days after the first episode of the cartoon aired in America.)

The toys themselves are another story! I can imagine, in September 1984, playgrounds up and down the country filled with lucky kids showing off these amazing new toys they got over the summer to their friends, and then their friends in turn begging their parents for a Transformer when they got home. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth, especially when it’s an awesome fighter jet or sleek sports car that can change into a robot with weapons right in front of you!

The Best Pals Club

Oh! I couldn’t write about the first Marvel UK Transformers comic without mentioning the back page advert for The Best Pals Club. Had I been allowed a dog when I was a kid I would have joined this in a heartbeat. Look at it. Dog horoscopes and everything.

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.

— Graham (@grhmthmsn)

Please help support this blog! If you enjoyed reading please consider buying a virtual coffee for the writer! Thank you!