In August 1986, Transformers: The Movie hit theaters. Marvel Comics produced a three-issue mini-series adaptation, although there was no way to fit this story into the American comic’s continuity, which didn’t feature a future timeline based on the movie. However, the British comic had already (prior to the movie’s release) featured “Target: 2006,” which introduced Galvatron and other elements from the movie. “Target: 2006″ relied upon the reader not knowing the movie’s plot; it used the revelation that Galvatron was a future version of Megatron as a plot point. Therefore, when incorporating the British series into the American one, the movie adaptation should be placed after “Target: 2006,” where it can have the effect of a stunning story revealing the full story of Galvatron’s creation and how his future came to pass. When Galvatron returned in 1987 (in “Fallen Angel”), stories felt comfortable revealing the movie’s full plot, presuming readers were familiar with this material. Placing the movie adaption between these two British stories thus actually improves them, revealing what’s hinted at in “Target: 2006″ and presumed by later stories. As for where the movie adaptation should be included, Simon Furman (writer of the British comic) would begin 1988, 1989, and 1990 with a storyline set in the future. Placing the three-issue adaptation of the movie at the beginning of 1987 thus achieves a certain symmetry.
Mirroring the movie, in which both Optimus Prime and Megatron were replaced as leaders, the American series did so in the present — although this apparently contradicted the movie’s continuity, in which both characters were active in 2005. Over a stunning series of four issues (U.S. #24-27), Optimus Prime was killed, Megatron was killed, Optimus Prime’s funeral was held, and Grimlock became the Autobots’ leader. American series writer Bob Budiansky has says that he chose Grimlock because it was such a shocking choice — which it certainly was. By the end of these four issues, everything had changed.
Simultaneously with these four issues, Marvel published G.I. Joe and the Transformers, a four-issue mini-series combining the two Hasbro properties for the first time. The mini-series wove in and out of these four historic issues of the American Transformers comic. Marvel’s G.I. Joe comic, written by Larry Hama, completely ignored the mini-series, but it was clearly part of the continuity of the Transformer’s comic; in the mini-series, Bumblebee was destroyed and rebuilt as Goldbug, which was otherwise unexplained in the American series.
Prior to these four historic issues of the American comic, the British series ran a series of stories that echoed their content. In these tales, both Optimus Prime and Megatron were thought dead — in a battle with the Predacons, no less, echoing Megatron’s death in the American issue #25. These British stories even briefly featured a memorial service for Optimus Prime, echoing his funeral in the American issue #26. But because these stories occur before those American issues, this echoing is very strange. One could call it foreshadowing, except that the similarities are so strong that these stories feel more like a trial run of ideas which would next unfold again — but “for real,” this time. Out of all of odd and interesting effects produced by the British stories running between American ones, this case is perhaps the most bizarre.
Taken together with the movie adaptation, this segment of the comic’s history sometimes feels relentlessly obsessed with killing Optimus Prime and Megatron. First, this occurs in 2005, in the movie adaptation. Next, this occurs in the present in the British series — although it’s only a fake-out, and both characters return as leaders. Next, these same two leaders are killed for real. It’s bizarre, but this is how the story unfolds — and none of these stories can be moved or removed, without other stories suffering. It’s best to embrace this bizarre effect for what it’s worth. Of course, these three deaths of Optimus Prime and Megatron would begin a pattern; both characters would be go on to be resurrected and killed multiple additional times, as if this had become quintessential aspects of these characters.
Chronologically, the next story after the present-day, for-real deaths of Optimus Prime and Megatron was a British one focusing on Galvatron, who was left in the present in the previous batch of original British tales. That same batch of British stories had also moved the present-day Ultra Magnus from Cybertron to Earth. Now, the two fought, with various future characters (including Rodimus Prime and Death’s Head) also opposing Galvatron. The story culminated in a story printed in 1987′s Transformers Annual 1988, in which both Ultra Magnus and Galvatron fell into a volcano and were left for dead. It was the first extended storyline focused on the movie’s characters since “Target: 2006.”
During this storyline, Death’s Head blew up Bumblebee, who was rebuilt by Wreck-Gar as Goldbug. Of course, Bumblebee had already become Goldbug in G.I. Joe and the Transformers. But the U.K. series decided not to reprint that mini-series, leaving writer Simon Furman to incorporate the change to Goldbug in his stories. Of course, those stories were written for a British audience, and no one thought any of this material would be remembered and reprinted decades hence, let alone that these British stories would be hungrily imported by American fans. Today, however, the dual destructions and rebuildings of Bumblebee stands as one of the weirdest continuity errors, produced by merging the American and British material, as well as another odd echo in the combined story, like the multiple deaths of Optimus Prime and Megatron. Ironically, in its final issues, the British series, desperate for free content, would wind up reprinting G.I. Joe and the Transformers anyway.
As the U.S. series continued, writer Bob Budiansky embarked upon one of his most celebrated and longest storylines. One issue after Grimlock became the Autobots’ leader, Blaster and Goldbug left the Autobots, dissatisfied with Grimlock’s rule. It was a remarkable storyline, above all because it alienated readers from the Autobots. In a series defined by the struggle between a team of good guys and a team of bad guys, Budiansky was complicating matters, suggesting that even the “good guys” could elect a leader who made them ethically insupportable. Budiansky may simply have been thinking that this was an interesting development for readers, or that the emphasis on a few characters would help alleviate some of the problems inherent in the comic’s huge and ever-expanding ensemble cast. But intended or not, the storyline was a brilliant metaphor for the rise of totalitarianism, the need to be vigilant that our patriotism never overwhelm our values, and the importance of identifying with marginalized figures — even those considered to be traitors.
As part of this storyline, a two-part story (U.S. #29-30) introduced the Scraplets, a mechanical virus that menaced the mechanical Transformers race. This and the following issue introduced Ratbat as a Decepticon leader, another turn designed to surprise readers, given that Ratbat was a cassette, one of the cheapest Decepticon toys. Despite this, Budiansky gave Ratbat a memorably evil personality.
The next batch of U.K. stories focused on Megatron (“Ancient Relics”), Rodimus Prime and the future timeline (“Head Hunt”), a feud between the Dinobot Swoop and the Predacon Divebomb (“Grudge Match”), and the volcano in which Ultra Magnus and Galvatron were buried (“Ladies Night”).
The next three U.S. issues (#32 and #35-36) returned to the Blaster and Goldbug plot, the two having been joined by the Throttlebots (in U.S. #30). (Issues #33-34 reprinted the first original U.K. story, “Man of Iron,” because the U.S. series was running late, in part due to Budiansky scripting the Transformers: Headmasters mini-series, addressed here with 1988′s Transformers comics.) In these issues, Grimlock dispatched the Protectobots to reclaim the traitors, although the Protectobots wound up disobeying orders and freeing Blaster. For their part, Goldbug and the Throttlebots were captured by the U.S. government (in issue #32), thereby separating them from Blaster (and the traitor storyline). Issue #36 took place in space, foreshadowing a shift towards space-centric stories in the U.S. series. The issue introduced Sky Lynx and concluded the Blaster portion of the traitor storyline with a cliffhanger, as Blaster surrendered himself to the increasingly amoral Grimlock.
1987 ended with “Stargazing” (U.K. #145), the British series’s third Christmas story. It focused on Starscream, but it also featured Streetwise, a Protectobot — thereby suggesting that the Protectobots hadn’t returned to Grimlock, following the events of the previous U.S. stories, and weren’t among the Autobots Grimlock took into space to pursue Blaster.
What happened to Goldbug and the Throttlebots would have to wait until the next U.S. issue, which would effectively serve as an epilogue to the traitor storyline as well as a prologue to the Headmasters essentially taking over the U.S. series.