When the Good Guys Deserted:

On the Blaster Saga, Part 4

Continued from yesterday.

Issue #36 (Jan 1988) doesn’t only mark the conclusion (such as it was) of the Blaster saga. It also marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Optimus Prime — a year that had (perhaps surprisingly, given Optimus Prime’s central role in the series) been tremendously successful, creatively, for the title. It was also the first issue penciled by José Delbo, who would become the title’s regular penciler. Budiansky remained as writer, while Akin and Garvey remained as inkers through the next issue.

The first page of Transformers #36One of the hallmarks of Budiansky’s run on the title was odd, often delightful jumps between issues. While this would sometimes drop a set of characters or a plotline, these sorts of dislocations could also be fascinating, generating a sense in readers that they had no idea what to expect next, nor even who would star in the next story. This kind of dislocation is on display in issue #36, which begins “several hours, Earth time, before the end of last issue’s story” and focuses on Sky Lynx, a previously unseen Autobot who transformed into a space shuttle. Flashbacks show us that Wheeljack called Cybertron to summon Sky Lynx. As Sky Lynx approaches Earth, he sees the Ark taking off.

In the previous issue, we saw that Wheeljack was questioning Grimlock’s leadership. It now appears that he took action — by calling Sky Lynx. He might not have deserted, but he’s the first of the other Autobots to make a choice and to disobey the Autobot leader.

That leader’s character doesn’t improve here. On the first page featuring Grimlock, he strangles Wheeljack, simply for not finding Blaster’s ship fast enough.

On Blast Off, the Decepticon space shuttle piloted by Blaster, we again see the kids from the previous issue playing and celebrating their weightlessness — essentially an extended scene from the previous issue. We then catch up to that issue’s ending, replaying it.

On the one hand, this leap backwards in time is a way of inserting Sky Lynx retroactively into the story. On the other, it’s a pretty sophisticated technique for a comic that’s too often dismissed as a toy catalog in panel form.

Blast Off can’t outrun the Ark, and Blaster can’t risk injuring the children, so Blaster intends to surrender. But Sammy, eager to repay Blaster for helping him and the other three kids, takes it upon himself to throw Blaster through an airlock. When the Ark swallows up the Decepticon, Wheeljack and the others — who were surprised to find Blaster apparently working with the Decepticon Blast Off — are surprised to discover that only four human children are inside.

There are a few errors in this sequence. It’s not clear how Sammy and the other kids didn’t suffer from decompression, when he throws Blaster from the ship. Then, as Blaster goes sailing out into space, the artists make the mistake of illustrating Blaster arcing away from Sky Lynx, not from Blast Off. It’s an easy mistake, when dealing with toys, especially when both are space shuttles.

from Transformers #36Then, when the Autobots have Blast Off inside the Ark, the Decepticon space shuttle is depicted as about the size of a regular Transformer in robot mode — despite that the Decepticon’s space shuttle form is clearly supposed to be much bigger. These kinds of errors of size were incredibly common, and they’re a side effect of the fact that the toys didn’t retain any consistent scale. For example, Blaster, Soundwave, and the cassette tapes were obviously very small in their alternate forms, yet were usually drawn much larger (and to scale with one another) in robot mode. Blast Off represents an example of the opposite problem, in which a Transformer’s alternate form was very large. When he’s on the Ark, he’s drawn about the size of his toy, but a space shuttle is an order of magnitude larger — and larger than the other Combaticons’ vehicle modes. Transformers are clearly able to inhabit Blast Off, when he’s in the form of a space shuttle. (This is shown in a key scene in Transformers: The Movie, but it’s implicit in this comic too, given that the humans float inside the space shuttle as if it’s a normal space shuttle in size.) If we took Blast Off’s small size, when in the Ark, literally, the children would have somehow shrunk. Scale would remain a problem for Transformers stories, although it’s generally become less egregious in recent years. (Michael Bay, in particular, was keen to keep the scale constant, and although his Transformers movies do change characters’ scales, they do so to a lesser extent and avoid making it as obvious a problem as it is in this issue of the comic.)

Adrift in space, Blaster thinks about how humans are “more trouble than they’re worth!” — another instance of his characterization as a warrior with a less than rosy view of his own humanitarian values. Blaster’s luckily — though rather improbably — able to steer himself toward a communication satellite and commandeer it, using its “stabilizing rockets” to steer it. Amusingly, we see a family in New Jersey lose their television signal, unaware that this is the consequence of living alien machines battling in orbit.

Back on the Ark, we’re treated to Wheeljack escorting the kids around. We haven’t seen the sprawling, alien interior of the Ark like this since the early issues, and it’s nice to see it again, especially through these children’s eyes. There’s also a nice bit of humor, when Wheeljack uses a machine to outfit the children with spacesuits, then indulges Daisy — the female child — but outfitting her teddy bear in a spacesuit too. A teddy bear in a spacesuit is a neat idea, and the charm of it helps to make up for some of the issue’s deficits.

This prosaic sequence is cut short, however, when the children are summoned to Grimlock. Wheeljack is clearly concerned, although he doesn’t let on, for the children’s benefit. Grimlock is just as block-headed, or even evil, as we would expect him to be. Seated on an elaborate, technological throne, he says scornfully that the children aren’t just humans but “not even full-size humans! They no deserve court trail!” When the children refuse to give Grimlock information about Blaster’s location, the tyrannical Autobot leader sentences the children to death for helping a traitor and orders the sentence to “be carried out immediately!” Wheeljack stands silent, and the other Autobots look aghast.

from Transformers #36But Grimlock’s not as dumb as he may seem. He quickly reveals to one of his Dinobot comrades that he has no intention of killing the children but knows Blaster will try to save them.

It’s all very dramatically done, but just as dramatic is what follows: Grimlock, sword in hand, forces the frightened children to walk the plank. In space. Although hardly unique, it’s another cool visual idea — one used on the issue’s cover.

from Transformers #36Before Blaster can arrive on his communications satellite, however, Sky Lynx rescues the kids — having been radioed to do so by Wheeljack. For his part, Blaster makes it to the back of the Ark, where he lands… only apparently to be incinerated by the Ark’s rockets, as Grimlock’s apparently ordered the ship to pursue Sky Lynx.

Sky Lynx flies into “a meteor shower” — which is depicted more like how sci-fi wrongly depicts asteroid belts as densely packed. With the Ark unable to pursue, Grimlock leads the Dinobots after Sky Lynx, who leaps from “meteor” to “meteor” until the Dinobots surround him. Again, Grimlock’s not as dumb as he seems: he knows the children have a limited air supply, and he’s trying to force Blaster’s hand.

On board the Ark, Blaster, having survived the ship’s thrusters, climbs inside. The other Autobots are only too eager to abandon Grimlock and follow Blaster instead. It may seem as if they’ve been reading Blaster’s exploits the same way we have, but it’s a demonstration of how authoritarian the Autobots can be. Dissatisfaction with Grimlock is obviously at profound levels, but the Autobots apparently need another candidate for a leader to rally behind before they can take action.

from Transformers #36But like a good Autobot leader, Blaster’s more focused on the danger to the children. He wants to solve that before discussing leadership. And when he sees that Grimlock’s got the children and Sky Lynx surrounded, Blaster dismisses any attack upon the Dinobots as too dangerous for the humans. Instead, he insists upon surrendering — the only way he knows “to guarantee their safety.”

And that’s, really, how the Blaster saga ends. With another twist, another cliffhanger.

Before addressing issue #37, it’s worth mentioning that the previous two issues had a denouement of sorts that was exclusive to the British Transformers comic. Actually, the British comic ran several new stories between the U.S. issues that comprised the Blaster storyline, but those new British tales had their own plots and didn’t connect to the Blaster / Goldbug one. However, the reprint of American issues #35-36 was followed by a single-issue story, in U.K. issue #125 (26 Dec 1987) that did connect to the American stories.

It so happened that this was that year’s Christmas issue, and the British series (like many British comics at the time) had a tradition of Christmas stories. This one — scripted by Ian Rimmer from a plot by Simon Furman, penciled by Jeff Anderson, and inked by Stephen Baskerville — focused on Starscream. In the American series, Starscream was offline at the time, but in the British series he had recently been revived. In the story, he pines for Cybertron, his revival having given him a new perspective on his petty desire for killing Autobots and gaining Decepticon leadership. That itself may be seen as an interesting commentary, intended or not, on Grimlock’s petty dictatorship. To his annoyance, Starscream meets a human and uncharacteristically agrees to fly him around, so that the human can show him the meaning of Christmas. When the human orders Starscream to land and help a bus of elderly humans who are stuck in a snowbank, an Autobot interferes, naturally assuming Starscream is a threat.

It’s here that the story intersects with the Blaster saga, because that Autobot is Streetwise, a Protectobot. Streetwise and Starscream fight for a couple pages, endangering the bus. Their battle is stopped by the human, who chastises Streetwise for making assumptions that endangered people. Starscream, who previously seemed confused as to why anyone would help the humans in the bus, now frees them from the snowdrift — apparently just to spite Streetwise. Streetwise lets Starscream go and escorts the bus, while Starscream hangs out with his human companion… before finally conceding and saying “Merry Christmas” before he leaves.

from Transformers (U.K.) #145It’s not a great story by any means, but as a denouement to the Blaster saga, it does reflect some of the themes of that saga — and not only through Starscream looking beyond the desire for leadership. That Streetwise is able to look beyond the Autobot-Decepticon conflict underlines how that conflict’s really secondary to the Blaster storyline, in which the main conflict is between Autobots and about Autobot values. Despite his status as a Protectobot, Streetwise’s great failing in the story is his failure to protect the humans on the bus — and this reflects the Autobots’ lack of concern for humans under Grimlock’s rule.

But there’s also another implication of the story. If it’s taken in the sequence in which it was published — which makes sense — it suggests that the Protectobots never returned to the Ark, after they let Blaster go. Essentially, they defected too. If we think of Blaster and Goldbug’s defection as a meme, it’s apparently infectious.

To some degree, it makes sense that the Protectobots didn’t return. They would presumably have spread the word of what they learned from Blaster about his innocence, and there’s no sign of this having happened in the American stories. On the other hand, it’s odd that Grimlock, who’s so concerned about defection, wouldn’t notice that the Protectobots had also gone AWOL — although perhaps he’s too obsessed with Blaster to even notice the Protectobots’ absence. That certainly wouldn’t be out of character with Grimlock’s depiction in the American stories, even if it’s odd that the Protectobots disappear from them, despite co-starring in two issues.

Concluded tomorrow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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