In 1984, Marvel Comics began publishing an officially licensed comic book based on the Transformers toy line. Back then, nobody could guess how popular this franchise was going to be. As such, they only planned a four-issue limited series and were going to call it a day. However, the toys were a commercial success and what started off as a limited series turned into a regular monthly comic book.
Between 1984 and 1991, Marvel Comics published 81 issues of Transformers. Today we’re looking back at some of these old stories, and wow, things got pretty crazy. Here are some of the most insane moments from the original Transformers comic book.
For the sake of narration, these are all in semi-chronological order, so I have less to explain to you all (you’re welcome).
That Time Spider-Man Showed Up
It is a time-honored tradition at Marvel Comics to have a guest appearance by Spider-Man. So, it’s only a matter of time before their most iconic character makes a guest appearance in one of their books. Because of this, Spider-Man has met the cast of Saturday Night Live, Barack Obama, Godzilla, Jay Leno, and even Tony the Tiger. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that three issues into the Transformers, Spider-Man popped in for a visit.
See, back in those days, Marvel usually plopped whatever commercial properties they licensed into the mainstream Marvel Universe. They did it with Conan, Doc Savage, Fu-Manchu, the Micronauts, ROM the Spaceknight and many others. They tried to do it with Transformers, but that proved too problematic, so they scrapped the idea. Which is just as well considering the rights headaches this has caused in the future with books like Master of Kung Fu, Micronauts, and ROM the Spaceknight, but I digress.
Anyway, the Decepticons are stealing energy sources to fuel themselves, and the United States put up a military cordon around their make-shift base. Standard Transformers stuff. The Autobots find themselves at an impasse because they need to find a way to get past this cordon to fight the bad guys and save their friend Sparkplug Wittwicky. Then along came a spider (man) to save the day. Spider-Man helps them sneak past the security to fight the bad guys.
Is there an awesome team-up between Optimus Prime and Spider-Man? Nope! Of all the Transformers the writers could think to pair Spider-Man up with, they chose Gears, the robot who turns into a truck and is best known for being grumpy all the time. Wonderful choice!
The idea of teaming superheroes up with giant robots seems like a fine idea on paper, but executing it, you get things like this:
Although Spider-Man and Gears save Sparkplug, Gears ends up falling to his (albeit temporary) demise. Not exactly a high point in anyone’s career.
That Time Optimus Prime Was a Severed Head
The original limited series kind of ended on a down note. Shockwave appeared and blew up all the Autobots. Marvel apparently thought that wasn’t horrific enough. Taking things a step further, the Autobots were strung from the ceiling of their headquarters (like cheap cuts of meat). Adding insult to injury, the Decepticons kept Optimus Prime alive as a severed head! See, the Decepticons wanted to build a new army and needed the Creation Matrix to do it. Back in those days, the Matrix wasn’t some silly bauble kept in an Autobot’s chest. It was a computer program that gave life to machines, and it was inside the head of Optimus Prime.
This story arc focused on Prime transferring the Creation Matrix into the mind of their human friend Buster Wittwicky.
Instead of doing his own transformation (into a charbroiled corpse,) Buster got the power to reconstruct machines with his mind.
This led to wackiness that involved the Decepticons tricking the Autobots into recovering a fake Optimus head that tried to kill them. In the end, the Autobots recovered their boss and saved the day.
Humans Were Insane
In the Transformers cartoon, the Autobots had a very good relationship with human beings. Not so much in the comic books, as humans apparently couldn’t tell the difference between Autobots and Decepticons. One might think that this is a metaphor for racial profiling, but I’d have to say that the humans in the world of Transformers were insane, or stupid, or both. Here are some examples:
In Transformers #6, inventor Josie Bellar was crippled during a Decepticon attack. By issue #9, she had reinvented herself as Circuit Breaker the robot killer. A circuitry mesh repaired her damaged nervous system, and as an added bonus, she was able to fry circuits with electrical blasts. As empowering as that is, her costume was nothing to write home about. Still, cosplaying as Circuit Breaker will only set you back about $2 in tinfoil.
There was also a group called R.A.A.T which was short for “Rapid Action Anti-Robot Team”. It was an organization that was basically the SHIELD of the Transformers comics. In Transformers #23, they went after a pair of Decepticons who were spray-painting graffiti on national landmarks across the United States. Ultimately, they cannibalized several captured Autobots into the ugliest robot imaginable to stop them from defacing the Statue of Liberty and failed miserably.
Then there is the Mechanic, a car thief who appeared in Transformers #26. Interestingly, he was deathly afraid of the police. In spite of this, he had no problem walking into a massive alien spaceship and stealing equipment from robots who could easily mash him into a red paste. In fact, when Grimlock (then leader of the Autobots) learned this, in Transformers #28, he sent Goldbug and Blaster to capture him. They failed miserably, but that’s okay because the Mechanic ran off to that place where plot holes go to die.
Let’s skip ahead to the later issues of the series from Transformers #68 through 81, which featured a group of heroes who called themselves the Neo-Knights. They included such mind-blowingly unoriginal characters as Dynamo who channeled energy, Rapture who could give robots vivid dreams (!?!), and lastly, Thunderpunch who could make his feet grow really big. Because, you know, a robot’s worst nightmare is a human with big feet. They were pretty awful.
Hey, remember how a paragraph earlier I mentioned a story where Grimlock became the leader of the Autobots? About that….
That Time Megatron Cheated in a Video Game
Yes, friends you read that right.
In Transformers #24, the Decepticons tried to steal a device called a Hydrothermocline, which apparently could extract energy from “temperature differentials” in water. Which kind of sounds pretty unbelievable, but that is a thing we can do now. Ethan Zachary stops the inevitable battle between good and evil. Zachary not only invented this issue’s MacGuffin but is also a massive gamer and managed to input the minds of the Transformers into his computer to compete inside a video game.
The winner of the competition would get to decide what happened to the device. The leader of the losing team would also get blown up, as an added incentive.
Going into the virtual world, the Autobots begin winning thanks to the virtual citizens in the video game helping them out. In the final battle between Megatron and Optimus Prime, Megatron uses a cheat code to avoid losing the match. Still, Prime managed to win a second time.
Hey, Megatron lost, and he cheated to boot, so case closed right? Wrong! See, the Autobots have a moral code against hurting innocent people. Optimus was such a firm believer in this that he was mortified that he “killed” a bunch of in-game characters. Then this happened:
The story gets even more outlandish at the end by showing Ethan Zachary saving the mind of Optimus Prime on a 5¼-inch floppy disk.
Things only got even more ridiculous from here, but we’ll get into that next time.