In the last part of this article, I explained how the original Transformers comic b0ok was insane. Going through things semi-chronologically we got to a point where Optimus Prime was blown up and stored on a 5¼-inch floppy disk. If you thought it couldn’t get any more insane than that, I must tell you that was just the tip of the iceberg, because things got even more strange from here….
That Time They Made Grimlock the Leader
Optimus Prime was a born leader, a wise and noble warrior, and abhorred violence. So when Prime got blown up, they had to pick someone who extolled those qualities. Right? Nope! They picked Grimlock, who is best characterized as a hot-tempered brute with a speech impediment.
It turned out to be a huge mistake since Grimlock instantly turned into a tyrant. He spent most of his tenure hunting down Blaster and Goldbug. This eventually led to Blaster getting captured along with a bunch of kids. Grimlock’s solution? Jettisoning the children out into the empty void of space!
Blaster eventually surrendered to Grimlock to let the kids go (we’ll get back to them later) and later Grimlock conceded leadership, but I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Then Things Got Even Weirder
Series writer Bob Budiansky must have started to lose his mind 30 issues in. That’s the only explanation for the stories that he cranked out during this later period. Don’t believe me? Here we go!
Let’s start with Transformers #31 a story titled “Buster Wittwicky and the Car Wash of Doom!” In this story, the Decepticons come up with one of the most convoluted plots to steal fuel from humans. At the time, the Decepticons were led by Ratbat who was a bat-shaped robot that was really good at accounting.
He comes up with a master plan to hypnotize industrialist G.B. Blackrock and forces him to build carwashes that hypnotize humans. These humans then fill up their cars, drive to a car wash to have their gas tanks siphoned out. That entire last sentence basically proves that Ratbat is terrible at his job. Since the Autobots were busy jettisoning children into space, the world is saved by Buster Wittwicky.
If that’s not bad enough for you, the following issue is more ridiculous. In “Used Autobots”, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons is the backdrop for a commentary on the used car business.
Apparently, the writers thought it was great to focus most of a story on a sleazy used car salesman named Big Steve. When Blaster and the Throttlebots needed refuge from the Combaticons, he agreed to let them stay on his lot.
Big Steve later discovered that there was a bounty on these five Autobots. Like any compassionate used car salesman, he decided to auction them off to the highest bidder.
So what happened to those Autobots? Well, Big Steve ended up selling them to R.A.A.T. and in Transformers #37 they threatened to execute them if the Decepticons didn’t stop raiding energy sources. Thankfully for the captured Autobots, Buster Wittwicky managed to convince Walter Barnett, the director of R.A.A.T., that there was a different kind of robots. Something nobody picked up on over the course of the series.
In order to save the Throttlebots, Walter and Buster implanted their brain modules into radio controlled cars. This led to a chase through a shopping mall as they tried to flee Ratbat and the Predacons.
Things were just getting crazier and crazier. This isn’t even the worst of it! It gets much much worse because as they say it is always the darkest before the dawn.
Then there is the time the Decepticons started their own island resort…
I bet you’re thinking, well this is all silly goofiness that never took itself very seriously. I’d say that you are partially right. A lot of this stuff was pretty good, but occasionally they’d change tone with as much subtlety as kicking a man down a flight of stairs. That was one of the major problems with this comic book is that it had a real hard time finding the proper tone. But don’t take my word for it, here is my evidence your honor…
That Time Starscream Committed Genocide Against His Own People
Wait what!?! WHAT!?!
I want to put this story into perspective first. In 1987 an entire generation of kids was traumatized when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie.
In the comic book, characters were in a surplus by 1989 with hundreds of characters still walking around that dated back to the 1984 toyline. Hasbro wanted to push their new products and the old ones had to go. Instead of just silently retiring them, Marvel Comics decided to do something entirely different. During the “Underbase Saga”, which took place from Transformers #47-50, Starscream obtains the power of the Underbase. He then proceeds to slaughter everyone who gets in his way.
By the end of the entire issue, he kills over 50 characters! Don’t believe me?
Note the particularly graphic deaths of beloved characters like Goldbug, Blaster, and Grimlock. Lining the pages with asbestos would be the only way this comic book could have been any more tragic to children.
If you thought that a dark and brutal massacre like this changed the tone of the series, well you’d be wrong again. As I said earlier about not being able to find a tone, the series got goofy all over again. But we’ll get into that next time….