Thee Comic Column #5: Transformers Regeneration One

What m. bay almost did to old school transformers fans – image from http://80scartoons.tumblr.com/

I know that over the last seven years or so the Transformers have moved from being a once mega popular albeit nostalgically-dismissed toy and cartoon franchise to a world-wide, Mega super pop culture phenomenon (there’s a theme park ride at Universal City for heaven’s sake) but I must cry foul. As my friend Nick once said, “there’s only one true Transformers movie – and it came out in 1986 and did NOT have either michael bay or shia laboof in it.” Nick, if you read this you’ll recognize that I am paraphrasing what you said, but I believe you’ll also agree with the slightly surly emphasis. The original, 1980’s Transformers cartoon was a cut above the common place twenty-two minute commercials masquerading as story that many a toyline had slotted during after school afternoons back in the 80’s – not at first, but once the animated movie came out and skipped the franchise’s storyline into the not-so-distant future something happened that may not have happened in any other of it’s animated peers at the time*. That something was continuity.

Sure, there was a little bit of continuity before the movie, but those cartoons were set-ups to sell toys, and continuity only gets in the way when you have to introduce wave after wave of new characters to try and up the sales of their corresponding action figures, vehicles, etc. With Transformers though there seemed to have been a conscious decision by the creators after the movie to have the cartoon’s storyline continue and evolve with every episode. Old characters stayed (somewhat) relevant and characters that died or ‘changed’ stayed that way – at least for a while. Agendas and slow-burn machinations percolated and reached fruition. And the somewhat complicated relationships and histories of our two teams of major players – the ‘good’ Autobots and the ‘evil’ Decepticons – refused to stay static.

At about the same time over in the Marvel comic based on the same toyline Bob Budiansky did some very different, very reality-based (as much as a comic about giant, shape-shifting robots from outer space can be reality-based) things with the story – all in a linear continuity that was quite different than the cartoon and yet intriguing and complex nonetheless. I was a partial fan – it was hard to balance both continuities in my head at once and I kinda sided with the cartoon. Still, I found it hard not to partake in everything Budiansky did, as some of it was fantastic (carwash? Ratbat as a power hungry high-ranker looking to oust Megatron? Nice). Then about the time I hit Jr. High I began going through the typical awkward adolescent phase – the one where we learn through painful social interaction with our peers  that  survivial comes only at the cost of distancing ourselves from everything in our childhood – and I tuned out. Having already  jetisoned my love of the figures years before, I finally left the Transformers comic book behind as well, moving instead to then still relatively non-mainstream books* such as Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Walt and Louise Simonson’s X-Factor and Peter David’s still unbeaten run on The Incredible Hulk.

A couple of years later while in the comic shop I saw this:

 

Notice the tagline on the top of the issue, “#80 in a four issue limited series”. This floored me at the time – I wasn’t sure if this was a cop-out or a sublte fuck you but the entirety of what I’d missed hit me. Here was an iconic franchise from my childhood ending and seemingly poised on the verge of slipping into the backwaters of time. Curiosity hit me violently; if this was to be it for The Transformers – whether just in comic book form or altogether – then I wanted to be there. I plunked down the $1.00 for the book and brought it home in my stack, still kind of expecting someone to pop out from behind a locker and ridicule me for buying such a thing.

And how was it?

What I found was Mr. Budianskywas  no longer the writer, replaced instead by a chap named Simon Furman.

Hmmm…

I read issue 80 and found I was very interested in what had come before it. It took a couple more years of this skirting my peripheral awareness before I found that Titan books had republished Furman’s run (roughly I think from issue 56-80) in trades. I purchased the final two, All Fall Down and End of the Road and LOVED them. To say Furman took some nods from the movie and expanded on them is an understatement. There’s a great, almost 50’s/60’s Space Opera element to these stories, with the Robots in Disguise traveling well beyond Earth and their home planet of Cybertron and encountering all manner of strange beings. There’s also super juicy soap opera going on, with practically every Decepticon secretly advancing their own agendas, bidding for rulership over their fellows and even, on occasion, making uneasy alliances with the Autobots. Also like the movie, there’s death. And here Furman excels, preferring to idolize and immortalize the characters who die as natural extensions of the story rather than just going in and clearing house for the sake of giving criticizing fans what they ask for or to make room for new toys to pimp. It also helped that by this time popularity of the toys had faded out from the frenzy they’d caused in the 80’s so Hasbro probably wasn’t breathing down the editorial department’s neck. I liked these two trades so much that I tried to reignite my interest in the new books that by that time were on the market – at the time put out by Dreamwave. But these proved to be – from what I saw – either rehashed ideas or all art/less story***. My love of such iconic characters as Megatron, Kup and of course, O.P. was forced to lie in wait until the announcement and subsequent disaster of the first big budget mike bay movie hit the screens. I saw it and have never seen another. The Transformers were dead to me.

Then about three weeks ago I walked into my local comic shop and saw Transformers: Regeneration One, complete with Furman’s name on the cover. I immediately remembered that I’d read a blurb about this book and that it was what I’d been waiting for – Furman returning to continue the continuity he began in the original Transformers Marvel comic. I picked up the first two issues – aptly numbered 81 and 82 – and absolutely LOVED them. Not only is Furman on point but old school ‘formers artist Andrew Wildman is back with him and is also in TOP form.

The book begins twenty-one years after the events of #80. There’s been a long-standing peace between both the ‘bots and ‘cons and Cybertron is flourishing. Yet not everybody is happy about this. Key players on both sides are uneasy with the alliance; Kup and his crew because – on the surface – they don’t trust the Decepticons. Beneath the surface of course battle hardened old warriors don’t like sitting around not fighting, especially when small cells of Decepticons are staging terrorist acts all over the planet. Kup appeals to Optimus Prime through Ultra Magnus but the they’re not hearing it – Peace for the sake of peace is the name of the game. However, what no one on Cybertron has apparently thought of in their almost half-century of peace time is what’s happened back on their one-time adopted homeworld of Earth – where a completely insane Megatron has annihilated most of the planet’s surface and population with Nuclear Bombs and now rules with an army of brain dead, ‘zombie’ Decepticons – all the better to prevent the backstabbing he’s had to endure in the past. Meanwhile Grimlock is out searching the galaxy for a way to fix his body – still unable to transform into his T-Rex form. Seem like a lot? Yes it does, and that’s what has really peaked my hopes and expectations for this series – hopes and expectations I do not have even the slightest fear will be let down – as in taking on this twenty-issue series (the book will run up to #100) Furman appears to be ramping up for the mother of all endings to his uber-story that until now has lain unfinished and dormant for roughly twenty years. I for one, am along for the ride!

Alright, that’s enough nerd juice to kill a room full of giant robots, so I’d better push “Publish” on this thing, sleep the computer and go hit the bar with my wife. A coupla’ pints and a basket of chips and I’ll come back to reality.

For awhile.

………..

* Well, except maybe in Inhumanoids, but that was so fringe, so fucked up and hardcore – as toy-inspired cartoons go – that it didn’t last long enough for us to find out.

** Underground you ask? Yeah, it’s hard to believe now, but back in the 80’s I always wondered why didn’t cartoons, movies and toys exist based on the X-Men? It seemed so perfect, but that was back when those characters were not mainstream pop culture, instead known only by comic readers, of which it also felt as though there were far, far less.

*** I know Furman wrote some of these, but I wanted that original continuity back.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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