Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

An Evil PhotostaticonAs a teenager, I was never into Transformers toys, but I was into the Marvel UK comic version.

The Transformers issue #1 in the US (left) and the UK (right)
Particularly at the start, when they were just reprinting the harder-to-find monthly US ones.

Does whatever a Spider-Man does...
Spider-Man guest-starred in an early one – in his short-lived black costume no less – and that got me into buying Marvel comics in general.

The fortnightly reprints in the UK got complicated however, when the US version suddenly stopped on a cliffhanger and had a break, shortly after which the UK reprints went weekly. Suddenly the UK comic ran out of material to reprint, and had to start commissioning their own stories to stall for time. No problem - Doctor Who Magazine was in the same building, so they just grabbed those guys to do the job and suddenly Transformers was set in leafy Doctor Who-ish England. Result!

The Transformers issue #10 (UK)
Click to enlarge and see its Doctor Whoishness
But now I had a problem. While waiting for the American title to start printing again, these new British tales were being set just before the American strip's cliffhanger, and I had to scratch my head and try to figure out just when the Autobots and Decepticons had found the time to have these earlier adventures, specifically The Enemy Within and Raiders Of The Last Ark. Unfortunately, I discovered, they just hadn’t had the chance. At least some of these British strips could not be canon, which rather took the fun out of scoring the extra stories that the Americans were missing.

'Nuff said!
Come the end of the year, there was even a special British Christmas story, which would have anchored for me the time of year at which all the other stories took place, if only it were… well… yes I’ll say it, real.

Of course I didn’t actually think it was real, no-one thought that, but the appeal of reading the comic was surely allowing myself to believe it all to be so…

Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of... the Decepticons.
To make matters worse, TV-AM started running the American cartoon series, which stuck pretty closely to the comicbook for the first few issues, but then veered dramatically off in its own direction. Clearly I wasn’t alone, as the letters page was repeatedly answering the same question from different readers – which version of events was 'true'?

Somewhere along the line the awful Star Comics atrocity happened, after which it recovered pretty well. I collected it right until the end of its run, but I had long-since stopped reading by then. Ironically, by this point the British comic writer was now penning the American comic as well, and there was even a crossover of sorts with the British Doctor Who Magazine #135, however I had stopped buying that following an editorial criticising those of us who felt the TV show had gone downhill somewhat. Yes, truly my teenage years were defined by great science-fiction getting utterly mis-managed.

Pleased to meet you Doctor, yes?  Doubt you can say the same eh?
Really, it was the best roll in the shop!
After that era had passed, (though I was reminded every day by my bedroom wallpaper above) I would occasionally hear talk of a Transformers revival. Incredibly, the franchise (yes, that’s what we sf fans have now been reduced to calling our beloved fictions) has now been rebooted so many times, that there are currently about five different versions of the legend, most of which flatly contradict each other.

Sigh… just when will publishers realise that it is the exact opposite of this that hooks us in?

Is it me, or do the robots look like they're just agreeing to squash the humans?
Tonight, I went with Paul to see Transformers’ latest restart – a theatrical movie, which in keeping with most of the previous versions, ignores the last theatrical movie and starts all over again again.

However, forgiving that…

The start was awesome. The thing that struck me about the opening voice-over was that I just knew it was Optimus Prime's voice. Clearly they had cast this well.

And here’s my point: afterwards I found out that this was because it was the same voice. They had actually got back the guy from the original TV cartoon series to do it. And not as some fleeting cameo either – he was back playing the main robot! Somebody understood.

(NB I gather that the actor who used to play Megatron was turned down for sounding too old, which makes no sense when you're willing to recycle old clips of Nichelle Nichols as Bumblebee, but I digress)

This movie was quite fun and took itself seriously at the same time, so I liked it.

It had subtlety, good gags, and a fair story, although Section 7 keeping the robot in the same place as the cube didn’t make the military look thoughtless – just the writers.

Particular note though must go to the CGI realisation of the robots, which was detailed and lovingly thought-through.

This benefited all the mindless action no end. Yes, my mind wandered off a good few times, but it was a film where you could do that and it didn't matter. I don't think I could sit through it a second time, but it was definitely good stuff.

With great popularity comes great crossover potential
Finally, since 23 years have now passed since those first Transforming days, what are the chances that the movie adaptation should happen the same season that Spider-Man 3 is out, also featuring his short-lived black costume? What a missed opportunity - that’s one great element from the original Transformers material that really could have been retained, without worrying about alienating anyone.

Inspired by the UK strip above?
A great re-imagining. When’s the next one?

(review of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen here)

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