Writers: Bill Mantlo, Ralph Macchio, Jim Salicrup
Pencils: Frank Springer
Before we begin, let's get one thing clear:
The original 4-issue US comicbook series titled The Transformers was reprinted across these 8 issues - also titled The Transformers - here in the UK.
I have, however, read the first 4 of those UK issues (that's the first 2 US issues) from when they were subsequently re-reprinted the following year in the UK in Transformers Summer Special 1985. (now retrospectively referred to as Transformers Collected Comics #1)
The US issues #3 and #4 (that's the UK issues #5 - #8) were re-reprinted in the UK's Transformers Collected Comics #2, but I didn't buy that.
As a result of all this transforming of Transformers, there are countless removed page-numbers, empty narration-boxes, words that begin and end in two different styles of handwriting, and pieces of new narration in the margin covering where at least one page seems to have been cut-out.
They were also all later re-re-reprinted in the UK's The Transformers – The Complete Works #1 and #2, but we'll come back to that at the end.
Got that? Clear? Good. (whew)
These four/eight (delete as applicable) strips are therefore the very first Transformers stories ever, unless you consider the TV cartoon to have come first. (the two G1 canons began roughly simultaneously)
As such, these issues cover everything from the old peaceful regime on the planet Cybertron, through the Autobot / Decepticon war breaking-out, their crashing and reawakening over four million years later buried under Mount St. Hilary on Earth, their first encounters with humans (specifically with Buster and Sparkplug Witwicky), their attempts to secure a new power-source and, in a cliffhanger ending to the series, their apparent deaths at the hands, err, barrel of Shockwave. (again – coming back to the alternate ending in The Complete Works later)
Authors Bill Mantlo and Ralph Macchio had gone to quite a bit of trouble to take a foreign toy range and rationalise it into a concept that could be believed-in. The initial break-out of war on Cybertron is really a difference in ideology, as Megatron seeks to champion chaos over order as a more productive course for his race.
The scenes in which the ark's sensor-drone investigates the Earth's teeming machine-life, whilst completely blind to its organic inhabitants, are fascinating, as is our heroes' later sad realisation that the cars they meet actually have no sentience, and cannot defend themselves.
Although the US Transformers comic was originally planned to be just a four-part limited series in the US, it ultimately kept on going all the way to issue #80. The UK title ran to #332, partly thanks to padding-out the storyline with new locally-produced episodes.
I can't speak for the later issues of either run, but these early ones seem quite story-driven, concerned as they are with the protagonists' simple need for survival in a strange new environment.
Issue #2 (US) / #4 (UK) / Summer Special 1985 (UK) / presumably Complete Works #1 (UK) ends with the Autobots collapsing due to running low on fuel, without having secured either a new supply, or a means of converting it. This desperate situation leads both the Autobots and the Decepticons into a race against time in the remaining issue(s), as both factions attempt to secure a new Earth-based fuel-source before the other does and wipes them out.
Like so many epics, there are also Biblical references aplenty, with the narration even acknowledging that "every paradise has its serpent".
One curiosity from this original US limited series is that Marvel were initially treating these events as taking place within the larger pre-existing Marvel universe. Consequently there are trademark cameos from other Marvel characters throughout.
As Earth's powers-that-be take note of the giant alien robots, Marvel's shameless continuity is out in full-force too...
That's the new editor of the Daily Bugle on the right there, (new since Amazing Spider-Man #251) speaking words consistent with his request in Marvel Team-Up Annual #7 that Peter Parker go photograph someone other than Spider-Man for a change! But maybe I'm reading too much in, after all, this fair-haired kid hardly looks like Pete...
Of course, one could also argue that in the new alien costume he doesn't look much like Spider-Man either, especially since, at the time of publication in the US, it had just been written-out of Spidey's main titles. Despite this, in Marvel UK's initial reprinting, this was its very first appearance!
Which is why the webslinger's extensive guest-appearance in here will always be a special memory for me.
These UK issues were the ones that first got me interested in Spider-Man. It was around this time that I also read an item on collecting old Marvel comics in my dad's Book And Magazine Collector periodical, and I read this episode assuming that Spider-Man had been out-of-print since those early days.
To me, Spidey's inclusion here in a cool new costume appeared to be a hopeful revival of the character.
Spidey himself still seems to be thinking along traditional Spider-storylines though. Despite his new ability to transform his clothes' appearance using only the power of his thoughts, when faced with sneaking the Autobots through the military cordon, he still prefers to borrow a soldier's helmet to disguise himself with instead. Not so updated now.
Well, y'know, we can't really see his costume too clearly there, so maybe he did change its appearance from the head down.
It's all good comicbook stuff anyway, with twists and turns, strategies, risks, and a few jokes thrown-in along the way.
In some ways I guess it's a shame that, after a further reference to Reed Richards, and Shockwave's battle with the Dinobots in the Savage Land, subsequent issues ultimately dropped the grounding in the Marvel universe, but maybe that was for the best. How often would the Avengers have had to have been subsequently called-out to intervene in yet another giant robot scrap?
As mentioned above, the final issue ends with the Decepticons defeated, whereupon Shockwave materialises and apparently destroys the Autobots. Or that's what I've always thought.
Tonight, thanks to www.tfarchive.com, I found-out about a rare alternate final page to this story.
It seems that, back when the original US Transformers comic was originally planned to only last for four issues, it was going to all wrap-up with the Decepticons defeated. When the title became an ongoing one, the last two panels were changed, and a further page added with Shockwave's cliffhanger.
Of course, legendary syndicators that they were, Marvel UK managed to print this original ending at the close of 1987's The Transformers – The Complete Works #2, which was also the final issue in this optimistically-titled reprint series. Whether the printing of this alternate page was deliberate, or just a happy accident, who cares?
The ending is just a two-panel zoom-in on Optimus Prime, as he speaks about how with the Decepticons apparently dead, they must now protect the humans from evil in its other forms.
Most pleasingly, this version doesn't actually contradict the Shockwave ending, and can easily be viewed as simply missing dialogue that takes-place immediately before his sudden entrance. Since publication by Marvel, I think it's canon.
All the same, having discovered this version of the ending at this juncture, I think I'll take it as an excuse to draw a line under my re-reading of early Transformers comics. This is now how the story ends, for me, if not for anybody else.
How convenient that there was actually more to this last issue than meets the eye.
The Transformers: Man Of Iron (G1, UK) here.
The Transformers (G1, UK) #13-17: The Enemy Within here.
The Transformers (G1, UK) #18-21: Raiders Of The Last Ark here.