The below is the piece on issue 22 in the book, the original of which can be READ HERE. As you can hopefully see, I've not reinvented the wheel (this was always one of my favourite entries anyway), but it's a bit more polished and informative, which *fingers crossed* will make for an enjoyable read.
The most exciting thing though is I can exclusively reveal the first draft of Andrew Turbull's cover for the book. It's not finished yet, but it should give you a very good idea of what we're aiming for. The final version will be 500% more awesome. And yes, Volume 2 will have Grimlock as the cover star and volume 3 Dreadwind. Do you see what we did there?
Once again, thanks to every single one of you.
We Are the Dead.
Issue 22: The New Order Part 1. 13th July 1985.
Remind me to thank you when I get down from here, Shockwave.
The first thing to note about this issue is of course the cover. Easily the best remembered from across all Transformers comics it's absolutely stunning, even if this UK version is a bit more cluttered than the original American printing meaning it's not quite as stark, and has a bit less power as an image as a result.
And when you turn the page you get the first indication of the new order in charge of the book as the two page Openers has been replaced by the thing which gives this book its name; Transformation. The contents and general information being slimmed down to just the one page is a pointer of what we'll be seeing happen over the next handful of issues. Everything is going to be streamlined and the fat cut off. The editorial promises great improvements, of which this is just the first step.
What's perhaps surprising is that- though the design will change over the years- the layout of the page is pretty much exactly the same as it'll be for the rest of the book's run. There’s a main text introduction to the issue on the left and a narrow column on the right with additional useful information in it, in this case pumping readers for the forthcoming arrival of the Dinobots.
As part of the mini-relaunch, and in order to deal with the continuity issues of the recent stories, this is then followed by the first Robot War! recap of the story so far. A simple two pages here it provides new readers with the information they need, refreshes the memory of those who may not exactly recall what happened seven months previously and finally tells us exactly when the last 13 issues happened. Though for the most part fans usually ignore this last part when coming up with their own theories.
This feature will only appear twice more in the comic itself, but a variant on it will become a standard of the Annuals and it actually works very well, both as a recap and a means of giving the book a real sense of history despite still being less than a year old. Though despite the good intentions there is an inadvertent problem with this summary being placed with this story we'll talk about shortly.
The New Order itself is the first time the writer who'll be handling virtually every American story for over 200 issues has his name on a strip, Bob Budiansky. I've already spoken about his hugely important role in helping to create the franchise, but his stories are often not terribly well liked in comparison to Furman's.
To a certain extent this is due to the different approach the two authors look, Uncle Bob has admitted he was mainly writing a comic for small children whilst Furman would gradually move more towards the teen market (effectively 2000 AD readers), meaning his stories tend to stand up better through adult eyes.
Though Budiansky will certainly have his off moments and wind up with extreme burn out towards the end, this is somewhat unfair. Though the bulk of his stories will be more kiddified, there's still going to be a lot to enjoy if you approach them in the right spirit.
One thing that hadn't really occurred to me before reading the comic in this way is that, from the UK perspective, Budiansky appears on the book after Furman. Following four and a half months straight of Furman's work on the title he must have seemed the established hand to readers, with the spell-check infuriating America as a Johnny Come Latey newcomer. Arguably right from the off British readers were subconsciously and unintentionally encouraged to see Budiansky as the second choice writer.
The story itself actually contradicts my earlier assertion about Bob aiming his stuff more at youngsters, though we're going to be quickly introduced to comedy human characters as we go along (await with baited breath Bomber Bill) his original “Shockwave/Prime's head” arc is generally much darker and more serious than a lot of what's to come.
It's also the longest straight storyline he did, lasting from US#5 to #12. Though they'll be other long running plots and a mini-epic in the Underbase saga, this is the biggest run of direct “TO BE CONTINUED” issues in his run. And of course, the couple of additional UK stories we're going to get along the way will make it even longer. Effectively the rest of 1985 is going to be the year of Optimus Prime's Head.
However, the opening two pages don't really suggest this dark epic. They consist of Shockwave watching TV to learn Earth culture. For an issue with a lot of work to do this series of piss takes of American television is somewhat indulgent and overdone.
The UK changes save it somewhat, in what is the first real big instance of the British team editing an American issue beyond putting the extra letter in the odd word to spell it properly. The American version opens with Shockwave watching The Honeymooners. No, me neither. And even if it was ever broadcast in Britain it's a fair bet absolutely none of the target audience would have gotten the reference.
So the Brits (presumably new editor Ian Rimmer) stuck a big picture of V over the Honeymooners drawing. The surprise TV hit of the summer before when it was ITV's alternative to the Olympics, this is a perfect choice as it is of course about aliens in disguise. The comedy speech bubbles stuck over the top are the icing on the cake.
This is also a huge, huge copyright infringement. Marvel may well have had the rights to V as well (though I think it's more likely they just borrowed a picture from the Starburst office that seemed appropriate) but they'll almost certainly never have gotten permission to use it here. As such this is effectively two unique pages that will never be reprinted in any legal fashion.
There is a slight attempt at plot foreshadowing at the end of Shockwave's TV watch as he sees G.B. Blackrock on the news promoting his new super oil rig and showing off his amazing computer technician, the bubbly big eyed Josie Beller. Both these people and their rig are going to be very important later on.
But then we get the money shot, the two pages that justify the entire cover price: Shockwave coldly walking though a room where the battered and smashed Autobot corpses are hanging from the ceiling.
This was a stroke of genius by Bob. We'd seen the Autobots dead and defeated at the end of The Last Stand (and of course they've been battered and blown up all over the place in the UK stories since), repeating that image wouldn't have had the same effect as the casual brutalisation of their bodies we see here. It keeps the shock value up and raises the stakes, whilst at the same time making Shockwave himself seem effortlessly cool.
This is however, the first time Nel Yomtov's colours really hurt the book. The impact of this brilliant visceral image is largely undone by virtually every character being coloured like Spider-Man’s friend Gears for no readily apparent reason.
It's a sign of how packed the story is that the title card doesn't come up until we're three pages before the end. This comes over a shot of Megatron hung up from the ceiling looking rather petulant. Bob even finds time to fit in the first mention of the Creation Matrix, which will be very important to this storyline and so many others.
The interaction between the former and current Decepticon leaders here is lovely, with Shockwave pointing out every failing of Megatron's leadership and Megatron- realising he's dependant on Shockwave to get him back up to full strength- being deeply sarcastic in his acceptance of Shockwave's command.
Shockwave is the first new character to get more than a cameo, and these eleven pages build upon his dramatic first appearance to make him one of the best and most rounded Transformers we've yet seen. Logical but sarcastic and with a ruthless streak this is the beginning of a very long run of awesome that will wind up seeing Shockwave being behind pretty much everything to happen in modern Transformers comics. How he casually rips an Autobot to pieces in order to show Megatron he means business is memorably gruesome as well, though it's another colouring fail as what seems to be Sunstreaker is mostly blue.
The end of the issue however, is what suffers from the inclusion of Robot War! As this was equally a relaunch after a gap since The Last Stand, Bob also included a detailed recap of events so far for readers. Rather than being separate though this is included in the story itself, with Megatron telling Shockwave everything that's happened.
By itself it's a bit clumsy (Megatron feels the need to tell the entire history of their species rather than just the stuff Shockwave missed) but feels completely redundant coming after the separate summary that tops the issue. As a result it means things end on a somewhat underwhelming moment, even if the cliff-hanger created from splitting the original issue in two (Megatron clenching his fist as he thinks of revenge on Shockwave) is surprisingly good.
This is also the first time we get the classic “Next” box at the end of a story, which will be used right up to the penultimate issue. Though because of the way the strips are broken up Planet Terry is actually the first place we see it. Later on when used on the backups the logo used will be made specific to the story, but here both Terry and Machine Man use the Autobot symbol, which feels a bit odd. But it's still a great little bit of design.
Yet another big first is the arrival of the dedicated letters page hosted by Soundwave, mostly written by Simon Furman, though Ian Rimmer will handle some as well. Without any forewarning for readers and with “Soundwave's” answerer character not fully developed yet it's a fairly normal start, but things are going to get delightfully bonkers as we go along.
One letter is also the first indication in the comic of the cartoon having arrived in the UK and having been seen by readers, with the somewhat eccentric nature of how it was broadcast covered in the previous Addendum. But, as a sign of how the style hasn't settled down yet, there's no mockery from Soundwave for the animated show as they'll be in later years.
Phew. With the new stuff out of the way, let’s have a look at the old favourites. Machine Man sees him face off against a Halloween costume themed villain with a flying hover-board who is in no way like Green Goblin. Jack O'Lantern probably didn't go down as they greatest new addition to the Marvel roster of baddies, though being co-created by Steve Dikto would mean various Spider-Man books would doggedly stick with him beyond all sense.
Meanwhile, Planet Terry, Matt and the Cat and The Chromobots protect us from being overloaded by newness by keeping as shite as they ever were. Planet Terry is especially notable for trapping the heroes in a large bubble of exactly the same sort Scorponok will use during the Headmasters mini-series, suggesting he was a fan and thus giving us a good idea of his dementia.
Matt and the Cat has one joke this week as Humph is saved from the aliens that grabbed him by a whole team of slave robots, where he thinks that Olia-Cym has a terrible name. As this gag depends on you knowing the character is named after the author that’s closer to not being a joke than being one.
Chromobots sees the characters follow Predator to the future, but it takes the next issue box to make it clear where they’ve wound up thanks to the high quality of the writing.
On the good side of the quality scale, Robo-Capers sees them come up with an Earth invading device that actually works for once; a robot playing a 24 hour video of Crossroads. It’s only a small variation on the formula, but it’s a very welcome one at this point.
There's also a competition for the Ladybird book mentioned last issue, which on the face of it is simple- You just have to identify the which robot parts belong to which Transformer. But it's in black and white and contains two Seekers. So how are you supposed to know which is which if you’re not intimately familiar with their different stickers?
The other thing of special note in the issue is the advert for the 1985 Marvel Summer Specials, including the first Transformers Collected Comics, though that name won't be used yet. I'll be talking more about this and the other special released in 1985 later in the book, but it's worth noting that these reprints will quickly become the main way new readers like me kept up with the history of the book. It also rather cheekily gets promoted in the text of the Robot War! feature.
The first “NEXT” box promises that the second part will introduce “The Last Autobot”, now that would make a good title for an issue wouldn’t it.