SUNDAY CLASSICS: Transformers Generation 1 volume 1
For those of you who don’t know the story behind the original Transformers… The valiant Autobots were a race of robots from Cybertron. Their enemies were the evil Decepticons. During their war that lasted millions of years, a group of Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, fled Cybertron but were pursued by the evil Megaton and his Decepticons. During a battle, they crashed on earth. They used their ability to transform into alternate modes to hide amongst the cars, planes, and other objects. The Autobots befriended two humans: Sparkplug Witwicky and his son Spike.
At some point, with the help of humans, the war ended. But as the shuttle was about to take off with the Autobots and Decepticons, it exploded, leaving none alive, including Sparkplug.
Somewhere in the jungles of South America, a couple of mercenaries are having a smoke. One is grabbed by a giant metal hand. The other subsequently gets crushed by a giant metal foot. We’re left confused because nothing more is revealed.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Spike is getting ready for work. His son, Daniel (I had a serious nerdgasm here) announces that someone is at the door. It’s a General Hallo who comes in and makes himself at home. He needs Spike’s helm. But it’s not really a request. More of a command phrased nicely with a thinly veiled threat behind it.
Somewhere in the Arctic, in the middle of a blizzard, a few men take a ride in a jeep. One has a bag over his head, not by his choice, but he doesn’t seem to be complaining. He’s a terrorist looking to buy weapons and the seller is another passenger: Lazarus. Finally, the jeep comes to a stop and they three get out. The rest of the journey is on foot. No need to watch their rear, though. Unseen by the three, the jeep transformers into a robot. Inside Lazarus’ base, the hood is pulled back, allowing the terrorist to see his potential purchase: a giant robot (we’re not shown which one).
At the Pentagon, Spike calmly waits for his time with the general. While waiting, a janitor grabs him by the shoulder, warning him that nothing is what it seems. Kind of a cryptic warning and he does seem like an old coot so Spike brushes it off. Inside the command center, General Hallo has a nice little discussion with Spike about the Transformers. They were supposedly all destroyed, but recent satellite footage over a South American jungle shows differently: Megatron lives.
Lazarus explains to the terrorist that he has managed to salvage several of these giant robots and found a way to make them obey his command. With one demonstration, Lazarus commands Megatron to raise his left arm and then his right arm. Megatron obeys. Lazarus commands Megatron to kneel.
And nothing happens. Just bugs, Lazarus figures.
Hallo takes Spike to a secret bunker, explaining his hypothesis on Megatron’s attack: someone salvaged him and is controlling him. But the big concern is how to deal with him. And so Lazarus takes Spike to his crown jewel: a deactivated Optimus Prime.
Spike continues to stare up at the leader of the Autobots. Hallo and his scientists have yet to be able to figure out how to make him wake up. Spike knows what’s missing. He unbuttons his shirt and pulls out a necklace. The “jewel” is a sphere of some kind. Hallo’s machines open up Optimus’ chest to reveal the empty Matrix. Spike places the jewel inside. It seems to react, creating a bright flash of light.
At an oil refinery in the Arctic, several workers notice a group of three helicopters approaching, carrying a large crate. They drop the crate right at the base and the door opens, revealing four transformers: Grimlock, Soundwave, Bumblebee, and Starscream. The four Transformers immediately begin attacking, destroying the refineries, killing everyone they come across. Even Rumble and Ravage show up. One worker tries to run, managing to escape the carnage, only to run headfirst into another Transformer: Prowl. Prowl crushes the worker with his bare hands.
Meanwhile, Lazarus is showing footage of the entire massacre to a crowd of interested people. He is selling the Transformers to the highest bidders. And the bidding starts with Megatron. But as the bidding begins, Lazarus is surprised by a booming voice behind him. Megatron breaks free of his wires and stands up, grabbing Lazarus as the crowd flees.
Elsewhere, Hallo, Spike, a crowd of the military, and Optimus prime have stopped at the edge of an icy cliff. Hallo wants to go after Megatron, but Optimus needs help first. He opens his chest, removes the Matrix, and holds it above his head. Underneath the water and ice, Autobots stir. Huffer, Jazz, Mirage, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Trailbreaker, Wheeljack, and Superion (the combined five aerialbots) are all brought to life.
Back at Lazarus’ compound, the helicopter pilots are returning with the Transformers used in the refinery attack. But they’re not getting any response from the base. The pilots begin their descent when out of the wreckage, Megatron stands up and fires directly at them.
A short time later, the military, accompanied by the conscious Autobots, are investigating the massacre at the oil refinery. Optimus is told that both Autobots and Decepticons were responsible for this. Optimus rationalizes that some of the Autobots must have been controlled, but Spike lays a harsh truth on him. It doesn’t matter. Destruction and death follow the Autobots, regardless of who is at fault. Hallo doesn’t see it that way, though. Sacrifices must be made. Collateral damage is always to be expected and soldiers can’t be concerned with that. Only power. Optimus, of course, isn’t concerned about power, but before they can continue the debate, Hallo’s radio crackles. They’ve found the terrorists’ base.
Megatron is still there. He rounds up his troops (some of which are playing with the disassembled Autobots) and along with Soundwave, starts up his little experiment…one that is powered by Autobots. A virus spreads, cascading over everything. Lazarus is forced to watch as it washes over him, turning him into metal. Just then, Lazerbeak reports that the Autobots have arrived. Megatron goes out to meet them.
Optimus surveys the expanding virus which is consuming everything organic. Megatron and his followers step out of the wintery haze to gloat. Optimus draws his gun and fires at the spreading wave, but his weapon only seems to speed it up. Then, Megatron has another surprise. Someone throws down an Autobot symbol, torn from a chest. Grimlock steps into view, renouncing the Autobots. He’s tired of being used by the humans. But Optimus is not willing to join Megatron.
A battle ensues, but Hallo has other plans. With all the transformers in one place, he orders a bomb dropped (in spite of Spike’s vehement protests). The explosion engulfs them all.
Hallo arrives back at the Pentagon, ordering all records to operation Clean-Up destroyed. He didn’t destroy the Transformers…he may have only made them angry.
Optimus is the first to break free. The bomb didn’t actually destroy anything. Instead, just as Optimus’ laser blast, it caused the virus to spread. It solidified, trapping the Transformers. Unfortunately, Megatron and the Decepticons (including Grimlock) were the first to escape.
Near the U.S. shoreline, a submarine is destroyed by an unseen force.
As Optimus frees the Autobots who were powering the virus, Wheeljack makes a startling discovery. The virus was no longer being fueled by the captive Autobots. Instead, it’s fueling itself now. Cutting the power supply will no longer stop it. But that’s not all. Ironhide has a message from Megatron. Something big is on its way.
On the coast of San Francisco, waters churn. The waves crash into the docks. And Devastator rises to the surface.
Superion speeds through the skies, Optimus and a handful of Autobots riding on its back, hoping they’re not too late. On the shores, the Decepticons have arrived and at Megatron’s command, they attack. However, the Autobots arrive, Superion stopping Devastator in his tracks. But the battle isn’t over. Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp attack driving the Aerialbots apart. With Superion disassembled, Devastator stands triumphant.
Spike sits in a cell. Not quietly, but there’s nothing he can do. Until a note is slipped under his door, telling him to be ready.
In the Northwest Territories, a couple of hikers stumble across the spreading virus, turning everything metal as it goes. They run and come to the stop at a pair of giant yellow feet. Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots are up and running. Jazz tells them to go home and hide and to spread the word. Of course, they run off. Who wouldn’t? But it’s then back to business. Wheeljack has developed a way to counteract the virus, but he warns that the weapons draw their power from the Autobots themselves. So the more they use it, the weaker they will become. But as they start blasting, Jazz gets an emergency distress call from Trailbreaker. They need help fighting the Decepticons.
Trailbreaker is the first to fall against Devastator. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe don’t fare much better, leaving only Optimus to face the green behemoth. But Optimus is a badass (sorry for the commentary) as he transforms and rolls out. He launches into the air and pulls out his gun and blows Devastator’s head off. But as he lands, he is out of steam. Megatron is victorious.
Three O’Clock comes around and right on schedule, the door opens for Spike.
Up north, the Autobots continue to fight the virus, but Cliffjumper is the first to stumble and fall. Barely conscious, on his hands and knees, he looks up to see the barrel of a tank. The Canadian military is there, but not as rescuers. They want the Transformers gone.
At the Pentagon, the janitor wheels his cart along. Once they are out of sight, Spike crawls out from the bottom. The janitor gives Spike a folder labeled “Lazarus Project”. It describes a project by Hallo and Adam Rook to create their own Transformers, but every attempt failed. So instead, they decided to make use of the Transformers already there. Rook created a program to control the Transformers and Hallo ensured the shuttle that they were flying on would be destroyed after liftoff. Unfortunately, Rook then betrayed Hallo and took with him the technology to control the Transformers. Spike is furious. If the janitor knew all this, he could have said something, prevented the destruction of the shuttle (which, as you might remember, killed Spike’s father). Spike takes the keycard and leaves the janitor crying on the floor.
Megatron has the Autobots wrapped up in giant steel I-beams. As all good villains do, he starts monologuing, wanting Optimus to come to his line of thought. Megatron goes on about how he’s tired of these humans. They are weak and when pushed, they become horribly selfish, exterminating all semblance of good that Optimus claims to see in them. Megatron makes Optimus one final offer: help him rid the world of humanity.
At the Pentagon, General Hallo takes out his key and orders a nuclear strike on San Francisco.
As the President of the United States lands aboard Marine One, he is notified by phone of a nuclear launch. He calls for it to abort, but it’s too late. A missile is launched from the Pacific islands.
In Canada, Wheeljack rushes forward to try and convince the soldiers they are there to help. But the movement is seen as hostile and the tanks open fire. The Autubots are already weakened and no match. With all the firefight, the virus starts to spread even faster.
Megatron continues his speech as he stands over Prime, but Optimus has had enough. He’s not blind to the problems of humans, but he doesn’t see only the bad, like Megatron. He sees the sacrifices they make, the risks they take to help each other, the unity they demonstrate in the face of disaster. And then, as if to prove his point, a squadron of firetrucks are driven off a bridge, the drivers jumping out, as the trucks barrel straight into the Decepticons. It’s not much, but it does give Prime the respite he needs to free the Autobots. And now, it’s payback time.
At the Pentagon, Hallo appears to finally be losing it. The nuke is on its way and he will finally beat Rook. Spike barges into the command center, waving the Lazarus documents, shouting accusations. Lazarus laughs him off, instead pointing a gun at Spike.
Cliffjumper tries to stop the tanks, but the one he is in front of explodes when the shell detonates. With the Autobots hurt and in no shape to continue, Jazz suggests a retreat. According to Wheeljack, the risk is too great. The troops will fire on the virus, causing it to spread even more rapidly. The scientist has an idea, but he runs off, neglecting to share it with the others.
At gunpoint, Spike listens to Hallo’s rant about the need for defense and how it’s all about power. But then the President with his secret service rush in, guns drawn, declaring that Hallo is under arrest. Hallo whispers to Spike and then wheels on the soldiers. They open fire, gunning Hallo down.
The battle rages on, Autobot vs Decepticon. But this time, Prime is not willing to take prisoners. He intends to ensure that Megatron can never come after them. But before he can deliver the final blow, Soundwave announces that a nuclear missile is inbound. Before anything can be said, the Aerialbots immediately combine to form Superion and fly off. Even as they speed to intercept the missile, Wheeljack hurries to connect himself to a satellite dish. A surge of energy shoots forth from the dish just as Superion connects with the missile, leaving nothing but bits of metal.
The wave hits San Francisco, but it is nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Prime wakes up to find Spike over him. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. The city is in ruins and his soldiers have died. The Decepticons have fled, leaving Grimlock behind. But the Dinobot commander is not ready to come back to the Autobots. He walks off.
In Canada, Jazz cradles the seemingly lifeless Wheeljack. The battle is over.
Okay, show of hands, who remembers the old Transformers cartoon? How about the old Marvel comic book?
I grew up on both, although admittedly more the cartoon and toys than the comic. Years later, when I would read the comic in a little more detail than as a kid, it always bugged me. The writing was so stale and the art was so static. It was never really exciting. But to be fair, it was meant to sell toys. That’s why they were often introduced as a lineup. It assumed you had no idea who any were and none really had much personality.
Twenty-five years later, Transformers had, for the most part, faded into obscurity. Sure, there was the much-lauded Beast Wars series, but the original Generation One toys and cartoon I grew up on were gone.
Until this miniseries.
And to pick up this miniseries, you could tell it was miles ahead of anything from the 80’s. The Transformers were more alive than they’d ever been. A combination (pardon the pun) of intriguing writing, amazing art, and vibrant color brought these to life the way they’d never been (with the exception of the 80’s animated movie).
Nor were these necessarily written for kids. This miniseries was clearly written for the adults who had once been child fans of Transformers. There was death, betrayal, vengeance…adult concepts. And it plays out incredibly well. Watching Grimlock toss down his Autobot symbol almost brought tears to my eyes. The death of Superion was shocking. But at the same time, Superion stopping Devastator from killing had me cheering. And Prime’s speech about the good of humanity followed up by the firefighters risking it all to save him sent shivers down my spine.
Without a doubt, this is a must-read for any Transformer fan.
It’s not perfect. Pat Lee’s art, while light years ahead of what we got decades ago, still had issues with being a little boxy and transformations were sometimes too cartoony (much like the magically changing shapes so that the cartoon combiners could form a giant robot without giving the animators carpal tunnel syndrome). And there were occasional plot holes that made no sense but we were expected to just believe it (for instance, how did Spike get the center to the Matrix if Optimus needs it to function but has been missing since the rocket explosion).
Still, all in all, this ranks among my favorite properties. To this day, I still buy Transformer toys and watch the cartoon (occasionally). Yes, your favorite may die here (i.e. Superion or Devastator). Yes, your favorite may not be the hero you remember (I.e. Grimlock). But if you love Transformers, this is the book for you.
"Transform and Roll Out" this Sunday morning with Comic Watch as we look back at Transformers Generation 1 volume 1.
SUNDAY CLASSICS: Transformers Generation 1 volume 1
Writing - 9/10
Storyline - 9/10
Art - 9/10
Color - 9/10
Cover Art - 9/10
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