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Nostalgia November Day 12 — Transformers #63

Each day in November, I will read and review/discuss/whatever one comic taken from a box of some of my childhood comics. Today, it’s Transformers #63.

The Nostalgia November archive can be found here.

transformers63Transformers #63 by Simon Furman and Jose Delbo is part two of the five-part “Matrix Quest” that has the Autobots and a group of Decepticons led by Lord Thunderwing searching for the Matrix, which was lost in space at some point. Really, this issue is just a story about three Autobots on an alien planet seemingly rescuing a group of persecuted aliens from death only for it to be revealed later that the seemingly innocent aliens were actually evil. Honestly, there’s not much more to this issue. So, a few quick thoughts:

* The aliens they rescue are human-like, bald, and have pointy ears… when their true form is revealed, they have squid faces and giant eyes and look creepy… is it not possible for creepy-looking aliens to be nice and sweet?

* This issue gives me no idea of how Thunderwing is different from any of the other Decepticon leaders.

* They say the Matrix was lost when Optimus Prime’s old body was blown up? What happened to Rodimus Prime? Man, they need to take better care of that Matrix.

* Optimus Prime dives into some well in this issue that gives him visions… none of them good news.

* Apparently, it’s somehow shameful that these Autobots secretly long for peace and tranquility rather than constant hardship and battle.

* I preferred Delbo’s art on the previous issue that I read. His robots often look too short — their legs not in proportion to the rest of their body. You can see that on the cover with Thunderwing.

Next week, I’ll do #64, part three of the “Matrix Quest” as part of “Transformers Thursdays”…

15 Comments

The Matrix Quest storyline was unique for a rather inspired idea on Furman’s part: each part homaged a separate movie or genre. Obviously, this part is Western-inspired; other parts would take on the Maltese Falcon, Moby Dick, and Alien. I always thought it was a neat touch.

As for the points you raised:

*This issue gives me no idea of how Thunderwing is different from any of the other Decepticon leaders.

Thunderwing doesn’t have a particularly stand-out role in this issue, but he’d ultimately be defined by his obsession with the Matrix; he finally gains it, it corrupts him, and he’s almost destroyed trying to contain it. Beyond that, he’s a fairly competent leader.

* They say the Matrix was lost when Optimus Prime’s old body was blown up? What happened to Rodimus Prime? Man, they need to take better care of that Matrix.

Rodimus Prime doesn’t really exist in the US stories, except for an alternate-future tale, and a really weird issue that straight-up adapted an issue of the animated series’ third season. Remember, in the animated movie, Rodimus Prime doesn’t exist until 2009, and it’s still 1986; Hot Rod is tooling around somewhere, but he never becomes Rodimus Prime in the original US comic timeline.

* Apparently, it’s somehow shameful that these Autobots secretly long for peace and tranquility rather than constant hardship and battle.

It’s shameful when you’re opting for peace and tranquility at the cost of doing your damn job, yes. If Beachcomber or Mirage can be inspired to fight for the safety of the universe, these guys really don’t have much of an excuse to slack off.

So… Transformers: The Movie never happened in these stories? But… it was awesome!

I know the next issue does Moby-Dick, but since I’m missing the first and fourth parts, I didn’t catch on to it being a running idea throughout the story.

It’s always confusing when you need to track two separate continuities, in this case, the TV show versus the comic. (And then there were the UK Transformers comics, which I think were their own, third continuity.)

But yeah, the Transformers comic was its own thing from the beginning, and I forget whether it came before or after the TV show debuted. The casts were generally the same, although the Autobot’s human ally was Buster in the comics and Spike on the TV show (and Shia LeBouf in the movie). Other notable differences: the comic was consistently set in the present day, while the TV show went two seasons in the present, then the movie came, and then the rest of the show was set in 2005 or 2006. Oddly, both the comic and the TV show were firmly set in their respective G.I. Joe universes.

If I’m recalling correctly, the comic DID acknowledge the movie. In future issues, Unicron brough Galvatron back in time from an alternate future, and it was implied that said future was either the movie or a close approximationt thereof.

They didn’t just lose the Matrix when Prime’s body was blown up. From the Transformers wiki:

“Prime’s persistence in keeping the physical shell of the Matrix a secret proved to have been a mistake when the Autobot leader died. In accordance with Cybertron funerary practises, Prime’s body was loaded into a funeral bier and launched it into space, unwittingly sending the Matrix with it.” http://transformers.wikia.com/wiki/Matrix_of_Leadership

Whoops! I hope someone was fired over that. Of course, the Autobots have never had the best management system in place. Like when they made Grimlock king. Oh, the humanity.

The Marvel Transformers series did have some significant continuity fudges. Off the top of my head, I think the two Megatrons and the retconning of The Matrix from being a pure energy “object” centered in the posessor’s head to a metal object were the two biggest.

In both cases, Furman’s use of movie-inspired story elements contributed to the problem, come to think of it.

Still, I credit the guy for telling inventive stories and managing to doing some good character development, while balancing the constant requirements from Hasbro that new, often dumb, toys be worked in. (He dodged the Headmaster and Pretender bullets, admittedly, but he had to come up with a use for “Action Masters,” after all.)

Personally I really enjoyed the Matrix Quest stories, especially the first three. Yes, they were kind of off-the-wall… but this is a comic book about English-conversant alien machines, with inexplicably humanoid bodies (and often faces), which in spite of technologies like faster-than-light travel and mass-shifting, somehow needed the products of humanity’s 20th century energy industry. :-) If you try to get rid of all the illogical wackiness, it’s no longer really The Transformers.

Chad Nevett
November 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

“So… Transformers: The Movie never happened in these stories? But… it was awesome!”

The UK for the most part kept the US comic continuity, and the then unknown Simon Furman slotted in extra stories designed to fit in between US stories. This led to closer ties to the animated movie than in the US strip, as the future stories had less impact on current continuity (characters could die in the future) so Furman didn’t have to keep second guessing what was coming next from the US. The movie was used to kick start what was, and still is, one of my favourite stories of all-time; Target: 2006! A story which would ultimately cuminate 120 odd issues later in “Time Wars”.

The major, irreconcilable differences between the UK and US continuities revolved round the destruction of Bumblebee and his rebirth as Goldbug (Death’s Head did it, yes?) and the original death of Megatron, which Furman tried but failed to fix when he took over the writing chores on the US comic.

People to this day don’t seem to understand how different the comics universes of GI Joe and Transformers were complared to their tv/movie counterparts. The Marvel series was all sorts of trippy. Megatron was basically emasculated by Shockwave by issue 6. The human subplots of Robot Master and Circuit Breaker were great in terms of grounding the series with human characters that weren’t just the bot – loving Witwickys. You had Optimus dying in ish 24, and Megatron getting destroyed in the next issue. That sets up an almost 2 years without ANY Autobot leader as Grimlock who is more vengeful and warlike, and Blaster who’s more Autobot leader potential being protective towards others – set up 2 camps that end up opposing each other. While over on the Decep side, of all people, RATBAT is tapped to basically co-lead with Shockwave. Then the headmasters take over and well, the quality starts declining there until about the late #60′s where they have to deal with Unicron. The last 5 issues (#76-80) were tacked on as the series was supposed to end with #75, but Andy Wildman’s art was supurb for that time, and still looks great to this day.
Oh, and I thought Generation 2 (the comic) was actually pretty great as well – and I was impressed how it spun out of G.I. Joe’s title.

Yes, I would propose Generation 2 as the best Transformers comic storyline, possibly the best Transformers story of all, period.

Counting the (very Transformer-heavy) prologue issues in GI Joe, there were, what, 17 issues making up one glorious, unified story arc. Good artwork. Good action, good use of favorite characters, good new menaces. And, especially now as a professional designer myself, I still love Starking’s lettering and typography; even today I’m hard-pressed to think of anything quite like it in comics.

I think it was , if nothing else, the pinnacle of Transformers as for me personally: the old continuity taken out for a spin one last time, about as “mature” as you can make the concept (without making it something else, as I noted above), about as perfect an “ending” as you would want, i.e. plots are wrapped up tightly though the never-ending battle goes on.

I’ve sampled some of the subsequent comics (and loved what I’ve seen of the new Animated series), but still, I think G2 is just going to stand as a kind of Last Word on the concept for me.

the matrix quest shows why the transformers comic contuniety and cartoon one is so messed up for one deciding the matrix is no longer a energy but metal and then having it get lost with optimus body not to mention having both decepticons and autobots team up to find it. knowing both sides can not trust each other. the matrix quest is one story of transformers that shows marvel was running out of steam with the comic.

Every time an american comics fan mentions Transformers, I feel sorry that for so many years they had to put up with Bob Budiansky’s childish drivel (Autobots going to a rock concert, CarWash of Doom etc) … (drivel might be too strong a word, but certainly these were comics aged at a younger crowd) while we in the UK had more sophisticated sci-fi stories, involving time travel etc. Throughout the whole thing Simon Furman maintained consistent storylines and when he took over the US title he did an admirable job of bringing the two together.
Not to mention he’s written plenty of great stuff since, the IDW War Within series and later Infiltration arcs spring to mind.

Bob Budiansky created the core personalities of the entire franchise, so while his storylines got to be a bit…odd, he deserves credit at least for that. And for my own part, I quickly lost interest in Furman’s time travel stories. It worked for Target: 2006, but by the time the Time Wars rolled around, it was just confusing.

Budiansky had good stories in him. I mean, who doesn’t recall the “Return to Cybertron” 2-parter as the “Empire Strikes Back” of Transformers, i.e., the dark, “serious” story that we wish the rest of them were like?

I think he was just slowly driven mad by Hasbro; as noted above, the new toys which were constantly pushed upon the series became increasingly silly after the first couple of years. iirc Budiansky has more or less said so in interviews, even.

I’m with Wraith. Budiansky gave us some great early stories (The space bridge, EVERYTHING SHOCKWAVE) and some wild characterization (notably Ratchet constantly going kamikazi or being driven to madness by job pressure). By the end of his run it was just “New group of toys appear, lets have a conversation where we all say each others name, blast! It’s the Autobots/Decepticons!” He would have to introduce 14 new characters in a comic, and nobody got decent screen time.

I don’t know how Furman got away with it, but he would introduce one character (or a small group) and give him a single issue to shine. He also had a penchant for making characters that weren’t based on any toys at all. Like half of the Wreckers.

At first I didn’t care who was writing the Transformers comics. As a child I experienced them more directly without thinking about the individuals who made them. Upon rereading, though, I think I prefer the feel of Budiansky’s writing to Furman’s. He could do serious, adult stories without sacrificing the wholesome innocence, which is very rare. It felt as if he had invited us into his world and there was a shared vibe. I got that feeling a lot less often from Furman; his writing seems more aloof and self-indulgent. For me the most enjoyable Furman issues are the first two arcs, with the return of Megatron and the awakening of Primus. It may be because he was still extricating himself from Budiansky’s plots, but those stories felt like he was sincerely communicating a world to the reader.

Or maybe I just found the British dialect alienating. UNAAAAAAAAH! What are you playing at?

I judged and still judge Transformers comics artists by how close they come to the original animated series, so—after William Johnson—José Delbo is my favourite. Of all the artists on the original comic he stayed the closest to Floro Dery’s model sheets, and I think that was a wise move. Too many Transformers artists draw the Transformers as if they were giant humans covered in metal pieces. That leads to proportion problems. Geoff Senior’s Transformers look weirdly skinny and big-headed, despite the fact that he does a great job of capturing their polygonality and metallic surfaces. Andrew Wildman was particularly bad for drawing them as giant humans in armour; his Transformers’ faces were all lumpy and gross. They drooled and their noses were runny.

Generation 2 was ugly, from the “extreme” art to the experimental lettering (I didn’t like the balloon shapes or the coloured bars down the side, and I disliked Richard Starkings’ original font—though I liked his later fonts, and he seems to be a nice guy IRL). I prefer to pretend G2 never happened.

If I were a billionaire, I’d hire the original animators and surviving actors to make 1980s-animated-series-style episodes out of the comics, so I could judge the stories fairly without being influenced by their aesthetics.

“the matrix quest shows why the transformers comic contuniety and cartoon one is so messed up for one deciding the matrix is no longer a energy but metal and then having it get lost with optimus body not to mention having both decepticons and autobots team up to find it. knowing both sides can not trust each other. the matrix quest is one story of transformers that shows marvel was running out of steam with the comic.”

I thought Matrix Quest was a sign of the series really getting into gear and developing a genuine sense of momentum, myself.
You’ve got some of the details of the story mixed up anyway. The Autobots and Decepticons don’t team-up to get the Matrix, the Autobots are looking for it and the Decepticons are stalking them so that their leader could take it for himself.

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