Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"It will take more than a handful of lumbering, muddle-minded Transformers to defeat us! We are binary bonded!"

The next stop in my ongoing search for the good Transformers comics is another from the Marvel series, specifically 1988’s Transformers #46, featuring the story “Ca$h and Car-Nage!” by writer Bob Budiansky and artists Jose Delbo and Danny Bulanadi.

The title of the story is pretty promising. Not only is there the forward-looking dollar-sign-used-as-the-letter-“S” in the title, but the punning, putting-the-“car”-in-“carnage” emphasis is pretty awesome, in a “this is so stupid it’s awesome” kind of way.

And I do love the cover, in which the motorcycle dude with a spiky-bike and a huge mourning star is driving straight at the crotch of a Transformer, who stands confidently before him. Why is this robot behaving so courageously? Because as we can see from this angle, Transformers have no genitals; their crotches need not fear mourning stars swung at them from motorcycles the way fleshy humans, with their vulnerable genitals do.

Note the little yellow explosion near the robots ankle, screaming “The Sparkabots battle the Roadjammers!

Who are the Spakrabots? And who are the Roadjammers?

We meet the latter first. They’re a group of bounty hunters recruited by the mysterious Z Foundation to hunt down Transformers, for $50,0000 a head.

Let’s meet them, shall we?

There’s Burn-Out, who was recruited at a county fair in Pennsylvania after he uses a shotgun to blast the robot target in a shooting game called “Reck the Robot.”

There’s Randy “Roadhog” Horton, a bounty hunter whose hobby is riding his motorcycle in demolition derbies and destroying cars with a huge medieval weapon, who is recruited after one such derby in eastern Pennsylvania.

And then there’s these two, Felix and Skunge, the best bounty hunters in Nevada, who a policeman points in the direction of the Z Foundation after they drop off their latest captures.

They all convene in New York City a few days later at the headquarters of the Z Foundation. There they meet with Mr. K, Mr. B, and Mr. L, who explain that the Founaation is founded “on the principle that all sentient robots—Transformers—must be eliminated for the safety of humanity.”

Because the government has been ineffectual in repelling the Transformers, Mr. Z decided to star paying bounty hunters to take down Transformers, and apparently these four are the best in the country.

The group, code-named “Roadjammers,” are given a little gizmo called a jammer, which emits a frequency that blocs the Transformers’ ability to transform and act on their own. They are then given word that three Autobots are operating in a nearby mountainous area.

Meanwhile, on Cybertron, a half-dozen Autobots are rotting away in a Decepticon prison camp,

and all referring to one another by name in every sentence, so as to subtly introduce them to readers. (Guzzle? Backstreet? Fizzle? Sizzle? These poor ‘bots were near the end of the line when they were passing at codenames, I guess).

Suddenly, in walk the dumbest looking Transformers I’ve ever seen:
Man, just look at these guys! They’re basically cube bodies with a rectangular limb in each corner, and a robot face stuck in the middle of one side. They hardly look like they should be able to walk, let alone transform into something and/or fight Autobots.

I’m assuming they look so awkward and goofy because pencil artist Delbo is sticking as close to the model of the toy designs as possible.

Wait, let’s check the Internet to find out…
Okay, so the above image is of the toy version of Flamefeather, taken from a Mr. Jeff Bryant’s website about his Transformers collection. In the above panel, he’s the robot on the far left. Apparently Delbo actually tried to anthropomorphize these robots a bit, and they do look less clunky and impossible in the comic than the toys do.

What kid would even want to play with such a toy? Well, these robots are the Firecons—Flamefeather, Sparkstalker and Cindersaur (Wait, isn’t that a Pokemon name?). And while they may look pretty stupid, if you dragged the toys across a flat service, they would emit sparks, hence the name. The Sparkabots similar contained a spark-creating device.

So, back to our story, the Firecons are there to escort the Sparkabots away, but the Autobots are all like, “No way!” and decide to fight it out, prompting the Firecons to reveal their equally ridiculous monster forms

I would have bet on the Autobots winning this fight, as their arms are long enough to reach their opponents with a punch, but it turns out the Autobots are all under-energized and thus so weak “a microcon could beat them with one armature tied behind his back!”

Ooh, sick burn Sparkstalker!

The Sparkabots are then given an energy bath to restore them to full operating capacity, and then marched across a transdimensional space bridge, and then find themselves on earth.

What follows next is a few repetitive pages in which we get three similar scenes of a Roadjammer or two attacking a Sparkabot with their little jamming devices, the Sparkabots trying to feel and/or talk their way out of a fight, and each ultimately being frozen in car mode.

The Sparkabots' protests apparently got to the Roadjammers though, as they sit around on the hoods of the conquered cars, smoking and drinking beers, and thinking something’s fishy about this whole set-up. They decide the dudes they talked to at the Z Foundation must secretly be in league with the Decepticons.

They drive the captured Autobots to the Z Foundation’s parking lot, where they discover three headless Deceptcons in robot mode.

Then out walk Mr. K , Mr. B and Mr. L. When the Roadjammers challenge them, some crazy shit happens:
Ah. So apparently these guys are the heads of Headmasters, a sub-set of Transformers that, like The Pretenders, young Caleb just could not get behind.

Like, there was a headless robot, that could transform into a vehicle, and its head was a tiny little humanoid Transformer, right? I just couldn’t understand this concept as a kid—it seemed so far removed form my understanding of Transformers evolution.

Also, they were called “Headmasters.” Even at 11 I knew how dirty a name that was, and was somewhat repelled by the fact that Hasbro seemed clueless about it.

Anyway, this transformation sequence in these panels are pretty insane…look how huge the Headmasters’ bodies get when they rip off their suits! And then they just become these flying heads that “POP” into their huge, headless bodies?

In the last panel, they discover that they’re paralyzed. That’s because Felix, the smart one, has monkeyed around with the jamming devices, and focused them on the headless Decepticon bodies as well.

Then things get kind of weird. Mr. Z comes in and explains that the whole thing was just a big scam—
—he needed to test the jammer technology on Autobots, and for some reason he thought it best to employ a bunch of shifty, violent bounty hunters instead of just doing it his damn self.

And check it out—

Mr. Z is a Decepticon’s head too! What the hell Z? This is a very stupid plan you have.

Mr. Z calls out Scroponok, the giant robot scorpion that is also his body. Felix ain’t scared though, as the jammers allow him to remote control the Decipticons, who he makes transform and announce their names:
Horri-Bull! Fangry! Ha ha, those are great names! Squeezeplay doesn’t really belong though, as he lacks a stupid/awesome name. Felix also sics the Sparkbots on Scroponok, leading to this wonderful splash panel:
Those are some awesome sound effect. I particularly like “Peeyooo!” That’s a sound I used to make a lot when I played with Transformers and other toys with guns.

The result is that Scorponok gets his ass kicked so bad that he’s forced to use an anti-jammer to release all the jammed Transformers, so the Decepticons will quit attacking him. Freed, the Sparkabots pick up the Roadjammers and ride away to safety.

So it’s basically a draw. The Sparkabots forgive the Roadjammers and drive off into the sunset, while Felix lights a cigarette and tells his smiling comrades that as soon as he figures out how to build a new jammer, “The Roadjammers are back in business!.”

I think he may still be working on it.


LurkerWithout said...

I wonder if Skorponok was still a Headmaster when he ends up leading the Decepticons...

LiamKav said...


Yes. And it became quite an important plot point.

Felicity Walker said...

I have this issue! I like Jose Delbo. He was one of the better artists to work on Transformers. I especially like the way he draws humans in Transformers. His backgrounds and objects are strong, too. I love Mr. Z’s office.

I can only assume that the non-bulkiness of the Headmasters’ bodies underneath their business suits is because of some sort of hologram.

Anonymous said...

This was actually one of the first Transformers comics that I read. As I was reading the British comics though, the story was split into two or three parts, and I missed the first bit. I still managed to follow it OK, as I recall.

Spencer Ellsworth said...

Please get yourself a copy of Transformers US 55, in which a Transformer becomes a professional wrestler.

You owe it to us. It is also available in the Titan Books trade collection "Last Stand."