Sunday, July 26, 2009

So which ones are the good Transformers comics?

Like many millions of Americans, I paid actual cash money to go see a movie called Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last month. And then I went home, curled myself into a little ball in the back corner of a dark room, and rocked back and forth, weeping for our world.

I don’t really want to talk about the film, as the wounds it inflicted on my mind and on my soul are still too fresh. Seeing it did send me on a bit of a Transformers jag though, and I re-watched the admittedly not-very-good 1986 Transformers: The Movie

(although, credit where credit’s due, the opening two-minute scene, in which Unicron floats between the red and blue suns to devour a planet full of robots, is a better bit of film-making than anything in either of the two live-action flicks), and I then turned to my longboxes to re-read some of the Transformers comics I had acquired during the toy-turned-multimedia franchise’s early 21st century resurgence in popularity.

To my (mild) surprise, these comics weren’t very good.

By “these comics” I’m referring to the Dreamwave Productions ones, some of which I really liked when they first came out. These consisted of two “G1” miniseries, followed by a short-lived G1 ongoing. There were others that I had bought and read—a miniseries sub-titled The War Within and the Armada series based on the terrible cartoon with an extremely cool line of toys—but I didn’t care for them the first time around, so I had no desire to reread them.

Actually, all of the Dreamwave books were apparently pretty bad. The ongoing and second mini were deathly dull, full of far too many panels like this. The first series wasn’t great or anything, but it held up okay. Of course, it was powered exclusively by nostalgia—it was all the toys I grew up playing with, all the robots I spent the half-hour before G.I.Joe came on at 4:30 p.m. watching after my grade school day had ended, back and appearing in a medium I now prefer to toy or cartoon. The premise of the book was even that the Transformer robots from the ‘80s, having long lain dormant and assumed destroyed and lost, had returned to renew their war.

I knew that IDW had since acquired the license for the comics, but I hadn’t been reading their books at all (In addition to having gotten my fill via Dreamwave’s books, IDW’s were too highly-priced for me). I had read their initial Infiltration miniseries in a black-and-white digest while sitting in a bookstore a few years back, and liked that well enough. I sought out what was available at the library, and got another IDW collection, this one entitled Transformers: Stormbringer. It was by Simon Furman and Don Figueroa, and dealt with the origins of the Transformers race war, and how they came to planet earth in this new, IDW continuity.

I suppose it was an okay read, but it really struck me how weird it was that it was basically just a sci-fi, space opera type of story that just so happened to be branded as a Transformers series. The characters were all robots, and they shared the (often super-silly) names with the various toys, and, on occasion, a few of them did transform, but, for the most part, there was nothing in the story that necessitated it being about transforming robots.

Maybe that sort of seriousness is what some people liked about it—I understand that Furman and Figueroa are pretty popular among Transfans—but it struck me as kind of pointless. If you’ve got the Transformers license and are telling stories about giant robots defined by their ability to transform into vehicles, and your story could just as easily be told with a cast of humans or talking space baboons or fungus people instead, well, you’re not really making the most of things, are you?

I’m open to reading more IDW Transformer comics (provided I don’t have to pay for ‘em), but I was pretty disappointed that while they were a bit better than the Dreamwave ones (and thousands of times better than the live action movies), they still weren’t very good.

So what are the good Transformers comics? Surely there must be some, right? I mean, they’ve been publishing them for over 20 years now, they can’t all be bad, right?

I naturally assumed that the best Transformers comics must be the original Marvel ones then. That would explain why the comics license has remained active; the originals must have been so good that they left fond memories with a whole generation of readers, still eager to continue the experience.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t really read comics growing up, usually only when relatives brought some home from the drugstore along with a filled prescription when I was home from school sick or something. I had only read one Marvel Transformer comic before, #17, of which all I really remembered was that the cover was pretty terrifying and that it was set on Cybertron and featured Blaster, the lame, Autobot version of Soundwave (I don’t know if it was just me or what, but with the exception of the Dinobots, I kind of hated all the Autobots—none of them were really anywhere nearly as cool as their Decepticon enemies, either in their designs, or voices or characters).

I was thus very excited to find a handful of old, battered, yellowed Marvel Transformer comics in the large comics collection recently bequeathed to me. Now I would discover whether Marvel’s were indeed the good stuff or not (Although recent evidence has emerged on the Internet that they probably weren't).

Well, six issues later, I’ve discovered that these comics aren’t very good either. I daresay they may be better than the other ones I’ve read though, at least in so much as that they were mostly done-in-one, easy-ish to follow and many of them at least had something to with the Transformers being unique lifeforms and/or revolve around Transformers issues of race wars, civil war and being unwelcome visitors on planet earth. The bulk of the Dreamwave and IDW comics I recently read, on the other hand, dealt with religious cults among the Transformers for some reason.

This has, by the way, all been an incredibly long-winded way of saying that I’m going to spend some time over the next few weeks or months taking a closer look at Marvel’s Transformers via these back issues, since I might as well try to make some use out of them.

So, first up is 1986’s Transformers #44, which contains “The Cosmic Carnival” by writer Bob Budiansky, penciler Frank Springer and inker Danny Bulanadi.
The cover certainly looks promising, containing as it does a robot beast fighting a reptilian monster on top a speeding semi truck while a robot on a motorcycle speeds straight into the truck’s grill. Also, explosions.

It opens with a splash page of a long, serpentine space ship, with beams of light shooting from its length at random intervals. Budiansky’s narration is actually pretty cool, so long as you remember to read it in the voice of the narrator of Transformers: The Movie, you know, the voice that says “It is the year 2005…” in the clip I linked to above:

From somewhere in deepest space it comes—A rippling serpent of cold, pitted steel. Its origin is unknown…its destination unclear. Only pinprick shafts of light disturb the dark monotony of its patchwork-plate skin…revealing nothing of their true purpose…or their sources.

It’s pretty purple, but no more purple than your average superhero comic of today that still employs narration.

“In a nearby sector, a far more familiar spacecraft continues its journey,” says the narrator on the next page, in a panel showing a spacecraft completely unfamiliar to me. Apparently, it is the Autobot starcruiser Steelhaven, traveling between Nebulos and Earth (Nebulos, by the way, was the name of the planet that the title character in IDW’s Stormbringer tried to destroy, I think).

Aboard the ship are Optimus Prime, Goldbug (who is apparently Bumblebee 2.0), some Autobots that don’t play any part in the story, and some humanoid natives of Nebulos, who underwent “the Powermaster process.”

One of them was actually named Lube. Oh, to be nine-years-old and not find the word “lube” completely hilarious!
Optimus is putting on a little holographic light show for the Nebulans about the sad state of affairs of the Transformers, while high-collared Nebulan HI Q gets in on the exposition game, when suddenly another holographic light show intrudes upon the ship.

It is an ad for a space circus (that’s what those lights from the ship on the first page were, ads being beamed from a space circus train), and the circus looks completely insane:

Seriously, take a good, long, hard look at some of the featured attractions. For example, one of them is an octopus riding a unicycle while balancing a gigantic dragon on a super long crutch/pole.

The Autobots are all WTF until they spot the Autobot Sky Lynx near the tail end of the ad. That’s him, the thing that looks like a cross between a pterodactyl and a space shuttle. He’s named Sky Lynx, even though space shuttles fly in space rather than the sky, and he doesn’t look anything remotely like a Lynx. You can tell he’s not a G1 Transformer based solely on his name.

Optimus decides to figure out what one of his warriors is doing performing in a circus when it should be working towards his ultimate goal of Decepticon genocide, so he and Goldbug pay the steep admission needed to investigate.

Among the cages and displays at the sideshow, they make an unexpected discovery:
When the children refuse to perform tricks for the crowd, their human keeper and carnival barker type Berko shoos the crowd away and scolds the children. The ‘bots try to free them, only to discover their cell is electrified.

Optimus demands to spake to the manager, so Berko introduces them to Mr. Big Top…

…seen here smoking a cigar that looks to be about the size of Optimus. Note the giant ashtray in the foreground.

Mr. Big Top informs them that the kids and Sky Lynx have all signed a contract and are here voluntarily as performers, and gives them passes for the show.

Optimus is still suspicious:
In fact, he thinks there’s “More than meets the eye” to the goings on at the circus.

Hmm, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before…
Oh, right.

Mr. Big Top slithers into the spotlight in the center ring to introduce “the star of our show—that metallic master of aeral acrobatics—Sky Lynx!”

In pterodactyl form, S.L. swoops o ut of cage, and, in a very confusing panel, transforms into a weird, bestial form (a lynx, I guess?), jumps around a bit on some high platforms, and then dives toward the ground in lynx mode, only to transform into a space shuttle and glide safely to the ground.

Backstage, Optimus and Goldbug talk to S.L. and learn how he came to be here. He was apparently flying the children through space when they saw the ad for the circus and went to check it out. When Berko discovered that they had no money to pay admission, he struck a deal with them, wherein they exchange their services for admission.

But as long as they’ve been there, they haven’t been able to work off their debt, and the children are trapped in an electrified cage that will blow up if anyone but Berko tries to open it.

This is a comic book with an important moral for children: Never sign a contract until after you’ve read the fine print. Also, you might want to have your lawyer look it over first.

When Berko comes to break up all the chatting, Optimus and Goldbug ask him to release Sky Lynx and the children, and, unprompted, Berko launches into a flashback of his own, telling how he went from being a common earth hobo to Mr. Big Top’s right tentacle man:
Optimus Prime, master negotiator, manages to sway Berko with a simple one-sentence offer to give him a ride back to Earth:
They launch a plan. While Berko releases the children using his special electronic key and they all pile into Goldbug, Optimus turns into a semi and he and Sky Lynx have a page-long fight with the other circus performers:

The audience loves it!
Mr. Big Top isn’t about to let his star attraction drive away in a Volkswagen, however, and kicks Goldbug’s ass, and pulls the humans out of him.

I love how he holds the teddy bear in one of his tentacles too, as if he thinks it is one of his foes.

While Big Top is threatening his former employee, Goldbug puts himself in reverse and WHOMP, Mr. Big Top gets locked in the cage.
Together the Autobots, children and Berko return to the Autobot starship and they all head for earth, where the Autobots will resume their mission to exterminate the Decepticons, the children to reunite with their parents, and Berko to resume being a hobo, albeit now one in a spiffy purple costume.


Speaking of giant transforming robots, were you aware of the existence of these two films?

Suddenly the Go-Bots don't seem so bad anymore, do they?


Unknown said...

I realize that it's probably because the Transformers comics were my first comics ever but, I think they rock. Read some of the earlier issues. They are much better. They started to slide in quality, admittedly, after the late 20s issues. Also the All Hail Megatron stuff has been great. If you haven't been reading it, check out the trade.

LurkerWithout said...

I tried to keep up with the IDW Transformers line, but I'd keep missing issues from the mini-series and one-shot format they use. So I gave up. Because they had some kind of 3-way (at least) war going on that you needed to pick up everything to follow...

I liked the Dreamwave G1 books, though the others (including the Armada tie-in) weren't very good. But they did have nice shiny art and the various Transformers all seemed to have actual personalities...

I used to own a few of the old Marvel comics (and I think IDW reprints some of them now), including one right after the one Sims' mocked. It was cool because Megatron is going crazy without Optimus to fight and so Shockwave (the cyclops/gun guy) sends the Predacons to kill him. And Megs totally kicks their asses. Oh and their is an early one with black costume Spider-Man in it. Which to kid me meant that Transformers, Marvel's regular comics and G.I.Joe all TOTALLY exsisted in the same universe...

Justin said...

I had an early run of the Marvel comics as a lad. I want to say #10-12, where Shockwave had captured Optimus Prime's head. Throughout the whole arc, Shockwave talks in mathematical probabilities -- "I predicted it with 98.32 per cent probability" and so on. But when Optimus Prime escapes to save the Autobots from an ambush, Shockwave announces, "I am one hundred per cent certain of where he went!"

Maybe it's not that clever a bit, but to six-year-old me, that line was my "I did it thirty-five minutes ago."

Justin said...

Oh, and I wanted to say that I've also never really seen the point in, like, stories that are set mostly on Cybertron with little-to-no actual *transforming* going on.

But I've never understood the Transformers "mythology" anyway. They're from a planet where robots are the dominant life (?) form, and they transform into alien things until they come to Earth and imitate cars and planes, but they've already got names like "Bumblebee" and "Jazz." Doesn't it seem like, when they were working out the backstory for this toy line, it would've been a lot simpler just to say "Dr. X invented a warring faction of robots in disguise" or something?

Unknown said...

You should check Transformers vs G.I. Joe from dreamwave if you can (john nay rieber/ jae lee). That mini is quite cool.

Unknown said...

Btw, transmorphers look as stupid as transformers live action

Tucker Stone said...

Those IDW ones are unreadable trash, although the All Hail Megatron issues can fool you, as some issues have a pretty clever cover design. There's some old Marvel issue where a kid finds Optimus Prime's severed head in a warehouse. I remember that was pretty good, but you probably want to move on. Comic versions of Transformers kind of misses the point of them actually transforming. I'd bet you'd have a better entertainment experience if you just bought some of the toys and handed them to a couple of little kids.

LiamKav said...

Of course, the issue you just read did have Rorza, the Rocket-cycle Racer from Rigel III! in it, which is worth some points.

Transformers depends what you're in for. The end of the Marvel run was great in a "let's make this as over the top as possible", and had Unicron in it in a way that made much more sense than the original movie.

If you want fun stories about transforming robots, then I'm not sure what comics would be best. The last cartoon series (Transformers Animated) was awesome and like that, though.

Austin Gorton said...

That circus seems like a place Batman and Superman would have visited in the sixties, after Robin got similarly hoodwinked into "working" for the circus.

Austin Gorton said...

Also, I'd like to add that the Transformers movie from '86 features "The Touch", Leonard Nimoy, Judd effin' Nelson, and Orson Welles as a transforming planet, which not only makes it better than either live action Transformer movie, but most movies overall.

Jason Green said...

I cut my teeth on the Marvel Transformers comics, and the quality really was all over the place. Some issues were outright awesome, but a lot of them got so bogged down in the human side of things that it could get frustrating. I definitely preferred the Simon Furman era (#56 and up) to the Bob Budiansky one, although Bob did have some pretty damn good issues in there.

Ones to keep your eye out for:

- #5-12: All of the Autobots are dead, and it's down to the virtually powerless medic Ratchet to beat the entire Decepticon army. Introduces the Dinobots, Jetfire, and the Constructicons, plus some PHENOMENAL art by a guy named William Johnson that's barely drawn anything else I know of.

- #47-50 -- The Underbase Saga

- #62-66 -- The Matrix Quest

- Anything drawn by Geoff Senior

Ryan Roe said...

The crappiness of the new movie inspired me to seek out some non-crappy Transformers stories as well.

I read some of IDW's Transformers Spotlight series, which are pretty good stories but don't feature enough transforming. Then I found "Classic Transformers Vol. 4," which reprints later issues of the Marvel series. I was amazed at how much better the plotting got once Simon Furman took over writing duties from Bob Budiansky.

But yeah, no matter how good they are, they're still about giant robots who turn into cars punching each other, so they're all kinda stupid.

Avi Green said...

I once owned a small collection of Marvel's Transformers series, which included even a 3-part miniseries based on the cartoon movie. It was almost as bad as the movie it was based on! At one point, when they were on the planet populated by the Sharkticons and the self-appointed judges, the Quintessons, who were semi-hydra-shaped, they met a prisoner who explained what the enemy was like before being dragged out to receive his death sentence. He was thrown into a pool full of water, and Sharkticons. But when the Autobots' turn came soon after, the pool was empty of any liquid! I didn't understand that part. In any case, it was so dumb. And as for the movie itself, to this day, I can't believe Orson Welles wasted his voice talent on a clinker like that. I can't even believe Leonard Nimoy did either.

The regular series had a few interesting details, but otherwise, you're right, it was flat as a pancake. The trouble with most comics based on licensed products is that they do tend to get bogged down by the limits imposed by the licensing company.

Jeremy said...

The Transformers are stupid, in any incarnation, which anyone not blinded by nostalgia would gladly tell you.

Nothing about the concept makes sense, which is what happens when an American toy company mashes two different Japanese toy lines together into one and then forces some poor schmucks to write coherent stories about them.

Jonathan Mills said...

Jason Green said it best: Geoff Senior's art is far better than original TF comics and has a charm absent from the Dreamwave/IDW age. Early TF artist Andrew Wildman's robots were always very rounded and humanoid, but Senior's robots have sharp, clean lines. He was spare, though, and knew better than to clutter up the characters with technological detail. Senior's cover to Transformers (US) #75 is a good introduction.

More generally, the Marvel UK issues are the "good" comics. Simon Furman got his start on the UK comics before taking over the US book around the middle of its run. Most of the UK stuff is incredibly confusing--Target 2006, which stars a time-traveling Galvatron, still makes my head hurt. Furman's personality conflicts bring a gravity to the characters missing from most of the US kid- and combat-oriented run.

It's valid to call Furman out for writing space opera, but it's really the only way for the characters to make any sense. The fundamental narrative problems with Transformers is how they interact with people. Furman's stories avoid that by taking people out of the equation and having all the robots in space. On earth, "robots in disguise" only works until the first transformation. From that point on, regardless of the media or incarnation, the story gets stupid. There have never been any plausible narrative advantages to the Transformers needing an alternate mode once people know what they are.

But you're right, if Transformers don't transform, they're not really Transformers anymore, are they? The best way to enjoy the franchise is find that inner place where you're 5-8 years old and enjoy the fact that that giant robot dinosaur turned into a robot guy and blew the crap out of something. That's the only time when the stories are actually any good, regardless if the plot makes any sense.

Kid Kyoto said...

Yeah, while GI Joe has Larry Hama's writing to pull the concept up the Transformers were never really that good on the page.

I think the point that if they're not moving and transforming is a good one, they toys were always great you could spend hours just transforming them.

As for the names, that's an easy one... Cybertron is the ultimate decsendent of Skynet/the Matrix sent back in time by the last descendent of John Conner.

They also created the Cylons.

I have a 38-part fan fic that explains how it all comes together, quite facinating really...

chiasaur11 said...

Spotlight: Kup is pretty good.

Expressive art, clever plotting, good characterization...

No humans, though. So the blending in bit isn't a part of it.

Caleb said...

Wow, thanks for all the great replies and the suggestions for future Transformers reading.

Also the All Hail Megatron stuff has been great. If you haven't been reading it, check out the trade.

I do like that title and the covers I've seen for it.

I want to say #10-12, where Shockwave had captured Optimus Prime's head...But when Optimus Prime escapes to save the Autobots from an ambush

Okay, the thought of Optimus Prime's disembodied head rolling and bouncing away to rescue the Autobots is a pretty awesome image...

You should check Transformers vs G.I. Joe from dreamwave if you can (john nay rieber/ jae lee). That mini is quite cool.

Oh, I quite liked the Joe/Transformers stuff. I liked the WWII one that you mentioned, and the the first DDP one, where Cobra Commander carries around Megatron as a talking pistol or some such? I recall reading one issue of another crossover between the two that was good, but they never finished the series; there was also an awful one involving time travel, but I didn't finish it.

Transformers depends what you're in for. The end of the Marvel run was great in a "let's make this as over the top as possible", and had Unicron in it in a way that made much more sense than the original movie

One of the comics in the handful of old Marvels I got is actually pretty awesome in that kind of over-the-top way—it's a big, huge, oversized issue where Starscream becomes cosmically empowered and basically slaughters almost every Transformer.

...which not only makes it better than either live action Transformer movie, but most movies overall.

While I can't mount a good defense of that film, I do re-watch it about once every year or two, because of the reasons you just mentioned. I liked it even more after 2005, the farflung future year in which it's set.

#47-50 -- The Underbase Saga

I have two of those; #50 is the one I mentioned earlier. I'll blog about 'em eventually...two much worse ones to go first though...

More generally, the Marvel UK issues are the "good" comics.

I'm pretty sure my local library has trades featuring some of that stuff, which I hope to get to eventually.

Matthew said...

Seconding the Marvel UK comics, which I grew up on and which convinced me permanently of the inherent awesomeness of transforming cars.

Tony said...

I dunno ... "good" seems like a lot to ask out of your giant-transforming-robots comics.

I love me some Transformers, but I don't really look for them to be "good."

Patrick said...

Whoa - childhood flashback. #44 is one of those comics I had as a kid - I haven't seen the cover in probably 20 years, if that tells you anything.

I got comics probably twice a year, at Christmas and my birthday, and for most (Spider-Man, Batman) I could piece together what had happened in previous stories pretty well. But not Transformers - Goldbug? The last Transformers issue I had was the one where Ratchet discovers all the Autobots are dead - what happened with that?

My favorite of the few Transformers comics I own was one where a two-bit hood finds a disabled Megatron and uses his magic gun to become a crimelord - until Megatron wakes up.

Anonymous said...

But yeah, no matter how good they are, they're still about giant robots who turn into cars punching each other, so they're all kinda stupid.

Ok, everyone set aside the hate and be 100% honest for 1 second. If you read or were pitched this movie idea, who would be the first director to pop in your mind?

Admit it, the entire premise sounds like something tailor made for Michael Bay. And if you can keep nostalgia from blinding you for 1 minute, you'll see that he has kept the intellect level of source material consistent.

And I'll admit it. Sometimes you just want to see giant robots hitting each other. (but then, I'm a G-fan too so my standards are warped)

Spencer Ellsworth said...

Meh, I haven't liked All Hail Megatron at all. Good concept, bad execution. The characters mostly stand around and talk, Optimus magically comes back from the dead with no explanation, the Matrix MacGuffin shows up and then does nothing... it reads like it needs Ritalin.

But yeah, there were some real stinkers among the comics back in the day.

I like the IDW stuff, written by Furman, though it got off to a crappy start. I reviewed it here:

Z said...

Sky Lynx is, in fact, a G1 Transformers. G1 got plenty nonsensical before it finished.

For the love of God, don't bother with All Hail Megatron. It's confusing, poorly written gibberish that requires you to have read all the books leading up to it (if you want the traitor sub-plot to make a lick of sense) and yet ignores many of the unresolved plot points while randomly redesigning various characters.

On the other hand, if you have no problem with Japanese steam trains running through New York subways or giant flying Dolby audio cassettes attacking commando crews stupid enough to attempt to invade an enemy base via a rubber raft, knock yourself out.

You said you quite liked 'Infiltration'. The two series following that, 'Escalation' and 'Devastation', along with the accompanying Spotlight series (collected in Transformers: Spotlights 1, 2 and 3) are probably the best of recent Transformers comics. For one thing, the whole 'robots in disguise' thing is integral to the narrative: the Decepticons' method of taking over planets is to remain undetected and use facsimiles to 'foment global anarchy'. The Autobots likewise prefer to remain undetected, and mostly manage it.

chiasaur11 said...

Marvel UK also introduces the GOOD Death's Head.

Who is awesome.

Spencer Ellsworth said...

"Admit it, the entire premise sounds like something tailor made for Michael Bay."

Yeah, that's why I thought the first one really wasn't bad. But something happened...

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late (grabbing Comic-Con news takes much of a day), but darned if I'm not getting in on this discussion. I was never a fan of Furman's space opera story, and his IDW run has so many plot threads going on that it gets MORE difficult to read as it goes on. McCarthy's All Hail Megatron is a much better read, although he could stand to balance the fight scenes and story scenes a bit more.

For the Marvel run, I highly recommend #'s 7 and 8. Not only some of the best art of the Marvel run, but you wouldn't think Ratchet, the medic, would be Megatron's downfall. My favorite is #16, which I know isn't to everyone's taste, but it made Bumblebee officially my favorite Autobot ever because I really related to him in that story. Or at least kid me did and did me will never really go away.

I actually didn't like the Dreamwave/WW2 team-up with the Joes. Wrote a whole article on it for my blog, but the art was harder to follow than the Bay movies and there are things that just don't work for me. The Devil's Due stuff, however, was excellent.

Z said...

"McCarthy's All Hail Megatron is a much better read, although he could stand to balance the fight scenes and story scenes a bit more."

And speed up the pace to slower than a dull crawl. And write a plot that makes a lick of sense. And seed sub-plots so that when a character steps out of the shadows to do something incredibly dramatic, it's not someone whose barely spoken a line of dialogue up until now. And not leave tonnes of plot threads dangling at the end.

Furman has his faults - I'm not a big fan of dimension-hopping the space opera aspects either - but McCarthy is simply amateurish.

Felicity Walker said...

The original 1980s Transformers comics are much better than any Transformers comics from the next two decades. The only good IDW Transformers comics are the Generations reprints of the 1980s comics on better paper. None of the later Transformers comics, from Generation 2 onward, ever recaptured the simpler, more innocent time that was the 1980s. Also, with a few minor exceptions, nobody could draw Transformers properly after the 1980s.

Of course, even the 1980s comics weren’t quite right; for the true Transformers experience, you have to watch the 1980s cartoon.

The good issues of the original American comic series are:

#4: Just the lettering by John Workman.

#5: Just the cover.

#7-8: Excellent art by William Johnson, as mentioned by Jason Green above. If only the whole series had been drawn like this.

#10-30: Just the lettering by Janice Chiang.

#16: Just the splash page with the wire-frame drawing of Bumblebee.

#33: Part one of a reprint of a British story. Good art by John Ridgway (though strangely toyetic).

#35: Just the cover. The only good drawing of Bruticus I’ve ever seen in the comics.

#37-42, 45-54, 56-61, 63-64, 67: The Jose Delbo issues. Delbo was one of the better artists on Transformers. He was a competent artisan with strong fundamental skills who stuck to the model sheets whenever possible, which meant that his Transformers looked almost as good as the cartoon’s. And his people, backgrounds, and objects looked perfect.

There was also Transformers Universe, a listing of characters with drawings (often based on the model sheet) of them in both modes, and a description of their personality, powers, and weaknesses. Later issues of the comic, from around the #50s onward, had supplemental TFU entries. Example: in #58, all five Technobots, plus their combined mode, Computron.

Re.: #44: Sadly, we never find out if Berko never made it back to Earth to be a hobo in a cool purple uniform. In issue #52 we learn that he and Sky Lynx made the mistake of stopping at Grand Central Space Station, where the giant robot spiders called Mecannibals kidnapped Sky Lynx and left Berko to be a hobo in the back alleys of the station. Some Autobot Pretenders showed up and rescued Sky Lynx and Berko, but we never saw Berko again. We can only assume the Autobots gave him a ride back to Earth.

LiamKav said...

"The Jose Delbo issues. Delbo was one of the better artists on Transformers."

Er, what? Delbo was terrible. Everyone was made up of giant boxes, and he didn't really have any idea how those boxes would join together. Everyone walked and moved as if their joints had fused together. He made constant mistakes, such as thinking that Starscream only had one ear, and any deviation from the model sheets left him in a blind panic.

Geoff Senior was my favourite of the original 80s artists. His work was simplified, but extremely dynamic. He did things that shouldn't have worked, but did. He also avoided the "humans-in-armour" look that some of the other artists did. He mainly worked on the UK stuff, but he also did #75 and a few others.

Of course, these comments show you possibly why Transformers have lasted... there are so many flavours that everyone can be pleased. Some like the original cartoon, some prefer the comic, some like Bubianksy, some like Furman, some like All Hail Megatron, etc

Felicity Walker said...

Well, Delbo wasn’t perfect, true, but I still think he was one of the better artists. I prefer him to Springer, Kupperberg, Perlin, and Wildman, for example.

I liked the fact that Delbo drew Transformers as made up of giant boxes. Transformers /are/ made up of giant boxes. Artists who forgot that drew bad Transformers. I do agree with you that it’s mistake to try to draw Transformers as humans with armour. That was one of many ways in which Andrew Wildman went wrong. There are totally different rules when it comes to drawing Transformers; a Transformers artist has to forget everything he ever learned about drawing superheroes. The animators for the 1980s cartoon got it; most comics artists never did, and it led to perennial disappointment when I tried to go from watching the cartoon to reading the comic.

I don’t mind that Delbo relied heavily on the model sheets. The model sheets are the most accurate depiction of the Transformers. Even a terrible artist, like Paul Kupperberg, drew reasonably tolerable Transformers when he copied the model sheets.

It’s true, though, that Delbo made mistakes, like Starscream’s one ear (or Soundwave’s mouth). I’ll give you that.

I basically liked Geoff Senior’s Transformers art. Sometimes his Transformers were too skinny with oversized heads and limbs that bent in wrong ways, which may be a result of trying to draw them like humans--although Senior’s humans didn’t look as good as his Transformers. He did use the right amount of simplification, though, and his backgrounds were good. I love the + shaped thing floating in the shuttle bay when the gravity turns off in that issue where the Autobots are fighting Thunderwing for the Matrix.

Bottom line, if I saw a Transformers comic I didn’t own and it was drawn by Senior, I’d probably buy it.