The start of 1989 was very nearly the end of the road as far as Transformers and myself were concerned.
My local newsagent decided to stop carrying the Transformers comic. By this point I think I was the only kid in the village still requesting it and I guess her New Year’s resolution that year was to reach into the chests of children, pull out their still-beating hearts and feast on them while picking out the tubes with her cold, gnarled fingers.
Not that I’m still bitter about the situation some thirty years later, you understand.
Transformers 202 was the last issue I had delivered; right in the middle of the “Time Wars” epic. It was like missing out on the ending of “Target: 2006” all over again! It broke my heart.
With nowhere local to go, and without any transport of my own, I had to rely on my dad visiting his nearest large newsagent whenever he could and seeing what he could find. On the weekends that I saw him, he’d have one or two issues for me to dive into. The next issue I read after 202 was 230. Then 232. Then 235, 243, 245, 250, 253, 255, 301, 323, 327… Even now I can recite those issue numbers without thinking. That’s how few, far-between, and very precious they’d become.
I can’t state, even now, how much of a lifeline that weekly comic had been for me. It was my escape from the world. It was there for me every single week for the last two years. And now it was gone. It had been the reason I was even still collecting Transformers toys at that point. All of my school friends had been put off by the likes of the Headmasters and had moved onto other things.
I wondered if I should move on, too. Which, as it turned out, fit the prevailing narrative at home, and at school, of, “Well, you’re too old for Transformers anyway.”
It was assumed therefore, that I was done with Transformers. After four years of living and breathing Transformers it all came to a grinding halt in the new year of 1989. The last Transformers toy I got was the Seacon leader, Snap Trap, which my dad bought for me as a belated Christmas present, in spite of my mum’s objections (the last one she had bought for me was Landmine during the Easter holiday of 1988). It would be some months before he would buy the next one.
It was terrible timing. Hasbro’s latest offerings, the Micromasters, has just started to come out and they almost perfectly lined up with my tastes: recognisable alternate modes, bases that could connect (Metroplex be damned!), and themed, affordable teams that were highly collectable!
So, January 1989. I was 11 years old and starting the spring term of my final year at Primary School. No more Transformers. All grown up.
Except I wasn’t ready to let go. I simply couldn’t.
I still had all my (mostly broken now) toys on shelves in my bedroom, but they were now largely untouched, unplayed with, and gathering dust. I still had my scrapbook and I still had my box of a hundred or so Transformers comics.
Seeing the coupon for the Transformers Universe book in the letters page and begging my mum to get it and being told that £1.99 would be a waste of money was the final punctuation mark of the message: No more Transformers.
I remember coming home from school one day near the end of January, feeling very glum indeed and flicking through issue 202 yet again and desperately missing issue 203 and wondering what exactly might be happening in it. I decided to sort out my comics, put them into order and re-read every single one. It was a comfort.
Of course, since then, I’ve managed to track down all those missing issues of the Transformers comic and every so often I like to re-visit them. Each issue is like a time capsule; it stirs old memories of the issues I did read at the time and conjures up what it might have been like had my local newsagent kept stocking the comics and I kept getting the toys.
January 1989: Transformers 199-203
“Time Wars” was the last great Transformers epic told by Marvel UK. The comic itself did carry on for a further hundred or so issues but I do often wonder if “Time Wars” was, at the time, meant to be the title’s swan song. It certainly reads like it was: loads of Autobots and Decepticons die, the very fabric itself of the spacetime continuum is threatened, and almost all the plot threads from over 100 previous issues of the Galvatron storyline are tied up. It was a 7-part conclusion to the comic’s “silver age”.
Certainly in my eyes it was the conclusion, especially as issue 202 was the last issue I read at the time and seeing those tendrils of anti-matter wrap themselves around the planet as humans ran screaming for their lives in that last panel. Well that’s that, then, I remember thinking to myself. I looked up at both Rodimus Prime and Powermaster Optimus Prime (and also at Galvatron) on my shelves and imagined some epic final battle between all three that somehow also saved the entire universe.
I mean, how could the comic top that anyway?
The Transformers comic made it to 332 issues (not to mention many specials) but even by this point, reaching 200 issues was a tremendous accomplishment that cannot go unacknowledged, even today!
“Time Wars” is written, of course, by Simon Furman. The story itself is a true blockbuster. It’s all-out action drawn breathlessly across its pages. The plot is over the top, even by Transformers standards. There are a few holes here and there; in places it reads like an 8-parter that’s been cut down to 7 parts at the last minute.
I was always disappointed we readers never got to see the much publicised final showdown between Ultra Magnus and Galvatron. Meh, we can assumed Magus was killed incredibly violently by Megatron and Galvatron. “Time Wars” was the comic at its most visceral and vicious, after all!
The epic was illustrated by Andrew Wildman/Stephen Baskerville (for part 1), Robin Smith (parts 2-3), Dan Reed (parts 4-5), with the final 2 parts by Lee Sullivan. Robin Smith liked to draw his robots all at the same height. It was weird.
Despite his love him/hate him reputation, I’m actually most drawn to Dan Reed’s artwork here. He perfectly captures the violence and horror wrought by the Megatron/Galvatron team-up, not to mention their rapidly slipping grip on sanity. There’s a particular panel of Megatron, razor-toothed with an Escheresque face melting with unchecked bloodlust that haunts me still.
Whenever I go back to re-read “Time Wars” I always feel a sense of finality. It was a totem for the end of my childhood: no more toys, no more comics. Simon Furman did indeed write grander and better Transformers epics for Marvel but this particular epic is the end of childhood love of Transformers comics.
Meanwhile in America: Transformers (US) 52
While its little sister in the UK was dealing with the wholesale death of Transformer after Transformer after Transformer, Bob Budiansky’s stories had already been there and done that with the “Underbase Saga”. I think everyone at Marvel thought Transformers (US) issue 50 would be its last, especially Bob himself. But it doesn’t end, does it? It’s been widely reported that Bob was “done” with Transformers by this point but nevertheless dutifully kept writing issues until a replacement could be found.
“Guess Who the Mecannibals Are Having for Dinner?” is rare for an American Transformers story in that it doesn’t introduce any new characters. Maybe because it was written at the tail end of 1988 and Hasbro hadn’t yet told Marvel of the new toy range? The story features two of the Autobot Pretenders, Cloudburst and Landmine and, while the plot itself is nothing special, it’s a nice change to see some focus on two lesser known newer characters and put them together in a buddy movie kind of way.
Also Mecannibals are robots who eat robots. Heh.
Micro size, the power to surprise
It’s usually tricky to pinpoint exactly when new Transformers toys were officially released in the UK by Hasbro, but I’ve always found that the weekly British comic gives a good indication, whether in the editorial or letters pages or if/when the characters appear in the lead strip.
By January 1989, the Micromasters (or Microbots as they were referred to at the time by the comic) were already out in toy shops across the UK. There were letters from readers mentioning them, and there was a competition in issue 200 to win the first three Micromaster Patrols stating that they were indeed in the shops now.
Despite Hasbro’s massive rebrand of the Transformers line (new logo, completely new packaging design for the toys, new logo for the comic), those initial three Micromaster Patrols used the 1988 design.
In addition to those Micromasters, there were a few 1988 toys that Hasbro UK had held back (at least, if you go by the pack-in leaflets) for 1989. The likes of the Pretender Vehicles, Triggerbots and Triggercons were officially released in the UK a year later than they were in North America.
I can see 1989 starting with release of new Transformers still in 1988-style packaging across the UK as an interim period before the all-new brand was launched properly in the spring to coincide with the Easter school holidays.
In many ways, the start of 1989 was very much a period of huge change for Transformers. Kids, including me, were growing up and (not including me) moving on and Hasbro and Marvel needed to revisit their strategies for a new generation taking their/our place.
It really was sink or swim time. Or did Hasbro and Marvel just try to tread water? We’ll find out next month when we open February’s time capsule!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!