Thursday, 12 February 2009

Transformers UK Comics - Prey

It seems I got a decently positive reaction from my last piece, so I'll continue by looking at Prey. Now in an attempt to encourage people to buy the trades, I'll look at the other story in the Prey TPB as well, Grudge Match.

Both of these were favourites when I was little. And one of the best things was that coming back to them as an adult (and a postgraduate student in English literature) was how fantastically well they were written, how well Furman can write both touching characterisation and epic plots interwoven in the same story, with just a tiny page count to do it in.

Aren't I nice to you all!

So, without further ado...
We open with Optimus Prime reviewing the events of Target:2006, and worrying quite profusely. Namely that the first thing the Autobots did without him to let Megatron lead them, which given that he is commander of the Decepticons probably wasn't the sanest thing do to. And now there is the added crisis of the Decepticon's fully-operational spacebridge sending constant reenforcements. And shoud he die, what will the Autobots do then?

So he sets upon a... rather macabre plan - he will get Wheeljack to create a duplicate of himself so he can pretend to be dead and see how the Autobots will react, and at the same time as everyone believes he is dead, destroy the Decepticon's spacebridge. Prime, you scally, its almost like reality TV!

Meanwhile, Megatron isn't having too good a time of it either. Frustrated by his inability to defeat Prime, he starts violently taking it out on his troops which isn't the greatest morale booster. So Soundwave and Shockwave concoct a plot to take out both Prime and Megatron using the Predacons.

The hunting sequence is fantastic. Prime is continually outclassed by the predacons whilst Megatron cackles inanely and then just before the killing blow, Megatron is attacked by his men and disarmed, to face Prime alone. In a suicidal gesture, Prime throws them both into the spacebridge, which blasts them back to Cybertron.

Prime back on Cybertron is fantastic. He's not been back since issue 1 of the comic, and as he wanders amongst the corrupt and rusty spires, he constantly reflects on his own mortality (apt, since he gets killed off in one of the US issues which occurs shortly after this storyline. Furman gives that story vastly more context and pathos with this arc, once more UK readers coming out on top!).

Meanwhile Megatron has made his way to Polyhex and met up with the Decepticon leader, Lord Straxus. In the comics, you see, Megatron was not the be-all and end-all of the Decepticons, there was a lot of political infighting which Simon Furman writes brilliantly. Straxus, previously seen in one of the US stories had seemingly met his end after being kicked into the spacebridge. But here we find out his head has been salvaged and floats in a fishtank.

Despite his helplessness he comes across as a formidable threat, not just to the Autobots but to Megatron as well as he plots against him. There's some fantastic dialogue between the two as well, such as Straxus's "Optimus Prime still lives! What are you going to do about it, eh? Render a few more of my troops inoperative perhaps?"

Megatron also gets lots of development. He swings from secure and plotting in the Decepticon seat of power as he tricks the Autobots into hunting down Prime for him, to flying into fits of violent rage at his own ineptness to defeat his foe (again, Furman laying context for Megatron's eventual 'death' in the US comic, where he seemingly kills himself for no reason. Here, he is given lots of reasons).

The Wreckers, last seen in Target: 2006 and led by Magnus, capture Prime. Magnus, still hurting from the cost of his failure at the end of the previous story, is all up for killing Prime whom he believes is an enemy imposter thanks to Megatron's misinformation. Prime is rescued by Outback, an autobot whose life he previously saved, but at the cost of a mortal wound to Outback in the escape.

Prime carries the dying Outback to a quiet area of the ruins of Cybertron as he comforts him. Just look at the captions here, personally I still feel the dialogue is as beautiful and touching here as when I read it when I was around 7.

Here, we finally find out what happened to Prime during Target: 2006. When a time-traveller arrives, the matter needs to be displaced and so of course, the matter Galvatron chose to displace was Prime, banishing him to limbo for the duration of his journey. Prime and his companions found themselves in a terrifying place, in "your worst nightmare... and then some", of strange, twisted creatures.

Prime finally realises that the only way to escape is to stop fighting, to stop being blinded by the years of his own war... and he and the Autobots and Decepticons trapped in limbo awake into a black void being fed upon by creatures that were creating that nightmare.

Of course, there's a lesson to be learnt here, and that lesson is one of sacrifice and Prime, when he and Outback are finally cornered, refuses to fight any more proving that he really is Prime. And we see Emirate Xaaron again, who is one of my favouring recurring characters.

So Prime is back with the Autobots where he belongs. And one thing is on his mind. Is it to get back to Earth and tell the Autobots there that he isn't dead? No, it is sweet, sweet revenge on Megatron.

He takes the Autobot forces on a full-scale assault on Polyhex, determined to bring back Megatron's head once and for all. This whole account is told to Straxus by Octane, and there's some wonderful one-panel character moments in the thing.

Now it is Megatron's turn to have things go badly wrong for him. Straxus has had enough of Megatron and so attempts to swap minds with Megatron, as Megatron attempts to kill Straxus.

And... someone gets their head crushed. We're not really sure who though.

Megatron's decent into insanity continues as the botched mind-swap takes its toll, and we have the haunting image of him seated on his throne assaulted both internally and by the Autobot attack outside.
Prime and Magnus finally catch up to the breaking-down Megatron, who unleashes the power of a black hole (this was described in his toy's tech spec, but never really utilised in any other media.) Poor Megatron really is suicidally crazy and both the art and writing goes a long way to showing this. And again, remember this was a comic aimed squarely at kids (a fact that amazes me more and more as I re-read it, and makes me cry when I think how lowbrow kids stuff is today).

Once more, I shan't say how it all ends. Buy the trades!

The Prey trade features another story which was a favourite as a kid - the annual tale 'What's in a name?' and its follow-up, 'Grudge Match'.

Here, we have a flashback from the Dinobot Swoop, where he reveals he wasn't always Swoop - once he was called Divebomb until a Decepticon humiliatingly defeated him and as a final piece of salt in the wound, took his name. So Swoop went back to find the Decepticon and once more got completely trashed...

...only to be saved by Optimus Prime, something he never told anyone. When Prime was finally thought to be dead Swoop thought his shame was buried, but now he discovers Divebomb has come to Earth as part of the Predacon team, so resolves to go off alone and kill him.

Of course, things don't go so smoothly and soon the fight turns into a full-on Dinobots vs Predacons brawl. Swoop tries to manipulate Grimlock into killing Divebomb for him in order to protect his secret, and well... in about 28 pages it does more than any comic story I've read and you come out of it loving not only Swoop but also Grimlock who in the comics is not the stupid lug we see in the cartoons, but one of the most fully rounded characters Furman wrote about..

Oh Swoop, who won't you get killed! <3 <3


  1. Such utter bliss was that era of the TF comics. I enjoyed it immensely from issue 12 until the joy left me and made me quit come issue 157. I think I was trying to convince myself that I was growing and needed to mature by ditching Transformers.

    Now of course I understand that maturity is over-rated and love the comics more than ever. Prey was top quality Prime, perhaps only matched by his stirring gallantry in Issue 50, pushing his laser rifle well past it's safety limits in order to contain the raging Dinobots in the water.

    What a guy.

    Consequently I always push my rifle past it's limits whenever I encounter robot dinosaurs threatening to destroy human settlements.

  2. I got the white screen of death when trying to comment earlier and it was a really good paragrpah too. Er, Prey = good.

  3. 'Distant Thunder' is my favourite Transformers story ever.

  4. Issues 100 and 103 - Will Simpson's best looking TF story aside from Christmas Breaker.

    Plus cybernetic monkey men in 100 - cannae be beaten!

  5. Man, those mixed organic/mechanical monsters from the Distant Thunder story looked unnerving to me as a lad.

    While I enjoyed most of these stories back in the day, I think I was a little disappointed that the punch-up between the Dinobots and Predacons was so one-sided.