Wednesday, January 27, 2016


cover art by Herb Trimpe

As Transformers #27 (April 1987) opens, Optimus Prime is dead. Which is a sadly common experience. No matter what version of the Transformers universe we are talking about, Optimus gets killed with frightening frequency. He rarely stays dead permanently, though--it's a wonder the other Autobots even notice any more when he gets killed.

But, to be fair, his death a few issues earlier was the first time he died in the Marvel Universe continuity. So the other Autobots aren't expecting a resurrection any time soon and are debating who should take over as leader.

One Autobot who wants to toss his hat into the ring is Grimlock, the head of the Dinobots. Actually, he doesn't want to toss his hat into the ring. He wants to stomp the ring flat and then eat it. In other words, he just wants to declare himself leader of the Autobots and smash anyone who stands in his way.

So he and the Dinobots are on their way to the Ark (the crashed space ship the Autobots use as a base) so he can claim leadership. Along the way, he encounters a human girl; she's an assistant to a paleontologist who is trying to figure out why they are finding dinosaur footprints in Oregon. To Grimlock's surprise, the girl doesn't immediately scream and run away. Grimlock's opinion of us humans is that we're all weak and cowardly, so an act of bravery impresses him.

In the meantime, the Decepticons have decided to destroy the Autobots and loot the Ark of its fuel and resources. To carry out this plan, they teleport in their most dangerous and brutal member: A giant robot dinosaur called Tripticon.

The Dinobots are still outside the Ark when the giant robot attacks--at first happy to just watch while Tripticon takes out Grimlock's potential competitors for leadership.

 But two things change Grimlock's mind about the wisdom of sitting out the fight. First, it occurs to him that "I'll be ruling over piles of scrap metal soon." Also, the brave girl he met earlier gets caught up in the fight and is in danger.

In one of my favorite panels of all time, Grimlock single-handedly jumps Tripticon.  I mean, look at that. A T-Rex-sized robot T-Rex is jumping on the back of a Godzilla-sized robot T-Rex. That is literally the definition of fun.

The other Dinobots jump in to help their leader, allowing artist Don Perlin to give us several successive half-page panels of Robot Dinosaur action.

Tripticon is forced to retreat and the Autobots are impressed enough to make Grimlock their new leader, deciding he's "exhibited wisdom, compassion, courage, charisma [and] military skill."

This leads to a very important moral to the tale that I hope all the younger readers of this book remembered: ALL AUTOBOTS ARE MORONS!

Because future issues show that his new power goes to Grimlock's head. Despite his one moment of concern for a human, he proves to be indifferent to protecting human lives, causing several Autobots to desert. He then becomes so obsessed with finding the deserters that the Decepticons are able to rampage around Earth unchecked.

But that doesn't effect the entertainment value of this story (or the entertainment value of the Grimlock-in-charge story arc as a whole). Writer Bob Budiansky did an excellent job of turning the Transformers toy line into a rich fictional universe (something Marvel was really good at with several toy lines during the 1980s). Budiansky obviously wrote with the expectation that younger readers were his primary audience, but he never wrote down to them. He gave the various characters individual personalities and dropped them into complex and coherent story arcs. Marvel's Transformers universe was a boisterous and lively place--always worth visiting.

And, heck, ROBOT DINOSAURS! I'm not sure its possible to have robot dinosaurs in a story without it being fun.

Next week, we'll jump back a few decades and join Buz Sawyer as he hunts for Japanese subs in the Pacific.

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