Transformers Annual 1987
Story 1: What's in a Name?
Story 2: Vicious Circle
Story 3: Ark Duty
Text stories: Doomsday for Nebulos
Script: Simon Furman
Artwork: Will Simpson, Jeff Anderson
Rating: Art / Story
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
Swoop is looking to avenge an insult in What's in a Name?.
Magnus must prevent Galvatron from absorbing the power of a volcano.
Hot Rod is the victim of road rage Stunticon-style in Ark Duty.
Swoop is best known as one fifth of the Dinobots, a team which gets its name from members' ability to transform into the likeness of Earth's long extinct dinosaurs. But wasn't always this way. On Cybertron Swoop transformed into a sleek and agile jet, it was a mode he much prefers to his current pterodactyl form, and he also had a different name - Divebomb!
The story of how he lost that name has been a source of enduring shame for Swoop. He had tangled with an airborne Decepticon, whose real name he never learned, and was soundly defeated. The Decepticon let it be known that he was claiming the name Divebomb as was his right as the victor of their battle. Swoop was humiliated and faced taunts from fellow members of the elite flying corps, so he disobeyed orders and strayed deep into Decepticon territory looking for a rematch.
He didn't have long to wait. Divebomb soon found him and swept past in a lightening quick strafing run, throwing off Swoop's aim. Divebomb told Swoop that if he wanted his name back he would have to fight for it, and both took the air and clipped wings as they collided. Swoop was hurt and did his best to avoid a fragment rocket. He nearly pulled it off, but not quite, and spiralled to the ground with smoke trails billowing from his engines.
Divebomb transformed and drew his sword, in part he was disappointed that the battle was over so quickly, and as he got closer Swoop unleashed his afterburners in the Decepticon's face. Divebomb fell backwards but quickly recovered and blasted Swoop. He moved in for the kill when suddenly he was cut down in a burst of laser fire from Optimus Prime! Swoop had been saved by the commanding officer he hated with a passion, and now his humiliation was complete.
Millions of years later on Earth, Prime has died without ever filing an official report about those events, and Grimlock has replaced him as Autobot leader. It seemed Swoop's shame would stay buried. Then he saw TV footage of the Predacons rampaging on Earth, and among them was Divebomb! Sludge asks what the big deal is about this particular Decepticon, and for a moment Swoop considers unburdening himself of his guilty secret, but then he simply says "He's still usin' my name".
Ultra Magnus clings to inside of Mount Verona - a dormant volcano which has recently been awakened by Galvatron's power siphon. The Autobots' greatest warrior claws his way out wracked with internal doubt about whether he is ready for yet another confrontation his archenemy. It is as if he and Galvatron are trapped in a 'vicious circle' and it can only end with one of their deaths. Magnus recalls their last battle. His task was to keep Galvatron occupied while Wreck-gar stole his timejump mechanism, and although he succeeded in the ruse he was defeated and cast into the volcano. Only a narrow ledge and the luck of the gods had saved Ultra Magnus from death, and now a familiar hand helps him the final way to the surface. It is Goldbug, the last remaining member of the coalition which formed to stop Galvatron.
It turns out that Galvatron had made himself immune to the effects of the timejump trigger. When it was activated by Rodimus Prime, only the future Autobots and Death's Head were swept up in the vortex and returned to the future. Galvatron stayed in 1987 with only the diminutive Goldbug to stop him. Luckily Galvatron deemed the mini Autobot 'too insignificant' to be worth destroying and let him live.
Goldbug reminds Magnus that the West Coast of America will be destroyed if Galvatron is allowed to siphon the power of the volcano. They alone must stop him, but Magnus has run out of fight and says he can't go one. Goldbug calls him 'pathetic' and goes alone. He finds Galvatron in the siphon control room and fires off a few rounds before getting dropped by the Decepticon's cannon. As Galvatron warms up for a fatal blast he hears the familiar voice of Magnus telling him to step away from Goldbug. He cannot believe it, but Ultra Magnus has survived again and is back for more! What must he do to destroy this Autobot?
A fierce battle ensues with Galvatron using fists, blasters and all available machinery as a weapon. The fight moves to the balcony overlooking the volcano mouth, and a fire breaks out in the control room ignited by a stray blast. Goldbug knows that with the siphon malfunctioning, there will be nothing to contain the eruption and all of them will be destroyed! Magnus orders him to get clear and moments later there is a huge explosion. It is hours before the lava cools enough for Goldbug to return to the volcano mouth. For Magnus and Galvatron it appears that the circle is finally broken.
It is 2003. The Autobots are gathered in the Ark to watch a simulation of an Autobot City which will be able to transform and repel a Decepticon attack. Their leader, Ultra Magnus, tells them that the Ark is too vulnerable to a Decepticon attack and it is time they moved to a more secure and permanent headquarters. Earth's governments have given permission for the first Autobot City to be built and all they have to do is collect the materials and begin the construction.
As the Decepticon spy Ravage watches undetected from the wings, Magnus reveals that Kup will deliver the simulation tape to the human authorities, and all other Autobots will form a convoy to collect building materials. Only Hotrod and Blurr will remain at the Ark on guard duty. Ten minutes later the Autobots roll out and Kup reiterates to Hot Rod that he mustn't leave the Ark under any circumstances.
Time passes and a bored Hot Rod is studying the monitors, wishing he were joining Magnus and on hand if the Decepticons attacked. Then he notices Kup on the other screen getting run off the road by the Stunticons. He realises that Motormaster and his crew must be after the tape, and Hot Rod ignores the protesting Blurr and speeds off to help.
He finds Kup beaten-up but okay, and pursues the Stunticons. Motormaster transforms and boots Hot Rod into robot mode, whereupon he is roughed up by the Decepticons and left on the road. Kup eventually reaches his impetuous friend and explains that the tape was a fake and Magnus had wanted the Decepticons to steal it all along. Now they will allow the Autobots to build the city believing they know its secrets. If anything Hot Rod's actions have made the Stunticons even more convinced of the tape's value. Even so he apologises and insists he will stay in the Ark next time, but Kup somehow doubts it.
Some really nice stories here, with the shorter strips outperforming the 'main draw' Vicious Circle. Undoubtedly the best of the bunch is the oddly Shakespearean-titled 'What's in a Name?'. What people might not know is that it written by Simon Furman essentially correct a continuity blip. A year or so before this annual, Furman wrote a story called The Icarus Theory for the Marvel UK Transformers comic. In it he mentions that Swoop was part of the Autobots' Elite Flying Corps on Cybertron and used the name Divebomb. But a few months later Hasbro threw a spanner in the works by actually releasing a character called Divebomb (as part of its new Predacon line-up dontcha know). Whether a few kids wrote to Marvel UK to query this discrepancy I don't know, but Furman obviously decided to correct the error. Not only did he succeed in explaining it away but he dreamed up a fascinating element of Swoop's back story. His hidden shame about the Decepticon who stole his name and provided an interesting turn in his difficult relations with Optimus Prime.
Swoop really does need to take a chill pill. He takes the whole siutation rather seriously and is more bothered than he should be by what his fellow Flying Corps members will think of him. Divebomb, by contrast, knows he's above Swoop's league but has an almost affection for this Autobot with whom he has formed a personal rivalry. He rather admires the way Swoop won't accept defeat and keeps coming back for more punishment. It makes his otherwise humdrum existence more interesting and he will want to drag the scraps out for as long as he can..
Furman also hits Prime's character on the head as well. He is the noble leader who steps in to save a fellow Autobot and knows instinctively how his intervention will be interpreted by Swoop. He could file an official report about the incident, and left Swoop to deal with the ridicule, but he never does. Swoop continues to be resentful of Optimus when really it is just a smokescreen, for in actuality Prime is a living reminder of the burden of shame he (Swoop) carries.
With regards to the second story, Vicious Circle, this was the concluding part of the eight week 'Wanted Galvatron' saga which ran in Transformers UK 113-120. It started amazingly with the debut of Death's Head, flashback to Transformers the Movie and a confrontation with Cyclonus and Scourge on Cybertron. Issue 113 stands proudly as one of the best TF comics ever produced in my opinion. Issue 114 was no pushover either, featuring the 'proper' debut of Rodimus Prime (ie not just in flashbacks) and his internal battle with ethics and duty as he is forced to execute a Decepticon. Then the story switched to present day Earth and seemed to lose its way over the next few issues, as it became one group after another having a pop at Galvatron.
That is not to say it was without its good moments, but by the end of issue 120 I was anxious for some closure. So it was pretty frustrating to be told that the story would not be finished off until the summer's Transformers Annual. Some kids would have been peeved at the prospect of having to pay �3.75 but I was planning to get the book anyway, and I suppose you can't fault Marvel on a clever marketting trick.
Vicious Circle makes the most of its limited cast of three, although when two of these are Ultra Magnus and Galvatron it is fair to expect fireworks. Magnus' psychological dilemma was unexpected, and I liked the role Goldbug plays in being Magnus' conscience. The rematch with Galvatron was enjoyable, though short, and in the end the story was resolved a little too simply, by having the siphon explode and bury both the new leaders under molten ash. If only Rodimus and company had thought of that one four of five issues back instead of messing about. Anyone who doubts it will be the last we see of Magnus or Galvatron has only to turn to page 44 for the story Ark Duty which features a very much alive Magnus.
On the subject of which, it is a welcome addition to the continuity because it provides a bridge of sorts between the 'present day' stories and what we know of the future. In Transformers the Movie, set in 2006, the Autobots have their own city on Earth and Magnus is the commander of the heroic forces on this planet. Ark Duty is set three years before this and deals with the beginning of the process which will construct the city, and it also establishes that the Autobots are still at the Ark at this time, and Magnus has take over from Optimus Prime. In the movie we learn that Prime is on Cybertron's moons at this point, spearheading efforts to reclaim the planet.
I liked this story because it mixes the so-called future Autobots, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr and Magnus, with the familiar present day settings of the Ark and foes like Ravage and the criminally-underutilised Stunticons. It also shows that Furman gets the dynamic between Hot Rod, the impetuous youth, and the seasoned but prickly Kup. Their radically different approaches clash but they still have a deep mutual respect for one another.