Transformers UK: Issue #162
Story: Pretender to the Throne (Part 1)
Back-up strip: Action Force
Cover date: April 23rd, 1988
Script: Simon Furman
Artwork: Jose Delbo (story) Jeff Anderson and Dave Elliott (cover)
Rating: Art / Story
First appearance: Iguanus, Bomb Burst, Sub Marauder, Skull Grin, Bugly, Finback
Synopsis:By Adam Hogg
Optimus Prime goes into action again, except this time he is a computer generated character!
In the computerised realm of Hyperfax the Mechabots surge forward blasting at the evil Bombasticons in their quest for peace. The combatants are evenly matched as always, but today the Mechabots have superior tactics on their side, and it's all thanks to their new commander... Optimus Prime!!
The once great Autobot leader stands victorious as the 'Game Over' message appears over him on the monitor in Ethan Zachary's Alternate Reality INC office. As he eagerly awaits the next game is it clear that Prime is now but a shadow of his former self, and only his basic consciousness now exists within this computer (see Afterdeath UK#105-106). Ethan Zachary is able to communicate with Prime just by talking, and Prime can also see and speak using the computer's camera and speakers. But he has lost all recollection of his previous life and Ethan continuously tries to jog something by asking if Prime feels any different after his latest victory. Ethan explains how Prime used to lead the heroic Autobots and died in real life after a simulated battle with Megatron. Ethan though had secretly copied Prime's memories on to the computer, allowing him to continue to exist, albeit in a limited way. Prime ponders these words but doesn't fully comprehend; as far as he is concerned he is nothing more than a computer game character.
A secretary brings in the afternoon's papers and Ethan shows Prime the front page story about a recent Decepticon raid on a genetics lab. Prime wonders if the Decepticon Headmasters shown in the picture are his opponents in the next game? Ethan accesses the Autobot's memory, revealing a picture of Mt St Hillary and the hull of the Ark. He attempts to radio the Autobot base but of course there is no reply as the ship has now left the planet. An image surfaces of Buster Witwicky, who Prime describes a previous gaming ally from Portland, Oregon. Ethan picks up the phone and prepares to ring every Witwicky in Portland (is Witwicky that a common name?) and eventually gets through to Sparkplug (his phone number was registered quickly considering he's just moved into a run down boarding).
Ethan explains he is calling on behalf of an old friend called "OP", who is immediately recognised by a less than happy Sparkplug Witwicky - Optimus Prime and his Transformer pals have ruined his life!! He once suffered a heart attack due to them (see UK#7), then his house and business was destroyed, his youngest son Buster has been kidnapped by Decepticons (see UK#155) and just a few days ago his oldest son became an automated freak because of them (Spike binary bonded to Fortress Maximus, see UK#158). The phone is slammed down before Ethan can say another word - some gamers are just sore losers adds Optimus (hehehe).
Meanwhile aboard the Autobot spacecraft 'Steelhaven', which has been orbiting the Earth for many weeks now. Spike monitors the phone call after placing a bug on his fathers phone. Although the name OP means very little to him it stirs a few memories in Goldbug (now rebuilt by the Steelhaven crew). Goldbug was present at Prime's funeral so there is no mistaking that his former leader is dead, but he still feels compelled to investigate. Apart from anything else it could be a good way to test his new body.
At the headquarters of Alternate Reality INC, Ethan has decided to call it a day when Goldbug arrives. The Autobot wants to know if this human is psychic seeing as he claims he can talk to the dead! Ethan shows Goldbug the terminal with Prime's complete technical read out and an exact copy of his consciousness. He explains that he was only recently able to access parts of Prime's memory this has been insufficient to wake him up. Goldbug reckons if Prime could command the Autobots in battle again then it might trigger his memories. Ethan reveals he could do better than that - he might possibly be able to break into the captured genetics lab's computer using Prime.
As a master hacker, it doesn't take long for Ethan to break in, and Optimus Prime's task is to now infiltrate the system and investigate the Decepticons. In no time, Prime is in Truck mode and crossing the surreal realm of Cyberspace, passing through the various defence mechanisms opened up by Ethan Zachary's hacking, and arriving at a matrix bursting with data. Obviously the Decepticons plan to use this data, and the brilliant gamer Ethan Zachary has merely left this as a clue for him. Prime transforms and carefully passes through the data shield, and up to the screen, where on the other side are the assembled Decepticons!!
Lord Zarak is questioning his fellow Nebulan Vorath on how the preparations are going for his latest plan, all while 6 Decepticon warriors are lined up in Synthoplasmic chambers. They are ready to proceed, and Zarak combines with Scorponok to make the final preparations himself. A new era of Decepticons are about to dawn as he pulls various levers, while this sudden surge of Data sends Prime reeling out of control. Scorponok revels at his own genius as various tissue and flesh form around the 6 motionless Decepticons. Meanwhile the surge continues to push Prime forward, who grabs hold of a data stream and quickly records its data, while immediately back in the real world this action flashes a warning light on Vorath's terminal - a hacker!?!? Vorath immediately switches on the defence program which seeks out to eradicate Prime, but rather than fight he makes a hasty retreat.
Back in the lab, Scorponok stands before 6 evil looking organic monsters (all of which seem horror B-movie material) - Iguanus, Bomb Burst, Submarauder, Skullgrin, Bugly, and Finback, the Decepticon Pretenders are born! A unique combination of flesh and metal, unlike any fighting force ever known. Sheathed in their outer shells, these warriors bear no resemblance to Decepticons, and the Autobots will never suspect their true identities until its too late (perhaps that's being just a little optimistic!). Scorponok's triumph is short lived as Vorath reveals the Electronic Eavesdropper who entered the system and subsequently escaped. Scorponok's entire plan is now in jeopardy, the culprit must be destroyed?
Meanwhile back in Ethan's office, the stolen data is analysed by Optimus Prime, who quickly details the specifications to create an effective counter attack. Prime reveals that he might also have been discovered and so they had better work quickly, although he is surprised at the alarm shown by Ethan and Goldbug that the Decepticons are on their way to attack them - after all this is just a game! Goldbug realises the situation is urgent, but this is the most initiative shown by Prime since his rebirth, and they have to play this out his way if they want any chance of snapping him out of his daze. Soon, aboard the Autobot spacecraft, the necessary equipment has been set up...
Whoa 12 pages and a free sticker, not to mention the introduction of the Pretenders, how can anyone be disappointed? It's great to see Optimus Prime back too, as even as just a computer generated character he has a far more central role than his brief appearance last issue in Megatron's mind. I really enjoyed the idea of him becoming a game character too, moving across cyberspace etc, and think its a pretty original idea that had quite a lot of potential, but still this first issue doesn't disappoint in that aspect anyway. I also think that Prime's misplaced memories strengthens the claim that not all of his original mind was able to be copied, which all comes about when wondering how his immense existence could have been copied in the first place.
The downsides are pretty obvious, centralling around the entire Pretenders concept really, so nothing that most fans haven't already thought of themselves. First he have 6 unfeatured Decepticons, who have apparently always been with Scorponok's party, but only now decide to make an appearance. And then the strange process of becoming a Pretender to fool the enemy into not thinking that they are fighting Decepticons (if a 40 foot giant monster came running at you whether it was Decepticon or not wouldn't you just attack anyway?). Then we have the fact that the Autobots find out right away, and so the entire concept is a bit wasted (why not just say it provides super strength etc.). Either way its a pretty poor disguise, but I admit they were one of the more difficult toylines to introduce into the comic.
Also when Vorath mentions that an intruder has gotten past the "file wall", could he have possibly meant "firewall", and it's just the stoneage understanding of computers that existed before the 90's in evidence?