Transformers UK: Issue #262

Story 1: Matrix Quest: Bird of Prey (Part 1)
Story 2: Two Steps Back
Back-up strip: GI Joe The Action Force
Cover date: March 24, 1990
Price: 45p
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Geoff Senior, Andy Wildman, Stephen Baskerville (cover)
Rating: Art / Story


Synopsis:

By Omega Steve


Nightbeat, Hosehead and Siren look for the Matrix on the planet Pz-Zazz.



Runabout's plan to shoot Grimlock in the back is about to go badly wrong.

On the planet Pz-Zazz two small words begin the Matrix Quest: "Seen this?" Nightbeat holds out a glowing orb in which a hologram of the Autobots' missing Creation Matrix appears. The gun-toting, trench-coated heavies he's asking don't seem remotely interested and Siren and Hosehead are getting nervous! Siren tactfully suggests they leave these gentlemen alone, especially when one thug spits a pink mucus on his head module, but Nightbeat insists he knows what he's doing. Interrogations are his field of expertise, a science involving psychology, bluff, observation and reflexes! As if to illustrate the last point he ducks as the huge grey heavy he's speaking to swings a mighty punch - and it his Siren in the face - sending him flying through a shop window! The others raise their Tommy guns and Hosehead enquires what the detective manual says about this situation. "It mentions the word prayer," replies Nightbeat.

Suddenly rival mobsters open fire from a moving vehicle and take out the gang threatening the Autobots. Stray bullets hit a green alien hiding out in the shop, and he implores Siren to take the brown-paper package he was safeguarding. The 'fate of worlds depends on it' he says, then promptly expires. Outside a hail of bullets between the rival B'hgdad and Gutt mobs (who are both after a valuable bird artefact) provides Nightbeat and Hosehead's cue to leave. They scramble into the shop and find Siren holding the bird in question and Nightbeat grins - it looks like they have found themselves a mystery!

Meanwhile at the Autobots' space-faring HQ, the Ark, commander Optimus Prime is speaking to Emirate Xaaron on Cybertron via a sub-space link. He informs Xaaron that two search teams have departed the Ark and will be joining the Cybertron Autobots in their quest to find the missing Creation Matrix. Prime is worried that the Ark will be open to Decepticon attack with these warriors otherwise engaged, and what if the Decepticons should learn of the Matrix Quest? They might seek it themselves with dire consequences for all. Xaaron sympathises but reiterates that the threat of Unicron must outweigh any other concern. The very survival of the Transformer race is at stake!

******

In America's western plains a battle is raging between Shockwave's Decepticons and the Dinobots. Grimlock locks his powerful jaws around the one-eyed one's gun arm and they grapple for supremacy. Runabout, laying on the ground nearby, starts to reach for his blaster hoping to bag himself a Dinobot. But Grimlock is wise to the tactic and takes two steps back - stamping on Runamuck - and using the distraction to headbutt Shockwave. He tells us (through the text boxes) that the confrontation has come about because the Dinobots want to find out how the Dinobots were recently restored to life without help from the missing Creation Matrix. With so many 'cons still deactivated any new technology that could repair these legions of warriors would be a tactical advantage.

The Dinobots fare pretty well: Grimlock decks Runamuck, Slag catapults Ravage, Sludge slashes Motormaster with his energo sword and Snarl fries one of the Decepticon jets. Nothing can stop them - except perhaps their disapproving leader Optimus Prime. He arrives and orders them to stand down, saying their crude battle tactics are a danger to humans and threaten the Autobot code (how?). Grimlock protests that their actions have saved the humans and seen off the enemy, only to be told that while Prime commands they will do things HIS way. He transforms and drives off, leaving Grimlock to be threatened by a damaged Runabout, pointing a neutron cannon at his head. Grims tells him that a blast at close range would take them both out - best that he takes two steps back. Runabout dutifully obeys - and topples backwards into a ravine. The Dinobots are left thinking about what Prime said and decide it is time they took positive steps to say goodbye.

******

Comments:

Before I get on to the main event, Matrix Quest, I'll say that the black and white strip is laying the foundations for the upcoming Earth Force stories. These will feature classic characters battling it out on Earth in a sort of back-to-basics continuity that serves as a counterbalance to the galaxy-spanning stuff going on in the US book. Here we have Runabout and Runamuck rescued from their watery demise in New York harbour and teamed up with Shockwave. The Stunticons and possibly Starscream are also there, making me wonder where they have come from. Did they all defect from Scorponok to join Shockwave? Or were there more Deceps hanging around on Earth after the death of Ratbat than we thought. Troops that didn't fancy throwing in their lot with Scorponok perhaps? Optimus Prime's dogmatic stance is pretty pointless considering they are in the middle of nowhere and not a human in sight. And it's all very well to say that an Autobot should fight as the last option... but hello? They are at war don't forget. Apart from the comical scene with Runabout toppling over the precipice this story is a non-event which will make little impact on the reader.

Matrix Quest, meanwhile, is symptomatic of the bold new direction the US comic is taking under Simon Furman. The new writer is moving the story beyond the old confines of Earth and Cybertron and on to a galactic stage. The search for the missing Creation Matrix is the perfect excuse to send teams of Transformers to new worlds and have fun with offbeat settings and aliens. In this instalment we get a play on the atmospheric novels of Raymond Chandler. But instead of his trenchcoat-wearing, cigarette smoking private eye, Philip Marlowe, we have the Autobot detective Nightbeat. The 'mean streets' of Chicago are substituted for the alien grime of PzZazz but there remains the familiar themes of dangerous mobsters and seedy establishments, beautiful women and a good solid mystery, common to Chandler's work. A Humphry Bogart image flashes up on one of the TV screens to back-up the image.

Nightbeat, Hosehead and Siren are making their US debuts in this story and Nightbeat is destined to become a central character in the future. He is to Simon Furman what Blaster was to Bob Budiansky in my view - namely a favourite, and you can tell he enjoys writing about him. Nightbeat gets into all sorts of scrapes and always manages to come out smiling thanks to his superior analytical mind. But he is written in such a way that the audience doesn't find him condescending or annoying, but warms to him. This is partly because Nightbeat normally takes us on a roller coaster journey and it is fun to see him solve a riddle and get himself out of a scrape. Like all good detectives he needs a hapless assistant and this role is performed excellently by Siren. They make a great double act in my view - with Hosehead along for the ride. The Mecannibals story arc from the previous year, introduced the idea that TFs are the same size as most aliens. Before that we were used to them being giants and unstoppable by flesh creatures. By neutralising their size advantage it is more believable that they can be put in real danger on these planets.

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