Transformers UK: Issue #323
Story: Still Life (Part 1)
Back-up strip: Machine Man 2020
Cover date: 14th September, 1991
Writer: Simon Furman
Artwork: Andy Wildman (story and cover)
Rating: Art / Story
First appearance: Krok
Synopsis:By Omega Steve
Optims Prime is barely recognisable as he lies dying after being caught in the explosion which destroyed Unicron.
The Transformers have battled their ultimate enemy, Unicron, and prevailed. Thanks to Optimus Prime and the Matrix, the planet eater now lies in a billion pieces orbiting Cybertron, but all great victories are won at a great price. Scorponok is already dead, and now the Autobots discover the dismembered form of their own leader barely clinging to life.
A gutted Wheeljack concludes that only the Matrix is keeping Prime this side of death and Prowl thinks it would have been kinder than this suffering. Then amazingly Optimus speaks. His last words are to tell Prowl to 'make Grimlock understand' - and with that he is gone. Prowl screams 'Noooooooo' and the scene cuts to Prime's old Nebulan companion, Hi-Q, who is running for his life and being pursued by feral mechanical monsters. Cryptically, he reveals that he cannot afford to die, because he has to get to Prime and tell him what is happening to both of them. It seems the Powermaster process - binding Transformer and Nebulan together, has resulted in unexpected side effects.
Back at the joint Autobot-Decepticon headquarters, Grimlock learns that he had been named the new leader by the dying Optimus Prime. He tells Prowl that he understands his responsibilities and will "get right on it" but first he has to find out who stole the Ark. The deactivated Autobots are still aboard and will need Nucleon to revive them. Prowl can hardly believe it and flips his lid - he insists the priority should be to finish Prime's work by cementing the Autobot-Decepticon alliance. New leader and deputy are clearly not going to see eye to eye, and Bludgeon (who now commands the Decepticons) watches the situation with interest. Especially when Blaster informs Prowl of seismic activity occurring within the planet.
Elsewhere, Grimlock and the Dinobots are out walking and a kind of weather storm has blown up around them. Swoop questions whether it was wise to walk out, after all Prowl might be a jerk but he was right that there is a lot still to do to secure the peace. Grimlock is having none of it: he refuses to believe that four million years of warfare can be swept away just like that, and thinks it is just a matter of time before the Decepticons are up to their old tricks. The balance between good and evil will always exist, and suddenly Grimlock seizes up rooted to the spot!! He cannot move and the Dinobots are baffled as to the cause. It could not have happened at a worse time, however, because Hi-Q suddenly arrives with the creatures in hot pursuit.
I suppose it was inevitable after such a planet-shattering story as On The Edge of Extinction that the aftermath would be a low-key affair by comparison. In Star Trek terms this issue is the equivalent of what Family was to The Best of Both Worlds. That is not to say it is bad though, there are a few plot threads being laid here that could lead to interesting things. But essentially Still Life is a clean-up operation after the main event.
Unicron's arrival was a major, major event for the comic and had been built up for a good 18 months or so. The groundwork was laid in Primal Scream, in which Primus woke up and revealed his location to Unicron, and there followed the Matrix Quest, the saga of the Autobots surrendering and the ceasefire. The problem facing writer Simon Furman now is where to go from here.
From a commercial point of view he will need to introduce Hasbro's latest hair-brained line of toys - the non-Transforming Action Masters (Transformers that don't transform - what bright spark came up with that?) but this should be easy to do thanks to Nucleon. So the thing to do in Still Life is to establish the concept, via Grimlock's metamorphosis, that Nucleon makes Transformers more powerful, creating an incentive, but it robs them of the ability to transform. Conveniently most of those old characters who are being revived by Hasbro as Action Masters, are deactivated in the Ark and can be 'Nucleoned' back to life. Many, like Prowl, Wheeljack and Blaster have already been resurrected this way.
A problem for Furman is that he has disposed of the war by having Prime and Scorponok commit their forces to an alliance, and peace won't shift a comic about robotic warfare. So the thing to do is kill off both leaders, install new ones, and create a sense that a falling out is on the cards. Bludgeon and right-hand-man Krok (where did he spring from) look decidedly untrustworthy, and Grimlock seems to have decided not to give peace a chance.
Prime's death was a surprise that I didn't see coming, but it serves two purposes as I see it. Firstly it removes a unifying figure so the alliance can collapse, and also it means that Prime can come back in his Action Master form. The business with Hi-Q and evolving is clearly the key to that. And I suspect a few fans will have raised eyebrows at Grimlock becoming leader again, not forgetting that he effectively ran a dictatorship last time. Crucially though, it was former writer Bob Budiansky that characterised Grimlock that way, and Furman has always interpreted the character differently. Grims is a gritty, physical and unpredictable character, who serves the cause on his own terms, so he has a bit more potential from a writer's point of view, than someone dull like Prowl being in charge. Out of interest where is Ultra Magnus while all this is going on?
Last observation, on page 20 there is an AtoZ entry on the Monsterbot Grotesque that lists him as first appearing 'right here'. In fact he made his debut as far back as issue 131 when he joined the crew of Steelhaven in the Headmasters mini series.