Released: July 2008 Publisher: IDW Number of covers: Two regulars and one incentive Cover price: $3.99 Writer: Simon Furman Artwork: EJ Su, Kris Carter (colours), Chris Mowry (letters) Rating: Art / Story
Hardhead stands ready to protect Nightbeat or, if the need arises, to shoot him!
Tough, no nonsense, dependable - Hardhead is just the bot to call on if you have a problem, and Nightbeat has just that. He's discovered that he once visited a planet called Gorlam Prime as part of an investigation, but the trip has somehow been wiped from his memory. The evidence suggests somebody tampered with his neural processor, and perhaps they didn't stop with simply removing memories - so Nightbeat asks Hardhead to accompany him back to Gorlam Prime and if he should 'lose control' and become a threat, Hardhead is to eliminate him!
Sometime later, on Gorlam, the two Autobots discover that all the humanoids on the planet are in some kind of stasis, literally frozen on the spot. Nightbeat surmises that they are in a chrysalis state and evolving into something techno-organic, perhaps ultimately into Cybertronians. It is a strange proposition but not one Hardhead has much chance to ponder as minutes later he is ambushed by a legion of silent, menacing, land and air based Micromasters!
Oddly, the attackers seem to be leaving Nightbeat well alone.
Hardhead fights back but as usual knows when the numbers are against him, and leaps from a bridge to the lower levels with Nightbeat in tow.
Meanwhile on the distant planet, Corata-Vaz, the Wreckers are battling Thunderwing, who seems to be protecting a cavern containing a strange power source called a Nega Core. It is one of three, another of which is being guarded by Monstructor. Further still, on the Garrus-9 prison planet, Optimus Prime learns of the Nega Core threat and that Cyclonus was responsible for activating the one that Thunderwing is now guarding. Prime learns (from Omega Supreme) that Cyclonus was part of the crew of the First Ark under the command of Nova Prime. Since the First Ark's destination had been the Benzuli Expanse it seems sensible for the Autobots to begin their quest for information there.
At the expanse, or rather The Dead Universe, as it is now better known, Nova (now Nemesis Prime) is aboard the remains of the First Ark ship. Thanks to the Nega Cores and the galactic event they are about to unleash, Nemesis and his follows will soon be able to finally leave the expanse, taking the deathly darkness which inhabits the expanse with them. Whatever that means for the outside universe it can't be good! However Nightbeat's return to Gorlam is a threat to the plan and Nemesis orders his twisted scientist sidekick Jhiaxus to attend to matters personally.
Another interlude sees the vengeance-fuelled Arcee turn up on The Orcibe Cluster, crossing a swamp to a cave where she finds the Decepticon Banzaitron and his followers barely functioning. They were beaten-up by unknown assailants (Nemesis Prime's crew) and had Monstructor stolen from them. Banzaitron offers to help Arcee find her sworn enemy Jhiaxus.
vBack on Gorlam, Hardhead and Nightbeat evade the Air Strike Patrol and enter a subterranean passageway. Suddenly latent programming within Nightbeat kicks in and he turns on Hardhead, attempting to murder him. But the blast ricochets off Hardhead's cranium - evidently there is something in his name!
The Micromasters arrive and assemble around Nightbeat. Hardhead brings the ceiling down on them and flees only to find his path blocked by the mysterious lake which serves as a portal to the Dead Universe. Cornered, he takes out Nightbeat with a single blast to the head, and plunges into the waters, his fate unknown.
With the apparent death of Nightbeat, Jhiaxus recoils in pain, his mental link severed. Nemesis Prime reveals that Nightbeat was supposed to have assassinated Optimus Prime, now Nemesis must see to this personally.
Finally, at the Benzuli expanse, the Autobots Landmine, Cloudburst, Waverider and Groundbreaker, discover nothing can enter this region without immediately ceasing to exist. Jetfire, light years away on Garrus-9, tells Prime he has a solution involving the experimental Pretender process - and the treacherous 'Autobot' Dealer contacts Prime with a solution of his own, they must track down the font of all wisdom, the Magnificence!
Spotlight Hardhead has all the ingredients of a Simon Furman classic; from the Nightbeat detective story to a massive threat to the universe itself, and more worlds than a Star Wars trilogy. Not to mention of course, a plot with more layers than a sack full of onions.
That's not to say that there aren't explanations; we find out at last what Galvatron was planning when he tampered with Nightbeat's mind (he intended him to assassinate Optimus Prime) and we learn what Nova/Nemesis Prime is up to now. But frustratingly, there are a bunch of niggling questions that go unanswered too, such as how and why the Gorlam population is in stasis and whether or not the Transformers are descended from organic beings. The comic certainly seems to be suggesting that, and saying the course of evolution goes from organic to techno-organic (cyborgs perhaps?) to "us"(ie Transformers). Unfortunately unless Gorlam is revisited by the current crop of writers or future ones this intriguing development will stay unexplained.
Just as with Cyclonus the previous issue, the wider context of the story threatens to overwhelm the spotlight aspect of the comic, but on the plus side this feels much more of a spotlight than the previous issue. Although the scenes involving the titular Hardhead account for half of the issue at best, there's still enough to give us a good sense of the character and what makes him tick. Rather like Ironhide he's no nonsense and courageous, but clearly with a ruthless edge. Despite being a trusted friend and colleague of Nightbeat's, Hardhead is willing to put a laser blaster to his buddy's head if the situation requires it - and in fact he does just that.
I have to say it surprised me that Nightbeat was 'killed off' seeing as he's always been a favourite of Simon's, so I'm betting that the intention was there to bring Nightbeat back at a later date, presumably as a Headmaster. But with Furman now off the G1 book it's uncertain whether we'll see Nightbeat again, or Hardhead for that matter, as he is last seen wading into the pool which provides a portal to the dead universe. I hope the G1 Ongoing can pick up these threads in future.
Hardhead, by effectively sacrificing himself, probably does so due to his belief in his own shelf life (an aspect of his character we learn early on), as well as wanting to avoid being taken alive.
Some magic moments for me is the casual way Hardhead accepts Nightbeat's request to eliminate him if he flips out, Nemesis Prime's destroying everything with his deathly touch, and the unexpected debut of the Autobot Pretenders who I hadn't expected to see. It seems pretty obvious though that they are going to be given Pretender shells so that they can venture into the Benzulli Expanse and withstand if necrotising effects. At last a proper explanation for why Pretender technology should exist.
As usual Nick Roche has done a fantastic job on the artwork, which is very clear, distinctive and easy to follow. Next issue we find out Dealer, Hot Rod and the Magnificence storyline feeds into Revelation, but it feels like Furman is making a big effort to resolve as many tangling plot threads as possible, and its making for a lively and fun ride.