City of FearBy Omega Steve
Zombie hordes, a barmy Autobot scientist on the verge of blowing-up Cybertron, and the unstoppable Trypticon! It is not hard to see why this six-part story from 1988 is such a favourite with fans. City of Fear kick-starts the action followed by Legion of the Lost and Meltdown.
When Ultra Magnus and the Sparkabots (aka Sparkler Minibots) arrive in Kalis they find the streets deserted and their comrades missing. Their search leads them into a Decepticon patrol and armies of hostile corpses (the victims of millions of years' of warfare) in quick succession. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you will get the idea. It sounds way-too ridiculous to work as a Transformers story but amazingly it does, and manages to combine elements of comedy, horror, danger, mystery, suspense, and constant entertainment - no mean feat for 22 pages.
The rank-and-file Sparklers compliment the more senior and serious Magnus, who is comfortable fighting alongside his troops as he is commanding. The Sparklers seem to be a nice, easy-going bunch (as much as anyone can be with zombies on their trail) but they don't register as separate personalities. Flywheels, the Decepticon along for the ride, steals the show on the other hand on his debut. He has no qualms about laying-waste to a load of dead Transformers, regardless of whether they were once Autobots or his own kind. His gung-ho, carefree Decepticon philosophy contrasts with Autobot morality and blows it away. He is by far the funniest character and enjoys the Autobots' discomfort at having to trust him. The feeling is always that Flywheels is playing the game but will turn on his new allies at the first opportunity. Hence the final scene where Magnus is vulnerable and the reader is not sure what Flywheels will do.
In the end he aims wide of the Autobot and guns-up a zombie who was about to attack. Why does Flywheels save Magnus? It could be that he needs the Autobots to get out of Kalis, or perhaps that he actually likes his new 'friends'. Or the reason I favour, because it is all part of the fun for Flywheels and he enjoys giving Magnus a scare and seeing him proved wrong. Somewhat annoyingly, Flywheels' Duocon abilities are not properly showcased. Instead of separating into two vehicles when he transforms he is more like a triple changer in this. This has been done to facilitate a minor plot convenience, so that when Magnus sends Flywheels spiralling into Kalis in aerial mode he is able to show-up as a full warrior, as opposed to just a torso.
The Autobot in the dramatic opening scene, who gets a hole punched in his chest, is called Chuffer. Crap name and crap robot (he must have been made of some very flimsy metal). We find out from the Grim Grams letters page. What interests me about this guy is that he is a Transformers version of the 'Star Trek extra', there to die early on to demonstrate the threat others will face. I am not sure that dead Transformers robots would decompose or appear skeletal but they do look cool.
The artwork in both instalments is good and there is numerous evidence of Reed's individual style. Notably the yellow-spotted energy denoting transformation and those funnel-shaped blasters. Furman, apparently, wasn't too sure about the energy depiction of transformation but I have no problem with that. But each Transformer has his own distinctive weapon (like Blaster and his famous Electro Scrambler) so they ought not to be uniform. Mind-you the writers don't often make use of this, apart from perhaps Blaster and the likes of Megatron.
The Autobots' dimensional space portal has come on in leaps and bounds since Magnus first used it in issue 80. Rather painful that time. Another point, the broadcasting station featured in the story is named the Baird Beaming Transmitter. I am guessing this is a reference to John Logie Baird the inventor of television. Overall a refreshingly different kind of Transformers story that stands out as one of the thoroughbreds of the 1988 stable.
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