Remembering Crisis of CommandBy Omega Steve
As Prime wrestles with his inner demons the Autobots are in disarray and have begun fighting among themselves.
If I were to think of my top 10 all-time favourite Transformers stories I'm certain Crisis of Command would be in there. What is it about this tale, published over three weeks in January 1986, which still strikes a chord more than 21-years later? Put simply, Crisis has all the elements of a great Transformers story; it's a personal journey for Optimus Prime from the depths of his despair to the triumph of single-handedly defeating the enemy and rescuing Bumblebee.
It also touches on the contrasting philosophies and motivations of the Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons in a way few other stories do. As an 11-year-old it also taught me new words like 'anarchy' and 'cataclysmic', and introduced me to awe-inspiring artwork of Geoff Senior.
Remarkably Crisis is one of the very few Marvel UK Transformers stories that was not written by Simon Furman - instead Mike Collins (writer of Man of Iron and Raiders of the Last Ark) and James Hill do the honours. As I've said in the past one of the reasons I feel immensely privileged to have grown-up with the UK comic was the weekly format. While the UK comic printed all of the US stories (and looked to it as the 'master continuity') the production team were forced to come up with its own material or they would have quickly run dry. So they weaved tales that explored threads left dangling by the US books and 'fleshed out' a wider universe, and sometimes the stories written by Simon Furman and company were of superior quality.
Crisis of Command takes place in between the American story 'Prime Time' (in which Shockwave is cast into a swamp by Optimus Prime) and 'Rock and Roll Out' where he reappears. As far as US readers knew the Decepticons quickly reunited with Shockwave and it everything was business as usual. But over the water there were several months in which the Decepticons were leaderless and it fell to Soundwave to step in and keep the ship afloat.
Prowl outlines his hardline ideas for dealing with the Decepticon threat!
The Autobots enter 1986 for once with the upper-hand. Optimus Prime is back in charge after months in Decepticon captivity, the enemy has gone to ground, and fuel supply is no longer a problem thanks to the alliance with oil baron GB Blackrock. On paper the elements are in place for a spectacular victory, but as ever things never run smoothly for the Autobots, and it is they who face the greater crisis. As a traumatised Prime retreats into himself, the dominant personalities in his ranks vie with one another to fill the vacuum.
The opening scene conveys the situation with a simplistic brilliance. Prime is seated on his throne looking every bit the king who lost touch with his people, while his forces visibly fracture into two warring camps of 'hawks and doves'. Prowl and his supporters are convinced the way to win is to create Omega Supreme-style 'ultimate warriors' that can eradicate the Decepticons. Jazz and his backers condemn such talk as 'Decepticon thinking'. Both factions have a point; perhaps a restrained approach to waging the war has prevented the Autobots from winning, and maybe a tougher line would even things up. But would doing so violate the values that separate Autobot and Decepticon - concern for innocent life and a desire to protect innocents from harm?
When he finally speaks Prime sides with the doves, rejecting the super soldier idea because of the devastation such machines would exact on the Earth. This is consistent with Prime's long-held views and general approach. He will reject an advantage if the price is the loss of innocent life. Yet his prevarication triggers lingering doubts among the troops that their leader may not be fully himself yet (and dressing as Santa the previous issue probably didn't help).
Starscream is branded a 'missile with a mouth' as his leadership bid falls flat.Instead it is Soundwave who will take charge.
The frames with Prime alone in his inner sanctum provide more than just a recap of previous stories - they're also an explanation of his current turmoil. We find out it is born of his time in captivity, his failure to prevent the Decepticons plundering the Creation Matrix, and his body being used to attack his fellow Autobots. He questions whether his failures of judgement were too blame and if he is still fit to command? This 'crisis' of confidence is just another of the ways the UK comic seized on threads not explored by the monthly US comic and created extra value.
The scene is also a wonderful showcase of Ravage's abilities as a master of stealth. He's able to infiltrate even the most heavily monitored inner sanctums of the Ark and is constantly a step ahead of the enemy. His capture (by Hound and Mirage) is only because he wanted to be caught and it's all part of Soundwave's plan. Ironically, Ravage is the catalyst for the Autobots to set aside their differences and fight together. The lesson seems to be that conflict is always present in life and when there is no external enemy to focus on, it will flourish from within.
By contrast the Decepticons' own 'crisis of command' is relatively shortlived. Soundwave, by virtue of his superior intellect and cunning, is a much more palatable choice to the other 'cons than Starscream with his approach of direct confrontation. Given they are outnumbered a blatant attack would be foolhardy in the extreme, and while few actually like Soundwave they know he's smart enough to keep them alive (and possibly even secure a winning advantage). His cutting remark that Starscream is a 'missile with a mouth' sounds pretty accurate.
By the middle of the second issue it is clear where James Hill (who picks up the writer's baton from Mike Collins) is going with the story. Prime's indecision and weakness is the spur for Bumblebee to disobey Prowl and go after Ravage himself. He's anxious to please Prime and lift his spirits with a success, but blunders head-first into a Decepticon trap. The moment of revelation is superbly executed, with Prime providing the narration as he cottons on that Ravage was captured way-too-easily and they have been outfoxed by the enemy. Even with their most powerful warriors absent, the Decepticons are still a force to be reckoned with - especially as they are prepared to using superior numbers to gang-up on a lone Autobot. Talk about sledge hammer to crack a nut! They have no interest in fair play and are quite happy to 'gang up' on Bumblebee playground bully-style and have fun doing it.
Even without Megatron and Shockwave the Decepticons are still a force to be reckoned with - as Bumblebee learns to his cost!
Having Laserbeak drop the Mini Autobot's severed arm outside the Ark is a highly effective and emotive way to get Prime to come for Bumblebee alone (talk about throwing down a gauntlet). The gesture demonstrates that the Decepticons are still a serious threat and are prepared to go to any lengths to win. Soundwave recognises that his men cannot hope to survive a direct confrontation, but by luring Prime into the open and destroying him, they can strike a potentially decisive blow.
Prime's a little worse for wear but far from defeated as rides to Bumblebee's aid.
The scene is set for some vintage Optimus Prime action - as he journeys into the viper's nest and is set-upon by Rumble and the seekers jets. With Starscream poised to deliver a 'killer blow', Prime amazingly recovers his confidence and inner strength and strikes back - vanquishing Skywarp, Thundercracker and Starscream with ease. It's all very 'Bruce Lee' (take out the henchmen and go for the boss) but the Starscream take-down is significant and shows how far out of Prime's league Screamer actually is. The encounter demonstrates the triumph of a leader fuelled by comradeship, loyalty and compassion, versus the selfish approach of seeking leadership for power's sake and self egrandisement which Starscream epitomises here. He's also pretty outclassed in terms of strength. Once motivated Optimus is a pretty tough customer, as we see.
The third instalment is drawn by John Stokes, who does a great job and conveys the emotions of the characters remarkably well. The pay-off being Prime's triumphant entrance into Soundwave's lair (looking like he's had the whipping of his life but emerging ironically stronger and more rejuvenated than before). Within moments defeat is turned to victory, justifying Bumblebee's faith and confounding Soundwave's best laid plans. The scene is enough to make even the most cynical fan punch the air in triumph.
Why doesn't Prime finish off the Decepticons as Bumblebee urges? This is surely a mistake, but to know why he passes-up the chance is to understand the character of Prime. For this leader the welfare of his men (in this case Bumblebee) outweighs all other considerations. The journey from despair to triumph and redemption, shows Prime as the most human of the Autobots and more virtuous than most humans. Truly he personifies the Autobot cause and shows himself to be wise and noble, and yet ever humble.
Crisis is a story about courage and triumph of good over evil and also about leadership. Prime earned his command through selflessness and his rescue of Bumblebee shows why he is worthy of earning again. Soundwave, though easily dispatched by Prime, emerges from the affair with more credit than Starscream. He may lack the raw strength and firepower to go up against Prime, but he proves himself more than capable of guile and cunning - two essential ingredients to an eventual Decepticon victory. He's also able to galvanise the troops around him, but ultimately falls at the last hurdle when he underestimates Prime's concern for his fellow Autobots (in this case the captured and tortured Bumblebee) - and how this gives him the inner strength to overcome even the most impossible odds.