Marvel Generation One: #1 "The Transformers"
Publication Date: June 1984
Plot: Bill Mantlo
Script: Ralph Macchio
Pencils: Frank Springer
Inks: Kim DeMulder
Lettering: Higgins & Parker
Coloring: Nelson Yomtov
Editor: Bob Budiansky
For those who want a glimpse into the Transformers as it struggled to develop into a cohesive form, they have no further than the first few issues of the original Marvel comic book to see history in the making. The first few issues of Transformers established a lot of facts, visuals and personalities that older fans now take for granted. Because of the historical notes that can be made, the format of this review will be different, summarizing and then analyzing page by page of this issue. I hope this format is to your liking and that you find the factoids presented interesting.
Long ago, life existed on a mechanical world. The world's dominant life form were robots known as Autobots, and they went about their daily lives and peaceful pursuits without incident.
- Cybertron was originally located in the Alpha Centauri system, and is a saturn sized world.
- Cybertron is described as a world without "rock, sand or soil...", which sort of goes against continuities that would later establish Cybertron as a partially organic planet.
- In the final panel of the page, you will see preliminary designs for some Transformers. The most obvious being the red Autobot that looks like Optimus Prime. It is important to note that artwork was in flux at this time, and the artists had to make due with whatever they had.
However, as with any paradise, this one had it's own serpent: the Decepticons. This minority of robots slowly grew. They developed new technologies, allowing themselves to change their forms into weapons and vehicles of incredible destructive power. Their leader was Megatron, a powerful robot bent on turning Cybertron into a cosmic dreadnaught!
Soon the war began, and the fighting was so intense that Cybertron was shaken loose from its orbit,
hurtling through space.
- Megatron's head design was not yet finalized at this point. Note his enormous eyes and the "bullet" shaped head.
It would take quite a few issues for his appearance to be refined.
- Soundwave is in blue and red. His color would be an ongoing oddity in this comic series.
- Notice that Ravage speaks to Megatron. The animal based Transformers were treated as regular
Decepticons and were not reduced to only growling or snarling to make their point. It was this
fact which also gave some leeway when the Beast Wars episode "Agenda" aired and everyone claimed Ravage
never spoke. The fact is, he spoke long before Beast Wars was even thought of.
- This establishes the "Cybertron was shaken loose from its orbit" story.
The Autobots had lost billions, but they too were gifted with the power to transform, and they built
city-states as fortresses. The Autobots fought back and the war raged on.
- It is interesting to note that this narrative seems to indicate that before the war, the
Cybertronians were known primarily as Autobots, and later the Decepticons came about. It was not
until the war that they became known as one race called Transformers.
- The large red robot is partially based on the Trailbreaker toy, his legs are a dead give away to the design.
Although they fought back, the Autobots were losing. All seemed hopeless as Megatronused his powerful fusion cannon to decimate Autobot strongholds. However, from the Autobot city-state of Iacon arose a new leader: Optimus Prime! His skills, wisdom and firepower allowed him to reunite the Autobot army and begin the rebuilding of Autobot city-states. The war would rage on for another thousand years...
- This establishes Iacon as the greatest Autobot city-state.
- In Optimus Prime's intro panel, you will see an "Ironhide" based robot. This is an example of how the artist had to be quite imaginative with various models he was given to work with to create "generi-bots".
- Another example of "piecing robots together" can be seen in the last panel on the page where a generic
robot is using Optimus Prime's gun.
- In the scene that shows Optimus' vehicle mode, you see a "Frenzy/Rumble" type robot next to him.
Cybertron continued hurtling through space, but a new threat arose: an asteroid field that threatened to destroy the planet. Optimus Prime volunteered to lead a group of Autobots on the space ship "Ark" to destroy the asteroid field. Unfortunately, Ravage was there to hear the Autobot's plan!
- The robot speaking with Optimus Prime is a bit of a prototype for other "bearded Transformers" such as Alpha Trion.
- You can tell from this page that Optimus Prime's head was still being finalized, with these designs still leaning more towards the toy's head.
- Standing next to Optimus Prime in the main panel is a robot based on the toy of Jazz, but its colors are more like Bumblebee's. Another interesting mixture of models.
- Establishes the "Council of Elders" as a governing body, showing that Optimus Prime is not the all encompassing leader of the Autobots. Note that he calls the Elder "Sire", deferring respect and authority. Also, the use of the word "Sire" is very indicative of the way the Transformers were written. Note that they were written as very well spoken characters with tendencies towards Hollywood's version of the type of language knights spoke in the middle ages. It is interesting to see how the speech patterns of the Transformers change after a while.
- This page establishes Ravage's stealthly abilities.
At Castle Decepticon, Ravage reports back to Megatron. Megatron decides to go after the Ark and destroy the Autobots. Without Optimus Prime, he is sure the Autobots will fall. On the Ark, the Autobots set about to destroy the asteroid field. They succeed, and come upon an uninhabited planet.
- Megatron's design is still in flux right now. Note his Decepticon symbol is to the right side of his chest. Also, the "computer panel" on his mid section is also towards right. Later, these features would be centered.
- When the Autobots are shown destroying the asteroids, note that the Ironhide/Ratchet "bay" is used as one of the Ark's weapons.
Optimus Prime is hopeful that the Autobots can return to Cybertron, and eventually achieve peace with the Decepticons. Unfortunately, his words are drowned out by the Decepticon attack! The Autobots try to regroup, but the Decepticons begin to invade the Ark. The Autobots are still too weak from clearing the asteroid field.
- The "Jazz model" is used twice in one panel, when the Autobots are shaking about.
- Prime is miscolored in the same "shaking" panel.
- When the Decepticons invade the Ark, Optimus Prime is one of the invading robots while a "pseudo" Optimus Prime
is running away.
The Decepticons are invading, breaching the Ark's hull. The Autobots try to fight back, but they are cut down one by one. Optimus makes a quick decision, sending the Ark plunging into the lifeless planet they encountered earlier. Although the Autobots will die, so will the Decepticons.
- This page establishes Prowl as one of Optimus Prime's most trusted advisors.
- This is probably one of the most significant pages in Transformers comic book history. Optimus Prime's decision to crash the Ark is the major turning point of this storyline, and the crux of the Generation One tale that would reverberate all the way to the Beast Wars.
- Although colored like Optimus Prime, the Autobot in the first panel has more Sideswipe features than any other 'bot.
The Ark crashes intoa volcanic mountain. Four million years pass until the volcano erupts, uncovering the Ark within the volcano. The world has changed since the ship crashed. The world has a name now: Earth, and the year is 1984!
- Unlike the cartoon show, which showed the rear of the Ark protruding from the mountain side, this shows the Ark still within the mountain, hidden away from prying eyes.
The Ark begins to awaken, with power slowly coursing through its circuits. The Ark immediately dispatches a sensor drone. The drone is only able to perceive mechanical life, not organic life. Thus human beings, animals and other such creatures go unnoticed. Its first form is that of an F-14 jet, which it takes to resemble the Decepticon attack forms.
- It is very interesting to note the writers stressed the point of the drone only reading mechanical life. While the cartoon series never addressed why the Ark ignored organics, here it is explained that it simply did not see them. A simple plot contrivance, but a very effective one.
The drone continues to scan mechanical devices, not limiting itself to vehicles, it also scans regular consumer electronics such as radios. Once it has obtained the information it needs, the drone heads back to the Ark, and the repair process begins.
- The representation of the Ark's computer is based on the trailer that came with the original Optimus Prime toy.
The Ark begins its repairs. Due to the damage it has suffered, it has lost all knowledge of the Great Wars, thus everyone is repaired with equal care, regardless of allegiance. Soon, the Decepticons awaken, followed by the Autobots.
- Optimus Prime's toy trailer goes to work double time, as one is seen in the foreground and another in the background.
- This panel begins what I like to call the "Soundwave shuffle". Here he is seen with a design that has a mouth and is colored primarily purple. Design variants will change through the run of the Generation One comic book series.
The Decepticons have been revived, and one by one they sound off, explaining their powers and personalities in brief. Although Starscream wants to trash the Autobots there and then, Megatron argues that they are too weak from their crash to effectively fight. The Decepticons transform and take off.
- The lengthy introductions of all the Decepticons was brought on by a Marvel comics rule at the time that dictates new characters had to explain themselves at least in brief.
Page Fourteen to Fifteen:
As the Decepticons escape, Optimus Prime and Prowl witness their departure. One by one, the Autobots introduce themselves and give hints to their personalities.
- For the most part, Ironhide, Huffer and Ratchet are based on their toy designs. The other Autobots (with one exception) are all some version of the television show models. The one exception is Gears, who has the strangest model of all, looking neither like his cartoon or toy self.
The Autobots discuss their plight. Huffer is not 100% sure the Ark can be repaired, but Optimus realizes he has a more pressing issue: the Decepticons! He tells the Autobots that they must be stopped as their violence has been unwittingly brought upon the world. The Autobots also take time to watch and learn of the machine "life" on Earth. Finally, they swear to protect the planet, but first they need to explore.
- Showing just how much in flux designs were at the time, in the first and second panels of this page, we see Bumblebee and Gears "revert" to their toy incarnations.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Oregon, Buster Witwicky talks to his father. He gets a lecture on being such a bookworm. Sparkplug Witwicky wants his son to understand responsibility. After lecturing him, he lets him take the car to see his friends.
- Introduces us to the key human characters of Generation One's comic book run: Sparkplug and Buster Witwicky. It is interesting to note that Buster was often thought to be the equivalent of Spike on the television show. However, in time, we would learn that Spike was in fact Buster's brother, which made for some interesting stories.
- Unlike his cartoon self, Sparkplug is a mechanic here with his own shop, not a worker on an oil rig.
On a nearby highway, a hitchiker searches for cars to take him, but soon, a group of five vehicles go roaring by him, seemingly without drivers! The Autobots are excited, especially Hound, who loves new environments. Cliffjumper does some joy riding until they reach their target...
- Notice Cliffjumper's vehicle mode is very loosely defined, primarily being red and a slightly curvy car.
The Autobots arrive at a drive in movie, beliving that the cars gathered there are life forms worshipping the images on the movie screen. They are not alone however! Laserbeak has been spying on them, and he is ready to attack! He reports back to Megatron, believing the Autobots are trying to form an alliance with the "earthlings". He quickly orders an attack on the Autobots immediately!
- Although it is largely a throw away line, what Cliffjumper says opens up an interesting note regarding Transformers. Although they may not practice religion themselves (in some cases, not all), they recognize religious gatherings (even if they are at Drive In movies)
- Soundwave is now back to being blue.
The Autobots speed into the drive-in. Bumblebee accidentally rear ends Buster's car. He gets out to check up on it and the Volkswagon Beetle driver, but there's no one in the vehicle!
- We are introduced to "O" and Jesse in this page.
- Prowl's comments allude to Bumblebee's tech specs, which indicate he is one of the youngest Autobots.
Page Twenty One:
The Decepticons attack! Destroying Buster's car and throwing O, Jesse, Buster and Bumblebee away. Bumblebee absorbs most of the hit and is wounded, unable to transform. The other Autobots decide the time for hiding is over, and they transform into their robot forms to take on the Decepticons.
- Cliffjumper's model is all over the place in this issue. His vehicle mode is far from finalized, and his robot mode is a rather odd combination of the toy and television show models, but streamlined a lot.
Page Twenty Two:
The Decepticons swoop in from the air, and the Autobots do their best to repel them as the humans run for it. Brawn punches out Laserbeak while Cliffjumper hits Starscream with his glass gas.
- Starscream is colored wrong here, being primarily blue and red with no gray at all.
- Cliffjumper uses his glass as for the first time.
Page Twenty Three:
The Decepticon jets begin to break apart under Cliffjumper's glass gas. Hound manages to scare off Ravage as Soundwave charges at Prowl and Cliffjumper. Prowl looks at the humans and suddenly figures out that the humans are the dominant life form on the planet, and it is they who control the machines!
- This page establishes Hound's hologram generation abilities.
- Soundwave is colored incorrectly, using a scheme that more resembles Megatron.
Page Twenty Four:
The Autobots realize that this changes everything. Prowl decides to retreat and report back to Optimus Prime, hoping that Bumblebee has made it out safe. Buster is with Bumblebee, and takes a look at his engine - which looks different than anything else he's ever seen. He decides to take the car home to his father to repair.
- Couldn't the Autobots have scanned the area for Transformers life forms? I always, and still do, find that one point odd.
- Cliffjumper's design is off again in both robot and vehicle modes.
Page Twenty Five:
Buster manages to get away, and late into the night, he tries to save Bumblebee's life. Sparkplug finds him working on the wounded car and lights up with pride. Suddenly, Bumblebee asks Sparkplug to help him before he dies!
- Bumblebee is able to speak directly to the humans, meaning that although the Ark could not tell organics were life forms, it most likely did pick up transmissions in english and gave the Autobots the knowledge to communicate in that language.
One has to admire how simply rich this first issue is. There is a lot of dialogue and narrative, which is necessary as there is a lot going on here. Unlike the cartoon series, the rules Marvel worked under for comic books did not allow characters to simply "fade into the background". Each character had to be addressed at least once, which ultimately benefits the audience.
It is also interesting to see the style which the Transformers are written in here. Although by the time Brawn is punching out Laserbeak the Autobots and Decepticons begin to become more distinctive, much of their speech patterns are very proper and a bit more flowery than they would be many issues later. They were truly being written as warriors who were like knights of the middle ages (the pop culture versions anyhow). This also proves that you can introduce human characters and
give us an idea of who they are without making them annoying.
If you call yourself a Transformers fan at all, this is a must read. Yes, the artwork is archaic to a degree, but big exaggerated angles and computer coloring don't make up for bad storytelling. Here, the artists had little to go on but conceptual drawings and perhaps photos of toys. The real focus here is telling a story, and this one issue covers a lot in twenty five pages. Read this and be proud to own it.