As Transformers continues to alternate between American reprints and British original stories, one major difference between the material becomes apparent–the artwork. Not just the artwork itself, but the approach to it. While the artwork and colouring in the American stories follows a functional and perfunctory house style, what we see in the original British stories is a medley of diverse artistic (both lineart and colouring) techniques and approaches. The American artwork stays dead centre in the middle of the road, whereas the British visuals gleefully veer off into the beautiful, experimental wilderness.
Last time, I mentioned how “Marvel” the American Transformers stories felt. The opposite is true for the British stories. There is an ever-changing roster of artists, each bringing his own approach to the comic. There is no “house style” to speak of. While the American stories seem to follow stricter storytelling rules, each British story has its own personality. The artwork for a Bob Budiansky script accompanies the story, whereas the artwork for a Simon Furman story tells it.
A Marvellous Voyage, Part 9 – The Crisis of a Decapitated Commander
Transformers 41-44 introduce Will Simpson and Geoff Senior as the comic’s latest strip artists. There is a huge difference between their styles. Will’s is mechanical and detailed; Geoff’s is fluid and energetic. My first exposure to both Will and Geoff was in the 1986/1987 Transformers Annual which I received for Christmas, a year after their first weekly issues were introduced. (More on that in a future post!)
Transformers 41 is the comic’s first proper Christmas issue. Perhaps deadlines were such that a separate Holiday Special wasn’t viable or easy to co-ordinate story-wise. With the comic’s weekly schedule turning the issue closest to Christmas Day into a special edition of sorts gave readers the best of both worlds. Plus it probably helped give them a gentle nudge in the direction of the Transformers shelves in local toyshops when it came to decide what to with any Christmas money.
As with the inclusion of the Dinobots in the previous batch of British stories, “Crisis of Command” makes full use of the missed potential of the American stories. In “Prime Time” the previous Bob Budiansky story, a lot of Autobots are deactivated (indirectly and directly) by Optimus Prime. Yet there is never any follow up in the American storyline. Again, “Crisis of Command” is a perfect example of the British stories adding to what’s gone before and enriching the whole US/UK storyline.
“Christmas Breaker”: Written by James Hill, illustrated by Will Simpson with colours by Gina Hart and letters by Richard Starkings. 11 pages. Originally published in Transformers 41, December 1985.
Transformers 41 – Cover by Mike Collins and Mark Farmer
It’s Christmas Eve and the Autobots are entering into the spirit of things by decorating a makeshift tree and having Optimus dress up as Santa Claus. Prowl isn’t happy about it, of course. This could very well be the start of Prowl becoming a bit of a dick. All because of Christmas.
Following up on the American story “Dis-Integrated Circuits”, this festive tale revisits the Circuit Breaker character and pits her against Jazz again. The script follows the same beats as that tale, except with the “magic” of the season somehow (and temporarily) showing Circuit Breaker the error of her prejudiced ways.
Wearing just a few strands of aluminium foil like a homemade Christmas cracker it’s really a wonder that the poor woman didn’t succumb to a nasty bout of hypothermia!
After providing a couple of covers, Will Simpson makes his comic strip debut here. He provides some surprisingly terrifying visuals (for a Christmas story) in the form of nightmarish version of Soundwave, complete with drill-bits for fingers, and a very Stephen King-esque child-trapped-under-the-ice scene.
“Christmas Breaker” is the start of a 5-year Transformers festive tradition–a charming and intimate 11-page pause in the Autobot-Decepticon war that provides some welcome fun and reflection.
“Crisis of Command”: Written by Mike Collins and James Hill, illustrated by Geoff Senior and John Stokes with colours by Steve Whitake and Gina Hart and letters by Mike Scott. 33 pages. Originally published in Transformers 42-44, January 1986.
Transformers 42 – Cover by Will Simpson
The burdens of leadership can take their toll all too often. Autobot Commander Optimus Prime, in under 40 issues, has: lead a mission into deepest space to protect his own war-torn planet, deliberately crashed his ship into a primitive alien world to stop his enemies, had his mind probed and plundered in a search for the Creation Matrix, had a fake head connected to his body to decimate his own army, and, to top it all off, dressed as Santa Claus to cheer up a human child!
And now there’s dissension in the ranks! I’d say it was about time for a crisis.
Regular series writer Simon Furman continues his break to leave Mike Collins and James Hill in charge of the story. While “Crisis of Command” is almost as trip-hammer in the script department as previous episodes, it offers a more thoughtful and mature story for its readers. Issues of war and its price are brought to the fore and leave the reader with much to think about.
“Crisis” is a classical story: a hero wracked with indecision, an unwelcome quest, a brave choice, a daring rescue. At times the plot can veer too close to writing-by-numbers, but it’s so well crafted that the inevitable climactic showdown brings no small amount of satisfaction.
Transformers 43 – Cover by John Ridgway
Perhaps more than before, this story cements the characterisations of the Transformers (Autobot and Decepticons) making them each heroes and villains to root for.
Soundwave’s (new) leadership of the Decepticons gives him some much-needed panel time, elevating him from lackey to shining superstar in 33 pages.
Optimus Prime’s heroic stand at the climax of the story is a rousing coup de grace. Oddly, Optimus–the apparent main character of the Transformers–hasn’t exactly been the centre of attention in recent issues. “Crisis” cements his legendary status and puts him back where he belongs.
John Stokes’s depiction of Bumblebee’s rescue is triumphant: the way Prime’s arrival is shown, the impact of Starscream’s weapon at Soundwave’s feet and the shadow of Prime himself as Bumblebee looks on smiling is so satisfying to see.
Geoff Senior makes his artistic debut on a Transformers comic book strip with the first two chapters. His work is stunning, and it instantly ignites the script. Action scenes are kinetic and his talent for visual storytelling is nothing short of brilliant. Geoff’s opening page of the second part, with Bumblebee’s lone trek through the desert, aided by Gina Hart’s wonderful colours, is one of my all-time favourite splash pages.
The scene where Bumblebee makes his stand against Skywarp is rendered to such great effect that you can’t help but reel back at the Decepticon’s cruel response to Bumblebee’s pathetic yet heroic stand.
I wonder just how long Geoff has been kept in reserve, biding time in a missile silo buried deep under Carlisle, waiting to be unleashed on comic book readers up and down the country. I have a theory that Marvel UK like to show off something special in the New Year, once school starts up again. You know, something to ignite the playground chatter. On this occasion, Geoff Senior is that something special.
“Crisis of Command” is an immediate classic, rightly commanding a place in Marvel UK’s hall of fame.
Transformers 44 – Cover by Jeff Anderson
As Transformers approaches its first landmark issue (50), it’s clear that it’s going from strength to strength. Marvel UK isn’t afraid to show off new talented artists who each bring something unique and personal to the stories and I think this approach is working brilliantly at keeping the comic fresh and exciting for its readers.
“Crisis of Command” is Transformers‘ first true masterpiece of a story, firmly reminding us all of its golden age; something that is a delight to revisit after 30 years.
What did you think of the “Crisis of Command” and Geoff Senior’s and Will Simpson’s early work? Please leave a comment below!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.
— Graham (@inkybauds)