Transformers are a Hasbro-licensed toy series that includes two lines of shape-shifting robots from Japanese company Takara. When it came time to develop a cohesive backstory for the Diaclone and Micro Change figures, Hasbro turned to the same people who had reinvented the GI Joe franchise not long before.
Marvel Comics would create both the lore behind the characters and the line characters. Specifically, editor Jim Shooter and writer Bob Budiansky along with fellow writer Dennis O’Neil created the name “Optimus Prime”. Having a close relationship with the medium of comics, it’s no surprise that there have been some weird duck moments over the past thirty-eight years.
CONTENT WARNING: TF COMICS ARE SURPRISINGLY DARK. DEATH, PTSD AND BODY HORROR ARE DISCUSSED IN THE FOLLOWING LIST.
ten Spider-Man vs. the Decepticons
What may surprise new Marvel Comics fans is the incorporation of their licensed material into the larger Marvel Universe. While recent developments like Conan The Barbarian joining the Avengers are a once in a lifetime event, in the late 70s and early 80s it was common to bend IPs like Godzilla, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and (desperately in need of a return) Spaceknight ROM set in the same world as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
As such, in Transformers #3 by Jim Salicrup, Frank Springer, Kim DeMulder, Mike Esposito, Nel Yomtov and Janice Chiang, disguised robots meet web crawler, Spider-Man. While the Transformers would go on to have future crossovers with the New Avengers, it’s this specific issue that remains the most iconic example of their interconnectivity with Earth-616.
9 Optimus Prime as a severed head
The first one Transformers four miniseries issues ended on the extreme cliffhanger of Shockwave standing over a pile of dead Autobots declaring victory. Once it was decided to continue the series, question #5 began with Shockwave stringing together the corpses of dead heroes as Buster Witwicky sneaks around and comes face to face with the disembodied head of Optimus Prime. Writer Bob Budiansky along with artist Alan Kupperberg would portray Prime granting Buster the ability to mend and restore the fallen dead – something that would be revisited with the character of Sari Sumdac in 2007. Transformers: animated.
8 Galvatron meets Megatron
If it hasn’t become apparent by now, the events of the 1980s Marvel Comics explicitly contradict the events of the Transformers animated series and feature film. Unlike other franchises that maintain consistent continuity throughout their history, the Transformers franchise prides itself on reinvention and recontextualization. One of those moments is how the Marvel series handled Galvatron: Future Reincarnation of Megatron through Unicron. As said in Transformers #77 by Simon Furman, Andrew Wildman, Stephen Baskerville, Nel Yomtov, and Rick Parker, the future version of the Decepticon leader traveled back in time to recruit his past in an attempt to rule the universe. With egos this big, it’s no surprise that they come to blows quickly.
seven The time Dinobots became a combinator
Combiners are a fan-favorite sub-category of Transformers – from the classic Constructicons that form Devastator to the fierce and deadly Predaking formed by Predacons (no, not those Predacons). With Dinobots being some of the franchise’s most popular characters, it’s surprising that it took the team decades to get the combo treatment.
While Volcanicus, created for the Power of the Primes line, might be what most fans think of, the original combiner for Grimlock and his friends was… THE BEAST. First appeared in The beast within by Darren Jamieson and Dylan Gibson as a bonus feature in the 2004 DVD release of British company Metrodome’s G1 season 2, BEAST is a body-horror mishmash in a comic so ill-conceived it’s become a running joke around the TF fandom.
6 The Myriad of Human Super-Villains
Human adversaries are by no means exclusive to the Marvel Comics series. Greedy businessmen and mad scientists have always sought out the opportunities offered by self-contained cybernetic lifeforms and the fuel they call Energon.
However, perhaps due to the close ties to the Marvel Universe, classic comics are littered with costumed supervillains such as Circuit Breaker. Looking somewhere between Seven of Nine and the monster at the end of Superman 3, she along with similarly daft adversaries such as the Mechanic and the super-team called the Neo-Knights would pose a constant threat to the Autobots. This idea was further reworked to Transformers: animated decades later.
5 Optimus Prime commits suicide
Death is a revolving door for the Autobot leader. Since he first perished in The Transformers: The Movie beginning in 1986, the character’s death and rebirth has been a hit storyline in nearly all Transformers media. However, just a month after the film’s premiere, Optimus would die after breaking his moral code…in a video game.
Transformers #24 by Bob Budiansky, Don Perlin, Ian Akin, Brian Garvey, Nel Yomtov, and Janice Chiang saw Prime and Megatron agree to settle the war in a virtual world created by Flippy-Floppy Industries. Megatron, being Megatron, cheats the game to gain the upper hand, but Prime sacrifices the “life” of the game’s NPCs to win. Feeling that he has betrayed his code, he decides to self-destruct. Fortunately, Prime’s entire personality can be quickly installed on a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk.
4 Hallucinations Induced by Kup’s PTSD
First appearing in the aforementioned 1986 animated film, the crusty, weary Autobot veteran quickly became a fan favorite. Voiced by the legendary Lionel Stander, Kup’s pessimistic and cynical demeanor matched Hot Rod’s naïve optimism perfectly. Kup would finally get a comedic spotlight, no pun intended, in Transformers: Spotlight #7 by Nick Roche, Andrew Elder and Robbie Robbins. The old warrior is reimagined as suffering from severe hallucinations and PTSD. Stranded alone on a planet and haunted by the “ghosts” of his comrades, this issue presented a new and interesting status quo for the character moving forward in IDW continuity.
3 Megatron and Ratchet get cronenberger
Late in the run of Marvel’s Transformers comics, writer Simon Furman (along with artist Andrew Wildman) would tell one of the franchise’s most haunting stories. With inker Stephen Baskerville, colorist Nel Yomtov and letterer Rick Parker, Transformers #70 “The Pri¢ of Life!” saw Decepticon leader Megatron and Autobot physician Ratchet merge after an interdimensional collapse they were caught in between months prior. Thanks to Fixit’s prowess, the two Cybertronians return to their original form and must deal with what must be enormous psychological trauma.
2 The Multiversal Adventures of Death’s Head
There are several original characters in the Transformers comics who have become fan favorites, even making the leap into other media like movies and TV. A lesser-known but equally beloved weirdo is freelance peacekeeping operative Death’s Head.
First created by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior in the UK edition of Transformers #113, Death’s Head was adorably eccentric and totally not a bounty hunter. His new adventures would send him across the multiverse to take on Doctor Who and Marvel’s Time Variance Authority.
1 Kiss players could make up this whole list
Transformers: fuck the players by writer and artist Yuki Ohshima is… a lot. Created by Ohshima in 2006, it was the only Transformers media released in the country between Transformers: Cybertron and the film Michael Bay, making it the main TF medium at the time by default. Taking place between the 1986 film and the 3rd season of the G1 cartoon, it saw Galvatron crash into Tokyo and create a Hiroshima-like explosion that decimates the city. Due to this event, the governments of the world create the Kiss Players, a group of women who can power up the Transformers by kissing them. The series is infamous for its sexually charged and risque portrayals of the girls as they are threatened by tentacle-like monsters and the ghost of Starscream. The Seeker’s plans for revenge are foiled – in part due to his inability to pull up his panties after possessing the body of a young woman in the bathroom. Kiss Players is all the bad stereotypes of Japanese comics rolled into one.
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