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Four million years ago, they came from Cybertron, a world composed entirely of machinery... a world torn by an age-old war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. These incredibly powerful living robots, capable of converting themselves into land and air vehicles, weapons and other mechanical forms, continue their conflict here on Earth. They are...THE TRANSFORMERS
—Introductory blurb of the US comic
As well as the Transformers cartoon, there was at the same time a comic published by Marvel Comics. It is sometimes stated that the comic came before the cartoon; in truth, both went into production at the same time, though the first issue of the comic was released some time before the first episode of the cartoon.
The comic was initially set in the main Marvel Universe, but soon moved to a separate Alternate Universe along with the G.I. Joe comic to prevent Executive Meddling from Hasbro interfering with Marvel's own characters. Most of the early issues were written by Bob Budiansky; he and his successor, Simon Furman, would end up having more influence on the overall Transformers mythos than anyone else.
In America, the comic was originally a four-issue limited series written by Jim Salicrup and published bi-monthly. When it became an ongoing series, it was printed monthly and written by Budiansky. It was printed on higher-quality paper than most other comics, and as a result was also more expensive. While it used the same characters, setting, and premise as the cartoon, it told a significantly different set of stories. In particular, while the Transformers in the cartoon were built by Quintessons, in the comic, they originally arose from "naturally-evolving gears and pulleys." This was later Ret Conned into the Transformers being created by the god Primus, a part of canon later cartoon series adopted.
In the UK, the comic was published weekly for most of its run, and the American comics were commonly split in two in order to stretch the material. To make up for the dramatically shortened length, the UK comic also featured original material written by Simon Furman in the gaps between the American issues. These stories usually fit in with the American continuity, albeit with occasional twisting. After the movie, Furman started using the future cast in his stories, both the make Hasbro happy and the avoid stepping on Budiansky's toes. Each issue also featured a backup story to increase the page count; these ranged from the sensible (Iron Man, Action Force) to the silly (Planet Terry). Later on, after the comic went fortnightly, they were replaced by new Transformers material written by Furman; these were in colour at first, though later shifted to black and white as a cost-saving measure.
In addition, 1987 brought the new Headmaster and Targetmaster toys. Since this resulted in the appearance of a large number of toys with two gimmicks between them, Budiansky wrote a four-issue Spin-Off entitled Transformers: Headmasters (not to be confused with the Transformers Headmasters Anime), which introduced all the new characters as arrivals on the planet Nebulos. This series ended with the characters leaving Nebulos for Earth, to arrive in US issue 38 (UK 156). In the UK, it was reprinted in 16 parts as the backup strip in the main comic during the leadup.
After Budiansky suffered Creator Breakdown as a result of trying to keep Hasbro happy, Furman was brought on to write both the US and UK comics. His focus on story arcs and Character Development was considered the high point of the comic's run; however, due to a communications breakdown, the UK comics at this point drifted out of sync with the US publication. Furman initially tried to tie his backup stories more closely to the main action, but Marvel UK frequently reprinted a classic story without warning, which resulted in the backup strip referencing events that had yet to occur in the main strip. As a result, Furman said "screw this" and simply turned the backup strip into a series of light-hearted romps that never even tried to maintain continuity with the US series.
It finally ended after 80 issues in America (September, 1984-July, 1991) or 332 in Britain (September, 1984-January, 1992) due to declining interest in Transformers, though Marvel would later publish the short-lived Generation 2 comic as a sequel. Transformers Classics is an alternate sequel by Fun Publications, set in an Alternate Timeline ignoring the events of Generation 2.
The Marvel series provides examples of:
- Adaptational Wimp:
- The Dinobots. They were untouchable in the cartoon with just one being enough to win the fight. Here, Megatron can dish out a Curb Stomp Battle to the whole group without even moving his legs.
- The Quintessons. They were never really powerhouses, physically anyway, in the cartoon, but here they're an Unknown Rival to the Transformers, have no connection to them, and unceremoniously lost everything to the Cybertronians in a Curb Stomp Battle.
- Alternate Continuity/Alternate Universe: Canonically, the US and UK stories take place in different universes. Earthforce seems to be in a third universe.
- This is also how the Marvel comics relate to the original cartoon and the rest of Generation 1.
- Anti-Villain: Circuit Breaker, very much.
- Animal Mecha: The Dinobots, most notably. There are also the Predacons, Seacons, half the cassettes, Terrorcons, Scorponok...
- Author Appeal: Furman likes westerns and hard-boiled detective stories, and wrote a few issues which intentionally Pastiche those genres.
- Badass: Ooh, plenty. Would go into more detail if there was a whole page dedicated for this.
- Optimus, obviously. Even if he does come off as a moron in Afterdeath. Once he becomes a Powermaster, he takes on whole new levels of badassery.
- Megatron is initially NOT this. Then in G2, he takes several levels in badass, and becomes an incredibly dangerous and powerful adversary.
- Blaster. In the cartoon he's basically a "cool dude" but not much else. Here he takes down a gestalt, destroys Straxus and drives Galvatron off the slippery slope.
- And then there's UK Galvatron. He basically lets the autobots unload enough firepower to destroy a small city and then just stands there laughing madly. There are many stories which basically consist mostly of him going somewhere, meeting a shitload of foes and leaving a lot of kicked asses in his wake.
- And Death's Head. He takes down the extremely powerful Cyclonus and Scourge with ease- Several times, kills Shockwave, does very well against Galvatron, and even fights off Unicron's mind control.
- Like Megatron, Scorponok began as a wuss who was more interested in watching autobots get humilated in wrestling shows than, you know, allowing for progression of the Decepticons. Then he grows a pair in the latter era of Marvel and finally becomes a respectable character who beats down Shockwave, and gets a Dying Moment of Awesome against Unicron.
- Badass Bookworm: Shockwave is a calculating scientist who will kick your ass. The Dinobots learnt it the hard way.
- Badass in Charge: By virtue of the whole franchise.
- Badass Normal: Ratchet. He bests Megatron twice despite being a weak, non-combat-ready medic through wits and force of will, and saves all the autobots from Shockwave (save for Optimus Prime).
- Also, Nightbeat, who's a detective who defeats the incredibly powerful Thunderwing twice (and once he was Matrix powered!) and the planet-destroying Deathbringer, also matrix-powered. For the latter he literally talked him to death.
- And Xaaron, who leads the autobot resistance of Cybertron to great efficiency, without an ounce of fighting skill.
- A villainous example is Ratbat, one of the weakest Decepticons who still manages to become leader, boss Shockwave around and come extremely close to total victory for the Decepticons.
- Badass Pacifist: Ultra Magnus is the strongest autobot in the first run, but is a pacifist who utterly despises war.
- BFG: Megatron obviously. Galvatron and Shockwave are equally notable examples.
- Big Bad: Constantly changing. Megatron only leads the Decepticons for a small part of the comic's run; Shockwave, Scorponok, Soundwave (in the UK series), and even Ratbat had noticeably longer terms.
- Galvatron is the Big Bad in Marvel UK's prime, dominating several stories. Jhiaxus is the Big Bad of the G2 Run.
- Bigger Bad: Unicron, obviously, in both Legacy of Unicron and Issues 60-75 of the Marvel Run. In fact, Simon Furman's Marvel run was what established Unicron as more than simply a big robot or worse still, a fish-monkey's pet.
- Clingy Costume: Circuit Breaker.
- Continuity Snarl:
- As detailed under Early Installment Weirdness, the Autobots and Decepticons were unfamiliar with organic life at first before it was later shown that they'd seen other organic aliens.
- In Issue #17, the Decepticons on Cybertron receive Soundwave's message that he sent in Issue #10. Trouble is, it describes the status quo of Issue #16, not #10.
- The easiest way to resolve Earthforce is to stick it in an alternate universe.
- Crapsack World: Cybertron under Straxus.
- Crossover: A notable one with G.I. Joe.
- Cybernetics Will Eat Your Soul: Shockwave, very much.
- Death Is Cheap: Optimus Prime.
- Deus Est Machina: Primus and Unicron are more important in the Marvel series than in the rest of G1.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Plenty.
- Design-wise, some characters were originally drawn based on their earliest toy designs, most notably Soundwave having an actual face and being coloured purple.
- In terms of the story, the early issues suggested that Cybertron was so isolated that the very idea of organic life had never occurred to any Cybertronian. Later issues showed that Cybertronian explorers and diplomats had regularly encountered organic life during the war.
- Enemy Civil War: At various points, there has been Megatron vs Shockwave, Shockwave vs Ratbat, Ratbat vs Scorponok, Scorponok vs Shockwave again, Scorponok vs Megatron, and Scorponok vs Megatron vs Galvatron.
- Enemy Mine: In several UK stories, Autobots and Decepticons must join forces against a greater threat, such as Flame and Unicron. The US series saw them join forces against Starscream in the Underbase saga.
- A particularly unique example is in Time Wars where Autobots and Decepticons of two eras band together to stop the Con'sown leaders- Galvatron and Megatron.
- Excited Episode Title: Almost every issue has at least one exclamation mark.
- Freelance Peacekeeping Agent: Death's Head.
- Gladiator Games: Popular on Cybertron before the Decepticon uprising. Megatron himself started off as a gladiator.
- Honor Before Reason: Optimus Prime asks a human to destroy him because he endangered bystanders in a video game fight against the Decepticons... even though Megatron was cheating at the time. It Makes Sense in Context, but Optimus' action was still stupid.
- Human Aliens: The Nebulans even refer to themselves as humans a few times.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: In the first issue, the Autobots assumed that the cars of Earth were the planet's native Mechanical Lifeforms, being dumbstruck to realize it was the weird, tiny, and soft pink things who were the dominant species.
- Humans Are Morons: Incredibly so. One honestly wonders why the Autobots tried to defend them.
- Intro Dump/Product Promotion Parade: Especially egregious in issue #1, where over two-dozen Autobots and Decepticons were introduced in the span of two-and-a-half pages.
- Kid Appeal Character: Bumblebee, at first. Then Spike.
- Later, Leige Maximo in G2, and the Big Bad of the aforementioned series only commands a small fraction of his full forces.
- Kill'Em All: The main purpose of both the Underbase saga and the simultaneous "Time Wars" was to slaughter old toys and bring the cast down to a more manageable size.
- The Korean War: Sparkplug is a veteran.
- Magic Floppy Disk: After getting destroyed over a video game (see Honor Before Reason, above), Optimus Prime's entire personality was backed up on a single 5¼" floppy disk.
- Mechanical Evolution: Issue 1 makes an offhand mention about Transformers evolving from naturally-occurring simple machines. This would be done away with in favour of Primus but it would also be established that the Quintessons were the products of such a process.
- Mexican Standoff: Galvatron and Rodimus have a brief one in the UK Story Fire on High. Roddy wins, but it does little more than annoy Galvatron.
- Misfit Mobilization Moment: Happens in issue #79. Spike Witwicky, mentally fused with the Autobot Fortress Maximus, goes to Canada to stop a crazed, rampaging Galvatron. The Misfit Mobilization Moment occurs when the war-weary Spike accepts his fate and coordinates with Fortress Maximus to win the fight.
- Mythology Gag: A pretty elaborate one. In the early stages of planning the toyline, Swoop was to be called Divebomb. Later, when the Predacons were introduced, the flying one was called Divebomb. Furman used this coincidence to give them a backstory - Swoop was originally called Divebomb, but was defeated by a Decepticon who rubbed salt into the wound by stealing his name. Swoop is still bitter about it.
- One-Gender Race: Cloudburst explains to the First One of Femax that the Transformers have no biological sex and are all males when it comes to organic gender classification.
- Retcon: A few.
- The first issue has an off-hand mention of the Transformers evolving from naturally-occurring wheels, levers, and pulleys in issue 1 is replaced by a story about them being created by Primus during Furman's run.
- When Simon Furman reintroduced Megatron to the US series, he concocted a story about how he was blasted back to Cybertron at the end of "Gone But Not Forgotten!"; since this conflicted with established continuity, a short UK story established that the Megatron seen in "Ancient Relics!" and "Time Wars!" was actually a clone with Straxus' mind who thought he was Megatron.
- The Creation Matrix was originally said to be an incredibly complex computer program that was downloaded from Prime to Prime when the time came for a new ruler. When Unicron showed up, Simon Furman copied the cartoon's idea of having a physical Matrix, with it being explained that Shockwave had made use of residual Matrix energy that lingered on Optimus' body.
- Space Romans: Pre-civil war Cybertronian society is basically Ancient Rome WITH ROBOTS!
- The Starscream: OK, Starscream is in it, but Shockwave and Soundwave both pull it off much more successfully.
- In the future, Cyclonus and Scourge are this to Shockwave himself. They succeed, albeit while under mind control.
- Time Travel
- Transplant: At the end of "The Legacy of Unicron", Death's Head falls sideways through time and ends up in the Doctor Who comic
- You Keep Using That Word: The comic has a character named Emirate Xaaron. An emirate is not a person, but a place that is ruled by an emir. (No, Xaaron's not one of the "big enough to be a Genius Loci" bots.)
- Zombie Apocalypse: In the UK comics.