Robots in Disguise: A Tribute to Marvel UK’s “Transformers”

The first issue of Marvel UK's long-running Transformers title

The first issue of Marvel UK’s long-running Transformers title, with a cover by Jerry Paris.

With Transformers: Age of Extinction on sale from Titan Comics in UK newsagents, Ian Wheeler pays tribute to one of the most successful UK comics of the 1980s — Marvel UK’s Transformers

Whatever else you can say about the 1980s, it was a decade which produced some pretty memorable toys. Masters of the Universe, Action Force and Star Wars figures were all hugely popular. But no history of toys in the 1980s could possible exclude the Transformers. ‘Robots in disguise’, the Transformers were gigantic metal beings from another world which could transform into everyday Earthly objects such as a gun, cassette player, lorry or car. And pretty much every kid in Britain wanted one.

Or rather, pretty much every kid in Britain wanted loads of them. Because, like the Star Wars figures, there were literally dozens of Transformers toys available so it was possible to build up a huge collection. Great for the toy companies and wonderful for the children — but a nightmare for the parents! And there were numerous different species or generations of Transformers — Headmasters, Special Teams and the New Leaders were just some of the many different types of Transformers which would appear over the years.

The Transformers were rapidly to become what we would these days refer to as a franchise, rather like Star Trek or the James Bond movies today. There were Transformers T-shirts, Transformers bedspreads, a cartoon series and a movie. And it’s still going on today, with Transformers DVDs and a new comic in the form of Transformers Armada. With a strong Transformers presence on the internet and a wave of 1980s nostalgia as those of us who were kids at the time hit our late 20s and early 30s, you just can’t move for the things!

It was perhaps inevitable that there would be a Transformers comic — pure economics determined that, if nothing else. Comics based on toys made sense for both the toy producers and the comic publishers. The comic would hopefully sell off the back of the toy’s success and the toys would get loads of publicity. Hence, Battle became Battle Action Force and the Robo Machines (a very similar concept to the Transformers) featured in Eagle. Masters of the Universe got its own comic, as did Transformers.

Issue one of the British Transformers, from Marvel UK, a title that lasted for 332 regular isues, had a cover date of 20 September — 3rd October 1984. Starting as a fortnightly, it was edited by the feisty Sheila Cranna, who is perhaps best known for editing Doctor Who Magazine, also published by Marvel UK. Comparing that first edition to the issues which followed, it is clear that it was more magazine-like than later copies, with factual articles on robots in addition to the comic strip. An early cameo appearance by Spider-Man in the Transformers strip in Issue 6 gave the fledgling title a boost and it would soon go weekly. Early back-up strips in the comic included Machine Man and Iron Man and there was a jokey cartoon strip in the form of Lew Stringer’s Robo-Capers, which would be replaced by the memorable Combat Colin when Transformers later absorbed the Marvel version of Action Force. (Visionaries was another Marvel UK title which would be merged into Transformers).

As the UK Transformers comic was published more frequently than its American counterpart, new strips and cover art had to be produced for the British edition in the UK, created by a range of talented artists and writers, including such names as Simon Furman, Jeff Anderson, Tim Perkins, Dan Reed, Ian Rimmer, Geoff Senior, Will Simpson, Lee Sullivan, Robin Smith and Steve White – to name but a few. Needless to say, these strips are much sought-after by American comic collectors who missed them first time.

(The same is true of the British-originated Zoids strip which appeared first in Secret Wars, then Spider-Man and Zoids, which ran for 51 issues and has never been reprinted due to licensing issues. Zoids features some of the earliest comics work of writer Grant Morrison, who has since gone on to achieve much acclaim for strips for US publishers on titles such as Batman, The Invisibles, Animal Man and Doom Patrol).

Transformers Issue 79

Transformers Issue 79

For my money, one of the best UK Transformers strips was “Target: 2006″ by Simon Furman and illustrated by Jeff Anderson, which tied in with the Transformers movie. This story featured Galvatron and Ultra Magnus travelling back to 1986 and ran in issues 78 to 88, which has been collected by Titan Books. Simon Furman would later work on the American Transformers title — and the animated show, Beast Wars.

Issue 100 of Transformers featured a stunning wraparound cover by artist Alan Davis. Other landmark issues included issue 63 which saw the introduction of the Special Teams, issue 130 which introduced the Headmasters and issue 150 which featured the origin of the Transformers. To add humour to the title, the letters page was usually hosted by one of the Transformers characters — with the grumpy Dinobot Grimlock being perhaps the most memorable.

The Transformers comic occasionally included free gifts — issue one had transfers and Galvatron and Ultra Magnus badges were presented in issues 98 and 99 respectively. Galvatron and Ultra Manus were the ‘new’ Transformers leaders — the originals had been Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots (the ‘goodies’) and Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons. Optimus Prime was arguably the most popular of all the Transformers characters.

Like any Marvel title, Transformers had spin-offs in the form of annuals and ‘Collected Comics’ which were published as summer and winter specials and reprinted the early strips from the comic. There was also a very lavish and glossy Winter Special in 1986 which featured a comic strip adaptation of the Transformers animated movie.

Transformers finally came to an end in the early 1990s after 332 issues and went fortnightly again towards the end of its life. For a comic based on a toy to have lasted so long was nothing short of remarkable. The creators of the comic had produced a quite brilliant publication which had been remarkably consistent in tone and quality and had built up a superbly complex and unique continuity.

Needless to say, if you have a complete set of Transformers comics in good condition, you have a valuable collection of classic British comics!

UK TRANSFORMERS COMICS CHECK LIST

Issue 1 – 2: The Transformers (US Issue 1)

Issue 3 – 4: Power Play (US Issue 2)

Issue 5 – 6: Prisoner of War (US Issue 3)

Issue 7 – 8: The Last Stand (US Issue 4)

Issue 9 – 12: Man of Iron (US Issue 33 – 34)

Issue 13 – 17: The Enemy Within

Issue 22 – 23: The New Order (US Issue 5)

Issue 24 – 25: The Worse of Two Evils (US Issue 6)

Issue 26: Warrior School (US Issue 7)

Issue 27 – 28: Repeat Performances (US Issue 8)

Issue 29 – 30: Decepticon Dam Busters

Issue 31: The Wrath of Guardian

Issue 32: The Wrath of Grimlock

Issue 33 – 34: Dis-integrated Circuits (US Issue 9)

Issue 35 – 36: The Next Best Thing to Being There (US Issue 10)

Issue 37 – 38: Brainstorm (US Issue 11)

Issue 39 – 40: Prime Time (US Issue 12)

Issue 41: Christmas Breaker

Issue 42 – 44: Crisis of Command

Issue 45 – 46: The Icarus Theory

• Collected in Titan Books’ Dinobot Hunt: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 47 – 50: Dinobot Hunt

• Collected in Titan Books’ Dinobot Hunt: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 51 – 52: Shooting Star (US Issue 13)

Issue 53 – 54: Rock and Roll-Out (US Issue 14)

Issue 55 – 56: I, Robot Master (US Issue 15)

Issue 57 – 58: Plight of the Bumblebee (US Issue 16)

Issue 59 – 60: Robot Buster

• Collected in Titan Books’ Second Generation: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 61 – 62: Devastation Derby

• Collected in Titan Books’ Second Generation: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 63 – 65: Second Generation

• Collected in Titan Books’ Second Generation: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 66 – 67: The Smelting Pool (US Issue 17)

Issue 68 – 69: The Bridge to Nowhere (US Issue 18)

Issue 70 – 71: Command Performances (US Issue 19)

Issue 72 – 73: Showdown (US Issue 20)

Issue 74 – 77: In the National Interest (repeated
Issue #302-307)

• Collected in Titan Books’ Dinobot Hunt: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 78 – 88: Target: 2006

• Collected in Titan Books’ Target – 2006: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 89 – 90: Aerialbots over America (US Issue 21)

Issue 91 – 92: Heavy Traffic (US Issue 22)

Issue 93: The Gift

• Collected in Titan Books’ Second Generation: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 94 – 95: Decepticon Graffiti (US Issue 23)

Issue 96 – 97: Prey

• Collected in Titan Books’ Prey: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 98: … The Harder They Die

• Collected in Titan Books’ Prey: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Transformers Issue 100. Cover by Alan Davis.

Transformers Issue 100. Cover by Alan Davis.

Issue 99 – 100: Under Fire, Distant Thunder

• Collected in Titan Books’ Prey: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 101 – 102: Fallen Angel

• Collected in Titan Books’ Fallen Angel: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 103 – 104: Resurrection

• Collected in Titan Books’ Prey: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 105 – 106: Afterdeath (US Issue 24)

Issue 107 – 108: Gone But Not Forgotten (US Issue 25)

Issue 109 – 110: Funeral for a Friend (US Issue 26)

Issue 111 – 112: King of the Hill (US Issue 27)

Issue 113 – 114: Wanted: Galvatron — Dead or Alive

• Collected in Titan Books’ Fallen Angel: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 115 – 116: Burning Sky

Issue 117 – 118: Hunters

Issue 119 – 120: Fire on High

Issue 121 – 122: Mechanical Difficulties (US Issue 28)

Issue 123 – 124: Crater Critters (US Issue 29)

Issue 125: Ancient Relics (crossover with Action Force Issue 26-29)

Issue 126 – 127: The Cure (US Issue 30)

Issue 128 – 129: Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom (US Issue 31)

Issue 130 – 131: (US Headmasters Issue 1)

• Collected in Titan Books’ Time Wars: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 133 – 134:

• Collected in Titan Books’ Legacy of Unicron: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 135:

Issue 136:

Issue 137 – 138: Ladies Night

• Collected in Titan Books’ Legacy of Unicron: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 138 – 141: Love and Steel (US Headmasters 3)

Issue 142 – 143: Brothers in Armour (US Headmasters 4)

Issue 139 – 140: Used Autobots (US Issue 32)

Issue 141 – 142: Child’s Play (US Issue 35)

Issue 143 – 144: Spacehikers (US Issue 36)

Issue 145:

• Collected in Titan Books’ Second Generation: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 146 – 151: The Legacy of Unicron (also Issue 290-301)

• Collected in Titan Books’ Legacy of Unicron: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 152 – 153: Enemy Action

Issue 154 – 155: Toy Soldiers (US Issue 37)

Issue 156 – 157: Trail by Fire (US Issue 38)

Issue 158 – 159: The Desert Island of Space (US Issue 39)

Issue 160 – 161: Salvage

• #161 Collected in Titan Books’ Space Pirates: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 162 – 163: Pretender to the Throne (US Issue 40)

Issue 164 – 165: City of Fear

• Collected in Titan Books’ City of Fear: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 166 – 167: Legion of the Lost

Issue 168 – 169: Meltdown

Issue 170 – 171: Deadly Games

Issue 172 – 173: Wrecking Havoc

• Collected in Titan Books’ Space Pirates: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 174 – 175: Totaled (US Issue 41)

Issue 176 – 177: People Power (US Issue 42)

Issue 178 – 179: The Cosmic Carnival (US Issue 44)

Issue 180 – 181: The Big Broadcast of 2006 (US Issue 43)

Issue 182 – 187: Space Pirates

• Collected in Titan Books’ Space Pirates: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 188: Firebug

• Collected in Titan Books’ City of Fear: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 189: Dry Run

• Collected in Titan Books’ Time Wars: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 190 – 191: Monstercon From Mars (US Issue 45)

Issue 192 – 193: Ca$h and Car-nage (US Issue 46)

Issue 194 – 195: Club Decepticon (Underbase Saga Part 1) (US Issue 47)

Issue 196 – 197: The Flames Of Boltax (Underbase Saga Part 2) (US Issue 48)

Issue 198: Cold Comfort and Joy

Issue 199 – 205: Time Wars

• Collected in Titan Books’ Time Wars: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 206 – 207: Cold War (Underbase Saga Part 3) (US Issue 49)

Issue 208 – 210: Dark Star (Underbase Saga Part 4) (US Issue 50)

Issue 211 – 212: The Man in the Machine (US Issue 51)

Issue 213 – 214: The Fall and Rise of the Decepticon
Empire

• #213 Collected in Titan Books’ City of Fear: Click here to order from Amazon.co.uk

Issue 215 – 218: Race with the Devil

Issue 217 – 220: Recipe for Disaster (US Issue 52 – 53)

Issue 219 – 222: Survivors

Issue 221 – 224: Wanted Galvatron Dead or Alive (reprint)

Issue 223 – 227: Aspects of Evil

Issue 228: Deal of the Century

Issue 229: Hunting Party

Issue 229 – 232: Resurrection (Reprint)

Issue 230 – 231: The Big Shutdown

Issue 232 – 235: King Decepticon (US Issue 54)

Issue 232 – 233: A Small War

Issue 234: Prime’s Rib

Issue 236 – 239: The Interplanetary Wrestling Championship (US Issue 55)

Issue 235 – 236: Deathbringer

Issue 237: Way of the Warrior

Issue 238: Survival Run

Issue 239: A Savage Place

Issue 240 – 242: Walk of the Dead (US Issue 56)

Issue 240: Out to Lunch

Issue 241: Rage

Issue 242: Assault On The Ark

Issue 243: Mind Games

Issue 244: Two Megatrons

Issue 243 – 245: The Resurrection Gambit (US Issue 57)

Issue 245: Underworld

Issue 246: Demons

Issue 247: Dawn of Darkness

Issue 246 – 248: All the Familiar Faces (US Issue 58)

Issue 248: Fallen Star

Issue 249: Whose Lifeforce is it Anyway?

Issue 249 – 251: Skin Deep (US Issue 59)

Issue 250: The Greatest Gift of All

Issue 252 – 254: Yesterdays’ Heroes (US Issue 60)

Issue 251: The Void

Issue 252: Edge of Impact

Issue 253: Shadow of Evil

Issue 254: White Fire

Issue 259 – 261: Primal Scream (US Issue 61)

Issue 255 – 260: Perchance to Dream

Issue 261: Starting Over

Issue 262 – 264: Bird of Prey (Matrix Quest Part 1) (US Issue 62)

Issue 262: Two Steps Back

Issue 263: Break Away

Issue 264: Desert Island Risk

Issue 265 – 268: Blood on the Tracks (GI Joe/TFs Issue 1)

Issue 269 – 272: Power Struggle (GI Joe/TFs Issue 2)

Issue 273 – 276: Ashes, Ashes… (GI Joe/TFs Issue 3)

Issue 277 – 281: …All Fall Down (GI Joe/TFs Issue 4)

Issue 265: Once Upon A Time…

Issue 266: Life in the Slow Lane

Issue 267: Snow Fun

Issue 268: Flashback

Issue 269: Mystery

Issue 270: The Bad Guys’ Ball

Issue 271: The Living Nightlights

Issue 272: Cry Wolf

Issue 273: Wolf in the Fold

Issue 274: Where Wolf

Issue 275: Secret

Issue 276: Bugged

Issue 277: Internal Affairs

Issue 278: The House that Wheeljack Built

Issue 279: Divide and Conquer

Issue 280: The 4,000,000 Year Itch

Issue 281: Makin’ Tracks

Issue 282 – 285: Kings of the Wild Frontier (Matrix Quest Part 2) (US Issue 63)

Issue 282: Shut Up

Issue 283: Maneuvers

Issue 284: Assassins

Issue 285: External Force

Issue 286: The Lesser Evil

Issue 286 – 289: Deadly Obsession (Matrix Quest Part 3) (US Issue 64)

Issue 287: Inside Story

Issue 288: Comic Convention

Issue 289: End of the Road

Issue 290 – 294: Dark Creation (Matrix Quest Part 4) (US Issue 65)

Issue 295 – 297: All Fall Down (Matrix Quest Part 5) (US Issue 66)

Issue 298 – 301: Rhythms of Darkness

Issue 290 – 301: Legacy of Unicron (reprints of UK Issue 146 – 151)

Issue 302 – 305: The Human Factor (US Issue 68)

Issue 306 – 308: Eye Of The Storm (US Issue 69)

Issue 309 – 310: The Price of Life (US Issue 70)

Issue 302 – 307: In the National Interest (reprints UK Issue 74 – 77)

Issue 308 – 310: The Enemy Within

Issue 311 – 312: Surrender (US Issue 71)

Issue 313 – 314: All This and Civil War 2 (US Issue 72)

Issue 315 – 316: Out of Time (US Issue 73)

Issue 317 – 318: The Void (US Issue 74)

Issue 319 – 322: On the Edge of Extinction (US Issue 75)

Issue 323 – 324: Still Life (US Issue 76)

Issue 325 – 326: Exodus (US Issue 77)

Issue 327 – 328: A Savage Circle (US Issue 78)

Issue 329 – 330: The Last Autobot (US Issue 79)

Issue 331 – 332: The End of the Road (US Issue 80)


 

Further Reading

In 2011, IDW Publishing began a series of eight collections under the title The Transformers Classics UK, aiming to reprint the Marvel UK Transformers stories in order of publication, including the Annuals. Volume 5 is put later this year.

Within each volume, writer James Roberts provides an in-depth historical introduction which chart the development of the Marvel UK universe over the period of time the book’s stories cover, as well as presenting each individual story with an introductory essay covering its creation, chronological placement in relation to the US stories, and any previous reprintings it may have had, among other goodies.

Artist Andrew Wildman has provided a brand new cover art for each book.

Note: The books are ‘US format’, so the reproduced comics are in smaller form than when originally printed and the Titan reprints.

Yes, the extra content is very in-depth, but the quality of the comics within is not quite as high standard as it could have been.


 

Transformers Classics UK Volume 1



Transformers Classics UK Volume 2 (The Transformers Classics)

Collects issues #45-59.


• Transformers Classics UK Volume 3


• Transformers Classics UK Volume 4


• Transformers Classics UK Volume 5 (On Sale August 2014)

(Thanks to Nick Roche for this tip)


Web Links

This article is intended a general, nostalgic overview to try and provoke a few of your memories of reading British Transformers comics in the 1980s.We’ve deliberately avoided writing a very detailed article on Transformers continuity.

There are a number of excellent guides to the many Transformers comics published. The Siebetron site has a detailed guide to them all at here, and the TF Archive site has one, too

Transformers.net –  www.thetransformers.net – is a very comprehensive site with info on the TV episodes, books, toys — you name it, it’s on here. Allow plenty of time to have a good look around!


Creators

• Simon Furman: http://simonfurman.wordpress.com
Simon has contributed more to the Transformers universe than any other writer since his days at Marvel UK

• Jerry Paris: http://jerryparis.blogspot.co.uk
One of the early artist on the title

• Geoff Senior: www.geoffsenior.com
One of the principal artists on Marvel UK’s Transformers title, and co-creator of Marvel’s Death’s Head

• Lee Sullivan’s Official web site: www.leesullivan.co.uk
Probably the definitive Dalek artist, Lee’s credits include Doctor Who, Robocop, Transformers, Thunderbirds and many more stunning strips.

• Andrew Wildman: http://wildwords.wordpress.com
Andrew has been drawing Robots, Rabbits, Heroes, Villains, Cars, Planes, Kids, animals, Gods, Monsters, Gizmos, Widgets, Gadgets etc forever. He’s an amazing artist.

This article is an update of a feature first published in the British comics fanzine Eagle Flies Again (Issue 7) in 2006, subsequently published on the original downthetubes web site

About Ian Wheeler

Former Co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Publisher and Editor of comics-related fanzines. Contributor to books on Doctor Who from Virgin and Miwk Publishing. Contributor to cult TV fanzines and periodicals.