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The Transformers, the monthly comic book published in the US by Marvel Comics, was the very first original fiction to feature the famous robots in disguise, as well as the longest-running. It started life as a four-issue, bimonthly limited series in 1984, but proved so popular that it continued publication as an ongoing monthly until spring of 1991. The series ultimately reached 80 issues and spun off several miniseries.
The series established the Marvel Comics continuity, which would form the basis for several successor stories over the years.
Nearly all of the US stories were later published by Marvel UK, along with new stories that fit between the gaps of the US tales. See Marvel UK below.
|Marvel US issues:|
|#1 | #2 | #3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7 | #8 | #9 | #10 | #11 | #12 | #13 | #14 | #15 | #16 | #17 | #18 | #19 | #20 | #21 | #22 | #23 | #24 | #25 | #26 | #27 | #28 | #29 | #30 | #31 | #32 | #33 | #34 | #35 | #36 | #37 | #38 | #39 | #40 | #41 | #42 | #43 | #44 | #45 | #46 | #47 | #48 | #49 | #50 | #51 | #52 | #53 | #54 | #55 | #56 | #57 | #58 | #59 | #60 | #61 | #62 | #63 | #64 | #65 | #66 | #67 | #68 | #69 | #70 | #71 | #72 | #73 | #74 | #75 | #76 | #77 | #78 | #79 | #80|
The story begins with a brief history of Cybertron and its civil war, which eventually causes the planet to become lost in space. Battling aboard the Ark, the original 28 characters crash-land on Earth four million years ago and awaken in the (then-)present day of 1984. The quest for fuel becomes their initial goal, driving the first several issues.
As the first fiction in the entire franchise, the initial issues of Transformers were breaking completely new ground. Early issues contain a variety of plot points and conventions, some of which would go on to shape the very mythos...and others that would fall by the wayside, forgotten and hilariously quaint. The concept of the life-giving Creation Matrix is a good example of the former group; "naturally occurring gears and levers" comes to mind for the latter.
The book soon built its own elaborate and wide-reaching universe, including hundreds of characters—Transformers, humans, aliens—on Earth, Cybertron, and beyond. Late in the series, a long-running plot brought in the sinister menace of Unicron, giving him a backstory and build-up that for many fans surpassed his original appearance in The Transformers: The Movie for storytelling and gravitas. This backstory would eventually go on to eclipse the origin given in the cartoon.
Because it was a book intended to sell toys, Transformers featured an ever-rotating cast. New Transformers were often hastily brought in to meet the demands of Hasbro, and older "product" was often swept aside or killed off en masse in epic, climactic battles.
After some troubled times and steadily declining readership, the series was finally canceled at issue #80. A combination of factors was likely responsible: the Transformers toyline had become yesterday's fad, the core readership had grown older and moved on, and Hasbro seems to have pulled the plug.
Several subsequent series would build upon the series; see Marvel Comics continuity for more information.
The book featured two primary writers: Bob Budiansky edited the original 4-part limited series and wrote the book from issue #5 to issue #55. After that, Simon Furman, already heavily experienced from his work on the UK book, took up the reins until the book was canceled at issue #80.
Transformers is a bit notorious for wild swings in writing quality, as serious plots alternated with such strange concepts as Micromaster wrestling and ridiculous bounty hunters. Some of this may be attributed to Bob Budiansky's eventual burn-out; after years of having to warp his stories around to meet the latest toy-appearance demands from Hasbro, his later writing on the book showed a decline in quality. Among Transfans, he is sometimes remembered unfavorably because of this period, perhaps unfairly so considering his fundamental role in shaping the Transformers universe and most of its characters, as well as some of the book's most gripping early stories. Still, even such oddball stories as "Buster Witwicky and the Car Wash of Doom" and "Guess Who the Mecannibals are Having for Dinner?" have both their merits and their fans.
Budiansky himself proposed that Simon Furman take over as the US series writer. With the changeover, the stories took on a more serious tone, relying on character conflict more than outlandish plot devices. Many fans regard Furman's run on the original book as one of the high points of all Transformers fiction.
The comic was written in "Marvel Style", where the the writer gives the artist a plot outline instead of a full script. The artist then lays out the pages himself; afterward the writer comes back in and scripts the dialog based on the artist's work. This approach gives the artist a larger role in telling the story than simply drawing what the writer tells them to.
A number of artists worked on Transformers, but the most frequent pencilers include Frank Springer, Don Perlin, Jose Delbo, Geoff Senior, and Andrew Wildman. Also of particular note is colorist Nel Yomtov, who colored every single issue of the book, as well as all of the related mini-series.
Publication and format
As The Transformers title began life as a limited series, it was subject to the conventions Marvel had established for limited series at the time of its publication. "Standard" Marvel comics released concurrently in 1984 cost 60 cents and were printed on newsprint; in contrast, The Transformers sold for 75 cents and was printed on a whiter, higher-quality stock (for the time) known as "Mando paper".
Evidently considered a "deluxe format" book by Marvel, Transformers continued to be printed on Mando paper even after it became an ongoing series.  It also remained at 75 cents—at least until issue 28, when the price of the book rose to 1 dollar. Surprisingly, with the exception of the double-sized issue 50, which was priced at $1.50, The Transformers would remain at 1 dollar for the remainder of its original run.
Marvel UK produced a G1 comic which ran for 332 issues, reprinting the American stories and adding in many new stories built around them.
|Marvel UK issues (2nd story for issues with two non-reprint TF stories):|
|#130 | #131 | #132 | #133 | #134 | #135 | #136 | #137 | #138 | #139 | #140 | #141 | #142 | #143 | #144 | #145 | ... | #213 | #214 | #215 | #216 | #217 | #218 | #219 | #220 | ... | #232 | #233 | #234 | #235 | #236 | #237 | #238 | #239 | #240 | #241 | #242 | #243 | #244 | #245 | #246 | #247 | #248 | #249 | #250 | #251 | #252 | #253 | #254 | ... | #259 | #260 | #261 | #262 | #263 | #264 | ... | #282 | #283 | #284 | #285 | #286 | #287 | #288 | #289|
Though not without contradiction, the Marvel UK book managed to weave a number of highly complex stories "behind the scenes" of the Marvel US tales. Topics included expanded stories and battles in the early days of the war (before Shockwave's arrival), more intrigue among the Decepticon commanders on Earth, the Autobot resistance on Cybertron, and the time-traveling exploits of Galvatron, who arrives directly from the future world of The Transformers: The Movie.
The UK book's weekly schedule and shorter format meant splitting stories into parts, often right in the middle of the action. Like the US book, Marvel UK featured a regular column of letters from readers; however, these were supposedly answered by various Transformers, including Grimlock, Dreadwind, and others. See Letters page (Marvel UK).
Most UK-specific stories were written by Simon Furman, who was later assigned to write for the US comic as well. Curiously, it was from this point that the divergences between the UK and US stories became more pronounced.
Regular artists included Will Simpson, Robin Smith, Dan Reed, Jeff Anderson, Lee Sullivan, Geoff Senior, and Andrew Wildman. The large stable of artists resulted in some extreme contrasts of style through the book, such as Reed's highly organic art being followed by the clean, mechanical precision of Sullivan or Senior. Sometimes these changes occurred within the context of a single story.
Complexity and Contradiction in Continuity
Making the new stories align with the US book occasionally involved some bending over backwards in storytelling terms. Megatron, for example, winds up with amnesia at the end of one story, explaining why he doesn't remember the Predacons when he encounters them again in a later US story. US reprints were sometimes physically edited as well; for example, a UK story has Skids being transported to Limbo after the events of US #23, necessitating the removal of his occasional background appearances thereafter.
Another major change was the exclusion of the G.I. Joe and the Transformers crossover, which featured Bumblebee's destruction and subsequent restoration as Goldbug. UK continuity accounted for the reformatting by showing Bumblebee destroyed by Death's Head and rebuilt by Wreck-Gar during "Hunters!". Also, the UK comic continued to feature Megatron and Shockwave after their apparent deaths in the US comic. While Megatron's appearance was eventually reconciled with the US continuity, Shockwave's was not.
The "Perchance to Dream" story in UK #255-260 began the Earthforce storyline and heralded a nigh-irreconcilable division between US and UK stories.
Publication and format
The Marvel UK book was published fortnightly from #1 to #26 and weekly from #27 onwards. These issues used a larger, magazine-sized format, compared to the traditional size for modern US comic books. They contained 23 pages, numbered inclusive of advertising (unlike the US comic).
Typically, 11 pages would be devoted to a US or UK Transformers story, while the remaining pages were divided between a back-up strip, a letters page, small humorous comic strips (most notably Robo-Capers and Combat Colin), and advertisements. From issue 213 onwards, the central section of the comic was printed in black and white and contained a shorter UK story. The US strip remained in color but was divided between four issues. This was the format for the majority of the issues published between #215 and #289. Issue #289 was the last to contain new UK Transformers stories.
UK children's comics typically have a weekly or fortnightly publication schedule, and monthly publication is the preserve of more substantial magazines aimed at older readers. The decision to publish fortnightly necessitated the division of the US storylines between two or more UK comics, since otherwise the UK comic would run out of material. The back-up strip then bulked out the issue to an acceptable size. When the comic began to be published weekly, this required still more Transformers material, which led to longer runs of original UK stories.
The Marvel UK series ran for about a year longer than its American counterpart and altogether had about twice as many stories.
Marvel UK Annuals
Marvel UK Annuals were published every year just before Christmas for the life of the comic. Each annual was made up of a combination of comic strip, text stories and editorial content. Some annuals also contained crossover stories with the main weekly comic in an attempt to boost sales. Due to falling sales, later annuals mainly contained reprinted stories from the comic. (Reprinted stories are not listed below.) These reprints are still of interest, as they present formerly black-and-white works in full colour.
|Marvel UK Annual 1986|
|Hunted! | Missing in Action | Plague of the Insecticons! | And There Shall Come...A Leader!|
|Marvel UK Annual 1987|
|The Return of the Transformers | State Games | The Mission | To a Power Unknown |Victory!|
|Marvel UK Annual 1988|
|Ark Duty | Doomsday | Stylor's Story | The Final Conflict |Vicious Circle! | What's in a Name?|
|Marvel UK Annual 1989|
|All in the Minds! | Altered Image! | Peace | Prime Bomb!|
|Marvel UK Annual 1990|
|Chain Gang! | Destiny of the Dinobots! | Dreadwing Down! | The Quest! |Trigger-Happy!|
|Marvel UK Annual 1991|
|The Magnificent Six!|
|Marvel UK Annual 1992|
|Another Time and Place|
- The inside cover infobox in Marvel UK #330 revealed that there were plans for the UK Transformers comic to continue after #332, albeit with a format change. The book was supposed to have become a monthly with issue #333, and would have featured ten pages of recolored Transformers reprints, ten pages of G.I. Joe, and a new five-page story per issue. However, by the publication of issue #332, Marvel UK evidently dropped this plan—although the news did not reach Combat Colin in time.
- According to the third issue of All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z's entries on Death's Head, the events of the Marvel UK Generation 1 comics take place on Marvel Earth-120185. The universe is named after the publication date of the first Marvel UK-exclusive story, "Man of Iron!".