Comics Reading Club: Zob's Thoughts on Marvel Comics THE TRANSFORMERS #29

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Nov 16, 2022, 6:01:58 PM11/16/22
I was all set to post this yesterday, but I came home from work to find that somebody had ripped my mailbox off its post. Probably the delinquent kids across the street. So, I spent the afternoon rebuilding it. But, I reinforced that sucker with wood glue and like ten wood screws. It ain't ever coming off again.

THE TRANSFORMERS issue #29 is entitled "Crater Critters" and was printed on March 17, 1987 with a pull date of June 1987.  It features our usual creative team: Budiansky as writer, Don Perlin on pencils, Akin & Garvey on inks, Janice Chaing as letterer, and Nel Yomtov as colorist.  This was on newsstands at the same time as HEADMASTERS #1.

Bob Budiansky also drew the front cover for this one, and it's always been one of my favorites, in which poor Blaster appears to be completely overrun by tiny robot creatures, with the call-out "scrapped by the SCRAPLETS!" and also promising the long-awaited introduction of the Triple Changers.  (The Marvel "Bullpen Bulletins" that promoted this month's issues described this story thusly: "The Scraplets feed on living metal—like the Transformers!")

The comic book has occasionally taken inspiration from pop culture for its stories, and this multi-issue arc has elements of Gremlins as well as some of the other various "little creatures" movies that came afterwards, like Ghoulies and C.H.U.D. and Critters (for which this issue appears to be named).  Of course, it's got a technological spin, since this is a comic book about robots.

An object falls from space and crashes in northern Arizona.  It's actually a space freighter.  We don't know it at the time, but the pilot is from Cybertron, and he's infected with scraplets, which essentially eat his metal body.  By the time we see him, he's deteriorating and desperate to find help.  He never makes it out of the crater that his ship created when it crashed, though, and a lone, seemingly innocuous metal bolt flies off his body.  It doesn't do much else, for the time being, but it's much more dangerous than it appears.

Elsewhere, Goldbug and Blaster are operating as independent agents, having left Grimlock's command at the end of last issue.  They're currently spying on G.B. Blackrock, intercepting him as he emerges from a fancy restaurant with a lady friend.  Blackrock recognizes Goldbug as a differently-colored Bumblebee, and agrees to Goldbug's request to talk (and they also take the opportunity to fuel up at a Blackrock gas station). Blackrock is a little unsure whether to trust them (Bumblebee looks different now, and G.B. has never met Blaster before at all), but then Blaster is offended at the idea that Blackrock mistrusts him. He shares his sob story about having to watch Scourge die back on Cybertron, and offers it as proof that he's a reliable and dutiful Autobot.  Goldbug has never heard this story before, and offers sympathy, but Blaster takes it completely the wrong way, and thinks Goldbug is worried that he'll abandon him to die as well.  He tells him to just go running back to Grimlock if that's what he's worried about.  This will become important a little bit later.

Anyway, Blaster and Goldbug are looking for information about the Decepticons, and Blackrock mentions the crash in Arizona.  The public believes it to be a meteor, but Blackrock knows something they don't—that it's sending radio signals into space.  Goldbug and Blaster surmise that it could be a Decepticon ship trying to communicate with Cybertron, and leave to investigate.  

Elsewhere on Cybertron, Ratbat is concerned as to why he's lost contact with the freighter shipment he sent to Earth.  It's supposed to be part of his master plan to rein in the Decepticon energy expenditures on Earth.  He enlists the Triple Changers (Astrotrain, Blitzwing, and Octane) to find the package that was delivered and ensure that it is activated.  Also, their task is to enlist a human agent who has wealth and has connections to the automotive industry (yes, it's the first allusion to the infamous Car Wash of Doom).  

It's odd that Astrotrain and Blitzwing were actually 1985 toys and Octane wasn't introduced until 1986, but in the comics, all three make their official debut at the same time, since they're still a bit late playing catch-up with the featured characters. (Technically we already saw Astrotrain in the TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE adaptations, but still.)

Octane is being drawn strangely in the comics, with a different helmet design that has rounded crest jutting out of either side, as well as a pair of bizarre oversized goggles.  I'm guessing it's an early design for the character, but it sure doesn't match his Hasbro toy, or the look he had in the cartoon series.  It's just goofy.  It's only his head, though—the rest looks normal.  (With that said, it's interesting that Octane's tech specs function is "fueler" and he's operating as an follower of Ratbat.  You'd think he would be Ratbat's chief fuel agent, or something, but there's no such relationship mentioned here.  Seems like a wasted opportunity!)

A team of scientists has already been dispatched to examine what they believe is a meteorite crater, but the Triple Changers arrive over the space bridge and drive them off.  They reach the space freighter and its suffering pilot, who warns them to stay back.  Blitzwing interprets this as a threat, but then some of the nuts and bolts covering the pilot unlatch themselves and leap onto Blitzwing.  They're like robotic ticks.  So nasty.  It happens off-panel, but the rest of the Decepticons are infected as well.

One of the scientists, Charlie Fong, wants to get back into the crater and continue investigating, but his supervisor, a Dr. Huddleston, argues with him about the virtues of waiting patiently.  When he spots Goldbug, though, with Blaster inside, the two Autobots reveal themselves to him and strike up a partnership.  They both want to get into the crater, so Charlie pretends to be using Blaster as a motion detection machine and persuades the national guard to allow him to set it up at the bottom of the crater.  (Even the national guardman isn't fooled, since Blaster is obviously a cassette player, but he allows it anyway, because of plot reasons.)  

A lot of stuff happens at once.  The nuts and bolts can transform into tiny robots, and they notice Blaster and Goldbug's arrival and are hungry for a snack.  The Decepticons transform to their aerial modes to try to get the drop on Blaster and Goldbug, but Blaster uses his electro-scrambler to disrupt their systems and knock them out of the sky.  A stray blast from Blitzwing destroys part of the crater and causes Charlie to fall, but Goldbug rescues him and carries him safely to the bottom of the crater.  Once there, they find the spaceship as well as the ailing pilot, who explains that his ship was covered with space dust, which turned out to be parasites that came with him to Earth.  These are his last words before his head falls off.

Goldbug's design continues to evolve.  He's still being drawn exactly like Bumblebee in vehicle mode in this issue (he even has the visible Bumblebee head poking out of the back end, which Goldbug's design doesn't have) but his robot mode has changed a little since last issue.  Previously, he was being drawn in robot mode with Bumblebee's body but with Goldbug's head.  In this issue, he still has Bumblebee's legs (with only one wheel embedded in each foot), but now he's got the Goldbug arm designs (no more flexy-straw elbows) and he's wearing a Throttlebot backpack, which he didn't have last issue.  It's almost like they're trying to ease him into the new design gradually so that the readers don't notice, which is the exact opposite of what is called for.  He got blown up and reassembled wrong, because the Joes didn't know what they were doing.  Of course he's going to look different!

Anyway, the Scraplets head for Goldbug and Charlie, but they're clearly only interested in robots, not humans.  Charlie does an admirable job at keeping them at bay, kicking at them and throwing rocks to smash them.  Elsewhere, Blaster is still engaged in battle with the Triple Changers.  They can't fly with their circuits scrambled, so they switch to their alternate ground vehicle transformations.  Blaster takes a moment to be impressed with this ability, suggesting he's never seen it before, but it's the only point during which the Triple Changer gimmick is even alluded to.  It's an ability only a handful of Transformers have, and yet it's never remarked upon in the cartoon series, either.  

Blaster is also knocked into the crater and the Triple Changers switch to robot mode, surrounding him with weapons drawn.  Blaster notices the nuts and bolts stuck to his body and realizes he is infected, just as the Triple Changers have been.  Blaster has heard of the creatures, who supposedly evolved to take the form of harmless screws and bolts and things, but are known to be the most deadly disease to robotic life forms.  Octane has heard legends of an outbreak on Cybertron followed by the discovery of a rare cure, whatever it may have been.  Blaster radios Goldbug to attack the Decepticons at the prescribed moment, counting on them having been weakened by the disease.  But, Charlie Fong points out, quite correctly, that Goldbug can do nothing for Blaster at this stage.  If he rushes in to help his friend, he'll become infected as well, and won't be able to help anybody.  Charlie proposes taking a damaged scraplet for experimentation instead.  

So, a conflicted Goldbug flees, and Blaster shouts at him angrily, calling him a coward and swearing vengeance.  It's the Scrouge situation all over again, only in reverse—now Blaster is the victim, rather than the tortured hero forced to make a tough call.  At first, Goldbug can't go through with it, and hates the idea that Blaster will think Goldbug abandoned him.  But, then the Scraplets find Goldbug, latch on, and rapidly begin multiplying.  Time is limited.  Goldbug is compelled to withdraw immediately.

After several hours, though, they're alone in the desert, still far from civilization.  Goldbug has grown weaker, Charlie is parched from thirst, and things look decidedly grim.  The next issue promises the debut of the Throttlebots (well, the other five Throttlebots, really) with a story called "The Cure," but will it be too late for Blaster and Goldbug?  

Blaster is a tormented, tragic character, and the notion that Goldbug is doing everything he can to save him, and yet Blaster has already written him off as a coward who fled and left him to die... well, it's great pathos, and you can't help but feel bad for both of them.  Blaster, in particular, since he's already had to cope with the loss of Scrounge, which turned him jaded and bitter, and now he's reliving very nearly the same circumstances all over again.  Blaster is shaping up to be the most memorable character in the comic book, and to me he's far more interesting than Ratchet, whom the comic has focused on heavily in the past.  One might wonder how much longer he's going to take center stage, though, given the parade of new characters from HEADMASTERS who are eventually going to be folded into the main title after the conclusion of the mini-series.

Zob (a friend of mine: "So you asked your work if you could do a harder job during the busiest time of the year, and not get paid extra?" and the answer is apparently yes)
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