Bob Budiansky is a integral part of the early days of Transformers. He came up with many of the names of the original characters, writing basic names, outlines and bios that would be used as reference points for the Transformers characters. A Marvel Comics writer, editor and artist, he wrote or co-wrote issues #5-#55 of the Marvel US Transformers Comic Book.
While free to write his own stories in a different continuity than the cartoon, Bob’s stories also had to endure frequent cast cullings, that is whenever new toys came around, he was forced to write them into the story, leaving other characters in the dust, or having to abandon old stories in favor of entirely new ones. It’s not a job anyone would really ask for, but Budiansky did his best, and his stories breeze along at a breakneck pace. Here are 5 of the most surprisingly memorable highlights from Bob Budiansky’s Marvel Transformers comic book run.
5. DECEPTICON PRETENDER SKULLGRIN GETS A JOB AS A PROFESSIONAL ACTOR
In one of the most surreal stories in any Transformers fiction – Decepticon Pretender Skullgrin follows Shockwave’s orders to gain energy for the Decepticon cause by any means necessary on earth. Reasoning that there is no reason why he should not just earn the energy, rather than steal resources like other Decepticons, Skullgrin gets a job… as a professional actor.
The irony of a Transformer “Pretender” becoming an actor is too delicious for words. Unlike some of the Autobot Pretenders, who had human disguises as outer shells, Skullgrin was a hideous monster, so perfect to play the part of… a hideous monster.
The story is not unlike Frankenstein, or even King Kong – Skullgrin refuses to be a simple monster who terrorises, and instead develops feeling for humans, only for it all to go pear shaped in the third act when the humans inevitably turn on him.
Far from being just a comedy issue (the intended tone is never clear, but the scenario is ridiculous) Skullgrin shows his true colors again in a later issue (#54) that calls back to this story when he is reunited with his Decepticon Pretender brethren, now under the leadership of headmaster Scorponok.
Skullgrins fellow Decepticons want to kill humans who are simply in the way during a battle. Skullgrin rather than admitting to his fleshbag sympathies, simply says that there is no need and instead he will keep the human prisoner – thus avoiding killing humans, despite the Decepticon mandate from leaders such as Megatron, Shockwave or Scorponok to kill, destroy and terrorize. It is an odd story about an evil monster who refuses to simply be a monster, we’ve seen it all before, but it is one of the most bizarre and memorable Transformers comic book stories ever written.
4. RATCHET STANDS UP TO THE MIGHTY LORD MEGATRON
With the majority of the autobots temporarily out of action, Ratchet is on the run and desperate. When Megatron confronts him, he expects no challenge at all from a medic, instead a confined Ratchet stands up to Megatron, fighting him with everything he has in him.
Knowing there is no way he could ever beat Megatron in battle, Ratchet takes a big gamble that he can take care of the traitorous Shockwave for Megatron, he tells Megatron Shockwave was previously defeated by the Dinobots, and Ratchet promises he can use that knowledge to beat Shockwave once again.
Surprisingly it pays off, with Megatron doubting Ratchet’s ability to stop his adversary, but no doubt savoring the delayed satsisfaction of killing Ratchet, having nothing to lose by leaving the worm Ratchet dangling on Megatron’s hook just a little longer.
Ratchet bargains for time, out-bluffing Megatron in a deadly game of cat and mouse, fortunately for Ratchet it’s the last page of the issue, so he is temporarily saved by the “to be continued next issue” box in the corner I conveniently cropped out.
3. SHOCKWAVE SINGLE HANDEDLY KILLS NEARLY ALL THE AUTOBOTS
It’s debatable if or how a Transformer can truly die. In most fiction, their bodies can be destroyed, but as long as their brain survives (or is copied/downloaded) and they have a spark (heart or energy/electromagnetic spirit) then they can revived from “death” seemingly an infinite amount of times. But even these simple details vary in each fiction.
When Shockwave “kills” the Autobots, they are effectively in stasis lock, meaning as good as dead, but not yet disassembled , and it was only a matter of time before he pulled them apart or committed some atrocious experiments on his dead/comatose victims. The point is that when Shockwave came to town, he trashed the majority of the Autobots single handedly, proving his superiority to Megatron for the first of several times during Budianky’s stories, and living up to his boasts as being more intelligent, capable and in a word… superior in every way as a Decepticon leader.
The sight of the Autobots strung up, hanging upside down like slabs of beef is disturbing, even more disturbing was Optimus Prime’s decapitated head that Shockwave questioned and tortured for information while keeping Optimus alive. Over the course of two and half issues Shockwave dominated everyone and everything in the Transformers world, making for one of the most memorable Marvel Transformers stories with horrifying consequences for anyone that dared to get in his way.
2. GRIMLOCK BECOMES LEADER OF THE AUTOBOTS
With Optimus Prime out of the picture Grimlock takes over as leader for no reason other than he chooses to. Grimlock insists he is the the strongest in physical strength and will power, not caring for the plight of the humans, Grimlock not only ignores them but actively encourages Autobots not to to help humans, as they are so inconsequential to his concerns.
The autobots refuse to follow many of Grimlocks more nonsensical orders of course, proving just how unfit Grimlock is to lead. Later Grimlock realized the error of his ways, and quits as leader only for the other Autobots to refuse his resignation, and insist he stay on despite his shortcomings, as Grimlock did manage to trash most of their enemies while making a complete ass of himself as self-deputized leader.
Grimlock’s reign was short but lasted several issues. He became more bossy, lazy, dominant, incompetent and slothful as King Grimlock’s leadership soared briefly before nose diving into the ground. The contrast of how good a leader Optimus Prime was, and how flawed Grimlock’s self indulgent leadership was, was driven home effectively. Grimlock continued to belittle any Autobot who questioned his decisions and of course Grimlock spent more time talking up how great he was, while accomplishing very little as leader, making his run as leader even shorter than Bumblebee’s.
1.BLASTER FAILS TO SAVE HIS FRIEND SCROUNGE, WHO DIES A HORRIFIC DEATH
Blaster fails to save his friend Scrounge from the smelting pits on a Decepticon dominated Cybertron. In a single issue Bob Budiansky introduces us to new character Scrounge – a nobody – we see his friendship with Blaster, the tension between the conservative Autobots cowering and hiding in fear from the brutal relentles Decepticons. We see Blaster’s reckless but brave heroism and Scrounge’s untimely death.
Issue #17 is the single saddest issue and moment I’ve read in any Transformers comic book (and I’ve read them all). In one short story we see the bravery, heroism and unbeatable determination of Blaster, contrasted with the lack of morale and hopelessness of the Autobots trapped on Cybertron hiding from the Decepticons.
We see in the middle of an ongoing civil war, two friends who do their best for the Autobot cause. In most kids comics the hero triumphs, he saves the day and his friends. But in this story, Blaster fails to save his friend Scrounge who dies a cruel, horrific and painful death, to be recycled into metal for the Decepticon war campaign.
The smelting pit is the final death sentence and resting place for robots who are not only considered inferior, but beneath consideration, particularly not from the zealous war mongering Decepticons. It is as close to genocide as you will see in a kids comics produced solely to sell toys, and the serious tone makes it something that would never have aired were the same story conceived as an episode of the animated series.
Well that’s it for this short list of Memorable Moments from Bob Budiansky’s Tranformers run for Marvel Comics. Stay tuned, I’ve got some more highlights saved for my next posts covering some of the cool battles, EPIC moments and the best forgotten stuff from Bob Budiansky’s Transformers US Marvel comic book stories.