Wednesday Is Comics Day! Transformers ‘84: Secrets and Lies

Someone asked the other day if I’d read the IDW Transformers series More Than Meets the Eye and Lost Light and if I was a fan. Boy, am I ever!

Quick history lesson: Marvel produced 80 issues (plus spin-offs) of the original Transformers series to compliment the toyline and cartoon series. At the same time, Marvel UK reprinted the individual issues and split them up over several issues of their own, but also needed to produce their own original content to fill in printing gaps.

Ignoring Generation 2 for now, Dreamwave picked up the Transformers licence for a run that’s best described with the phrase “The candle that burns twice as brightly lasts half as long”, then IDW picked it up and had their own main continuity that ran for about thirteen years before discontinuing and starting afresh with a new canon that runs alongside Hasbro’s War for Cybertron line. We’ll get to that another time.

Simon Furman was the main man when it came to the UK comics and eventually became the lead writer of the original US series. He got the chance to produce Regeneration One a few years ago, taking the run up to 100 with a continuation in place of G2. The future is pretty much finished up under his control, but in the vein of X-Men ‘92 and Batman ‘66 he is going into the past before issue 1 with the Transformers ‘84 mini-series.

This kicked off last year with a one-shot and now is following up the threads left there for four issues this year. I’ll look at the one-shot and issue one today.

Issue 0

The cover immediately establishes what you’re getting – Optimus Prime against Megatron (with black helmet as per the comics, rather than grey) in a battle against Ben Day dots to replicate the limited colour palette. Artist Guido Guidi is awesome at replicating the US look as well as some of UK artist Andy Wildman’s character designs.

Autobot double-agent Punch/Counterpunch is our guide through the story, as he can appear to be a member of both sides. His use in Transformers fiction has been incredibly limited, so good to see him used here, and this whole endeavour is as much a chance to feature characters rarely or not used, or currently being used in other forms in toylines (hello Reflector/Refraktor, Acid Storm and Astrotrain).

The title of Secrets and Lies allows Punch to reveal certain revelations from Transformers lore. For instance, the main backdrop for the story is a battle between Autobots Cloudraker and Fastlane, twins with different vehicle modes, and a gang of Decepticons led by Counterpunch during a medieval battle between vikings and King Canute. This is fleshing out the background of a UK-originated story, Man of Iron.

If that’s the sizzle, the steak is events back on Cybertron before they launched their ships. The use of introdumps, including everyone’s name and a bit of detail about them in dialogue in a clumsy fashion, homages the forced writing in the original series. Established is a sense of trust in Optimus Prime and a loyalty to him from the warriors about to venture into space with him, but Punch gets to find out that they might have a reason not to trust him, and this is jarring, because an element of deceit, even when it’s to achieve a greater good, is not in character for Prime.

Despite these misgivings, of course there was going to be a cry for more Transformers content, so the mini-series followed with great anticipation a year later, made greater by this little pandemic thing you might’ve heard of delaying it a little bit.

Issue 1

Punch serves as our guide again, but this time in his Counterpunch mode, so the focus is more with the Decepticons than the Autobots. As a result, we’re introduced to more of them this issue, including scientist Skyfire, who bears a resemblance to future Autobot Jetfire, and Shockwave, who has his own agenda. His agenda is rationalised better than Megatron’s, though, for whom his feud with Optimus Prime is becoming deeply personal. Everyone has an agenda, including Ratbat, who as a small robotic bat who turns into one of Soundwave’s cassettes and lords his fuel auditor role over others, is a humorous curiosity.

The colouring again apes the old comics, with black and purple Skywarp and dark blue Thundercracker barely distinguishable except for small details and tones. Soundwave regains his purple colour, as opposed to the blue of the toy.

The Dinobots, who in recent years in different Transformers comics have very rarely been presented all together as a team, fill a role in the book as demolition specialists under the less obvious name of the Dynobots. Prior to getting dinosaur modes on Earth they get some vehicle modes which, for the possible exception of Swoop/Divebomb and Sludge, are more about giving a hint of the future dino-modes than identifiable vehicle modes.

Speaking of vehicle modes, Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust, the coneheads, get to transform in a manner akin to their toys, then get modified jet modes that show the same lack of imagination that many Transformers’ Cybertronian modes did, just bending or reshaping a wing or front end.

Story-wise, there’s success in creating lots of new questions when everyone is looking for answers. Simon Furman is able to hook interest by knowing he’s got a knowledgeable and devoted fanbase that do look into and wonder about things, so by creating oddities in the story it intrigues people. This issue is probably better in staying more consistent with and not introducing incongruous things about the Transformers’ personalities. Further issues will either satisfy or irritate on the search for answers, and I’ll review them as we get there.