With "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" hitting theaters today, it's easy to forget that, along with blockbuster movies of the live-action and animated variety, long-running cartoon series and hundreds of toys, Hasbro's shape-changing robots have a long history in the comics world, too.
Earlier this week, we gave you our list of the five most important "Transformers" comics you should check out, and now we thought it might be worth taking a trip down memory lane with Optimus Prime, Megatron and the rest of the "Robots in Disguise" and examine the twists and turns of their long journey on the printed page.
MARVEL COMICS (1984-1991): While the original cartoon series was on the air, the original Generation 1 comic book series kicked off with Marvel Comics. Like the cartoon, the cast of characters in the comics depended upon toy marketing considerations.
These comics were very much the same as the first two seasons of the original cartoon series, though some story details were altered. While the third season of the cartoon series jumped ahead several years into a possible future, the Marvel Comics series did not follow this approach and so the continuity went down a drastically different line.
After 80 issues, the series was canceled. One interesting note: Originally, Marvel considered the Transformers to be part of the mainstream Marvel Universe, so Spider-Man guest-starred in one of the early issues. This idea was quickly abandoned, however, and the Transformers were treated as existing in their own, separate continuity.
U.K. COMICS (1984-1991): At first, the U.K. reprinted the Marvel Comics series while adding stories in-between the previously written issues, expanding plots and characters. After a couple of years, the U.K. dismissed the U.S. series and pursued its own continuity. Simon Furman became the writer of the U.K. series and was so acclaimed that he was later asked to write the U.S. series, and eventually became known as the Transformers scribe.
While the third season of the cartoon series stated that the Transformers were originally robots created by the alien Quintessons, Furman took a different route. He wrote about the death-god Unicron that nearly destroyed the universe until he was stopped by a “god of light” called Primus. Primus and Unicron each had their essence trapped inside metallic asteroids. Unicron evolved into a new, robotic menace, less powerful but still a threat to life. Primus altered his own asteroid prison into a robotic world (Cybertron) and gave his life essence to create a race of sentient robots who would one day defeat Unicron forever. A piece of Primus became the Transformer Matrix (later renamed the “AllSpark”).
Furman’s origin story made its way into the US Comics and has become the origin most continuities have followed since.
MARVEL GENERATION 2 COMICS (1993): In the 1990s, Marvel did a new series to celebrate the new Transformers toyline. Like the toyline, it was called “Generation 2.” This series (which wound up lasting only 12 issues) was written by Simon Furman and took place years after the end of the original US comic series. The Decepticons and Autobots bound together to fight a new common enemy and the series was known for its intense violence and several character deaths.
DREAMWAVE (2002-2005): Dreamwave Productions began a new Transformers comic series that acted as a sequel to the first two seasons of the original cartoon series (ignoring the possible future of the third season). Elements of the U.S. comic series were brought in and a new backstory was established in the series “The War Within,” which depicted Optimus Prime’s rise to power and the escalation of the Autobot/Decepticon War millions of years in the past. Likewise, Dreamwave did a mini-series that acted as a sequel to the “Transformers: Beast Wars” cartoon.
When Dreamwave went bankrupt, this continuity was abruptly halted.
DEVIL’S DUE PUBLISHING (2003-2007): Devil’s Due did a few miniseries under the collected umbrella of “G.I.Joe Vs. Transformers” series as a completely alternate universe where the Transformers were discovered during World War II and recruited by the forces of G.I.Joe and Cobra. Many characters had radically different alternate modes (such as Optimus Prime, who now turned into a tank).
Familiar stories from both comics were re-interpreted in this continuity, showing how things might have happened if these two franchises had been more closely linked in the past.
IDW (2005-Present): Following Dreamwave’s bankruptcy, IDW snatched up the Transformers property. Simon Furman was brought in as headwriter and given the freedom to re-boot the continuity completely from scratch. The new series began with the story “Infiltration”, where readers were re-introduced to the Transformers who were secretly warring with each other across many planets across the galaxy.
This time, the Autobots were more of a strict military unit rather than a band of loosely organized fighters. Because there now is no toyline to be concerned with, Furman has had greater freedom concerning what characters he wishes to use and how.
Furman’s new continuity focuses on long-term plotting and has (for the most part) grounded the series with actual speculative technology rather than unexplained science (such as how certain Transformers seem to change size when they alter their forms). The details of the new history has been covered in the parallel series “Transformers: Spotlight,” which also sets up plot points for upcoming storylines.
Most recently, the 12-part series “All Hail Megatron” has given our heroes a turn for the worst. After defeating the Autobots, Megatron wages war across the planet Earth itself, with humanity nearly defenseless. Whether the Autobots will be able to fully recover and wipe out the Decepticons remains to be seen.
That brings us up to speed. We highly suggest the new Simon Furman series by IDW, most of which has been collected into trade paperback.
Have any favorite moments in Transformers' comic book history? Share them in the comment section!