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A story that’s more than meets the eye, Part 1 of 2 – The Transformers #33

August 18, 2010

I loved getting mail when I was a kid. It was great to go into the post office and open up the mailbox with the hope that something would be coming for me, usually a children’s magazine like Electric Company, Sesame Street, or Ranger Rick. There were no worries about bills back in those days. Maybe the favorite subscription I ever had, though, was to the Transformers comic book. It was the only comic book subscription that I ever had.

God, how I loved the Transformers back then. I was one of the five or six people that saw Transformers: The Movie in the theater (it played to a packed house of two people if I recall correctly, including my mother and me) and I was one of those kids that wept openly when Optimus Prime died:

I’d be lying if I said that that scene doesn’t still moisten the ol’ peepers.

I loved those toys — they were one of the great obsessions of my early life. I suppose I still “have” them, though they’re stashed in a big garbage bin above my parents’ garage. I was deep into that whole universe. One of my buddies and I even started our own two-man Transformers fan club when we were about 8 years old, complete with a membership questionnaire and paraphenalia stashed in my treehouse.

Good times.

I look back on the fictions associated with the Autobots and Decepticons — both the animated and comic book forms — with fond nostalgia, though a lot of the stories are better in the remembering than in the rereading. I’m not going to dismiss them — as many cynics would — simply as crass commercials for plastic toys. There was some serious storytelling going on, and you can’t tell me that the writers and artists weren’t working their tails off to forge the best stories that they could.

There’s one Transformers story from the comics that has always stuck with me. It’s kind of an oddball because it’s a reprint of a U.K. Marvel storyline — the U.K. comics were a larger format and therefore required a little more material to fill in the open space each month after the American comics were reprinted. They hence had their own little side-universe going on. For two issues I was greeted with a rude surprise at the mailbox — Transformers comics that didn’t fit in with the ones that I was used to.

In a way, Transformers transformed.

I can’t say that I fell in love with this brief storyline back then. I reacted like all kids do when confronted with something new and strange — with skepticism. But this stories’ very difference was what has kept it rattling around in my noggin for over twenty years. I’m now very happy to share it with you, and I hope that you find it as neat as I now do.

“Man of Iron” was brought to us from across the Atlantic by Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway (with a cover from Charles Vess). Just an aside… I can recall wondering what the deal with the art was — it only added to the “foreigh-ness” of the whole thing. I didn’t know until years later that U.K. comics had larger dimensions and, when condensed for U.S. size restrictions, took on a more detailed appearance. I had the same reaction to the Eclipse Miracleman reprints. I think you’ll see some of that difference in the scans.

The story opens at a sleepy medieval castle. The dull tours are interrupted by a squadron of Decepticons dropping… well, something, into the ground. Hmm. The castle curator is called out to size things up, and his son, Sammy, is out playing cowboys and Indians in the woods. A stray arrow leads him to a rather startling encounter:

Sammy runs for his dear life, while the Autobot Jazz sets up a clandestine surveillance of Sammy in his Porsche guise. That night, Sammy’s dad tells him a story of a 1017 seige at the local castle, one that was broken by a strange visitor:

Dad even has a visual aid:

Later on, Sammy is having what we’re supposed to believe is a dream. The Autobot Mirage peers into Sammy’s window, and things in Sammy’s bedroom, including Sammy, float around in a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood alien abduction. Mirage takes the drawing that Sammy was shown earlier. Was it really a dream? Sammy’s dad looks out the window when he checks on his son and sees something indicating that it wasn’t:

The next morning Sammy’s dad learns that there’s something huge buried underneath the castle. Hmm again. Sammy has a strange encounter as well, this time with Jazz’s car form. Jazz comes off like a sexual predator:

Where’s Chris Hansen from Dateline when you need him?

Our issue ends with every parent’s worst nightmare and a tacked on warning to youthful readers:

In revisiting this issue I’m struck with the willingness of the U.K. creators to use a bit of silence in their storytelling. It’s refreshing — the U.S. Transformers books of this time had every panel crammed with dialogue, and sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch a story breathe. The “dream” sequence is especially delicate and interesting. And the whole business with alien visitors and something weird going on underground gives the book a very Close Encounters of the Third Kind vibe. Since I love that movie with every bit of my heart, that’s a very good thing.

So how does it all end? What did the Decepticons drop near the castle? What’s buried down there? Will Jazz molest Sammy? Stay tuned for Part 2, coming relatively soon to a computer screen near you!

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