Before time began there was, apparently, The Cube. But even before that was Marvel Age issue 17. Published in April 1984, this particular edition of Marvel’s news magazine featured the first-ever mention (to the comic reading public, at least) of the Transformers.
Take a moment to think about that. I can’t even imagine a time before the Transformers ever existed. That’s how entrenched they are in my childhood memories. My first Transformers toy was Optimus Prime (which I received for Christmas in 1984) and it wasn’t until much later–nearly a full year–until I was made aware of the Marvel UK comic. And, because the editorial team at Marvel UK were careful to never give the game away, I wasn’t aware of the American Marvel Transformers comic until many years after that!
So, while the Transformers fictional universe was secretly being shaped by Marvel and Hasbro I was just a young boy living my blissfully ignorant life on an air base in West Germany. American-style superhero comics didn’t really exist there. Instead, hardcover “albums” featuring the likes of Asterix and Tin Tin were the kinds of comics I read. On special occasions, an imported British annual (like Batman, Superman or Scooby-Doo) would find its way into my possession.
I had absolutely no concept of American newsstands or comic book stores and so something like the Marvel Age magazine was simply unimaginable. I wonder then, what it would have been like for a keen comic book reader on the other side of the Atlantic who, every month, devoured Spider-Man and X-Men stories and kept up to date with new Marvel releases.
How would the announcement of a new “Transformers” comic book series been received, I wonder. In typical mighty Marvel hyperbolic style, the Transformers comic book series was described as “science fiction speculation with human drama, powerful and sizzling graphics with an innovative and provocative storyline!” Sounds like a pretty average Marvel superhero comic to me!
The 3-page Marvel Age feature describes the genesis of the Transformer storyline, how Hasbro approached Marvel (as they had previously done with GI Joe) and how Jim Shooter and Denny O’Neil had together created a full history for them.
Interestingly, it seemed that even at the stage of the first issue’s release being a month away, a few details had yet to be finalised. The characters Blow-Out and Spin-Out didn’t yet have their final names. Blow-Out utilises “glass-gas” containing projectiles and Spin-Out is equipped with an ultra-accurate missile launcher and an electron pulse-gun. I’ll leave to figure out their final names.
Ratchet is referred to twice as “Rachet” and, noticeably, isn’t referred to by their gender, whereas the others are all “he”. Huffer is described as the only Transformer who isn’t armed with any kind of weapon and apparently takes joy in building useful devices.
Megatron relishes his “Slag-Maker” nickname (which never made it into the comic itself) and Ravage employs terrifying methods of murder. Slag-Making and murder seems a bit strong for a kids’ tie-in comic so those aspect were quietly dropped!
The Autobots use an “intelligent” spaceship called Aunty. This was indeed changed to The Ark for the comic itself, though the Marvel UK stories did keep Aunty as the Ark’s sentient computer core.
For all the little work-in-progress quirks, the description of the Transformers history and basic premise does read as something 1984-me would have loved. I mean, the article ends with saying that, in April, the very survival of a civilisation hangs in the balance!
Back then I would have been hooked by this news of a forthcoming Transformers comic, regardless of whether I already had any of the toys or not.
The reality is, I didn’t find out about the Transformers comic until late 1985 and not in April 1984. But with that compelling high concept saga of alien sentient robots on Earth disguised as cars, planes and cassette players that astounded me so much as a young boy on offer in comic book form, it was only a matter of time anyway.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!