Crater Critters (What, no exclamation for that? Boo!!!) is the twenty-ninth issue in the Marvel US G1 ongoing series. Once again, the creative line-up is relatively stable, with only the cover artist changing. Budiansky is still on writing duties, Perlin on pencils, Akin and Garvey on inks, Yomtov on colors and and Chiang on letters. The cover was by none other than Bob Budiansky. In fact, an early sketch of the cover that he saved appeared in the Titan collection containing this issue.
The cover is a good one, well thought out and nicely composed. Blaster's head, tilted backwards, fills the lower portion of the image, and he's surrounded by hordes of tiny mechanical men. "Scrapped -- by the Scraplets!" we're told, and things certainly don't look good for him. Almost as an afterthought, the bottom right corner of the image lets us know that this issue introduces the Triple Changers. It's clear what aspect of the story Bob thought was truly interesting.
Moving into the meat of the issue, we start out with a fiery meteor crashing down to Earth in the Arizona desert. Budiansky writes "Somewhere in the American southwest, something falls. Something big. Something unexpected. Something deadly ... " He builds suspense nicely, no? Chiang did a great job here on the logo for the issue, exclamation mark or no. She's drawing a bit from the colonial font from the original Battlestar Galactica, and it immediately sets a science fiction tone for the issue.
On page two, we're treated to the actual impact, first with a bang (technically, a BA WOOOM, and again Chiang shows her chops by splitting out the BA from the WOOOM and orienting them differently), then with a whimper, er, crater. Anticipation, climax, aftermath,all in the space of a page and a third. Nicely done. The suspense is heightened by three similar horizontal panels. First we just see some rocks and smoke, then we see a green mechanical hand pulling its way out of a depression, and finally we see that the hand is attached to an injured arm, along with a groan. We see the hapless mechanoid it's attached to - he's groaning about getting help, but then he's suddenly pulled backwards with a shriek. A nut comes off his hand as it's yanked back, and as it lands with a plink and a plunk, something strange starts to happen to it ... but that'll have to wait. All told, the first two pages are masterfully done, a great synthesis of art and writing and lettering. Kudos to all involved.
Blaster and Goldbug are determined to make it on their own, but fighting Decepticons is difficult if you can't find Decepticons. To that end, they track down one of the few allies they have left, G.B. Blackrock. Poor Mr. Blackrock is on a date, and tries to tell the Autobots to wait, though Goldbug drives onto his foot (!) until Blackrock relents. His date gets annoyed and tells him to buzz off (she prefers limos to Beetles ... who'd a thunk it?), leaving him in a foul mood. The Autobots get him to fuel them up, then explain their plight. Being a straight shooter, Blackrock calls them the deserters they are, and expresses reluctance to help a guy he's never met before and an old ally who suddenly looks completely different. This prompts Blaster to, for some reason, retell the story of Scrounge. Well, the real reason is that it's thematically relevant to the story later, but right here it feels a bit awkward. Goldbug expresses disbelieve that Blaster could have left a fellow Autobot to die, which prompts Blaster to practically dare him to go back to the safety of Grimlock and the Ark. Perhaps as much to get away from two argumentative Autobots, Blackrock gives them the information they want. Oil tankers missing in the Caribbean are a bit far for two wayward Autobots, but the radio-emitting meteor may be just the thing.
There are a lot of good and bad elements in the above exchange. Goldbug's high-handed treatment of Blackrock seems deplorable, but it also highlights how desperate the two Autobots are on their own. Low on fuel, low on intelligence (the military kind), low on allies ... it's no wonder they aren't keen to wait for Blackrock to finish his date. While bringing up Scrounge is awkward, the argument that follows highlight the tension the two of them must surely be feeling. And Blackrock's casual mention of missing oil tankers in the Caribbean highlight the success of Shockwave's leadership and the failure of Grimlock's. Shockwave's more subtle missions are meeting with success, especially in the face of Grimlock's disinterest in human affairs.
Hanging upside down in his 'plush offices', Ratbat prepares to spend some fuel. He had sent a package to earth by 'low energy-cost space freighter', but something's happened along the way. He dispatches the Triple Changers (all three of them, an advantage of their late introduction) to Earth via space bridge to investigate. The bridge startles some scientists, who quickly comply with orders to get lost. The three Cons approach the body of the pilot, who warns them off. Mistaking his words to be a plea for mercy in the face of failure, the Decepticons get close enough to become infected themselves ... with the deadly Scraplets.
Hours later, the scientists have called in the national guard. One young researcher, Charlie Fong, thinks that despite the risks of robots, the knowledge of what's in that crater is worth pursuing. Sensing a kindred spirit, Goldbug and Blaster call him over and convince him to help them. The three of them bluff their way past a national guardsman (Charlie did most of the bluffing, with the other two in alt modes) and make their way down. As they arrive, we see a lone nut transform into a tiny robot, who starts to make his way towards the two robots. Before the Scraplet can infect Goldbug, though, the two Autobots are engaging in a pitched battle with the Decepticon Triple Changers. Blaster trots out his trusty (say it with me) electro-scrambler gun, keeping them off balance.
A stray shot sends Charlie into the crater, though Goldbug helps to break his fall. Once inside the crater, the almost completely disintegrated freighter pilot tells of his unfortunate encounter with space dust that turned out to be so much worse. He warns Goldbug to get away just before his head falls off. Gruesome! As nuts, bolts, screws and washers transform into tiny but deadly parasites, Fong springs into action, crushing some and sweeping others away.
Blaster's battle with the Triple Changers seems to be at a stand-still. In their weakened state, he's a fair match for the three of them. At least, until he himself gets infected. He's still ready to fight on to victory with Goldbug's help, but Charlie convinces him of the futility of that after overhearing that there is a legend of a cure for Scraplets. After all, with a cure, Blaster is doomed whether he wins of not. Reluctantly, Goldbug agrees and drives off. Blaster, furious, accuses Goldbug of cowardice and threatens to hunt him down, even if it means going through Grimlock.
It's all too much for Goldbug, who stops to argue with Charlie again. This proves to be a flaw - perhaps a fatal flaw - when a lone Scraplet affixes himself to Goldbug's foot. Charlie tries to pull it out, but it quickly reproduces. Realizing that they had better leave (me, I'd have amputated part of that foot) quickly, they drive off into the desert. But within two and a half hours, Goldbug can barely sputter on. He pleads with Charlie not to let him die with Blaster thinking himself betrayed. "But this time, Charlie Fong offers no reassuring response. He can't talk. His throat is too parched from thirst ... or is it ... from despair ...?"
To Be Continued!
(... although, the tension might have been undercut a bit with the next time ... "Introducing the Throttlebots .. in 'The Cure!'")
What a great issue! Two Autobot deserters, questioning their decision but bravely soldiering on. It works really well. The visuals on the Scraplets are great. I love how everything in Transformers is, well, a transformer. A disease that looks like small tools, what a great idea. Bob's prose, especially in the opening and closing, is nicely melodramatic as only comics can be. Perlin's art, supported by the inking of Akin and Garvey, does an especially good job of conveying robots in various states of decay. Basically, everything comes together to make a whole bigger than the sum of its parts. I'll wager that most of you remember the twist introduced in part 2, whereas I'm guessing that most of you don't remember, say, exactly how the Mechannibals were defeated in THAT two-parter. I think that's a testimony to the strength of this stealth-classic Transformers tale.
Crater Critters is available for purchase from IDW Publishing as part of Classic Transformers Volume 2 .