I go back and forth on this cover. It's a bad image, really, without much sense of composition. The Autobots are on the right, the Decepticons on the left, and they're about to go at it. Very little action is actually shown ... Swoop is about to bite Ramjet, Cloudburst is about to crack a whip, and ... that's about it. The flying characters, in particular, just sort of hang there in space with no rocket exhaust or speed lines to imply motion. From a technical standpoint, it's pretty mediocre. On the other hand, the fanboy in me sees this picture and thrills a little. We haven't had a battle royale between Autobots and Decepticons since .... gee, I want to say issue 12. Everything else has been a limited engagement here or there. This cover promises so much more. So, in execution, sub-par, but in concept terrific. This was one of the few G1 transformers comics I picked up on the newstand before I discovered Furman, so it must have been doing something right.
This issue starts off by revisiting an image that we've seen before ... Optimus Prime, coming apart at his joints as energy shoots through him. Really, this image is pretty spot on with the climax of issue 24. Not only is his weird contrapposto the same, but each image features block-colored spectators, sound and energy effects, and some descriptive words ('Game Over! and the title, 'Totaled!') The memory of Prime's death is thus effectively evoked. Fortress Maximus' crew has failed to revive him, having expended most of their resources to make the Pretenders and rebuild Goldbug. Have no fear, though, Hot Rod has located the Ark, and with their facilities, rebuilding Prime should be a snap, right?
Goldbug, though, seems nervous at the prospect, and with good cause. Cut to the Ark, where Ratchet is attempting to serve as Grimlock's conscience. Grimlock, though, is enjoying his petty reign. He's far too busy having his joints lubricated to worry about Decepticons. Oh, and he's still wearing his crown. Word of another ship of Autobots snaps him out of his complacency, though. Sensing a threat to his authority, he agrees to meet them. Soon Fortress Maximus of the starship Steelhaven (which finally gets a name, which I've since applied to the Elite Guard flagship of Animated) is introducing his officers to Grimlock. Grimlock wastes no time in making his move, declaring that there is only one true leader of all Autobots. Fort Max stammers at this a bit, then comes to the mistaken conclusion that Grimlock is talking about Optimus Prime. Max explains his mission, to rebuild Optimus Prime, prompting reverence from Ratchet and violence from Grimlock.
Things go from bad to worse. Grimlock calls Optimus a coward for defending humans, which prompts Spike to reveal himself. When Goldbug's name comes up, Grimlock demands he be turned over immediately as a traitor. Goldbug agrees to try to keep the peace, but Grimlock invokes trial-by-combat for the right of supreme Autobot leadership anyway. Grimlock also comes up with his first of many derisive monikers for Maximus; 'Fruitloop Multipuck.'
In the brig, Goldbug encounters Blaster, who has indeed been hooked up to a Variable Voltage Harness torture device. Months of such treatment have left him bitter and cynical, though not too cynical to spit out a lot of backstory. Goldbug asks that Blaster champion Fortress Maximus, who's still reeling from the injuries received at Shockwave's hand
On the surface of the moon, the two mighty ships land and disgorge their many occupants. Delbo gives us a nice image of all of the Ark-based Autobots exiting their ship, then an equally nice image of most of the Steelhaven-based Autobots exiting theirs. I say most, because Fort Max had the foresight to leave a trio of guards, Slapdash, Joyride and Getaway. (Hmmm ... an interesting choice to guard the soon-to-be Powermaster Optimus Prime.) Omega Suprme kicks things off by blasting a cube to bits, and the gloves are off! Blaster and Grimlock battle each other savagely, with some wonderfully kinetic poses by Delbo. The battle takes them away from their makeshift arena, much to the disappointment of the crowd.
They needn't have worried, plenty of action was heading their way. Ratbat launches a savage sneak attack on the Autobots, crippling the Ark and damaging at least a quarter of the Autobots with their opening salvo. Prowl attempts to rally the Autobots, which is nice characterization for him, but he's given little chance before Onslaught leads the Decepticon charge, nice characterization for him as well. It's not all Autobot carnage, though. Bonecrusher leads the Constructicons into the Ark, where they first rip it to pieces, and then liberate the Decepticons offlined by Omega Supreme way back in issue #19. Though the Decepticons are technically outnumbered 2:1, they've got the initiative and the high ground, and they're exploiting it. This actually makes a lot of sense; not every battle goes to the army with the biggest numbers. I think it's a credit to Ratbat's leadership that he's willing to take this kind of risk, and I like that it paid off. Having a working capital ship might have something to do with it too, since neither the Ark nor the Steelhaven is in fighting form.
Miles away, Grimlock and Blaster continue their battle, until the sight of the Decepticon attack draws their attention. Keep in mind, no sound in space, which is why they didn't hear it. Good science there, Bob. They return to the battle to try to rally their troops, even as Fortress Maximus realizes the futility of the fight and sends Goldbug on a special mission. He's to board the Steelhaven and have it depart the moon immediately. As he does so, Grimlock and Blaster put aside their differences (after Grimlock gets in another good one, 'Fullstrength Motleypuss,") to spearhead a counter-attack on the Decepticons. When they successfully penetrate the shields of Ratbat's vessel and electro-scramble the ship, Ratbat loses his nerve and orders a retreat.
Grimlock wants to follow, but Blaster demurs. Without a ship, repairing the Ark has to be the first priority. Also, there are many Autobots needing repair. Maximus reveals that he's sent the Steelhaven to Nebulos to have a new body built for Optimus Prime, for what he's witnessed today has convinced him that there is no bot truly fit to lead the Autobots. He finishes with some nice prose: "Let us pray that Goldbug's journey is a successful one, for amid the smooke of the battlefield, it suddenly became clear to me that whatever future we Autobots have lies encoded on a single magnetic disk labelled 'Optimus Prime.'"
It's a good ending. Certainly, Grimlock's rule appears to have been a bitter failure. Spike's short tenure as leader of the Autobots hasn't really been all that much better. For all his good intentions, he's failed to recover his brother, taken severe damage to his body and now got the Autobots embroiled in a barbaric fight for leadership. I can believe that these weary bots would turn to the past for answers.
It's nice to see some old characters shine a bit, like Prowl and Ratchet. It's a little odd to see bots like Sunstreaker and Gears, who have been out of commission since the miniseries, back, but then I suppose Ratchet's had plenty of time to patch them up. It's also fun to see just how large the cast of characters has become.
Grimlock vs Blaster is a fight that's been a long time coming, over a year really, and it doesn't fail to satisfy. These two characters have been out of the limelight for a bit but they continue to dominate the story whenever they're the focus. Grimlock's nicknames are downright classic, though Blaster gets in a good "Grimmy" and "Grimbo" too. It's a shame that they'll once again move off-stage as the action follows Goldbug for a while, leaving almost the entire Autobot cast stranded on the moon where they can lick their wounds.
Next month, we're promised "Optimus Prime Returns! (No kidding!) Plus -- the newest, strongest Transformers yet -- the Powermasters!" Yawn. It's probably not an accident that the most satisfying issue we've had in months featured no character introductions. (Well, Broadside makes his one and only appearance in the US G1 run here, but it's just a cameo.) Optimus Prime's return, though, must have seemed exciting and new. Audiences hadn't been jaded by his long cycle of destruction and rebirth. Indeed, Optimus is a veritable phoenix. (The actual Transformer named Phoenix, the Pretender from Masterforce, has never died to my knowledge.) Still, while my 2010 eyes are well used to such resurrections, when I cast myself back to 1988 I'm a lot more forgiving. Totaled! is available for purchase in IDW's Classic Transformers Volume 3 .