Kup's Story! was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Dan Reed, coloured by Steve White and Lettered by Anne Halfacree. Although the story is set in the past, the backup story in the comic was the first part of the Headmasters saga so that's where we are if you're used to following along with only the US half of the continuity. We've just been through the Scraplet saga and the Carwash Of Doom!
The cover was also by Dan Reed and is quite a nice piece in his inimitable style. It more resembles a particularly detailed comic panel than a display piece and probably won't be anyone's first pick to mount on their wall but it neatly outlines what the story is about and has some great detail on the alien hand crushing Hot Rod, as well as good colouring to show off Hot Rod's painted body and the alien's slick skin (or maybe metal).
The caption tells us that we are several hundred years ago, in deep space. We see Kup, on the bridge of a small spaceship, sitting dejectedly while the ongoing captions explain that after millions of years of warfare, veterans lose their fighting edge. The Autobots' custom is to give these individuals a spaceship and cast them adrift to while away their remaining years alone.
We flash back to Kup's glory days, destroying Decepticons and daring white-knuckle escapes, but are told that eventually the battles blurred together and Kup found he could not keep up any longer. He accepted exile, rather than putting his fellow Autobots at risk by continuing to fight alongeside them.
He pours himself a drink and is in the middle of toasting the oncoming end of his life (we get the impression he does that a lot) when the ship is shaken by an explosion and we see a transport being pursued by two wobbly organic looking alien ships.
Kup determines that the pursuing vessels are toying with the transport and this gets his dander up! He starts making plans to intervene before his confidence goes again and, worrying he'll only make matters worse, decides that it's not his fight.
He can't convince himself though. In only two panels time, an ugly alien claw is poised over a firing button before an explosion tears him, and the ship's cockpit apart. Kup punches the air in victory as the confidence comes flooding back. Only for a second though, as nausea overwhelms him and he slumps. His battle-fatigue is still part of him and it will take more than this brief victory to overcome it.
He receives a message from the transport, it's pilot asking to come aboad. Kup doesn't want company but has no real choice in the matter as the ship is breaking up.
The pilot turns out to be Hot Rod, who doesn't yet know Kup personally but is delighted to meet a fellow Autobot. He says he was on a scouting mission with Blurr when the Tyroxians attacked them and captured Blurr. Kup says that he cannot help beyond taking Hot Rod to Cybertron. He is retired - an ex-Autobot.
As Kup relaxes, and broods, on his own in the ship he is surprised to hear a proximity alarm. Hot Rod has changed the ship's course and brought it into orbit of the planet Tyroxia! He has landed on the planet's surface and gone off on a solo-mission to rescue Blurr.
We get a nice story-telling device here where Kup, unable to contain his admiration for the younger Autobot, imagines what he must be doing, while the other panels show that this is of course what is happening. Kup, much to his chagrin, comes to the conclusion that Hot Rod reminds him of his younger self.
True to Kup's predictions, Hot Rod has fallen afoul of a gigantic Tyroxian who is tossing him around like a rag-doll. Just as he is about to be taken offline for good, Kup bursts through the window, blaster blazing!
He takes the alien apart in short order, shouting his defiance to the universe! He does not even realise that battle is won until Hot Rod taps him on the shoulder.
Back on the ship, Hot Rod thanks Kup for the rescue and tells him that he can get back to his retirement. Of course, Kup won't have any of it, "Listen kid," he says, "if they're lettin' punks like you fight these days... The Autobot army needs all the help it can get!" Kup is back.
This story is good for a number of reasons. The first and perhaps most important is that it's another story from a time we don't really know much about. We always knew Kup was old, but it's great to see his first meeting with Hot Rod, and find out where their affectionately antagonistic relationship started. It's not really a surprise that he has a past as a risk-taker and hellraiser but Kup has always been a favourite character of mine so seeing him triumph over old-age is a nice emotional beat.
I also enjoy the sense of an expanded universe. We haven't seen a lot of different aliens in the Transformers yet and the Tyroxians are particularly alien, with their twisted bodies and indecipherable speech.
I think stories like this are important for another reason. Here Furman shows us that the serialised nature of a comic can lead to stories of varying lengths. There aren't many single-issue stories, because by their nature they have to be quick, simple, but worth telling, but by having them here and there, Furman demonstrates that it's fine to tell a story that is as long as it needs to be, a talent which is rather lost in this age of "writing for the trade".
Dan Reed's art is as idiosyncratic as ever. His organic style is quite a good choice for Kup because it's much easier to depict age in a more human-like face. I am not always the biggest fan of his action sequences as they do not always look natural, and Kup leaping through the window, I feel, suffers from this, with his shots going off in random directions. That said, the Tyroxians are fantastically horrible and look at the incredible level of detail on Kup slumped in his chair on the first page!
Kup's Story! is a good read all round and was reprinted in the Titan collection of City Of Fear which, while out of print, is still fairly easy to find.