The Legacy Of Unicron! Part 5 was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Jeff Anderson, inked by Steve Baskerville, coloured by Steve White and lettered by Annie Halfacree.
The cover was by Jerry Paris and John Burns and, being the one-hundred and fiftieth issue, is a little bit special in that it's a wraparound poster style cover. I have been a little disparaging about the quality of the covers for this particular story as I do not feel they really do justice to the issues themselves. This, however, is different. The image depicted is not one that is actually from the story, or any one story, but it is iconic. On the front cover we have Hot Rod, floating in mid-air opening the matrix of leadership and bathing the viewer in its otherworldly light. This is actually quite a strange version of Hot Rod. Not off-model, as such, but not the way he is usually depicted. It does make him look like a religious figure, however, which is in the aim of the cover.
The back cover is more traditional and in some ways more exciting - a terrific picture of Unicron tearing into Cybertron's crust with his mighty claws. There's not a lot to be said here except that it recalls the towering imagery of Transformers: The Movie perfectly and is a very memorable piece. For once, the text embellishments to the cover are welcome as they invite as to witness "The Origin Of The Transformers" which makes the issue appear to be out of the ordinary, even though it is only Part 5 of a six part story and is not any longer than usual. "Origin" has long been a powerful word in the comic book industry. This is something that has also crept into other media with the recent rash of prequels for popular films and books, but I would suggest that comic books, and especially comic book movies, really started the craze, as they habitually tell and retell the origin stories of their iconic characters. Either way, any comic book fan with a passing interest in Transformers would have immediately picked up that this would be a big and important issue, which the wraparound cover complements perfectly.
Luckily the story itself wasn't a let-down: As Death's Head begins his desperate gambit to attack Unicron inside his own mind we find Wreck-Gar, alive and well, in a cavern beneath Unicron's head. He has piled up a very impressive amount of explosives and is muttering to himself in Mission Impossible and Star Trek quotations about his plan to blow Unicron sky-high. He is slightly confused that Unicron has not noticed his incursion but decides that he must have something else on his mind.
As we all knew, he does! A rather concerned and out of his depth bounty hunter to be precise! Death's Head tumbles through a colourful mindscape, as multiple images of Unicron guffaw at his expense. This is once again a triumph of art where Death's Head is concerned as Anderson manages to make his expression almost comically surprised, despite the relative immobility of Death's Head's face. It is totally (hopefully Death's Head won't kill me for this), adorable.
Unicron cannot help but be impressed by Death's Head's strength of will but cannot help but tell him how useless the effort was. As Death's Head's sanity is being stripped away, Unicron alters his mental environment to make it a little easier on the bounty hunter. All the better to gloat at an enemy who can understand what you are saying. Unicron announces his intention to return Death's Head to his mortal body and destroy him on the physical plane. Death's Head, growing desperate, but relying on Unicron's overbearing arrogance, keeps him talking by questioning his nature. Unicron cannot resist talking about himself so prepares Death's Head for the ultimate tale: The Origin Of Unicron!
In the sort of scene transition favoured by Furman, Rodimus Prime, aboard a shuttle travelling to Junk, is also wishing that they knew more about Unicron. He recounts the few facts they do have - he came from nowhere, tried to destroy Cybertron, the Matrix stopped him - which is also a convenient recap of the salient points of Transformers: The Movie. Tempers are not entirely settled aboard the shuttle. Rodimus cannot quite get over the fact that Smokescreen left Wreck-Gar on Junk and Smokescreen himself is prepared to avenge the Junkion if he never does anything else. The atmosphere is tense as they hurtle towards the rematch with Unicron.
Death's Head, meanwhile, is being treated to a full narration of the metaphysics of the Transformers universe. It appears that Unicron first emerged as a direct reaction to life ("the lifestain" - great word choice here) spreading across the universe, but as he set out to destroy life as it spread Primus, Lord of The Light Gods appeared to challenge him and they fought. The cosmic collateral damage from this battle threatened to destroy the very life that Primus had set out to protect and so he decided to catch Unicron in a trap. Pretending to be defeated he led Unicron in a merry dance through the astral plane which culminated in them both being trapped inside asteroids.
Both gods were rendered inert, almost powerless, but over millennia Unicron was slowly able to use his remaining strength to shape his asteroid prison into a version of his old body, so becoming the first Transformer, able to shift from planet to robot mode at will. However, Primus wasn't idle either, and also shaped his asteroid, not into a new body, but into a world that started to spawn its own life, robotic lifeforms who would one day challenge Unicron - the Transformers! Primus gifted them with his own life-force, the creation matrix, that could create new life as well as fight Unicron.
Unicron knew this and knew that if he were ever to consume Cybertron, he would need to secure the matrix first. Unfortunately the proxy he chose, Galvatron, proved too strong-willed and allowed Rodimus Prime to obtain the matrix and destroy Unicron's body. A spark of life remained and now, on Junk, Unicron is preparing his rebirth. He breaks off his story (although he had basically finished) as the Autobot shuttle screams into view and starts firing on his head. In order to deal with these "bothersome insects" he returns Death's Head to his physical body and starts firing on the Autobots using his powerful eye-beams.
He orders his minions to attack as well. The Junkions obey immediately but Death's Head is able to resist.
Meanwhile, below ground, Wreck-Gar has finished planting his explosives and prepares to leave the area, saying that it's "Goodnight from me, and goodnight from him", a catchphrase from British comedy duo, The Two Ronnies.
Unfortunately for Wreck-Gar, Unicron notices Death's Head levelling a weapon at him and blasts him at close range, smashing a hole in the ground and, unwittingly trapping Wreck-Gar beneath tons of falling rock, as the counter on the explosives continues to tick over...
"To be continued?" wonders Wreck-Gar. "In fact, to be concluded!" the "Next time" caption answers enthusiastically.
This is one of those issues (and one of those stories) that shape everything that comes afterwards. If you've been a Transformers fan for any length of time you're probably aware of the story of Unicron and Primus whether or not you've ever actually read these particular panels. Furman would recap, revisit and expand upon this story in his run on the US comic but the basics were laid down here.
The amount of creative control that Furman was allowed in this story is almost unthinkable when one considers the modern state of the Transformers brand. These days Hasbro has a gigantic, 400-page bible that encompasses all continuities and forms of media. All prospective creators who want to work within the Transformers framework are under close scrutiny to ensure the brand stays in the shape approved by the corporation. In theory, millions of dollars ride upon this tight control and it is necessary to stop maverick creators playing fast and loose with the characters and universe.
In the eighties, however, there was no official universe. There were official documents describing the characters but Unicron had no official comic book origin and the origin of the Transformers themselves was vague enough - "naturally occuring gears, levers and pulleys" - to be reinterpreted in a more interesting way. Pleasingly the comic was also allowed to be sufficiently divorced from the cartoon that Furman was not forced to use its explanation for Unicron's origin, as, to put it mildly, it lacks the majesty of the comic book version.
Nowadays the Transformers comic books are never really at the bleeding edge of official continuity but even if they were there is no chance that someone like Furman, working on his own little book - one that wasn't even going to be published in America, for Primus' sake - would be allowed to blaze a trail like this. Even though each comic book and each cartoon is officially in its own continuity, Hasbro would still very likely get nervous if a single creator laid down the law about something as fundamental as the origins of life in the Transformers universe. Witness, for example, the ultimate decision by Hasbro not to allow a comic book about the Original Thirteen Transformers to be published because they had not decided where they wanted to take that story yet. This stands in contrast to the eighties comics where it seems that Marvel would publish these stories before Hasbro had their say, which is why there were occasional differences in naming and colour-schemes between comics and newly released toys.
I am not necessarily coming out on one side or the other - I certainly understand why Transformers as a brand needs to be protected and nurtured. It is simply worth too much money for poor quality or contradictory story-telling to be allowed to harm the franchise without proper scrutiny (in theory - obviously everyone has their own opinion about what constitutes a good story). That said, without people like Furman sitting down at their desks (sometimes after the pub, if his stories at Auto Assembly are to be believed) and just thinking which cool stories could be told without having to run it past a committee, you probably wouldn't have an official continuity today, and it certainly wouldn't be the same shape.
Larger considerations aside, this is a rattling good read. A fair bit is given over to the origin of Unicron, of course, which alters the pacing a little, but this is a good time to tell us, as it gives us more of a sense of Unicron as a character before the inevitable final confrontation in the next issue. A nice subtle indication for possible future storylines is given in the artwork for the Unicron origin scenes. While the god version of Unicron looks basically the same as the Transformer version, Primus has a helmet and wing designs on his back that are very reminiscent of a certain Rodimus Prime. Unfortunately this would never really pay off in this continuity, but it was obviously designed to play a part in future storylines. Perhaps this is something that Furman's imminent continuation of the Marvel comic universe will deal with.
Other than that, the angst between Smokescreen and Rodimus isn't especially compelling but it serves to demonstrate that times are dark indeed, while informing us that the Autobots are arriving on Junk with a little more than a simple scene change. Wreck-Gar is fun as always, spotting the references in his TV talk is a game for the reader in itself and they are cleverly used here. Death's Head keeps his own sense of identity while serving as the catalyst for Unicron's origin story. I love how defiant he remains, even when horribly out of his depth. My only slight gripe about his part of the story is that Furman does not set up a scenario where it is particularly necessary for Unicron to tell his story. It's a good story, and a good read, but even Death's Head's taunting does not seem enough for Unicron to tell him his entire origin. Unicron in Transformers: The Movie was arrogant, because of his awesome power, but he wasn't quite the blowhard that Furman writes him as in this story.
Anderson's artwork is generally of a very high standard. He goes for a much more, shall we say, traditional approach than Dan Reed and the characters are very much more recognisable as themselves from the cartoon and various character models. The issue has also been very carefully inked by Steve Baskerville, who would go on to ink most of the later US issues and this, combined with excellent colouring work from Steve White, lends the whole issue an air of quality.
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