Shiny Shelf

Transformers: The War Within #2.2

By Eddie Robson on 17 November 2003

Whilst reading the initial ‘War Within’ mini-series I happened to comment to my Shiny Shelf colleagues that Simon Furman’s writing had got even better since his days on the UK ‘Transformers’ comic. I was promptly beaten over the head, dragged down to the basement and chained up under a jet of water like Mel Gibson in ‘Lethal Weapon’ until I retracted my heretical suggestion that Furman was ever less than perfect.

I was wrong and after four days down there I accepted this as truth. This should give you some idea of the esteem in which Furman is held around these parts. The impressive thing about ‘The War Within’ – which tells the story of how the Autobot/Decepticon conflict began, millennia ago on Cybertron – is that he isn’t just taking advantage of the ‘Transformers’ revival to trade on past glories. He’s using it to broaden the scope of a universe which, over the years, he has made his own.

The ‘Transformers: Generation One’ comics have tended towards using the ‘classic’ Transformers – that is, the first couple of waves of the toys. This is perhaps because the original US comic, usually written by Bob Budiansky, was at its best when using that smaller cast, and this means that those characters are more fondly remembered by US readers. Budiansky would frequently be asked by the toy manufacturer to feature their latest products, but rather than integrate the new characters into the existing set-up he would usually write a flimsy one-part story about them, after which they would never be seen again.

Furman, however, revelled in the introduction of new characters. Required to integrate his material into the continuity of an oblivious US comic, if he tried to do anything substantial with a character in his UK strips there was always a risk that the next strip to arrive from America would contradict it. Hence, if he was told that the US comics did not intend to make use of a character, he would seize upon them with great enthusiasm.

For this reason, most of the best characters from the comics are the mid-period ones that the US comic didn’t know what to do with, but which Furman spent several issues developing. It’s those characters who are getting welcome returns in ‘The War Within’: this issue we re-acquaint ourselves with the Wreckers, a rag-tag bunch who debuted in Furman’s ‘Target: 2006′, and Jetfire, who had no personality at all when written by Budiansky but was moderated by Furman into a quiet, sensitive scientist.

Undoubtedly, for the long-time fan there’s a certain joy in just seeing these characters again, especially the stupidly obscure ones (Whirl! Roadbuster!) but as I say, there’s more to it than that. He’s writing for an older audience now, and whilst he keeps it at a level that’s comprehensible to any new fans who’ve been drawn in by ‘Armada’, he’s doing stuff here that would have been difficult to do in the 1980s strips (although they could be pretty brutal and bleak at times).

In the first ‘War Within’ series Furman established that the Transformers have their own God myths, although many (such as Optimus Prime himself) don’t believe in them. In the second he reveals that they also have their equivalent of Satanism. In the first series we saw Optimus promoted from humble statistician to Autobot Leader, lending credibility to the Autobot hierarchy which we always took for granted. Here, he outlines the escalation of the war in terms of territory and factionalism, where before we were just told that the Autobots were good and the Decepticons evil.

Furman shows us a time when there are more than just two sides, and everybody has not yet allied themselves (something he also tried to do in his original strips by rounding up loose characters into splinter groups). The fact that this both strengthens the dynamic upon which all ‘Transformers’ stories have been based AND makes a neat little space in the continuity for us fanboys to slot the ‘Beast Wars’ TV series is a remarkable achievement. Rare is the writer who can ‘repair’ continuity without it getting in the way of the story.

All of which just confirms that Furman should really be writing all of Dreamwave’s ‘Transformers’ output. But how is he going to square the appearance of Jetfire on ancient Cybertron with the character’s origins on 20th-century Earth? Such things keep us awake at night.

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By Eddie Robson

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