We are introduced to Cybertron and the outbreak of the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The war throws Cybertron out of orbit, and it hurtles towards an asteroid field. Optimus Prime leads a mission in a ship called the Ark to destroy the asteroids, but after the Autobots do so they are attacked by the Decepticons. Prime deliberately crashes the Ark as a last ditch measure and it lies under a volcano for 4 million years. The computer is later awoken and starts to repair all the Transformers to resemble native vehicles. And the art sucks. But not as badly as the script. Pah!
Millions of years ago on the metal planet of Cybertron live a mechanical race of beings called the Autobots who live in peace and prosperity. But a ruthless robot called Megatron has secretly recruited a huge army calling themselves Decepticons with the intention of waging war on the harmonious populace. Bestowing themselves with the ability to transform into deadly weapons, the Decepticons strike, with Megatron’s ultimate goal to convert Cybertron into a vast cosmic dreadnought with which to conquer the universe.
A global conflict ensues so great that the planet is shaken loose from its orbit and sent hurtling through space. The Autobots retaliate, replicating the ability to transform into war vehicles themselves, and fight back, a civil war engulfing the planet. Just as the tide begins to turn in the Decepticon’s favour, a heroic Autobot called Optimus Prime rises from their ranks and leads them with renewed vigour against the aggressors. The war lasts over a thousand years, and one day Autobot astronomers discover the fateful news that Cybertron’s course through the cosmos has put it in the path of an asteroid field.
At a meeting of the Autobot Elders, Prime volunteers to lead a team of Autobots into space to clear a path through the asteroids and save the planet from destruction. They build a huge spacecraft called the Ark and set off on their mission. But they’ve been spied on by Ravage who informs Megatron. Thus the Decepticon’s give chase, and once the Autobots have completed their task, Megatron and his warriors strike. The Autobots, weakened by their recent efforts, are cut down where they stand and a Decepticon victory is inevitable. Knowing he can’t allow the Autobots or the Ark to fall into Decepticon hands, Prime sends the spacecraft on a suicidal heading at a nearby world. The Ark crashes violently into a volcanic mountain on the planet Earth and all aboard are deactivated.
The Ark lies undiscovered for four million years until one day in 1984 when the volcano erupts, activating instrument panels aboard the spaceship. It launches a probe to search for indigenous lifeforms to adapt the vehicular modes of the Transformers aboard the craft. Mistakenly assuming the likes of cars, trucks, planes and other mechanical devices are living beings, it sets to work on rebuilding the dormant remains of the Autobots and Decepticons with these new earthbound designs as their disguises…
This issue showcases the very humble beginnings of the G1 Transformers comic. The dialogue is stilted and the drawings are poor and full of discrepancies and yet a bewildering sense of wonder pervades. A somewhat awkward team effort then, with Mantlo and Macchio trying to rustle up as much originality as possible from the “alien robots come to Earth” storyline, whilst editor Bob Budiansky went to town on creating the many names and varied personalities for a bunch of designs sent by Hasbro that would go on to be one of the most popular toy lines of all time.
The issue suffers from being heavy on the narration and exposition, as it tries to squeeze thousands of years of conflict into a handful of pages. Ultimately the very concept itself doesn’t stand close scrutiny, but the issue should be commended for creating the epic feel that would become the mainstay of the comic. Whereas the cartoon would paint a rather cheerful tussle between the Autobots and Decepticons on a rather empty and diminutive looking planet, this script paints a picture of hundreds of years of pain and death, of city-states reduced to smoking ruins and an entire planet ravaged by a never-ending struggle.
Whether the creators behind the comic at this stage had their hearts fully in it we’ll probably never know. It was initially commissioned as a limited series, but would later turn out to be hugely successful, guaranteeing a much longer run. The characters here are sketchy, the lines between good and evil clearly and predictably drawn. But the issue packs in enough otherworldly entertainment to inspire a legacy, and its themes of war without end would always be high on the agenda for future writers.
This issue was reprinted in Collected Comics 1, The Complete Works Volume 1, and the Titan Trade Paperback ‘Beginnings.’
This first issue sets up the hero and the villain of the piece clearly and concisely. Optimus Prime stands for all that is good, and Megatron absolute evil. These stereotypes would become more indistinct as the comic progressed, but for now Prime is described as “wise and powerful beyond understanding” whilst Megatron is “malevolent.”
Megatron seems to have the archetypal bad guy thirst for conquest as he seeks to overthrow “those who have brought the stagnation of peace and plenty to Cybertron.” But this insatiable desire for domination is also balanced with that of a patience schemer who has bided his time for eons, until the moment was right to strike against the contented (and perhaps somewhat bloated) Autobots. Megatron is clearly the founder and instigator of all things Decepticon. Under his command in secrecy they have gathered in strength and numbers, pursued their technology and had clandestine meetings to plan the initial assaults. He will have over four million years of civil war to answer for.
Considering this is the first issue, Ravage, a supporting character, gets a lot of airtime. In fact, he is the first character in the comic to speak a line: “Look at them below. Contented fools ripe for our conquest.” His spying abilities are made clear from the start. It is he who discovers the Autobots plans to build the Ark. Megatron says to the “master of stealth” that “your abilities to absorb electromagnetic radiation and thus remain undetected are enviable qualities.” He also warns Ravage not to waver or switch sides and the spy assures Megatron of his loyalty: “Ever shall they be in the service of the Decepticon Empire my lord.” Megatron needn’t have worried. His real problems will come from his aerospace commander Starscream, in the issues to come.
Cybertron originally circled the star of Alpha Centauri. This is interesting, as this is the closest stellar system to our own solar system, and is also one of the relatively few places in the Milky Way Galaxy that may offer terrestrial life conditions. It is actually a triple star system, with two of its three suns very similar in size, age and stability to our own sun, with Cybertron presumably having orbited one of these celestial bodies. Cybertron takes just over a thousand years to travel between this star system and ours, in effect travelling 4.35 light years in that time.
Cybertron is described as “a vast Saturn-sized machine world”. Following on from this, it would be 9.07 times the diameter of our Earth. This differs from the cartoon where the Transformers’ homeworld is actually smaller than Earth.
The asteroid field that threatens Cybertron’s very existence is most likely the asteroid belt that orbits the sun in our solar system between Mars and Jupiter.
The Autobots somehow find the resources to build the Ark in the middle of a full scale civil war.
The asteroids are mainly pulverised by the Autobots providing their own firepower and not the Ark’s.
Megatron’s home base on Cybertron is the foreboding Castle Decepticon. The fact that this rather conspicuous structure is never featured again in the comic could suggest that it was destroyed at some point in the war.
The Transformers origins in this first issue are different from the embellished creation theory put forward in issue 150 and adopted ever since. In this issue the script mentions that “it was the interaction of naturally occurring gears, levers and pulleys that miraculously brought forth sentient beings.” We will later find out that this planet wide creation was instigated by the Transformers’ god Primus, who became Cybertron itself and populated it with robotic life that had the ability to transform, mimicking the ability of his arch-nemesis, Unicron.
The beginnings of the Autobots and Decepticons transforming abilities also differ. Here the Autobots are the planet’s dominant race, some of whom eventually break away to become Decepticons and gift themselves with the power to transform into destructive weapons. This infers that the Autobots did not originally transform; however this fact is never implicitly stated. Its possible that in the days leading to the war the Decepticons simply adapted their existing alternative forms.
Another more abstract theory involves Primus intending the Transformers to “transform” but in a more indirect manner. Much later in issue 223 Grimlock will hypothesize that whether its good or evil, light or dark, yin or yang, everything must balance. In effect it was inevitable that when Primus created a warrior race he knew full well that they would eventually splinter into two races that would adapt their own transformation abilities in the midst of the Great War. If this was part of his grand plan, then the Transformers were honed in the heat of combat and battle to be efficient fighting machines for when they would eventually face Unicron. The Transformers, after all, were initially created to be Primus’ last line of defense.
Apparently the Autobots were “destroyed by the billions” in the initial assaults, suggesting that Cybertron was very heavy populated and the likelihood is that most of its inhabitants would eventually perish. The fact that the Transformers would gradually begin to die out is further substantiated by the fact that a planet-wide evacuation in issue 326 involves only six spacecraft. This decline in the population could be because of the fierce conflict, but also because the Transformer reproductive process died off. As explained in the G2 comic, the Transformers race originally rose in stages until “finally we stopped…some pre-primed circuit fused, a neural pathway closed off, and we forgot.” However, in the four million years that would come to pass, the G2 Decepticons would rediscover the bio-morphic reproduction process, allowing them to grow to prominence whilst the war continued elsewhere on Earth.
Megatron would never get the chance to rebuild Cybertron into a cosmic dreadnought, as victory continued to elude him. However, his mad scheme would eventually be resurrected by an insane Autobot scientist called Flame in Legion of the Lost, issue 167.
This issue claims that “the war raged for over one thousand years,” so it seems something of a misconception to assume that the Autobot/Decepticon civil war lasted for millions of years before the Ark crashed on Earth. This is backed up by a statement made by Emirate Xaaron in issue 166 when he says, “Megatron disappeared after a hundred or so years of war.” It seems likely that the majority of the conflict was without Optimus Prime and Megatron at the helm of their respective factions, as they lay deactivated on Earth. In fact, so much time passes during their incarceration on Earth that their story becomes almost legend as seen in issue 66 where there is a Hall of Fame dedicated to fabled Autobots from the past in Autobase on Cybertron.
It is made clear that Megatron’s fusion cannon is no ordinary weapon. Apparently it “spewed forth endless streams of energy that laid waste to entire Autobot strongholds.” His Universe entry elaborates: “His fusion cannon can convert any small amount of matter into large quantities of explosive nuclear energy. The cannon can fire a blast up to 12 miles and release enough energy to flatten a small town. Megatron can use his internal circuitry to connect the cannon interdimensionally with a black hole, where it can draw on anti-matter as its power source.” This explains why he has such huge power at his disposal.
Optimus Prime here transforms into a combat vehicle with “a firepower potential that none but Megatron could match.” But in issue 196 in a Cybertron flashback Prime is shown transforming into some sort of Cybertronian truck. Perhaps at some stage he modified his vehicle form, or alternatively he could have been a triple changer. Its possible that combining with his trailer gave him some form of third mode too.
The Autobot city-state of Iacon “greatest of city-states” is introduced in this first issue. Iacon would play a large part in many upcoming stories as it represents the Autobots’ main seat of power. Optimus Prime also comes from Iacon.
It is Optimus Prime’s finger that presses the button that would send the Ark crashing to Earth. It was with this act that would make Prime responsible for the Transformers war on this world, giving the whole comic series a different slant from the cartoon in the process, as his sense of responsibility always played a large part in his major decisions, whether military or ethical. Prime decides that “the Ark and all its secrets must never fall into enemy hands, so I plotted an alternate course that would take us on a suicidal heading directly into the third planet of this solar system.” It seems a tad over-dramatic that Prime would sacrifice every single one of his warriors for the sake of their spaceship. This reckless act would also involve the innocents of Earth in the Transformers’ struggle, but in Prime’s defense, he was under the impression that the planet was “lifeless.” Prime’s actions were also premeditated. He confirms that “I had anticipated such a move by the Decepticons” and infers that he had planned all along to take a suicide dive if need be. The fact that a spacecraft built for the soul purpose of destroying asteroids has “secrets” is a little mystifying though.
We get a glimpse of the Council of Autobot Elders in a meeting on Cybertron. In the issues to come we will meet their most famous member, Emirate Xaaron. The only others ever mentioned by name are High Councilor Traachon and Tomaandi. This council of politicians seems to form some kind of Autobot government, with the final say on most matters. As shown in the Transformers 1986 Annual story And There Shall Come a Leader, they passed full control of the army to Optimus Prime at some point in the war. Some time later Megatron’s successor, Warlord Trannis, levels Iacon and the Elders unanimously surrender, except for Xaaron, who flees to start a resistance movement. The rest of the Elders were executed.
Prime’s group of Autobots were specially selected for the mission to save Cybertron. This consisted of most of the first wave of original Autobot toys, but what made them so ‘special’ for the task in hand is unclear. Also why Prime himself chose to lead such a basic mission is a little vague.
The Ark's data banks, "possess only the capability of perceiving mechanical lifeforms," and as such doesn't appear able of detecting carbon-based life (Prime himself refers to the planet as "lifeless" as the Ark approaches it beforehand). This contradicts the creation of the Dinobots (depicted in issue 7) as they were based on organic creatures previous to this. Of course, it is possible that the Ark does actually have this ability, but prioritises the scanning of mechanical forms first. Or its sensors in 1984 may have been too damaged (through age and the crash) to detect organics (and not sensitive enough to detect it from outer space in this issue).
The Autobots are described as Cybertron’s “dominant” lifeform, suggesting that there were other forms of life on the planet as well.
Before the Decepticon surprise-attack in space, Prime preaches to the Autobots that they must “end the slaughter that has consumed our world for so many centuries” and make peace with the Decepticons. Prime would forever keep this pacifist nature. In issue 311 he surrenders to Scorponok in the hope of forging an alliance against Unicron. But more revealing is something Prime says in the G2 comic issue 10: “I must not let my dream of one day fully uniting the disparate factions of our race delude me…”
The act of the Decepticons upgrading themselves is a rare instance where we actually see Transformers taking advantage of the fact that they are mechanical beings to ‘better’ themselves. This is something not seen often in the comic, moreso the Transformers are depicted as having fixed abilities. A notable exception is the upgrading of Fortress Maximus’s body in Trial By Fire, issue 156.
The Ark crashes into a volcano called Mount St Hilary. This is actually a fictional location whilst being a thinly veiled reference to Mount St Helens. The fact that St Helens unexpectedly erupted in 1980 possibly provided inspiration here for the writers, when St Hilary erupts in 1984 reawakening the Ark’s computers once more.
Though the Decepticons’ spacecraft is not named in this issue or in any of the G1 run, it would later be widely referred to as The Nemesis. This is taken from the Beast Wars cartoon and Dreamwave comic continuities.
There is a brief glimpse of an Ark revival drone that looks exactly like the transformed combat deck module of Optimus Prime’s trailer.
"They shall learn the way of conflict…the way of war…the way of Megatron." Megatron plans to make his presence felt.