Fans of Marvel Comics, especially in the Bronze Age, were aware of the cardinal rule of the Marvel Universe: No title was for real, until they got their obligatory Spider-Man cameo appearance. That holds true even if your heroes are giant robot invaders from planet Cybertron… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Transformers #3 awaits!
Writer: Jim Salicrup
Penciler: Frank Springer
Inker: Kim DeMulder/Mike Esposito
Colorist: Nel Yomtov
Letterer: Janice Chiang & Others
Editor: Bob Budiansky
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12.00
Previously in Transformers: “Four million years ago, they came from Cybertron, a world composed entirely of machinery… a world torn by an age-old war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. These incredibly powerful living robots, capable of converting themselves into land and air vehicles, weapons and other mechanical forms, continue their conflict here on Earth.” Last issue, the Decepticon forces, led by the mighty Megatron, shanghaied a human known as Sparkplug Witwicky, spiriting him away, but…
…to what end?
I remember reading this issue when it came out in my teens, and I had no problem accepting that these strange aliens from another world could change their size as well as transform from one shape to another, but today, I realize that I am in a decided minority on the matter of mass-shifting (especially if you ask Michael Bay.) So, reading the caption that explicitly states that they’re growing bigger fills me with a strange kind of glee. I’m also happy to see that, for all the differences in continuities, certain relationships remain unaltered. Witness the interaction between treacherous dragon Starscream and his ever-suspicious boss-bot.
What Megatron wants is assistance, specifically assistance in synthesizing the fuel they require to survive out of earth-type fuels such as gasoline. (The term “energon” to describe this fuel originated in the first episode of the Transformers cartoon, which, allowing for the advance cover-dates of comics in the 80s, would probably have aired slightly after this in most markets.) Why Sparkplug was chosen over any other human was unclear, but it probably had something to do with his son Buster’s proximity to the heroic Autobots…
The ‘Bots likewise have fueling issues, and after last issue’s battle with the Decepticons, they must return to The Ark to top off their own fuel tanks. Their haste to do so leads to attention from a state trooper, and one of the first examples of the most repeated joke in Marvel’s Transformers (barring the occasional ‘Furmanism‘): The sight of normal humans utterly flummoxed by living machines.
Back in Decepticon headquarters, Megatron uses his usual subtlety to convince Sparkplug to assist him in his quest for energ– I mean, for fuuuueeeel.
At Sparkplug’s request, Megatron sends out his warriors to steal a bunch of chemistry equipment (portrayed as a massive device that looks like an industrial steam-iron) and a tanker full of fuel, gathering the attention of the world’s governments and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Yes, THAT S.H.I.E.L.D., and Nick Fury even makes a remark about a previous Marvel licensed comic, Godzilla, where his men were sent to take care of the threat of mysterious giant creatures as well. The press also takes note of the giant robots flying about, including Daily Bugle freelance photog Peter Parker…
This, it should be noted, is during the post-Secret-Wars (the original, natch) period wherein Spidey is wearing his organic black costume, which would eventually bond with Eddie Brock and become Venom. Writing sentences like that is, by the way, why I enjoy writing Retro Reviews, Faithful Spoilerites. While the combined military forces of the United States attack the Decepticons, Spider-Man encounters a giant robot of his own. You may remember Autobot Gears, who took eight years off the life of Office Poncherello of the Oregon Highway Patrol?
Hey, wanna see something really peculiar?
Fans of other Hasbro properties will likely recognize that tank as the MOBAT (Multi-Ordinance BAttle Tank) making this an not-really-official three-way crossover with G.I. Joe, Marvel’s other Hasbro-licensed title (the Wolverine tank makes an appearance as well.) The MOBAT is a light tank based on the M551 Sheridan, which also tells us an important fact about Transformers: Our pal Gears can easily catch over 15 tons in his bare hands. His heroic catch also convinces Spider-Man that not all Cybertronian life-forms are the same, and our hero and the Autobots quickly come up with a plan to stop the Decepticon threat cold…
The soldiers are fooled into believing that Hound is actually a military vehicle (why they aren’t bothered by him being followed by a big rig, a police car, minivan, several race cars, a bright orange cab-over, two Lamborghinis, a 4×4, a Formula 1 racer, a Toyota Hilux and a bright yellow VW bug is hand-waved away), and Optimus leads his forces into battle against the Decepticons. While the battle rages, Spider-Man and Gears approach Megatron’s mountaintop fortress the hard way. Unfortunately, the fuel shortage hits our man Gears at precisely the wrong moment…
I find it a bit weird that Spider-Man’s webbing has trouble holding Gears’ weight. We don’t know exactly what model of truck Gears represents, but even a full-sized Ford F-150 usually won’t top 3 tons, fully outfitted, which makes me wonder how in the world this webbing managed to hold back The Juggernaut. (Although, since this story has been relegated to alternate Earth-91274, it honestly may not have.) While I over-think things, the team of super-duper and Subaru Brat manage to bust into the castle and free Sparkplug from the clutches of the evil robots. Before they can make their escape, Megatron blasts the floor from beneath their feet, leaving Spider-Man to relive his worst memory, only with a mid-size truck in place of Emma Stone…
Is… anybody else having flashbacks to Wile E. Coyote?
No? Just me? ‘Kay. Sparkplug is reunited with his son, and Spidey tries to apologize to Optimus Prime for the loss of one of his soldiers, but Optimus isn’t shaken, as his soldiers are made of the proverbial “sterner stuff.”
Sparkplug, NOOOOOO! This revelation leads to serious repercussions, involving a flamethrower, a myocardial infarction and a little tiny bit of poison (Transformers comics got complicated, quick), but for now Buster is shocked at his dad’s seeming betrayal. Amazingly, in retrospect, this crossover was actually designed to boost sales on the book with Marvel’s most popular character, a gambit that clearly worked, as sales for the first four issues were strong enough that the miniseries was upgraded to ongoing before it was even completed. Frank Springer’s work on this issue is quite solid, although many of the robot likenesses hadn’t quite been finalized (especially Megatron and Prime, whose heads are markedly different from their animated counterparts. All in all, though, Transformers #3 is pretty sort of okay issue, albeit okay in a way that seems entirely aimed at sales (and causing slap-fights about continuity and canon), earning 3 out of 5 stars overall. If nothing else, it’s interesting to read as a puzzling period piece…