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Review: Transformers: The Ultimate Guide

Written by Big Bot on July 8, 2004 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Written by: Chris McFeely

This book’s got balls. Its back cover heralds it as “the first fully authoritative history” of the Transformers, and the introductory page describes the G1 section as “the one true history” of the era. Immediately, that should set off some alarm bells, because it’s phrased… well, rather insultingly, to be honest. It just sounds *so* much like the comics and cartoon are going to be dismissed, and that this guide is going to lay it down as it is, was, and should be. Thankfully, it’s not like that. What must simply be explained out of the gate is that the G1 section treats the Dreamwave Comics G1 universe as “the” G1. Which, while perhaps rather disrespectful to the cartoons and comics that actually CREATED the universe in the first place, is fairly understandable – it’s what Hasbro wants. So, what we have, then, for the bulk of the G1 section, is history, profiles, maps, technical specs and storylines that all drawn on the DW series where necessary, and in some places, shape that universe, expand on events we’ve already seen in it, or hint at future developments. But make no mistake – the original cartoons and comics are NOT disregarded, with sections of their own.

So let’s hit it.

After an intro by Furman and the intro for the G1 section, our first chunk of G1 lore is the geography and history of Cybertron in CYBERTRON, THE CITY OF IACON, CIVIL WAR and THE ARK. A map of the planet is given, featuring lots of known locations, including stuff like the Rust Sea, and the Sonic Canyons from Siren’s tech spec. A DW-verse timeline is given for historical events, and the Ark’s got a brilliant cutaway design based on its Marvel comics’ appearance, with its golden cartoon colour. The DW reason for the Ark launch is an adapted version of the “asteroid” origin from the Marvel comics, with clever use of the Space Bridge. Irritant – in this entry, and throughout the book, the name of the Ark’s computer, Teletraan I, is mis-spelled as Teletran-1. In fairness to Furman, the incorrect spelling IS the more commonly used one…

Next, we get some character-specific focus, with entries for OPTIMUS PRIME, MEGATRON, AUTOBOT OFFICERS, AUTOBOT TROOPERS, DECEPTICONS and SOUNDWAVE AND CO. In addition to the obviously named ones, we get looks at Bumblebee, Ratchet, Prowl, Jazz, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Wheeljack, Ironhide, Arcee, Shockwave, Skywarp, the Insecticons, Starscream, Octane, Soundwave, Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Ravage and Squawkbox. The entries are largely generally-written, not being specific to any one universe, except in the instance of Octane and Shockwave. As you can see, there are a few odd inclusions – Arcee, Octane and Squawkbox? They seem very out of place amongst these season 1 characters, and while Arcee’s clearly been included for her unusual nature as a female Autobot, Octane was surely the last choice to include as a representative of the Triple Changers, especially since Blitzwing and Astrotrain don’t get profiles. And Buzzsaw is bizarrely bumped for a pair of no-name combiner cassettes.

The DINOBOTS entry is a nicely-done one, giving individual profiles to the five ‘bots (Grimlock taking centre stage, of course), with a study of their faction-shifting in the DW-verse history, and an inset box comparing their contrasting cartoon and Marvel comic origins. Another subgroup gets studied in the next entry, on COMBINERS, the Constructicons, with individual profiles and coverage of combiner tech.

As I said above, the cartoon hasn’t been discarded – there isn’t room to cover EVERY episode of the TV series, so the TV SEASON 1 and TV SEASON 2 pages contained selected key episodes from both seasons to look at. They’ve chosen well, too, hitting most, if not all, of the important stories and points from the first two seasons. Inset boxes talk about the human characters (another silly mispelling with “Carlee”), Omega Supreme (episode title mispelled as “Blaster’s Blues”) and Alpha Trion. This is followed up with THE MOVIE, which goes over the film’s story, gives entries to Galvatron and Ultra Magnus, but has a surprisingly small inset box for Rodimus Prime (with a picture of Hot Rod beside it. Hot Rod/Rodimus gets shockingly little coverage in the book!). The comics get a similar treatment in US COMICS 1 and 2, and UK COMICS 1 and 2, featuring nice little timelines with simple overviews of the events of groups of issues, and more specific looks at certain events. Then, it’s back to the cartoons for TV SEASONS 3 & 4, again featuring a selection of key episodes from the end of the cartoon series. More good choices.

UNICRON is a striking entry, with great cutaway art of the chaos bringer, with the latest interpretation of his origin for the DW universe, drawing on assorted fragments of the origin as given in other comics and the Armada trading cards. I’m mildly irked at the way Furman is clearly doing this, at least in part, to make Unicron be the way he himself wants him to be, but I’m softening on the issue. The Fallen gets an inset box which makes “The Dark Ages” series make sense.

The QUINTESSONS entry is irksome, with arbitrarily-assigned new names for the faces, rather than searching for the existing information on what they represent, and veiled hints at the events of the upcoming “Age of Wrath” WW series.

PRIMUS! Yeah, he got an entry! His art is a newly coloured version of the unused WW transformed-Cybertron design. Toys with his origin as it did Unicron’s, to a slightly greater extent.

Gimmicks rule over this final chunk of the G1 section, with looks at SPECIAL TEAMS, HEADMASTERS AND TARGETMASTERS, POWERMASTER PRIME and PRETENDERS. The Aerialbots fill up the Special Team entry with individual profiles, and an inset looking at the other pre-movie Scramble City teams, while the Headmasters entry looks at Scorponok and Fortress Maximus, along with Sureshot. The details of this and the Powermaster Prime entry come from the Marvel comic, but only Prime’s makes it clear that the events took place in an universe different from the DW-verse, so whether or not this reflects what DW’s take on the Headmasters remains to be seen. The Pretenders entry looks at Cloudburst, Bomb-Burst and Bludgeon, and has insets on Action Masters and Micromasters.

Rounding out the G1 section is a look at the toys, with JAPANESE G1 TOYS, GENERATION 1 TOYS and OTHER G1 TOYS. First, there’s a brief look at Diaclone and Microman, pre-TF versions of some toys, as well as the Japanese versions of the Transformers-brand toys. A red Bumblebee is mislabelled as Cliffjumper. The US toys looked at are, of course, Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Grimlock, Galvatron, Prowl, Soundwave, repetitive Dinobot use with Slag, and to represent combiners and Headmasters, Defensor and Scorponok, and finally, Metroplex. Some choices feel a little odd… Devastator feels like he should be here.

Next is the GENERATION 2 section, opening with a double-spread of Derek Yaniger art, and leading in with VERSUS G.I. JOE. Using the G2/Joe intro crossover as its starting point, this entry looks at the other US 4-issue crossover, the UK’s “Ancient Relics,” and Dreamwave and Devil’s Due’s offerings, as well. Frankly, it’s completely needless here, and these two pages would have been better saved for use elsewhere.

G2 COMICS and BEYOND GENERATION 2 summaries the events of the G2 comic, then take a look at the future of G2 that never was, talking about Alignment and fanfiction. Once again, these two pages are a waste – I don’t think fanfiction really has a place in a guide like this.

Finally, we’ve got GENERATION 2 TOYS, checking out Megatron, Pyro, Clench, Flash, Scorch, Boss and Hurricane. Laser Rods? No? Okay.

After that slightly disappointing section we get BEAST WARS, beginning with James Raiz’s BW art from the massive lithograph, dominated by Megatron. Having nothing to do with DW, this section is all about the cartoon series and recounts it faithfully with some additions and new interpretations. THE ARRIVAL covers the coming of the Beast Warriors to the planet, with info on the Golden Disk, Energon, Stasis Pods, Transwarp and Mainfraime Animation. Single-page profiles for OPTIMUS PRIMAL and MEGATRON follow, then double-page entries for MAXIMALS and PREDACONS, dominated by large pics of Rhinox and Blackarachnia, but also profiling Cheetor, Rattrape, Airazor, Dinobot, Terrorsaur, Tarantulas, Scorponok and Waspinator.

As with G1, we get TV SEASON 1, looking at key episodes from season 1, and the same again for TV SEASONS 2 & 3 after an entry for FUZORS AND TRANSMETALS. Then, BEAST WARS TOYS is an unfortunately low-content look at the toyline, with Optimus Primal and Blackarachnia covering standard toys, Silverbolt and Quickstrike representing Fuzors, the Japanese Jaguar (Ravage) toy for Transmetals, and Optimus friggin’ Minor to represent TM2s. Seriously, no Megatron? Whatever.

This, of course, logically leads into BEAST MACHINES, beginning with Mainframe art for the intro page, then THE REFORMATTING to summarise the setup of the show, giving info on Vehicons, the Oracle and the Diagnostic Drone. MAXIMALS profiles Primal, Cheetor, Blackarachnia, Nightscream and Rattrap, and VEHICONS looks at Megatron (including a brief look at the ship mode of his Big Head form), Thrust, Jetstorm, Tankor and Obsidian, though oddly, no Strika (odd, since she’s the only other one).

Ending the BM section is TV SEASON 1 & 2, with more key episode entries, and pics, if not info, on Noble and Botanica, then BEAST MACHINES TOYS, selecting some of the best toys of the line with Tank Drone, Battle Unicorn, Blast Punch Optimus Primal, Motorcycle Drone and Night Slash Cheetor.

TRANSFORMERS ROBOTS IN DISGUISE leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, as it is simply a four-page section that looks at the toys, and briefly explains the international nature of the TV show and toyline, thought without actually doing any story or character coverage. A NEW WAVE and AUTOBOTS AND DECEPTICONS give Prime, the Spychangers, the Autobot Brothers, Team Bullet Train, Spychanger Ultra Magnus, the Build Team, Mega-Octane, Storm Jet, Megatron and Sky-Byte’s toys entries, and while that’s a fair cross-section, some pictures are mis-transformed or missing accessories – nothing too excessive, thankfully, but I’ll bet good money that the only reason Spychanger Magnus is the one they’ve chosen to show is because they couldn’t get a better picture than that hideously mis-transformed mess we’ve all got etched into our brains. Why do I bet this? Because the Prime, Spychanger and Autobot Brothers pics are all from the same ad as it was.

It has been speculated that there was on TV info in this section because Disney, who now own the RiD show, wouldn’t let Dorling Kindersly, who they consider an competitor, have access to the show in time. However, Furman’s comments at Auto Assembly make it seem that they just decided to bump the RiD section for Energon. Which would annoy me quite a bit, after the waste of space that was most of the G2 section.

But enough sour grapes. Next, getting us up to date, is TRANSFORMERS ARMADA & ENERGON, with James Raiz’s wraparound cover art for Armada #1 gracing the intro page. CYBERTRON REVISTED sets up the Armada status quo, as per the US Armada comic, then AUTOBOTS, DECEPTICONS AND MINI-CONS profiles Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Scavenger, Smokescreen, Hot Shot, Megatron, Cyclonus, Demolishor, Starscream, Thrust, the Air Defence Team, The Street Action Team, Sparkplug, Longarm, Swindle, Leader-1, and rather oddly, Iceberg and Ransack, but not the third member of the Adventure Team, Dunerunner. THE TV SERIES once again, chooses key episodes to look at, with an inset box for the Star Saber and sidebar illustrations of Galvatron and Laserbeak. ARMADA TOYS showcases Optimus Prime, Demolishor, Thrust, Red Alert, Galvatron and Laserbeak. The absence of even one Mini-Con team and pivotal characters like Starscream and Hot Shot is… well, a bit silly.

This leads directly into ENERGON, little more than a general overview of the concept, given when this was written. Don Figeuroa’s Unicron drawing dominates the entry, with some unrecognisable art for Prime, Megatron and Scorponok gracing their small entries. A single page each for AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS looks at Hot Shot, Inferno, the Omnicons (Strongarm pictured), Starscream, Battle Ravage and Divebomb. ENERGON TOYS looks at Prime, Scorponok, Unicron, Tidal Wave and Hot Shot.

The final section, DREAMWAVE COMICS, opens with Guido Guidi’s striking Predaking litho for it’s intro art, and then GENERATION 1, THE WAR WITHIN and ARMADA & ENERGON take quick looks at the stories of the individual series. The G1 entry contains quite a few mistakes, which reflects poorly on Furman, as it’s the only one he DIDN’T write, that he hasn’t bothered to look up on.

The book ends with an index and thanks page.

*yawns and stretches* My god! That ran on for a while, eh? So, how to summarise it all…

While this is a great book that I definitely recommend, it has had one or two odd and/or annoying editorial choices made in its content. And while it’s a brilliant overview, it’s still far from being “Ultimate.” It baffles me that the Marvel and DC guides can be so brilliantly comprehensive with 40 and 60 years of continuity, and yet with only 20 for Transformers, loads gets squeezed into this book, and yet there’s still a feeling that more could have gone in – most specifically in my mind would be some kind of reference to the further Japanese series, like Headmasters up to Beast Wars Neo. As I said at the start, it is also vaguely irritating that a universe so young and presently not-too-developed as the DW-verse gets regarded as THE G1, but it’s understandable, and ultimately, probably does make for more interesting reading, as we don’t know everything about that universe yet, while there’s little new stuff we can be told about the others.

So, to conclude – buy it!

Right – now I’m off to actually sit and start reading this thing cover-to-cover instead of repetitive flipping! There’s loads more to uncover!