The issue opens on the crew of Transformers that were leaving Nebulos at the end of the 4 Issue Mini-series Transformers Headmasters. The leader, Galen, is the head of Fortress Maximus and he has ordered his people and the Autobot refugees on Nebulos to leave the planet in search of Earth to answer a distress call that was sent by Goldbug (Back in Issue #37). They left for that reason and also so that the Decepticons would follow them and leave Nebulos alone. Nebulos had experiences 10,000 years of Peace until the Autobots showed up and the people became suspicious and afraid and eventually right back to their warring ways. One person in particular, Lord Zarak even went so far as to call upon the Decepticons for help in ridding Nebulos of the Autobots.
On the flight to Earth Brainstorm has made some major adjustments to Fortress Maximus. He has doubled Fortress Maximus’ size and quadrupled his fighting power. This was at the behest of Galen. Galen, who was the leader of the World Watchers, citizens of Nebulos charged with keeping the peace on Nebulos. The citizenry quickly turned against Galen when he choose to site with the Autobots and allow them to live on Nebulos. Then, he later underwent bio-engineering to change his body to be able to transform into the head of Fortress Maximus. Galen lost the love of his life, Llyra, the daughter of Lord Zarak because she believed the lies that her father had told about Galen. Later when she realized the truth and went to Galen, Galen lied to her to protect her.
All of this war and fighting has changed Galen, and not for the better. He is driven to end the war with the Decepticons at any cost. His compassion is all but gone at this point. He has become cold and distant as well as a bit ruthless. The strain of keeping it together when the world changed overnight has gotten to him and his team is feeling that as well.
This issue is the first time that the words “Binary Bonded” are used to describe what has happened to the Nebulans and the Transformers to create the Headmasters. We also see that the editors fixed the mix up between Gort and Stylor. These guys now have the correct names.
When Fortress Maximus and his new enhancements are complete we are introduced to a new Autobot, Cerebros. Fortress Maximus is too large to have Galen as his head anymore so Galen is now the head of Cerebros who then becomes the head of Fortress Maximus. Another one of those Transformers who is just created despite having not life from the Creation Matrix. Fort Max is now truly a titan. He transforms into a fully functioning battle station. Cerebros is the same size as the rest of the headmasters. Galen puts on his helmet and transforms into the head of Cerebros, which in turn transforms into the head of Fortress Maxmimus. Galen can feel the awesome new power emanating from Fortress Maximus. Power that, I feel, is going straight to his head and changing him even more.
On Earth we are presented with a scene of utter destruction. Sparkplug Witwicky’s garage and home has been completely destroyed. A car pulls up and out jumps a young man with blond hair, he looks very much like Buster Witwicky but is older. This is Buster’s brother, Spike. Our very first introduction to Spike! I always liked him int he cartoons and wondered why they went with Buster as a character in the comic books. Spike runs past the police line and starts searching the rubble for his father. Luckily, Sparkplug Witwicky is a tough old bird. He spent a day trapped under the rubble but was alive and well. The garage was destroyed by Ratbat and the Predacons who were looking for Buster and Goldbug plus the rest of the Throttelbots.
Sparkplug tells Spike that Buster is fine, he went up to Mt. Saint Hilary to get help from the other Autobots, the good guy robots. Spike isn’t quite sure about the robots and is leaning toward them being evil or at least dangerous. Spike tells dad that he’s heading up to check on Buster, to make sure that he is okay. Spike drives to the volcano where he find the Autobot base pretty easily. He enters the empty cave and finds the discarded toy car that is Goldbug. Having no way to communicate Goldbug is tossed aside and Spike continues to explore the cave. He finds all of the discarded equipment that the Autobots left and continues exploring.
Above the Earth the Autobot ship has entered Earth’s orbit. The ship will remain in orbit while the bulk of the Autobot forces will remain. Only Fortress Maximus and the rest of the Headmasters, Hardhead and Duros, Gort and Highbrow, Stylor and Chromedome, Arcana and Brainstorm and Galen and Cerebros will go to Earth. I still think that they made a mistake not pairing Gort with Chromedome since those two were the ones who started all the trouble on Nebulos in the first place. Chromedome trying to communicate with Gort and Gort tripping and falling on his head making it look like the Autobot attacked.
As the team is being assembled we see more evidence that Galen is changing. He tells the team that his only concern is the distress call and not the welfare of the beings of Earth. Interestingly it is the warrior of the group, Duros who raises the concern that maybe they should not go to Earth and risk Lord Zarak and his Decepticons landing and attacking the Earthens. The term Earthens is one of those words that goes right through me. No one corrects the Nebulans either. The team heads to Earth and to the abandoned Autobot Base because they were able to triangulate the precise location of the distress call.
At the Autobot base Spike is still exploring when the Headmasters arrive. He’s a bit overwhelmed by their size. Spike hides and listens to their conversation. Brainstorm finds the place where the distress call is emanating. The distress call came from Goldbug. They look around to find Goldbug. Chromedome hears a faint radio signal that tells them to look on the ground. They find the discarded toy car that houses Goldbug’s brain module. Chromedome patches into Goldbug’s circuitry and then replays the events leading up to the distress call where Ratbat attacked Goldbug and took Buster. Goldbug then tells Chromedome that there were dozens of Autobots who were headquartered at the base but he doesn’t know where they went. The Autobots in question are in space on The Ark. Issues 35 and 36 detail this space flight. Fortress Maximus tells Chromedome to forget about rescuing Buster from Ratbat. Their only concern is with the rest of the Autobots.
Spike decides that he cannot stand by and listen to them not help his brother so he steps out and addresses the Headmasters. He tells the assembled that his brother was the one captured and that his brother helped the Autobots because he believed that they were the good guys. Fortress Maximus again tells them that the Autobots who are gone are their only concern despite Hardhead raising an objection. Spike then tells Fortress Maximus that his first impression of them was right, they are simply cold-hearted machines. At this point Fortress Maximus’ head transforms into Cerebros and then his head into Galen. Galen tells Spike that he is wrong, they are more alike then he realizes and despite feeling sympathy for Spike’s situation, he feels no responsibility. Man this is not the Galen that I read about in The Headmaster’s mini-series. With that Galen and the Headmasters go in search of the Autobots. I’m figuring that Chromedome must have carried Goldbug off with them. It isn’t said or shown anywhere but that has to be where Goldbug ends up.
With Spike all alone he decides to stay at the cave in case his brother returns. The Decepticons, meanwhile, enter Earth’s orbit and they are not as impressed with the beauty of the Earth as the Autobots were. I believe the terms flyspeck and mudball were tossed around by Lord Zarak. The Decepticon Headmasters head down to Earth to explore the Autobot’s cave as well. When they arrive Spike hides, which was a good instinct. The Decepticons spread out and search the base for any Autobots. Spike decides that he has to warn the Autobots of the Decepticon’s presence, so he climbs up and hits the replay on the distress call again. This of course alerts the Decepticons and they stop Spike.
The Autobots hear the call and they figure that maybe the other Autobots have returned to the cave so they return. They get there just in time to stop Scorponok from killing Spike. At this point Galen realizes that he did indeed have a responsibility to Spike and to the people of Earth for bringing the Decepticons there. The Autobot Headmasters fight with the Decepticon Headmasters and Fortress Maximus’ increased size gives the Autobots an advantage even though they are outnumbered. There are 5 Autobot headmasters and Six Decepticon ones. While the fighting is going on Spike slips into a passageway to hide. Scorponok sees the blanket that Spike was using to sleep int he cave and he goes in search of Spike to somehow get the upper hand on the Autobots.
There is a confrontation between Scorponok and Spike in the bowels of the volcano. With lava all around Spike is running for his life. Fortress Maximus shows up but he is too big to follow through the smaller caves so he transforms into Cerebros and Cerebros pursues. Spike runs across a small rock bridge with lava flowing below him. Lord Zarak has detached from Scorponok and he is in pursuit. The only way that Cerebros can help Spike is to detach his head and fling it into the air at them. Galen transforms in mid air and tackles Lord Zarak. Lord Zarak radios to Scorponok to fire at the ceiling above them and a rockslide comes crashing down. Galen protects Spike and is badly hurt int he process. He then gives Spike his helmet to control Cerebros. Galen tells Spike that he has to take the helmet so that his dying was not in vain.
Scorponok is back up in the main chamber and attacking the Autobots. Without Fortress Maximus in the fight the Decepticons have gained the upper hand. That is until Fortress Maximus returns but this time is being controlled by Spike. Spike is standing on Fortress Maximus’ shoulder wearing Galen’s helmet. The Autobots rout the Decepticons and then everyone high tails it out of the volcano because it erupts, making any chance of saving Galen an impossibility. The Headmasters say that perhaps it was a fitting farewell to their fallen leader. Duros says that it is also a fitting welcome to their new one. Spike realizes that they are talking about him. Spike may become the new Headmaster for Fortress Maximus.
This issue is titled – Trial by Fire
Fortress Maximus, Hardhead, Chromedome, Highbrow, Brainstorm, Cerebros, Goldbug
Scorponok, Skull-Cruncher, Weirdwolf, Mindwipe, Snapdragon, Apeface
Galen, Duros, Gort, Stylor, Arcana, Lord Zarak, Krunk, Vorath
Spike Witwicky, Sparkplug Witwicky
Comic Book Team for The Transformers Vol. 1, No. 38 March, 1988.
Writer – Bob Budiansky
Pencil Artist – Jose Delbo
Inker – Dave Hunt
Letterer – Bill Oakley
Colorist – Nel Yomtov
Editor – Don Daley
Editor-In-Chief – Tom DeFalco
T-Shirt I am Wearing – Doctor Strange – Promo shirt for the Doctor Strange Movie
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