Machine line, before the god-awful Challenge of the Gobots
cartoon began to seep across, had its' own comic strip. This was published
in the pages of the second incarnation of the Eagle comic. The
talent involved was Tom Tully, who was one of the main writers for Valiant's
Claw' back in the 1960s, and 2000AD artist Kim Raymond - Mario
Capaldi, a Marvel UK stalwart, draws the first batch of episodes, but
disappears after the sixth installment. Thankfully.
This was different to the American Gobots, though character names were retained at this time with a couple of changes - for instance, Twin Spin is named Carry-All, something which carried over from the toyline, while Road Ranger becomes Truck - that was the European name for Dumper, and considering the similar looks in robot mode it looks like a mix-up. The backstory is quite substantially different. It can be a little jarring even for someone like me who despises the cartoon to see Zod as a genius, or Cy-Kill as an underling, but overall I found what I've read so far to be the best 'Gobots' media. Despite the odd shoddy moment, it's pretty good - surprisingly violent, too.
Considering it was produced around the same time as the first few Transformers stories by both Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman, it stands the comparison pretty well - though it has the usual Fleetway mentality of pace and action over characterisation, a necessity of the three-page format. The different set-up actually distances it from Transformers (at least much more than the cartoon ever managed to do). Only two stories were made, the second having rather a sudden (and very odd) ending. The license was instead sold to World Distributors, who produced some not-so-good annuals and story books based more closely on the cartoon.
The first arc of Robo Machines dealt with Stron-Domez' creation of transforming robots, his flight to Earth and the Security Forces' pursuit. It also introduces Charlie Brampton. With the smallish cast, there is space for a little characterisation (both Hans-Cuff and Night Ranger come off pretty well), even if the ending feels a little sudden. Tom Tully scripts throughout, while Mario Capaldi starts off as penciller. While otherwise not bad, Capaldi struggles as the number of Robo Machines rises, and his renderings generally look like the toys - bad enough at the best of times, but worse when we're talking about the '83 Gobots range, and it's something of a relief when Kim Raymond takes over from the seventh episode on.
The pages of Eagle are in 2000AD 'magazine' format, which is slightly wider than A4. The actual artwork isn't, but it's a bitch to line them up in a scanner nicely, and impossible to get them absolutely flat. The edges of the pages are too dark as a result, and every now and then the odd letter is missing from the edge of pages, though nothing becomes incomprehensible because of this... After scanning some pages five or six times, I just decided to work from the best take and move on, I'm afraid.
The second (and sadly, final) arc of Robo Machines dealt with the escalation of the conflict of the war, introducing first Zod and then Casmodon as threats. There are some big changes across this one - the Security Forces' leader, Ex-El, disappears without warning before the start, Stron-Domez quickly changes, new Security Forces characters appearing out of nowhere... There's also a very unusual ending - Tully obviously had more planned.
I can only speculate as to why the strip ended - it could have been unpopular, or it could have been that Challenge of the Gobots was beginning to filter over to the UK, and Bandai wanted the conflicting continuity of the comic ended - by Autumn, World Distributors had issued an annual containing stories following the cartoon continuity. Another reason to dislike the show...
The second arc was ran in colour - well, technically. The black and white was joined by red, and the results weren't particularly impressive - these scans have been converted to black and white so they look a bit better.