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. They are...THE TRANSFORMERS
Being one who didn't get to first read the Marvel G1 comics until around 2010, my history with them is quite different from those who got to read them well before then.
As a child of the 90s, I had no knowledge or awareness of the Marvel comics until reading about their stories on the Internet in the early 2000s. Back then, it was around the time when the G1 cartoon had been released on VHS and DVD by Kid Rhino and the 2001 Robots in Disguise cartoon was still airing on Fox Kids in reruns (until Fox Kids's eventual demise, boo!). Transformers: Armada was just around the corner, but I didn't get to see it as much at that time. Nevertheless, being a kid who grew up on Beast Wars and Beast Machines, I was eager to see the G1 cartoon since everyone back then had told me that the G1 cartoon was the show that the starred ancestors of the Beast Wars cast and took place in the same timeline as the Beast cartoons (little did I know at the time about the whole "Arthurian legend" status that the G1 lore was intended to be for Beast Wars).
Anyway, I got the DVD boxed sets of the G1 cartoon and the DVD of the 1986 movie and, of course, that movie blew my childlike mind away. So when the announcement came that Unicron was going to be appearing in Armada and getting a gigantic (at the time) new toy too, I was psyched as all get out. I wanted more. I wanted to know more about Unicron. As much as a could learn about him. The G1 cartoon had its origin episode for him in "Call of the Primitives" and a few guest appearances in "Ghost in the Machine" and "Grimlock's New Brain", but I wanted to know more about who/what he was exactly. What was his life like before the movie's events? Why did he go around eating planets beyond mere sustenance? What kind of life and experiences had he lived through before the events of the movie?
So I took to the Internet and not only discovered information about his Marvel G1 history (the Primus backstory and such), but about the Marvel G1 comics in general. There was this whole other world of Generation 1 Transformers out there. A completely separate story from the one I had viewed on DVD. One that, to my younger self, seemed to hold a much richer and involved history for Unicron than the cartoon ever divulged.
However, much like how my younger was under the misconception that the cartoon was one true backstory for the Beast Era cartoons, so too was I also under the misconception that all Transformers cartoons were the definitive versions of each series's story, and that the comic books "didn't count". For some stupid, ignorant reason, I wrote off the comics as being just mere alternatives to the "main versions" (the cartoons) and didn't view them in any light equal to the cartoons. I guess it didn't help that Dreamwave was beginning its run of comics at the time, which to my mind was yet another "side thing" that didn't matter to the "more important" cartoon.
Still, despite my ignorance, because the Marvel comic version of Unicron's backstory was so ubiquitous online, I in my further ignorance took it as fact for the cartoon version of Unicron as well, rationalizing that the cartoon's Primacron origin wasn't as true as it claimed to be, thinking instead that Primacron merely rebuilt Unicron into his physical form, taking credit for Unicron's overall creation when such was nothing but a claim rooted in hubris. It also didn't help how, around the time of Unicron's appearance in Armada and Energon, Simon Furman was pushing for the claim that there was only one Unicron in all of Transformers, so that told me that his Primus-rivaled comic origin had to apply to the cartoon version as well.
I eventually got out of my "only the cartoons manner" state at some point and it wasn't until around 2010 when I first decided to seriously give an honest read at the Marvel G1 comics to finally see what all I had missed out on in the time before my time. But since there was also the UK stuff to read in addition to the U.S. stuff, I had to figure out how I was gonna read those issues in relation to the U.S. ones. So, I in my stubborn vigor chose to go with the HARD way to get the most authentic reading experience that I could: I read only the U.S. stuff first in production order, from Issue #1 all the way to the final G2 issue, with each issue of the supporting mini-series (the G.I. Joe crossover, TFTM, and Headmasters) read in between certain issues of the main G1 series, and the pre-G2 G.I. Joe issues of course were read in between G1 and G2. Then, once all of that was done, I went back as reread all of the U.S. stuff but this time WITH the UK issues included in their order of release, as well as the short-lived Fleetway G2 comics afterward. But before reading the Fleetway G2 issues, I also read all of the G1 UK annuals after finishing the 332 UK issues.
And now I'm happy to say that, for all the flaws of the old Marvel G1/G2 comics, I really enjoyed them for what they were. There's something magical about them that I felt was lacking from the cartoon. Something... substantial. As though every story, even the weakest ones, had something that mattered to the overarching narrative that carried the story from issue to issue, as though it was wrong to skip out on just about any issue. Whereas with the cartoon, if you missed the odd episode of Seasons 2 or 3, you didn't miss much. Though, I will give the cartoon props for giving a more even distribution of characterization to most of its characters, whereas the comics seemed more to play favorites with who would get the most character focus.
The UK issues especially felt mesmerizing. There was this sense that, like Batman: The Animated Series, the stories were written with kids in mind but never shied away from treating the readers like people instead of like kids. It was real, it was sincere, it was wholesome. Furman really put himself into these stories when he didn't have to give the level of effort that he did. It really shows that he was making something special out of these issues, with "Target: 2006", "The Legacy of Unicron!", and "Time Wars" being the obvious but still well-deserved standouts, along with the nameless arcs involving Optimus and Megatron going back to Cybertron before Budiansky was gonna take 'em both out of the story, and the arc with Death's Head/Rodimus/Magnus/Galvatron at Mount Verona. In my first impression, almost nothing in the U.S. Budiansky stories matched up to the level of awesome that these UK sagas had, with the notable exception being the early stuff with Ratchet and Shockwave in issues #5-12. Only when Furman took over the U.S. comic did it feel as good as the UK stuff again.
But that isn't to say everything Budiansky did was inferior. The "Return to Cybertron" 2-parter was amazing, "Decepticon Graffiti!" made me want more out of the Battlechargers, and both Shockwave and Ratbat were two of the best Decepticon leaders in the whole run of the comic. I even have a guilty pleasure soft spot for the much-reviled "Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom!" As goofy as that story is, I just can't hate it. It's too delightful in how bonkers it is.
To this day, I still haven't read Regeneration One. Not out of spite but out of laziness. I'll give it a fair read someday, but it's just not a priority right now.
Final thoughts, the Marvel G1 comics are a treasure. Not perfect, but a recommended read for any hardcore Transformers fan. And they also hold the distinction of containing both the worst and the best deaths of Optimus Prime ever ("Afterdeath!" and "On the Edge of Extinction!", respectively. When I first read "On the Edge of Extinction!", I cheered and applauded when I got to the panel where Optimus plunges himself and the Matrix into Unicron, causing him to explode mightily).
They were the dream--mechanical beings able to transform their bodies into vehicles, machinery and weapons; a last line of defense against the chaos bringer, Unicron! They are at war, heroic Autobot pitted against evil Decepticon, both on their homeworld, the metal planet called Cybertron, and here on our Earth. They are the galaxy's last hope, they are-- TRANSFORMERS