Before Michael Bay's adaptation of the Transformers to the big screen in 2007, the Transformers were perhaps best known as action figures and cartoon characters. Much of the back story of the Transformers, however, must be credited to Marvel Comics, whose editorial department, especially writers Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman, turned what could have been forgettable robot action figures into compelling characters fighting for the very survival of the universe itself. Ten issues in particular from the 1980s Marvel Comics Transformers series prove that the Transformers are more than just a child's playthings. Here is a listing of what I consider to be the greatest Marvel Transformers comics of all time.
10. Transformers #67: "Rhythms of Darkness" - This issue is controversial as some fans of Transformer comics feel this story is weak. But issue 67 of Marvel Comics' Transformers series is significant for introducing Galvatron, the future leader of the Decepticons, who plays a key role in the series until its end. This story of a small Autobot resistance against the overwhelming odds of the genocidal Decepticons is also reminiscent of classic comic book stories such as "Days of Future Past" from Uncanny X-Men issues 141–142.
9. Transformers #79: "The Last Autobot" - The Sunbow Transformers cartoon series quickly forgot characters after their accompanying toy had been discontinued, but this focus on Fortress Maximus' battle against Galvatron exemplifies the Marvel Comics' series tendency to continue focusing on the best Transformers characters even after they had no figure on the market. Spike Witwicky comes to terms with his calling as earth's defender while human refugees on Cybertron discover the planet's last hope.
8. Transformers #7: "Warrior School" - One of the things Bob Budiansky did best in his early work on the Transformers comic series was to take characters that were largely forgettable on the television screen and make them star players in the comic book. Autobot medic Ratchet shines in this issue far greater than he ever did in the Transformers animated show as he stands against alone the mighty Decepticon leader Megatron and must fight a losing battle for the restoration of the Autobots.
7. Transformers #17: "Return to Cybertron Part I" - Hasbro saw the early Marvel Comics' Transformers issues mainly as a vehicle for advertising the new Transformers figures on the market, which shows in the large amount of characters introduced in each early issue with little to no character development. Many new characters like Autobot communicator Blaster and Autobot scientist Perceptor are indeed introduced in this issue. But the character development and plot are also strong in this story, perhaps the single best Transformers comic issue from writer Bob Budiansky. Faced with impossible odds on the Decepticon-controlled Cybertron, Blaster and the Autobot resistance put up a valiant fight and discover that Optimus Prime did survive his trip into space.
6. Transformers #70: "The Price of Life!" - Grimlock's fatherly concern for his Dinobots is on display as he travels to the planet Hydrus-4 and overcomes all odds to bring his warriors back to life. Optimus Prime must also deal with the threat of an enemy who is also his friend and work to keep his crew from deciding to mutiny on the eve of their surrender to the Decepticons. This issue exhibits some of writer Simon Furman's best character development in all of his work on Transformer comics.
5. Transformers #76: "Still Life!" - Dinobot Commander Grimlock spent much of the Marvel Comics' series as a brutish oaf, but writer Simon Furman brings the character more in line with his more complex toy biography in this issue. As Cybertron falls apart around the Autobots and Decepticons, Grimlock proves why he is worthy to be leader of the Autobots as he and his Dinobots face an ancient foe.
4. Transformers #61: "Primal Scream" - Until issue 61 of Marvel Comics' Transformers series, the Transformers had no well-written or complete origin story. Writer Simon Furman takes the best elements of the Transformers mythos and weaves it into a tale of a war between the gods Unicron and Primus for the preservation of the universe, a war in which the Transformers are destined to play a major part. There would not be a Unicron Transformers action figures until almost a decade and a half after this issue was published, but Unicron's background was solidified here.
3. Transformers #74: "The Void" - The fragile Autobot-Decepticon alliance against Unicron is formalized in this issue, which also features some of the most significant character development of Optimus Prime and Scorponok as they contemplate the coming war against their common foe. Scorponok, a character with almost no personality in the Sunbow cartoon, is shown to be a complex figure who seeks the best for his race.
2. Transformers #75: "On the Edge of Extinction - Unicron attacks in this climax of the Marvel Comics' series. In addition to providing a more coherent reason for attacking Cybertron than the animated movie, the noble death of Scorponok, the courage of the human Neo-Knights, and Optimus Prime's crushing blow to the ancient foe of his race makes this issue a must read.
1. Transformers #71: "Surrender!" - the day we never thought we'd see arrives as Optimus Prime surrenders to the Scorponok-led Decepticons. Beginning with a flashback to Prime's refusal to surrender millions of years earlier, his surrender in order to unite the Transformers against Unicron reveals the desperation of the hour. The issue also features an increasingly conflicted Scorponok, torn between his desire for conquest and his desire to preserve the Transformers race. This issue features the best character development and plot advancement of all the issues of the Marvel Comics' Transformers series. It is a stirring example of why the Transformers have transcended action figure status and have become a pop culture phenomenon.