Despite having been a comic book property for as long as the toyline has been around, Hasbro’s Transformers lacks an incarnation with the staying power of Larry Hama’s iconic G.I. Joe run — a version of the characters that managed to stick around for decades, and remains the take on the property for many fans. Transformers, fittingly for a property that centers around change, has evolved, rebooted and reinvented itself across the years, resulting in multiple form from multiple publishers: Marvel Comics, Dreamwave, IDW Publishing, and now Image Comics, courtesy of Skybound and Hasbro’s new Energon Universe.
As a result, there’s no 'one' Transformers comics continuity to follow or recommend — but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some truly great Transformers comics out there to search out for in back issue bins. From almost four decades of rolling out across the comic industry, here are five of the best storylines to look for.
(Note: None of these titles are currently in print, either digitally or physically, due to the comic book license for the property recently moving to Skybound and Image Comics; these really are back issue finds, at least until Image and Skybound start to reissue old, pre-Energon Universe material.)
The Transformers #1-4, 1984 The original Transformer comics are prime mid-'80s Marvel Comics material, filled with melodrama, exposition and imagination in equal measure; they’re fast-moving stories that don’t just tell the origin story about the Transformers arriving on Earth, but immediately get started on what happens next, and how the war between the Autobots and Decepticons spreads across the West Coast of the U.S. and impacts the world. Even more excitingly, it ends with one of the finest cliffhangers a ten-year-old could hope for: the seeming murder of all the good guys at the hands of a newly arrived villain. Far from subtle, artistically confused — literally, each issue looks different from the one before, thanks to an ever-changing art team — and shameless in its desire to entertain at all costs, these are comics that feel like nothing around today, which is a lot of their charm.
The Transformers (UK series) #78-87, 1986
While Marvel continued to publish monthly Transformers comics in the U.S., the U.K. division of the company found itself creating all-new stories to address both a lack of reprint material — the U.K. title was weekly, rather than monthly — and a need to showcase new toys as they were released in the country. The result was a parallel continuity that co-existed with the U.S. Marvel comics, but featured entirely different characters — Ultra Magnus! Galvatron! Even Unicorn! — and time travel plots that allowed the chance to sidestep complicated U.S continuity altogether in favor of something… that, honestly, was even more complicated. 'Target: 2006' is where it all got started, and it remains a bold reinvention of a comic that didn’t even seem possible earlier. (I still feel bad for poor, conflicted, unconfident Ultra Magnus, though.)
The War Within
Transformers: The War Within #1-6, 2002
The writer of those earlier U.K. stories was a man called Simon Furman, who soon became a major figure in Transformers fandom, and eventually took over the U.S. Marvel title as well. No surprise, then, that when Dreamwave resurrected the property years later, Simon Furman was tapped to create what would become The War Within, a prequel that explores the origins of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, set a long time before any of them had even heard the word “Earth.” Recasting Transformers as an entirely different kind of sci-fi story — an outright alien war comic, in fact — it’s a more self-serious take on the property, and more proof that Transformers is, ultimately, an infinitely changeable formula to play with.
More Than Meets The Eye
The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #1-57, 2012-2016
What if… Transformers was written like the beloved '80s Justice League International comic…? It’s an unlikely question to ask, but one that James Roberts, Alex Milne, and the other creators on this era of the property ably demonstrated had a very charming answer. What’s on offer here is a character-based comic that is as much comedy as drama, and makes the robots in disguise as human as they’ve ever been. As epic as the stories in this series get — arguably some of the most epic in the property, all things considered — this group of B-list characters (Sorry, but it’s true) will emerge as some of your favorites by the time the series is over.
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1-13, 2014-2016
Perhaps the strangest of all Transformers comics is this one, created by indie cartoonist (and Jack Kirby disciple) Tom Scioli: a cross-toy line shared universe which simultaneously has its tongue in its cheek while being astonishingly sincere, it reads like a fever dream or bad trip of someone who remembers the 1980s heydays of both G.I. Joe and the Transformers, but has spent years since wondering about the socio-political leanings of both franchises. It’s a comic that really shouldn’t work — and for those who love both toys lines to the point where it approaches humorlessness, it probably doesn’t — but, somehow, it’s so out there that it all just… sings.
What about the new Transformers comic, though? Well, read here to find more about the Energon Universe.