COUNTDOWN: Assessing the body count in the Underbase Saga

If you missed it, then just this week I published the first in a new series of Countdown articles exploring some of the more… brutal tales from Transformers fiction gone by. We kicked off with Time Wars, a notorious epic of the Marvel UK heydey often thought to be one of the most savage stories from that era. 

Well, as a swift (and deadly!) follow-up, we’re back to look at the event which, in terms of Marvel UK release order, came directly after Time Wars – yes, it’s The Underbase Saga! As before we’re going to be combing through the story and totalling up the number of confirmed dead characters that have been amassed by its end. OBVIOUS SPOILERS TO FOLLOW…!

 US #50, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

The Underbase saga is a real watershed moment of the original Marvel US run, spanning four issues and culminating in #50’s giant-sized extravaganza, which alone is responsible for a huge cull of a large portion of the Transformers character cast up until this point. Main protagonists are casually offed alongside background no-names in one of the most bloodthirsty epics of the comic’s entire run.

The basic premise is that the Decepticons have discovered the location of the Underbase, an ancient database of all cumulative knowledge from the Transformers race. Ultimately, Starscream betrays everyone and manages to absorb a small portion of the Underbase himself, after which he gains incredible power and goes on a rampage. He ends up taking on the combined might of the Autobots and several factions of Decepticons, although ultimately none of them stand a chance against him, as we shall see!

UK #208, artwork credit: Wildman

In the UK, where all of the US material was reprinted alongside a lot of original work that expanded the storyline, the first two parts of the saga were split over #194-197 and the story was then resumed between #206-210, meaning it bookended Time Wars in the middle. How these two stories are supposed to fit together in terms of continuity is a little shaky, especially given that an editorial note in #203 claimed the entirety of The Underbase Saga took place prior to Time Wars even beginning, which is demonstrably impossible given some of the characters who meet their end in the former here are featured in the latter. One can surmise that Underbase follows on almost directly from Time Wars then but either way, from a reader’s perspective, these two tales landing one after the other was a real double whammy! 

UK #209, artwork credit: Senior

Anyway, despite various other bizarre elements along the way (including a Decepticon plot to convert their desert island base into a tourist resort for unsuspecting humans!), the most memorable element of it all is the sheer carnage a powered-up Starscream unleashes on Autobot and Decepticon alike. Of the many characters disposed of, a lot of them would be resurrected in one form or another by the end of the comic’s run, but we’ll still be counting them as confirmed kills here. So with that in mind, let’s tally up the body count, shall we?

 

#1: Disciples of Boltax 

#197, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: 3

Killed by: Decepticons

Cause of death: Shot to pieces

Notable sound effect: BAWHOOM

The first few parts of The Underbase Saga are relatively tame compared to what follows, but there are a couple of notable deaths during The Flames of Boltax!, which we will count here despite them being shown on a projected recording of the distant past. Evidently, when Megatron and his troops went looking for the Underbase some millions of years ago, they made quick work of the so-called disciples of Boltax that guarded it. Poor loves! It’s not entirely clear but as per the silhouettes in the second panel, I’ll be clocking this one up as 3 confirmed kills. 

 

#2: Boltax

#197, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Megatron / Optimus Prime

Cause of death: Fist through the chest / blown up when the Underbase is launched into space

Notable sound effect: WONK / KRA-KOW

Then we move on to Boltax himself, who is the guardian of the Underbase. He initially presents as another mere robot and is swiftly taken apart by Megatron sticking his fist right through his chest, although it soon transpires Boltax is now much more than that, having evolved himself into the entire structure surrounding the Underbase! 

Sadly, he doesn’t last long either way, as Optimus Prime promptly shoots the Underbase off into space to prevent Megatron from getting his hands on it, and Boltax is blown up in the process. 

 

#3: Horri-Bull

#207, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Blitzwing

Cause of death: Sliced in half 

Notable sound effect: ZZAK

Back in the present day, the saga picks up the pace with an epic battle between two Decepticon forces, commanded by Ratbat and Scorponok respectively. The action gets pretty intense, as demonstrated by Horri-Bull being sliced in half here. Some of the casualties from this battle were seemingly up and about again come the next issue, but in Horri-Bull’s case, we see his body being carried off by his fellow Decepticons and given he doesn’t reappear again until #311, I think we can count this one on the tally.

 

#4: Tantrum

#207, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: 1̶ 0 (as he reappears in next issue)

Killed by: Scorponok

Cause of death: N/A

Notable sound effect: CHIK

Here’s another example of Decepticon-on-Decepticon violence, although in Tantrum’s case the character is so quickly brought back (albeit very briefly…) that it doesn’t feel right to clock this one. ‘Tis just a flesh wound!

 

#5: Soundwave

#207, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: 1̶ 0 (he walked it off)

Killed by: Bomb Burst

Cause of death: N/A

I include this panel not for how overtly gratuitous it is (c’mon now!) but rather because by all rights, having a Decepticon Pretender snacking on your innards shouldn’t be good news for anyone. Soundwave underwent a pretty swift repair job though, as he was up and at ’em come the next issue, presumably feeling a little embarrassed by the whole affair.

 

#6: Alien world

#207, artwork credit: Delbo/ Bulanadi

Kill count: ?? (we’ll count it as 1…)

Killed by: Underbase

Cause of death: Close proximity to the Underbase

This final page from #207’s Cold War! clearly shows the destructive capabilities of the Underbase as it travels through space, laying waste to a world presumably teaming with life until its arrival. The implications in terms of casualties are slightly mind-boggling… but given we only see one lone creature being offed here, we’ll count it as a single point on the tally. 

 

#7: Multiple Autobots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 2

Killed by: Decepticons

Cause of death: Various

One thing about The Underbase Saga is that it features numerous panels where multiple characters are seemingly finished off all at once. In the case of the above, several of the Autobots go on to reappear very soon in this same issue (including Mirage, despite being blown to pieces…), yet there are two names here that are never seen functional again and so can presumably be counted as confirmed kills, and those are Beachcomber and Tracks. Beachcomber is shown as being dead in #235 and Tracks all but disappears after this point (assuming you put the latterday Earthforce back-up stories aside as a separate continuity, which I do!). 

 

#8: Aerialbots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

OK, now we’re getting to the heart of this story, as Starscream’s Underbase-infused powers are unleashed upon the rest of the cast, many of whom meet their end in quick succession! Here, all five Aerialbots are grounded with but a zap of his fingers.

 

#9: Multiple Autobots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 6

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Sometimes it’s all too obvious that these stories are ‘clearing house’ and making way for new characters (ahem, and new toys) to be given the focus, although this last panel is one of the most notorious examples in Marvel Transformers history! Yes, Starscream deactivates six of your favourite Autobot heroes with but a wave of his hand! Don’t worry though, new product is already in stock, kids.

 

#10: Goldbug

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Despite having watched six of his mates being felled without any real effort on Starscream’s part, Goldbug clearly thinks he stands a better chance here. Spoiler alert – he doesn’t! 

 

#11: Jazz

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZOWEE

Next up is Jazz, who fares about as well as his comrades. You will note that the upcoming Pretender Classics get more time and attention when it comes to their death scenes, mind!

 

#12: Seacons

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 6

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZZT

The Seacons were first introduced in Marvel US #47 at the start of The Underbase Saga, and here they are merely four issues later being dismissed. That’s showbusiness, folks! You do only see (sea?) five of their number in these two panels, but then Skalor is confirmed as meeting the same fate come the next…

 

#13: Jetfire

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZAP

Yep, ol’ Jetfire goes down for the count here too, despite having escaped when the Aerialbots were destroyed earlier. The character was never seen again in the Marvel timeline, despite a subsequent letters page suggesting he was alive somehow… still, we’re counting it!

 

#14: Blaster

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZZOW

Some of these character deaths are perhaps a little too easy to gloss over, given how quickly and matter-of-factly they happen, but certain examples carry a bit more weight if only because they see the end of some big names who had been very prominent in the storyline up until this point. If you read either the US or UK print of the Marvel comic, chances are you were a Blaster fan, so to see him polished off like this was at least a little bit shocking at the time! 

 

#15: Throttlebots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZZAP

On the flip side, we have panels like this, where all five Throttlebots (apart from the already-dead Goldbug, of course!) are given a short, sharp BZZAP off the page! They don’t even get to transform for the moment.

 

#16: Thundercracker & Skywarp

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 2

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZZT

Similar story with Thundercracker and Skywarp. Starscream is not one for sentiment, eh?

 

#17: Dinobots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 4

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZAT BZZT BZOW

Next to go are four of the Dinobots, as you can see Grimlock staring on in horror in the top right of the second panel. Their deaths would eventually become the catalyst for their leader seeking out the method also used to revive a lot of the other characters killed off here, but that’s a matter for another time!

 

#18: Predacons

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BZAP BZOW

Tantrum may have miraculously healed since Scorponok tore him in two earlier but this moment appears to be more final. Only he and Headstrong were ever seen again in continuity after this, and even then not until Generation 2 (assuming you count that as part of the canon, mind!). 

 

#19: Grimlock

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream/ Decepticon Pretenders

Cause of death: Shot to pieces 

Notable sound effect: BWAM

Despite having survived the assault on the rest of the Dinobots, Grimlock is given special attention here (much like Goldbug and Jazz, eh?) as Starscream whisks him in front of the various blasts from the Decepticon Pretenders’ guns. Despite once being the leader of the Autobots in this continuity, he’s left a burning husk on the floor – harsh!

 

#20: Decepticon Triple Changers/ Buzzsaw & Laserbeak

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Right, now we’re really clearing house! Octane, Astrotrain, Blitzwing, Buzzsaw and Laserbeak are all annihilated in one panel as Fortress Maximus and Soundwave look on. They were so last season!

 

#21: Technbots

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: SPKOW

Something about the juxtaposition of these two panels still makes me chuckle a little, as the Technobots make a dramatic entrance in one, only to be swiftly disposed of with a decisive SPKOW in the next. Take that, nerds.

 

#22: Terrorcons

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 5

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

OK, I’m going to say it. If I were the Terrorcons and I’d just watched the Technobots getting taken apart without a second thought, would I really be so keen to jump in and take over? In any case, they end up with one of the least auspicious death scenes in the entire saga, as you cannot even clearly make out what’s going on in the third panel, so it’s left to Starscream to handily inform us of their demise.

 

#23: Soundwave

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1̶ 0 (as he reappears soon enough!)

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: N/A

Notable sound effect: ZRAK

Poor Soundwave. First, he’s turned into Bomb Burst’s lunch and now he’s felled as an afterthought. Still, don’t feel too bad for him as he would soon reappear, popping up again in #248 of the UK comic and #61 of the US version, so I guess we have to assume he survived this encounter somehow.

 

#24: Omega Supreme

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Starscream

Cause of death: Underbase power

Notable sound effect: BAWOOM

Less fortunate is Omega Supreme, who, as Starscream is all too quick to point out, once deactivated the Decepticon Seeker himself, during his first appearance in UK #70-71. Starscream is not one to forget such a thing, so this feels a little personal, to say the least, and sadly Omega is never seen alive again (despite appearing as a corpse in a future story)!

 

#25: Ratbat

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Scorponok

Cause of death: Shot in the back

Notable sound effect: SKRAK

With Starscream’s rampage coming to an end, we now have a rare moment of a character being killed by someone else here, as Scorponok betrays his temporary alliance with Ratbat by shooting his fellow Decepticon commander in the back. The resulting demise is a fairly significant moment as Ratbat had been a big player up until this point, but unlike many deaths on the list, this one stuck.

 

#26: Starscream

#208, artwork credit: Delbo/ Hunt

Kill count: 1

Killed by: Underbase

Cause of death: Underbase power overload 

All of which brings us to the final death of all, as Starscream consumes the entirety of the Underbase in one hit and is immediately elevated to a level of extreme power that no one entity can contain, as is proven by the immediate consequence in the second panel! That’s some kind of extreme comedown but I suppose you have to hope he enjoyed his godhood whilst it lasted, eh?

 

Thus, our final tally is…

WOW. Compare that to the number clocked up during Time Wars and there’s no competition about which of the two sagas delivered the bigger body count overall. That said, it’s understandable given the Marvel UK comic needed to be a little more cautious with which characters it killed so as not to disrupt the US storyline, and there’s little doubt that the violence depicted in those pages was a lot more savage (and thus quite nightmare-inducing) than what we see here. Still though, in terms of sheer numbers, The Underbase Saga is going to take some topping! 

 

So that’s the lot… for now! Which other stories would you like to see assessed?

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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