Walking with dynamite – the complete (pre)history of the Dinobots as told by Marvel Comics

Please note: This article was written in 2008

Just what is it that gets kidults excited about Dinosaurs? Huge, hulking, fearsome beasts that would either swallow you up whole or trample over you to get to a bamboo shoot. Of course, that’s a rather shallow generalisation since dinosaurs come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s the really big ones that seem to capture the imagination. But if they’re so monsterous, how is it that no one seems to be scared of them? Maybe it is a question of size. The things children are normally scared off can fit under their bed or hide inside their closet. Large dinosaurs would have a hard time squeezing into children’s bedrooms, so maybe that’s why. 

If dinosaurs are so amazing and transforming robots are so awesome then robots that transform into dinosaurs must be off the scale. And they are. One particular group of dinosaur Transformers became the most popular sub-groups of all time in Marvel UK’s Transformers comic series. They were Grimlock, Slag, Sludge, Snarl, and Swoop—the Dinobots. 

The Dinobots were mean-spirited, moody and moronic. They trampled the line between Autobot and Decepticon. Heroes they may have been but their methods and tactics were downright abominable. But the one trait that defined the Dinobots was their sense of unity. They were a team, closely-knit. Dense, you might say. There was a certain magic between them, an ungrunted connection that kept readers glued to their comic panels and begging for more. A lot could be learned from the Dinobots’ actions as the Transformers comic provided allegorical tales that taught an entire generation of readers a stern moral code by which to live. 

Medical Gratitude

As the events of Transformers 32’s “The Wrath of Grimlock” unfolded, readers saw the extreme side of Grimlock’s personality. Poor Grimlock had lost a hand in battle (a combination of an inert Optimus Prime’s grip and a rampaging Guardian unit). Luckily, the Autobots’ chief medic, Ratchet, was on hand to help.

After stitching up said hand and fixing it to good-as-new status one would think Grimlock would be pleased. It seems the Autobots run their med-bay like the NHS, a free service to those that need it. Now, of course no doctor is expecting fawning gratitude, flowers, chocolates and the like; a simple thank you usually is sufficient. But Grimlock doesn’t bend that way. No. For when Ratchet invites Grimlock to test his repaired hand, Grimlock responds with a mean left hook that connects squarely with Ratchet’s jaw. Ouch! You’re welcome. Never before or since in the entire 332 issue run of Transformers does an Autobot who isn’t Grimlock attack a comrade. (Grimlock does smack Ratchet again in “Spacehikers”.) Poor Ratchet. I bet he’ll think twice about helping a Dinobot in future. Well, for at least five minutes because: Swoop had been battered unconscious by a rogue Guardian unit and required no small amount of reconstruction by Ratchet. But the problem was that there was a queue. There’s that NHS comparison again. Ratchet at first stands up to Grimlock, but caves in and performs the operation with Grimlock sulking, arms folded behind him. Doctors sure do have it tough, don’t they?

Perchance to Maim

If androids dream of electric sheep then what images haunt Dinobots as they slumber? We look to “Victory”, from the Marvel/Grandreams 1986 Transformers Annual for answers.

Grimlock, true to form, dreams of slaying Megatron. It’s a task that Optimus Prime simply wouldn’t have the stomach for but Grimlock gleefully revels in the cold blooded act of carving the Decepticon in two. With a clean slice along the ventral axis, Grimock would make a fantastic butcher. But Grimlock, even in dreams, realises that lesser Decepticons will rise up to take Megatron’s place time and again.

Swoop, it seems, may not be brave enough to take on Megatron himself but is happy to sink his talons into Soundwave and make a grandstanding flight of victory. In reality, Swoop may not be so grandiose in his actions but here he’s happy to fly into the limelight. Of course, one thing is consistent: his disdain for Optimus Prime’s command.

Like an infatuated teenager, Sludge dreams of Joy Meadows. But then, with a name like that she does sound like the subject of many a teenager’s dreams. Does Sludge ever wonder if the grass is greener on the other side? Sludge’s fears are played out in his dreams; he dreads the thought of betrayal and like most insecurities, it taints his trust.

Snarl and Slag, displaying emotions on the other end of the spectrum are warriors to the core. They dream of past fights, re-living past battles. Are they hoping to learn from mistakes? Are they seeking to refine their tactics? Well, who would have thought Dinobots would be interested in self-improvement?

Damsels in Distress

If the Dinobots hate humans and find weaker beings distasteful then why did they help the likes of Joy Meadows (in “The National Interest” and Rachel Becker (in “King of the Hill”)? The Dinobots must be sexist*. Or is there more to it than that?

*I’d say so. Just look at their attitude towards Arcee in “Time Wars”. Highly problematic.

Sludge, of course, was infatuated with Ms Meadows. It seems even 40-tonne robot brontosaurs can be blinded by love. And if that wasn’t enough for poor Sludge, he became the target of his fellow Dinobots’ condemnation. Jealous are we, Swoop? Can’t get a girl of your own?

Grimlock, too, seemed attracted to Ms Becker. But this attraction was much more subtle. In fact, he seemed to be rather impressed by her tenacity.

An awkward questions hangs in the air about these Dinobots and their lady friends. What can they possibly get from these women? A damn good punch up, seems to be the answer. It’s not the promise of dino-whoopee that stirs the urges of the Dinobots, it’s the promise of pitched-battle. Joy Meadows led the Dinobots to battle with Megatron and the Constructicons and Rachel Becker led the Dinobots into battle with Trypticon.

Fighting for Friendship

It goes without saying that the Dinobots love a good ruckus. They’ll go up against anyone at any time. All they need is a good reason. And what better reason than loyalty to a friend.

In Transformers 101-102’s “Fallen Angel”, a crazed Galvatron literally tears Centurion to pieces. That would normally be the end of it, but Centurion was a friend of the Dinobots. Centurion wasn’t even a Transformer, but a human-built and controlled mechanoid piloted by Professor Morris. See? The Dinobots can make friends outside their own species.

So of course once the Dinobots found out what had happened, they went after Galvatron in earnest. The thing to remember about Galvatron was that he’d previously tackled the combined forces of the Autobots and Decepticons of Earth and come out laughing. Once he’d handed out the most ignominous defeat ever recorded by the Autobots, Galvatron dusted his hands and returned to his errands. 

But since the Dinobots had left the main Autobot army on Earth prior to this, they had no knowledge of Galvatron and his capabilities. Not that it would have mattered, the Dinobots would still have gone after him.

The Dinobots put up a good fight, to be fair, but ultimately it was Galvatron who emerged as the victor. And to make matters worse, the Dinobots even had help from Blaster and Shockwave’s Decepticons. Blaster did manage to momentarily paralyse Galvatron, but that probably damaged Grimlock’s ego more than it damaged Galvatron.

The Dinobots’ next brawl was with Trypticon. But that fight came to a frustratingly abrupt end as the giant Decepticon dinosaur was forced to retreat back to Cybertron by Decepticon fuel auditor/energon bean counter Ratbat. But Grimlock couldn’t have been too despondant about that as the rest of the Autobots had been watching and decided to make him their overall leader. Well, what with Optimus Prime dead and Jazz and Prowl in stasis it was probably a wise decision. Or not, as it turned out.

In “Grudge Match” (Transformers 135-136), the Dinobots tussled with the Predacons. This was one battle that was on the cards since “What’s in a Name?” in the Transformers 1987 Annual. In that story, set millions of years ago on Cybertron, it was revealed that a Decepticon bested Swoop (then called Divebomb) in battle and decided to take his name to rub his beak into it. Incidentally, the Predacon Divebomb’s original name was never revealed. In some coincidental twist of irony it was probably Swoop.

Once the Predacons showed up on Earth and Swoop (that’s the Dinobot Swoop. Do keep up) found out, he went after him… alone! But the Dinobots stick together and so it was soon to be Dinobot-slash-Predacon carnage.

As the battle raged, Swoop’s shameful secret was at risk of being blurted out by Divebomb to Grimlock and Swoop was compelled to come clean about the whole thing. He needn’t have worried as Grimlock already knew, and was still happy to stick up for him. Aww.

But it begs the question: When (Dinobot) Divebomb returned from that fateful mission and started to refer to himself as Swoop and a Decepticon started to call himself Divebomb, didn’t anyone ever put two and two together?

Itching Together

The bonds forged within the Dinobot team are like cast iron. Unbreakable. Is there nothing they won’t do for one another? Apparently not if Transformers 280’s “The 4,000,000 Year Itch” is anything to go by.

Now pay attention, here comes the science: Slag was built without “Emotional Dampeners”. I don’t know what they are but they sound like they dampen emotions. And Slag, with his hatred for everything and penchant for slagging anything that ticks him off, sounds like the Transformer who might need them most.

Seemingly, every four million years or so, Slag’s rage becomes so volatile that he can’t contain it. Every four million years? That’s some prolonged cycle. Do Transformers have body clocks with low battery levels?

The last time Slag lost control, it was four millions of years ago on Cybertron and he wiped out his entire unit before Grimlock and the others got to him. Slag liquefied every member of his platoon and his mates covered it up and kept it secret? That’s loyalty. It’s also highly disturbing when you think about it. Clearly the Dinobots have no qualms about killing their fellow Autobots and are happy to form their own conspiracy to cover it up. That’s downright chilling.

Practically Jokes

Of course there is a lighter side to the Dinobots. They love a good joke, so they do. Take Transformers 267’s “Snow Fun” as an example. Well, not an example of a good joke, but an example of the Dinobot’s sense of humour.

It’s April Fool’s Day, 1990 and in Canada, where the Dinobots and the rest of the Autobot “Earthforce” live, it’s been snowing heavily. Slag, once again showing his secret engineering skills, has created a computer simulation of Shockwave challenging Grimlock to a fight. That’s the joke. Shockwave didn’t really want to fight Grimlock. It was a joke! Funny, wasn’t it? No?

S’right, s’no fun.

Nucleon Resurrection

Sometimes no amount of standing over Ratchet’s shoulders will bring a friend back from death. In what must be the Dinobot’s most poignant storyline in the Transformers comics, Grimlock leaves the Autobots, alone, in search of the notorious “wonder-cure” Nucleon to resurrect his fellow Dinobots. All five Dinobots were taken offline by the Underbase-overdosing Starscream in Transformers 208-210. 

Grimlock (by virtue of being the only one in the Pretenders toyline) was brought back to life in Transformers 248 as a Pretender. But there was no such “gift” for Snarl and the others. Well not since Megatron’s Pretender factory and Ratchet himself were blown up!

Grimlock, driven perhaps by survivor’s guilt, vowed to bring the Dinobots back to life no matter the cost. Even as he fought Thunderwing during the Matrix Quest, he missed his fellow Dinobots, hoping that the return of the Creation Matrix would breathe life back into them. Sadly, the Matrix was lost. Grimlock was crushed. And not just because of the high gravity of Cameron’s moon of VsQs.

Once news of Nucleon proliferated back to the Autobots on the Ark, Grimlock seized his chance. (Another Grimlock-punches-an-Autobot moment: this time Kup is the target.) Travelling to Hydrus Four, Grimlock fought tooth and claw to get the Nucleon. Selflessly, he tested it on himself first. Impatient and desperate to revive his friends, he deemed it safe without properly exploring its properties.

And, lo, the Dinobots were reborn!

But, as with most miracles, there was a price to pay. Weeks later, Grimlock’s body seized up completely. And right when he and the other Dinobots were being attacked by ancient underground monsters. Side-effects can occur at the most inoppurtune times, can’t they? The Nucleon had penetrated into all of Grimlock’s systems, reformatting his entire body into a leaner, meaner, non-Transforming fighting machine. Oops.

But did Swoop and the others seem to care that Grimlock had condemned them to the same dire, living death? Did they heck as like!

So what have we learned during our perilous jurassic journey? What’s the best thing to do when walking with dynamite? Apart from treading carefully, that is.

Dinobots stick together, truly no matter what. It doesn’t matter what’s out there: Annoying Autobots, dastardly Decepticons, womenfolk in terrible jeopardy, murderous tantrums or near-fatal mistakes. The Dinobots take it all in their stride. The bonds they’ve formed with each other are unbreakable,  unconditional.

There’s no “I” in team, especially when one suffers from such limited vocal capacity. 

May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!

Published by Graham Thomson

Blogger, photographer, worrier.

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