Soundwaves vs the Transformers – how an alien tape recorder’s propaganda convinced readers to hate a Saturday morning cartoon show

Marvel UK’s Transformers comics had letters pages that were hosted by actual Transformers.

No, I’m not joking. 

Throughout the course of its 332 issue run, the letters pages were hosted by the likes of Soundwave, Ratchet, Grimlock, Dreadwind, and Blaster. Some people will tell you that, in fact, it was just the editor at the time posing as a Transformer. But to the thousands of kids that read the Transformers comic, the letters page host was like Santa Claus; someone to write to every so often in the hopes of getting a Transformer in return. 

In short, we believed. 

We believed that it really was Soundwave answering our letters, and that what he told us was the absolute truth. And besides, what reason would anyone have to not trust a Decepticon? 

There was one particular subject that Soundwave had a bee in his bonnet (or should that be a condor in his chest compartment) about: the Transformers cartoon. Over and over readers were told, either outright or subversively, that the cartoon paled in comparison to the comics, that the comic represented a truly accurate depiction of the Autobot/Decepticon war and that the blokes in charge of the cartoon made it up as they went along. It was propaganda in its purest form. We were brainwashed. Perhaps the editors of the comic were scared that their readers would prefer the cartoon and stop making that weekly trip to the newsagent. But don’t take my word for it! Look at the evidence.

Ratted Out

Transformers 29 had this letter from James in Yorkshire: 

“I am writing to say how much I enjoy the Transformers cartoon series on the Roland Rat show. I have my Mum video it, and I watch it at least eighteen times a day. I also subscribe to your comic, have the Summer Special, and the Ladybird book Autobots’ Lightning Strike. I love them all. Could you tell me though, why the stories differ a little from each. My personal favourite is the comic version.”

Soundwave’s response: 

“So as to make the telling of our victory over Autobots (puttup!) as straight-forward as possible, this comic relates the accurate details of the trouncing we have given them. Other mediums—such as the TV series—use the basic facts, and build up stories around them.” 

Giving a Dam

In Transformers 33, Ewan from Dartford wrote: 

“I have read issue 29 of The Transformers about 10 times, and still cannot get over the fact that Decepticon Dam-Busters is the same as the cartoon series. Why is this?”

Soundwave replied: 

“As I mentioned on a previous page, the TV series producers take the basic facts (as shown in Decepticon Dam-Busters) and make their own story up around them. Therefore, the TV series is merely an adaptation of the facts—hence the similarity.”

Early Morning Dinobots

Iain from Bristol had the following published in Transformers 43: 

“Could you please tell me what ITV are doing with the Dinobots on TV-AM? Prime is heard to say that they were created by Ratchet and Wheeljack, but I always thought they were created millions of years ago, a short while after the Ark first crash-landed on Earth.”

Soundwave responded with: 

“As I have mentioned on other letters pages, the TV series is meant to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously. Their stories are fiction based on fact.”

Chest Friends

Kevin, from Plymouth, really wound up Soundwave’s spools with this one in Transformers 48: 

“Timothy Ritson wrote in to ask you how you fitted all your spy cassettes into your chest compartment at one time. You replied that you only keep one in at a time, but a short while later while I was watching the cartoon series you said, ‘Rumble, Laserbeak, Ravage… prepare for battle.’ And out came Rumble, Laserbeak and Ravage!!”

Soundwave replied with: 

“It’s getting beyond a joke when the makers of the Transformers cartoon series take liberties concerning facts about my glorious self! For the last time—the cartoon series is a fictional account of the Autobot (puttup!)/Decepticon war—and manages to get just about everything wrong. As you earthling say—take it with a pinch of salt.”

Having a Pop

In Transformers 50, Soundwave’s cultural sensibilities were put into question by D. from Southport: 

“Whilst watching the cartoon series of the Transformers, I noticed that when you took over a solar power station and transformed to your cassette player mode, you played some music on Laserbeak before ejecting and transforming him. Does this mean you have an interest in pop music and parties? I’m not too sure that Shockwave would approve.”

To which Soundwave replied: 

“Let me quash this falsehood firmly and instantly. I do not—repeat not—play, record or like that cacophony that you Carbon-Based Units describe as pop music. My spy cassettes are purely for the recording of information or plundered technical data. I find the ‘music’ broadcast on your airwaves painful to my audio sensors. However, a certain sophistication can be found on the British wavelength designated Radio Three. Now that’s what I call music.”

Skyfired Up

By the time of Transformers 56, the readers themselves had come around to Soundwave’s way of thinking, as this letter from Michael of Colchester exemplifies: 

“This has gone far enough! Yes, it’s about that troublemaking Transformers cartoon series again. First off, who on Earth is Skyfire? Is this Jetfire? Has the Carbon-Based writer made an error? Or is this what Jetfire is called in the U.S.? Secondly, is Cybertron about the same size as Saturn? Yes? Well, in the cartoon it has shrunk down to the weedy size of a supermarket shopping centre. Any more of these cartoonic errors and I swear I’ll explode!”

Soundwave’s response was: 

“I had no idea humans possessed self-destruction circuits. You learn something new every day in this job! As I have said on previous occasions too numerous to mention, the cartoon series is littered with inaccuracies and blatant mistakes. Skyfire is indeed Jetfire (puttup!) and Cybertron is larger than any planet in your miniscule solar system. For the story as it really is… read the comic!”

On Ice

In Transformers 60, Michael from Wellingborough wrote: 

“In the Panini Transformers sticker album it says that Jetfire (puttup!) was a missing Cybertron scientist, and that he was found buried on Earth under the ice. Is this the case, or is this some pathetic human ploy?”

Soundwave replied with: 

“Let me state here and now that the sticker album follows the same stories as the TV cartoon series, and therefore is prone to the same material inaccuracies. For the facts about the Transformers story, take the comic as gospel!”

Taking Flight

An innocent enough and unrelated to the cartoon question from Guy of Southport in Transformers 63 set Soundwave off on one again: 

“Can any of the Transformers fly in their robot form? If so, which ones?”

Soundwave replied with: 

“Those capable of robot-form flight are Laserbeak, Buzzsaw and Shockwave for the Decepticons and Sideswipe (puttup!) for the Autobots (puttup!). And before all you pen-happy fleshlings write in to tell me that more Transformers fly in the cartoon series, I KNOW! But like I said many times before, those stories are fiction, nothing more.”

Actual Fact

There was one last anti-cartoon letter in Soundwaves, shortly before Soundwave bowed out as letters page host. It seemed that at long last, his work was done, and he was ready to move on. In Transformers 69, Andrew from Rainham came up with this: 

“You’ve been sent a lot of letters concerning the Transformers cartoon series, so I decided to make a fact-file for it. NAME: TRANSFORMERS (obviously!); FUNCTION: Giving the wrong idea about the Transformers story; MOTTO: “Getting it wrong is what life’s all about!”; ABILITIES: The cartoon has been known to drive kids up the wall, and make Soundwave crazy having to answer all the letters about inconsistencies; WEAKNESSES: The cartoon stories.”

Soundwave’s succinct reply was: 

“I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

It’s not all bad, however. In fact, in Transformers 28 Soundwave actually had something positive to say about the cartoon: 

“The Transformers TV series was a big hit with all the readers who wrote in to comment on it. I thought I came across very well, don’t you think? Anyway, the series has finished its run for the moment, but if you’d like to see more, why not write to TV-AM and tell them how much you enjoyed it.”

Notice, though, that no address for TV-AM is given! 

So the next time you see a death-threat laden barrage of profanic online message board posts arguing the goods and the bads of the Transformers comic and the Transformers cartoon, consider the root of the argument against the cartoon. For over a year there was a subtle, subliminal stream of anti-cartoon propaganda aimed at impressionable young readers and the best argument one can come up with as to why the original Transformers cartoon was rubbish is this: Soundwave said so.

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

Published by Graham Thomson

Blogger, photographer, worrier.

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