Ark Duty was the last of the comic stories published in the 1988 annual of the UK comic. It was written by Simon Furman and drawn by Will Simpson.
In the year 2003 Ultra Magnus is presiding over a demonstration of the capabilities of the newly designed Autobot City. Earth has agreed to give the Autobots the resources they need to build the mighty fortress and now all that's required is for a convoy to go to pick them up. This requires almost all of the Autobots so only Blurr and Hot Rod are left to guard the Ark. Kup, meanwhile, has the most dangerous mission of all, to single-handedly transport the tape of the City plans to Earth's government. (A single Earth Government? In 2003? That's a very amusing reversal of the cartoon's suggestion that the Soviet Union will still be around in 2006.)
Hot Rod is peeved at being relegated to "Ark Duty" and mutters to himself while, unseen, Ravage, the sneakiest Decepticon of all (nice to know he'd get out of that mineshaft at least by 2003) lurks, having recorded all of the Autobots' plans! He leaves to tell the Stunticons while the Autobot convoy rolls out and Kup reitterates their responsibilities to Blurr and Hot Rod.
Hot Rod watches the monitor as Kup continues his mission and is shocked to see him come under attack by the Stunticons. He realises that they must be after the tape and immediately leaps into action. Blurr reminds him of his duty and tries to stop him but Hot Rod will hear none of it.
He catches up with the wounded Kup and gets him back on his feet. The Autobot veteran tries once again to stop Hot Rod pursuing the Stunticons but Hot Rod will not be deterred. He catches up with the Stunticons and engages them. Unfortunately he is soon bested by Motormaster and completely fails to retrieve the tape. The Stunticons kick him around for a bit and leave him for dead.
Kup arrives and explains what has actually been going on. Ultra Magnus' plan was to let Ravage find out about the tape and think that Kup was carrying it so that the Decepticons could steal it and think they had access to all of Autobot City's secrets when actually all the information was fake. Blurr was sending the real information via a speeded-up radio transmission. Kup tells Hot Rod that he should have listened to orders and that he needs to learn to be less impetuous. Hot Rod is just grateful that the Decepticons don't have anything useful and that by getting beaten up he may have actually helped the ruse. He does suggest, ruefully, that next time he might stay in the Ark but Kup doubts it very much.
Ark Duty is a very good illustration of the sort of stories that can be told outside of a serialised comic-book format. It's fairly lightweight but tells a complete story and, more interestingly, fills in some detail of a time we know almost nothing about. Traditionally the G1 story jumps from some time in the late 80s to after Autobot City is built so it is nice to visit a different time period. The aforementioned Earth Government is an intriguing titbit and it makes sense that the Autobots must be a good deal more public now if they are allowed to build a gigantic fortress. This never seemed such a big deal in the cartoon because the Autobots had a tendency to hang out with humans anyway, but in the main timeline of the comic the Autobots were still taking the "robots in disguise" motto seriously and it would be interesting to see the events that led to this turnaround.
The story itself is a solid character piece for Hot Rod without being particularly special. We have mostly seen his Rodimus Prime persona up to this point so it is fun to visit his less mature incarnation. His arc doesn't boil down to much more than "Hot Rod should think before he acts" but it doesn't really follow through on this. I'm not blaming Furman here - I don't think I've ever read or watched a story where the impetuous devil-may-care hero learns this lesson in a serious way. As a species we just seem to prefer heroes who break rules and make up their plans on the fly and this is Hot Rod to a tee.
Unfortunately for the story as a whole I find it a little unbelievable that Ultra Magnus would give Kup such a risky mission. There is a very real chance that he could have ended up dead or much more severely damaged. Similarly, it is equally unlikely that the Stunticons would not have taken the opportunity to take Kup offline or to capture him. Perhaps in only eight pages these logical flaws are not particularly severe but they do marr an otherwise well-told story.
Will Simpson's art is decent without being stunning. I especially like his opening couple of panels with Autobot City in full battle mode. This turns out to be a fakeout into Ultra Magnus' demo in the actual story but it is a great way to open with a bit of action.
All of the 1988 annual stories were fairly strong, although finishing the Galvatron storyline in the annual was something of a dirty trick. Check back on Wednesday for a review of Dark Of The Moon and then next week for more classic action from the UK comic with Ancient Relics. Jim will, of course, be keeping up his regular Ark Addendum updates and, I believe, has a special post brewing to cap off his epic journey through the classic US continuity.