Practitioners 12: Simon Furman

A name almost unheard of outside of a very specific line of comic books, Furman is a fan boy. He has guided, adjusted and enhanced a comic book line attached to a creation that has reinvented and recurred in popular culture for 30 years. Furman has held on to the franchise for this entire time thanks, no doubt to his considerable love of hsi subject and continued to guide it, utilising the constantly expanding and retracting – broadening and most recently positively exploding universe of Transformers to form one third of a century of entertainment to generations of children and young adults. But not just that – Simon Furman tackled childhood stalwarts Doctor Who, Thundercats, Action Force for the UK market as well as Action Force Monthly and Dragon’s Claws for Marvel UK released into the US market. It feels like he took on what he liked and made it better.

His writing is notable for the introduction of pseudo-religion and lore as an underpinning theme to the Transformers mythology. Contradicted later in the television series – he introduced the superior idea that the Transformers had been created by the colossal god-like Primus as the last line of defence against the monstrous planet-eating colossus Unicron (borrowed from the 1986 Transformers Movie). Furman’s willingness to provide pathos and engaging gravity to toy lines and cartoon worlds saw him handle multiple story lines of cross dimensional and timeline journeys that allowed the beloved original Transformers like Jazz, Bumblebee, Iron Hide, Ratchet etc, etc appear alongside Galvatron, Scourge, Rodimus Prime etc. This inherent understanding of what the fans (including me as a kid) wanted to see kept the magic and fun of the series firmly alive.

Characterisation bled from each of the characters and enhanced immeasurably the experience of reading these comics as a child, each character following as broad an arc as was possible in the confines of a comic attached to such a popular series.

It was his willingness to throw violence and mature content into a world, softened by the acts being perpetrated by non-humans that made his run on Transformers most memorable. In an early piece crossing first and second generation characters – Jazz, captured by Galvatron, laughs uncontrollably at the explanation of a plan – fuelling a rage in Galvatron that causes him to pummel the restrained captive into unconciousness. Allies and enemies are tortured – both mentally and physically. An increasingly isolated and paranoid Shockwave keeps the corpses of Cyclonus and Scourge on his wall, refusing to concede them in the face of global destruction at the hands of a time vortex formed by the appearance of future transformers in present day, as a patient Ravage tries to convince him to hand them over. In a standard comic book a battle might have ensued or a simpler ruse employed but Furman used the conceit of the situation to create greater tension in an all out slug fest between Autobot and Decepticon future and past elsewhere – something, that while effective enough on its own, would have simply represented a ‘very cool’ set of battle scenes. Furman elevated it and this he has continued to do when Marvel UK folded in the early 90s in the wake of Marvel’s considerable financial difficulties and the Transformer line went on to pastures new.

After a ten year hiatus, Furman was brought into the now defunct Dreamwave Studios to bring back a third wave (following a limited run with Marvel in 1993 lasting only 12 issues of Transformers: Generation 2) to write some of its Transformers comics, including ‘The War Within’ set in a time before the Transformers conflict spilled onto Earth culminating in The War Within: The Age of Wrath which was left unfinished with the collapse of Dreamwave. He also wrote the Energon series – which proved more popular than the anime series it was based on.

So Simon Furman could be said to be a specialist. Except his brief time writing for Marvel US’ fringe titles Sensational She-hulk, Alpha Flight, the in-house compilation What If…? series, Northstar 1-4 and the Annihilation: Ronan series for the rebooted Marvel Galaxies. Each an achievement to have made the leap over the Atlantic in the wake of Marvel UK’s dissolution.

While Furman continues to work on Terminator series; continuing his love of expanding on existing character’s universes it is an entirely different cyborg that stands out as Simon Furman’s most notable creation.

Death’s Head. A Robotic Bounty Hunter created in the pages of Transformers UK and systematically shrunk and repositioned into the expanding Marvel UK Universe it can be said that Death’s Head surpassed any other creations by Furman. Claiming he had no idea that Death’s Head was a reference to a Nazi special forces during the Second World War; never-the-less Furman created a memorable and unusually charismatic character in his robot bounty hunter. With his prediliction for finishing his sentences as a question, yes? a penchant for heavy guns and a hatred for his assistant Spratt he blended together the greatest attributes of an anti-hero and even appeared in the pages of Marvel US. He simply was the coolest thing to come out of Marvel UK in the 80s.

Death’s Head was co-opted in the 90s and murdered and assimilated by Deaths Head 2 but Furman had left his mark. The sequel to his creation spanning another five years and a repopularisation of Marvel UK across the atlantic.

He informed and inspired me as a child, before I discovered US comic books as I’m sure he inspired others and gave legends of the industry (Liam Sharp, Bryan Hitch, Geoff Senior) a chance to move onto even greater fame.

In a corner of my heart Furman’s Transformer’s continue to rage on some forgotten plane and some of what an entirely new generation enjoy in the new movies is inspired by him. An accolade by any stretch of even his considerable imagination.