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It's the end of a road!
N.B. No credits are given at all.
(Numbers indicate order of appearance.)
Fortress Maximus studies Highbrow's astronomy computer and wonders what one of the dials is for, as he has never seen Highbrow use it. He assumes that Brainstorm and Arcana added it, as they are very fast at inventing equipment. But then Highbrow announces he's found the planet with Transformers activity that they've been looking for: Earth. Highbrow explains that Brainstorm and Arcana have created a fuel convertor that will enable them to travel there on the fuel they have. All they need is the order to depart from Fortress Maximus.
But Fortress Maximus feels more discussion about whether to leave Nebulos is needed and gets into an argument with Highbrow. Highbrow argues that they left the stalemate on Cybertron but another has arisen on Nebulos. By leaving Nebulos, they can go to Earth and reinforce the Autobots there so as to turn the tide of war decisively in their favour and bring peace. Whilst they argue, Kord arrives. Fortress Maximus tells him they must talk and replaces his robot head with the transformed Kord.
Thinking as one, Kord/Fortress Maximus remembers how the war began when Scorponok besieged the Nebulan city and the five Autobots inside binary-bonded with Nebulans to become Headmasters, hugely increasing their fighting potential and defeating the Decepticons. But the Decepticons copied the technology, and the war came to stalemate again. Then the Autobots developed the Targetmasters, Nebulan weapons that were engineered to transform into small, Nebulan-sized robots and given minds duplicated from other Nebulans. But the Decepticons copied the technology again, recreating the stalemate. Fortress Maximus shares his despair with Kord at finding himself in exactly the type of situation he came to Nebulos to escape. Kord tries to reassure Fortress Maximus that the Nebulans now helping the Decepticons would have found a way to go to war anyway, Transformers or no Transformers, but Fortress Maximus still feels guilty and believes that escaping war isn't as simple as running away.
Whilst discussing this, Kord/Fortress Maximus has walked to Arcana/Brainstorm's lab at the outskirts of the city. Suddenly, three jets arrive—Slugslinger, Misfire and Triggerhappy! Slugslinger announces that they haven't come to fight but merely to tell Fortress Maximus that Scorponok "is coming to make an offer that will guarantee a winner to this war."
Scorponok soon arrives, standing in robot mode astride the jet modes of Apeface and Snapdragon. He announces that the stalemate is going to last a long time and proposes an alternate resolution: a one-on-one duel between himself and Fortress Maximus, using only their existing modes and built-in weapons. The army of the loser will surrender to the winner. Arcana/Brainstorm emerges and implies it's a trick, but Fortress Maximus points out the six Decepticons could have blasted him down before any other Autobots got there, but didn't. He believes Scorponok's analysis of the war is the same and the opportunity of ending it is too good to miss.
Fortress Maximus accepts the challenge and asks when it will be. Scorponok replies "Now!" and transforms. The battle rages, each Transformer briefly gaining the advantage only for the other to prevail. Kord temporarily blinds Scorponok with his blaster, and suddenly Apeface announces that there is no further need for the charade, as Slugslinger has stolen the fuel convertor. As Arcana/Brainstorm helps up Fortress Maximus, they realise this was all a diversion. As the Decepticons prepare to leave, Fortress Maximus asks how the Decepticons knew about it. Scorponok responds with a boast about superior Decepticon surveillance technology and that now they will conquer Earth!
Fortress Maximus suddenly realises the bug is in the new dial on Highbrow's astronomy computer and that's how the Decepticons knew everything, even his state of mind. So Scorponok set up the duel, knowing that if he won he could defeat the Autobots, but if he was losing, the other Decepticons could retrieve him. Either way, the Decepticons have won!
Days later, the Decepticons leave Nebulos, causing huge rejoicing amongst the Nebulans and those Autobots who don't know their destination. But Kord and Fortress Maximus announce that they must follow the Decepticons and help all their victims!
- In one illustration, Fortress Maximus is being helped by an exo-suited Nebulan who is the same size as him.
- Arcana is referred to as Brainstorm's "Nebulan Headmaster", rather than "Nebulan Headmaster partner".
- It was "exactly the same situation Maximus had sort to escape." He probably sought to escape it too.
- Scorponok is able to grab hold of Maximus in mid-transformation. Not exactly impossible, but a rare if not unique occurrence.
- Weirdwolf is referred to as Weird-Wolf.
This story tells a version of the final days of the conflict on Nebulos, including the creation of the Targetmasters, that is heavily at odds with that seen in the final part of the Headmasters series, "Brothers in Armour!!".
It should be noted that "The Final Conflict" was published at the start of August 1987, over a month before "Brothers in Armour!!" was first printed in the US in September, and written some time earlier in an era when Marvel UK had little advance information about the forthcoming US strips, so presumably, the unidentified author did not have any firm knowledge about how the story would end beyond transferring the characters to Earth. The weekly comic story "Worlds Apart!", also introducing the Headmasters and Targetmasters before there was time to work out a place in continuity, was "grudgingly" produced to meet the demands of Hasbro UK for the new toyline to be promoted, and the Headmasters' presence in the Annual may also have been to meet this demand.
Items of note
- Throughout the annual, the character elsewhere called Galen is here called "Kord". No one knows why.
- Similarly, the character elsewhere called "Gort" is always called "Grot".
- The Headmasters are shown to retain their original heads, which can be detached and placed inside chambers in their body whilst their Nebulan companions have formed their new heads. This is an idea not seen elsewhere in fiction featuring the Headmasters.
- The two heads of Fortress Maximus are shown to be very different in the illustrations. His original robot head is the familiar one from the toy, whilst the one Kord transforms into is always drawn as the head of Cerebros.
- When a Headmaster Autobot is combined with his Nebulan companion, the resulting combination is normally referred to by both names e.g. "Kord/Fortress Maximus". This is not 100% consistent, though.
- The Targetmasters' Nebulan companions are described as being robots who have been given minds duplicated from other Nebulans, rather than being Nebulans themselves as in all other Transformers fiction. Well, it presumably means they don't have problems generating the power, unlike some other Nebulans.
- Highbrow believes that the Autobots on Nebulos will be sufficient to reinforce those on Earth to defeat the Decepticons decisively forever. He may be in for a rude awakening.