Today marks the 25th anniversary of the TransFormers franchise. Well, the observed anniversary, anyway; as G.B. Blackrock details on The Allspark, a specific date of Hasbro announcing the toyline or finding the airdate of the first commercial would be entirely too difficult, if not impossible. Ergo, the date of choice is that of the release of the first issue of the comic book from Marvel.
A number of us are making special blog entries today to commemorate the event, and you can find out who else is in at Blackrock’s Bloggers Unite page. I myself have not really had any solid idea of what to write about; there are just so many facets to the TransFormers franchise to think about. So, I’m simply going to write about my history with TransFormers.
My introduction to TransFormers was a little rocky at first. I was a huge fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. But that star soon began to fade, making way for other afternoon cartoons, including G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, He-Man’s own sister show (literally), She-Ra: Princess of Power, and of course, the two warring factions from Cybertron. Without much other alternative at the time, I began watching the cartoons starring these newcomers who had dethroned “the most powerful man in the universe.”
I favored TransFormers over G.I. Joe, and they began to grow on me, though I was slow to get the toys; MOTU was still running strong for a while there. However, my late cousin did have an original Optimus Prime at the time, and I did find myself playing with his fistless, rifleless self whenever I would visit. And eventually, my parents would get me a TransFormer of my very own.
My first TransFormer, an Autobot, was a bit of a strange one. His name was Twin Twist, and was of a unique breed of Cybertronian known as a Jumpstarter: Pull back on his double-drill-bearing tank form, and he would race forward with the aid of a small motor inside, and then a switch would release, allowing him to “jump” into the air and land on his large feet in robot mode.
Unfortunately for me, Twin Twist was never a big name in the franchise, at least where anything that I could partake in was concerned. His comic book appearances were relegated to one or two background appearances, and an entry in the TransFormers Universe profile books Marvel released. He never had a cartoon appearance, or even so much as a commercial. However, I would learn years later that in the UK comic books, he was featured a little more heavily as one of the Wreckers, an elite squadron of Autobots who stood alongside characters such as Roadbuster, Ultra Magnus, and Springer, and were called in to handle only the toughest jobs. Regretfully, that revelation came a little bit late for playtime, but it’s still sort of cool in hindsight.
Also regretful is that I no longer have Twin Twist; he is one of those I’ve often meant to regain, but have found myself unable to for this reason or that. I would love to have him again, though.
Otherwise, it was a bit of time before I could get more; my parents were convinced that the competition, Tonka’s GoBots were the superior toy. And while that argument sometimes still persists– they weren’t all that bad– the affiliated cartoon, Challenge of the GoBots, was rather lacking when stacked next to the robots in disguise. I do kind of wish Hasbro, who now owns Tonka and the GoBots IP as a result (though not the designs for the toys), would find a way to revive them. The concept behind them was cool, but the cartoon was lacking. Some characters, such as Bugbite, have been resurrected as part of the modern-day TransFormers lines, with their backstories saying they “hail from another universe,” so it’s a start.
Anyway, so it went: I enjoyed TransFormers, but at the same time, something was missing to me. There was something lacking there to me, in that I enjoyed the cartoon and liked the characters, particularly the rough ‘n’ tumble types like Cliffjumper and Ironhide or the cool ones like Jazz and Blaster, but never really singled any one out as a true favorite. Optimus Prime was cool by default, of course. Then things began to change: New TransFormers who weren’t based on everyday vehicles like Jetfire and the Dinobots began to appear. However, the former was a touch dull in personality, while the latter were usually jerks. But then, I think I came upon my first favorites: the Aerialbots.
To me, the Aerialbots were kings. They were Autobots, but they were planes. And what’s more, they could combine to form the first of many Autobot Combiners to come: Superion. However, even though they’d begun appearing on the cartoon, it was still a bit of time before I could acquire any toys of them.
Somewhere during this period, I acquired a three-pack of Marvel’s TransFormers comic book at a local grocery store or K-Mart, back when they used to sell such things. The issues I got were #13: Shooting Star!, #14: Rock and Roll-Out!, and #15: I, Robot Master. And to be perfectly honest, as a kid, none of them did anything to endear themselves to me. Besides the differences from the cartoon, differences I would later come to embrace, the stories didn’t hold up as well without the greater run of the series to stand alongside them.
13 was barely even about TransFormers; the only one present was Megatron, who was basically mindwiped and “looked wrong” without the attachments he wore on the cover. 14 was okay, but sort of plain; perhaps the most cartoon-like of the bunch, and 15 introduced the “Robot Master,” a wimpy human named Donny Finkleberg. In the end, I put the book down and went back to my cartoons.
Soon came the next big thing for TransFormers: 1986’s TransFormers: The Movie. Beyond good. Beyond evil. Beyond your wildest imagination.
…and completely beyond my ability to go. My parents completely refused to let me see it in theaters, something which I still regret to this very day. I don’t even remember them giving me any sort of reason; it was simply “no.” My understanding is that the film did poorly at the box office; I figure it was thanks to parents like mine that it didn’t succeed. But in addition to not getting to see the future and all these great new TransFormers like Hot Rod, Galvatron, and more, who to me all had designs far cooler than what we had been given up to this point, it left me at a disadvantage.
The Fall of 1986 brought a new season of the cartoon show, only now, it took place after the events of the movie which not only did I fail to see, but changed the status quo in a big way. Cybertron belonged to the Autobots, who now had a new leader in Hot Rod’s matured Rodimus Prime form; Optimus Prime was MIA to me. There was some big head floating around Cybertron now, the Decepticons were now on their own world called Charr, and the Autobots now had a city on Earth. And speaking of the Autobots, where were the old crew? Springer, Ultra Magnus, and such were cool, but where were Ironhide, Prowl, and Wheeljack?
I would soon learn the whole, grisly truth later, when the movie reached VHS. I think it was near the time the third season was coming to a close, or at least that’s when I got to see it. But by that time, I had come to embrace the new status quo. I will openly admit: I loved Rodimus Prime. For a time, I came to enjoy him more than Optimus Prime, for reasons I can’t even recall. I think a lot of it was superficial, though: a futuristic vehicle form, blasters up and down his arms, flames adorning the Autobot symbol on his chest, and I rather liked the color orange at the time. That, and I liked his sometimes-sarcastic tone.
Galvatron became a favorite over Megatron, as he looked cooler. Cyclonus, his second-in-command, wasn’t as whiny as Starscream, and turned into this cool futuristic space jet, to boot. There were now transforming cities, bigger than I could imagine. Battles across space and various new planets. The post-movie season, despite some of its flaws, turned the entire concept up to 11 for me; while some kids would swear by Star Wars or even Star Trek, my outer-space action now came from TransFormers.
After Twin Twist, many of my TransFormers toys came from season three, with one of my first was actually the much-reviled Wheelie. Many fans hate his rhyme, but I certainly liked him at the time. After all, he was a futuristic car, and he was orange…
Anyway, soon after Wheelie increased my Autobot ranks to two, my parents got me Rodimus Prime, who was my very first Prime, which added to the special meaning for me. I got many others for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions as well, including Ultra Magnus, Metroplex, Cyclonus, Scourge, and even the Aerialbots! My first was Slingshot, but after some collecting, I was able to form Superion. That is, until some mishaps occured.
My Aerialbots were cursed, it would seem. The leader, Silverbolt, would suffer a gruesome fate as one friend applied a little too much force in attempting to transform him, snapping the leg off. His mother attempted to remedy this with some glue, but unfortunately, it would prevent him from transforming again, leaving me with a robot who could turn into a plane with a leg sticking out of the back. Fortunately, my mother took pity on me, as Silverbolt was one of my favorites (not many other Autobots could transform and ferry around all his Autobot and Aerialbot teammates in the cartoon, after all), and she bought me a replacement.
Unfortunately, Air Raid was not so lucky. I made the unfortunate decision to sneak him to school with me one day, where some pathetic, wretched piece of slag stole him. He was never replaced, and so Superion was finished. Air Raid’s future Cyberjet partner, the Technobot Strafe, would sometimes step in to sub, thanks to the interchangability of the Scramble City designs, but it was never quite the same.
…wow. This has gone on longer than I thought it would. Perhaps I’ll continue, if anyone’s interested. Leave comments if you want to hear more!