Toy Stories – Me and Transformers

I want to talk about the newest line of Transformers, but I don’t really want to do a bunch of reviews. Instead I’m going to write about the new toys I have from the Siege line as a group. But apparently that’s going to happen another day, because my intro about Transformers turned into a whole post about Transformers.

As anyone who has been following Needless Things for the last decade knows, I grew up in the 80s and love Transformers, but I am by no means a leading Cybertronologist. I had a few of the G1 toys when I was a kid, but never got as immersed in the toy line as I was in the cartoon and comics.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a bit (a lot) of OCD about scaling. Transformers toy lines have always been a challenge because not only are they not in scale with other toy lines, they’re not even in scale with each other. I loved the novelty and the concept, but I could never immerse myself in the line like I could with GI Joe, MASK, or basically any other line from the 80s.

As ridiculous as it may sound, my first reaction to MASK toys was delight at the fact they were all the same scale. Some genius at Kenner recognized that kids wanted their army men to interact with transforming vehicles. And while those cars, trucks, and jeeps didn’t transform into full-on robots, it still scratched that “I want my Joes to fit in my Transformers” itch.

My second reaction to MASK toys was “That’s not how you spell ‘Command’”.

My first Transformers were Frenzy and Laserbeak. I clearly remember being in a department store with my mom and my Granny in North Carolina and seeing a huge section of that beautiful G1 package art. It was a corner display separated from the rest of the toys – all pristine white and in an “L” shape with toys covering the inner part so you could walk into this little nook of brand new toy freshness.

I didn’t know exactly what I was looking at, but these toys looked amazing. There were shelves of boxed vehicles and a section of blister carded figures on pegs. All of the packages featured weird robots in dynamic poses. My memory is far from eidetic, but I can still see that glorious wall of Cybertronian majesty clearly in my mind, stocked with every release from the initial 1984 wave of Transformers.

I had ten dollars to spend. Because we were in a department store, there was a markup over the suggested MSRP, so the figures that would have been $9.99 were $11.99 and just out of my range. But the smaller vehicles and the cassette 2-packs were around $6.99 I think.

Note – I’m not positive this pricing is exact, but it’s close. I’m also pretty sure we were in a Sears.

While I liked the small Autobots more than the Decepticon cassettes, I only had enough for one of anything and the cassettes came with two figures. I would at least have enough to make them fight, even if they only transformed into lame, tiny cassette tapes.

My mom was against this purchase. She thought it would be better for me to stick to a toy line I was already collecting – Star Wars or GI Joe – and I’m sure she also didn’t want me becoming obsessed with a whole new thing. But I had money and there were shiny, new toys here. I would not be deterred.

I don’t know why Frenzy and Laserbeak appealed to me more than Rumble and Ravage. I can only assume that a flying creature seemed better than a non-flying one. Whatever the case, I spent the rest of that trip absolutely delighted with these two new toys. They fought endlessly despite both being labeled as “Evil Decepticons”. I experimented with partial transformations and weapon-swapping. Frenzy had a “battering ram” mode and a “tank” mode and Laserbeak had a “jet” mode. It’s amazing to look back on how much fun I had with just those two little cassettes.

I can’t quite place the proximity of the cartoon to the toys in my personal memory, but I know that Transformers debuted in September of 1984, and there’s no way I didn’t watch a new cartoon. Especially one featuring that wild new toy line. I don’t think that I had acquired any more Transformers prior to my next memory of Transformers, which is a little embarrassing.

It was Christmas of 1984 and my mom was wrapping presents that she had bought for other people and their kids. Most of the pile was of no interest to me – clothes, cookbooks, dolls – but I saw two items that sent an almost literal bolt of electricity through my eight-year-old body. I could not believe that right there in front of my very eyes, in my own house and not even on the shelf at Lionel Playworld or Service Merchandise or, yes, Sears, were the holiest of holy grails of the Transformers toy line (and, indeed, of all of toydom at that time).

Heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime and his villainous nemesis, Megatron, were in my home!

AND THEY WERE NOT FOR ME.

Shame has blurred the rest of my memory of this event, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I turned into an atrocious little shit and begged my mom for those toys until she just couldn’t listen to me anymore. But I was an atrocious little shit who had Optimus Prime and Megatron. I didn’t use such tactics often, so they were very effective when I did.

I don’t know if the kids they were meant for got replacement Transformers or some other gift and I do not care. I do, however, owe my mom an apology. And I might just record it for a future episode of the Needless Things Podcast.

So I had a few Transformers that I earned through relentless begging and I liked them fine for being fairly stiff robots that turned into nice-looking vehicles of varying size. In later years, as my friends lost interest in toys I inherited a ton of cool stuff. One friend gave me his entire collection of the aforementioned MASK toys, including the amazing Boulder Hill playset. I also ended up with more Transformers.

As much as I enjoyed the transformations, as robots they still mostly just stood there. One of my all-time favorite Transformers was Jetfire simply because he sported tons of articulation in robot mode and could actually be played with like a regular action figure.

Of course, I knew nothing of Robotech at this time.

There was also my absolute favorite Transformer, Shockwave, who was a badass laser gun, had plenty of articulation, and was purple. And a cyclops. And lit up and made noises.

Is there anything better than Shockwave, really? What is best in life? Shockwave.

Note: It’s funny that my two favorite Transformers were outsourced from other companies. You should go read about Shockwave and Jetfire.

20190225_222312
From Transformers Legacy: A Celebration of Transformers Package Art from IDW

If I think of the Transformers line as a whole, the mini-vehicles don’t seem as impressive as the larger cars and planes, but when I narrow it down to which toys I actually liked the most, those dominate the list. Some of my favorite Transformers were Cliffjumper, Brawn, Huffer, and pretty much all of the 1985 minis. I liked the larger ‘bots fine, but something about those little guys appealed to me.

Transformers: The Movie changed everything, though.

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From Transformers Legacy: A Celebration of Transformers Package Art from IDW

The futuristic designs of Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Cyclonus, Scourge, and oh my gosh the glorious Galvatron set my little heart on fire. Seeing that movie in the theater with my (thankfully) sleeping mother was a landmark experience. If I was going to make a timeline of impactful geeky stuff in my life (and man, what a great idea that I’m going to open up a new document and start on right now), that day in 1986 gets a big marker.

I had a friend from South Africa named Jon who had chosen Transformers as his primary toy line (in the way that GI Joe at that point was mine). He had everything, including Omega Supreme, Metroplex, and all of the combiners. Going to his house to play was a magical time of Transformers and Doctor Who (he was the only other person I met for the first quarter century of my life that knew about Doctor Who). He even had the soundtrack for the movie, which we would listen to over and over again.

Transformers did not make it to the tail end of what I think of as my young toy years; the time that I actually sat and played with toys and used my imagination to create stories and adventures. The weird amalgamation of stuff that made up the end of that era is a Toy Story for another day.

I don’t know exactly what happened to my collection of G1 toys. I’m sure some ended up in yard sales without my knowing, having been boxed up and packed away. Whatever the case, out of the toys that my parents did keep in storage at their house for years, there were very few Transformers.

 

 

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From Transformers Legacy: A Celebration of Transformers Package Art from IDW

Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of the Cybertronians’ world. I got into G2 when those started coming out because the purple and green Megatron caught my eye. I grabbed that one and the admittedly silly-looking Optimus Prime and was quite pleased with the improved articulation on the robot modes. From then I’d grab the occasional ‘bot that caught my eye, but I can’t say I was immersed in the line again until 2003.

Note: I somehow completely overlooked my favorite Transformers line of all time, Beast Machines (199-2000), when I wrote this first draft. I think it was because I was so immersed in G1 nostalgia and Beast Machines is a very different… beast. I’m going to save that line for another day because it and the related cartoon deserve their own post. Beast Wars, however, was simply not my cup of tea, which I know might alienate some of our younger readers. Sorry, kids.

For the longest time I had been hoping for Transformers that combined a practical sense of scale with great robot articulation. Hasbro brought it in 2003 with the Alternators line.

These Transformers’ vehicle modes were licensed cars that were scaled correctly. And the robot modes were fully poseable action figures. The downside was that the transformations were very complicated and not all that fun to execute, which reduced the play value of the figures. Still, I loved the look of them and the concept and owned most of the twenty-three American releases when I sold them in bulk on eBay years ago.

I did, of course, keep Shockblast (Hasbro had lost the rights to the name “Shockwave” at the time).

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This isn’t all of them – just enough for a decent picture.

Speaking of eBay, one of my early eBay pursuits was Hasbro’s Heroes of Cybertron line. This was the American version of Takara’s Super Collection Figures, a series of non-transforming PVC figures that today would be known as “minifigs”. The designs were based on the G1 animation, making these the first toys directly based on the familiar show. They were also fairly affordable at the time. As such, I liked them a lot, despite the lack of transformation. 1990’s Action Masters had been close to the animated designs, but were more of an amalgamation of the toys and the cartoons.

Japan’s Super Collection Figures were blind-bagged – a concept that has unfortunately become very popular here these days – while America’s Heroes of Cybertron were on standard blister cards. I had trouble finding specific figures and haven’t looked into filling the holes in my small collection in years. As of this writing I’d still like to have Arcee, Thundercracker, Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus, Galvatron, and a few others.

Transformers are great. I love the concept, I love the characters that have been created over the years, and I never cease to be impressed with Takara/Hasbro’s ability to innovate and bring new life to the line while paying tribute to the 80s mega-franchise that got us all hooked.

I find myself most drawn to the toys when they represent that bygone era. When I see an Optimus in his familiar boxy truck form, I have to stop and look. Anytime the purple, cyclopean head of Shockwave shows up in a toy aisle, I examine it and determine if it’s coming home with me. And I absolutely pause when I see that beautiful old G1 packaging.

20190226_011449Walmart (blech) has been getting exclusive reissues of G1 Transformers and there have been a few I couldn’t resist. Most notably the blister carded minicars that showed up around Christmas. It’s odd that they’re the 1986 repaints and not the originals, but whatever. They’re super neat (and affordable – I will buy every single one of these they release). Hot Rod was a favorite of mine, so I grabbed that one, too.

And then there’s the new War for Cybertron: Siege line. It’s what prompted me to start writing tonight, but that post is going to have to wait for another day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reminiscences about one of the greatest toy lines of the 80s! If you’d like to share your own memories, comment below or be sure to join the Needless Things Podcast Facebook Group and let the entire Irregulars crew hear your thoughts!

You can follow Dave as Phantom Troublemaker on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for all the best pop culture commentary!

 

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