Welcome back to The Collector’s Corner. Yes, I know what you are thinking, “He said he would be back in a week, where has he been?” Well, I am glad that you asked. Apparently, my interview with Cobra Commander (see our main page) got me into a little hot water, as they say. I was placed on unpaid administrative leave by Garv, and I was also recently detained by authorities for questioning. Journalistic freedoms apparently are not observed when it comes to knowledge of possible whereabouts of known terrorists.
Today, we are going to take a look at a highly popular toyline, one not only popular in America, but worldwide. Today, we look at Transformers. I am sure you have heard of them. If you haven’t, well, where have you been for the past 30 years? OK, so for those of you that aren’t familiar with Transformers, they are a sentient race of robots that have the ability to alter their form into other things such as cars, jets, and even animals. This is where the taglines “More than meets the eye” and “Robots in disguise” came into play.
30 years. I sometimes find it hard to believe that we have experienced 30 years of history and 30 years of some really awesome toys. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Transformers line. The line has gained popularity in recent years due to the Michael Bay movies, but, honestly, in my opinion and many fans around the world, those movies are poor examples of what Transformers is all about. The toyline has had various accompanying media formats since the line’s inception, such as cartoons, comic books, an animated movie, video games, and the live-action movies. Even though the line debuted in 1984, the story starts before then.
Hasbro, one of the most successful toy manufacturers in the industry, acquired the television distributor Romper Room Inc., the creators of the popular kids show Romper Room, in 1969. Hasbro renamed the distributor Claster Television Productions, but they didn’t do much with it until 1978, when they brought the Star Blazers cartoon to the United States. In the 1980′s, Hasbro decided to use Claster as a vehicle to promote their toys. G.I. Joe was released in cartoon format 1983 and proved to be successful, Hasbro then had big ideas for 1984. This idea was the Transformers.
These days, most toylines have small lifespans, they are usually produced with a movie tie-in, then after months of overstocked product, retailers clearance them out and make way for the next big movie tie-in. Back in the 1980′s, things were a bit different. Toy lines would run for years, and usually, had a cartoon to push the product, and in many cases a comic book as well. The first American Transformers toyline ran from 1984 to 1991. This era is affectionately referred to as Generation 1 (more commonly G1) by fans.
The initial Generation 1 toys were not created by Hasbro. Hasbro actually purchased toy molds from several companies and re-branded them and distributed them under one line called Transformers. The primary company that Hasbro purchased these molds from was Takara (today known as Takara-Tomy), however, other molds from companies like Bandai and Popy were used as well. Hasbro would go on to buy the entire toyline from Takara, giving Hasbro sole ownership of the Transformers toyline, including branding rights and copyrights, but in exchange, Takara was given the right to produce the toys and distribute them in the Japanese market.
The first two years of Transformers toys were made primarily from toys that had appeared in the Japanese Diaclone and Micro Change (Microman) series, usually recolored. Most of these toys had parts consisting of die-cast metal, but this was phased out by 1986. A lot of the initial Diaclone models used still retained the small pilot’s seat in their design. Diaclone toys each came packaged with a small pilot, as the robots themselves were controlled by a human counterpart.
Every toyline has to have their heroes and their villains, and in Transformers we had the heroic Autobots, and the evil Decepticons (in the Japanese market they were referred to as Cybertrons and Destrons, until recent years). Each faction had a leader, and the leader of the Autobots is well known in pop culture these days. You have probably heard of him, Optimus Prime. Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, is also iconic these days. Hell, Calvin Johnson, the talented wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, calls himself Megatron. He is pretty awesome.
We have a little backstory, so now let us take a look at the toys and characters themselves. I present to you the Autobots of 1984.
The Autobots were released in 2 forms, the Autobot Mini-Cars, and then the Autobot Cars. These Mini-Cars were the size of the then popular “Penny-Racers”, as such, some of the realism is lacking in the car design, and the proportions are a little off in relation to others Transformers. These molds were all plastic, although some of them had rubber tires. The Autobot Mini-Cars consisted of Brawn, a green Toyota Land Cruiser; Bumblebee, a yellow Volkswagon Beetle; Cliffjumper, a red Porsche 924 Turbo (a little deformed for a Porsche 924 Turbo); Gears, a blue 4WD Off-road pick up (he was kind of generic); Huffer, an orange semi; and Windcharger, a red Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. They featured very simple transformations. Bumblebee has always been the most popular of the mini-cars, and back in 1984 he could actually speak. It wasn’t until the live-action movies that he lost his voice. Bumblebee was also released in red and Cliffjumper in yellow. This did add a little confusion with fans. It was revealed by a Hasbro executive that this was done to fill out the line at retail.
Brawn was one of the strongest Autobots, his strength second only to Optimus Prime, and extremely rugged and agile. Brawn was the “manliest” of the Autobots, and was always challenging other Autobots in various tasks. Bumblebee was the scout, and because of his size, he was extremely stealthy. Bumblebee’s bravery was greater than most Autobots, although he was the weakest in strength. He idolized Optimus Prime and Prowl. Cliffjumper was a fierce warrior, willing to take on any situation no matter the severity, which would sometimes lead to Cliffjumper taking on more than he could handle. Gears was a self-proclaimed misfit and extremely anti-social, very tough, but slow. Gears would complain around others as a method to cheer them up, which in turn cheered himself up. Huffer, on the other hand, was so anti-social and pessimistic no one would want to be around him. If Huffer was talking, he was bitching. He would do whatever was asked of him, but he would bitch the entire time. Windcharger was the fastest Autobot and capable of generating magnetic fields, similar to Magneto of X-Men fame, enabling him to repel or attract metal objects. He was also very enthusiastic but had no patience.
The Autobot Cars featured 11 cars in a larger scale and more accurate molds than the Mini-cars. The Autobot Cars featured die-cast parts, rubber tires, and weapons for accessories, many including firing missiles. These molds were from the Diaclone line and consisted of Bluestreak, a silver Datsun Fairlady Z; Hound, a green military styled Mitsubishi J59 Jeep; Ironhide, a red Nissan Onebox Cherry Vanette; Jazz, a white Porsche 935 Turbo; Mirage, a blue and white F-1 Ligier JS11 race car; Prowl, a black and white Datsun Fairlady z, redecorated as a police car; Ratchet, a white Nissan Onebox Ambulance; Sideswipe, a red Lamborghini Walter Wolf Countach LP500S; Sunstreaker, a yellow Super-Tuned Lamborghini Countach LP500S (with exposed engine); Trailbreaker, a black Toyota 4WD Hi-Lux camper truck; and Wheeljack, a white Lancia Stratos Turbo.
Bluestreak hated combat, and would always try to lighten the mood talking incessantly. He packed more firepower than most of the Autobots. Hound was a scout who loved Earth and secretly longed to be a human, he had the ability to create convincing holograms. Ironhide was the oldest, toughest and most battle-hardened of the Autobots, and self-appointed bodyguard to Optimus Prime. Jazz was extremely into Earth culture, and embraced it heavily. He was also the right hand man to Optimus Prime, using his vast knowledge of Earth to aid the Autobots. Mirage was an aristocrat on Cybertron, the homeworld of the Transformers. He hated fighting, but was a very skilled combatant and had the ability to render himself invisible making him a very capable spy. Like the Decepticon Thundercracker, he is not fully convinced of the Autobot cause, which leads to a bit of distrust from fellow Autobots. Prowl was the master tactician of the Autobots. He had the best logic circuits of all and could analyze any situation within nanoseconds. Ratchet was the Autobot medic, who also was highly opinionated and did not hesitate to speak his mind, even to Optimus Prime. Sideswipe was the twin brother to Sunstreaker. Sideswipe was second only in combat to Sunstreaker, and would fight dirty if he had to. Sideswipe had a rocketpack giving him limited flight capability. Sunstreaker was vain and more ruthless and cold-blooded than Sidewsipe. Sunstreaker was the best Autobot warrior and he was a very contemptuous of other Autobots and completely ego-driven. Trailbreaker could project a nearly impenatrable force-field, but was extremely slow and consumed more energy than any other Autobot. This resulted in Trailbreaker feeling like a liability in many situations, never realizing how valued he was by his companions. Trailbreaker was also a light-hearted prankster. Wheeljack was the “mad-scientist” of the Autobots, always creating new weapons and devices to aid the Autobot cause. This often resulted in self injury.
Rounding out the Autobots was Optimus Prime. Optimus was a red Freightliner FL86 Cab-over-Engine triple-axle semi trailer truck. His toy also originated from a Diaclone mold. His truck part was primarily die-cast, and the trailer was comprised mostly of plastic. Optimus Prime’s trailer opened up to form a battle station and repair bay, complete with a scout vehicle dubbed “Roller” and a missle-firing repair pod. Roller had a docking station of sorts, and could be spring launched into action. Optimus Prime was a badass, and to this day, in various incarnations, is still a badass. Optimus Prime was benevolent, the wisest of all Autobots, and revered all life forms, and would never allow innocent loss of life, unlike his portrayal in the last Michael Bay movie…
The Decepticons were a little different from the Autobots. While the Autobots were all cars in 1984, the Decepticons had no cars. In the cartoon, Autobots could not fly, and Decepticons could. There were many times this was overlooked early on, but became the standard eventually, that only Autobots that had an alternate mode that allowed flight, such as a jet or helicopter, or Autobots that had jetpacks were capable of flight. As a result, the Decepticons had air superiority, and this was displayed primarily by the Seekers.
The Decepticon jets, commonly referred to as “Seekers”, demonstrated the air superiority at Megatron’s command. Led by Starscream, Megatron’s First Lieutenant, the Seekers were originally Diaclone molds of the then popular F-15 Eagle fighter jet. Starscream was gray with red and dark blue trim, Skywarp was black with purple trim, and Thundercracker was blue with silver trim. Starscream was portrayed as underhanded and power-hungry, always seeking the opportunity to usurp leadership from Megatron, and on more than one occasion, succeeding temporarily. Thundercracker was a powerful warrior, but not entirely convinced of the Decepticon cause. This led to many occasions of Thundercracker being ineffective during battle. Skywarp was the sneakiest of all Decepticons and had the ability to teleport at will. He was not as intelligent as other Decepticons, yet he was fierce in battle and accepted orders without hesitation.
Soundwave was cool. Hell, he still is cool. Soundwave was a mini-cassette recorder from the Microchange line known as “Cassette Man.” I know, not much imagination in the naming. His toy had some really cool features that added realism. He featured a working opening cassette door that opened at the press of the eject button and had room to hold one mini-cassette. He had a belt clip molded to his opening battery cover, so he could be clipped to your belt, obviously. His battery compartment housed two batteries, that transformed into his concussion rifle and shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. To highlight the cassette storage feature, and to replicate Soundwave ordering his troops to battle, he came packaged with Buzzsaw, a mini-cassette that turned into a gold and black condor. Soundwave is Megatron’s most trusted lieutenant, never wavering in his loyalty. Serving as the Decepticon Communications Officer, Soundwave’s abilities include low level telepathy (including the ability to read human minds) and the ability to detect and jam any transmission across all spectrums. One silent yet intimidating Transformer.
Soundwave commanded the mini-cassettes, also from the Microchange line, and aside from Buzzsaw, they were packaged on 2 pack blister cards. The first 2 packs featured Rumble and Ravage, and Frenzy and Lazerbeak. Ravage was a black and silver jaguar; Lazerbeak was a red and black Condor that shared the same mold as Buzzsaw; Rumble was a black and red robot and shared the same mold as Frenzy, who was blue. The color schemes of Rumble and Frenzy have often caused some confusion, because in the G1 cartoon Rumble was predominantly featured, and he was blue, and Frenzy was sparingly used and was red and black. Lazerbeak was generally used for spying and a well-known coward. Ravage was a skilled espionage agent, but this was not exploited much in the cartoon. Rumble was a tough hot-head, who had the ability to convert his arms into powerful pile-drivers, capable of creating great damage. Frenzy was aptly named, he lived for mayhem and destruction. He was a twin brother to Rumble, and also featured the same pile-drivers. When the mini-cassettes were not in battle, they usually were housed within Soundwave.
All hail Megatron. Megatron was a great example of a terrifying villain. He exhibited no morals, no compassion, no mercy. Megatron’s toy was from the Microman line, and he was a Walther P-38 pistol. The version released in America was the Gun Robo P38 U.N.C.L.E. version, based on the modified gun used in the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had a scope, an extended stock, and a silencer attached. The Japanese version of Megatron fired little red plastic pellets, the Amercian version did not, however, a few years back, a knock-off version of Megatron was distributed that actually fired the pellets. These can still be found with a little searching online, and are cheaper than a vintage G1 Megatron toy, which are not legal for sale inside the United States due to today’s toy gun laws. Megatron’s accessories included the silencer, scope/fusion cannon, stock, and a handheld laser rifle. In gun mode, he looked incredible, and very realistic. The robot mode for Megatron is a little unimpressive by today’s standards, he was definitely much more menacing in the cartoon and comics. Newer versions of Megatron are far more imposing in robot mode.
Each Transformer had their own unique personality and powers, and these were defined on each package via Tech Specs. Each Transformer was rated on a scale of 1 to 10 in the following categories: Strength, Intelligence, Speed, Endurance, Rank, Courage, Firepower, and Skill. These could be decoded by placing a red plastic overlay over the Tech Spec to reveal the rankings. Today, the Tech Specs still remain on the packaging, however, no red decoder overlay is needed to read them.
There you have it. an overview of the 1984 Transformers that started it all. I will return to cover the 1985 Transformers at a later date. It has been a fun 30 years, and I hope that Transformers enjoys continued success for years to come. There is an upcoming movie this summer from Bay, but it has Dinobots this time. I saw pictures of the Dinobot toys from Toyfair last week, and they look pretty awesome. This one might not suck as hard as the last 3 Transformers movies. OK, I cannot keep a straight face and type that at the same time. But, the Dinobots do look cool.
I solemnly swear that I will try my hardest to not be suspended again. I know how much you guys missed my articles, I received tons of emails while I was away. Garv told me the office had been flooded with calls and letters, it means a lot when you guys give me feedback. You can send it to email@example.com. Or, comment below! Next week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!