5 TRULY FORGETTABLE MOMENTS IN BOB BUDIANSKY’S MARVEL TRANSFORMERS US COMICS RUN
5. CARWASH OF DOOM (TFUS#31)
The story that saw Bob get some death threats, Car wash of Doom proves not to be a masterpiece. Okay that didn’t really happen, but Bob did make that death threat comment himself as a joke in an interview. About rabid fans obsessing about comics he wrote a couple decades ago made for kids and expecting them to stand up to an adult’s taste and nasty-minded criticism today.
The Marvel Transformers comics were written for kids, and for that purpose they are fine. For adults the stories are ho-hum, with a few cool highlights for fans of all ages. Adults criticizing twenty plus year old comics written for kids is kind of a DUMB activity…
But here we are anyway…looks like I’m the dummy in this post.
Poor young Buster just want to get his car clean and enjoy some quality time with his main girl, but what he doesn’t know is THIS particular car wash (part of hid dads auto repair business) has been sabotaged with another hair brained Decepticon trap.
The car wash is a sweet irresistible consumer deal that lures in all the customers so Ratbat can spring his trap. Sure Ratbat… nobody can resist a bargain priced car wash *cough*. Ratbat has some mad mind control mojo making the townspeople go crazy and they start chasing Buster.
All that is missing is some of that hillbilly chase music Grandpa Simpson is so fond of. Buster turns and runs – right back into the carwash – natures natural protection against evil flying predatorial micro-cassettes.
Wasn’t the whole carwash a trap to start with Buster? Did you learn nothing from the yokels chasing you while playing that damned hillbilly music?
This Witwicky survival plan turns out not to be such a genius scheme after all as Ratbat follows Buster Witwicky into the carwash.
The one part of the comic that is actually pretty scary, and very METAL – Ratbat starts eating and tearing at parts of Buster’s vehicle. Good thing he’s in the car wash then so he can’t just get out and run away. $%#^&5^# idiot!
Ratbast smashes his way in, and it is the most exciting scene in an otherwise dull issue of Transformers. If Buster had died here, and Ratbat took over as one of the main characters, I don’t think there would have been any complaints from fans.
Buster puts up a valiant but very *sudsy* fight, but then Ratbat gets him anyway and flies off with him. It’s a pretty cool sequence, but the rest of the story about the luxury car wash luring people in so Ratbat can use his mind control to accomplish…. *something?*… is pretty silly and pointless. The grand scheme never really plays out. So, let’s move on to the next bit of nonsensical 80s Marvel Transformers comic book then shall we.
4. SATURDAY NIGHT MICROMASTER SMACKDOWN! (TFUS#55)
An issue that starts off with an epic cover and promises an exciting story. The cover artist did their job well. Too bad the story inside doesn’t live up to that promise.
Minicons come to town fresh from Cybertron (aka Hasbro Toy Catalog Land) and what to do with their free time? Why they try their metal fists and torsos at Pro-Wrestling of course.
Roadhandler checks out the backstage training area, and is greeted with a warm welcome from the other pro wrestlers.
Roadhandler is being managed by the most trustworthy fellow in the biz “Swindler”
Robots that weigh more than a ton and made out of who knows what kind of metal are perfectly safe for how wrestlers to wrestle for the fans. It doesn’t matter, it’s not like they are hooked on pain killers for their chronic back and knee pain or anything. Why not attempt to fling a ton or more of Autobot metal over your head? Remember this was the 80’s pal, and folks were tougher in those days!
Roadhandler gets into the wrasslin’ game pretty fast, and learns how to help his opponent put on a good show. It’s all good fun for the kids and families.
Just when Roadhandler gets the upper hand, his opponent ducks beneath the ring and emerges with… a jackhammer. The dirty cheat!
Roadhandler crushes the Jackhammer, and no that’s not a euphemism. His opponent is none too happy, but that’s nothing compared to what happens next.
His buff opponent hurls him from the ring with a Herculean throw, but what’s this… Roadhandler transformers in mid air and lands safely in his alt mode.
Roadhandler transforms once again and re-enters the rings, where he makes quick merciless work of his slick haired green speedo wearing opponent.
The fans love their new champ, he goes on to win more matches and it seems this Bot has got it made living large, stylin’ and profilin’.
Just when Roadhandler was living on Easy Street, a match goes sour with the surprise opponent turns out to be be a no good villain, Stormcloud.
Stormcloud makes for a vicious opponent, slamming Roadhandler to the the ground with so much force that it made the whole ring and the crowd momentarily disappear!
The lousy cheating Con transforms to alt mode and tries for a high stakes aerial attack, but Roadhandler is having none of it, and brings him smashing back down to the ground using one of the ropes ripped from the ring itself. I’ve never seen anything like this folks, in all my years as a commentator – what a match!
The Saturday Night Micromaster Smackdown is a very silly story, but really perfect nonsense for eight year olds who love wresting and Transformers. It’s the kind of thing you would only ever see in a comic book (or maybe an episode of TF:animated) so in a way it’s quite good. You can tell I’m really cheating on my own list, as I love all the Transformers comics, even the bad ones.
Now let’s see what other TV inspired horrors await the poor fools in our next story.
3. STARSCREAMS FANTASY ISLAND (TFUS#47-49)
In a story that makes as much sense as the time Soundwave and Starscream ran a nightclub in the Sunbow cartoon, Starscream decides to run his own private fantasy island getaway.
A luxury resort for humans to enjoy and show how nice the old Decepti-creeps can be.
A “magical island… with “friendly staff”. It seems the CONS have changed their creed, and are embracing their new LOVE of humanity!
It’s also the World’s Smallest Island apparently.
Also the CONS have a giant underwater *murder-base* underneath the island.
*Whoops* – they forgot to mention that feature in the advertising campaign. Those fiends!
But don’t let a secret base stand in the way of good public relations. Frontman Starscream barks the immortal lines of dialog never to be heard again in any Transformers fiction, not even in a million million years:
“HI, I’M STARSCREAM. FLY ME!”
I guess Starscream doesn’t like to waste people’s time with small talk. But things get fishy pretty quickly.
A red headed bikini lady is enjoying some sand, waves and fresh tunes on the beach courtesy of our main man Blaster. She’s actually there undercover to investigate the island for whatever forgettable reason. Something to do with that secret underwater Murder-Torture-Base perhaps.
When Seacons Attack! No it’s not coming up next on the Discovery Channel, it’s what happens to the bikini lady who just wanted to enjoy some scuba snorkeling and the latest B-Boy mixes.
She follows them to see what is up, only to discover the CLUB CON underwater murder-mayhem base, and also that Blaster is waterproof.
It’s great to sea the Seacons (however briefly) as they don’t turn up too often in any Transformers media other than those weird Japanese cartoons where they combine into King Poseidon.
The red headed lady follows the Seacons underwater into a secret entrance to the CONS hidden base with Blaster snugly tucked under her arm – narrowly avoiding detection by any of the lurking local roughnecks.
Jesse’s recon (hey I finally found her name) is complete, she confirms that Buster Witwicky is being held prisoner but is unable to free him. Instead Jesse has to make a hasty escapes. But the Seacons attack back on the beach. Blaster fights them off pretty much singlehanded – well enough for the two to make their getaway and blend in with the beach crowd.
Some stupid kid distracts blaster, resulting in him taking some serious damage.
But the important thing is, everybody else on the beach pretty much ignored or forgot about everything that just happened. Starscream still loves humans, and invites them to return to his luxurious island resort (but downplays the murdery world domination aspects of the island-base) That’s good PR!
The Underbase Sagastarts out a very vanilla story, but the later chapters have one of the coolest moments in TFUS history- “Underbase Starscream”. But that one we will save for my upcoming list of “Epic Memorable Moments in Budiansky TFUS“, rather than the dodgy issues such as this one.
3. THE BOSS / BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN COMES TO TOWN (TFUS#14)
Too cheap to pay for tickets the Autobots can’t stay away from the Bruce Springsteen concert in town and decide to gate crash. Did they have a mission too? Possibly, they stay in their vehicle alt modes as they are undercover, but really it’s just an excuse to listen to The Boss live without paying, having spent all their pocket money on Energon Lollipops at the gate – those cheap auto-bastards!
The Autobots narrowly avoid detection by some greedy-lazy Security guards, who can’t be bothered looking for the drivers they just saw in the vehicles. The Autobots used their holo-avatars rather haphazardly at times, and didn’t know they were supposed to pay to park in the concert stadium.
With The Boss belting out some classics, the Autobots lie in wait, apparently with a tip off that Decepticons may be in the neighbourhood.
SURPRISE FOOLS! The Cons turn up all right. Three familiar Seekers burst out of the ground, as flying jets typically do.
Carnage ensues with the Seeker’s attacking the stadium, and a weird cable thing that is part of the stage is going to topple over when…
Hoist appears on stage to save the day. He grabs the broken scafolding and welds it back together that was about to crush Bruce Springsteen. He’s a swell guy that Hoist.
But watch out, the danger is not over yet!
Shockwave appears on the scene, looking a bit grey and determined to turn into his gun flight mode and shoot the stadium. Quick thinking yellow faced Bumblebee hurls an Energon cube at the purple one eyed monster.
The results are spectacular, the explosion looking like it’s all part of the show. The other Cons have had enough, they turn their tailjets around and follow then leader Shockwave back home, presumably enjoying the Springsteen concert on their in flight radio.
Once again, the day is saved, thanks to the Autobots. The rest of the issue has various humans and military leaders planning what to do about the robot alien menace.
Overall it’s not a bad issue at all. But the whole execution is just really vanilla. A lot of the Marvel Transformers comics had stories that were more serious in tone. But this issue feels more like one of the Sunbow cartoon episodes, with the Cons attacking a public concert. The only thing that makes different than other vanilla issues, is the appearance of Bruce Springsteen (they use a pseudonym in the issue) which really should make for a more memorable story, but it ends up being a couple of pages and a cool gimmick cover.
Let’s move on to one of the creepiest issues of TFUS up next.
2. SKIDS IN LOVE…with a human? (TFUS#20)
Rating high on the “EW! CREEP” factor, Skids falls in love with a human, only for the human woman to shamelessly reciprocate in the second example of manbot and female human love in Transformers fiction. Inter-species romances are mainly the domain of science fiction, but it does come across as a bit creepy in a kids comic. Clearly Skids learned nothing from that doomed romance of Seaspray and his alien humanoid fish lady. But at least Skids didn’t change into a human for sake of inter-species love or anything.
Charlene finds Skids overturned and abandoned in a ditch, and takes him to a mechanic. Skids is stuck in stasis lock with no way to communicate with her, other than through his radio – not unlike Bumblebee in the first live action Transformers film.
Being a cheapskate (and a thief) Charlene is not one to turn down a free ride and keeps Skids, because hey the “Finders Keepers” rule clearly applies when you find passenger-less cars in ditches.
But to Charlene’s surprise, Skids is eventually is able to transform again, and explains his situation, but can’t see to explain why his vehicle mode has a big butt, when his toy is a compact car.
Charlene likes her free ride so much, that she continues to drive around a Transformer. But things get odd when strong country boy Wendell asks her a date, and instead Charlene replies that she has already made plans. But we (the reader) know she don’t have no kinda plans, so is she just giving Wendell the brush off perhaps?
Turns out those plans are rubbing herself up and down Skids while “washing” him doing her best attempt yet at being trailer trash. Not creepy at all. Get your freak on Charlene!
Giving new meaning to the term Auto-Erotica, Charlene turns out to be a bit of a hussy. This is only their first date after all. I guess that’s how she rolls.
The story goes on (dear Primus why… just end it here…) and Charlene falls for Skids, making for one super-creepy KIDS story. Take another look at the panels just above before moving on, and tell me its’t not creepy-weird, someone was having a laugh drawing those panels. And for whatever reason Skids is not drawn as a small compact Japanese car – he seems to have Transmorphed himself into some kind of mini-van with a big phat caboose that brings all the country girls to the yard.
1. AMERICAN GRAFFITI – DECEPTICON STYLE (TFUS#23)
In a throw away story that is a bit of fun CONS Runabout and Runamuck run around defacing major American landmarks and monuments. It’s two fun loving decepticons as serial pests. No world ending threat, no doomsday devices or plot MacGuffins, just some good old fashioned mayhem courtesy of two lovable rascals. It’s a bit of forgettable nonsense, but fun while it lasts.
Yes, American landmarks are mysteriously being vandalised by some mysterious serial pests. But who who could be responsible for such tomfoolery?
Why Runabout and Runamuck of course, two loveable rascals that aim to misbehave!
Little Jimmy the Idiot Boy Olsen wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt seems to think the antics of these troublesome CONS are awesome, and well – he’s not wrong.
Our two dapper carbot gents go to town painting various monuments and landmarks with giant cans of spray paint.
Travelling around America, our troublesome twosome elude capture by the authorities, drawing crowd of onlookers
“They’re back, yippee” remarks the ginger kid. Guess he’s a CON fan.
Some Commandos with amazing taste in fashion (orange pyjamas and motorbike helmets) turn up early to the party at Liberty Island, and hide out in Lady Liberties head in anticipation of our gruesome twosome.
They also failed to bring any quality snacks or top shelf booze to the shindig. Runabout and Runamuck were stuck in traffic, but luckily they came prepared to party.
But watch out, Omega Supreme has come to spoil the fun. And he’s sporting a new ultra sheik bland head for… reasons… that I”m just not going to get into here.
*sigh*… Okay, he’s a FrankenBeiner.
It’s all stuff from another story and really just not very interesting, trust me on this one -just look at poor garishly colored Omega-Franken-Former and have a laugh, okay?
Circuit Breaker is controlling the Franken-Former and means to end this taggers party once and for all, busting out the heavily artillery.
“Shoot first, ask questions later” remarks Runamuck, showing off his sweet Con style and attitude, not to mention that shiny car finish.
As if being shot at while having a good time is not enough, poor Runabout and Runamuck are toasted to a nice crispy finish with either lasers or a flamethrower, it’s hard to say.
Their paint jobs ruined, they fall rather comically into the ocean accompanied by some no expenses spared neat sound effects. It seems Omega FrankenFormer was jealous of Runabout and Runamucks sweet color schemes and cool devil may care attitude. He revokes their License to Party and calls it a day.
I’ve always found the bad guys more fun than the good guys, and toasting two tagger rascals seems a bit harsh when less violent methods could have been used. Oh well.
Runabout and Runamuck had a good run that lived up to their names and gave us a bit of fun while it lasted. I have to admit I quite like this issue, so why is it on this list? Well, it’s another gimmick cover and a few panels with a barely there story that was not fleshed out, so despite the cover it’s still kind of a forgettable story. But it’s great fun, and that’s what comics for kids are about right?
And giant Franken-Formers burning robots alive with flame throwers, that’s what the kids really want to see! Thanks 80’s Marvel. You really knew how to bring the pain.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go punch that annoying ginger headed Jimmy Olsen looking kid in the Spidey shirt from earlier…
One of my favourite episodes of the old Marvel/Sunbow Transformers cartoon is The Search for Alpha Trion.
In the episode some of the Autobots (mostly red colored ones for no good reason) travel from earth to Cybertron sneakily via the Decepticons dodgy space bridge to search for their mentor.
I don’t know how much “searching” the Autobots actually do in that episode – they find Old Man Freeformer pretty quick if you ask me.
To nobodies surprise the Autobots meet up with the then unknown Autobot sage Alpha Trion and some Autobot fembot resistance fighters lead by the gloriously pink hued Elita-1.
Before I talk more about the fembots, (female Transformers are the main topic of this post) I just wanted to note that yes Alpha Trion does have a beard and only Vector Sigma knows why. For no reason I guess other than to give him a wise old oriental look, like every kung-fu master from every 70s era Kung-Fu movie ever.
Because why does a Cybertronian automaton have facial hair? It’s loveably daft, but has become part of the iconic look of the elder Autobot.
The REAL reason Alpha Trion has a beard? Only Alpha Trion knows, and if you asked him he’d likely tell you it’s because he’s “lived so long I can’t remember”
DESIGNING THE IMAGINED FUTURE
So, back to Elita-1 and her Hellcats… Alpha’s Angels…. ..resistance fighters in the Cybertronian Civil War.
The designs of the female autobots are fairly basic.
In super-robot terms they are not going to win any design awards – but there is an undeniable Retro-Futuristic feel and charm to them. Their bold colors make them even more memorable, and well I just love them for what they are. I hope some day toon-accurate toys get made based on these kick-ass fem-bots, in addition to the various modernized versions and redecos available.
Nothing much happens in the episode, Shockwave is in there, doing dastardly things as usual, and the story is nothing remarkable. It’s really notable for introducing the first in-fiction female Transformers.
I’ll admit the fembot designs are kind of goofy, like someone was making their first ever attempt at Retro-Futurism in robot form – but I still like them.
Did Floro Dery design them? I have no idea who did, totally in the dark. Can’t even find the light switch. Dery did a lot of character design work for the original Transformers show and movie (he also lied and exaggerated a fair about what he actually did) – and the female Autobots do come across as similar to his more organic looking Floro-Formers – such as his ’86 animated movie designs; Cyclonus, Galvatron, Blur etc.
The wise Sage Alpa Trion also has a more humanoid curvy look to him than the big ‘n boxy 1984 O.G. Transformers crowd.
PINKIE PINKERTON AND THE PINK SQUAD
Female Transformers in Transformers fiction were never mentioned before the Alpha Trion / Elita-1 episode (because they didn’t exist). All the toys up until then were basically male looking mecha, and the voices of the characters were male voice actors. It was sort of *assumed* that Transformers were either ALL male, or sexless despite having the physical characteristics and voices of males. Many people either forgot, or never saw the Search for Alpha Trion episode, and later erroneously assumed Arcee to be the first female Transformer in Transfromers: The Movie (1986).
Beast Wars (1996) was notable for being the the first Transformers TV show to have ongoing female characters, such as Black Arachnia.
One sidenote is that Ratchet was originally written to be a female character. The name was inspired by Nurse Ratched in the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – but was changed to a male character to fall in line with the rest of the toy line and characters.
Also in the non-canon mini-comics that accompanied the European release of Joustra Diaclone toys, the Pre-Transformers Ratchet toy / Joustra Ambulance was also female. MAZ over at the excellent blog TF-1 covers pretty much everything you could ever want to know about Diaclone toys. I recommend checking out the full article on the Joustra Diaclone Ambulance
Until The Search for Alpha Trionepisode, female Transformers had never been mentioned, or part of the lore (as far as I know, feel free to prove me wrong).
Diaclone toys – the pre-Transformers robot toys from Japan – were piloted mecha, “gender” had no context here (other than the pilots obviously).
Only when the very manly voices of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Frank Welker as Megatron were added to the new HASBRO/Sunbow/Marvel Productions cartoon do we get to know our imported Japanese super-robots as re-branded iconic American heroes and villains, with strong hyper-masculine male archetypes in the typical over the top nineteen-eighties action hero fashion.
The lack of female characters (or female voice artists) in Transformers was more marketing decision than anything else.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS (OUR MARKETING EXPERTS TOLD US SO)
Boys – and their parents- tended to buy “boys toys”.
Gender roles and buying habits in decades gone by were assumed to be fixed and unchanging. Something we know not to be true today where girls, women and even some 90 year old women play video games or watch Marvel movies like the Avengers.
even my local Kmart now has about 50/50 split for boys and girls Tshirts with superhero emblems. DC are even getting into the Barbie market with their line of DC Superhero Girls dolls. Times are different from the dawn of Transformers in the eighties when these types of products and characters were previously only marketed to boys.
To be fair, a large number of specialist market action figures and geeky stuff is still primarily marketed to boys today, and most girls and women would likely care more about being treated decently as a human beings in society, over being concerned about the latest mass market toy in a chain-store.
Transformers, like G.I. Joe are about war, combat and power fantasies, and the expression of endless non-stop action and role playing. The fairer sex has been marginalized in most if not all arenas of life for as long as anybody can remember – and of course by male toy/marketing executives with no interest in engaging females in the warrior narrative of fighting super-robots who followed the market and trends of the time.
You’d think that if we temporarily fast forward time a little from them backwards eighties, things would be a little different – and they mostly are –
But in 2007 we got this…
And then in 2011 we got this….
I have no issue with beautiful women in movies hovering around cars, heck they’ve gotta sell those cars somehow, right?
Whether it’s great cinema or junk cinema women being shown primarily as fetishized objects, as eye candy accessories rather than as integral to the plot, than as actual human beings is nothing new.
And nothing really bothers me in the Transformers Bayhem movies in the portrayal of any of the male or female characters, other than the characters all being dumber than bricks. The Transformers Bayhem movies are mainstream movies with simple character archetypes used as shorthand so your brain can go on holiday while explosions happen every five seconds. There is nothing terribly offensive about them. And they did manage to get a female autobot in a film for about five minutes there, I forget which one (Arcee, I forget which film she was in).
I mostly hate the script, the dialogue and how dumb the movies are despite how impressive their (horribly edited) visual spectacle is to watch. No, I just use these examples to show that while some forms of Transformers fiction such as the IDW comics or Transformers: Prime or Transformers RID 2015 are more progressive with female characters (human and robot) being essential elements of the show in vital roles, other aspects of Transformers fiction such as the live action movies reduce females to eye candy. Well, not even progressive, but ordinary in the sense of having a balance of legitimate female characters, rather than as an afterthought in the fiction.
Nothing wrong with eye-candy, I like it, but I’ll take an Ellen Ripley in Alien over a Megan Fox in Transformers any day of the week. Not because of looks, talent or any of that. But because the CHARACTER is interesting. A good story starts with a good character, it’s why Strongarm in RID 2015 is a great character – it all comes from the quality writing, rather than any gimmicks. Megan Fox was alright in Transformers, but her character did not have a whole lot to do, nor did most of the various female characters in the films so far, including blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Arcee.
ACCEPTABLE IN THE 80’S?
Girls have been expected for the longest time to enjoy Barbie, and frilly “girl” things, and that was that. And boys have always been expected to enjoy “manly” things, despite some dudes being really into Barbie or My Little Pony or JEM.
I used to know a guy who had a prominent living room display of vintage original Barbie and tall G.I. Joe dolls, and they they did look quite spectacular the way he had them displayed in glass cabinets.
The closest Pre-Transformers toys have gotten to a female character was the cancelled Waruder mecha “Beet Papil” – who transformed into a Ladybug.
Some of the other Waruder Japanese toys were re-purposed later on as Insecticons and Deluxe Insecticons under the Transformers brand. If this full toy line line had been incorporated into Transformers, we might have seen the first female transformer.
But the toy was never made (as part of the BEETRAS line, or at all) and of course was never directly related to the American Transformers brand. It’s more an oddity/curio thanks to curious internet detectives who took the time to scan the images for other fans to enjoy.
Sadly, this is the best imagine around online of the Waruders I could find. I blew up Ms Bug below for a closer look at those shapely curves and cool colors, but it’s a bit blurry. Still, at lest we can see the deco and basic highlights which are more smooth, detailed and organic looking than your average american Transformer toys of the 80’s era, and even a pixelated image like this is infinitely more impressive than Megan Fox in Transformers ‘Splosionfest 2007.
Beet Papil is More Robocop/Metropolis smooth sexy Mecha streamlined legs and joints than your typical boxy square super-robot. Very cool.
I really like the fembot Ladybug design overall. No joke, I would love for someone to make this toy today, it would be an instant buy for me.
Two changes I would make however – some hinges on the bug shell that allowed it to move up higher in robot mode, so it looked like a cape or cool royal robe, rather than a jacket she’s about to throw on the ground. Or add double hinges on the vertical axis in the middle of each wing, and let it collapse away neatly behind Ms Bug’s back.
While looking up reference images, I found this cool fan-made profile, that re-imagines (or imagineers if you prefer) the cancelled BEET PAPIL toy design into a Transformers style character profile. The profile of Firebomb was created by Hellbat on DeviantARt
An unexpected find, and very cool!
So mecha buglady aside, back to Cybertron… where our heroes and fembots are looking a bit frisky….
What I liked about The Search for Alpha Trion is that in one single episode, we got a lot of lore and world building. Most of it is implied, but it’s there if you want it to be.
The details are sparse, but *some* of the greater space saga and lore of the Transformers (expanded on in later fiction such as the 1986 theatrical film and shows such as Beast Wars) is laid down here.
The later ramifications of this episode include Alpha Trion becoming a major significant figure in Transformers fiction (larger mythology) who ties into both Prime, The Matrix and one of the many origins of the Transformers as a race of sentient alien robots.
We find out that not only do female Transformers exist, but apparently a bunch of them, who all seem to have romantic ties to our heroes made obvious by their affection in the show, and the way then run into each others arms. Sorry skeptics – you greet friends with handshakes and hugs, and maybe a kiss on the cheek. Running into someones arms dramatically is usually reserved for your beloved. So don’t play that “they were just really really really good friends”card with me.
ROLL CALL RUMBLE
So just who are these dashing fighting fembots?
We don’t get a good look in the episode at the characters at the same time in full view, so fortunately thanks to some lovely fan art from Dan-the-Art-Guy we see a full view of the basic character models.
From left to right in the image below image we have Moonracer, Firestorm, Elita-1 and Chromia.
Elita-1 is their squad leader in pink, slightly in the foreground.
Thanks to an anonymous fan online who sent me some further images upon request, below is a photo of the model sheets / guides for Chromia and Moonracer which he bought in a private online auction. Model sheets are just guidleines, and so are typically more colorful and detailed, while in show models will be simplified so that they can be animated smoothly (and cheaply!)
Oh, before I forget – there are some other female characters in the background in various scenes too. We don’t get a whole lot of info about them, but they are there. The green character in the image below is called Greenlight.
PRO-BOTS AND ROBOPHOBES
The fighting fembots are mostly forgotten relics from Generation One lore. Chromia would go on star in IDW comics many years later, along with other new female characters such as Windblade. Elita-1 has had some nods from third party and official figures, but mainly as redecos. A few fans have made their own custom versions from various molds, but often they lack a certain something. So far no figure has really gotten close to the original version.
Windblade, Nauticaa and Chromia are the main female characters in the IDW comic book continiuty, which is like a sort Ultimate Marvel reboots of old school character, with new ones mixed in from other shows. The three main IDW fembots follow on from the general flow of the old school G1 fembots.
The sleek more humanoid forms recall Floro Dery’s “Floro-Former”movie designed original characters such as Galvatron, Hot Rod and Blur. Chromia (in blue) in IDW quite similar to her old school appearance, with a few tweaks to modernize her look, but is for all intents and purposes is a new character that is more of an homage to the old character.
The curves of Dery designed Floro-Formers give a real contrast to the square jawed and square shouldered Abe Lincoln / John Wayne body type used for Optimus Prime, and would set the basic look or jumping off point for later designs in various Transformers media. The art for these new wave fembots tends to vary in the comics and animation according to whoever the artist is, and the style of the particular book or show.
SIEGE ON IACON
Free of the robots in disguise earth vehicle design motif, the fembots of Cybertron and 1986 movie-bots were able to be designed with more freedom and experimentation.
Note the curvy legs (on both male and female characters) that stand in stark contrast to the old school square legged super robots style (see Megaton on the left of same image). These new wave bots had smooth lines rather than hard edges, part of the look no doubt influenced by 1950’s concept cars and Retro-Futurism (a topic for another upcoming post).
The square shouldered look of Prime is a staple of super-robot anime, not to mention overly male machismo characters – while the more humanoid look of rounded shoulders are sometimes seen in super-robots, but those curves are more commonly in real-mecha designs where the robot is basically a suit of armor fitting around human anatomy, that has to make both aesthetic and practical movement considerations for human joints etc.
In the above image, we can the contrast of Square and Boxy vs Organic and Round (humanoid) styles in contrast.
The curves tell us two things – that these robots have a more humanoid appearance, mimicking human anatomy and rounded joints, and of course emphasizing feminine curves whether for a male or female character, much in the way 1950’s concept cars used the same motif of sleek curves instead of hard angles. This sort of thing may bother some fans who want to see Galvatron as the ultimate mentally unstable bad-ass villain, and ignore his thigh high sexy ladies street walker boots that once seen, can not be un-seen.
THE SEARCH FOR ELITA-1
The Search for Alpha Trion episode unexpectedly gives us a whole new context to view the Transformers media and Cybertronian civil war through.
In the context of Transformers (the Sunbow/Marvel cartoon), the Autobots and Decepticons were at war. The Autobot group we know as our familiar heroes left – they evacuated the resource depleted Cybertron and became stranded on earth when their ship crash landed after being attacked by Decepticons.
Both the Autobots and Decepticons crash on earth and have a kip for a while (stasis lock), then our lazy snoozers get up a few million years later and resume their quarrelsome shenanigans.
Prime, Ironhide, Inferno and Powerglide being reunited with their female compatriots (or more likely partners / girlfriends) on Cybertron was like soldiers coming back from the war. Women during our real world WW2 were at home, and running the factories, and doing just about everything else useful in society while the majority of men were sent away overseas.
The Search for Alpha Trion had that sort of feel about it for me, and made sense in the context that their war had moved to earth, and they had no clue what has happening back on Cybertron. The Autobots did not see their compatriots for “million of years” due to being stranded on earth during the civil war era.
One thing to note here is this episode isthat Cybertron itself was not as empty and barren as we were lead to believe. We know Shockwave was there, fighting against Elita-1 and her underground resistance but there is something more hinted at, and it only raises more questions.
Was the sector Shockwave resides in mostly empty due to his having taken strategic control of assets like the spacebridge? Was Elita-1’s fighting force the ONLY underground resistance, what other power struggles may have been taking place off screen, on other parts of Cybertron? Did other Autobots and Decepticreeps evacuate Cybertron like our Heroes did in the first episode of the show, and where might they be now?
What is implied is that perhaps what we are seeing is just a small window into the world of Transformers and Cybertron, that there may have been other evacuations, and more battles still going on both overt and covert. It seems obvious when you think about it, the planet was at war and obviously the population was bigger than just our humble heroes and their foes.
The Transformers Origins as outlined by Jim Shooter was intended to encapsulate the beginning of the shared Transformers lore for the comics, cartoon and toy line. Expansive world building was still a long way off. Nobody could have predicted the success of the Transformers brand in the short or long term. What we take for granted today with multiple shows, movies and mass media projects was mostly not even considered in the early days, there was no reason to, other than the general plot of the shows which often contradicted every other episode.
Enough lore was created week to week to get a show together and something for the characters to do, episodes were made intentionally to be screened in any order (as happens on syndicated network TV, particularly with repeats), the exception being several multi part episodes that suffered cruel confusing fates when played out of order.
FEMBOTS ARE GO!
The legacy of female characters continued in the Transformers franchise with notable characters such a Black Arachnia in Beast Wars (year), Arcee in Transformers: The Movie (1986), Airachnid and a new version of Arcee in Transformers: Prime (year), Strongarm and Windblade in Robots in Disguise (2015), and of course fun characters such as Nauticaa and Chromia in the IDW comics, with each of these various characters receiving *mostly* decent toys.
That about does it for this rambling article, below is some images of toys and art of various female Transformers.
The legacy of The Search for Alpha Trion is introducing the first ever female Transformers to the fiction, and it way too long for HASBRO to catch up and realize how appealing female characters and toys were to both male and female audiences members of all ages.
Windblade, G1 Arcee and Chromia toys (above). Arcee was notable for not receiving a 1986 move tie in toy (her toy was cancelled) and did not receive a proper toy until well after a decade after her appearance in the cinema.
Strongarm and Sideswipe from Transformers Robots in Disguise toy line. Strongarm and Grimlock are easily my favourite character from Robots in Disguise.
Strongarm as featured in the Robots in Disguise cartoon. This is some lovely fan art by Raikoh. The RID show has some fantastic visual design, including the bright energon glow highlights on characters giving it a really unique look.
Nightbird, Black Arachnia and Slipstream from various Transformers toy lines
Some fan art of Arcee by Goddess Mechanic. On the left is Arcee from Transformers: Animated, in the middle Transformers:Prime and on the right classic movie or comic book Arcee.
Transformers Generation Oneor G1 means different things to different fans in the various Transformers communities.
The majority of G1 fans think of the 1980’s Sunbow/Marvel/Hasbro cartoon when they hear the term, or the toys that cartoon was designed to sell. The American cartoon was the core fiction or tree trunk from which other branches would grow. For some fans who never saw the show, Generation 1 may mean the Marvel UK Transformers comic book, or the Marvel US Transformers comic book.
It surprised me to learn while doing research for this article that some fans had rarely if ever seen the 80’s cartoon, and had mainly grown up with their exposure to Transformers being one of the comic books, or whatever slender crop of toys appeared in their local region.
Not leaving out our friends in Japan, some fans associate their Generation One with the three exclusive Japanese shows that followed on when the US cartoon ended – Headmasters, Masterforce and Victory, along with the TV-manga short comics that preceded them and tied in with those shows, and the one episode Original Video Animation – Transformers: ZONE.
The one universal then in Generation One that all fans can agree on surely must be the toys? Seeing as how every major region in the world received different waves of toys, minor and major variants, odd confusing releases like Milton Bradley branded Transformers boxes in, hastily repacked actual Diaclone toys rebranded as Transformers and weird Mexican licensed variants and European oddities have been discovered well over a decade after official G1 Transformer toys lines had ended, so what is and is not a “G1 toy” is a topic with room for debate.
So even the topic of what qualifies as a G1 toy can still be surprisingly complex. With some fans arguing for releases falling squarely on the side of the very earliest releases, and others who have more expanded time frames that includes foreign and domestic releases and obscure licensed variants. You can find more on this interesting sub topic in Diaclone expert MAZ’s article Europe’s Strangest Attractions It’s a terrific read.
The term Generation One then is a loaded term, that has gone on to mean far more than the toys it was first associated with.
Generation One can refer to any individual toy, toyline, cartoons, fiction or retro-active fiction set in the “G1” universe or related to it in any way.
For the purposes of this article, which explores the Generation One continuities of the 80s, I will specifically be talking about the toys, comics, manga and cartoons released from 1984-1990, with other sub topics relating to G1 being covered in PART#2 of this article. However PART#1 of this article will overlap somewhat with PART#2 covering a little of 1990-1995.
A WORLD TRANSFORMED
The term G1 / Generation One didn’t exist in the eighties, and was a fan term later used to refer to and differentiate the older “original” toys when Generation Two was released, the term was later adopted into semi-official status by Hasbro.
The first two forms of actual Transformers Generation One fiction are the Marvel penned outlines/concepts by Jim Shooter and Denny ‘O Neil (made at the request of Hasbro. Along with that outline were the character bios written by Marvel man Bob Budiansky. Those profiles would later be expanded into full page bios during the Marvel US run of Transformers comics. The first issue of the comic book appeared several months before the cartoon, making if the first official Transformers fiction available to the public. The comic book was made as a pre-promotion for the toyline and the cartoon.
When the Marvel/Sunbow/Hasbro cartoon aired, it shared the basic ideas and outline the comic book did from Jim Shooter’s treatment – that of a warring alien robot race stranded on earth. Along with the comic, the cartoon, the Shooter outline, the Budiansky profiles/bios were Hasbro and Marvel internal documents that would be constantly added to eventually turning into a “show bible” with character profiles, animation model sheets for reference and other miscellaneous bits of information.
Eventually Hasbro would go on to take more direct control over the brands fiction, while each subsequent Transformers cartoon would have it’s own reference material, Hasbro now has a large stock of Transformers Fiction reference material they can use for any part of the brand, of subline of fiction and toys. They even have nice color pretty picture in them too, instead of ugly xeroxes and faded looking pictures.
Most shows past a certain era tended to move their own internal reference documents into the digital format. So really, the old format “show bible” becomes a digital document in the modern era for most animated shows, however Hasbro has their own more general “Transformers Everything” internal references that cover everything relating to the brand, rather than just a specific show for example any licensee will be given if they are making a particular type of merchandise, however usually a licensee will get the specific references for what Hasbro wants from them, not just random pages of stuff,
A lot of the original documents and references from old cartoons sadly end up typically in the garbage, or sold / sneaked out the back door to be lost forever, or in the hands of private collectors. It’s typical of anything made for TV in the 80’s, nobody ever expected an average cartoon to last beyond a year or two, and reference materials are considered disposable.
Jim Shooter’s first hand version of events of those early meetings and bullshit sessions you can find on his blog. It’s a very entertainingand insightful read – as are the rest of his wild wacky stories, like office break time Wrestling and Marvel gunfights in the office that evolved into a Marvel Comics office paintball team.
Along with Jim Shooter’s expanded personal story of his fateful meeting with Hasbro, I recommend checking out Shooter’s original treatment (outline) that would be used as the basis for the first fiction of the Transformers brand for both the comic book and cartoon. This treatment, along with the four issue comic mini-series, the Budianksy penned character profiles (used on packaging) and the first cartoon story arc – More than Meets the Eye #1-3 – together make up the first ever forms of Transformers fiction.
After Generation One ended we had Generation 2 between 1992-1994 (releases varied depending on what region of the world you were in) and over in Japan various toys based on the three Transformers Anime shows and OVA finished up. Japan continued with some exclusive toy releases most of which were only released in Japan, some of which made it to parts of Europe and Australia, or were released years later in commemorative editions in various territories.
A good number of classic Transformer toy designs and cartoon based models (as in model sheets) were also recycled into the various Takara/Sunrise commissioned BRAVE super robot cartoons in Japan.
Scorponok and his menacing BRAVE counterpart “Zazorigun”
These Brave or “Yuusha” shows were created to fill the toy and toon void left by Transformers in Japan when their JG1 animes ended in 1990. JG1 Transformers would continue as a toyline and various Manga pages to tie in with those toys, but no new animation post 1990 until Beast Wars II.
While each Brave/Yuusha show was its own thing, not tying into the continuity of previous shows – they did play out the same themes with minor variations in the typical “monster/threat of the week” formula frequently used in super-robot and sentai shows.
Meanwhile in the West post Generation Two, Beast Wars successfully relaunched the Transformers brand after the somewhat failed Generation Two brand as a new computer animated TV show, from the same company Mainframe who brought us the brilliant award winning ReBoot CG animated show.
The new Beast Wars toyline was handed over to subsidiary Kenner (most famous for their Star Wars and Batman toys), but with the I.P. still owned by Hasbro. Beast Wars started as a completely independent story Lore-wise. A deliberate choice by the creators to start fresh and not be held back or connected to what had come before – but in later seasons decided to connect the dots of Beast Wars To Generation One, specifically the Marvel/Sunbow cartoon. This sub-topic I will get into in further depth in another post covering Transformers Generation One: Retro-Active-Lore.
I WANT IT ALL… AND I WANT IT NOW!
So even when looking at just the toys it can be hard to say what exactly does G1 mean? When the original cartoon and toys were released the term Generation One didn’t exist, the same as the term World War One did not exist until we got WW2. Transformers had Generation Two, so the previous toys were retrospectively called Generation One.
We can be a bit more sensible and avoid at least *some* of the arguments over what is/is not”G1″ by noting that various Transformers toys were released in America in a specific time frame, and also exported to other parts of the world where the toy lines would vary. Most folks consider everything in a certain era (eg 1984-1990) to be Generation One. However, what it ultimately means to each of us is very personal. To those of us who crave cold hard facts, it can be a bit frustrating.
To poeple G1 is mainly the toys, or mainly the cartoon, to others it’s the lore that is set in that era, even if that lore is retroactive and created twenty years later (a topic for another upcoming post). The confusion arises when we confuse our own personal stories and feelings about Transformers, with objective measurable facts.
So, let’s get to it! Just what are the various Generation One continuities from 1984-1990? Let’s take a look at this collection of continuities that I’m calling The Transformers Matrix…
Just what are the various Generation One continuities from 1984-1990? Let’s take a look …
GENERATION ONE US CARTOON (1984-1987)
The Generation One US cartoon was created by Hasbro, Marvel and Sunbow. Hasbro imported and gained the rights to the Japanese Diaclone toy line (from Takara) of Transforming robot-vehicles, along with a few odd toys that were not Diaclones from other companies toy lines, (such as Shockwave and Roadbuster) and rebranded them in America as Transformers with new fiction, box art, logos, instruction sheets etc.
The cartoon was created mainly to tie in with and promote the imported re-branded toy line, as was the Marvel comic book. Many of the initial Transformers names and ideas (fiction) were created by Marvel at the request of Hasbro. Bob Budiansky created the majority of character names to be used in toy box profiles, the cartoon and the Marvel comics.
The Transformers (also sometimes called The Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye) show ran for two seasons, had a theatrical tie in animated movie where Optimus died and Hot Rod gained the matrix and became the new Autobot leader. The show continued for a third season with a new post-movie cast of characters, and many of the old character died permanently in the theatrical movie. Season four The Rebirth was only three episodes long and meant to establish new stories and characters to tie in with new toys such as the Headmasters and Targetmasters but sadly, the show did not continue.
An interesting and well made fan-video exists that explores the ideas of what *might* have happened if The Rebirth had continued as a full season. It’s only 31 minutes long, but features surprisingly competent voice acting, new lines, new story and dialogue and we get to see characters together that previously appeared in The Rebirth or Headmasters edited together. It’s worth a look, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and frankly I hate most fan dubs of ANYTHING.
The Rebirth established Headmasters and Targetmasters as main characters amongst other new story elements. The Japanese continuity ignore the Rebirth episodes, instead creating their own new post Season 3 show, Headmasters, again loosely based around some of the toy lines such as Headmasters and Targetmasters.
While no new episodes of the Marvel/Sunbow toon were made after The Rebirth, a Season Five exists that broke the movie into parts, and recycled segments from old shows in an attempt to keep the show going. Season 5 is ignored by most people, and was only shown in some parts of the world. Later another new show Transformers Generation 2 aired, but was again only more recycled episodes of the old Transformers show with no new content, just new intros and show bumpers, as part of the somewhat failed relaunch of Transformers as a comic, cartoon and toy line for the Generation Two branding.
Transformarian and wearer of epic hats Jim Sorenson explains it in a way only a true hardcore fan who actually watched this recycled cartoon nonsense back in the day ever could – over on his Disciples of Boltax Blog, you can link to the full article if you like, but I particularly want you to read the bit I’ve quoted / screen grabbed below:
After the original toy lines died out, Generation Two was a somewhat failed attempt to revive the toy line. The toys sold, but the the passion, ingenuity and status that Transformers Fever had risen to in in the eighties was not coming back. Generation Two lead to the later Beast Wars TV show which did successfully revive the Transformers brand along with a new toyline.
Japan went with their Sunrise/Takara BRAVE shows as a substitute for Transformers (1990-1998) and eventually came back to the core brand with Beast Wars II (1998-1999). But not until the release of the first Bayformer live action movie Transformers (2007) would Transformers reach and connect with a mass mainstream audiencein record numbers once again. The Michael Bay live action movies brought in a whole new generation of toy hungry fans, and kick started the nostalgia for some of the older fans for the toys of their youth.
JAPANESE GENERATION ONE [JG1] – CARTOONS AND MANGA (1987-1990)
The american branch of Transformers and the Japanese branch of Transformers parted ways at the end of the Generation One Sunbow/Marvel Productions cartoon, which had been localized in Japan, and curiously split in half with the the first version of the show being called Fight! Super Robot Life-Form Transformers and then rebranded as Transformers 2010 for Season 3.
The post-US Season 3 episodes (aka Season 4) “The Rebirth” episodes were not played in Japan, instead a brand new show The Headmasters picked up where the US cartoon had finished after Season 3. Headmasters did share some of the concepts and characters as The Rebirth to tie in with the toyline. JG1 continued with two further Japanese exclusive shows Masterforce and Victory and short Manga comics and illustrations often by Ban Magami accompanied the various shows in Japanese magazines and promotional material.
Japanese Generation One cartoons ended with the OVA Transformers: Zone, then continued in some very short Manga stories, that are more like basic concepts and outlines, settings, world building etc than actual full stories.
Some concepts were laid out for fiction to tie in with some of the later Japanese toy releases such as Star Convoy and Grandus, but those brief promotional images and few post anime pages of manga were not animated. The fiction was more a handful of concepts in comic pages and an outline to tie in with the toys, that could have been used and expanded upon as the basis for a further show if one had been approved, and again was used in various promotional materials for the final lines of exclusive Japanese toys.
DO YOU HAVE THE WILL…OF A WARRIOR!
After the original imported US Generation One cartoon ended, three new shows continued the Generation One stories. With new characters, and subtle differences to the “official” story of American Transformers Lore as outlined in Hasbro internal documents, the Marvel Productions show bible, toy box Bio’s etc.
The three Japanese exclusive shows that make up the core of JG1 post US Cartoon continuity were Headmasters, Masterforce and Victory.
All three were action heavy Transformers shows with new characters and various new memorable Autobot leaders and villains such as Star Sabre and God Ginrai. The animation was exciting, the look of the characters were more distinctive, a little more detailed and refined than the US cartoon. But while these shows featured some memorable stories, the quality of the writing was really not up to the standards of the American show, and often was aimed at a younger audience.
Various cultural differences mean that a lot of context is lost to Western audiences, and some aspects of the shows fall more in line with traditional Japanese Super Robot shows, rather than the good old US of A brand Transformers comfort food cartoon many fans grew up with. As the three JG1 shows continued, they grew more and more like other super-robot shows in tone and style, and less and less like the American Transformers fiction.
Typical made for TV Japanese anime shows are produced on a limited budget, with mostly generic simple stories that can make it harder for Western audiences to enjoy them. However the animation and art style of the JG1 cartoons was generally of a higher quality than the US cartoon.
The US show was animated by various studios in Asia (as are many American cartoons today) as work for hire. Animation models and basic information is supplied, and the third party studios do whatever work is required, which meant a pretty sloppy job for the US show, which is full of many notorious mistakes in animation models, colors and continuity.
In contrast the JG1 trilogy of shows were from studios that were much more consistent in their output, of higher standard overall and had a much closer relationship to the producers of the JG1 shows, so were not full of glaring errors like the American show was. They are visually rich, but for me, often a bit boring to watch as the stories are a bit sloppy.
Most of the Japanese Transformers stories followed the usual super-robot and sentai pattern – that of the monster / threat /drama of the week, and the subsequent battle to overcome that threat, along with the various gimmicks, super modes and upgrades of their particular characters and show specific themes.
JG1 shows are distinctive enough to make them different from the typical super robot and sentai shows in Japan, there is just enough of a Transformers flavour to keep them interesting and unique, but at times they veer a little too much into super-robot-anime tropes. However to the average Western audience who has not watched other super-robot shows, the JG1 shows do come across as kooky, odd and a bit disjointed.
It’s fair to say they are an aquired taste and take a bit of work to understand properly, both in their story, themes and cultural context, and convoluted Lore that often contradicts itself (like pretty much every other form of Tranformers fiction ever…). There are many fans who love the JG1 toylines and art, but who pretty much ignore the shows.
While not for everyone – there are parts of Headmasters, Masterforce and Victory that I really enjoy, and parts that I really loathe and can’t stand – I do recommend the shows overall to any Transformers fans old or new, give them a go and see for yourself if they are fun for you.
A BRAVE NEW VICTORY
After the third exclusive Japanese Transformer Anime show Victory ended, (OVA Transformers: Zone did not become a TV show) Takara commissioned a new transforming super-robot show – Brave Exkaiser (also known as “Yuusha”) to fill the void left by the end of the JG1 Transformers shows.
Brave would prove so popular that new unrelated Brave shows (new stories and characters) with similar themes were produced for nearly a decade, with many popular well engineered high quality toys selling based on those shows, that continued many of the ideas, concepts and evolved the Transformation schemes established in Diaclone and G1 Transformers toys, while also going off into their own new territory.
The Brave shows are notable for not only reusing and re-purposing old Transformer toy designs, but also some of the animation models within the various shows and lore, such as ShadowMaru (pictured above on the left) who used both the toy and animation base model of Sixshot as the basis for his cartoon and toy mold appearance.
One key idea that kept the Brave shows fresh, is that each new show and toyline was some kids first ever super-robot show, and as the main target market for toys are kids (who get older and forget about the toys) having a new non-connected show and toyline each year or so meant keeping the newest youngsters entertained, while avoiding the problem of declining sales from the older kids who had moved on to other things.
Basically it’s the Super-Robot and Super Sentai / Power Rangers formula applied to a Transformers style series of shows. Nearly everybody combines or powers up to some new mode, lots of crazy demonic monsters, and big powerful laser and energy based attacks, giants swords etc. If you’ve ever seen Power Rangers or a Godzilla movie, then you have an idea what you are in for.
Brave anime shows typically had heroic super robots fighting an evil alien/demonic conquering force on earth. Some of the concept designs came from super-robot legend Kunio Okawara (Gatchaman, Time Bokan, Gundam, BRAVE). If you’ve never heard of Okawara, then you have to read this brilliant Forbes article about the super-robot legend whose influence can be felt directly or indirectly in just about every super robot and mecha anime from the original Gundam onwards.
While Headmasters, Victory and Masterforce are stylistic departures from the American Transformers stories (and leave some fans a bit confused as to the overall themes and ideas) there are many diehard fans who love each of these shows, each show being somebodies favourite over and above any other cartoon in Transformers media.
As the Generation One toys dried up and stopped being made, Takara continued making Generation One style super-robots with their new Brave/Yuusha shows, many of which included fun innovative gimmicks, the main gimmick being that nearly every toy either combined or had a super / powered-up mode.
Unlike the basic Scramble Citycombiners of the Diaclone years, Brave combiners were true marvels of engineering, fun to play with and aesthetically quite beautiful, though many are considered brick-like by today’s standards, Brave toys from various lines remain highly collectible and sought after by vintage collectors and super-robot fans, often selling for very high prices.
GENERATION ONE MARVEL US COMIC BOOK (1984-1991)
Bob Budiansky was involved with the Transformers four-issue mini-series and also went on to write the majority of issues from #5-#55 of the ongoing US Transformers comic, while Simon Furman took over from issues #56-80. Budiansky and Furman were free to write their own stories within certain limitations – new toys /characters had to appear frequently, old characters frequently disappeared without explanation, or were never mentioned again.
Budiansky did not watch the animated show, and so followed his own stories and particular characterizations. The reason for overlap in why *some* characters were still similar to the television show is that Budiansky also wrote the initial character profiles that were later used as guidelines by the voice actors and production staff.
Some notable differences in the comic included Shockwave and Scorponok featuring prominently as power hungry capable temporary leaders of the Decepticons. And on the Autobot side, Blaster was a more lethal, compassionate and dangerous warrior, even going toe to toe in a “fight to the death” with Grimlock while the other Autobots watched and cheered in a particularly memorable issue.
Scorponok was featured heavily in TFUS, the bitter endless struggle for leadership of the Decepticons between Shockwave, Megatron and Scorponok being a major highlight from the run. Not to mention Thunderwing, Straxus, Starscream and Soundwave, all of whom made their own power plays for leadership during various stories.
Simon Furmans’s stories were more epic and larger in scale than Budiansky’s more earth based storied, picking up some similar themes and ideas explored in his Transformers UK run, such as new battles with Unicron, a psychotic Thunderwing possessing an evil Matrix and other potentially world ending threats in typical comic book fashion.
Both writers contributed immensely to the Transformers brand and fiction, and both have their fans and detractors. Both Budiansky and Furman also killed Optimus Prime multiple times, but otherwise ignored events of the cartoons and 1986 animated theatrical film.
Bob Budiansky’s box profiles were expanded in the back pages of the ongoing TF-US comic to full pages with illustrations. Later those same profiles were collected into their own one off comic books and republished as “Transformers Universe” (these profiles were also reprinted years later in IDW’s Transformers Classics US Vol#8).
Simon Furman would return to write the Generation Two Marvel US comic to tie in with the toy line. The stories were mostly self contained and not really connected to anything before or after the story, with only minor references to other fiction. Generation Two had a brief few issues in the UK, and also a short run in the US comic, where the UK stories were reprinted, before continuing with some new content for several issues.
G2 Marvel US ran only a handful of issues before it was cancelled, and notably Megatron turned up in Marvel’s ongoing G.I. Joe comic. The Joe comic had a battered G1 Megatron rebuilt by Cobra into the tank alt mode he is famous for in Generation Two. It was pretty cool but I only read those G.I. Joe issues for Megatron, the rest of it was pretty boring.
The Marvel G2 comics I quite like and have read several times. They are often erroneously labelled as crap and “too much” like other Marvel 90’s comics that over the top in violence and dark themes.
But, well, the issue I take with that is that mainstream Marvel comics in the early nineties were a lot of crap (I was there, I read them), and the dark uber violent themes were more of a pervaisive post Watchmen and Dark Knight tone, they were not actually very graphic at all in violence.
Except Tranformers Generation Two, it was GLORIOUSLY violent, likely the MOST graphically violent piece of Transformers fiction ever depicted. However, there were no angry self-loathing super-hero style battles. Instead their was grand machine on machine carnage with splatter style horror and gore, just with robots instead of humans.
Horror violence and super-hero violence are very different. I STILL cringe when I read any retrospective’s that erroneously lump Transformers G2 comics in with other typical Marvel Comics of the era. If anything it’s atypical, surprisingly well written with some very ethically challenging themes explored. The art is alternative, but very expressive, and a really unique style that throws a lot of people off, as they don’t recognise it as horror fiction style art, rather than super-hero fiction style art from a very competent artist.
Take a look at the page below and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Zombie films or splatter-gore horror movies….
Further down the road, Furman would return to the Marvel Transformers comics fiction again, this time for a new publisher IDW. Transformers: Regeneration One was an interesting project that I quite enjoyed. It picked up where the Marvel TFUS stories had first ended, mostly ignoring his own brief G2 comics.
Regeneration One tied up some of the loose ends from the Marvel US run, and let Furman finish those stories for good. He also went to write Transformers stories for both Dreamwave and IDW comics.
GENERATION ONE MARVEL UK COMIC BOOK (1984-1991)
The UK Transformers comics were created as original content filler material to fit around reprints of the American Marvel Transformers comic book in the UK.
The UK, like Japan, often serializes stories in comics and magazines, with several unrelated stories or features in each issue. So the entire UK run incorporates reprints of the US Transformers comics along with new material, and some new cover art for the shorter page counts as reprints were often split in half. Other materials could include tie in stuff like promotional art, redesigned ad layouts for toy stock photos and oddities like Marvel UK’s bounty hunter Death’s Head becoming part of the later stories, and taking a key role in the battle with Unicron.
Transformers UK became one of the most popular licensed comic books ever published in that region, following on the trails of other popular licensed Marvel books such as Star Wars, KISS, Conan and Dr Who.
TFUK also kicks a LOT of ass, big action, cool fun stories, lovely art. ‘Nuff said!
Most jarring to new readers is the early stories that use the toys as the basis for the art, rather than the animation models. Marvel UK had to use whatever materials they were supplied with, eventually the art switched to be more in line with the animation models, when Marvel US finally passed on some reference materials that they had neglected to even mention to Marvel UK.
The art changed for the better in the UK stories – but still with its own distinctive look often much richer in colors than the American comics, including some painted covers that are bloody good medicine for the eyes.
The reason the early comics had toy likenesses is that Marvel UK were not supplied with or even aware of any model sheets or character style guides. They had to make do with box art that were already illustrations based on the toys, and the actual toys themselves.
The majority of the TFUK run was written by Simon Furman, who would later go on to write the TFUS comic when Budiansky left, writing some of the most memorable US and UK stories. Some fans prefer the UK comic over both the US comic or cartoon for its rich art and unique stories. A significant number of issues featured painted covers, and sometimes interior painted art as well.
While the early Marvel UK stories are rather bland, (“Man of Iron” being the exception) the later stories are more enjoyably complex with greater depth to the characters, and longer story arcs that pay off.
Simon Furman later found his groove with more intricate plots, and getting away from the generic simplistic first stories that were if anything experimental (even by his own words) -and a bit boring with some lovely art.
Transformers Marvel UK (or TFUK for short – the naughtiest abbreviation in TF lore) will always be remembered mostly for Simon Furman’s contributions, and expansions of Transformers new ideas and lore, that were later incorporated into other shows and media.
Furman’s stories were recognised and loved by some fans, and it was a natural fit that he wrote the second third of the Transformers Marvel US comic book, giving us some of the most epic stories in that book.
Furman notably went on to be a key writer in the early IDW Transformers relaunch, as well as some stories for Dreamwave such as The War Within, and the IDW penned sequel to Marvel Transformers US titled Transformers:Regeneration One.
Furman also did most of the lore related material for the DK guide book Transformers: The Ultimate Guide, as well as being a TV writer on Beast Wars and writing various club comics and one off stories. Many of Furman’s original ideas have been adopted by Hasbro into various media such as later cartoons and the live action movies. A good number of key concepts in any modern Transformers Lore were first established by Simon Furman.
The Transformers UK comics have some great stories and ideas thrown about including a time travelling Galvatron who goes back in time and fights Megatron, frequent clashes of Galvatron with Ultra Magnus, Deaths Head the bounty hunter teaming up with and fighting various Autobots and Decepticons – but ultimately proving himself to be a hero rather than then a merciless bounty hunter.
The UK stories also featured the first appearance and origins of Primus, established as Unicron’s equal and opposite force in the universe. Primus was another Furman creation, and unrelated to “Unvorsum” the Cybertron planet-former from the scrapped draft of Transformers: The Movie (1986). Primus went on to star in the Unicron Trilogy of cartoons and received his own impressive planet-former toy (a remold of Armada Unicron).
TRANSFORMERS UK GENERATION TWO
When Generation 2 launched, only a handful of UK Transformer comics were ever published, those same comics were reprinted in the US run of G2, which then went on and continued with some new stories, but only for a very short run before it was cancelled.
Some fans gloss over the G2 UK_US comics as afterthoughts, and even Simon Furman himself wrote “around” them when he penned Regeneration One for IDW (the sequel to the Marvel US stories). Short and sweet as they are, they feature some lovely art and are well worth reading, even if they are bit of a let down after the epic final runs of Furman TFUK and TFUS.
The Generation Two comics are a good bit of fun, and well worth reading. The UK portion is a little bland, but the story continued -somewhat – in the US version by Furman, and is a really unique piece of storytelling that takes risk, and throws in a lot of interesting concepts, it’s a shame the stories are mostly forgotten today, but you can still track down at least the US version reprints in two tidy volumes from Titan Books.
THE LORDS OF TRANSFORMERS
So, looking back at 1984-1990, and 1990-1992 we have four main simultaneous continuities that are some of the branches on the tree of “Generation One”.
If trees are not your thing, then perhaps a delicious Pie graph. Some of these continuities overlap, but each is its own unique thing, with a particular vision and authorial style, and each with their own pros and cons as far as how they make sense with each other (mostly they don’t, and were never intended to) or fit into the larger puzzle of Transformers lore from 1984-2017.
All four of those continuities grew out of Hasbro’s design documents, the Transformers show bible/internal guide book (that is, when they bothered to actually share their resource material…lazy buggers!)
The key distinction is that each continuity was based on the same source material but free to do its own thing, giving us a rich more layered look at Transformers fiction that laid down the foundation for future shows, toy bios (and live action films) to pilfer from. It’s a richer universe of fiction for having multiple different strands of stories and lore, in different countries and regions etc, rather than one bland homogeneous single continuity.
Like a lot of science fiction, there are too many ideas in Transformers to limit them to just one form of fiction.
This article is not meant to be definitive, but more of an overview, so some minor details are left out to make it easier to understand, and I will be covering some other sub-topics in another installment of this series where I will look at post-modern G1 continuity, which includes various continuities set during G1 and G1 retro active lore, and eventually I will move on to the shambolic mess that is the modern Aligned Continuity where I will likely swear a fair bit while writing.
If you can’t remember everything in this article, I hope my infographic below gives you a quick point of reference that is a bit easier on the eyes
Soundwave is perhaps the most loyal of all Decepticons. Not just loyal to lord Megatron, but to the Decepticon cause. Whoever is in charge, Soundwave is a loyal follower and advisor, the opportunity for Soundwave to lead the Decepticons has risen in some rare stories, but while he will lead in the absence of any truly powerful ruler, his preference as as an advisor, chief aide and intelligence / ops specialist for whatever campaign the Decepticons are waging.
While Soundwave and his cassettes are recon specialists gaining enemy
intelligence by stealth and cunning, when confronted on the battlefield or
one to one, Soundwave is a dangerous and capable combatant.
His hand to hand combat skills and unorthodox arsenal of weapons – including sense shattering sonic sounds and audio amplifications that can bring even the most powerful of Autobots to their knees instantly.
Those who mistake Soundwave as just an intelligence agent, are bound to
fall before his might and Superior skills both on and off the combat field.
That Soundwave is always in the background, appearing to do little or nothing is
part of his modus operandi. Well versed in the are art of Deception, Soundwave
is the prototypical Decepticon. Where others may falter in their beliefs,
attitude, or fall prey to their own ego (such as Starscream), Soundwave is
busy making the Decepticons the best they can be as a true loyalist.
RAVAGE, LASERBEAK: EJECT. OPERATION: OBSERVE AND REPORT
Soundwaves minibot cassettes appear weak and powerless, but this is part of their deception. Laserbeak and Ravage specialize in stealth and observation, but when cornered can prove just as deadly as Soundwave himself.
Rumble and Frenzy on the other hand are all about total devastation and discombobulation, the terrible two use their pile drivers to shake the ground apart beneath the feet of their enemies, while their ultra-sonic audio output can temporarily cripple all but the most powerful of Autobots. Rumble and Frenzy constantly run their motormouths not just to taunt their enemy, but to further confuse and distract them. Though tiny in size, they are deadly combatants that only a fool would underestimate.
Megatron trusts Soundwave like no other Decepticon, and likewise his minion Ravage is also trusted by Megatron implicitly, perhaps more than most other Cons who fall in line due to Megatron’s dominant strength and mercilessness, and less out of personal allegiance to the cause or feelings of friendship toward Megatron. Soundwave and Ravage not only think of Megatron as their leader, but perhaps as their friend, that is – if such a thing as friendship can ever truly exist in the Decepticon ranks, where only the strong and cunning shall survive.
Whoever should ultimately claim leadership of the Decepticons, (Scorponok, Starscream, Shockwave, Thunderwing, or any other pretender to Megatron’s Throne) Soundwave will be there to back up that leadership not with bravado and heroic nonsense, but with a Cybertronian lifetime as VP to the head honcho, with the incomparable time tested skills and intelligence to turn the Decepticons from a group of rag tag outcast rebels into a well oiled engine of pure destruction and domination.
Whether in times of peace or war, expect Soundwave to remain true to his values.
The Death of Optimus Prime is a major moment in the history of The Transformers.
For marketers and toy merchandisers, it was the excuse to introduce new toys.
For young kids, it may have been an upsetting experience to see their favourite hero die in a theatrical film The Transformers Movie (1986) that was more serious in tone than the TV series and toy commercials that spawned it.
Personally I was not affected by the death of Prime as a kid. I don’t know exactly what age I was when I saw the film, but it was somewhere in the range of age 7-9 on VHS / video rental at home rather than in a cinema.
I’d watched the odd horror film here and there when I was young, and did not really find them scary, finding them more interesting for the practical special effects than the stories. If a realistic violent human death did not affect me, what chance did an animated robot have?
The main reason Prime’s death did not affect me was not I didn’t like the character, but I did not relate to him in any meaningful way. Prime was the father figure and leader of the Autobots in the cartoon. Their combined wisdom and strength, the embodiment of their team spirit.
But Optimus Prime he was never my favourite Transformers character, Grimlock was my favourite, now then and forever. If it had been Grimlock dying in that infamous scene in the 1986 animated movie, I probably would have cried.
Prime was popular, cool, the leader, the guy other Autobots came to for advice.
Grimlock was the outsider, the loner, the rebel, the guy who breaks the rules and who polite society will never truly accept.
I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life. I’ve been an outsider in many ways most of my life, more by circumstance than choice. It’s part of the reason I love character’s like Batman, Hellboy, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk and Grimlock. They are the characters who are the flawed loners, who we basically are afraid of. I relate more to them than the Superman’s, Prime and Captain’s America’s of the world.
As a kid I was shy, socially awkward and introverted, an outsider. Not one of the “in” crowd. So characters like Grimlock, or Marvel’s Incredible Hulk make more sense to me on that level. They are both characters with a very child like selfish demanding manner, and relatable to many kids.
I was not popular, outgoing or confident as a kid, I was shy, awkward and introverted. I’m still shy, socially awkward and introverted now, it’s part of who I am, and I am okay with that. But I am also bold, confident and outgoing when I want to be, but it took a lot of practice, and I’m thankful to inspiring characters like Optimus Prime, the epitome of self-confidence, modesty and respect
There is something very primal and yet empowering to the average eight year old boy about a kick-ass rule breaking robot who transforms into a giant t-Rex.
Grimlock is the leader of his own team of misfit rule breakers – the Dinobots, who mostly follow his lead, when they are not busy fighting each other. The Dinobots are their own sub-faction and family within the Transformers franchise and media. To kids like me who grew up loving anything to do with Dinosaurs, and had no interest in cars or trucks, Grimlock will always be King.
Watching Transformers: The Movie again this week, and I can say that the scene where Optimus Prime died did bring a tear to my eye, and any time I watch that movie as an adult it has the same effect. It may not be a graphic death, but it is an emotionally powerful death, that is both literal and symbolic. Prime’s death is the physical death of a genre defining super-robot icon.
Optimus Prime’s death is also the symbolic death of the old generations of Autobots, making way for the new guard. For new adventures in later seasons of the Transformers TV show that were not exclusively focused around earth, but other planets including Cybertron. Prime’s death is also the invitation for the collapse of the toy line and its subsequent reinvention many years later. All toy lines must end, and all things must come to an end.
Prime’s death on the one hand was a mishandling of an iconic character mandated by a toy company that did not appreciate how popular he had grown. Prime’s death was also a catharsis that all iconic characters go through. Batman and Superman have died multiple times in their respective fictions, you could even say that the death of a major literary character is merely part of their path to true iconic status.
Iconic characters may die in a particular story but are reborn in new media, in new stories, in new ideas. Reaching the status of pop cultural icon, or mythic archetype means permeating the mass consciousness of society, it means Prime exist for most people primarily as an idea, an idea is much harder to kill than even a fictional character. Death then can be seen as a prerequisite for rebirth in new media that may follow immediately, or many years or decades later.
The IDEA of Optimus Prime transcends his medium and genre, Prime stands for hope, for unity, for forgiveness, for unselfish leadership, for learning from ones mistakes, for living the true and the good of ones values in our own lifetimes.
…And yet when he died, I truly did not care.
But a few decades went by…
And now I do care for Prime the character, for Prime the idea and the values he represents. I feel deeply the pain of his literary death any time I watch that iconic film, but at the same time I know his new incarnations, new media, new TV shows, live action films and toys are always just around the corner. I know that you can’t keep a good Bot down for long.
Prime’s death then is a rebirth and re-invigoration of the Transformers characters and media.
The old dies and makes space for the new and the young. But the old also permeate the new world, the ideas and values of Transformers are not just silly stories, crass commercial marketing of plastic toys to children. They are modern mythologies and dramas and ideas and real emotions. The story tellers who work in modern day comic books and children’s animation know this, to me it’s part of what elevates the Transformers fiction above other similar TV shows from the era.
Super-Robot anime shows are a dime a dozen, and most of them have rather weak generic stories with the focus on the action. Transformers had the action AND some good stories, and some silly ones too.
Transformers the brand, the culture, the fiction and lore in all their manifestations are infused with the values and ideas that made it great to begin with, at that original conception. They went from being cold lifeless lumps of plastic, to engaging characters.
Optimus Prime is the lynchpin of the franchise, some of his co-creator’s didn’t realize it when they killed him in 1986. But they sure know it now. As a character, he’s worth billions of dollars. He is also rather an inspiring figure to me and many other fans. Prime is the quintessential selfless hero, he’s also a soldier, alien and a sentient robot. So much more than a lump of plastic I think. So very much more than meets the eye.
So here’s to the Death and ongoing Life of Optimus Prime.
*And yes Grimlock is STILL my favourite Transformers character.