Sometimes it’s easy to forget how cool and amazing Transformers toys are.
The idea of the very first Transformer toys were realistic diecast toy cars – that also happened to turn into simplistic robots.
It’s easy to miss those old school toys were not robots that turned into vehicles, (or real world objects such as Soundwave and Megatron) they were vehicles with a bonus mode that resembled a very basic robot. You had to use your imagination. It was the branding and cartoon that made us think of them primarily as robots.
Over the years Transformers evolved from simple chunky bots into fully articulated action figures. They did not start off as action figures, but as toys that had a bonus feature – the transformation gimmick. You paid for one toy, but you basically got two toys for your money – making for increased play value.
Looking back from 2017 to the vintage Transformers, Diaclone and Micro-Change toys, it’s easy to miss the aim of the toy line was not poseability or articulation – it was all about play value and various gimmicks. Most kids don’t give a crap what poses a figure can pull off, it’s gotta be an engaging character, something they recognise, or full of bright cheerful colors or have some cool play gimmick to keep a kids attention. If a toy has all of those things that makes it even more desirable.
ALL ACTION, ALL THE TIME
The general idea of licensed action figures such as the Kenner Super Powers or MEGO’s was character accuracy, bright colors and toy gimmicks that made the toy appealing to kids. The term Action Figure often implied some type of action gimmick, or being tied to an action oriented licensed character – rather than just articulation.
Take a look at vintage G. I. Joe and Action Man, and you’ll see amazing articulation that was not used used in many other toys for decades as its was just too cost prohibitive. The large scale Joes used the same basic idea as girls dolls – large toys that you can buy many outfits for thus increasing it’s potential play value. Their poseability and accessories set the action figure standard, but the large size (costs, mass market vs say hot toys etc) was mostly non transferable to other toy lines. As costs went up, and more and more licensed merchandise arrived in the form of action figures – over the years the toys got smaller.
When G.I. Joe eventually was relaunched he didn’t come back in his large scale cloth clothing form, he was shrunk down the same size as the new tiny Star Wars figures. Meaning they were cheaper toys to make, but they also were far more articulated than the Star Wars figures. And like the Star Wars toy line – the new smaller scale toys had legendary vehicles and accessories to play with.
FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY – THE ARTICULATED MAN
Even the basic idea of articulation existed much earlier than the action figure craze of the 1960’s. For example Ideal Toy Company produced a wooden articulated Superman toy back in 1939. And various dolls for girls over the decades had limited articulation, soft hair, eyes that moved etc. Going back even further we have wooden marionettes – puppets more than toys – but the idea of articulation based on a mammalian skeletal structure and movement patterns is there.
The action figure is basically a hybrid of features from other toys – mainly from girls dolls, with play gimmicks added from toys typically made for boys. The modern action figure still exists as a toy on chainstore shelves for kids but also exists as an adult collectible aiming at screen, comic or video game artistic accuracy over any play features or poseability, while mainline chain-stores boys toys are still heavily oriented around various gimmicks, accessories and ties ins such as vehicles.
For example my Grossery Gang Garbage Truck has a Garbage Catapult, the front dumpster lifts up on the arm forks, both the side doors open with peg holes for figures, there’s a gun turret and seat on one side and the wheels roll quite smoothly. Oh and the front canopy opens so you can put a figure in there.
The play pattern and emphasis is on ACTION. And those fold out doors mean you can store Transforming burgers or whatever other Junkfood Formers you got lying around in there.
From these different influences then – statues, marionettes, dolls and other odd toys and gimmicks we arrive at the hybrid toy – the action figure. Poseable, articulated, stylish, cool, full of attitude and toughness and can-do.
The modern action figure is like a marionette without strings that can hold its own poses on one end of the scale – or like a statue with limited articulation on the other hand – made to look stunning on display.
Those old Brickformers of my youth could not pull of an action pose to save their life. Fast forward to more modern toys like Combiner Wars Motormaster or Classics / Henkei Optimus Prime and we now have a toy robot that transforms into a cool vehicle AND is a competent action figure.
THESE ARE NOT THE BOTS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR
The toy line that made action figures truly viable in the mainstream after vintage Joe died off was of course the Star Wars figures and vehicles from Kenner. The articulation was pretty limited, but the details were nice. The card backs were rather attractive and most important – they had a MASSIVE demand in stores and a CHEAP price point for toys that mostly resembled their source material.
Star Wars figures were toys kids could buy with pocket money, or parents might buy on a day out at the shops without breaking the bank. To my eyes they are small, ugly and stupid. Yeah I’m not a fan of those figures at all. But I respect the place they have in toy and action figure history, and I did enjoy seeing some of my mates collection when I was younger (I never owned any myself, and if I did I would likely burn them).
The Star Wars movies eventually being released on home VHS meant an extended life for Star Wars products and figures, along with their vehicles. The smaller scale Star Wars figures were such a hit, that when the G.I. Joe brand was relaunched by Hasbro – they went with the new cheaper downscaled 3 3/4 scale figures – mimicking the Star Wars figures, while adding in much needed articulation. This scale of action figure also had the benefit of fitting in the many large vehicles that populate the Star Wars and G.I. Joe lines without looking ridiculous as most toy lines typically do due to scale issues.
Star Wars and licensed superhero figures pushed the niche of the Action Figure to mass mainstream audiences through the seventies and eighties. Eventually, technology moved along to provide more accurate sculpting of facial features. This side technology of facial scanning grew out of the movie and video game worlds, and became a standard adopted, used and rapidly progressed in its accuracy for several years and used in many licensed products for actor likenesses, wrestlers, etc.
Meaning more accuracy and less reliance on sculpts from scratch. Previous portrait technologies involved the use of a camera, or the use of a person sitting really still for many hours while being painted. So facial scanning for licensed products is still pretty new in the history of humanity. Our cave man ancestors made do with sticks and stone toys presumably, and lots more imagination. They never imagined a future of three dimensional scanning creepily bringing dead actors back to life in movies, or giving us the highest possible raised position of an eyebrow on a sweaty muscle man.
Our modern toys still have to be physically designed, prototyped, and manufactured of course. But this fancy pants computer technology bullshit contributes and fast tracks the amazing movie accurate toys we see today in toy lines from Hot Toys, NECA etc, along with the more traditional artists sculpts and statues. Not to gloss over all the traditional design and pre-production work from artists in traditional and digital media that precedes the production of any high end toy or movie licensed product. Full credit to those hard working artists man!
THE BEASTS OF BURDEN
Eventually Transformers started adopting more of the standardized features of the action figure type of toys, and less of the features typical of diecast vehicles (well…Alternators…*cough*). While various features like light piping, ball joints and more appeared in selected G1 and G2 toys, it was the Beast Wars tie in toy line that made Transformers into fully articulated standarized action figures – rather than diecast vehicles that also turned into boxy robots.
The organic alt modes of Beast Wars allowed more freedom to run wild with new designs not limited by past Transformers designs, or styles of transformation. They were more Western action figure that happens to turn into a thing, rather than Japanese super robot…that turns into a thing.
For the first time subsidiary Kenner – famous for making Star Wars, Super Powers and Batman action figure lines was asked to make the new Beast Wars figures. Having failed to make any real impact with the Generation Two branding (and cancelled TV show) Hasbro was willing to take a chance with something radically different to anything that had come before in Transformers history.
Beast Wars remains a divisive line/brand with many fans loving it or outright hating it. But nobody (except lunatics) denies the impact it had on the evolution of Transformers toys – and that it basically saved the Transformers media brand and toys from probable extinction. I still can’t stand about 90% of anything Beast Wars related. But like Star Wars, Beast Wars has its significant place in Transformers toy history and Lore.
AND I’LL FORM… THE HEAD
So, with all that articulation and fancy bells and whistles making these modern Transformer toys so special, what else do they need? A cool look is important, but more than that you need personality and character.
Do kids want Bumblebee every year because he’s frigging yellow and named after a Bee? No they want him because of his winning personality and on screen shenanigans. Because he’s a recognizable iconic character like Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo or Spongebob. Its a challenge for any Writer/Creator/Imagineer of Transformers fiction to balance the robot modes with the alt modes. Stories set on Earth or Cybertron tend to have roads or an atmosphere conducive to flying. Roads justify vehicle alt modes, while worlds without roads make more sense to have Beast of flying forms for mobility.
Too much alt mode and we lose the character or get bored. It just becomes a piloted mech or fancy ATV. Too much humanoid sentient alien robot, and we lose what makes Transformers unique from mecha and super robot shows.
We like our robots of all flavors to have personalities. The most enduring characters are well defined in their personalities and values, but with room to do new things in stories, or the for audience to project something of themselves onto that character. The original Transformers toys came alive in kids imaginations, partly due to the old box bios – and partly due to the tie in cartoon and comics, the rest was imagination for them Brickformers. The toys themselves were rather beautiful, but limited in what they could do. The stories and characters were mainly influenced by american superhero fiction, thus making Transformers uniquely american, despite the toys being a totally different toyline rebranded and imported from Japan.
Astro boy, Optimus Prime and the Iron Giant are sentient robots full of personality and humanity, and while Gundam mecha are big robot suits piloted by humans – even these mecha has a personality and style to them that makes them far more than just “vehicles” even if they are ultimately the worlds fanciest all terrain (or no terrain) vehicles.
Transformers sit comfortably as a mix of toy, action figure, cool robot, and cool character/personality. Take Jetfire above – he’s a warrior/scientist, looks great as a robot and turns into a gigantic kick ass flying vehicle. Any one of these elements alone can be enough to sell a toy, or promote a tie in with licensed media. Add them all together and you have a recipe for keeping kids young and old entertained and coming back for more for decades.
In this image below from left to right: Transformers Animated Black Arachnia, TF Animated Bulkhead, Generation Two Sideswipe and TMNT Classics Mikey. The turtle toy can pull off just about any pose you can dream of, while in contrast G2 Sideswipe (a redeco of the G1 toy) can move his arms up and down a little and his wheels rolls smoothly in vehicle mode. Bulkhead has a fair amount of articulation, but his poses are limited by his size and weight – no kung-fu kicks for this Deskbot – unless you have the patience for it.
You can see how the Sideswipe toys looks cool, but not much personality to him other than his sweet color scheme. Without a box bio or comic or cartoon – we don’t know much about Sideswipe. In contrast Mikey and Bulkhead are just full of personality and quite expressive. Even without looking at any tie in media, we get an idea of their character just from looking at them.
Bulkhead has cool gimmicks such as his jaw moves when he talks, and the voice clips are straight from the show audio – no second hand “toy only” off key voice actor shenanigans here. His arm buzzsaw spins, while his other arm has a claw grabbing action. Mikey has Nunchucks with fake chains so they hang and can be posed in any number of ways, while his base and foot pegs means he can ninja-kick with the best of em and not topple over.
WE MUST BRING BALANCE TO THE TRANSFORMATION
Stories like IDW comics Stormbringer bring us less “robots in disguise” and more robots in big action scenes, gung-ho dialogue with loads of characters and not much alt modes to be seen because it’s what fans – manchildren – want. But a good Transformers story in any media needs a balance of bot and alt mode to make it genuine, and not just a generic Robot story. Personally just give me a shit ton of fights and explosions and I’ll be happy.
Likewise, a good modern Transformers toy needs to be a balance of vehicle, cool robot and action figure and winning personality (or face ripping sadist executioner). It’s a balance that is not always quite right. Often one mode suffers for the sake or another. Most notorious are triple changers – at best two out of three modes look decent, with the third mode often suffering to accommodate the other two.
When a Bot transformation scheme, play factor and overall cool aesthetics comes together, it’s just magic. The infamous MP-10 Optimus Prime and his variants have a beautiful truck mode and a stunning robot mode that looks great many years after its creation. It’s also a highly articulated action figure, satisfying the third criteria of successful modern Transformers toy designs. It’s also a kick-ass representation of an iconic character, so it’s win/win/win and gets Bluebot Bears Big Stamp of Awesome.
Most modern action figures usually emulate the human musculoskeletal system (or an animal’ skeleton), and it’s implied ranges of normal movement.
In the below image is a Kenner Batman figure that can pull off a variety of action poses, next to him is RID Thunderhoof, who can do most if not all of the same poses Batman can do. He’s the modern Transformer robot, vehicle and action figure hybrid. The brickbots of my childhood (that I still love) generally can’t pull of these sorts of poses, and they were never intended to. To me it’s silly to complain any toy does’t have a feature it was never designed to have. Makes as much sense to me as complaining that pigs don’t have wings and can’t fart gold bricks.
The BVS movie Batman (in silver) next to The Rock also has articulation, but its rather limited and he can pull of almost zero action poses other than kneeling while falling over or raising and bending his arms in a straight linear line while dropping his poorly gripped weapon. Samurai Leo is even worse, he looks great but his articulation means his feet can’t go far and his arms are not flexible enough to pull off any realistic sword poses or combat stances.
Thunderhoof meanwhile can pull of some great poses, has a really cool transformation scheme, looks great in his tractor alt mode and (mostly) resembles his on screen persona. While there are better TF toys, Thunderhoof is a fine example of a modern Transformers toy done right and the evolution of the Vehicle / Robot / Action figure triangle, and a good place to end this post.
Optimus Prime art by Alex Milne / Marker Guru https://markerguru.deviantart.com/gallery/6117864/commissions
Superman toy image https://www.cgccomics.com/boards/topic/252921-rare-1939-40-13quot-superman-action-figure-1st-licensed-supes-merchandise/
Sunstreaker vintage toy image http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Sunstreaker_(G1)/toys
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