Tag Archives: Hasbro

My Transformations Bring All the Bots to the Yard – Transformers – the Coolest Fucking Toys on the Planet

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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.

sunstreaker diaclone mp

 

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.

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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.

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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.

kids in scale uss flagg
Bootleg 80’s Kids in 1:1 Scale

 

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.

Superman 1939 articulated figure
CONSTIPATED SUPERMAN DIED FOR YOUR SINS

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.

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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.

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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.

motormaster vs optimus prime 2
What amazing thighs you have Optimus Prime
motormaster vs optimus prime
NO MERCY, NO PROBLEM

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Darth Bubble, Bat Bubble and Beast Bubble

 

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.

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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.

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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.g2 sideswipe classic mikey animated bulkhead transformers action figures.JPG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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THE FARMSTA’ LIFE

 

IMAGE CREDITS

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

Sunstreaker fan art based on box art https://zobovor.deviantart.com/art/Transformers-Sunstreaker-Diaclone-Box-Art-620651065

Masterpiece Sunstreaker image from official Takara stock photos

Jerfire fan art by Thuddleston https://thuddleston.deviantart.com/

Vintage G.I. Joe image from https://geektyrant.com/news/2010/12/21/week-of-coolest-toys-ever-original-1964-gi-joe-action-figure.html

KENNER Super Power Batman toy image http://mentalfloss.com/article/92022/breaking-mold-kenners-super-powers-collection

Beast Wars image from TFSource.com

Astro Boy image https://www.cnet.com/news/astro-boy-returns-as-your-new-buildable-robot-buddy/

Gundam image http://gundam.wikia.com/wiki/RX-78-2_Gundam

Iron Giant image https://mondotees.com/products/the-iron-giant-soundtrack-2xlp-version-a

G. I. Joe toy commerical image courtesy of Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycedRcHbd6w&ab_channel=SheenaWick

Star Wars / Batman images copyright KENNER

Beast Wars card back image  http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Beast_Wars:_Transformers_(toyline)

Carl Weathers thumbs up image http://mymountainiswaiting.com/pct-fitness-prep-carl-weathers-style/

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The CHEATERS Guide to Transformers Generation One Continuities PART#1 1984-1990


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THE TRANSFORMERS GENERATION ONE MATRIX

Transformers Generation One or 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Grandest Generation One toy of all

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.

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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.

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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 entertaining and 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.

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 1

http://jimshooter.com/2011/06/secret-origin-of-transformers-part-1.html/

The Secret Origin of the TRANSFORMERS – Part 2

http://jimshooter.com/2011/06/secret-origin-of-transformers-part-2.html/

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.

Jim Shooter’s Original Transformers Treatment

http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/jim-shooters-original-transformers.html

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Have you got the GUTS!

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GENERATION ONE IS DONE

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.

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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.

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Shadow Maru from Brave and his inspiration / pre-deco Sixshot

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Just what are the various Generation One continuities from 1984-1990? Let’s take a look …

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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.

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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:

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Zob’s Thoughts on Transformers G1 Season Five

[Jim Sorensen Blog Post in full]

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THE ALMOST DEATH OF TRANSFORMERS

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 audience in 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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“Return of Convoy” Promotional material

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.

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Overlord vs God Ginrai

 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.

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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.

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“Ex-Kaiser” the lead character of the very first Brave TV show “Brave Exkaiser”

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.

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Brave Exkaiser MAX Team by JP-V http://ailgara.deviantart.com/art/Brave-Exkaiser-Max-Team-565531984
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DeathSaurus of JG1’s TF: VICTORY is redesigned into Red Geist for a BRAVE anime show and toy

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.

Kunio Okawara, The Man Who Designed ‘Gundam’ and Created the Profession of Mechanical Design

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The epic battle of God Ginrai vs Overlord

BIG IN JAPAN

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 City combiners 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.

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“Transformers Victory” mainline toys
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“Victory Leo” from “Transformers Victory” in the typical shiny metallic style of 1980’s Transformers box art

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Marvel Universe Stunticon BREAKDOWN Profile

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.

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An unlikely alliance of Megatron and Cobra

 

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When Megatron brings down the house, he really brings down the house
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“Strike me down and I shall return in an even more powerful form!”

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….

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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.prime burning.jpg

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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!

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Simon Furman creation “Death’s Head” strikes a bargain

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.

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Brawn, Bee, Jazz and Mirage with toy based likenesses

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.

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Marvel Megatron UK (early toy appearance) Megatron UK (later version) and Megatron US

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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That’s just Primus!

 

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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.

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That’s right baby, he’s back! You can’t keep a good dictator tyrant dead for long

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.

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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.

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Free Dinobot stickers from the Generation Two Marvel UK comic

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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.

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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.

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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

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