30 Years of Transformers in 30 Days!
Welcome to TFW’s Transformers at 30 retrospective! Over the next 30 days we will be counting down to the anniversary of the franchise we all know and love with a year-by-year walk down memory lane, remembering the highs and the lows, the cartoons, the comics and the toys which have contributed to the franchise and shaped what we know as Transformers today. Let’s dive right in with the year that started it all - 1984.
While 1984 was the debut year of Transformers, the story truly began much earlier, in Japan with the toymaker Takara. Takara in 1980 had introduced the Diaclone line. The line at its earliest stages used science-fiction styled vehicles and robots, all of which could transform into alternate forms. The line featured small pilot figures that controlled these robots to fight against alien invaders. In March 1982, the line introduced a new concept, “car robots”, which featured realistic vehicles turning into robots. The very first one was a Countach LP500S, which would become the Autobot Sunstreaker. In 1983, Takara introduced a new theme into one of their other lines, Microman, called Micro Change. The Microman series was all about how these 3 ¾ inch figures were 1-1 scale with the characters they represented, and the Micro Change series sought to extend this by having transforming robots based on items such as a minicassette player, Choro-Q toys, and several guns. These lines would remain in Japan initially, outside of Takara’s attempts at marketing the toys outside the US under the banner of Kronoform and Diakron.
A selection of Diaclone car robots, who would later become mainstays of the 1984 Transformers toy line
In 1983, representatives of Hasbro attended the Tokyo Toy Show, looking for prospective new properties to license for the US market. Hasbro’s representatives reported about these cool robots that turned into everyday objects and real cars. Accounts differ but it is generally accepted that it was then-Hasbro employee Henry Orenstein who introduced the toys to Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld and Vice President of R&D George Dunsay. Hasbro commissioned advertising agency Griffin Bacal to come up with a way to adapt the two lines for the US market. Griffin Bacal put forward that the robots should be the main characters of the story, rather than the piloted mecha of the Japanese lines. They split the toys into two factions, which they named Autobots and Decepticons, and designed the faction logos based on the faces of the toys that would become Prowl and Soundwave. Jay Bacal, son of the company’s founder Joe Bacal, is responsible for giving the toyline its name - The Transformers. The deal with Takara was formalized on November 1st, 1983.
Hasbro and Griffin Bacal approached Marvel Comics to create the backstory and the personalities of the characters for the new toyline, and this was utterly crucial, because it is the personalities of the Transformers which arguably gave the line its enduring appeal. The initial work at Marvel was carried out by editors Denny O'Neil and Jim Shooter. Denny O’Neil was responsible for naming the leading man of the franchise - he came up with the name Optimus Prime. However, Hasbro would reject a lot of this early work, leading to Jim Shooter to ask Bob Budiansky to carry out the revisions of the characters and their bios - all with a week’s deadline, over Thanksgiving no less. However, Bob Budiansky did an admirable job in this tight situation, and created many of the names and personalities which still endure and entertain 30 years on.
Cover artwork to Marvel Comics The Transfomers #1, May 1984
Marvel’s The Transformers comic debuted on May 8, 1984. Bob Budiansky served as editor for the initial 4-issue limited series, which related the story of how the Autobots and Decepticons, locked in a war that had lasted for thousands of years, crash landed on Earth four million years ago only to awake again in the present day and begin their war anew. This series established and fleshed out the origin story, from which all subsequent versions of Transformers draw their influence - the two factions continuing their war on Earth, the humans caught in the crossfire, the friendship of the Autobot Bumblebee with said humans, and the Decepticons’ unquenchable thirst for conquest and power - it all started here. The series also notably featured guest appearances from the Amazing Spider-Man, who teamed up with Gears to fight the Decepticons, and Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. The initial four issue miniseries proved unexpectedly popular so the planned ending was altered to conclude on a cliffhanger, with the Decepticon Shockwave arriving to blast all of the Autobots into submission.
Transformers Generation 1 Season 1 Opening Credits. Uploaded to Youtube by Hasbro Studios Shorts
On September 17, 1984, The Transformers arrived on TV screens across the US. The cartoon series was produced by Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions, with Sunbow Productions being owned by Griffin Bacal. The cartoon kicked off with a three episode arc titled “More than Meets the Eye”, which like the Marvel Comics miniseries told the origin story, and chronicled the Decepticons’ quest to gather resources to build a ship to return to the Transformers’ homeworld of Cybertron, with enough energy to allow them to conquer the world. The series then spun out from here, chronicling the ongoing battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons as the Decepticons raced to plunder Earth’s energy and resources. New characters were introduced in the episodes that followed, including the Dinobots, Skyfire and the Insecticons. The characters were brought to life by the excellent work of the show’s voice cast, which included Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Ironhide, Frank Welker as Megatron, the late Chris Latta as Starscream, Dan Gilvezan as Bumblebee, Gregg Berger as Grimlock and the late Scatman Crothers as Jazz. The show’s first 16 episode season featured two three episode long stories, the aforementioned More than Meets the Eye and The Ultimate Doom, which saw Megatron moving Cybertron into Earth’s atmosphere and enslaving many humans including the Autobots’ friend Sparkplug Witwicky. The season concluded on December 15, 1984, with the episode Heavy Metal War, which introduced the Constructicons and their powerful combined form, Devastator.
A selection of the Transformers toys released in 1984, including Optimus Prime, Megatron, Jazz, Bumblebee, Soundwave and Starscream
Of course, no retrospective about The Transformers debut year would be complete without talking about the toys. The Transformers toyline debuted to great success, the core of which was the simple two in one nature of the toys. Each Transformer at its core was a toy car, plane or other item, which could also transform into a robotic action figure. The initial 1984 lineup saw 25 releases and 28 characters, including many of the iconic core cast members such as the original Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Jazz and Soundwave. While the toys by and large had limited articulation, they also had detailed designs and decos enhanced further by stickers, and the larger toys had lots of accessories.
The 1984 Transformers line had a rival in the form of the Go-Bots which Tonka had licensed from Bandai’s Machine Robo. While Go-Bots beat Transformers to market, arriving five months before the robots in disguise, the Transformers performed much stronger in retail and outsold the Go-Bots 2-1, netting Hasbro $111.6 million in sales in their debut year.
1984 was the year that it all began. Iconic characters, and two major media incarnations of the story set down the firm foundation upon which that which has followed over the last 30 years.
Acknowledgements - this article series was greatly assisted by the comprehensive timeline of events in the early years of the Transformers held on the TFWiki. Additional financial details come via this article on the former Electric Escape site, which we learned of from BWTF on Facebook.
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
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My TF Collections: http://www.transmy.com/forum/collections-showcase/vic2293's-transformers-collection/
The Transformers debuted to great excitement in 1984. Their initial success was such that the cartoon show was extended with an additional 49 episodes and an animated movie was also put into production. The comic, originally intended as a four issue limited series, became an ongoing ably written by Marvel’s Bob Budiansky, while the UK comic, which had debuted in 1984 along with the US Marvel comic, began to create its own stories written by the one and only Simon Furman. The toyline underwent an expansion with its 1985 range, adding not only more toys from Diaclone and Microchange, but toys licensed from other Japanese toylines and manufacturers as well.
A selection of the new Transformers released in 1985, including Blaster, Dinobots Grimlock and Slag, Thrust, Dirge, Perceptor, Insecticon Kickback, and Minibots Seaspray and Cosmos
1985 saw the Transformers toyline get its first wave of “reinforcements from Cybertron” in the form of many more new toys. Among these releases were additional Diaclone and Micro Change toys such as Blaster, Inferno and Skids, continuing the theme of vehicular robots. But Hasbro also expanded the range by bringing across toys such as the Diaclone Dinosaur Robo as the Dinobots and Insecter Robo as the Insecticons. By doing this, Hasbro established that the Transformers could be more than just vehicles, they could also turn into mechanical animals and other forms.
1985 also saw the introduction of some particularly cool and beloved gimmicks that expanded on the basic idea of “robot that turns into a vehicle”. The first was the introduction of triple changers with Blitzwing and Astrotrain. This pair of Decepticons possessed two alternate forms, a jet / tank combination for Blitzwing and a train / shuttle combination for Astrotrain. Notably while Blitzwing was taken from the Diaclone toy line, Astrotrain was developed from a concept that had initially been rejected for Diaclone, making him one of the first Transformers toys to be developed entirely for the Transformers toy line, rather than just an import of an existing Japanese toy.
1985's Devastator was Transformers' first combiner, formed by uniting the six smaller Constructicon toys
The second new gimmick added in 1985 is one that is equally beloved by fans, and that is combining. The Constructicons debuted in the cartoon in 1984’s Heavy Metal War, but it was not until they were released in 1985 that we got to combine Transformers toys for ourselves. The Constructicons like so many of the 1985 line were drawn from Diaclone, the “Construction Vehicle Robo”, and accomplished the trick of combining six robots into a single giant through the use of a series of add-on parts.
1985 Transformers toys licensed from Takatoku toys (Jetfire, Roadbuster, Whirl and the Deluxe Insecticons) as well as Shockwave, who was licensed from ToyCo
From what we have discussed here it seems like the 1985 lineup of Transformers toys were mainly drawn from the Diaclone line, and while the backbone of the series was indeed taken from Diaclone, special mention should be made also to the other toys that Hasbro licensed from other Japanese toy makers to swell the ranks of the Transformers toy line. In particular, Hasbro licensed several toys from Takatoku Toys. These toys included the four Deluxe Insecticons and the Deluxe Autobots, Roadbuster and Whirl, in addition to a toy based on the YF-1 Valkyrie from Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, which was released as Jetfire. Other Japanese imports included Toy Box’s Super Change Robo Mechabot-1 as Omega Supreme and ToyCo’s Astro Magnum as Shockwave. While Shockwave and Omega Supreme would be prominently featured in a toy accurate fashion in the cartoon series, Jetfire was not, due to the rights to the Macross animation being sold to Harmony Gold for Robotech; hence Jetfire became Skyfire in the cartoon and got a redesign on screen, as well as a reduced role in the story going forward. The Deluxe Autobots and Deluxe Insecticons would fare no better and were never featured in the cartoon, and only had marginal comic appearances (although Roadbuster and Whirl would eventually find fame with writer Simon Furman who included them in the lineup of his Autobot Special Forces team, the Wreckers).
Marvel Comics' The Transformers issue #5 cover set a bleak tone for the continuation of the series - and provided an iconic introduction to Shockwave
The second year of Marvel’s Transformers comics kicked off on a bleak note, with the majority of the Autobots defeated by the sudden arrival of Shockwave. Shockwave here appears as a logical schemer who overthrows Megatron as leader of the Decepticons, rather than the blindly loyal servant from the cartoon. It falls to Ratchet and Buster Witwicky to find a way to rescue the other Autobots and Optimus Prime, leading to Ratchet forming a shaky alliance with Megatron briefly. The Dinobots are introduced, recovered from the Savage Land by Ratchet just in time to help the Autobot medic counter a double-cross by Megatron.
The arc also introduced the concept of the Transformers Creation Matrix, which Optimus Prime possessed as a form of energy, and transferred to Buster Witwicky. The comics also introduced G.B. Blackrock in this storyline, an industrialist who would become an ally to the Autobots in time. The story arc also featured the introduction of the original human villain for the Transformers - Circuit Breaker, aka Josie Beller, who was paralyzed in one of Shockwave’s attacks but regained her mobility - as well as flight and the ability to shoot energy blasts - through an exosuit that looked like a printed circuit. She regarded Autobot and Decepticon alike as enemy. A human organization, Triple-I, was also introduced late in 1985 - they were a secret government agency set up to handle incidents involving the Transformers. In many ways, their role prefigures groups from later Transformers fiction like Sector 7 and Skywatch.
Marvel UK's The Transformers issue #21 cover
From 1985, the UK Marvel Transformers comic started to supplement its reprints of US Transformers comics with all-new material. The first original story published for the comic was Man of Iron, which was later reprinted in the US Marvel series. It dealt with an Autobot who came to Earth years earlier and still slept beneath a medieval castle – one of the first in-fiction examples of a Transformer passing into local legend and waiting to be discovered in the present day.
The next run of UK-original content featured the earliest work of Simon Furman, who along with Bob Budiansky would be the most prolific writer of the early Transformers canon and would go on to establish many of the key elements of the Transformers mythos. His first story, the Enemy Within, focused on Brawn and Starscream having a trial by combat. This was followed by Raiders of the Last Ark, which introduced the Ark defense computer Auntie and the defense droid Guardian. Decepticon Dam-busters was a rare adaptation of the events of the cartoon series, framed as a story Ratchet was telling the Dinobots. The UK series had a tradition of telling Christmas stories in the issue that would be published over the Christmas period each year, and this kicked off in the 1985 series with a one-shot story where an attack by Circuit Breaker was defeated because Buster Witwicky appealed to her Christmas spirit…
Another yearly tradition shared by most UK comic series of the period was hardback annuals which came out in the holiday period. The Transformers annuals included new comic strips, text stories, and usually a recap of the year’s events and character profiles; the earlier annuals also included puzzles and games, but these were phased out as time went on. The main story of the 1985 annual showed an alternate first Insecticon story which like some of the UK stories was at odds with established continuity, but the story’s denouement featured some light foreshadowing for the introduction of Triple-I. The 1985 annual also featured a story “And There Shall Come… A Leader” which established the early history of Optimus Prime for the comics. It featured early versions of many key elements of the origin story of Optimus Prime in later fiction. The story also featured the first appearance of Emirate Xaaron, who would play an important role in many future Marvel Comics stories.
The Transformers Season 2 opening credits. Uploaded to Youtube by DirRudy
1985 brought the second season of the Transformers cartoon series, a whopping 49 episodes (although the final five aired in 1986). The second season of the cartoon changed up the formula slightly. There were a lot more character focused episodes, which put one of the many Autobots or Decepticons in the spotlight, such as Mirage’s spotlight episode Traitor, the Gears spotlight Changing Gears, Red Alert in Auto Berserk. Four two part stories were produced in the second season. Dinobot Island and Desertion of the Dinobots were both Dinobot focused episodes, while Megatron’s Master Plan was very much a villain focused story, with Megatron framing the Autobots and having them exiled from Earth, clearing the way for him to take control himself. The fourth two part story was The Key to Vector Sigma. This story introduced the new characters of the Aerialbots and the Stunticons, and their combined forms Superion and Menasor. The remaining episodes of the second season would all focus on these new Combiner teams, along with the Combaticons whose origin episode Starscream’s Brigade aired in early 1986, and the Protectobots who arrived with little fanfare in the following episode, The Revenge of Bruticus (itself a two part story, though each part was self-contained).
The second season of the original Transformers cartoon series, much like the second year of the comics, introduced a few important characters and concepts. The Search for Alpha Trion would introduce the first female Transformers in the form of Elita-1 and her Autobot commandos Moonracer, Firestar and Chromia, along with the elder Transformer Alpha Trion, who was a father figure to both Optimus and Elita. Alpha Trion’s role would be expanded on in the classic episode War Dawn, which threw the Aerialbots back in time and for the first time showed the early days of the war for Cybertron. War Dawn introduced viewers to Orion Pax, the robot who would become Optimus Prime, as a naïve and idealistic youthful robot who admired Megatron because he could fly. The story also established that it was Alpha Trion who took the deactivated body of Orion Pax and revived him as Optimus Prime (and it is heavily implied he also remade Ariel, Orion’s girlfriend, as Elita-1). The Key to Vector Sigma established one way that new Transformers could be created in the cartoon universe, as well as introducing the supercomputer Vector Sigma. Many of the other episodes - too many to do justice to here - also served to establish the traits of many of the characters which would define them for years to come.
1985 also saw the release of the first Transformers video game. Developed by Ocean for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum, the game involved running around with Optimus Prime, Jazz, Bumblebee, Hound and Mirage to blast endless hordes of Decepticons and retrieve Energon. The game was notable for its unrelenting difficulty, a part of which came from awkward controls and unforgiving gameplay.
We are merely scratching the surface of the sheer amount of Transformers media that was published in the early years. A whole host of other books and media was available, including in the UK the hardback Ladybird books which occupied their own continuity and came with cassette tapes of the adventures in the books. There were many Transformers coloring books, find-your-fate / choose your own adventure books, and even audio books. There was a host of other merchandising too including lunchboxes, plastic cups, balls, even a Jazz-themed peddle car.
Last but by no means least, Transformers made its debut in Japan in 1985 under the name Fight! Super Robot Lifeforms The Transformers. A large part of the 1984 and 1985 toyline was released in Japan by Takara, although only the Takara molds were released to the Japanese market - the other licensed toys would remain US only. The characters would undergo name changes for Japan, notably Optimus Prime would be renamed Convoy, Bumblebee as Bumble, Jazz as Meister, Sideswipe as Lambor and Shockwave as Laserwave. The first two seasons of the cartoon (except for the episodes Attack of the Autobots and Day of the Machines) were dubbed for Japan, and nine clip shows were made. The missing episodes would later be released straight-to-video in Japan, bringing the episode count up to 74. The order of the episodes was tweaked for the Japanese release, with all of Skyfire’s appearances notably coming at the end of the series.
Year two of The Transformers was one of expansion; like 1984, 1985 saw a lot of classic characters and character traits set out for the first time. Transformers arrived in Japan and captured the minds of young audiences there too. If 1984 was the debut year, then 1985 was the one that well and truly established the foundations of the franchise good and firm. It was one of the most profitable years for the Transformers franchise, bringing in approximately $333 million in sales for Hasbro, representing around 27% of the company’s total revenue for the year.
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
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My TF Collections: http://www.transmy.com/forum/collections-showcase/vic2293's-transformers-collection/
In 1986, Transformers entered its third year and featured the debut of the first assortments of Transformers toys that had been designed specifically for the Transformers line, with characters like Hot Rod, Kup, Galvatron and Metroplex making their first appearance this year. The Transformers comics continued strongly with the introduction of the RAAT and a crossover with G.I. Joe in the USA, and in the UK, a classic story, Target 2006. And on August 8, 1986, Transformers arrived on the big screen for the first time with Transformers the Movie - and a generation of children were shocked for life as they learned that sometimes, even heroes die.
Transformers the Movie was, much like many of the 80s animated properties such as Go-Bots and G.I. Joe, an extended feature length version of the cartoon series. The setting was moved 20 years into the future. It was the year 2005 and the Decepticons had expelled the Autobots from Cybertron. But the Autobots kept up the good fight from bases on Cybertron’s moons and their new base on Earth named Autobot city. The movie opened with several scenes which shockingly and mercilessly slaughtered many of the original Autobots in quite graphic detail - Prowl for example was shot and had flames erupt from his mouth and eyes as he died, and Ironhide took a point-blank fusion cannon blast to the head as he struggled against Megatron. Most dramatic and shocking of all was the death of Optimus Prime, following an epic final showdown with Megatron which also left Megatron on the scrapheap and Starscream as leader of the Decepticons - for a little over 20 minutes until he too was slain, this time at his own coronation by the new leader of the Decepticons, Galvatron.
Many children cried in the theatres when Optimus Prime died - were you among them?
There was little time for mourning these slain favorites of the early years as new characters were also introduced, most notably Hot Rod who would inherit the Matrix and become Rodimus Prime, the Autobots Blurr, Kup, Springer, Arcee and Ultra Magnus, and on the Decepticon side Galvatron, an evolved Megatron, and his servants Scourge and Cyclonus who were also forged from the remains of dead and dying Decepticons. The big bad of the piece was Unicron, a gigantic demonic planet that was consuming all in its path on its way to Cybertron. It was never made clear at this stage if Unicron was merely a force of nature and Cybertron happened to be in its way, or if Unicron was specifically targeting Cybertron. What Unicron made clear though was that he had one weakness, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. After an adventure spanning many new alien worlds including the home of the mysterious Quintessons, Quintessa, and the planet of Junk, home to the Junkions, Galvatron got the Matrix only to be consumed by Unicron when Unicron revealed his true form as a gigantic planet-sized Transformer. The Autobots and their allies fought their way inside Unicron, where Hot Rod became Rodimus Prime and used the power of the Matrix to destroy Unicron and save the day.
Transformers the Movie is well-remembered by fans for being a fun adventure and the epitome of all that was good about the cartoon, although critics panned it for its nonsensical violence. Orson Welles, who voiced Unicron in his last role shortly before his death, allegedly despised his involvement in the production, calling his role “a toy that does horrible things to other toys”. The voice cast also notably included Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus and Eric Idol as Wreck-Gar the Junkion. The film is also well-remembered for its audio score by Vince DiCola and the soundtrack of vocal songs which included Dare and The Touch by Stan Bush, Dare to be Stupid by "Weird Al" Yankovic, Instruments of Destruction by NRG and an impressive cover of the Transformers theme by Lion.
Transformers Season 3 opening credits. Uploaded to Youtube by DirRudy
Transformers the Movie was followed by a third season of 30 episodes of the cartoon series. The series took place one year later, in the year 2006, and continued the story from where the movie left off with a five part story arc called “Five Faces of Darkness”. This storyline brought back Galvatron (now voiced by Frank Welker) following his defeat in the movie, introduced the titanic city-sized Transformers Metroplex and Trypticon, new human ally Marissa Fairbourne and a new enemy in the form of the Quintessons, who were revealed to have been the creators of the Transformers race. This was one of the first origins presented for the Transformers race as a whole - although a later origin penned by Simon Furman soon superseded this particular origin.
The third season of Transformers on the whole had a slightly darker and more mature tone, with Rodimus Prime being presented as less of a perfect leader than Optimus Prime had been, and several episodes including The Burden Hardest to Bear focused on Rodimus trying to come to grips with the mantle of leadership, and the challenge of living up to Optimus Prime. The darker tone of the series was also embodied in episodes such as Dark Awakening, which brought Optimus Prime back as a Quintesson puppet, and had Optimus sacrifice himself at the end of the episode - with a chunk of his head getting blown away, for extra gruesome effect. Other notable episodes included a pair that dealt with Starscream, who came back as a ghost capable of possessing other Transformers and eventually made a deal with Unicron, who survived as a severed head, to get his body back, Grimlock’s New Brain, which made Grimlock super-intelligent and introduced the new Autobot combiner group the Technobots, and Call of the Primitives, which is best known for its excellent animation and also for providing an origin for Unicron in the cartoon canon. Season 3’s final two episodes did not air in 1986 but in February 1987, and they are the two part story that brought back Optimus Prime and did not kill him again in a gruesome fashion in the final minutes. The third season was also exported to Japan, adding two clip shows, and updating the year the season was set in to 2010. In Japan, this season was known as Transformers 2010.
A Japan only Transformers OVA was made in 1986. Titled "Super Robot Lifeform the Transformers: Scramble City" (or just Scramble City for short) it was a 20 minute long showcase for the new combiner toys. Notably, it was the only time that the combiner's ability to swap their arms and legs around was actually featured in the animation. The episode ended on a cliffhanger with the arrival of Trypticon, but a follow-up was never made.
Marvel Comics' The Transformers issue #18 cover, depicting the duel between Blaster and Straxus. Straxus was a one-shot character only featured in issues #17 and #18 of the US continuity, but would have a much bigger role in the UK comics. He finally got a toy in 2010.
The comics, meanwhile, notably avoided the timeskip, with writer Bob Budiansky keeping the story set on Earth and not turning it into a space opera like the cartoon was becoming. The year’s stories kicked off with the two-part Return to Cybertron, introducing new characters including Blaster, Perceptor, Powerglide and the Insecticons. It also introduced the Spacebridge into the series, as a literal suspension bridge with one end on Earth and one on Cybertron. The two-issue story also introduces Straxus, a Decepticon war-monger who has been in charge on Cybertron in Megatron’s absence. He was killed off at the end of his second appearance, but plays a bigger role in the UK comics.
More characters were introduced in droves, with in addition to the new characters from Cybertron, Omega Supreme, the Aerialbots, Protectobots, Stunticons, Combaticons and Predacons all appearing in the span of 10 issues. This was in addition to a plotline concerning the ongoing machinations of Triple-I and their military wing, the RAAT (Rapid Anti-robot Assault Team). RAAT was presented as something closer to a paramilitary group than Triple-I, and included Circuit Breaker among their members for a time.
Marvel Comics' The Transformers issue #24 cover, which was the cover of the issue that featured the comic continuity death of Optimus Prime
The final four issues of the year dealt with the phasing out of Optimus Prime and Megatron from the story. Optimus Prime died first; in an effort to fight Megatron without collateral damage, the two faced off in a virtual game world, on the understanding that the loser be destroyed, and while Optimus Prime won, it was at the cost of virtual innocents - so unable to consider a victory where he needed to kill innocents to win, Optimus forfeited and allowed himself to be destroyed - but his personality was backed up to disk. Megatron soon followed, morose over the loss of Optimus Prime and paranoid that the Autobot leader somehow survived. Shockwave decided to supplant Megatron as leader once more and drove Megatron to the limit - leading to the apparent death of the Decepticon when he opened fire in a rage while on the Spacebridge. Ratbat was also introduced in The Transformers #27, far from being the spy used by Soundwave in the cartoon here he was more of a leader, speaking on near equal terms with Shockwave.
1986 brought a crossover, the first of many, between G.I. Joe and Transformers, in a series called G.I. Joe and the Transformers. The four issue miniseries dealt with Shockwave and Cobra’s attempts to acquire Power Station Alpha, a nuclear plant that can beam energy across the globe. It also featured the US comic explanation of how Bumblebee became Goldbug.
1986 also brought the release of the four issue "Transformers Universe" miniseries, a who's-who style volume that provided profiles for all of the characters from the first three years of the toyline - detailing their personalities, abilities and weaknesses. These profile books were a popular release, and their influence extends through almost all future Transformers profile books, which take the same basic format.
Marvel UK's Transformers issue #82 cover. This issue was a part of the long-running and well-remembered Target 2006 arc, which introduced The Wreckers, seen with their best-known lineup of Topspin, Twin Twist, Roadbuster, Whirl and Rack'n'Ruin. Impactor, at left, is the group's leader in this story although the role would later be taken by Springer
The 1986 Marvel UK stories saw the emergence of the first big story arcs which the series was known for, kicking off with the Dinobot Hunt, where it was revealed the Dinobots had suffered damage from their 4 million years buried in tar pits. The story referenced the Roxxon oil company from the regular Marvel universe.
A further UK original story showed how Buster Witwicky had some residual effects of bearing the Matrix in his mind, causing him to have visions of the future which inspires Optimus Prime to construct Superion, and similarly inspires the Decepticons (who are eaves-dropping on his dreams via Shockwave) to build the Stunticons and Combaticons. It’s a largely inoffensive story that filled in the blanks of where the Combiner teams came from.
1986 in the UK comics closed out with an 11 part epic story, Target 2006. The plot of Target 2006 involved Galvatron time jumping back to 1986 with Scourge and Cyclonus to construct a gigantic laser cannon to obliterate Unicron in the future - and with him, Autobot City. Because of the way time jumping works in the UK Marvel continuity, a Transformer of similar mass is shunted to limbo when they arrive in the present - leading to the disappearance of Optimus Prime, Prowl and Ratchet. At the same time, the Wreckers on Cybertron plan a mission codenamed Operation: Volcano to eliminate several key targets, but one of the Autobots backing up the mission - Ultra Magnus - is dispatched to Earth, where he clashes with Galvatron and sets up a fierce rivalry. More Autobots - Blurr, Kup, and Hot Rod - arrive from the future, time jumping back on the trail of Galvatron to sabotage his plan. Galvatron ultimately returns to his own time when he is duped into thinking that he had travelled into an alternate 1986, so his actions would have no consequence on his own timeline. On Cybertron, the leader of the Wreckers, Impactor (in his comic debut), is slain in battle and Springer takes over the leadership of the Wreckers.
Target 2006 was a hugely important story. Not only did it introduce the time-travel mechanics unique to the Marvel UK stories, but it introduced the Wreckers who would go on to become a fan-favorite team. The story arc introduced the comic-only character Impactor, who sacrificed himself and passed leadership of the Wreckers to Springer, establishing his small role in continuity. The story is considered to be a classic and is held in a high regard. It also featured many characters from Transformers the Movie including Galvatron, who were not featured in the US comic story lines of the time. A text story, Cybertron: The Middle Years, was published alongside the story arc and filled in some of the history of what had happened on Cybertron in the four million years between the Ark’s departure and the present day.
Illustration from the 1986 Marvel UK Transformers annual text story State Games, which was the first depiction of Megatron's history and his gladiatorial roots
To be continued on next post
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
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My TF Collections: http://www.transmy.com/forum/collections-showcase/vic2293's-transformers-collection/
Rounding out the Marvel UK Transformers material for 1986 was the 1986 annual. Alongside the usual mix of comic strips and text stories there was a very important text story called State Games. State Games was a pre-war story, which concerned the origins of Megatron as a gladiator and the founding of the Decepticons. It was also the first story to mention the city states of Tarn and Vos. This is the only real origin story given for Megatron in the early years, and it contains a lot of prototypical elements which would eventually be incorporated into his later origin stories - particularly his gladiatorial roots which are on full show here.
1986 Combiner Transformers toys. The combining theme was one of the most popular aspects of the Transformers line, and the so-called "Scramble City" combiners - showcased here - could freely mix and match their limbs for different configurations
The Transformers toy line went in a new direction in 1986. For the first time since the line was introduced, the majority of the toys released had been developed solely with the Transformers line in mind. The combiner teams, introduced in the cartoon in 1985, were released in earnest and became a major segment of the line, with five new combiners on the market in 1986 - the Aerialbots / Superion, the Stunticons / Menasor, the Protectobots / Defensor, the Combaticons / Bruticus and the Predacons / Predaking. Predaking notably was the subject of a legal challenge between Takara and Bandai, based on how the character’s design with a lion head on the chest resembled a Bandai product named Daltanious. The other four combiner teams are nicknamed “Scramble City” combiners for the Japanese original video animation of the same name, which featured them prominently. Each of the four teams had a larger central “leader” and four smaller “limb” team members. The cool part was that all of them worked on a universal peg and socket system, so you could swap around who made the arms or legs of the combiner, or even mix and match the members of the different teams, a brilliant move that meant you could still form the combiner even if you could not get all four members of a particular team. The four leaders of these special teams all had third modes which were little repair bays or launch ramps for their teammates.
1986 Transformers toys, including Hot Rod, Galvatron, Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus, Blurr, Gnaw the Sharkticon, Wheelie, Swerve and Tailgate
1986 expanded on the popular triple changer theme, with four new triple changers being released - three of them Autobots. New Decepticon leader Galvatron was also a triple changer, boasting a gun mode alongside a cannon mode, although the gun mode was almost never used in media. In the toyline, Ultra Magnus was Galvatron’s chief rival. Ultra Magnus was the last of the toys originating from the Diaclone series to be released in the US, and was a reuse of the Diaclone Powered Convoy toy. The last Micro Change toy also found its way to the US in the form of Reflector, who was a mail away premium - and arriving about two years late, given he was only really prominent in the first season of the cartoon.
Other new releases included a third assortment of Minibots - these ones remolded versions of the 1984 series and one new mold in the form of Wheelie - and new cassettes including a set of minions for the Autobot boombox Blaster as well as Ratbat, a new minion for Soundwave. The massive city-type Transformers Metroplex and Trypticon were also released this year. Metroplex was a large robot who converted into a battle station or city, and could attach the combiner limbs to his arms and legs. Trypticon was a huge dinosaur who had electronics that let him walk in robot mode or roll along in his battle station or city modes. Both Metroplex and Trypticon in city mode could link up with the combiner team leaders to further expand their city modes.
Notably, this year also saw the first Transformers toys aimed at pre-schoolers with the “My First Transformer” line. Three designs were made - an airplane, a dump truck, and a race car, and like later preschool Transformers toys, these were made by Hasbro’s subsidiary Playskool. These three toys were the only “under three” toys made during the original run of Generation 1, but would not be the last time that Hasbro released toys intended to reach out to the little ones.
One other notable bit of merchandising that came out this year in Japan was the Famicom (NES) video game, Mystery of Convoy, which saw you playing as Ultra Magnus blasting through waves of Decepticons and end of stage bosses including Trypticon, Menasor, Megatron, a moon, the Nemesis and a giant Decepticon symbol. The game was tough, unforgiving and never released outside of Japan.
And that was 1986. It was the year that combiners arrived in a big way in the toyline as the majority of the toys released were those made specifically for the line, and it was the year that killed Optimus Prime and Megatron. Some say that the death of Optimus Prime in Transformers the Movie was what killed off Transformers Generation 1, but given how Generation 1 hung on in there for a good few more years after the movie, it seems unlikely it is the sole cause. Rather the loss of familiar characters coupled with the shift away from realistic vehicles to more futuristic settings and stylings is what probably lost a great many children who followed the toyline. 1986 was a turning point, a major change for a brand which held at its heart the very concept of transformation and change.
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Proving that you cannot keep a good robot down, Optimus Prime returned to the land of moving parts in a two part episode titled The Return of Optimus Prime in 1987. The toyline began to diversify, introducing new gimmicks such as the Doublespy, Headmasters and Targetmasters. Meanwhile Japan diverged from the US cartoon continuity and got a new full-length series called The Headmasters, and for the first time, Transformers toys were released as Japanese market exclusives.
Commercial for "The Return of Optimus Prime". Uploaded to Youtube by MYSATURDAYM0RNINGS
February 1987 as we mentioned last time was when the two-part season finale of Transformers season 3, The Return of Optimus Prime, aired. The two-part episode had a (dead but surprisingly intact) Optimus Prime recovered from his ship following the conclusion of Dark Awakening, which was rerun with a new voiceover saying “tune in next time for the return of Optimus Prime” the week before the two-parter. Optimus was retrieved by a human scientist and his daughter along with spores that induced a hate plague - and when the daughter was injured in a battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons, the scientist unleashed the hate plague on the Autobots in an act of revenge. The plague spread like wildfire, and it was up to Optimus Prime - rebuilt by a Quintesson rescued from hate plague infected Sharkticons by Sky Lynx - to recover an alloy to render himself immune to the plague, and then recover the Matrix from an infected Rodimus Prime to cure the plague. The two part story brought Optimus back in true heroic style, and also gave Rodimus a great time to shine in the first part as he fought, futilely, to stem the spread of the plague and buy time for Optimus’ resurrection. The episode was capped off with a triumphant reprise of “The Touch”, a glimpse at past Matrix bearers, and a truce with Galvatron. All in all, it was a fitting finale for the series.
Or it would have been, except three more episodes were made. The Rebirth aired in November 1987 and picked up some time after The Return of Optimus Prime. Over the course of the three episodes a whole slew of new characters were introduced, some just for brief scenes to show off their powers (such as Punch / Counterpunch and Sixshot) while others like the Headmasters and Targetmasters were central to the plot. The story concerned a pair of Autobot ships getting caught in an energy blast from the Plasma Energy Chamber below the surface of Cybertron and being shot across the galaxy to the planet Nebulos. The Autobots and Decepticons allied with heroic and evil factions among the Nebulans, creating Headmasters and Targetmasters, as both sides fought for the possession of the key to the Plasma Energy Chamber. Eventually the leader of the evil Nebulans known as the Hive, Lord Zarak, joined the battle having created a powerful new body for himself, Scorponok, and returned to Cybertron to join the other Decepticons, who were planning to open the Plasma Energy Chamber after moving Cybertron into the Solar System, threatening not just Cybertron, but Earth “and maybe even Nebulous too!” The Autobots fought back, with a new ally of their own - Spike and the reluctant Autobot Cerebros together had fashioned a powerful new Transformer body of their own, Fortress Maximus. The three part story arc ended with a clash of titans as Fortress Maximus and Scorponok both revealed their gigantic robot modes and clashed on Cybertron’s surface. In the end, Scorponok retreated with the other Decepticons on board, and was sent spinning into deep space by a stray blast from the overloading Plasma Energy Chamber. Spike, who as an organic was unaffected by the plasma energy, was able to shut the energy chamber down, and a side effect was that Cybertron was restored to its golden age. The Autobots celebrated, even as the Decepticons, in some distant system, plotted their revenge.
So ended the Transformers Generation 1 cartoon in the west. While The Rebirth featured many great moments, the story also felt rushed to fit in all of the 1987 cast, hence some did just get brief “hi and bye” cameos (to sell their toys). The ending was also unsatisfying, leaving you thinking much more was to come, but alas, it was not to be.
Transformers: The Headmasters opening credits. Uploaded to Youtube by TransformersToyVideo
Japan did not get The Rebirth. After Transformers 2010 ended with a Japanese dub of The Return of Optimus Prime, a new 35 episode series titled “Transformers The Headmasters” was animated for Japanese audiences by Toei which ran between July 1987 and March 1988. The series ran with a different take on the story. In The Headmasters the titular Headmasters were not Cybertronians co-piloted by binary-bonded organics, but small roughly human-sized Transformers who had left at the height of the Great Wars and settled on another world. The larger bodies were known as “Transtectors” which the smaller robots could combine with to give them full Transformer sized bodies. Other new additions to both factions as the series would progress included the Decepticon ninja Sixshot, who in addition to his six modes in this version could use a form of ninja magic to split into copies of his different modes at once. Early on Blaster and Soundwave were killed, and later rebuilt as Twincast and Soundblaster, which resulted in new paint decos for both characters (and new toys to match). Other casualties as the series progressed included Optimus Prime (again, four episodes in!), Ultra Magnus, Galvatron, and even Cybertron and Mars. The conclusion of the series saw Scorponok try to do the same thing to Earth, only to be defeated by Fortress Maximus and the power of teamwork.
The Headmasters was an interesting, and in the harsh light of retrospect, average series. The show was at once episodic and arc based, focusing mainly on the four Headmasters and their Decepticon rivals. While other characters would show up for a few episodes, only a few of the new additions, like Sixshot, would stick around long enough to make a mark on the story. The divergence of the Japanese animated canon from the western canon was notable though, and the fact that a lot of characters did get proper spotlight episodes was a major step up from the rushed introductions of The Rebirth. When The Headmasters concluded, it was with the remaining Autobots leaving Earth, and Daniel waving goodbye to his friends, symbolically ending this chapter of Transformers. While Japan would produce two more animated shows before they were finished, what followed - for better or worse depending on the views of the audience - would be much more loosely tied to the series that first arrived on screens in September 1984.
A selection of 1987 Transformers toys, including Throttlebots Goldbug and Wideload, Decepticon clones Pounce and Wingspan, Doublespy Punch / Counterpunch (in his Autobot mode), six-changer Sixshot, Technobot Strafe, Terrorcon Sinnertwin, Targetmaster Crosshairs and Headmaster Brainstorm
The 1987 Transformers toyline was a watershed moment in the Transformers toyline. While 1986 brought the first large-scale assortment of toys that had been developed for the Transformers toyline, 1987 brought the first widespread use of gimmicks in the toys. Almost every toy in 1987 had a gimmick of some description - from Doublespy, to Clones, to the Headmasters and Targetmasters themselves. Many of the gimmicks made use of transforming, just different ways of transforming, so in a sense, what we see in 1987 is the pushing of the boundaries of what can be done with transformation.
One such toy that pushed the boundaries was Sixshot. A large Decepticon toy, Sixshot was a six-changer, an ambitious release that could transform into six different forms - robot, jet, armored car, tank, wolf and gun. Sixshot was the multiple alternate mode concept already introduced by the triple changers, but taken to the ultimate extreme with six different modes. Another toy that put a new spin on the triple change concept was Punch / Counterpunch, the Doublespy. Where previously a Triple Changer had possessed two vehicle forms and a single robot form, Punch / Counterpunch had one alternate mode and two robot modes, an Autobot robot mode (Punch) and a Decepticon robot mode (Counterpunch). Both toys demonstrated the kinds of progression being applied to the concept of transforming robots by Hasbro in 1987.
A selection of 1987 Headmasters and Targetmasters, including Headmasters Chromedome, Hardhead and Weirdwolf, triple-changing Headmaster Horrorcon Apeface, and Targetmasters Sureshot and Misfire
To be continued...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
The stars of the 1987 lineup though were the Headmasters and the Targetmasters. The two subgroups both featured a larger Transformer and a smaller partner figure that interacted with the larger toy. In the case of the Headmasters, the partner would fold up to make the head of the robot in robot mode, and in alternate mode would act as a driver. It was a cool idea, not least because it harked back to the cockpits on the original 1984 and 1985 Diaclone imports and the logic of having drivers for vehicles, though the idea was also a little flawed, since if you lost the partner figure (as invariably happened) you had a headless robot. The Headmasters assortment had a subset of its own, the Horrorcons, a pair of triple changing Decepticons who could transform into both jets and animals, with the Headmaster partners forming the heads of both the animals and the robot modes.
The Targetmasters used the same basic concept as the Headmasters, with the partner figures, but instead of making the small figures turn into the robot’s heads, the Targetmasters would transform into the guns of the robots. The Targetmasters lacked cockpits for the partners to ride in vehicle mode, but the vehicle modes all featured places to attach the partners to. Five of the 1986 Autobots and Decepticons were re-released as Targetmasters - Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Cyclonus and Scourge - along with six new characters. Of the many gimmicks introduced in 1987 - 1990, the Targetmasters were perhaps the best received, not least due to the fact that losing a Targetmaster did not compromise the main figure. In more recent years, new Targetmasters have always been met with great anticipation and appreciation due to the true “two in one” nature of the toys.
1987 also carried on the release of the large city type Transformers, with the release of what was until very recently the largest Transformer ever made, Fortress Maximus, and his rival, Scorponok. Both were Headmasters, with Fortress Maximus being a “double Headmaster” - his head disengaged to form a larger Transformer, whose head then disengaged to make a small inch tall figure like the other Headmaster sidekicks. Notably this small figure was named Spike, and was the first and at the time only toy representation of the Autobots’ human ally. Both Fortress Maximus and Scorponok were impressive for their size and the sheer mass of them - while Scorponok was only slightly larger than Metroplex in terms of height, he was considerably heavier. Both Headmaster cities / leaders are some of the most desirable releases from this period for collectors, and until the 2013 reissue of Fortress Maximus, among the most prohibitively expensive.
Optimus Prime also returned to the toyline - his Generation 1 toy was made available once more in the US as a mail order item. He would get a new toy too - in 1988…
1987 The Headmasters line included a selection of toys never released in the US, including the Trainbots, Soundblaster and Twincast (who were upgraded forms of Soundwave and Blaster), new dinosaur themed cassettes and the Targetmaster Stepper
The Japanese toyline, to fit the divergence in the cartoons, also started to go its own direction. Soundwave and Blaster were rereleased in their new Soundblaster and Twincast decos, with alterations to their cassette doors to take two cassettes at a time. The Diaclone Train Robo combiner team was also released under the Transformers banner, as the Trainbots, and the team was featured in The Headmasters. A whole series of non-show characters were also released in Japan only at this time. These releases included four new Autobot cassettes, known collectively by fans as the Dinocassettes. Japan did not get the five re-released Targetmasters, but instead went back and upgraded Jazz and Inferno into Targetmasters with new accessories to let them hold the Targetmaster weapons. The new versions were named Stepper and Artfire, and they were featured in the Headmasters manga that was published in Japan at the time. Japan also got six stand alone “Headmaster Warriors”, individual Headmaster figures who could transform into heads for the other Headmasters. They were available both in regular colors and in white variants - with the white versions commanding the highest price in collector circles, although almost all of these items are extremely rare and command high prices.
Marvel Comics' The Transformers Issue #31 cover, Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom. This is one of the more infamous issues of the original Marvel comics run
The 1987 Transformers comics would bring about the introduction of the Headmasters and Targetmasters in their own four issue miniseries, which eventually wove into the main series toward the end of the year with issue #38, which introduced Buster’s older brother Spike Witwicky into the comics and had him become the new Headmaster operator of Fortress Maximus.
Before we get to the introduction of the Headmasters though there was a series of issues which spun out of the deaths of Optimus Prime and Megatron. The series kicked off 1987 by establishing new leaders for the Autobots (Grimlock) and the Decepticons (a combination of Shockwave and Ratbat). The year’s first story arc involved Goldbug and Blaster quitting the Autobot side due to disliking Grimlock and heading off on their own, only to soon find them infected by Scraplets, making their Transformers debut. These original Scraplets were transforming bolts and nuts, which embedded themselves in the metal bodies of Transformers and weakened them that way. This arc also brought the Decepticon Triple Changers into the fray, along with the Autobot Throttlebots.
1987 was also the year that the infamous story “Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom” followed, involving a Decepticon plot to siphon fuel from cars by hypnotizing users of car washes. A scheduling issue meant that the UK story “Man of Iron” was reprinted as a filler in this year as well.
Marvel UK's Transformers issue #117 cover, featuring one of the early appearances of the "freelance peacekeeping agent" Death's Head
The 1987 UK Transformers comics featured a few long-running storylines which featured the future Transformers, including the comic debut of the freelance peacekeeping agent Death’s Head. Galvatron returns to the present, though now driven to madness much like his cartoon counterpart, and continues his rivalry with Ultra Magnus.
Before all of this, though, was an arc which is collectively known as “Prey”. This particular arc cements Straxus’ wider role in the UK story, as well as building on the reputation of the Wreckers and Ultra Magnus. It involves a Spacebridge accident sending both Optimus Prime and Megatron to Cybertron, leading to Optimus Prime clashing against Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers, and then, after an act of self-sacrifice, fighting alongside them. Megatron on the other hand finds himself in Polyhex where Straxus - now just a head - tries to take over Megatron’s body, and it’s left vague which of the two won out. Optimus and Ultra Magnus attempt to take down the weakened Megatron, but the three are Spacebridged back to Earth - with Optimus arriving in the middle of his own memorial service (one of the next US reprint strips would be the one which killed off Optimus for real).
The next UK original arc is collectively known as “Fallen Angel”, and featured a now insane Galvatron time jumping back to the present once again. However Galvatron is pursued by Death’s Head, a Bounty Hunter / Freelance Peacekeeping Agent seeking the bounty placed on Galvatron’s head by Rodimus Prime in 2007. Death’s Head’s first act after arriving in 1987 is to kill Bumblebee - which replaces Bumblebee’s death in the G.I. Joe and Transformers miniseries for the UK continuity. A battle royale involving a time-travelling team of Autobots from 2007 breaks out and an attempt is made to force all time-travelers back to their own time by Wreck-Gar, who also rebuilds Bumblebee as Goldbug. However, Galvatron is left in the present. The 1987 annual story, Vicious Circle, concludes the story, and has both Galvatron and Ultra Magnus engulfed in an eruption.
The Fallen Angel arc was significant because it ultimately replaced Goldbug’s G.I. Joe origin with a new one, and further cemented the Galvatron / Ultra Magnus rivalry. It also introduced Death’s Head, a character unique to the UK Marvel Comics with a strong fan-following, who would eventually spin off to have his own adventures beyond the Transformers universe, including a crossover with Doctor Who.
The remainder of the UK original content for 1987 was largely self-contained, and included a further tale involving Death’s Head set in 2007, an additional story involving the Headmasters printed in the pages of the comic alongside reprints of the main US Headmasters miniseries, and a story explaining how Hot Rod, Blurr and Kup first met. A storyline focusing on Swoop gave him a rivalry with the Predacon Divebomb, explaining how Divebomb had once stolen Swoop’s very name. These self-contained stories were inoffensive and fun, and like many of the smaller UK stories, went a way to fleshing out characters that had a smaller role in the UK comics.
1987 was the year that gimmicks and the various “-master” type Transformers were introduced into the Transformers line. The gimmicks would always have a mixed reception - their success could frequently be measured by which ones stuck around and were revisited in later lines, and which ones quietly disappeared, never to be used again. One thing was for certain though - after 1987, Transformers would always do more than simply transform, and the whole line became dominated by subgroups and other gimmickry.
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Apologize first for the revamp of this topic...
There's a lot to copy and paste to be made, so please be patient. Plus, the post are in spoiler as to let this page load faster and read only those post which are applicable for that year to prevent slow loading of page.
Whose Side Are You On?
The Transformers toyline released in 1988 was a continuation of the diversification of the line and the integration of more gimmicks into the line. Ideas used from the previous year, like six changers, Headmasters, Targetmasters and toys that shot sparks were all carried over, and other new gimmicks were introduced, including Powermasters, which used small engine Nebulans to unlock the transformation of their partner, and Pretenders, simplified robots who fit into plastic shells to masquerade and humans or monsters depending on the faction. 1988 was also the first year that the Transformers toys were downsized, with returning gimmicks simplified and the overall size of the toys decreasing.
Powermaster Transformers - this evolution of the Nebulan partner concept involved small figures transforming into engines to unlock a part of the transformation. It's also the series that brought Optimus Prime back to toy store shelves.
Optimus Prime made his big return to the toyline in 1988 as a Powermaster. Powermaster Optimus Prime was a tractor-trailer in the style of the original Optimus Prime, with the cab transforming into a robot and the trailer into a base as before, but this version was the first instance of Optimus Prime getting a “super mode” where he would combine with his trailer to form a larger, more powerful robot.
Six other Powermasters were released alongside Optimus Prime. The Autobots got Getaway, Slapdash and Joyride and the Decepticons got Darkwing and Dreadwind, while Doubledealer acted as a mercenary playing both sides. All seven Powermasters came with Nebulans who transformed into engines to unlock the transformation into robot mode. With these toys losing the Nebulan meant that you couldn’t transform your toy, unless you held down the button that the engine pressed up against as you moved the relevant part. The Decepticon jet duo Darkwing and Dreadwind notably could combine into a larger superjet, Dreadwing, the first example of a vehicular combiner in the Transformers toyline. Doubledealer like Punch / Counterpunch could switch between factions depending on which of his two Powermasters were plugged in to unlock different moving parts of his transformation.
Pretender Transformers were another new series for 1988. They involved simplified robots folding up to fit inside hard plastic shells of humans (for Autobots) or monsters (for Decepticons). The Decepticons had all the coolest shell designs, including Skullgrin and Bugly (pictured).
The other new theme for 1988 was the Pretenders. Pretenders were simplified Transformers whose robot forms had slender bodies yet disproportionately large heads, all the better for fitting inside the plastic shells they came with. The Autobot Pretenders had humans in spacesuits while the Decepticons had all kinds of monstrous creatures for their outer shells. While an interesting concept, the constraints of fitting into the plastic shells meant that the inner robots all looked the same, but for some different colors. Hasbro also introduced a few variations on the theme early on, with a group of four Pretenders with animal themed shells, and two others, Gunrunner and Roadgrabber, with vehicles that the robots could fit inside. These six had much better robot forms than the others and were generally better proportioned.
A selection of the other toys from the 1988 line, including Triggerbot Override and Triggercon Crankcase, Targetmasters Needlenose and Scoop, Sparkabot Guzzle, Firecon Flamefeather, Headmasters Nightbeat and Fangry and Seacons Tentakil and Skalor
1988 also was the year that the last of the “Scramble City” style combiners was released. The Seacons used the same universal peg and socket system as Superion and the rest in 1986, but took the theme further by including a sixth member in the team. The combiner was still formed by the core leader and four small figures as limbs, the fifth small figure would then form a gun for the combined warrior, Piranacon, to use. As a “Combiner Targetmaster”, Piranacon is a particularly cool example of a combining Transformer, and a fun crossing of ideas with the use of the Targetmaster concept.
The 1988 line also continued some of the more popular themes from the previous year. We've mentioned how the Doublespy concept was carried over in the form of Doubledealer, but 1988 also saw a second six changer, named Quickswitch who according to a commercial "was the son of Sixshot out to avenge his father's wicked ways". Headmasters and Targetmasters also carried over - with the Targetmasters each coming with two partner figures, which could be wielded individually or combined into a larger weapons. Spark-shooting toys also continued, with the Sparkabots and Firecons for the Autobot and Decepticon sides, respectively. Lastly, and not based on an existing gimmick, were the Triggerbots and Triggercons. The Triggers were simple toys which had push-button deployable weapons to represent "quick draw" gunfights. Notably, all of the returning gimmicks were downsized, simplified versions of the ones used in the 1987 line - marking a trend of "do what worked last year, but do it for less" which shows up throughout the later years of the Generation 1 line.
Some of the Japan-only 1988 releases, including Godmasters Overlord and God Ginrai, Sixknight and Pretender Metalhawk
At this point Japan was well and truly moving its own direction with its releases. The various Powermasters and the first six Pretenders were released in Japan along with the new Headmasters and the Seacons, but altered and renamed. Powermaster Optimus Prime was reworked to include clear windows on the cab, die cast metal and retractable fists on the supermode, and renamed Super Ginrai. A second toy was released to combine with Super Ginrai, named Godbomber. Godbomber was the first example of the “mid series upgrade” trend in giant robot shows, and split up to make booster armor for Super Ginrai.
And did Super Ginrai ever need that booster armor, because Takara released an additional Powermaster (called Godmasters in Japan). This new Godmaster was a much larger toy, a full on Powermaster citybot by the name of Overlord. Overlord had two Powermasters to unlock his various features, and could transform not only into a city but split up into both a jet and a tank, much like the 1987 Duocons toys. Overlord was presented as a powerful rival for Ginrai.
Overlord was not the only release exclusive to Japan at this time. The Autobot Pretenders got a Japan-only Pretender character, named Metalhawk, to act as their leader. Metalhawk was much better proportioned than the slender Pretenders, and featured die cast metal in his robot body. Fortress Maximus and Scorponok were also retooled and re-released for the 1988 lineup in Japan as Grand Maximus and Black Zarak. Grand Maximus came with an additional Pretender shell for his version of Cerebros, while Black Zarak had a new head and a huge spear accessory. Black Zarak also has the questionable honor of being the first Transformers toy to suffer from “gold plastic syndrome”, a condition where the plastic of the toy, as the name suggests usually gold plastic, cracks and crumbles if you so much look at it funny.
The 1988 Japanese line was also notable for its release of Nightbeat as Minerva, an Autobot medic, who was the first female character to be released as a toy, anywhere in the toyline. A borderline case can also be made for one of Overlord’s partners, Mega, who represented a female character, though Overlord himself was male.
To be continued...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Marvel Comics' The Transformers issue #50 - this was the issue which had a superpowered Starscream kill off dozens of older characters
The new Optimus Prime toy was accompanied by his return in the Marvel comics - though initially only as a computer program, complete with delusions of never being anything more. However, thanks to a Nebulan scientist, Hi-Q, Optimus Prime is revived and soon gets back to his old self. The other Powermasters, along with the Pretenders, all make their debut within the first three issues of the year.
The biggest story of 1988 was the Underbase saga. The story started out with the introduction of the Seacons and a hunt for a pair of Autobot cassettes, Grandslam and Raindance, who had come to Earth to warn of the approach of the Underbase. The Underbase was a vast repository of Transformer knowledge, created by a Transformer named Boltax. It had been launched into space by Optimus Prime because the knowledge it contained was too great for any Transformer to wield. However Starscream seized a portion of the Underbase’s power and slaughtered Transformers from both sides. A shaky alliance is formed to counter Starscream, which quickly breaks down into Scorponok and Ratbat both trying to claim the Underbase for themselves (and suspecting the same of Optimus Prime). Ratbat is killed by Scorponok, but Scorponok is not able to claim the Underbase, as it collided with the powered-up Starscream, overloading and killing him.
The Underbase saga is among the most infamous of the Generation 1 comics, not least because of the way it systematically wiped out all of the older Transformers characters, including the likes of the Seacons, who were introduced mere issues earlier. It is interesting though that the nature of the Underbase has a lot in common with the Allspark of the 2007 movie - a repository of great power launched into space by Optimus Prime, which eventually overloads and kills the one who seeks it. The two artifacts both are mostly cube shaped too, so it’s either a huge coincidence or one more example of how later Transformers stories all drew on the work of Bob Budiansky.
Marvel UK's Transformers issue #150 is a key turning point for the whole Transformers franchise, as it marks the first time the Primus and Unicron version of the Transformers creation myth was told
The 1988 Marvel UK Transformers comics kicked off their original material in a big way with a story arc called the Legacy of Unicron. Set in 2008 it featured the future time period Transformers battling against Unicron, whose head had come to rest on Junk, and was mind-controlling the Junkions into building him a new body. During the arc, the origin of the Transformers is revealed. This is the earliest telling of the Primus and Unicron creation story, and of how both beings possessed planetoids and fashioned them into worlds. Like State Games, the origin presented here is still very early and suggests whole pantheons of beings like Unicron and Primus, an idea that was later dropped.
The next UK original arc concerned Galvatron on Earth, and features an additional appearance from the Seacons. It has Shockwave facing Galvatron, and Shockwave concluding that only Megatron could defeat Galvatron. However after recovering Megatron - who in this version has been buried in the River Thames rather than vanished in a Spacebridge accident - it emerged Megatron was still struggling with Straxus for control of his body, which Shockwave exploited to try to control Megatron. The arc then wove around other major stories running through the year including City of Fear and Space Pirates, culminating in Megatron killing Cyclonus in battle - and in the process, destabilizing the entire timeline. Interestingly, this arc made it clear that in the UK comics even though Scorponok was the main Decepticon leader toy on the shelves, Galvatron (unused in the US comics) and Megatron (written out at this time) would continue to play a large role in stories.
The arc known collectively as “City of Fear” was one of the highlights of 1988. The arc featured the appearance of zombie Transformers - including a zombified Impactor - fighting the Wreckers and Ultra Magnus on Cybertron. The zombie Transformers were raised by a renegade Autobot scientist named Flame - the first time an Autobot would be presented as an antagonist. His plan was to implement an old plan of Megatron’s to move Cybertron through space, but the zombie Impactor proved himself a true Autobot and sacrificed himself a second time to save Xaaron and Cybertron - and cemented his position in Transformers legend.
Space Pirates was the last major story arc original to the UK comics in 1988. Set in 2008, it followed off the back of the comic adaptation of the Big Broadcast of 2006, and had the Quintessons invade both Earth and Cybertron as their own world was dying. It was one of the few times that both the Quintessons, the Sharkticons and Metroplex were used in the comics during Generation 1, owing to the story being kept largely focused on Earth and Cybertron, and with alien worlds rarely explored, coupled with the future timeline not being used outside of the UK comics.
A special mention goes to the story Deadly Games as well, which was one of the first stories to mention Tyrest, which in the UK comics was a location, but would later be used as a name for a very important character in the IDW era of Transformers comics.
The 1988 annual featured a selection of fairly inoffensive stories of questionable connection with the continuity. One of the standouts was Peace, a story set in the far future where the last Decepticon had finally fallen, but war broke out again, this time between the Autobots and the Wreckers. The Megatron / Galvatron rivalry was played with in the story Altered Image, while a story involving Highbrow fighting Scorponok would lead into the final major UK comics story arc, 1989’s Time Wars…
On both sides of the Pacific the Transformers line continued to be supported with a cartoon. In the US although no new episodes of the show were being made, newly edited reruns of all three earlier seasons were broadcast, notably introduced with live action links. These links featured a young Jason Jansen as Tommy Kennedy performing alongside a large puppet of Powermaster Optimus Prime. This short season also featured a broadcast airing of Transformers the Movie in five parts, and incorporated the music video for Stan Bush’s The Touch in one episode.
Second opening credits for Transformers Chojin Masterforce. Uploaded to Youtube by Megatron Decepticon
Japan meanwhile got a complete new cartoon in the form of Transformers Chojin (Super-God) Masterforce, or Masterforce for short. Set some time after the rest of the Autobots had left Earth at the end of Headmasters, Masterforce was almost a fresh continuity but for cameos from Chromedome and references to other characters on one or two isolated occasions. The series took a very different take on Transformers, with many of the main characters actually being humans who fused with inanimate vehicles as their “Transtectors” – like Headmasters, the Headmaster and Godmaster figures were the actual characters, and the robots were “just” the battleforms of these characters! The overall villain of the series was Devil Z, an evil energy being. Devil Z’s Destron servants included armies of Seacon drones, plus the husband and wife Godmaster team Giga and Mega – who part way through the series gained their own Transtectors and became the mighty Overlord. The series, like Headmasters, tended to introduce characters gradually, unlike Headmasters, the plot was more ongoing and less episodic, meaning the characters generally had more impact on the overall plot. Interestingly the series also featured a change of protagonists partway through – initially the Cybertrons were led by Metalhawk, but as the series progressed an American truck driver named Ginrai joined the team, and as a part of his character development arc he eventually assumed leadership of the Cybertrons on Earth. The series concluded in epic style, with Devil Z merging with the new Destron commander, Black Zarak, and Ginrai, as God Ginrai, unleashing his full power in a single blazing attack. At the end of the series, the Cybertrons and Destrons, made sentient in the wake of the destruction of Devil Z, departed Earth leaving their former human partners behind.
A truly interesting part of 1989 in Transformers media could be seen from how the three main areas of the Transformers brand - US, UK and Japan - were all at this time moving in their own directions. While the US and UK fiction would start coming back together again in 1989 when Simon Furman took up the writing duties on the US comic, the UK comic doubtless helped to contribute to the resilience of the brand in Europe into the 1990s, even when Transformers finished in the US. As for Japan? Takara would continue to spin off Transformers in a direction all of its own, with 1989 bringing about a toy line almost completely divorced from the one in the US…
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
1989, the fifth anniversary of Transformers, saw the line in decline. With no cartoon in the US, and increasing competition from other lines including Ninja Turtles and Micro Machines, the Transformers toy line floundered. Pretenders stuck around, undergoing downsizing and simplification, and new pocket-sized Transformers complete with bases and vehicles called Micromasters were introduced. Japan continued in its own direction with almost no US imports in this year, instead making its own toys, and another new cartoon, Transformers Victory.
A selection of the new Pretender Transformers released in 1989, including Mega Pretender Thunderwing, Ultra Pretender Roadblock, Monster Pretenders Slog and Scowl, plus Pretender Classics Bumblebee, Starscream and Grimlock and Pretenders Bludgeon, Doubleheader and Pincher
On the back of Optimus Prime’s return as Powermaster Optimus Prime in 1988, 1989 saw the return of the popular characters Jazz, Grimlock, Bumblebee and Starscream with all-new toys. The four were re-released as Pretenders and were generally the best realized versions of the concept, being a far cry from the spindly robots seen in the 1988 Pretenders assortment. The four inner robots were also released without their Pretender shells as a K-Mart store exclusive – the very first store exclusive releases in Transformers history.
More Pretenders also arrived in 1989. Six more Pretenders were released, and they were simplified and smaller toys, like the 1988 Headmasters compared to the 1987 ones. In this case though this proved to be an advantage as the smaller robots fit inside the larger shells better. This assortment featured the popular Decepticon Bludgeon.
More Pretender assortments were also released as Hasbro diversified the assortment with Mega Pretenders and Ultra Pretenders. Mega Pretenders were had larger and more complex outer shells which could transform into vehicles in their own right, and the resulting vehicles could combine with the inner robots’ vehicle modes. Ultra Pretenders meanwhile were effectively “double Pretenders”, with small robots fitting inside humanoid shells which could transform into a vehicle for the small robot to pilot. This shell could then fit inside a second, vehicular shell. These were perhaps the best realization of the Pretender concept because of the way that when you had the inner robot removed from its shell, the shell could still transform and do something – they were very cool. This assortment featured another popular character, the Decepticon Thunderwing.
1989 also saw the release of the last combiner Transformer of the Generation 1 line. The Pretender Monsters were a set of six small robots that each came with rubbery outer shells, but the six robots could combine into a single, mighty robot named Monstructor.
Micromaster Transformers, pocket sized Transformers for More than Meets the Eye on the go! Shown here are some of the 1989 Micromaster releases including the Airwave airbase playset and the Skyhopper helicopter set, as well as the Erector and Flattop trailer sets
A second assortment introduced to the Transformers line in this year were the Micromasters. Advertised with the tagline “micro size has the power to surprise”, at the time of release these Transformers were the smallest transformable toys on the market, with each Micromaster standing around an inch tall in robot mode. The small toys might have been brought out as a competitor to the rising popularity of pocket sized toys like Micro Machines at the time. They were released in sets of four, with each set of four called a “patrol” and having a running theme like sports cars, jets, or military vehicles. A set of four single-carded Micromasters with trailers were also released. These four toys - Overload, Flattop, Roughstuff and Erector - were known as the Micromaster Transports. The trailers for each of the toys could transform into a jet that the enclosed Micromaster could pilot, with the exception of Erector whose trailer turned into an anti-aircraft emplacement.
Larger base sets were also released as a part of the Micromasters series, each one with an accompanying Micromaster. There were four smaller sets comprising locations like a garage, a construction site, an aircraft hanger and a fire station, each of which could transform into a battle base. There were also four larger sets which were vehicles included a helicopter, a space shuttle, a tank, and the largest of the four, a rocket launch base. These playsets are sometimes known by the names of the Micromasters included with them. A cool feature of the playsets was that each set included ramps that could connect them to other bases and playsets to form a very large city for the Micromasters to race around.
Some of the releases from the Japan-only Transformers Victory line, including the new Cybertron and Destron leaders, Star Saber and Deszaras / Deathsaurus
Japan meanwhile got very few of these toys – the Skystalker shuttle set was released as a mail away under the name “Thunder Arrow” and the Countdown Rocket Base was released, with the bonus inclusion of the Micromaster Rescue Patrol, as the Cybertron forces’ main headquarters in the Transformers Victory toyline. Other US toys making it to Japan in 1989 included the Mega Pretenders Crossblades and Thunderwing, who were remolded and released as the Destrons Blue Bachhus and Black Shadow, and the Pretender Monsters, who were redecoed and given new dinosaur themed outer shells as the Destron Dinoforce.
The Transformers Victory lineup, beyond these limited imports, was entirely all-new releases, the greatest number of which would never see the light of day outside of Japan. A new group of Masters, the Brainmasters, were released – these toys were large and chunky cars with small driver figures who plugged into the figure’s chest in robot mode, then when the chest was closed, an elevator pushed the face of the larger robot into position. The leader of the Cybertrons in Victory, Star Saber, was a Brainmaster – he transformed into a futuristic jet with a large booster assembly. The jet component formed a smaller robot named Saber, with the booster then transforming into a larger body which Saber formed the chest of, forming Star Saber. Star Saber could also combine with a second robot, Victory Leo, a large winged lion, to form Victory Saber.
The Cybertron forces were bolstered by the Multiforce, a series of six robots released in three two-packs. The Multiforce were an interesting concept – each of the six robots could transform into either a lower or an upper body and combine with any of the other five figures in the set, producing 30 different combinations. This gimmick was a lot of fun, and it would be revisited again on a much larger scale with the 2003-4 Transformers Energon line, as well as the Transformers Go! Line of 2013-14. The Multiforce did not stop there, though, because all six robots could also combine into a single large robot, Landcross.
Further Cybertron releases included Galaxy Shuttle, a large shuttle Transformer capable of attaching to the Countdown Rocket base, and Great Shot, a remolded version of Sixshot.
On the Destron side as well as the aforementioned Dinoforce there was the Breastforce, so named because their chest armor (or “breastplates”) could be removed to form either weapons or animal sidekicks for the six members of the team. The six could also combine into Liokaiser, who was a major enemy of the three Cybertron Brainmasters who merged into Road Caesar, though he was also a frequent foil for Star Saber and later Victory Saber. The new Destron leader, Deszaras / Deathsaurus or variations thereon, also used the Breastforce gimmick, with two partner figures – his toy was designed with a spring-loaded platform that pushed forward each new breastplate as the previous one was removed, or filling the gap if both were taken off. The Breastforce and Deathsaurus were a return to the Targetmaster gimmick of partners becoming weapons, with the refreshing twist of also becoming armor.
To be continued...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Opening credits to Transformers Victory. Uploaded to Youtube by Antek_1982
Transformers Victory was accompanied by a 32 episode animated series. The series went back to the roots of Transformers after the divergent take presented in Masterforce, with the Destrons out to steal energy from Earth in order to power up their space fortress and conquer the galaxy. Star Saber was personally tasked with thwarting this plot by God Ginrai. Unlike Masterforce, many of the Cybertrons were introduced early in the series, with the Destron cast also mostly assembled early on – although the members of the Breastforce were introduced slowly, with Leozak coming into the picture early on, and eventually staging a prison break to rescue Gaihawk, the sixth member of the team. The series was a much lighter affair than Masterforce, with the Destrons other than Deathsaurus being portrayed in equal parts as threats and comic relief. The jokey approach of the series took a sharp reduction when Liokaiser was introduced, as the no-nonsense combined form of the Breastforce beat Star Saber within an inch of his life, needing a rescue from God Ginrai to survive. However, in a later appearance, God Ginrai was slain in battle when he teamed up with Star Saber to fight both Liokaiser and Deathsaurus. This led to the reconstruction of God Ginrai as Victory Leo, though the transfer into this new form and the trauma of dying meant he had little of his old personality carry over. The series concluded in a suitably epic style, with Deathsaurus reactivating his space fortress and intending to use it to wipe out Earth and the Cybertrons, who had now been joined by the Dinoforce who had defected. The combined Star Saber and Victory Leo, Victory Saber, defeated Deathsaurus, who with the last of his energy, set the fortress to collide with Earth, but drawing in all of his power, Victory Saber was able to destroy the fortress and save the Earth.
With the conclusion of Transformers Victory, the Transformers left the airwaves in Japan. Its sequel, Transformers Zone, was released straight to VHS, and only one episode was made. Transformers would not return to TV on either side of the Pacific until the arrival of Beast Wars in 1996 (1997 in Japan).
Marvel Comics' Transfomers issue #60 cover. This issue featured one of Bludgeon's earliest appearances in the Transformers comics.
While the cartoons may have ended, the Transformers comics continued, with Bob Budiansky bowing out and handing the torch to Simon Furman, who now wrote for both the UK and US Transformers comics.
Simon Furman’s run kicked off in a big way by returning to the character of Ratchet, haunted by the thoughts of the Autobots he has been unable to save, and in a grand connection with the early issues, is tricked into journeying to Cybertron where he is forced to resurrect Starscream as a Pretender by Megatron. Cunningly, Ratchet used leftover parts and rejected Pretender shells to bring back Bumblebee, Grimlock and Jazz. Ratchet ends up sacrificing himself to stop Megatron from escaping from a bomb he planted in Megatron’s base, and both are presumed destroyed.
Grimlock, Jazz and Bumblebee’s resurrection raised morale among the Autobots, and they were to journey from Cybertron to Earth, but the new Decepticon leader Thunderwing wished to see the group destroyed, and dispatched the trio of Bludgeon, Stranglehold and Octopunch to kill them. A Spacebridge malfunction caused by the Decepticons sends everyone to the centre of Cybertron, where the existence of Primus is revealed - and a stray shot awakens the creator of the Transformers briefly, in an almighty scream. This “primal scream” alerts Unicron to the location of his ancient enemy. With Unicron coming, the Autobots embarked on a Matrix Quest, to recover the artifact from where it came to rest after the original body of Optimus Prime, which contained it, was jettisoned into space.
Simon Furman’s first year on the Transformers comics was a dramatic difference to the stories that Bob Budiansky had been telling - immediately, a grander, more epic tone took over, and the saga of cosmic gods Unicron and Primus came into the picture. Ironically, Bob Budiansky had for a long time tried to keep the series focused around Earth, specifically because he personally did not want the Transformers series to turn into a space opera. However, the Simon Furman stories were some of the best regarded of the Generation 1 era, and they formally established in the US canon the key elements of the backstory of Unicron and Primus which would influence the franchise in all its incarnations going forward.
Marvel UK's Transformers issue #202 cover, featuring a teamup of Megatron and a time-traveling Galvatron
Marvel UK kicked off their 1989 Transformers comics with a story of cosmic proportions in the form of Time Wars. Following the death of Cyclonus at the hands of Megatron in 1988, time and space began to unravel. Rodimus Prime time jumps with a team of Autobots from 2009 to tackle the root of the time storm in 1989. In 1989 Rodimus arrival sends Optimus Prime to limbo, prompting a brief battle between the two groups of Autobots. Eventually a coalition of Autobots and even Decepticons is formed under Rodimus’ leadership, who square off against a tag team of Megatron and Galvatron who cut brutal swathes through all who oppose them, while the time storm grows worse and threatens Earth. With Galvatron decimating everything, Optimus Prime pulls himself out of limbo using Rodimus Prime’s Matrix and overcomes Galvatron, the latter of whom has gone completely insane and is partially destroyed. In the end though Shockwave is the one who saves the day, by hurling the remains of Cyclonus into the storm – but not before the time storm has consumed both Scourge and Galvatron.
Time Wars was the last epic UK Marvel story. It featured a huge amount of action, as well as a teamup from the future cast and the all-time immortal scene of Megatron and Galvatron fighting side by side (and a Galvatron with half his head missing fighting on like nothing had happened). It was the last Galvatron story published in the UK canon – the ending effectively killed off the character, though a Galvatron II would be introduced in the US comics shortly after Simon Furman took over writing duties there.
Following the publication of Time Wars, the UK comic went over to publishing two Transformers strips per issue, one of which was typically reprinted material, and the reprints included not just the US comics of the day but also earlier UK stories. However, under the new format, the number of pages for stories was reduced, often leading to resolutions being forced.
Some of the stories in this new format included a battle with the zombified remains of Starscream, which were being animated by the dregs of the Underbase, and a story involving the remaining Wreckers teaming up with Catilla and Carnivac. Carnivac in the toyline was marketed as a Decepticon, but in the comic became an Autobot “on his own terms” much like other anti-heroic characters later down the series. The arc did for Carnivac what some of Simon Furman’s best work did for other characters and made him a nicely fleshed out and interesting character, particularly once he found himself in the crosshairs of the Mayhem Attack Squad and in the position of trying to avenge Catilla.
Aspects of Evil was set far, far into the future, the year 2356, and had an ailing Rodimus Prime telling a student of the various enemies the Autobots had faced in the past – culminating in the story of the third coming of Unicron in 2010 and the revelation that Unicron’s essence was within the Matrix and corrupting those around Rodimus. It painted a bleak picture that in this distant timeline – possibly the same one as the annual story Peace – Unicron would never truly be defeated, and would exist to both sow and feed off hatred.
Further stories published in the new format delved into the origins of the Micromasters – who in the US comics just turn up – and deal with Thunderwing trying to climb the ranks of Decepticon leadership. A one shot story tells of how Arcee was built in an attempt to appease feminists, while another storyline titled “Mind Games” revealed that there were in fact two versions of Megatron – the original and a clone created by Straxus – in an attempt to explain inconsistencies in the plot where one Megatron was turning up while he should, by all rights, have been elsewhere.
An important story out of this whole series was Deathbringer, which is referenced both by the US series and by the sequel series Regeneration 1. It serves as a prelude to the Matrix Quest, and deals with an alien creature designed to euthanize diseased planets – but it had been corrupted by the Matrix – a theme that ran through the whole Matrix Quest plotline.
Lastly the year’s stories closed out with “The Greatest Gift of All”, a story which dealt with an ecological theme. Presented with a shard of the Matrix, Optimus Prime decides to release it into the Earth’s atmosphere rather than revive a fallen Autobot, after observing the damage that Transformer battles do to the environment.
Overall the new format stories were more cramped than previous years – and the Transformers UK comics would never again tell a story like Time Wars or Target 2006. But the new format stories still delivered some good and poignant issues, with the Survivors arc featuring Carnivac and the introduction of the Micromasters being ample proof of that.
By the close of the fifth year of the Transformers, the brand was no longer the huge hit it had been in the US, and with the airing of the final episode of Transformers Victory, Transformers cartoons disappeared from Japanese airwaves. Transformers' golden dawn had passed and lean years were ahead - with 1990 bringing a shocking new direction when Hasbro introduced Transformers that did not transform...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
And so we reach 1990, the final year of Transformers Generation 1 for the USA. By now Transformers was truly coming to an end, with the original Generation 1 comic series reaching what writer Simon Furman had intended to be a finale with issue 75. The Transformers toyline carried on with more Micromasters and also the Action Masters – poseable Transformers that did not transform – which are sometimes blamed for killing the toyline, and there is no doubting they were a nail in the coffin. Even Japan, which had persisted with cartoons and new toys all of its own, began to show signs of a decline with Transformers Zone being a single episode direct-to-video release instead of a full broadcast TV series. With the comic coming to a close and no new cartoons on TV anywhere in the world, it was a very bleak time for the Transformers brand.
Marvel Comic's Transformers Issue #70 Cover, The Price of Life, featuring the horrific image of a fused Ratchet / Megatron (we considered Transformers #75's cover, but the merged Ratchet / Megatron stuck out as an enduring image from this year in comics from our childhoods)
1990 was a year of endings for the Transformers. The long-running Marvel Comics series was threatened with the specter of cancellation, leading to Simon Furman writing an epic conclusion in issue 75 – only to be granted a stay of execution and extend the story with a tacked-on one page epilogue. The year’s started with the conclusion of the Matrix Quest, which saw Thunderwing become increasingly obsessed with obtaining the Matrix. He eventually claimed the artifact, which had become tainted with evil - and it therefore accepted Thunderwing in place of Optimus Prime. Thunderwing however became overtaken with the Matrix’s dark taint and lost control, and was ultimately ejected into space.
Unicron’s approach loomed large over the series, with the chaos bringer summoning a different Galvatron from an alternate future to act as his herald. Grimlock struck out on his own, seeking a way to restore the Dinobots and other fallen Autobots, and he finds Nucleon. Ratchet was also revealed to be alive - as a horrific creature partially fused with Megatron. To save his old friend, Optimus Prime has to also save his arch-enemy - which he goes through with, which leads to greater repercussions down the line in the Regeneration One series.
Faced with the coming of Unicron, Optimus Prime makes a hard decision to surrender to Scorponok, in order to secure the assistance of the Decepticons in the coming battle - but Scorponok has to deal with dissent in his own ranks, as Shockwave and Starscream launch a mutiny against Scorponok. The clash escalates when Neo-Knights, a team of superhumans assembled by G.B. Blackrock and including Circuit Breaker, intervene - but the battle is cut short when everyone is warped to Cybertron to face Unicron by Primus himself. The final battle saw a culmination of Simon Furman’s grand storyline, recognized as one of the greatest Transformers stories ever written and a fitting end for the series, had Marvel not granted the comic a five issue stay of execution.
Interestingly, during the Matrix Quest, the names of the Matrix bearers before Optimus Prime were mentioned as Prima, Prime Nova, and Sentinel Prime. Prima would later be established as the original Matrix bearer and the first Transformer, with Sentinel Primes playing key roles in the backstories of other Optimus Primes in other continuities. And while “Prime Nova” has never come up again, IDW’s Transformers canon features a previous Prime by the name of Nova Prime - and these stories too were written by Simon Furman.
Marvel UK's Transformers issue #273 cover, featuring Carnivac stalking Bludgeon, Stranglehold and Octopunch of the Mayhem Attack Squad
The 1990 UK original content kicked off with a story set in 2010, examining a thread set up in the Aspects of Evil story arc the previous year, where Unicron’s dark essence had infiltrated the Matrix and was overrunning Rodimus Prime. While Rodimus was able to fight Unicron on the astral plane, the Matrix was torn from his chest before Rodimus could completely purge Unicron – leaving his dark taint forever within the Matrix. The story draws an interesting parallel with the Matrix Quest story as a whole, with the idea that the Matrix could become tainted by evil. This would also be the last story to feature the future Autobot cast.
The remainder of the 1990 stories involved a new Autobot team dubbed the Earthforce. The Earthforce was set up to handle the war with the Decepticons on Earth, and the stories are questionable on just where they fit into continuity at best. Mostly self-contained, they focused on characters who were reissued as a part of the 1990 Classic Heroes series. Grimlock was the overall leader of the group, with Prowl and Wheeljack playing significant roles in the plot. The series was notable for its lighter approach, generally freed of the massive amounts of plot that were at the time bogging down the main storyline – it was also a great way to see the classic characters in action since they’d largely since disappeared from the main comic.
To be continued...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Transformers Zone opening credits. Uploaded to Youtube by Triforce33NL
1990 was also the year of the final animation for the Japanese Generation 1 canon. Transformers Zone was produced as a direct-to-video animation, with excellent animation, starring the new Cybertron heroes Dai Atlas and Sonic Bomber. The plot focused around a new alien threat Violenjaeger, and his 10 great Destron generals – resurrected versions of the various gestalts and other powerful Destrons from the previous series, all decked out with capes and new weapons. Violenjaeger had little to do with the plot beyond the setting in this episode, though in the TV magazine story pages it was eventually revealed he was born of the evil of many vanquished Destrons. This though was never animated, though a popular rumor in the fandom pointed to many more episodes having been made but somehow lost or destroyed (a fire being the popular theory). The reality though is probably more mundane, because 1990 was the year that Takara introduced Brave Exkaiser, the first of the eight Brave series, which was similar in style to Transformers (particularly Transformers Victory) but without the baggage of continuity. It is likely with the Brave series having its own animation to accompany it, Takara was unwilling to finance more Transformers animation as well.
Whatever the truth surrounding the fate of the animation in Japan may have been the toys were still doing well in Japan. In 1990 nearly ever Micromaster from the 1989 and 1990 lineups were released in Japan, and virtually all were released as Cybertrons. The line was complemented by a trio of new releases, named Powered Masters. Powered Masters were larger robots who had Micromaster partners, and could transform into vehicle and base modes. In a sense, they are perhaps what the large Micromaster bases should have been, could have been had things been different. The smaller Powered Masters, Sonic Bomber and Road Fire, featured spring loaded and friction engine parts respectively which allowed them to “auto transform” in part, while the largest of the three, Dai Atlas, had motorized treads. The three Powered Masters could also combine into Big Powered, a huge spacecraft.
The Destron side was very much undermanned, perhaps because of the opinion that villain toys were harder to sell, and if this is the reason for so few Destrons in 1990, it is a good indication of the health of Transformers in Japan at the time, along with the lack of an animated series. The Micromaster Stunt Patrol, like their US counterparts, were villains, and were Japan’s only evil Micromasters. They were accompanied by Metrotitan, a redeco of Metroplex, who included his own Micromaster partner and a Micromaster base compatible ramp.
A selection of the 1990 Micromasters, including the Combiner Transports, which could split into two bases / vehicles or combine into a single large trailer or base.
The US line ended in 1990, with the final assortments consisting of more Micromaster Patrols. The new 1990 Patrols generally featured more interesting vehicle mode choices than their 1989 predecessors, and the sets included monster trucks and construction vehicles alongside more cars and planes. The 1990 Micromaster releases also included the “Micromaster Combiner Squads” – not combiners in the giant robot sense, but combiners in the sense that each Micromaster in the four sets released could form the front or rear half of a vehicle, and could be mixed and matched to create different vehicles. Three “combiner transports” were also produced, which were trailers that came with a pair of combiner Micromasters. The trailers could be split up into a pair of battlestations or combined into a single playset. The 1990 Micromaster assortment was rounded out with two larger playsets, the Decepticon Anti Aircraft Base and the Autobot Combiner Headquarters. The Decepticon set was a tank that turned into a base with a smaller mini-tank that split off from the main body, while the Autobot set was a large truck that broke down into two spaceships. Notably this was the only Micromaster playset that did not feature a base mode.
A selection of Action Master Transformers released in 1990, including Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Prowl, Starscream and Devastator, and newcomers Krok, Banzai-Tron and Mainframe
The other 1990 release Transformers in the US were the infamous Action Masters. Action Masters were action figure versions of Transformers characters old and new, which did not transform themselves but did come with transforming partners or accessories, which tended to transform, Targetmaster style, into huge cannons. It is thought that like how Micromasters may have been a response to the popularity of Micro Machines, Action Masters were developed to try to cash in on the popularity of action figures like World Wrestling Federation, G.I. Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time.
The Action Masters included carded single figure releases as well as larger releases with vehicles which could transform into battle stations or in some cases, would transform from a land-based vehicle like a car into a jet, MASK style. Notably the Action Masters introduced a third version of Optimus Prime to succeed Powermaster Optimus Prime, new versions of Bumblebee, Jazz, Grimlock and Starscream were also released as Action Masters, and other major characters such as Wheeljack, Prowl, Inferno, Devastator and Soundwave were brought back. Most important of all, the Action Master series was also the first time since 1984-5 that a Megatron was available in the toyline.
Unfortunately by this point, the Transformers line had been in decline for a few years. According to an Associated Press article dated December 16, 1990, profits from the Transformers line had dipped from $333 million at their height in 1985 to $35 million in 1990, accounting for just 2.4% of Hasbro’s profits in 1990. Interestingly even as late as December 1990, a final decision on the fate of the Transformers line was awaited, so the decision to cancel the line came very late, explaining why new styles of Action Masters were developed and sold only in international markets the following year.
The reasons for the decline of the Transformers line were attributed by industry analysts to Hasbro’s reduced marketing, particularly the lack of a cartoon series to support the line after 1987. Some might even suggest that the line never recovered from the violent phasing out of many of its core characters in the 1986 movie. Others might suggest it was due to the over-reliance on gimmicks and on futuristic rather than realistic toys. Wherever you take the reasoning from, 1990 was the end for Transformers as a toyline in the US.
But even with the line also in decline in Japan, the Transformers toyline survived in other markets, initially in Europe and later in Australia and Canada. These markets got something truly amazing in 1990 alongside the Micromasters and Action Masters – the “gold box” Classic Heroes series. This series was a line of re-released toys from the early days of the Transformers line, the first reissues. The original Optimus Prime was one of these first reissues, and joining him were other classic heroes like Sunstreaker, Prowl and Wheeljack. These reissues contributed to keeping the Transformers line alive abroad, a vital lifeline that just might have stopped Transformers from disappearing altogether, and would lead to some previously Japan only toys getting a wider release, a trend that also started in 1990 when Italy got a release of Galaxy Shuttle. He was the first of the Japanese toys to get released in this way, but he was not the last.
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
The Transformers brand was effectively finished by 1991 in the US, with the last embers fading out early in the year as the long-running Marvel comic finished in both the US and the UK - with a promise that the comic would continue in the UK being utterly, cruelly dashed at the last by Marvel UK itself folding. The Transformers toyline in Japan started to slow down with fewer new toys released as Takara’s new Brave franchise found its legs and took Transformers’ place as the company’s main transforming robot action property. In Europe, Australia and Canada, some toy releases continued, with a handful of additional Action Masters, reissued original toys and even some Japanese imports. Even in this bleakest of times, the Transformers brand soldiered on.
Marvel's Transformers issue #80, End of the Road, marked the end of the Generation 1 Transformers comics
Marvel’s Transformers comics came to an end with issue 80 (of a four-issue limited series) published in May 1991. The final issues of the series found the Autobots without their leader and with a Cybertron that was falling apart now that Primus had been terminated; the fragile alliance with the Decepticons quickly crumbled without a common enemy. Amidst it all, the Neo-Knights and Optimus Prime’s former Powermaster partner Hi-Q were left behind and forgotten. They would prove to be the salvation of the Transformers’, uncovering the ancient Transformer known as the Last Autobot. The Last Autobot recognized the hidden truth about Hi-Q, and through him, Optimus Prime was reborn. The newly reborn Optimus Prime intervened in a battle between the Autobots and Decepticons on the planet Klo. In the final moments of the issue, Optimus Prime revealed that Cybertron was saved by the awakening of the Last Autobot, and the Autobots returned home, while the remaining Decepticons under Bludgeon’s leadership departed for distant systems.
For the final issues of the Marvel UK Transformers comics, the main strip was a reprint of the US strips, with a reprinted UK strip as the backup comic, some of which was presented in color rather than black and white like the original strips.
Illustration from Marvel UK's 1991 Transformers annual story "Another Time and Place", which tied up some of the loose ends from the final issues of the series
The 1991 UK Transformers annual is of special significance. In addition to reprints of the “Survivors” arc featuring Carnivac, the annual featured a text story titled Another Time and Place, which was set after the final issue of Generation 1 and served to wrap up a few loose ends from the story. The story has Grimlock and the Dinobots returning to Hydrus Four to find a cure for side effects related to the use of Nucleon, which Grimlock felt guilty about. Grimlock discovers Bludgeon is commandeering a facility on the planet to revive Megatron. Optimus Prime, initially withdrawn, is roused into action and personally leads a strike team to save Grimlock. Swoop kills Bludgeon, using the machinery that was rebuilding Megatron to dismantle the Decepticon. Grimlock discovers the Decepticons have refined Nucleon and uses it to restore his transformation, and together with Optimus Prime they destroy the partially-revived Megatron. The story ends with Optimus Prime vowing not to become withdrawn again, even as a new threat creeps into the picture.
Another Time and Place is an interesting story. As a conclusion to the series, it wraps up the story of Nucleon and of Bludgeon quite nicely, and also gives Optimus Prime some interesting characterization, following on from his death and rebirth in issues 75 – 80. While this version of the conclusion of Generation 1 is obviously truncated by being fit into a dozen pages of text, there are a lot of parallels with the later Regeneration 1 series, including a withdrawn Optimus not being roused into action until one of the other Autobots decides to go it alone and Grimlock seeking a cure for the side-effects of Nucleon. While the other details differ, it is curious how much the broad-brush elements are in step with the later Regeneration 1, suggesting that at least some of that series was what might have happened, had Transformers not ended with issue 80. The ending suggests a plan to continue the story in a version of Transformers Generation 2, but the other elements of the published Generation 2 comics are at odds with other details of the story.
To be continued...
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?
Return of Convoy's leading 'bot, Star Convoy, was a reborn version of the original Convoy / Optimus Prime. He was reissued in 2005 which is the version you see here. Photo by Chaos Muffin
The Transformers toyline continued in Japan, in a much reduced capacity, and notably 1991 saw no new Destrons released for the Japanese market. This was in spite of the original big bad, Megatron, appearing in the backstory of the year’s toyline in Japan in a new form. 1991’s toyline in Japan was titled Return of Convoy. The premise was that a new evil entity named Dark Nova had arisen and in his first act of evil, he resurrected Galvatron (still lost under the ice of the arctic after his defeat in Headmasters) as Super Megatron. To combat the menace of a resurrected version of their ultimate nemesis, the Cybertrons resurrected the original Convoy (Optimus Prime) as Star Convoy. Together with the Cybertrons Sky Garry, Grandus and Sixliner, Star Convoy defeated Super Megatron and his upgraded formUltra Megatron, before putting an end to the evil of Dark Nova once and for all – but not before Megatron and Dark Nova merged into a single, monstrous creature known as Star Giant. The story was primarily told across a series of story pages in the 12 issues of TV Magazine published in Japan between February 1991 and January 1992.
As noted, the villains for this story never got toys of their own – although rumors persist that Super Megatron might have been designed at one point. The basis of these rumors seems to be a similarly designed toy named Gunkid in the 1996 Brave Command Dagwon toyline. This is likely just a coincidence though give the limited number of ways to design a transforming space gun robot. Also of interest is that an early story treatment, found in the first promotional catalog for the line, suggested that the Megatron-reviving big bad was Unicron, although he was never referred to by name - there was just some artwork which was clearly Unicron.
On to the toys that actually did see the light of day. Star Convoy, the “hero” character for the line, was a large futuristic truck who could transform to robot form as well as a base for Micromasters, much like the Powered Masters from the 1990 Zone series. Like Dai Atlas, Star Convoy featured motorized treads that let him roll out in truck mode and robot mode. His release was accompanied by Sky Garry, a large flying carrier, and Grandus, a squat, bulky robot who effectively laid down on his chest to transform. Grandus’ strength though was as a base – in base mode, his whole front opened into a series of platforms, served by a lift. The lift could be powered by the tread unit on Star Convoy by way of a special connector part. Sky Garry’s gimmick was completely unrelated – he had no special features that could be powered by Star Convoy. Instead he could carry up to three “Microtrailers” in his vehicle mode, and drop them at the push of a button. Microtrailers were included with all the 1991 release Micromaster sets. They were trucks that could fit a single Micromaster in their trailers. Spring loaded catapults let them launch the Micromasters into action.
The other notable release of the 1991 lineup was Sixliner, a combiner made up of six Micromasters. Like Devastator in 1985, Sixliner’s combination was made possible by a lot of additional parts. The Sixliner Micromaster set was, along with the Powered Masters and team Star Convoy, a Japan only release; indeed none of these toys have ever seen a release outside of Japan. Sixliner was only sold as a set, and presumably proved popular enough to warrant a further four teams being made in 1992.
1991 Action Master Transformers, including Sideswipe, Thundercracker, Bombshell, Slicer, and the Action Master Elites Omega Spreem, Turbomaster, Double Punch and Windmill
Europe, along with Australia and Canada, also got new Transformers in 1991. Some of the new releases carried on the Action Masters series, with a further set of six Action Masters. These six, which included Action Master versions of Sideswipe, Bombshell and Tracks, varied the Action Master gimmick – their partners, instead of forming weapons, would attach to the backs of the figures and form armored helmets. This new theme continued through the boxed releases, who came with vehicles that transformed into exosuits for an Action Master to pilot. The exosuit series included an Action Master version of Thundercracker who is the epitome of the garish colors of the era, along with the evil Wheeljack clone Slicer, his Autobot nemesis Rumbler, and the Autobot Circuit. Slicer and Rumbler came with motorized vehicles which rolled in vehicle or exosuit form.
The final, and rarest, Action Masters released were the Action Master Elites. The Elites were a set of four Action Masters who could transform. The transformations were admittedly crude – one release, Omega Spreem, basically just bent over for his alternate mode. The four were all new names, though three of the four seemed to resemble older characters – Omega Spreem was effectively a new take on Omega Supreme, Double Punch was something of a Black Zarak / Scorponok lookalike, and Turbomaster was a pink and purple Bruticus. The odd one out was Windmill. The four are notoriously rare, only being available in a few markets. They are also some of the best designed figures in the set, all four being nice, chunky yet detailed robots.
Beyond Action Masters, 1991 also brought more Classics reissues, including the Combiner teams. 1991 also brought over some Japanese toys for foreign markets. These releases included Overlord, whose release could have been a testing of the waters for how well a larger toy might perform, and the three Transformers Victory Brainmaster cars as the Motorvators. The latter trio had their combining parts removed and all these releases had their decos tweaked for this release. The release of Overlord in Europe, in addition to being the first and only outing outside of Japan for the toy, would inspire two fans, Nick Roche and James Roberts, who would nearly 20 years on incorporate Overlord into a little something called Last Stand of the Wreckers…
Credit to Sol Fury, TFW2005.com
Whose Side Are You On?