The Christmas season is here, and I'm reminded of those holidays past where there's been a toy no kid would even dream of receiving. Toys that we so huge and expensive, that even the most devout believer in Santa Claus would balk at the mere thought that they could have 'em. I was a pretty spoiled kid, but there were some toys that even I couldn't grasp.
Remember that R.O.B. Nintendo robot? That silly thing that accompanied the Gyromite set? As ridiculous as it was, most of us thought it was damn cool. In fact, I still have the robot around here somewhere. Don't have those plastic things anymore, but I could never figure out what to do with 'em anyway. And besides, even with a cool robot, Gyromite was just no match for Super Mario Bros. or, dare I say it, Slalom. What few people remember is that there was also a giant version of this robot, which even back in the mid-80s carried a price tag of 200 bucks. I think it was some weird import, but for some reason, the Toys R Us around here had it. It probably wasn't even from the Nintendo line, but I had convinced myself otherwise. I cried, I pleaded, I begged, I got smacked. My father graciously informed me that if I ever asked for a two hundred dollar Christmas present again, he'd rip my head off. That's one I missed.
I guess a year later or so I wanted one of those blasted Ecospheres for Christmas. Some of you have probably seen 'em, they're usually in the nature or science stores across the country in malls. Little glass eggs filled with water, sticks, and baby shrimp. I don't know why I wanted this fucking thing, but once again, the law was laid down, and I was informed that there was no way in Hell anyone was going to spend 120 bucks on a piece of glass filled with water that I'd surely break. Whenever I asked for something this ludicrous, my parents totally abandoned whatever hopes they had to keep up the Santa mystery. It was just a straight up, flat out 'we are not buying that piece of shit for you.' Another one I missed out on. (I still want the stupid thing, too.)
But perhaps my biggest never-got-it Christmas present wish...the largest Transformer of all. I had never seen him on the show, but I really didn't need to. This toy wasn't one you picked out because he had a great catch phrase or because he kicked Decepticon ass on the show. You wanted him because he was big enough to kick your ass. Face it, kids don't compare dick sizes. And even if they did, they wouldn't know if they were supposed to be proud or not. You got over by having the biggest toy. And this? There just wasn't any bigger.
Holy Christ. Now that is a Christmas present. Imagine if you would...a 2.5' tall robot that transformed into a city about as heavy an a small child, with more guns and weapons than underground Iraq, with a head that transforms into a robot - which has another head that transforms into a robot! AND - its a Transformer to boot. This was Fortress Maximus. The most regal Transformers toy ever made, with a retail price that suggested 24K screws holding it together.
A few years back when I was dealing, (toys, not drugs) one of these finally came into my hands. It was missing the head and all the other stuff, but I could still tell how amazing it was. Even at 18 years old, or however old I was then, this thing was almost half as tall as I was. Alright, I'm exaggerating slightly, but it was still fucking huge. Unfortunately, he's sold with most of the rest now, but backtracking a bit...no kid could receive a better present. Imagine being six-years-old, and seeing your lame neighbor friend prancing around his front lawn with a My Buddy doll. If you went up there and showed him your new friend, he'd be crying to his parents for weeks. And isn't that what being a kid is all about? Making your friends bitter, jealous, screaming freaks? Of course! But who was this Fort Max character?
Headmasters was essentially one of the last attempts to boost sales and jumpstart waning interest in the series, at least within the United States. After the movie, even the most devout fans can admit that the show was getting pretty lackluster, with few characters to identify with, and generally, much less action. At least, that's what I'm attributing the sales decrease to. Course, all toylines have an average popularity shelf life of three years...and the TFs were already on borrowed time. First things first, they brought Optimus Prime back to life. Prime = Power. But it wasn't enough. New shows were popping up. New obsessions were found left and right. Ultimately, the Headmasters series served as a virtual finale for the show.
Without going into too much detail, the Autobots and Decepticons come into dealings, both positive and negative, with an alien race on the planet Nebulous called The Hive. Lots of weird shit goes down, and several of the bots literally give up their heads, allowing the relatively essential body parts to turn into other Transformers. So if you have an old, headless Transformer laying around, that's where its from. Any Transformer who has another Transformer for a head is called a Headmaster. There were also Target Masters, Transformers with robot weapons.
The point of all this chicanery? More toys. This gave Hasbro a reason to re-release older figures with the updated features. These figures today are quite rare and enormously expensive, a tribute to how unsuccessful the marketing attempt went over. A boxed Target Master Hot Rod can run hundreds of dollars. Coincidentally, Hasbro was TF's best friend and greatest enemy. The same thing happened with Beast Wars. The writers of the show, who usually got very into the character development and storyline after getting comfortable, would often have to abandon their ideas and plans and start implementing watered down stuff so new toys could be made.
Sound kinda strange? It was! I haven't seen the series in awhile, but if memory serves, the Autobots felt that victory was impossible unless some of them traded in their heads or guns. I have a hard time believing that a 2' Transformer could do more in battle than a gun, but hey, the Transformers never fit together like a puzzle. Remember, in the first reason they claimed that their Earth-eque transformations helped keep them 'disguised'. Well, the Decepticons never had much trouble finding them. And if they were trying to disguise themselves from the people of Earth, it might not have been a good idea for Prime to hold press conferences on the steps of city hall once per episode.
In any event, The Hive and the Decepticons were teamed up, and Lord Zarak (don't ask) fronted the new Decepticon menace...the biggest Decepticon to date. Scorponok.
Obviously, no matter how many Autobots out there with transforming guns there were, none of them was a match for this giant. So Spike and Cerebros hatched a plan. By this point, Spike was all grown up, so he could do more than just jot notes in his diary, going into detail about how exciting it was to pick up chicks driving Bumblebee. But you've probably never heard of Cerebros, the very first Autobot pacifist. Cerebros hated fighting, hated war, hated pretty much everything. But he spoke so softly, nobody really noticed. In an effort to end the conflict, the two of them made Fortress Maximus, an Autobot who can literally end a battle by stepping on it. With Fort Max's help, the conflict went into a recession, and a new Golden Age of Cybertron was born!
So now that they got the storyline out of the way...its time to make the toy.
Huge doesn't begin to describe it. Fans are probably familiar with the Metroplex Autobot city toy...Fort Max was easily 2-3 times the size, at at least 8-10 times heavier. Its gun was actually taller than most of the figures. To adults, it looked big...imagine how it appeared to the kids it was intended for. No child needed an imaginary friend, as long as they had a Fort Max. And because he was so kickass big, you wouldn't need imaginary friends anyway. Every kid in the neighborhood would be knocking down your door to play with 'that giant toy.'
As far as what you could actually do with it....well, since it was so big and heavy, it wasn't the kinda toy that really saw much action during playtime, at least in robot mode. But that's okay, since his head was perfectly scaled for battles against your regular Decepticons...
Cerebros' life was a double-edged sword. On one hand, he was an essential ingredient to arguably the most important robot on the Autobot force. But on the other hand, the poor guy transformed into a head. He's like the soldier who has to run onto the battlefield carrying nothing but his nation's flag. Sure, he stands out in a crowd...but its not the best defense in the world. Say you wanted to have your Fort Max converse with your Cliffjumper figure. Obviously, a tough task. The size difference is phenomenal. Cerebros is even too big for him...but that's okay too! Cerebros' head also transforms...
Into Spike! Christ, can you imagine the personality disorder Fort Max must've had? He's got more heads than Hydra. What if Fort Max was battling Devastator, and Spike and Cerebros couldn't agree on which angle to shoot him from? How were you supposed to get a straight answer out of the guy? You've got Spike and Cerebros both making the decisions. Picture the scenario...
Hot Rod: So! Fortress Maximus...birthday comin' up...gimme some ideas! I still gotta get you a gift. Whatcha looking to get?
Fort Max: A red bicycle. ...A blue bicycle!
Hot Rod: Hmmmm....
Hot Rod: Still undecided then, aye? Understood. I'm like that too. Remember how many times I threw away the Matrix? HA! Hey, you've watched Melrose Place. Who's got the better rack...Allison or Amanda?
Fort Max: Amanda! ...Jack Wagner! Shut up, Spike.
Hot Rod: I hate you. ...So do I. What the fuck was that?!
Even at its original retail price, Fort Max was expensive. To buy him now will cost you anywhere from 500-1000 bucks, if not higher. There are more expensive ones out there, but this is generally the definitive Transfan wet dream. For those who don't want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on one though, here's some alternatives...these round out the top five largest Transformers...
Scorponok - Fort Max's main adversary, and the largest Decepticon toy ever made. Glorious features include claw arms, 5,000 guns, and a tiny rolling Decepticon. About three-fourths as tall as Maximus, Scorponok still dwarfed most of the other figures. We saw very little of Scorponok on the show, and given the limited amount of time on the shelves, not too many people had him.
Omega Supreme - He's been around for awhile, and this is one Autobot who was grossly misused. It was understood in season one that nobody could stop Omega Supreme. As soon as the Decepticons saw him, they fled. He was the ultimate warrior. So what'd Prime do? Stationed him halfway across the planet and totally forgot he existed for 95% of the battles. I guess soundly defeating the Decepticons wasn't part of the master plan. Omega Supreme didn't mind too much, because these Transformers are so wordy in battle, and it takes the poor guy a half hour just to complete a sentence. Omega realized that most episodes were 21-22 minutes long, so if he had to consistently string together five coherent statements, we'd be seeing way too many two-parters. In any event - cool, motorized toy that either runs along a track or transforms into a giant, usually unstable robot.
Metroplex - One of my all-time faves, this is the original Autobot city. Metroplex suffered from a classic case of Autobot size of convenience. On the show, there were several episodes where Metroplex in robot mode didn't look all that much taller than the bigger Autobots. In other scenes, every Autobot was inside him. I know...'subspace'. The toy was great...the robot mode was terrific, and while the city looked more like an incorrectly-transformed Transformer, it could still fit all the mini-cars nicely. Amazingly enough, it doesn't cost too much to pick one up on the collector's market even today.
Trypticon - The Decepticon's answer to Metroplex: a big, stupid dinosaur robot who causes virtually no trouble for the Autobots. Though only featured in a few episodes, Trypticon melted hearts with his repeated ridiculous plots and adventures, sometimes calling for him to go awol on the Deceps and take up residencency on tropical islands. As far as the toy goes, this guy one-upped Metroplex by being a motorized monster of much malevolence, a trait which inevitably frustrated every kid who got him, since breaking his legs was no difficult task.
As for Fort Max, don't fret too much if you don't want to spend a grand on him. Recently, a remake of the figure was released in Japan. I'm all for being a purist, but few will argue the logistics of spending 7-8 hundred dollars more on a figure just because its got a different date printed on its leg. Take a look...
Not bad, eh? And it won't run you a fortune either. I'm considering buying one. 'Brave' Maximus is a pretty close representation of the original, and definitely one cool toy. For the hundred bucks or so that it'll run you, its a bargain. The new released of the Beast Machines figures can run anywhere from 20-40 dollars. This is at least 3-5 times larger, and you'll finally have a surrogate Spike figure!
To see the remake Fortress Maximus figures currently for sale on eBay, click here.
Now, if only someone in Japan would recreate that prototype Unicron figure...
If you buy me an X-Mas present, I very well may send you a peanut.