Written/Created by: Matt
Originally posted on 2.12.01.

Musings:
Transformers was one of the hallmarks of X-E, but honestly, I don't enjoy writing about 'em quite so much anymore. I'm not sure if I've outgrown their original appeal, (which would make sense considering that I'm 90) or if it's just because I really dislike all the more current pieces of TF lore. The prequels soured me on Star Wars a little, so why wouldn't it be the same with Optimus?

Anyway, this article covers a lot of the lesser-known parts of the toyline, so if you've ever had a question about some stupid plastic action figure you played with seventy-two years ago, I hope this helps!

In case you missed the news that's been reported now in a few places, looks like Hasbro is finally starting to listen to the two guys standing outside their office in Megatron t-shirts campaigning to get their favorite show back on the air - a new neo-classic Transformers toon complete with a set of figures are slated to debut around August of 2001.

After years of toying with monkeys and bugs that transform into robots, Hasbro is going back to the proven success of their original formula, so these new guys aren't going to be Shakespearian T-Rexes or noble wolf/eagle hybrids. We're back to car robots, and a lot of fans couldn't be happier. These past few years have shown a big boom in interest for old school toons. Aside from this news, we've seen Masters of the Universe figures re-released, not to mention cable networks buying up the rights to as many classic toons as possible. It really seemed to come out of nowhere. 20-somethings must have this sychronized internal clock that goes off and tells them when to start getting nostaligic. Not that I'm complaining...given the state of television nowadays, even with cartoons, I wouldn't be surprised if they give Optimus Prime a girlfriend with giant metal traffic cone breasts that shoot lasers at the Decepticons. The possibilities are endless here...

But, with answers comes questions, and with all this news coming out, it seems that a lot of fans, whether former, current, or rekindled, have vague memories about our mighty robot warriors that they just can't put their finger on. Since I don't want anyone operating heavy machinery or trying to comprehend the intricate mating rituals of the octopus with such burning questions on their mind, today we hope to solve some of the mysteries.

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Question: I remember having these big hollow astronaut and monster figures that did absolutely nothing, but I'm pretty sure they were Transformers. Enlighten me.

Our non-existant inquiree is thinking of Transformers Pretenders, definitely not the most highly-regarded addition to the line back in the later part of the 80s. Those of you who have taken marketing classes were probably taught that things like Transformers have a shelf life of approximately three years. That's fairly accurate - but almost no company is willing to close up shop based on the estimates given by college textbooks, so instead they start going absolutely insane when their product's popularity slips, ultimately unleashing things that never had much right existing in the first place. This explains the entire last season of Roseanne and Pets.Com trying to sue David Letterman for having his own sock puppet.

Pretenders just proved once again that the Autobots must really have something to hide. First, they disguise themselves as cars so no one will recognize them. Sure, nobody's driving the moving vehicles, making it a pretty stupid disguise, but hey, its their intent, not mine. But some Autobots must've had especially high bounties on their heads, since they hollowed out really big human suits and walked around inside them for no apparent reason. Before you start thinking that maybe these suits improved their strength, let me show you what Bumblebee had to give up to become one of 'em.


Optimus Prime isn't too sure what to make of the humans blocking his path - its not the fact that the humans are brave enough to stand in front of a transforming semi-truck, its just that Prime's not used to seeing space astronauts walking around the city streets in bright blue and yellow suits. Earth's a melting pot, but this is out of control. By the way, the animators took a lot of creative liberties with Optimus in his later years when he only landed spots on toy commercials - here he's seen jumping around with cheetah-like agility and the combined enthusiasm of Katie Couric and a swarm of frogs on a sheet of hot metal. They somehow made it look like they hired some other guy to play Prime once he got killed off in the movie. Anyway, he sees these two guys in the middle of the street, but luckily, he knows 'em pretty well.


Its Jazz and Bumblebee! Those sneaks! Now, check out what they had to give up to become Pretenders. Bumblebee was never the biggest Autobot, but I'm pretty sure his height spanned past Prime's calf, if memory serves. Yes, to become Pretenders, they made themselves human-sized. I don't know what the sense is in having Autobots that we could beat up, but Prime does a pretty good job of making them feel important. Not that it was too hard in Bumblebee's case...they've been trying to do that for years.

On the cartoon, Pretenders were originally a villainous creation meant to confuse the Autobots. Of course, since all the Decepticon Pretender shells were made to look like grotesque monsters and bi-pedal squids, I'm don't know whose eyes the wool was getting pulled over. Nevertheless, the 'Bots weren't about to allow the 'Cons to one-up them in the technology department, so they made some Pretenders of their own. Makes you wonder how they chose which ones were going to get the treatment. If I was playing dodgeball for Team A, I wouldn't negate 3/4ths of my height and dress like a kitty to confuse Team B. Flawed logic or not, here's how it worked...


Bumblebee is hidden inside this big chunk of plastic that's molded to look like a constipated space hero. The only limbs he can move are his arms - he's pretty much a statue otherwise. But, when the mood takes him, he can break apart his faux disguise to reveal...a really tiny Autobot with black sticks for arms! Watch out, Cyclonus! After Bumblebee shouts his heroic letter of intent, he transforms into a car and rolls into the sunset. That's Pretenders in a nutshell.

The line didn't fare too well, for reasons aside from the obvious. The TF line was on its way down - not enough to stop trying new things, but enough so that kids saw past the empty bravado of big useless plastic astronaut figures that happened to fall under TF's criteria. By the way, I've gotten some questions regarding 'bootleg' Grimlocks and other Transformers - chances are good that these are the robot innards of the Pretenders, not bootlegs. I know, its reality shattering news, but someone had to break it to you.

Question: I remember having Transformers with light-up swords. Or were those Go-Bots? Or bears?

No, they were Transformers - part of the Generation 2 line, this time the subsidary being 'Laser Rods'. At some point the original show was put back on the air, only to knock off any chance of being called a 'rerun', they stuck in ridiculous cut-aways to metallic screens, added a talking cybernetic space cube, and called it Tranformers G2. The shows were the same, the toys were most definitely not.


The general premise - make robots who transform into planes or cars, but since they're really shitty versions of the originals, give them light up swords. You know, because people made out of tons of steel with fists that could break brick walls usually like to battle with swords shaped like lightning bolts. I guess this was the Renaissance era of the Transformers.

The swords were pretty necessary though, since these were some of the shittiest robots Hasbro ever put out. I guess they're not too bad since they cost less than the far-superior originals, but for little Transfans-In-Training, which forms a particularly fun amalgram, this was a sad state of affairs. Swashbucklin' Transformers. The other entries from Generation 2 (G2) weren't much better - they included 'Robot Rotors', which were more or less shitty Transformers with plastic propellors, not to mention a slew of re-released originals painted in horrible colors. One good thing came out of the whole Laser Rod mess though...


We finally got a Prime toy we could be proud of. The original line, as great as it was, really didn't do Prime justice. Since his fists were detachable, they were often lost, so most Prime toys were totally handicapped. Laser Rods were by no means a brainstorm, but they really did a nice job on the Prime figure - probably my favorite version to date. This one came complete with a ton of plastic missles, a light-up sword, and a tanker with cursive neon lettering to indicate that this was indeed a much hipper Optimus Prime. (there was also a pretty cool Powermaster Optimus Prime, but we're leaving him out so I won't have to explain the ridiculous concept of Autobots who needed midget Autobots to work properly)

Moving on...

Question: What was the deal with those Transformers figures that didn't transform? Were they Jewish?

Action Masters was one of the few 'ending' lines from the Transformers that I really liked, and feel it was greatly unappreciated. By this point, the gravy train was pretty much milked for all it was worth, to the point where anything that transformed seemed redundant. So, at the sake of a grave misnomer, Hasbro started hocking Transformers that didn't turn into anything. It might sound stupid, but they were nice figures.

On one of our many pilgramages to the toy store, this time with my neighbor's family, a friend and I were shocked to see palm-sized Autobots that were scaled down to GI Joe size action figures. I picked up Soundwave, he picked up Shockwave, because you see, it was Wave Day. Twenty minutes into playtime and he managed to break his figure, but my Soundwave is one of the few toys I've managed to salvage from childhood. Least I think I did, there's so much crap in here, I can't seem to find anything but shoes and Calvin & Hobbes books.


The brief explanation we were given was pretty humorous...Prime is shown telling the Autobots that they need to stop transforming if they want to beat the Decepticons. I'm not kidding. More flawed logic from the guy who had a ten-minute conversation with Megatron while holding a gun in his face and being a moment away from total victory. Even more shocking was the enthusiasm the Autobots showed over this possibility - they all thought it'd be great to lose their power to turn into cars. I guess they're senses were so shot after years of turning into Laser Rods, Rotors, and Pretenders that they just didn't think things through anymore. Oh, something new? Sure, whatever, shoot me with the magic gun.


Regardless, they were great little figures. Most of the more popular characters were represented in this format, everyone from Starscream to Wheeljack. Each figure had poseable arms and legs, weird weapons, and a whole lotta reasons to be pissed off at the world. Obviously, I don't have any hard numbers here in front of me to judge, but I think this line actually did fairly well, based solely on the sheer number of figures it produced. It even segued into Action Masters vehicles and shuttles. The 'Action Masters' name still exists today, actually - sort of a monacher for any toy scaled down to size with extra detail. I'm pretty sure Transformers were the first, and most likely still the best.


To compensate for their small size and their lack of transformations, most of the characters were given excessively huge weapons and/or 'real' vehicles to make them feel better about themselves. Some of the Decepticons had little robot birds that didn't do much other than fall apart, while virtually no character was without some sort of oversized gun. Up above we see two more examples...first, Prowl on his police motorbike. Because you know, Prowl used to be like a police car. Gotta love that continuity.

Meanwhile, on the right we have Grimlock. I don't know why he'd agree to do this, nobody really cared about his robot mode. We just want to see him look like a Dinosaur and gratuitously use the word 'butt' while asking Kup to relay more old war stories. I guess Prime was pretty persuasive. After all, he even got people to believe Ultra Magnus was a worthy leader, even if it was just for a few hours. Because Grimlock gave up his better half, he got a weapon that virtually dwarfs him in size. Not only that, the weapon has tank wheels, so Grimlock won't have to carry it around all the time, putting unnecessary strain on his back.

If the classic editions weren't set to make their redebut this year, I could definitely see Action Masters working in today's market. They could replace the pet rock, even Sea Monkeys. Oh well, maybe in 2005. All right, we've got one more sub-line to take a look at today, then I have to go smile for the Motor Vehicles department.

Question: I know you've covered Headmasters before, countless times. So many times that if I hear the word 'Headmasters' again, I'll bite you. But! What were those Transformers that had guns that turned into robots? Why has all recorded history of them been wiped out? Why?!

I'm, of course, making up these questions so I don't have to go digging through old e-mail. But these have all been asked quite a bit, even this one. I'm surprised, since I thought they were fairly well-known. Then again, I usually spend my free time trying to piece together a biography on Alpha Trion, so maybe these guys aren't common knowledge. The Transformers that had transforming guns were called Targetmasters, but in the grand scheme of things, were basically the same as the original figures.


They came out at the same time and in the same storyline as Headmasters, who if you'll recall, are those nifty Transformers with detachable heads that turned into little robots with attitude. But, not all the robots were too keen on giving up their heads. That's understandable, so instead they gave up their guns.

While most of the Targetmasters were nobodies, the line has a lot of notoriety with Transfans because of some of the more popular characters that joined in - people like Hot Rod, Kup, and Scourge. Because the popular characters from Targetmasters weren't on the shelves long, and because the guns were so frequently lost, they're some of the most expensive Transformers out there. I've had most of 'em come in and out of here in my dealer years, and while they wouldn't grab anyone a new car, people would pay out their asses for 'em. Particularly for the Hot Rod figure...


Hot Rod was tough to find even in his normal edition - since he was introduced and subsequently transformed into Rodimus in the same movie, most kids were looking for Rodimus, not Hot Rod. By the time Roddy reverted back to normal, people had already begun forgetting about TFs. Compile that onto the already-rare Targetmasters line, and a sealed-in-box TM Hot Rod can cost obscene amounts of money. Believe it or not, him and his little Firebolt gun actually did turn up on the cartoon, along with all the others. But by that point, Japan was the only place where the TFs were still met with a lot of popularity.

Now, for one of Hasbro's more surreal advertising mind-fucks, allow me to present the boy who can transform into a gun. He's the Human Targetmaster!


Stuff like this was pretty common on Transformers commercials - Hasbro wasn't satisfied by making you look at the toys in 30-second spots every day of your life, they had to throw in little scenes that scared the shit out of anyone watching. In the past, we've seen mean little kids with glowing green eyes turn into Galvatron, not to mention Acrobat Boy who leaps into midair, and lands to form Ultra Magnus. In this instance, a kid hops on a robot's shoulder, dives, and ends up as the bot's gun. I'm not sure if there's something subliminal here, but Targetmasters weren't a wildly popular line, so Hasbro may wanna rethink their motives.

Hope this cleared up some of the confusion about Transformers' mystifying past. I didn't even get into the real heavy-hitting stuff, like Ratchet's desire to have Catholic symbols on his chest, or Megatron taking a vacation and returning as a giant green army tank. Like they say, there's always next time.





 


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