I'm special, because I'm the only article circle picture that's ever moved before.  Go me. Transformers Mini-Spies:
Cute little Autobot baby dolls.

Matt - 6.28.02 /// Previous ArticleX-ENext Article

I wouldn't say Hasbro's Transformers line was the most successful series of toys in their time, but if you look at how people reflect on their childhood, they probably lead the pack. There's some unspoken law among guys that it's even okay to still like Transformers, while admitting you're kinda still into He-Man or Star Wars crap somehow makes you appear more geeky and lame. My best guess here is that it's because there were no female figures in the line. If a guy who's well past the acceptable age to be buying toys gushes about the He-Man, Star Wars, or G.I. Joe figures he bought off eBay, people start envisioning him snuggling up on a bright blue pillow with octagon-shaped dice and an Evil-Lyn, Princess Leia, or Lady Jade action figure. Imagery is a bitch, but at least it keeps us stupid fanboys in check. If we didn't fear you might think we buy toys cause we can't afford real girlfriends or even blowup dolls, chances are good we'd spend a lot more time in our conversations talking about shit normal people don't wanna hear about.

Since Transformers toys were generally much more pricey than those from other action figure lines, Hasbro made an effort to market a select number of figures cheap and small enough to keep the pauper families stocked with Autobots and Decepticons. 'Mini-cars' like Bumblebee, Windcharger, Powerglide and Gears were excellent 'cheap' Transformers because they had nice sized parts on the cartoon but were still inexpensive enough to pick up at any odd random time, not just special occasions like birthdays and the first time a kid steps in a hornet's nest and receives a pity-present for his troubles. Still, these figures really weren't numerous enough for Hasbro to corner in on the market of toys in this lower price field, so they started seeking out new outlets to boost their profits.

They couldn't simply make more of these small figures for a few reasons - they'd more or less depleted their character roster, and things were gearing up for the movie figures to come out, all of which were large and pretty expensive. They couldn't just make the same style of figures based on characters who never appeared on the show, because if there's one thing Hasbro learned, it's how much more money could be made if the characters they create toys for have counterparts on the show itself. Who wanted to buy a toy if they didn't even know what voice pitch to use when mimicking their voice? Since pretty much every character was already accounted for in the toyline, they came up with a compromise. Surely, they could get away with making toys for otherwise nonexistent characters if they were free. Now they just had to figure out a way to make money off them while still making kids believe they weren't paying for the figures. They hatched a perfect plan, and ended up making cash on figures most kids already bought by simply adding in a cheaply made, tiny action figure for 'free.' The 'mini-spies' were born!

Mini-spies, basically, were nameless Transformers figures even smaller in scale than Bumblebee or Cliffjumper. They were inexpensive to make and lacked any real detail or major transformations. But, technically, they were free! They just packaged them in with the original smaller figures, and wallah: kids were buying the same exact toys they already had lined up on the bedroom shelves just to get their hands on this shitty 'free' figure that now came with it. It was brilliant in that, aside from boosting profits, they made use of all the original mini-cars that never sold.

As far as I know, the mini-spies never appeared on the cartoon. Kids learned of their origins and nuances through an animation short featured in a toy commercial. It wasn't much, but served as the only way for kids to associate these nameless schmos as being legit cartoon characters. It was sorta like a stamp of authenticity, only a little more stupid. Based on that small animated spot, here's what we know about mini-spies...

The deal was that these guys were speedy little devils who hid their robot allegiance under a rubsign. They're the only Transformers who's rubsign was an important character point. For everyone else, the things were just neat stickers. Mini-spies could either be Autobots or Decepticons, but nobody knows for sure since they don't show off their insignia like everyone else. Course, you'd think high-tech robots would remember which ones were which after that mandatory first meeting. Then again, these spies were so small and harmless that they probably kept their memory banks clear for more important issues, like a recollection of which pizza places also serve hot wings. Who cared if a mini-spy was a friend or a foe? They can't do anything anyway.

Cliffjumper and Huffer are excited to find one of the mini-spies hitting various buttons on the Ark's control panel, but before they can tell him about the positive results of their oil checks, they've gotta go through with the necessary rubsign check just to make sure he's not one of the bad guys. I'm a little curious as to the effectiveness of having a spy on your team that you can't identify as one of your own, but Autobot plans always mapped out to the beat of a different drummer. Why else would they live in an active volcano, or insist on doing news press conferences with the Earthlings even though they inspire Decepticon attacks every time they participate? Maybe there's a big picture here I'm just not seeing, or else these guys just don't think sometimes.

Doy, turns out this spy was a Decepticon. The Autobot logo's got some egg on it today! Looks like he was in the Ark trying to steal top-secret documents, or attempting to download information from the ship's computer with which to defeat the good guys. You know, this whole mini-spy thing probably seemed like such a great idea on paper when Optimus read it over. I bet some jerk like Sunstreaker wrote it up without giving it a second thought, more interested in kissing ass to more screentime than double-checking to make sure he's not causing the most asinine security breach possibilities in Cybertronian history.

Cliffjumper acts like he can't believe this happened, while I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. This really isn't brain surgery. If Megatron's got a guy who the Autobots need to molest just to find out if he's on their side or not, it's a pretty good window of opportunity to mess shit up. Incidentally, it's not like the Autobots would do themselves any favors by sending their own troops in disguise over into the Decepticon headquarters. What's the point in learning of Megatron's plots when the guy goes out of his way to announce exactly what he's doing to anyone who'll listen in the first place? I mean, this is a villain who can't get through a master plan without raiding a TV station first so he can explain to the world how brilliant his scheme is. By the time one of the Autobot spies returned with the information, Megatron will already have had letters printed in Rolling Stone detailing precisely how he's going to take over the world. The benefits with these tiny sleuths was pretty one-sided.

Cliffjumper: Did you see that?! He was a Decepticon!
Huffer: Maybe he was really an Autobot spy who wanted to add that extra touch of realism with the Decepticon insignia?
Cliffjumper: Then why did he rush past us and zoom out of here so fast?!
Huffer: Maybe he had the shits?

Now that that's out of the way, I guess I should show you what the mini-spy toys actually looked like.

Bubble-packed on with the regular small figures, mini-spies were around 2" long, one-color cars that turned into midget robots who were entirely unimpressive. They did have one sorta unique thing going for them - a little mechanism that let them drive off on their own if you pulled them back on a hard surface first. The mechanism was really easy to break if you pulled it for a nanosecond too long, but at least the thought was there. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all shared the same flaccid coloring and tiny stature.

The only thing they were cool for was in use with the Transformers 'city' action figures, like Trypticon or Metroplex. Those large toys transformed into robot fortresses, but only like ten of the original toys fit on 'em. They looked more like dollhouses for the larger Transformers than actual cities. Mini-spies at least fit into all their compartments. I'm hard-pressed to think of any of reasons anyone would seek out these toys, but if I really wanted to reach, I'd say they're nice because they're some of the only TF toys out there small enough to fit in your mouth, and definitely the only ones you could transform using your tongue. Yep, those are their big merits. And you wondered why they were free.

This commercial reminded me that the famous rubsign symbol stickers weren't used by Hasbro in the beginning of the line. They were a huge selling point for the mini-spies, and though I'm not totally certain, these might've been the first figures to utilize 'em. Jazz and Wheeljack must be mighty pissed that these little assholes who never once risked their neck in battle got into the Great Autobot Archive of Fame just because they had big funny stickers on their hoods before anyone else.

In robot mode, the spies left a little to be desired. Think Go-Bots, only somehow less detailed and scaled. These guys were like little stuffed animal accessory dolls for the larger figures. The whole transforming bit was just a bonus. Many of them didn't have real hands, their arms looking more like those red sticks from Handy Snack packages. They had pointless blocky feet, and smaller waists than the four out of five sisters from Just The Ten Of Us who weren't cows. They were neat for little kids to bring on car rides or to school, (nice, small, and manageable) but weren't very enticing standing next to the bigass mega figures sitting in every mid-80s child's bedroom. Besides, kids lose everything under two inches. That's why we don't have detachable dicks - we would've never made it past our toddler days without accidentally dropping them down sewers or the side pockets on our couches.

Look at it's head! Not the kid's head, the mini-spy's. It's hard to tell if that's a face of the end result of a small scale soldering project. Is this what happens when Transformers do drugs or become riddled with ugly genetics? No wonder they came with the pullback/let-go feature - it was to illustrate that these guys can't possibly know where they're going, because they were given shards of the WWE Intercontinental Title belt for a face.

Mini-spies might technically be the cheapest Transformers toys, but there were other inexpensive ways to boost your troop collection. That is, if you could stomach figures that were generic rip-offs and didn't come in a shiny red package with Hasbro's logos all over it. Take a look at these guys for thrifty alternatives...

I was surprised to see all of the above pictured figures still being sold on the collector's market, because I had 'em all as a child and I'm pretty sure we got them from shitty closeout stores, or maybe a supermarket. I had no idea they made the rounds that much. These bootlegs were all excessively cheap - much cheaper than any 'official' toy - and either ripped off the original mold, created a new and really bad one, or still kept up the quality level but looked absolutely nothing like Transformers. My favorite was the third one above, a plastic robot who seemed to have fireplace rods instead of arms. The second one, 'Focus Robo,' was a pretty famous Reflector-ripoff that every kid seemed to have at one time or another. The first one pictured uses one of the Jumpstarters' molds, which is never a good idea because no kid wanted a real Jumpstarter, much less a crappy plastic version painted incorrectly. Kids were surprisingly fickle. Fickle with their toys, fickle with what food they ate, and for some reason, fickle about their socks. Seriously, think back. Your mother could've dressed you in a clown suit, and you'd be okay with it, but if she tried putting socks a bit too puffy or slightly too short on you, you'd start hissing like a tiger eating carrion who's sick of sharing with vultures.

While bootlegs were great for building armies, nothing beat the mini-spies. They didn't look like much and certainly weren't the coolest Transformers toys around, but they were free and they gave us a valid excuse for buying eighteen Seaspray figures. For that, I salute and appreciate these tiny heroes and villains - another chapter of Transformers lore, another memory of simpler times, another excuse to blow money better spent on phone bills and groceries than on collectible toys meant for people an eighth your age. Keep on truckin', mini-spies. Keep on truckin'.

By the way, if you click on any of the pictures up above, you'll hear a special Transformers MP3. Enjoy!

- Matt
Instant Messager: xecharchar

You Should Check Out: Ernie's House of Whoopass! Definitely not safe for work, and definitely 18+, go find out why this mix of thoughts and jackoff material still leads the net pack.

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