TRANSFORMERS MOST WANTED
TRANSFORMERS MOST WANTED
As Hero Collector launch THE TRANSFORMERS CHESS COLLECTION, now on Kickstarter, Eddie Robson is still haunted by the gaps in his Transformers collection that could not be filled for love nor money...
There were pros and cons to being a Transformers fan in Britain in the 1980s. Everyone knows we got the best comics – Marvel UK’s weekly Transformers title published twice as much material as its monthly US counterpart, and the UK-generated strips were far superior. But often we’d open a new issue and in the thick of some galaxy-spanning epic there’d be a Transformer we’d never heard of. Even though we’d scoured every toy catalogue. Roadbuster? Whirl? Who the hell were these guys?
We wrote querying letters to the comic, which duly informed us that the full range of Transformers toys was not available in the UK – Hasbro didn’t think the market was quite big enough, apparently. (In fact, they told us we should report any shops we saw selling non-UK Transformers, which I’m sure we all complied with.) And so we fumed with injustice as, week after week, we read the thrilling adventures of characters we’d be lucky ever to see in toy form, never mind own.
Come with me now and relive your childhood frustration by perusing my top ten Transformers you couldn’t buy...
Hasbro UK were particularly concerned about the number of big-ticket toys the market could sustain, so when two large new Transformers came out simultaneously, they tended to pick just one. In 1986 two ‘city’ Transformers came out: the UK got the Autobot one, Metroplex, but not his Decepticon counterpart, Trypticon. He transformed from a city base into a purple dinosaur, very much like an evil robot Barney. The comics and cartoons loved to show him and Metroplex scrapping it out, but we were cruelly denied the chance to recreate this at home.
9. The Predacons
None of the five members of this Decepticon team made it to the UK. They combined to form Predaking, who looked like a rather camp carnival costume, and were emphatically not as cool as the Dinobots. They all transformed into different animals, not all of whom were actually predators, but nevertheless they were repeatedly used in hunting stories in the comics. First they hunted down Optimus Prime, then Megatron – the latter as part of an elaborate Shockwave-led plot to gaslight the Decepticon leader and drive him mad.
8. Sky Lynx
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a... lynx! No, it’s all three of those things at once! Who the hell came up the idea of a space shuttle who could split into a skeletal-looking bird and a lynx? And why, after this baroque feat of imagination, did they give him the boringly literal name ‘Sky Lynx’? I always found Transformers who transformed by splitting into two different things very stressful, because I worried that if one of them got lost or destroyed, the other bit would be stuck in one mode forever. Hilariously, in the comics they decided Sky Lynx would be a vain prick who droned on about how awesome he was all the time, even though the whole concept of him was stupid.
7. Omega Supreme
Looking back at some issues of the Marvel US Transformers comic, it’s very obvious that writer Bob Budiansky had been tasked with bigging up a new toy. Issue 19 was a showcase for Omega Supreme, a huge, fearsome dude who transformed into a rocket plus rocket launcher plus tank plus a sort of train track which the tank ran on. He was clearly a great toy with loads of bits to play with, but made no sense at all as a character – how much use is it to transform into a tank which can only go around a limited bit of track? And if his rocket lands on another planet, how does he transform when he’s left half of himself behind? The comics quietly made him smaller after his first appearance after realising that if he was ten times the height of the others, this limited the extent to which he could interact with them beyond ‘How’s the weather up there’ type gags.
6. Fortress Maximus
When Hasbro released a second wave of ‘city’ Transformers, it was scrupulously fair – last time the Decepticon didn’t get a UK release, this time it was the Autobot. Fortress Maximus was also the leader of the new wave of Headmasters, a group of Transformers with removable heads which were also little Transformers. The comics’ explanation for this – that the Transformers in question had removed their heads as a gesture of peace on an alien world – was baffling. Maximus appeared during one of those periods when Optimus Prime was dead again, and they tried to push him as the ‘proper’ Autobot leader for a while, so it was annoying you couldn’t buy him. But nobody ever believed they wouldn’t bring Prime back, did they.
Many of the early Transformers turned into everyday objects like cassette players and guns. Of these, Perceptor had the least street cred – but whereas Soundwave disappointingly didn’t play cassettes, the Perceptor toy was an actual, honest-to-goodness working microscope. I’ve no idea how well it worked, because I never saw one, but nevertheless it was a smart combination of educational toy and actual toy. Perceptor also ended up being oddly prominent in the comics, as he ended up a sort of default rebel Autobot leader on Cybertron when all the proper leadership candidates were on Earth.
4. The Constructicons
The Constructicons earn a high (collective) placing because they were the first combiners – if you had all six of them you could assemble them into the giant robot Devastator. This thrilling development was pushed heavily in the comics, and the construction-vehicle theme gave Devastator a terrific industrial-mutant look – but you couldn’t buy the bloody things here. Instead we had to wait for the next wave of combiners to come, and those ones all had weirdly tiny heads. The Constructicons were far superior – I did eventually buy Scrapper (aka Devastator’s right leg) on holiday in Italy. Why Italy was considered a big enough market for them when the UK wasn’t, I have no idea.
Everyone loved the Dinobots – they were robots and dinosaurs, which beats everything. Their ‘disguises’ were completely ineffective on contemporary Earth of course, but they didn’t give a damn – which only made them cooler. But you couldn’t buy a full set in the UK – Swoop, the pterodactyl, was missing. (He was also sometimes called Divebomb, an inconsistency explained by a flashback story where a Decepticon rival stole his name – apparently nobody on Cybertron is allowed to have the same name. Is it like Twitter names? Could he not have called himself Dive_Bomb?) If they had to leave one out it should really have been Sludge, who was clearly the also-ran of the Dinobots.
The Autobot counterpart to Soundwave, Blaster also had his coterie of mini-cassette minions. Unlike Soundwave, who was clearly more of a talking books and Radio 3 guy, you could actually imagine Blaster listening to and enjoying pop music. He was characterised like an edgy rebellious teenager and he turned into a red ghettoblaster – to a nine-year-old in the 1980s nothing could possibly be cooler. He appeared constantly in the comics, including a lengthy storyline where he spoke out against Grimlock’s leadership of the Autobots, making it all the more annoying you couldn’t buy him or his cassettes over here.
There was only ever one proper Autobot leader, but the power struggles between the candidates for Deception leader were always a source of great joy. Megatron was the ‘official’ top dog, but all Transformers connoisseurs know Shockwave was the more interesting character and a much funkier design, with his single-eyed face and gun arm. He was ruthless, logical, a little wry – if Megatron would just step aside, the Deceptions would get a lot more conquering done. The fact he was unavailable in the UK whilst the toy racks were full of minor side characters like Skywarp and Twin Twist was a scandal. I knew a kid at school whose dad went abroad on business a lot and brought him back a Shockwave toy. I got to see how his transformation to ‘space gun’ mode worked (it was never quite clear in the comics) but was not allowed to hold him. I hated that kid.
Images sourced from toys.tfw2005.com
NEW LAUNCH! THE TRANSFORMERS CHESS COLLECTION.
This epic chess set will feature 32 unique game pieces – 16 for the heroic Autobots and 16 for the villainous Decepticons – created specifically for the Kickstarter and modelled on the classic 1980s Generation One (G1) Transformers animated cartoon! Each model is digitally sculpted, then cast in metallic resin and painted by hand. The sculpts, which show the Transformers in their robot form, were developed with Hasbro and are based on the original animation designs and careful study of the animated series.
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