While Hasbro/Takara would put forth classic Transformers toys for a few more years, 1986 is arguably the last year with a large number of truly memorable characters. The majority of these debuted in the animated Transformers: The Movie, which although being a commercial failure nevertheless had a huge impact on the fandom and the shape of the franchise to come, not least because of the large number of beloved characters, Optimus Prime included, who were killed off in it… But more on that later, now, without further ado…
Hot Rod/Rodimus/Rodimus Prime
Starting to write this post, I realized that I had a lot to say about this particular guy, which I will present in a later, especially dedicated post. For now, let´s just say that Hot Rod is something of a fan favorite, being the main protagonist of the 1986 animated Transformers: the Movie, which had an enormous impact on the franchise and the fandom, partly as he replaced Optimus Prime as the Autobot leader by becoming the mighty Rodimus Prime. As Hot Rod, he is an impulsive youngster who often goes out of his depth trying to be a hero. As Rodimus Prime, he is more of an archetypical, wise leader. On the comic side, Rodimus Prime was something of a favorite of legendary writer Simon Furman, who gave him a lot of space, as well as even modeling Primus, the in-world creator of the Transformers he created, after him.
On the toy side, Hot Rod was one of the first toys that were not a re-use of a pre-existing Japanese toy. Rather, Hot Rod as well as the majority of the other new characters in the movie, seems to have started out with character models which were later translated into toys, rather than the other way around. One of the consequences of this was that he transformed into a futuristic, seemingly made up car, rather than a real one, as the movie took place in the future. Rodimus also has the distinction of being the first Transformer character who had two separate toys, one for Hot Rod, and one for Rodimus Prime, released at the same time. Rodimus Prime, like his predecessor Optimus, had a toy featuring a detachable “trailer” which could turn into a battle station. Overall, Hot Rod brought new ideas to the franchise, on many levels.
Above: Rodimus as Hot Rod and Rodimus Prime, respectively
This bot was originally a quite tragic character; a failed hero, the promise that was not delivered upon. When Optimus Prime shockingly enough died in Transformers – the Movie, he passed the torch of Autobot leadership to Ultra Magnus. Magnus however failed miserably in this role, and it eventually turned out that is was Hot Rod who was destined to carry the Autobot leadership. In the British run of the Transformers comic, it sometimes seemed writer Simon Furman foremost used Magnus as a punching bag for demonstrating the power of Galvatron (see below). In later years, as with many other Transformers characters, Ultra Magnus has turned into something more of a badass as the Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord, some piece of intergalatctic law. As such, he is often some kind of one-man internal police for the Autobots, and respected (albeit also loathed) as such for his prowess, force and refusal to compromise with what the law dictates. While not being devoid of emotion, he is completely humor-less, and a control freak to the border of obsessiveness. What´s not to like about him? 😉
On the toy side, Ultra Magnus was one of the last Transformers toys with a Japanese pre-Transformers origin. Originally, he was called “Powered Convoy”, an upgrade of the toy that was to become Optimus Prime. While the truck cab was essentially a repainted Prime, he came with a new trailer, capable of carrying a number of Diaclone cars on it. When the cab was transformed into robot, the trailer could in turn be transformed into a sort of battle armor for the robot, resulting in one huge, imposing robot warrior. This aspect of the toy however seemed completely swept under the rug when it came to the fiction; in both the cartoon and the comic Ultra Magnus was not once portrayed as being an Optimus look-a-like in battle armor, rather he was only seen in his combined, “powered” mode, and over time this has arguably become the standard for what Ultra Magnus should be. There are however many fans (among them myself) who find it infinitely more interesting to think of “Magnus” as something of a brother of Optimus, who becomes “Ultra” when he puts on his battle armor. Whichever version you may prefer, Ultra Magnus is a true icon of the Transformers franchise.
Above: Ultra Magnus, character and toy, with inner “white Prime” exposed
Arcee carries the distinction of being if not the first, certainly the most well-known female Transformers character. Sadly enough, she did not have a toy produced in her image at the time she appeared in Transformers: The Movie alongside Hot Rod, Springer and others who did. While Hasbro seemed to think that a female toy would not appeal to a fandom predominantly made up of boys and never finished the prototype, it however seems in retrospect that fans found it sorely missing. Arcee´s personality at the time was something of a mild, care-giving, if you will, stereotypical supporting female character. At the same time, she was also pictured as an able warrior. Jump ahead a few decades, and this element is, to say the least, played up in her IDW Comics incarnation, where she basically is a crazy, lunatic killing machine (although still siding with the good guys). Arguably, to a lot of people, this version of the character is now the definite one.
This year, marking the 30th Anniversary of the Transformers brand, finally sees Arcee getting the toy representation she deserves. First, while having given her toys in various later continuities, Hasbro/Takara finally releases an Arcee whose design is based on her original 1986 incarnation. Second, indie Transformer manufacturer Mastermind Creations are releasing their own unofficial toy, “Azalea”, that is an homage to her later, bloodthirstier incarnation in IDW comics. Both prove the iconic status Arcee enjoys in the Transformers fandom today!
Above: Arcee in the animated movie, the unreleased prototype from the 80s, her long-awaited 2014 toy, and Azalea
Transformers: the Movie saw Optimus Prime shockingly die by the hands of Megatron, but Megatron, himself mortally wounded from the same battle, was thrown out in space to die by the ever so deceitful Starscream. He was however summoned by the mighty space god Unicron (see below) and reborn into Galvatron, to be his faithful servant. Galvatron himself however had other ideas… Galvatron retains some of Megatron´s characteristics such as being powerful, hungry for power and ruthless. However, he can also be said to be a more insane version of his former self, something more of an unpredictable loose cannon, frequently falling into fits of rage where he might turn violent on his own. Further, he seems to be almost immensely strong, and in the UK comic he was something more of an seemingly unstoppable force of nature rather than a proper characters with flaws and weaknesses, and as such, possibly uninteresting. Regardless, Galvatron was almost instantaneously seen as something quite different from his predecessor, and in later years (in the IDW comics) he has also been treated as a separate character (although still stronger than Megatron). His toy, like the character, turned into some sort of flying laser gun, complete with light and sounds. Like Megatron, he however later transforms into a tank.
Above: Galvatron, character and toy
Unicron is the dark god of the Transformers universe, its own devil if you will. While starting off in Transformers: the Movie as a planet-sized demonic-looking robot, himself turning into a planet devouring other planets, he eventually was penned by UK comic book writer Simon Furman as being something of a dark force of nature, the very antithesis of life, with the ultimate goal of extinguishing it. In the movie, he is trying to devour the planet Cybertron for inexplicable reasons (which were later to be explained by Furman), with the help of his not-so obedient servant Galvatron. Being immensely big, Unicron typically have Transformers to do his bidding through mind-control. He however also typically seem to pick the most defiant, such as the abovementioned Galvatron, which also became part of his downfall. While a toy was planned for Unicron in the 80s with a prototype produced, it was ultimately never released. He eventually got his own toy, however, as part of the Unicron Trilogy toylines, (a major reboot of the Transformers franchise) which was later recolored to look like his original 80´s self.
Bonus fact: A gag-metal band I am part of has written a tribute song to Unicron, you can find it here!!!
Above: Unicron in the movie, unreleased toy prototype, commemorative repainted Armada toy and munching away at Cybertron in the comic…
The Transformers toys of 1986 mainly belonged to two sub-categories: they were either representing characters from the animated movie, or belonging to the (then unnamed) Scramble City subline (more on that later). One toy that did not fit in with any of these, however became one of the most iconic ones of all time, possibly on the merits of excellent design alone. Predaking is the combined form of the five members of the Decepticon sub-group the Predacons, which are the specialized hunting team of their faction, all transforming into mechanical wild animals. Predaking´s personality, like Devastator´s, is the sum of the lowest common denominator of those of its members´, but while this makes Devastator a dim-witted but powerful battering ram, Predaking is single-mindedly focused on hunting, and as such, relentless in his pursuit to bring his quarry down, who- or whatever it may be. Add to this that he like Devastator is a giant, formidable powerhouse of a bot, and you get a Decepticon whose sole appearance is enough to strike fear into the Autobots on the battlefield. The only one who seemed able to stop him was the equally giant Sky Lynx, the Space Shuttle-turned-dragon Autobot released the same year. All in all, Predaking is, alongside Devastator, something of the ultimate Gestalt, against which all later combined robots would be measured against… All hail the King!!!
Above: King of the hunters
That´s all for this time, folks! However, considering there are so many honorary mentions to be done, I will probably revisit this theme in the future. All in all though, in a few more posts, I think I will have completed the introductory phase of this blog and can move on to newer, unexplored territory…