Thursday, April 28, 2016

Guest Blog: Falling Out and Back In with Transformers

Like most American boys growing up in the 1980s, I was HUGE into Transformers. The idea of giant transforming robots from another planet just glommed onto my childhood brain and refused to let go. My folks bought me my first group of Transformers that Christmas - Megatron, Soundwave, and Thundercracker. I was hooked. I watched the TV show, I read the comics, I bought and played with the toys. Life was good.

Then the 90s came. The TV show ended after three seasons. The toys changed from basic cars and planes and guns to pretenders and non-transforming "Action Masters" (aka the worst idea in Transformers history). Then the toys disappeared off the shelves entirely. The comic, after a successful run of 80 issues, plus three four-issue spinoffs, ended as well. It seemed Transformers had run its course, and was now relegated to the realm of forgotten childhood fads.



A couple years later, the comic returned, under the name of Transformers: Generation 2. There were new toys as well, and some of the original toys reappeared with crazy new color schemes, sporting new versions of the Autobot and Decepticon symbols. The old cartoon was even back on the air, also under the Generation 2 moniker, with a "Cyber-space cube" adding some techno-flair to the episodes by adding new transitions and a CG intro of Optimus battling Thundercracker (or was it Skywarp?). It seemed like the good times were back again, but after a year or two, things fell apart. The cartoon was again taken off the air, the comic ran only 12 issues, and the toys vanished. This time, I told myself, it was for good. Transformers was gone. When a room in our basement flooded and ruined some of my G1 comics, I saved what I could but didn't really think twice about replacing the ones I lost (which included the final issue 80). I sold or gave away most of my toys, keeping only those that really had a lot of sentimental value, which I put in a crate in the garage. I turned out the light and closed the door on Transformers, I thought for good.

Several years went by. I was now in high school, working two jobs and getting ready to try this "adult" thing everyone kept saying I had to do after high school. One day in Walmart, I was walking by the toy aisle when I saw something with the word Transformers on it. I looked, and it said BEAST WARS across the top. I can't remember what animal it was, maybe an insect, but my initial reaction was "oh no they didn't". I looked, and there were many other toys, all of them animals. I was irritated and disappointed - Transformers was about robots in disguise, sure, but not as animals! (yes, I was very much Trukk not munkey!) With such a lame premise, I was sure that these toys would do nothing but kill the brand from ever coming back again. Not long after, I learned that there was a companion cartoon to these toys, also called Beast Wars. Still holding out that there was some shred of hope for the resurgence of this favorite part of my childhood, I tuned in. I was not prepared for what I saw.

It was good. Really good. The CG was the best I'd seen for a kids' show, and years beyond what the G2 intro or Cyber-space cube had been capable of. As I watched the show, I realized that every episode was part of an overarching plot - that each episode played into the next. G1 had been great, but aside from a few key episodes here and there that introduced new characters, you could watch them in any order and not miss a beat. But with Beast Wars, each successive episode gradually added new characters, new plot points, hints of an alien race, as well as cameos by the likes of Starscream and even Unicron. The show also added key elements to the Transformers mythology like the idea of a Spark, the soul of a Transformer that give it life. They even coined Transformer expletives like "slag", "the pit", and "by Primus, no!" The voice actors included Garry Chalk, David Kaye, Scott McNeil, Venus Terzo, and others who gave life to interesting and deep characters. In short - I was hooked again. Thanks to eBay, I completed my comics collection of the old Marvel run. I bought the G1 cartoon on VHS and then again on DVD. And when Beast Wars ended and the next series began, I kept watching.

After Beast Wars came Beast Machines, Robots in Disguise, the Unicron Trilogy, Transformers: Animated, Transformers Prime, and Robots in Disguise (different than the first one, a sequel series to Prime). Dreamwave brought the comics back to the stands for a few years, until Pat Lee's, erm, questionable business practices tanked the company. But then IDW picked up the license, and over the last 10 years has taken the Bots and Cons to new heights, publishing far more than Dreamwave and Marvel did combined. Not to mention the live action movies, video games, Botcon and Cybcon and Cybfest and other conventions. The toys are selling like hotcakes thanks to the incredible  Combiner Wars line, and soon the Titans Return line will be out. It's a great day to be a Transformers fan! And for me personally, the only reason I still am a Transformers fan is because of Bob Forward, Larry DiTillio, and the others behind Beast Wars. Thanks for reeling me back in guys.

Brandt Gibson, April 2016
Brandt is an avid collector of Transformers video games and comics, and also practices the arcane art of genealogy. You can find him at http://brandtgibson.blogspot.com.

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