Today’s Old School Wednesday Review comes from George.
George Sirois has been living in a small universe since 1985, and he occasionally steps out to live life, work toward his Masters degree and enjoy time with his wife and dog in St. Louis. The first glimpse at his universe – “Excelsior” – is available as a paperback and eBook.
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So there I was, a mere 7 years old in the spring of 1984, finishing up my second grade year and enjoying the first 2 GoBots I got as a gift from my mother. One was a Renegade GoBot who could turn into a tank. His name was Tank. The other was a Guardian GoBot who could turn into a bulldozer. His name was Dozer. (A real stretch, I know.)
As I was watching television, I suddenly saw a commercial for a new toy line from Hasbro. They were like the GoBots, but there was something different about them, more complex and, dare I say, more mature. They looked like 3-dimensional puzzles, with so many steps to take the toy from plane or car or tape recorder or truck or pistol to robot. I was intrigued. What were these? And how much would these cost?
They were the TransFormers, and they were more than just a toy line. They were about to be launched as a 4-issue limited series from Marvel Comics. And they were also about to be launched as an animated series I would eventually start seeing on WPIX-11 in New York on Sunday mornings.
As I got into the habit of watching the show (especially when the 1985 season was on five days a week) and reading the comic books, I found myself falling for the characters very quickly. This was my kind of storyline! The struggle between the Autobots and Decepticons on Cybertron and Earth was a grabber for me from the start and before long, I had my favorites. I loved the dynamic between Megatron and Starscream, I preferred the cold and logical Shockwave in the comics to the Decepticon butler that he was in the show.
And of course there was Optimus Prime right in the middle of it all. He was a true leader and inspiration to his fellow Autobots and to the people of Earth. He could play basketball outside the volcano that held their spacecraft one minute, and then the next he could lead his fellow Autobots on a mission to Cybertron to give the Aerialbots life.
In the summer of 1986, my childhood took a turn when my uncle took me to see TransFormers: The Movie. Taking place 20 years after the end of the second season, fans got to see almost the entire 1984 toy line and lay them all out on a slab. In less than a minute, I got to see Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet and Ironhide laid to waste and all of a sudden, I realized why this movie was rated PG. As the film continued, my favorite hero Optimus Prime and my favorite villain Starscream were taken away from me as well, while brand new characters took center stage like Ultra Magnus, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Wheelie, Spike’s son Daniel, Cyclonus, Scourge and Megatron’s reformed body Galvatron.
Check out this trailer for the 1986 movie redone by George himself!
Now, to a lot of fans, this was where TransFormers ended for them.
But for me, the show got better. Season 3 took place right after the movie ended, and we were all of a sudden given a whole new batch of characters to follow – the same ones we got to know during the movie – and the writing just got stronger and stronger. Now these Autobots, now led by Rodimus Prime, were able to explore other planets and become intergalactic ambassadors while maintaining Cybertron and Earth.
Plus, there were so many reminders that the Autobots are still in a war with the Decepticons and war has casualties. That comes to the foreground in the episode “Dark Awakening,” where Daniel sees the markers for Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl and Huffer before he sees the revived corpse of Optimus Prime. It was an absolutely amazing episode that showed a huge step forward for Rodimus, who is still dealing with the fact that his predecessor had cast such a huge shadow. And as a wonderful bonus, we get Starscream coming back as a ghost and causing havoc for Galvatron and the Decepticons.
I could keep going on and on about this show, since it meant so much to me while I was growing up. But I’ll stop here and recommend that you give the third season another look. Just because Optimus is gone doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of great stories to tell. We have some truly great character moments with Galvatron’s growing insanity and Rodimus Prime doubting himself and wondering if he is truly worthy of leading the Autobots.
Just make sure you avoid the continuity-free 2-part episode “The Return of Optimus Prime” that was made simply because Sunbow caved in to parents’ demands. And you also may want to avoid the 3-part 4th season “The Rebirth” since it introduces so many new characters at once that it makes the show look more like a toy commercial than any other episode.
But here I am again going on another tangent. This is what TransFormers does to me; it has so much in all of its Generation 1 run that it’s difficult for me to stop. So again, do yourself a favor and lose yourself in some good old-fashioned 1980s goodness. Hear Peter Cullen’s voice bring life to Optimus Prime and play such a big part in him becoming the character I loved from the beginning, and hear Frank Welker’s voice… everywhere else. Watch the fun of the 1st and 2nd seasons become both deadly and serious in the 1986 movie and then see the great development of the characters that are left to finish the Cybertronian War.