Tag Archives: transformers

Feeding the nostalgic beast

We are living in a golden age of sorts. The world has shrunk, everything is connected, comments sections are a cesspool. Glorious times, these are.

But it wasn’t always this way. Way back in the 1980s, living in ruralish northeastern Florida, news may have traveled fast, but only through the television airwaves or through slower methods in magazines. I wouldn’t experience the Internet until the mid-1990s. Add to the fact I didn’t actively seek out any and all information about a particular subject, and I was not very information-savvy.

Example A: The Transformers.

Back when those robots in disguise burst onto the scene in 1984, I don’t remember which medium I had encountered them first — comics, cartoon, or toys — but I know that I concentrated on the last two in the beginning. I probably knew of the comics but didn’t pay much attention to them.

Once the Transformers got cooking, I did pick up a few issues of the Marvel comic. I noticed right away the continuities between the cartoon and the comic book were vastly different.

As the cartoon faded away, the comic soldiered on, which was around the time Simon Furman took over writing duties. While this was going on, I had no clue that across the pond, the Brits were treated to their own Transformers comic in addition to the American stories, many of them written by Furman.

marvel TF TPBs

Recently, IDW Publishing has been re-printing these Marvel and Marvel UK stories in trade paperback form, giving me the chance to read many of these stories for the first time, especially the UK tales. Reading these stories with grown-up eyes, some are still great, some are worse than cosmic rust.

Along the same lines, IDW has created a new continuity for the Transformers universe, which are, in some respects, a heck of a lot better in terms of story and art than what came before. And yet,  if it weren’t for those old issues, we wouldn’t have gotten the new issues.

Then there’s those Michael Bay Transformers movies. I saw the first movie in the theater, and I felt goosebumps as Optimus Prime drove down that alley to meet Shia LaBeouf. But upon a second viewing, the movie grated at me (maybe because it wasn’t that great a movie). All it took was one viewing for the second movie for me to be disgusted. My wife fell asleep about halfway through it. She was the lucky one. The third one was ever-so-slightly better than the second, but that’s saying a lot. I haven’t seen the fourth movie yet.

Nostalgia is a strange beast.

Which leads me to something completely different: Walt Disney World.

The Happiest Place on Earth is a strange vortex of nostalgia. On the one hand, it seeks to create new memories for kids and relive those memories for adults, but then it has to stay current with just about every experience.

Because it seems everything in my life is connected to each other, let’s use as an example Star Tours, the Star Wars thrill ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or MGM Studios, for those of a certain age). I probably went on that ride for the first time in the mid-1990s (high school-age) and thought it was absolutely brilliant. But as the years went on, I started noticing things. The biggest nit to pick: it seemed like the soundtrack was about a half-second behind the film projection. Drove me NUTS.

Star Tours, circa 2004
Star Tours, circa 2004 (photo by Michael Fortuna)

When I heard the folks at Disney were refurbishing the ride a few years back, I was sad, yet hopeful. Sure, there was a part of me that loved the old version, but I was eager to see what they’d do in the new version.

In June, I finally got the chance to ride Star Tours 2.0, and I loved it. It’s still Star Tours, but now you’ve got the added fun of not having the same ride twice, although with my luck I probably will.

You could apply that to the Haunted Mansion. The original ride at the Magic Kingdom was hauntingly wonderful, but the enhancements are just as mind-blowing.

At the same time, a smile gets plastered on my face when I ride the WEDWay PeopleMover. As far as I know, it’s pretty much the same ride as it was back in the 1970s. I do wish I could see the original Journey into Imagination ride at Epcot again, and sometimes I miss Walter Cronkite narrating Spaceship Earth.

Maybe it’s the kid in me (or everyone, for that matter) longing for those olden days while living through these chaotic adult years. Maybe that’s why I turn to stuff from my childhood like the Transformers and Star Wars and Disney. But, I also long to see what new things these respective companies have got up their sleeves. I also get a kick out of finding new stories in various media to devour.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch Transformers: The Movie. The one with Orson Welles and Eric Idle.

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It is a world transformed…

And now, another chapter in the Continuing Saga of Childhood Nostalgia…

It is the fall of 1984. The Star Wars saga concluded the year before, but its fire was slowly going out of the universe. What’s an impressionable 8-year-old to do? There were some Saturday morning cartoons, but my mind escapes me as to what was on at the time (for some reason, I’m thinking of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but that may have come out a year or two earlier).

And then, something from Cybertron beamed its transmissions (and its accompanying wares) to Earth.

The NBC affiliate in Jacksonville (which became the ABC affiliate, which is now the CW affiliate) started airing The Transformers. I was immediately sold on the premise of the Heroic Autobots battling the Evil Decepticons, AND THEY TURNED FROM ROBOTS TO VEHICLES AND BACK! To make matters worse, they made TOYS BASED ON THE CARTOON? (or maybe it was the other way around) I’m sure I bugged my parents and grandparents to get me two or seventy-three of the toys.

The first toys I did acquire were Soundwave with Buzzsaw, as well as Twin Twist (he’s an Autobot that transformed when you pushed the car back and let it go). They each came with small folded catalogs showing you all the other toys available, including the leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron. Through the luck of the Matrix of Leadership (and my parents’ and grandparents’ endless searching), they were welcomed into my home.

Artwork from the 1984 Transformers boxes
Artwork from the 1984 Transformers boxes

Besides the cartoon’s stories, I found myself drawn to the voice actors, trying to match the name listed in the credits with the character. Eventually, I put two and seven together to find many of these actors were in other Marvel/Sunbow productions. Who could forget the bravery of Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime, the over-the-top evil of Frank Welker’s Megatron, the screeching of Chris Latta’s Starscream? Then, to learn one guy did three or four different characters? Mind. Blown. My ear also picked out sound effects that sounded familiar to what was heard in Star Wars. That, of course, made the show doubly cool.

In August 1986, my dad drove me to the local mall to catch a showing of Transformers: The Movie. I had been seeing previews on TV constantly and couldn’t wait to see these guys on the big screen. We walked into the theater just as the DEG lion logo twirled onto the screen.

I was gobsmacked as Unicron ripped a planet to shreds. I got goosebumps when the hair metal band Lion (boy, did they go far) rocked out the theme song. But, I’m sure I felt a little queasy when the Decepticons dispatched the crew of an Autobot shuttle like it was nothing. Seeing smoke spew out of Prowl’s mouth freaked me out. I liked Prowl! How were they able to die so easily when they got through the cartoon without much injury? Of course, this was the toy company’s way of making way for the new line, but still. To that 10-year-old me, they were real.

Then the unthinkable happened. The epic clash between Prime and Megatron. One would stand. One would fall. For a moment, it looked like Prime was victorious. But that wasn’t meant to be. Optimus died.

Looking back, that event hit me hard, though I probably tried not to show it. I’m sure lots of kids my age who saw that were affected. Here was this amazing robot who led the good guys into battle, and he lost.

Thankfully, toward the end of the third season, Hasbro had a change of heart. They brought back Optimus Prime. His toy version was as a Powermaster where you put this tiny robot engine onto his chest, and you can transform Prime into this bigger robot.

Unfortunately, as the toys went off in strange directions (the Pretenders: hide a robot inside a giant human-looking shell; yeah, that didn’t seem right), I lost interest.

Transformers No. 26, via Grand Comics Database
Transformers No. 26, via Grand Comics Database

The comic book that started it all (which actually came out May 8) hadn’t quite entered my universe just yet. The first issues I got were part of a three-pack: issues 26-28, which came out in 1987 or so. These issues dealt with the aftermath of Optimus Prime’s death (great! I get to experience it twice!). I discovered the Marvel version of the Transformers was a tad different than the cartoon continuity. For one thing, the cartoon had jumped to 2005 in the movie, but the comic stayed in the present. I didn’t pick up a lot of this series when it was around.

Just like Star Wars, it seemed like the Transformers were going to fade into the dustbins of history. At least it did in the U.S. for a while. Then came the Energon, Universe, and Armada lines, which I didn’t follow that much. I watched and enjoyed the Transformers Animated series. I watched the first of Michael Bay’s rendition of the franchise in theaters, and I did feel goosebumpy when we see Prime driving down the alleyway. It was an OK movie. The second one, I will never speak of again. The third one, meh.

Rhino brought back the original series on DVD, so of course I had to buy them. Watching them with older eyes, yeah, some of the stories are stupid, the animation gets kind of wonky at times, but it still holds up.

Star Wars may have been a defining moment in my life, but the Transformers really got the ball rolling. If I wasn’t a fan of science fiction-type tales, this sealed the deal. Right around this time, Voltron appeared on TV screens, and I ate that up. I became fascinated with other Japanese animated shows and movies. I thought, maybe I’ll be a voiceover actor when I grow up (that didn’t pan out). It also showed me that you can give a robot a backstory and a personality, and it will work just as well as a human. Sometimes.

A couple of years back, I unearthed my toy collection from storage and displayed them for a few weeks. I was amazed I remembered how to transform them all, and that they stayed mostly intact while sitting in a garage for many years. They looked like they had been through a war lasting millions of years.

tf collection 01

Thanks to the fine folks at IDW, I have enjoyed the Bots’ comic book adventures once more, including All Hail Megatron, More Than Meets the EyeRobots in Disguise, and Regeneration One, as well as reprints of the Marvel and Marvel UK stories. Whenever I had a chance to watch, I’ve enjoyed the recent iteration, Transformers Prime. I even bought the Masterpiece edition of Optimus Prime. Now THAT thing is a pain in the Matrix to transform. Looks cool, though.

20th optimus

Megatron’s pointing his fusion cannon at me, telling me to wrap up, so I better do that. Happy 30th, Transformers. May you continue for another 30 or 30 million.

This Is Heavy

(Walks up to the microphone, taps it a couple of times, makes a squeeing noise in the speakers, realizes this gag has been done thousands of times, and decides to keep talking.)

Um, hello. This is my third blog post ever. So I figured I’d start with something near and dear to my heart:

I am strong with the Force, adverse to Kryptonite, a frequent visitor to the Uncharted Territories, and my other cars are a DeLorean and KITT.

Yup. I’m a geek.

me and jedi mickey

Me and Jedi Mickey back in 2004

I’m sure I’m not the only one who pledges allegiance to all things science fiction/fantasy on this great big blue marble we call Earth. I’m probably the five millionth child who grew up in the ’80s and soaked up Star Wars, the Transformers, etc., but hey, the Internet’s a big place. What’s the harm in one more tale?

Some my earliest memories are pure geek. I remember reading some giant comic book featuring Superman sliding across a telephone wire. Like many other youths who came of age in the late ’70s/early ’80s, a certain little art film called Star Wars altered my life trajectory forever. I remember watching A New Hope on HBO around 1983 and reenacting the trench battle with my X-Wing fighter sans blasters (and sans Luke Skywalker as X-Wing pilot action figure). I eagerly gobbled up as much as I could find regarding the final chapter of the saga.

Around that same time, I discovered a TV show with the most amazing concept: a talking car that could drive itself. And could jump over other cars. Yes, friends, Knight Rider. In my young eyes, the show didn’t star David Hasselholf, it starred the Knight Industries Two Thousand. Whenever I watched an episode, I’m sure I was impatiently waiting for the part of the show when K.I.T.T. did something awesome. I still have Kenner’s super-sized toy of K.I.T.T. (complete with Michael Knight action figure! AND K.I.T.T. talked when you pressed the license plate!…which doesn’t work anymore)

Jump ahead a year, where the natural progression of sci-fi led me to the coolest concept my 8-year-old brain could comprehend. Instead of a talking car that drove itself, now you had the Transformers. They were talking cars that drove themselves but now they transformed into robots! Will wonders never cease? The Autobots and the Decepticons took over for the Rebellion against the Empire.

As I got older, I latched onto different properties and discarded others, but I never let my thirst for other worlds wither away. And since the ’80s never went away in the eyes of merchants, I’ve been able to relive some of these childhood loves. Some haven’t held up well to the sands of time, but they still give me a smile.

For better or worse, they have shaped the geek I’ve become. So much so that I’ve been writing numerous short stories in this genre the past few years (you can find one of them elsewhere on this website), and I’m in the midst of writing a science fiction/fantasy/whatever novel. But that’s a tale for another day.

(Pokes the microphone one more time, doesn’t make any feedback. Quietly walks away from the microphone.)