Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Transformer ad from 20 years ago of the week-Metroplex

Did you ever know what it was like to want something above all else, to long so deeply for something that your existence felt incomplete without it? Like you simply could not exist without that one toy robot that made your life worth living? I felt like that back in '86 when I was twelve and I first saw Metroplex in the 1986 Transformers catalog. I wanted that thing so bad! He was Autobot City! The last line of Autobot defense (even laster than Omega Supreme who was their other last line of defense in 1985)! He was a giant robot so big that even his accessories had accessories! So big that other Transformers hung out inside him! He was the giantest of the giant robots. He was the king of the toy robots parking garage dollhouses.

05 October 1986 Sears

Is that all you see me as, my fellow Autobots? Someone who folds out to form roads?


Or maybe I was just in love with the idea of Metroplex. The back of Metroplex's box had a furious battle scene painting showing him in city mode making Transformers like Ultra Magnus look tiny. There were explosions everywhere as the Decepticons attacked and Metroplex looked too huge to fit on the small planetoid he was resting on. He was so huge that other robots like Hot Rod and Springer were driving down his enormous ramps. Yet in reality he was only a little taller than Ultra Magnus in robot mode and only the smallest Transformers could roll down his ramps. But the disconnect between product and package art didn't bother me much. I think as kids we knew the Hasbro's toy robots couldn't live up to the impossible fantasies they were portrayed as on their boxes. I know the art pissed off consumer advocacy groups and disappointed parents, who viewed it as nothing short of false advertising. But as a kid this false advertising was a big part of my fun! I knew those transforming plastic robot bricks couldn't really be made to stand in the furious action poses shown on their boxes, just like I knew they didn't really say those things on their tech specs. Complaining about Transformers not living up to their packaging was like being upset that these little plastic robots didn't actually have all those mental disorders.

07 December 1986 Lionel Playworld
06 December 1986 Toys R Us


These ads show what I fell in love with in the parking lot of the Bag 'n' Save grocery store as I looked longingly at my Transformer catalog while my mom went inside to buy groceries. I remember looking at those toy catalogs as if I were Bob Lazar trying to reverse engineer a UFO. Metroplex's transformation in particular blew my mind. Of course now as an adult it's easy to realize that all you do to transform him is sit him in a jumping jacks pose and press his head down. But as a kid I was totally confused and amazed. I remember looking at pictures of his city mode and thinking that black block looking thing in the middle couldn't be his head, because when he was a robot his antennae were vertical, yet in city mode those antennae are horizontal! How did they do that? What unholy secrets of space and time manipulation did these Hasbronian wizards conjure up in their experimental toy engineering laboratories? And how did his chest unfold into that helipad? Holy hell, forget magnets, fuckin' hinges-how do they work?

12 October 1986 Zayre

09 November 1986 Zayre

07 December 1986 Zayre


I wanted a Metroplex so bad. My twelve year old brain thought that if only I could have Metroplex I would never want for anything ever again. I meant it, too. I would be willing to give up food, shelter, sleep and clothing if it meant I could have that friggin' toy. Unfortunately my mom had an anti-shoplifting rule so thievery was not an option for me like it was for my peers. So instead of getting a job I always daydreamed about God coming down and making me deals where I would give up one necessity of life in exchange for the toy I wanted that week. I contemplated various disabilities like losing the sight in one eye or not being able to smell anymore if I could just get God to fork over that one robot I wanted. With Metroplex I upped the ante and figured I would be willing to give up both parents and be forced to live in a dumpster behind Bag 'n Save. I really thought this out. If I'd gotten my way, at twelve years old I would've been a deaf mute blind quadriplegic with a collection of four Transformers. Unfortunately my secret toy trades with God failed and I kept my sight and family and I never got Metroplex. It was left to me as an adult to find one, which I did ten years later in a trade with someone who was not God and had more reasonable terms.

20 November 1986 Toy Wizard
29 October 1986 Toys R Us


Of course no obsessive rumination on Metroplex of mine would be complete without observations on what old newspaper ad line art from 80s grocery stores tells us about life and the universe. One thing that trips me out about Metroplex is that two different robot modes exist in his ad line art. The first is an arms raised in the air pose (above right), and the second is a 3/4 view of the robot standing looking off to the right (above left). Usually the line art from ads is based off of Toy Fair catalog photography. This is the case with the arms in the air pose-it comes straight out of Metroplex's pages in the Hasbro's 1986 Toy Fair catalog. But the original photography for the 3/4 view isn't so easy to track down. It isn't based on the '86 Toy Fair catalog or the '86 pre-Toy Fair catalog (Metroplex isn't even in that one). I guess Hasbro did a shoot with the prototype for line art purposes and then for whatever reasons never used the photos. And how do I know it was a prototype the line art is based on? Well it has something to do with the city mode as depicted in these old ads...

Toy Wizard 11/20/86
Cut Rate Toys 12/07/86


Metroplexes came with a little tank named Slammer who split in two. The bottom treaded Slammer half then unfolded to make a spire that got used as a tower in city mode. The other Slammer half (its turret) also resembled a tower, except it didn't have a peg to plug into anywhere. So in the vast majority of production Metroplexes, only one tower is made using Slammer parts. Yet the city mode line art in Metroplex ads shows the two Slammer spires used as towers. Now in Remy the Reminator's review of Metroplex at reminator.com, there are reports of some early 80s Metroplexes coming with a pegged Slammer turret for use as the second tower. And an owner of an original prototype 80s Metroplex has stated that the proto had the pegged turret as well. But for whatever reason, only city mode Metroplex line art shows this dual tower configuration. It doesn't show up in the Transformers pack in catalogs, the '86 Toy Fair pages, the '86 battle scene, or the toy's box. UPDATE: When Metroplex was reissued by Takara in 2008, the reissues came with the two pegged Slammer.


Back when I was a kid I didn't know where Metroplexes went once they disappeared off the retail shelves. As I saw them gradually disappearing I wondered what was happening and I assumed audacious people were buying them. Metroplex was a gift to me from Hasbro-how could lesser mortals assume it was for them to buy? I was a connoisseur, an appreciator of the finer things in life like $30 robots. No one else but I could possibly appreciate his black and grey plastic with chrome highlights and mysterious transformation. How could anyone but me meet the criteria of a) wanting Metroplex so badly and b) having thirty dollars? But I never found myself in the range of 26 to 35 bucks, which was the ticket price to robot parking garage heaven. The cost of Metroplex was an astronomical figure for me to contemplate as a kid without a job (and who was bad at math). I couldn't figure how all that money could be in one place at the same time. Surely El Paso's economy was not large enough to support multiple families who could afford a thirty dollar toy. All I knew was that my mom was mean and wouldn't get me a Metroplex. Consequently my Autobots would remain homeless.

Children's Palace 11/26/86
Carrs 11/30/86


I guess you never get over not having that toy you always wanted during your childhood. Getting it decades later doesn't feel the same. As an adult I appreciate things more so the Metroplex I have now will always be in great shape. In some ways that's a shame. I imagine that if I got one as a kid I would have destroyed it just like all my other toys. In a way it is for the best that I didn't get a chance to destroy the mighty Autobot city. I would rather live with the feeling of missing out than with the regret of owning a mutilated Metroplex I mangled as a kid. But did this mean that other kids just ended up doing the mangling? Was it the tragic ultimate destiny of all Metroplexes to be crushed and crumpled on the floor by the day after Christmas? Or are certain toys fated to be owned by certain kids and when they never meet, the toys never get opened? If that's how it works then somewhere out there is an unopened king of the toy robots parking garage dollhouses that I never had as a kid, still waiting for me to come along. Maybe some kid will eventually own him. If I die before we meet I hope some day he gets taken out of his box long after I've been put in mine.

Target 30 November 1986

1 comment:

Eddie said...

You and your mom would shop at Bag N Save on Yarbrough? Cool. I really do miss that store. Anyways, I enjoy reading your robot blog and viewing all of the retro newspaper ads from Lionel Playworld, Kay Bee, and other awesome/extinct toy stores. Keep on writing and posting! Peace!


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