Friday, February 27, 2009

Transfromers 1988-You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself be made into Mister Potato Heads

Back in the 1980s we did not have Thoroughly Informative Transformers Themed Internet Entertainment Sites so excitement about a given toyline spread via the internet equivalent of my youth-the elementary school playground. I remember there were very distinct phases in the progression and decline of playground buzz surrounding The TransFormers (or any other fad or toyline or whatever else was popular amongst ten year olds). I've named these phases of buzz after the response one kid would get if he showed another kid a GoBot or Transformer or Voltron or whatever. The first phase of buzz was the "What is that? Nobody's into that!" phase, which for toy robots took place from I'd say 1982 to mid-1984. With He-Man and Star Wars being so dominant in the pop culture at that time it was unusual to see a kid talking about or bringing GoBots to school. Not all toys progressed past this first stage, as anyone who owned a Rocklord can attest to. Then there was the "That's awesome, dude! Everybody's into that!" phase from about mid-1984 through mid 1986 when The Transformers became the definitive embodiment of the toy robots trend. Note that GoBots skipped the "That's awesome dude!" phase. Then there was the, "Dude, you're still into that? Nobody's into that anymore!" phase that all popular toylines eventually succumb to. I'd say Transformers entered this phase from 1987 to 1988 when 99 percent of kids moved on to Nintendo and Ninja Turtles. Finally the toys get canceled and there comes the "You're still a virgin, huh?" phase that I was stuck in throughout all of high school.

ToysRus 12/08/88

I added about a dozen new* ads to the Transfomrers 1988 section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace and I realized '88 wasn't really all that bad in terms of what Transformer product was on the shelves. If you were that one guy in eighth grade choosing robots over girls there was still much robot fun to be had. Of course '88 is probably best remembered as the year Optimus Prime came back, but it was also the year of the last great combiner giftset Piranacon and Fortress Maximus the biggest Transformer ever got carried over from '87. 1988 would be the cartoon's final season and though they made no new episodes, the season five reruns featured new bumper sequences starring an animatronic Optimus Prime and some little kid. The death of the Transformers cartoon wasn't even really tied to the popularity of the franchise so much as it was a result of toymakers across the board ditching the toy tie-in cartoon concept altogether.1 Heck, in 1988 the Transformers comic book was barely halfway through its 80 issue run. (The comic was really where it was at for me anyways, especially since the editors had impeccable taste in choosing which letters to print in the letters column.) The line may have been fading in popularity but in '88 it still had a lot of fight left in it. Unfortunately it also had a lot of Pretenders in it, too. I may have survived a lot of imaginary toy robot battles in my childhood, but I wasn't Pretending! (Or would that be Pretendering?)

Toys R Us 12/08/88
Kay Bee Toys 10/06/88

Circus World 10/09/88

Everybody has their own little subgroup of Transformers they didn't like so I'm not going to waste space elaborating on why I hated the Pretenders with their bloated, organic looking shells that split apart to reveal anemic looking, spindly little robots inside. But I give Hasbro a lot of credit for the Pretender concept because it turns the cliched fantasy of wanting to be a robot inside out. Instead of playing with little pilot figures pretending you were vicariously controlling the robots, Pretenders asked the philosophical question, hey-what if a robot is inside controlling you?! What if instead of you turning into their head, they are in your head already? What if deep inside we are all robots? It was an interesting reversal of the male power fantasy where instead of being a little kid wishing you could be that 2 story robot, you could instead as a little kid realize the potential to be something great was inside you all along. But then there comes a day when you grow up and realize life is random chaos and we're all just broken cogs in a malfunctioning runaway Zoid and nobody has robots inside them except Arnold Schwarzenegger. But at least for a little while in 1988 we were young and hopeful and we believed all that crap about freedom and sentience on Optimus Prime's tech spec and Hasbro inspired us with the hope that there was a figurative robot Volkswagen in us all. To paraphrase my Air Force recruiter, I may not be able to get you into a toy robot, but I can get a little toy robot into you. Whatever that means. And speaking of little robots...

ToysRus 10/20/88

My absolute favorite ad from 1988 is this ToysRus Micro Transformer one I found in the newspapers of both Houston and El Paso, Texas. It's pretty special for a couple reasons, one of which is that it's an ad that contradicts the conventional wisdom that Micro Transformers were first released in 1989. That's not really a big deal, though, because I've found at least two other 1988 Micro Transformer ads from Children's Palaces in various cities so it's not like these Texas Micros were some rare early trial test market in only one city. No, this ToysRus ad is unique because it has some sort of crazy mockup packaging totally different from any Micro Transformer package ever released. I'm pretty sure the card art is of the Autobot Off Road Patrol but the little drawings of the robots on the card are entirely different from any character art released on production packages. When I first noticed the card art was unusual it really tripped me out. It's as if these Micro Transformers had the power to surprise or something! You could write paragraphs about this ad and I did when I took it to the playground of today and asked men way more knowledgeable than myself in the area of tiny robot Lamborghinis to take a look at it. They confirmed my suspicions that this all was pretty weird. I think it's strange how I've never found prototype packaging in Transformer ads during all my previous searches, then of all eras it pops up in an ad from 1988. Discoveries like this are what makes me glad I've decided to collect Transfomrer ads from the years beyond just 1984 and 1985. It's rewarding. I guess I can say it's the little things (in prototype packages) that make it all worthwhile.


For me personally my tour of duty in the Toy Robot Wars of the 1980s ended in '88 when I got my first pack of Micromaster airplanes and they were too hard for me to transform. Looking back I'm glad that these ads reminded me 1988 wasn't all that bad and I left Transfomrers on a high note of sorts. At 14 I figured it was time to let go of the whole toy robot thing regardless of how good they were and just move on. I still occasionally bought the comic but I quit with issue 75 back in late 1990. Then in the early 90s Transformers started coming back and I found out there were a lot more additional phases beyond "Dude, you still into that?" Here we are now two decades later with Optimus PotatoHead and new toy homages to those first Micromaster planes with "MM-89" tribute tattoos on them and all those other countless strange reiterations and mutations of the toys I used to feel so all alone for liking back in junior high. Dude! It's crazy, isn't it?

*21 year old

1Toy Makers Lose Interest In Tie-Ins With Cartoons. (1988, April 28). Wall Street Journal


deadbeat Senna said...

Haha! Not even hasbro gives a crap about what year when their own stuff came out! You really are a dork!

slobot said...

wow. you have more robot related ads on this blog than you can shake a stick at. this is a great collection of vintage ads... very cool stuff


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