It was 1985 and toy robots were everywhere, infesting every retail, drug and toy store all across America. I guess it was inevitable that the robots would start looking like locusts since they were already acting like them. And look like them they did once Hasbro blew the fifth trumpet of the seventh seal of the roboplastic apocalypse and unleashed upon the world the Insecticons! Kickback, Shrapnel and Bombshell were the color coordinated trio of bad guy bugs that menaced cartoon robot land (and real life grocery stores) with their voracious hunger and bizarre speech impediments. And so I celebrate 25 years later the marketing brilliance of Hasbro who knew that the only way you're gonna get anyone to take a robot grasshopper seriously is if you give him a sub-machine gun.
BEETLE TO THE PUNCH
The was quite a long gap between the airing of the very last episode of the first season of Transformers on December 29th, 1984, and the first new episode of the second season which aired September 23, 1985. Within that nine months much of the 1985 line would begin hitting the shelves, including assortments like the Insecticons and Constructicons. But just because these early '85 product assortments wouldn't be out until after the first season finished didn't mean they wouldn't be getting a little pre-release cartoon screen time. The Constructicons along with Kickback, Shrapnel and Bombshell were not ignored in the 1984 season and the very last episodes of season 1 introduced them before they'd achieved wide release in stores across the country. So they had the kids covered but how did Hasbro convince the store buyers at the wholesale level to focus their funds on some robot locust fun? Well check out the first page of the two page Insecticon spread from the 1985 toy catalog!:
The Transformers Insecticon Assortment
These creepy creatures from the insect world transform into terrifying robots to attack the Autobots. Insecticons fight by using forms of mind control or "electricity" on their subjects. Swing back the wings, open the chests and fold down the heads to transform from insects to robots.
Each is packaged as an insect with attachable weapons, character bio, Tech Specs chart and decoder. The special liquid crystal logo provides proof of authenticity. Assortment includes eight of each Insecticon.
2 5/8x6 1/4x7 1/2" CU.:1.2
The two page Insecticon spread begins here on page 62 of the catalog with the three smaller and more famous Insecticons. Instead of splitting up the 2 page spread evenly with the deluxe Insecticons and giving the two groups one page each, slightly more space is devoted to the three smaller robots. Because of this Bombshell's robot mode is actually found on page 63. The Insecticons pictured here are prototype versions with some features that either didn't make it to the production versions or were eventually phased out after the initial early releases. Kickback's pointy wings, Schrapnel's winged gun and Bombshell's scooped stinger were all features shared with the initial Japanese releases of these toys when they were known as Insecter Robos in the Diaclone line. Those and many other features would be altered for or during the Hasbro Transformers releases. What tripped me out was how Hasbro changed Kickback so his wings didn't end in points but in rounded circles, then when they reissued the Insecticons in 2009 the pointy winged Kickback returned! I grabbed me a set because it was like getting a reissue prototype straight out of the '85 catalog that I could never get when I was a kid.
BY THEIR LAMELLICORNS YOU SHALL KNOW THEM
Sears 02/20/85What I find interesting about the small Insecticons was that despite their modest size they still got packaged in boxes. They're only ever so slightly larger than the Decepticon Battlechargers and those guys came out individually carded. My best guess is that the Insecticons were probably too unwieldy to be carded because of their shapes and the weight of their die cast construction so they got boxed. And boy were those boxes everywhere. If there were ever toys I remember clogging up the shelves at every Walgreens and Winns in the mid 80s they'd be the Insecticons. They and the Autobot Jumpstarters would have to be the earliest examples of Transformer shelfwarmers I can remember.
The Insecticons have also proven to be amongst the earliest released 1985 Transformers I've found ads for. The above "Small Insecticons Assortment" ad from Sears ran February 20th, which was also the same week Toy Fair 1985 was wrapping up in New York. So although these assortment were being hyped as new in the '85 Toy Fair catalogs they were already in some stores. (Unless you lived in Montreal.) Again this early ad uses different text from the toy catalog, leading me to believe there was probably a pre-Toy Fair catalog Hasbro used to solicit orders for product scheduled to ship in the spring of '85. The description of the Insecticons' alternate modes as a grasshopper, beetle and lamellicorn are exactly the same alt mode descriptions used on the Takara Diaclone Insecter Robo packages.
|Walgreens 11/06/85||Eckerd 11/03/85|
Also inconsistent with the toy catalog is the line art of Kickback used in the Walgreens ad above. Usually line art came from the toy fair catalogs. So I am sure there is some Hasbro 1st quarter '85 toy catalog out there that preceded the catalog I have. It probably came out in late '84 and had the photos this line art was based on, plus it would call Shrapnel a lamellicorn.
Deluxe Insecticon Assortment
These evil Insecticons descend upon unsuspecting humans to confront the Autobot defenders and wreak havok on earth. Swing out the wings, pull back the legs, fold down the head...each provides a challenging transformation from insect to robot and back. The Deluxe Insecticons are packaged with attachable weapons, character bio, Tech Specs chart and decoder. The special liquid crystal logo assures their proof of authenticity. Assortment includes three each of the four Deluxe Insecticons.
7 5/8x3 1/2x 8 1/2" CU.:1.17
WT.:7 lbs. PK:12
YOU'VE HEARD THE BAND, NOW PLAY THE CICADA ROBOT
I wasn't that surprised when I saw the layout of the two page Insecticon spread in the '85 catalog proportionally favors the smaller assortment, devoting less room to the deluxe Insecticons. I kind of feel at times that the Deluxe Insecticons got the shaft while the three little guys hogged the spotlight. The little guys were in the cartoon and comic and a million other places while the deluxe Insecticons hardly appeared anywhere. The most attention I heard any of them got back in the day was when Venom came out in that one awful book and tape set and even then he didn't get to talk! These guys were almost totally overlooked in Transformers lore and it's sad because they had awesome names that sounded like death metal bands. Heck, Venom was the name of a death metal band in '86. I remember because I thought it was cool when I was 12 that there was a robot and a band with a scary video on Headbangers Ball and they shared the same name. I was really close to getting a Venom when I was a kid because he was supposed to be the leader of the Insecticons and his robot mode was awesome looking and he had death metal cred but when my mom saw it packaged in insect mode she thought it was pretty. I feel dumb about this now but when I was a kid the last thing I wanted was a robot my mom thought was pretty. So I passed on that and ended up with Bombshell, who was smaller but sufficiently ugly.
OBSCURITY: KILLS BUG ROBOTS DEAD
Although both assortments were tagged with "NEW" on the borders of their photos, only the smaller Insecticons had "TV" added to their product description. Hasbro used the "TV" blurb to indicate there would be commercials advertising certain product assortments (but not necessarily that these toys would be featured in the cartoon-even after the cartoon was discontinued Hasbro attached "TV" to many assortments' Toy Fair catalog appearances). Not having that TV support is probably why newspaper ads for the deluxe Insecticons are so rare in my experience. I'm no professional wholesale toy buyer but I can tell from my time looking at old newspaper ads that retailers loved toys they knew already had television commercial support. I've noticed a pattern where Transformers from the first two years who were not originally made by Takara didn't get extensive commercial or media support unless they cost more than 20 bucks. I guess in the world of the Transformers there was quite literally a high cost of fame and it hovered around the $19.95 price point.
ALL ABUZZ THAT'S GOING A BUZZ!
I had no intentions of writing about the Transformer pages of the '85 Hasbro catalog but it seemed like lately every time I went to a Toys R Us those reissue Insecticons were bugging me to buy them. And once I had them there was that tie-in to Kickback's wings in the toy catalog and I got all inspired and I figured what the hell. So it is partly due to the Insecticons that I'm waxing nostalgic in the first place (and also partly because this year is the 25th anniversary of 1985). Tonight I think I'll break out the DVDs and watch that Insecticon episode from season 1, which is one of my favorite Transformer cartoons ever. But first I need to clean out my refrigerator before my wife finds out I've been blogging again.