As a child of the eighties, it’s no surprise that I’m a fan of giant robots. Between the decade’s general technophilia and its obsession with all things Japanese, robots made up a fair portion of its zeitgeist (or at least it did for boys of a certain age).
The first ones that came to my attention were the AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back. Technically not robots, but very big and very stompy nonetheless. In toy form, they also showed the way toys would go for the rest of the decade – mechanistic and needing lots of batteries.
The next big toy was something that I got fairly obsessive about – Transformers.
The appeal was partly the sheer cleverness of how a decent replica of a car or a plane could be designed so that is could turn into a robot, but there was also the childish joy in that it was a giant stompy robot.
My brother and I had a lot of Transformers. Some just turned into cars. Some turned into dinosaurs (combining two childhood obsessions in one, but paying little attention to the “Robots in Disguise” motif).
And there were variations on the theme. The team of robots who combined to form a really big robot was impressive. But when there were robots with heads that turned into smaller robots, it had perhaps all gotten a bit silly.
The toys were only part of the story – there was a cartoon series and spin-off film. (The film featured Orson Welles, in his last role, as Unicron the planet eater.)
And (following on from my last post) there was a comic. I followed the Transformers comic avidly from about 1986 to 1989.
It was published by Marvel UK and was originally meant to be just a reprint of the US comic. But the UK staff started producing their own stories – stories that were surprisingly good for something that by all rights should have just been a glorified ad campaign.
The UK stories featured time travelling factions (from the far future of 2006!) and an elaborate plot that took years to come to fruition as a temporal rift threatened to consume all of reality. They’re fondly remembered by many and you can still buy reprints of them today.
Fast forward 20 years, and the Michael Bay Transformers film comes out, firmly aimed at my demographic. So I oblige and see it. I even enjoy it. But it’s not the same – the new Transformers are spiky and messy and don’t have the same appeal for me as their eighties predecessors.
And that’s why it’s the old Optimus Prime who’s signing off this post…