Is this the golden age of Transformers? While it’s tempting to look at years gone past and recall the good old days, we might actually be better off as fans and collectors now than we ever have been. If we consider the toys that are available to us, to our children, the new media we have access to and the people who we can share it with, have we ever had it so good? If someone stepped into the hobby today, would they be missing out particularly on the treasures of the past in terms of community atmosphere, events or toys?
Not everybody would agree on the fact that the live action Transformers movies have been good for the longevity and public awareness of the Transformers brand, and that in the long term we would be grateful for their existence. But David Buenaño Hochman says “many transfans think that movies had buried us. But the reality is that without them we would still be a ‘known’ franchise but not a household ‘everyone-knows-us’ franchise“. The movies certainly took mainstream Transformers out of their (our?) comfort zone and forced a new look aesthetic upon the characters that we knew and loved. Some would argue that the Beast era already did that for the brand, but there’s no doubting the fact that the movies did it on a grand scale in comparison.
A significant change in aesthetic opened the door for a lot of old school collectors – myself included – to be more open-minded about how Transformers were portrayed in media and challenged how we could perceive them in a cartoon. Jim Sorenson says “this certainly seems to be a golden age in terms of creativity and output for the brand. We have two television shows on the air, a whopping four ongoing Transformers series in comics, not including the fanclub output. And we can expect a new feature film every 2 to 3 years for the foreseeable future, possibly even more“.
This is a point of view supported by Morgan Evans who re-iterates what Jim says about the current media, and takes us nicely onto the newer Transformers toy products “I think it’s a golden age in a way because we’re getting G1 and IDW style Generations figures along with Masterpieces so there’s something for everyone toy wise. We have the IDW comics which are well written with a mature audience in mind and there’s a lot of good third party products out there“.
Masterpiece and 3rd Party products – together with Generations/Combiner Wars – are certainly the hottest thing in collecting right now, and that certainly permeates through the attitudes of collectors who believe we have never had it so good.
For anyone who had an attachment to the G1 Transformers and their derivatives, Masterpiece, Combiner Wars, reissues, Generations and the like provide all manner of jumping on points for them, priced according to the target demographic and complexity of the toys. Many believe there’s something for everyone available at the moment, and there’s certainly nothing stopping collectors from engaging in a bit of vintage toy hunting either. Michael Kingcaid says “I’d call it a second golden age. Overall, nothing can compete with with awe and excitement of being a kid during 1984-1988. But it’s about as good as it could possibly be for this adult fan“.
“We saw the beginning. But we’re also old enough and actually have a bit of money to get some of the Masterpiece toys and the 3rd Party homages which are a bit more expensive“. Expensive is certainly the word, and such is the pull of 3rd Party and Masterpiece that collectors have been known to liquidate other more mainstream Transformers lines in order to keep up with the MP line and the more diverse 3rd Party sub-category, although the recent trend of copying MP aesthetic and scale is catching on rather a bit too much for my tastes. It would be interesting to see if this aspect of the collecting world is still considered to be in its prime a few years from now.
Not everyone does believe we live in the golden age though, bringing a very necessary counterpoint to the belief that we’ve never been so spoilt. Morgan Evans says “Unfortunately where there’s money to be made the unscrupulous will show up and so you have KOs everywhere, bootleggers who are doubling as third party companies churning out KO quality “Masterpieces” and exploiting that demand“.
David Buenaño Hochman adds “From the 3rd movie there was a sort of stagnation and decline because ‘either way everybody would buy the toys’ and it shows in the designs. We are still in a very good time to be a transfan, and the success of the movies have made it possible for Hasbro/Takara to make other sidelines like Combiner Wars and Masterpiece more easily than before where it would have been very difficult to do. But time will tell what will happen next“.
Dan Ghile goes further “Is this the golden age? Far from it. If anything were in a state of obsession with the past with a tiny amount of new ideas. Quality of product is inconsistent with previous highs. Third party product is for the most part derivative of Masterpiece aesthetics or chasing its own tail in terms of ideas.
While there is lots of good, fun product available to everybody, probably more than there’s ever been, this is one of the least interesting times in this hobby. When new ideas are a rarity and the majority of fans are doing nothing more that checking boxes on a wishlist of rehashes from 30 years ago, I struggle to call it a golden age“.
I can see both sides of the coin, and can even understand collectors who believe that years ago things were more fresh and that the community was more tight-knit, the shows and conventions more personal and less “soulless”, where exceptional things like Masterpiece Transformers, 3rd Party figures and brand new representations of beloved old Transformers characters were exciting and new, not the norm as they are today. They miss the atmosphere around not knowing what the future would hold the way we kind of know what to expect from next year currently.
Having said that, I am forced to look upon my time in the hobby from 1998 until now, and evaluate my current feeling towards what the Transformers hobby offers compared to those earlier periods. I find myself pulled in countless directions these days compared to the more focused days of old. I want these wonderful Masterpiece Transformers which are G1 made perfect, I want the 3rd Party figures that mimic that style and fill the gaps, while other 3rd party figures that are more creative and go with a different scale or inspiration also excite me. I collect the IDW More Than Meets The Eye Transformers comics religiously and the associated artwork and toys (official or otherwise) have found their way into my collecting.
The cartoons have been a breath of fresh air and I have experienced a reigniting of love for TF Animated while enjoying Robots In Disguise thoroughly. The Transformers movies, their toys and their releases, are laced with good memories for me. My first experiences of BotCon were heavily influenced by the movies and I can count a great deal of my favourite TFs as coming from that direction. Toys that I can easily buy, discover or read about today. I’ve also never found it easier to make new collecting friends which I can meet up with regularly or connect with online via social media. I can even have a conversation with the writer and artist of my favourite TF comic. I can have an input – however small – into the creative process that goes into certain 3rd Party products thanks to the engagement of some of those companies with the community (for better or for worse).
I mentioned Robots In Disguise already, and no matter how simplified and overpriced I believe them to be, I enjoy them for what they are. They offer something I’m not used to with Transformers as an adult collector. They also provide me with the perfect media and level of complexity/aesthetic to enjoy the hobby with my daughter. I know for a fact I am not the only one who feels this way. I’ll hand over again to Jim Sorenson “We get Transformers toys targeted at toddlers, young children, adolescents, as well as adult collectors, and any gaps Hasbro leaves are quickly filled in by third party entrepreneurs“. It’s hard to argue with my last quote, which is something so many of the contributors said when asked if this was the golden age, “There really is something for everyone, now“.
Many kind thanks to Immo de Maar, Jim Sorenson, Morgan Evans, Michael Kingcaid, Dan Ghile and David Buenaño Hochman for their contributions.
All the best