Hasbro and Takara populated the first two years of the globally successful Transformers toy line with moulds previously used in Takara’s Diaclone and Micro Change Series lines, as well as drafting in moulds with Takatoku, Toybox and Toyco origins as well. For 1986, the year of the Transformers animated movie, we got our first Transformers-only toys and sculpts with a much more futuristic aesthetic. Post-movie, we had season 3 of the cartoon and then the 3-part finale to the animated show called “Rebirth” or season 4. It was through this 3-part show (not to mention the Marvel Transformers Comics) that Hasbro promoted their new gimmick-driven Transformers known as Headmasters and Targetmasters. This week we look at the four standard-sized non-base Autobot Headmasters Brainstorm, Chromedome, Hardhead and Highbrow. The titanic Fortress Maximus will be saved for a future chapter.
The premise was simple, certain Transformers would come with small partners that became their heads through a simple transformation and attachment. The gimmick was extended to allow the Headmaster figures to ride in the larger vehicle as a pilot or driver. The toys themselves were very brightly coloured, immediately distinguishable and a significant departure from the Diaclone/MC era TFs of the mid-80s. The boxes for the toys featured a new, digital-style sunburst grid behind the toy artwork and a small window where the Headmaster could be viewed. Extremely attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree! I still remember how mesmerised I was by the Targetmaster/Headmaster wall in Toys ‘R’ Us back in the day, even if I was still looking for series 1 and 2 toys.
The story as told through the Sunbow cartoon was that the energy from the plasma energy chamber on Cybertron propelled a conveniently assembled group of mostly new Autobots through space to the planet Nebulos where they crash-landed. They are captured by Nebulan freedom fighters who have formed a resistance cell against The Hive, who rule Nebulos through their elaborate mind-controlled machines. When Daniel becomes wounded by the chasing Decepticons (also mostly made up of conveniently new characters), the Nebulans and the Autobots decide to binary-bond the fleshlings to the Autobot heads, making use of the robot bodies and Nebulan knowhow to defeat the Hive and the Decepticons. With Cerebros opting out (temporarily), that left Brainstorm to bond with Arcana, Chromedome with Stylor, Hardhead with Duros and Highbrow gets stuck with Gort. This became the strategy team, with all the “sharpshooters” reserved to become Targetmasters later on.
Another nice gimmick incorporated into the Headmasters toys was that each head had three thin teeth that plugged into the main body at the shoulders, you can see them in the first article image just below the main Headmaster face. They were all of differing sizes for each Headmaster, and they activated a mini tech spec meter on the main robot’s chest underneath the fold-down flap. The tumblers show values for strength, intelligence and speed, what the box calls tech spec meter “highlights”. The above image shows all four Autobot Headmasters with their heads attached, chest flaps down and tech spec meters activated. It should also be mentioned that the section making up the Headmaster figure’s forehead in head mode can be folded down to cover the robot face, so for example from the back in robot mode, Headmaster partner Arcana is all grey, no trace of Brainstorm’s yellow face. One more interesting fact, prototype Headmasters show the tech spec meter tumblers to be segmented instead of solid like the final production toys.
Starting with genius Brainstorm, who is the first to suggest the benefits of bonding humans to Transformers, we have a gorgeous turquoise X-wing style flyer with possibly the most recognisable of the Headmaster faces. You’ll notice that all the Headmasters have some kind of reference to a head in their name; “Brain”, “Dome”, “Head” and “Brow”. Contrasting beautifully with the turquoise, Brainstorm has a clear orange canopy where Arcana can pilot the vehicle from, and a masked yellow face. The Headmasters was of course a whole series of its own in Japan where Takara pitched the Headmasters as the main characters in that show, but the premise was slightly different with “Brainstorm”, for example, being the small robot turning into the head, and the main body being a lifeless ‘Transtector’ that he was in control of. No sign of Arcana or Nebulons, really. For the Japanese animated series, Brainstorm had a humanoid face with no mouthplate. Every time they attached to their bodies they would shout “Head on!”.
Key to displaying Brainstorm properly are the two guns that make up his jet nosecone. As long as you have the Headmaster figure, he’s perfectly displayable and serviceable as a robot without them (unless you consider the lack of a real crotch), but you can see how much they complete the alternate mode look. If it’s not the Headmaster missing (or its arms), then invariably loose Brainstorms are missing the guns. Recently re-imagined as the IDW-style Brainstorm in the Generations line, this toy has become more popular thanks to his key role in IDW’s ongoing More Than Meets The Eye comic title. What makes Brainstorm’s transformation interesting beyond those essential guns is that he’s one of the few Headmasters whose transformation does not involve creating an enormous backpack out of a canopy or hood, the jet nose folds up between his legs and is displayed neatly on the back. The rest you can undoubtedly figure out just by looking at the photos.
Chromedome is another who has enjoyed great exposure and popularity as a result of IDW’s More Than Meets The Eye comic, and a far more significant role in proceedings in the Japanese Headmasters series compared to Rebirth. He has also had some top quality toys bear the same name and pay homage to him recently through TFCC Chromedome and MakeToys Cupola. Sadly, the original G1 Chromedome is not considered to be a particular highlight of G1 or even Headmasters. His transformation is incredibly simple, just a matter of unfolding the legs from under the car, unfolding the feet, folding back the canopy and attaching Stylor, his Headmaster.
Chromedome comes with two identical red handguns that can attach to his back for storage or on top of the vehicle mode, and what a bizarre large futuristic vehicle mode it is. His colours make one think of the seventies, and they are unmistakably Chromedome’s. One problem with this toy is that he almost always has broken black clips on the back of his waist where the top of the legs meet the main body, even on mint specimens. His robot mode is quite gangly and without a doubt the most awkward looking of the troupe, and he has horribly hollow-looking segmented inner arms. However, when the toy is not worn, has good stickers and has tight joints I have to admit I can see the appeal of a big beefy futuristic car toy with a fun Headmaster gimmick. Some say his actual eyes are the grey parts on his helmet and not the two little rectangles on the orange coloured face, I know I’ve always seen him as the latter. Even when I look at him now, I always see the squished face. I like it, though, and my appreciation of this toy has been purely as an adult.
Then comes Hardhead, something of a Headmaster fan favourite it seems. There again exists the disparity between the mouthplate-wearing toy and the animation model with a humanoid face. Hardhead is the brute of the bunch, and fittingly his toy is decked out in military colours. It’s also a well-armed tank. Hardhead’s transformation is quite an interesting one as the legs don’t just fold down, there’s a bit more to it. He has Chromedome’s height so he towers over Brainstorm and Highbrow.
Headmaster partner Duros, like Chromedome, can be seen in head mode as either having a squished face or the eyes on the grey part of the plastic some of us originally thought was his brow. On this occasion, comparing to the boxart, I can definitely see how his eyes are the grey plastic rectangles above the painted yellow face, so I’ll just have to adjust to that after all these years! Both of Hardhead’s green rifles can be attached in robot and tank mode, and he also has the very cool non-detachable shoulder cannon that becomes the main tank barrel in vehicle mode. While I prefer Brainstorm’s looks, I think Hardhead probably has the better proportioned robot and vehicle mode, I’m not surprised he was popular. He does feel more brittle and easy to break, though, than any of the other Headmaster Autobots. The un-clipping of the waist to go from robot to tank, especially.
Finally, my favourite of all the Headmaster Autobots, Highbrow. I feel this character is often overlooked which is a shame seeing as how I find his robot mode the most well-proportioned and attractive of the bunch. He is the only one of the Autobot Headmasters of this size to have a proper humanoid-style face, and sports a delicious contrast of grey and blue across the whole figure. His chopper mode is augmented with a dreamy translucent red canopy that has been known to break with ease. Both his rifles can be attached under the chopper wings or one can be attaches directly beneath the nose.
Highbrow’s transformation is a little different from the rest as it requires extension of the legs and waist rotation, instead of a simple fold-down mechanism. The legs can be tight and quite scary at times. His hands are neither moulded into the arms nor are they fold out, they are on small tabs which means the retract back into his forearm, another possible source of breakage. The three blades on each rotor collapse back and fall in line, and you can leave them hanging down in robot mode. I like to fold them up. Headmaster “Gort” is probably the most unfortunately-named, but I am pleased that there is a Transformer called “Gort”. Say it. “Gort”. I also feel as though Highbrow’s stickers really add to his robot mode in a way that none of the other stickersheets do for their Headmaster figures. Chromedome has the recognisable hood stickers, but Highbrow excels in looks again in this department.
The Headmasters signalled a new era for Transformers, one that some embraced and others use as a convenient jumping-off point for their collections. The previous year’s aesthetic took Transformers in a new direction and it’s highly evident in the Headmasters. Instead of the smooth panels and lines of realistic vehicles, the sculpts were now covered in vents, circuitry, detailing and the like, just look at Highbrow’s feet. Being the first of the ‘Masters, these toys ushered in a new era of intra-release compatibility between a Transformers figure and its companion(s). Having said that, the whole Headmasters concept hearkens back to the original Diaclone driver/pilot era, and the play pattern of interchangeable parts is there too for kids who wanted to put Brainstorm’s head on Hardhead, or a Decepticon Headmaster on Chromedome.
My first exposure to Transformers was 1984/85, and I consider that my entry point to the toyline and mythos. I recall looking for missing series 1 and 2 toys in 1986 and 1987 finding only Headmasters and Targetmasters, I even picked up a Marvel UK comic that contained none of the characters I grew up with, just the new guys like Scorponok and Highbrow, Apeface and Snapdragon. It wasn’t until I saw Rebirth later in life that it all made sense (sorry Marvel UK massive, I never read those as a child!), but despite the unfamiliarity at the time, like many collectors I have nothing but incredibly fond memories of the Headmaster era and these toys. They are Transformers in the purest sense, excellent toys with unique look and endless playability that feed the imagination. They may be simple but every move of a transformation process comes with a satisfying clunk and finality, or a comforting ratchet. In my opinion, they have not dated a bit and it’s no coincidence that so much of today’s popular (toy or media) material was influenced by this era.
All the best