Our look at the 1987 range of Generation 1 Transformers continues this week with the three basic Decepticon Headmasters Skullcruncher, Mindwipe and Weirdwolf. While the Autobot Headmasters introduced in the same year were land and air vehicles, the Decepticon counterparts were beasts. 1987 also saw the release of Decepticon Headmaster base Scorponok and Headmaster Horrorcons Apeface and Snapdragon, but we will cover those three in a future article. The plan was originally to release four basic Decepticon Headmasters to face off against the Autobots, but plans for the stingray Decepticon Headmaster were canned. Here then is our look at Skullcruncher the alligator with Headmaster Grax, Weirdwolf the wolf with Nebulon partner Monzo, and Mindwipe the bat with Headmaster partner Vorath.
Just as with the Autobot Headmasters, the Decepticon versions were packaged in alternate mode, in this case beasts, with the Headmaster Nebulon partner displayed in box as a small robot. The boxes are every bit as attractive as their Autobot counterparts, and I really do feel that it was essential for Hasbro to nail something appealing considering what a departure they were making from what had gone before in terms of aesthetics. To be able to go from buying die cast real world motor vehicles and jets, or everyday gadgets, to buying unrecogniseable futuristic blocky plastic vehicles or animals with removable heads seamlessly and still keep it all under the same Transformers banner was a big deal for me as a kid. My first experience with Headmasters involved buying an accompanying Marvel UK comic where I did not recognise any of the characters, so the toy needed to be good to keep me interested. I needn’t have worried. One must also remember that if you were not an avid Marvel UK reader, the cartoon support for later year G1 just wasn’t there on UK terrestrial TV.
The Decepticons Skullcruncher, Mindwipe and Weirdwolf, as introduced in the 3-part Rebirth finale to the Generation 1 cartoon, binary bonded with members of the evil Hive on planet Nebulon to create Headmasters. The colour schemes for these figures are just as bright and eye-catching as with the Autobot Headmasters, but maybe a little less primary colours and more infused with Decepticon signature purple across the board. That includes the Horrorcons and Scorponok. You want your Decepticons to look the part. It’s interesting how the Headmaster functions for Vorath, Grax and Monzo are “Trainer” as opposed to “Commander” and “Pilot” as seen on Autobot Headmasters. This is no doubt a reference to the Nebulons having to train their new animal/beast partners as opposed to piloting a vehicle. We are also probably expected to assume that the Autobot symbiosis is more harmonious than the Decepticon binary bonding.
In the above images you can see the Nebulon partners in robot mode, somewhat colour matched to their main bodies, and you can also see them attached to the robot bodies with the in-built mini-tech spec readouts on their chest activated thanks to the moulded teeth on the heads plugging into the main bodies. Notice also that the tech spec meter tumblers are purple for these guys as opposed to red for the Autobots. It’s all about the details! Instead of the segmented tumblers seen on Headmaster prototypes, the final production tech spec meter tumblers were solid. There is also a mini scale moulded into the plastic around the tech spec meter on the robot chests.
I had discovered recently to my surprise that many collectors cite Mindwipe as a favourite of the entire Headmasters era, although I am quite sure I completely ignored him as a child and as an adult collector. I do not remember even seeing him in stores, although he must have been present. His character in the Rebirth 3-parter was more interesting than any of the other Decepticon Headmasters with his power of mind control, and true to form, his name “Mindwipe” makes reference to the head/brain gimmick of the sub-line. Evaluating this figure now in light of picking up nearly all of the 1987 ‘Masters in one go, I can see the appeal and why he’s regarded highly. In Japan, Takara named Mindwipe simply “Wipe”, many a joke to be had when placing him next to the Takara version of Blot, called “Butt” on his collector’s card.
Mindwipe’s transformation is quite a good one, the step of rotating the arms and shoulders completely surprising me. The bat head is hidden in the canopy where Nebulon Vorath can ride when the main figure is in bat mode, and actually this is one of the more elegant solutions to hiding beast parts (or in the case of the Autobots, vehicle parts) in robot mode across any of the Headmasters since most just make do with large chunks of vehicle or animal hanging off the back of the robot. The retracting fists and fold-back wings just add to the tidy appearance of his robot mode, Mindwipe certainly winning more of the battle against kibble than most Headmasters if you don’t count the bat tail. His stickers are all intended to evoke the feeling of vents across his body, adding very much to the techno-organic look of the character. The moulded wings can be folded back as per instructions or left unfurled and spread out as per the brilliant box artwork, art that adds to Mindwipe’s mysterious and evil hypnotist persona. Something to be careful with when handling Mindwipe or buying a used one are the small black tabs on his arms used to retract his robot fists, more often than not you will find them snapped off.
Next up is the fabulous Skullcruncher, my first childhood Transformer that turned into an animal and not a vehicle of some sort. It must have taken something very special for me to forego a vehicle Transformer and pick up a beast, to this day I tend to shy away from beastformers in favour of vehicular forms. Maybe it was the delightful combination of green and purple or the menacing name (again, ‘Skull’ = head), but this ended up a childhood favourite of mine that survived very well to the present day. I am actually continually surprised by the number of Headmaster partners turning up for sale missing an arm, I never had any issue with my childhood Headmasters. Skullcruncher comes with Nebulon trainer “Grax”, the smaller robot featuring a large flap (as they all do) to cover up the large robot face when the Nebulon is in robot mode.
Skullcruncher has a simple but completely effective and classic G1 transformation, involving a tiny amount of partsforming. Remove the end of the tail, split the upper tail and fold down the legs, rotate the waist, fold back the alligator head, flip out the hands from the front paws and attach Grax. All incredibly clunky and satisfying, giving Skullcruncher a very well-proportioned robot mode, even if he does have a giant alligator head on his back. What’s always been fun for me with this figure is how Grax rides inside the jaw of Skullcruncher in alligator mode. The tail part then becomes his sword and he has an easy to lose handgun. Quite in contrast to the overall green, cream and purple theme, Grax has a gold face as Skullcruncher’s head and unpainted eyes that are actually part of the fold-down flap of the black helmet, just like Mindwipe and Weirdwolf. As a robot, Skullcruncher has very obvious and visible kibble in the form of the beast head down his back, paws under his wrists and the alligator tail halves around his lower legs. Normally this is considered unacceptable and typical of G1 engineering, and I say this not just as a huge fan of this figure and a lover of G1, but with Skullcruncher it just fits. It is acceptable, signature kibble that gives him his unique character and silhouette.
If Mindwipe and Skullcruncher battle closely for the title of favourite basic Decepticon Headmaster of 1987, then it’s left to poor Weirdwolf to be third favourite, and I can see why, although his stumpy charm has won me over. On the face of it he should be amazing with his gorgeous yellow, grey and navy blue colour scheme and a pretty menacing wolf mode featuring his sword as a tail. Add to that a lovely red canopy for Nebulon partner “Monzo” to ride in and it makes perfect sense why kids would have picked this figure up on the strength of the colour, alt mode and excellent box artwork back in 1987. Of all the 1987 bots I have picked up recently, I was looking forward to Weirdwolf and Slugslinger the most as I’d never really experienced them before. For all of you G1 veterans who have owned them all before, if someone offered you the chance to own a new vintage Headmaster you’d never had or seen, wouldn’t you be excited?
Transformation is definitely the weakest of the three Headmasters featured here, involving the folding back of the beast head, and the folding up of the beast rear to create an awkward hanging/hovering backpack along the whole of the robot’s back, something he’d really suffer for if joints wear loosen over time. The hind wolf legs fold up and remain visible behind the robot calves as the world’s biggest heel spurs. The proportions and position of the arms, shoulders, chest and robot head are a little off too, not quite as elegant as the others. Despite all of this, I feel as though Weirdwolf is one leg extension away from being brilliant, I could accept all of those foibles if he was the same height as Skullcruncher and Mindwipe. As it stands, though, he still has lovely colours, a really nice head sculpt for Headmaster Monzo as Weirdwolf’s head and the tail/sword idea is inspired. As with all the Headmaster characters, Weirdwolf would have enjoyed much more screen time in the Japanese Headmasters series than the insignificant appearances he was afforded in Rebirth. Yet, strangely, Monzo’s lackey gangster accent is one of the most abiding memories of those episodes for me. Finally, he seems to be the only one of the seven basic Autobt/Decepticon Headmasters whose name isn’t related to heads. I guess “Wolf-face” or “Howl-Head” didn’t get past the drawing board.
The affection that Transformers collectors have for the basic Decepticon Headmasters has endured every bit as well as that of the Autobot Headmasters, even if characters like Skullcruncher, Mindwipe and Weirdwolf have not enjoyed anywhere near the kind of limelight that Autobots have in IDW comic fiction. While it would be great to have their characters developed beyond simple Decepticon grunts in the way that Brainstorm and Chromedome have had theirs expanded, the shine of the figures themselves is very much in evidence today. Many of us are counting the days until a company like MakeToys reveal new and Masterpiece-style interpretations of these Headmasters, and FansProject continue to re-imagine these toys in their Function X line.
I believe it was a bold move for Hasbro to assign beast modes to some of the more signature and frontline Decepticon toys they had planned for 1987 where the Autobots received many more vehicular Transformers, but it paid off. The fact that Skullcruncher was a toy I chose over things like Brainstorm, Highbrow, Chromedome, Triggerhappy, Misfire and Slugslinger just goes to show that the appeal was there back in 1987, and still is now. Scorponok and the Headmaster Horrorcons took that appeal to a different level, and we will see that in a future chapter. Long live the Headmasters.
All the best