Transformers from Cybertron, binary bonded to Nebulans of Nebulos! In 1988 the ‘Masters continued to come thick and fast with smaller Headmasters, smaller Targetmasters and the introduction of the Powermasters. Hasbro decided to integrate the ‘Masters gimmick even further into the Transformers concept by making the Nebulan activate the transformation of the bigger figure via the Powermaster ‘engine’. In addition to Hasbro’s 3 Powermaster cars and the return of Optimus Prime as a Powermaster, the Decepticons got 2 jets that combined (Darkwing and Dreadwind), as well as a double Powermaster in Doubledealer. This week we take a look at Powermaster Optimus Prime, Slapdash, Joyride and Getaway, the 1988 Autobot Powermasters.
Unlocking the power to transform was the key hook of the Powermasters, as well as supporting the general return to recognisable Earth-like vehicles seen with the 1988 Autobot Headmasters. Getaway, Joyride and Slapdash are clearly no longer pushing the post-Movie futuristic look of the 1986-1987 range, but they do continue the blocky and seemingly simpler design aesthetic of 1988. The boxes are still glorious digital sunburst on a grid background, featuring the peep window for the Powermasters with the addition of the neon-coloured electricity surrounding that window and the name/function bar signifying Powermaster energy. Simply put, the packaging is beautiful, and the artwork for the Autobot Powermasters is some of the strongest of the era. That Powermaster Prime box will be tugging on the nostalgia strings for many a collector, myself included.
The vehicles could all have the Powermasters attached with the beefed up engines, but also could be displayed effectively without them, simulating a more realistic Earth-based appearance with weapons mounted. At this stage there was no cartoon support for the Transformers characters, Marvel Comics carrying the torch exclusively. Of course in Japan, Takara used the same base moulds for their Super God Masterforce series, and the Powermaster concept was altered as the Headmaster Juniors were. Takara marketed them as Godmasters controlling Transtectors as opposed to being sentient Autobots/Decepticons bonded to Nebulans. The changes made to Powermaster Optimus Prime for Japanese God Ginrai release are well documented elsewhere of course.
The Powermaster engines are slightly different to the Headmasters, Targetmasters and junior versions of those. There is actually chrome on the Nebulan partners, but not on Optimus Prime’s partner “Hi-Q”. Again, Takara sorted that for God Ginrai in Japan, but I digress. From left to right we have Lube who bonds with Formula 1 car Slapdash, Hotwire who bonds with dune buggy Joyride and Rev who bonds with race car Getaway. These mini-figures plug into the obvious engine spaces on the vehicles, depressing certain buttons that allow large and specific sections of the main body to be moved, facilitating transformation. Of course you can just depress those buttons with your fingers and transform the figures anyway, without attaching the Powermaster partners. I adore the moulding on these Powermaster Nebulan mini-figures, I truly wish there were more of them. Takara did release a set of 3 Godmaster warriors without ‘Transtectors’ for the Japanese market, as they did with the six Headmaster heads.
Unlike the Targetmasters, but in line with Headmasters, all the Powermaster engines transform the same way, with the legs folding up the side, and plugging into the shoulders. Interestingly, Hi-Q is not just missing the chrome that is evident on the other three Hasbro Autobot releases, but also those circular pegs on the legs for shoulder tabbing. I always did find it a bit nerve-wracking to plug in and remove the Powermaster figures from the main toy body, and that hasn’t changed with the passing of the decades!
Let’s start with the returning leader, only the second ever transforming Optimus Prime toy to grace the Transformers toy line. For many of us, Powermaster Optimus Prime WAS our Autobot leader. I got mine for my birthday in 1988 from my brother, amidst a power cut, bizarrely. I missed out on the 1984 Optimus and its subsequent variations as I always tried to get figures my friends didn’t have, so I went Magnus. Anyway, this giant of the time was a more than happy substitute. The stunning packaging with its dynamic artwork features a signature Optimus cab, the Powermaster engine Hi-Q and the trailer. For the Hasbro release of this mould, and even compared to the first Optimus Prime, gone are larger sections of chrome, die cast metal, glass windows and rubber tyres.
As well as a classic Optimus Prime robot mode of quite decent quality and height, the cab can be folded up and plugged into the transformed trailer to make the Powermaster Optimus Prime super robot. Sure we’d had Metroplex, Scorponok, Fortress Maximus and combiners by this stage, but ‘PMOP’ was still a breathtaking sight for me in 1988. It is renowned for being a brick with highly limited articulation and a gigantic head that does nothing but detach and store in the back of the trailer, but there are many wonderful memories attached to this toy for many collectors. For others, it is a source of much resentment, signifying much of what is unattractive about this period of TFs for a portion of the fandom, and also for representing Hasbro’s cost-cutting when compared to Takara’s God Ginrai. Interesting to note that the smaller Prime figure here has a faux truck cab chest, one of – if not the – earliest examples of the concept.
There is also quite a cool base mode hidden in that block of a trailer, with ramps and Powermaster-manned cannons too! Hi-Q has a crotch tab that allows him to peg into the large double-barreled grey cannons. I do recall populating the base with Micromasters or Mini cars as a kid, and of course this precise play pattern is being used to great effect with the brand new Transformers Titans Return line, alongside the re-imagining of Powermaster Optimus Prime. I have pointed the lynch pin and guns as demonstrated on the PMOP packaging in the above photo. Prime himself can be placed right at the top of the base. Issues with this toy include breaking lynch pin pegs, severe yellowing and snapped smoke stacks. A fascinating insight into what could have been for Powermaster Optimus Prime can be seen in concept drawings where the toy was originally intended to be a Headmaster and a Targetmaster as well, the head coming off and transforming into Roller.
All things considered, Powermaster Optimus Prime makes a wonderful Autobot leader Transformer. I can’t even begin to regale you with tales of childhood adventures enhanced by the addition of a proper Optimus Prime figure, a base mode and the degree of enjoyment I derived from the various modes and configurations. As a child I think my biggest gripe with it was that the cab only had four wheels instead of six. I also never quite understood why he had red eyes. How nice is that smaller cab face sculpt, by the way? The transformation between modes is remarkably simple but very satisfying. The only scary part comes from the supremely tight ratchets on the trailer. The PMOP large figure will always exhibit the odd proportions, and I can certainly understand how the lack of rose-tinted nostalgia would colour one’s perception of the toy, but it remains a classic of vintage G1 for me.
Getaway is one of those later G1 figures I always ignored because it looked far too simplified, too blocky and resembled all of the toys I’d harshly classified as ‘duploformers’. My goodness, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had no idea how involved and interesting the transformation was, and just how lovely that vehicle mode was in person. The rotating waist, chest and spring-loaded head were completely unexpected. The delightful shoulder wings are a sight to behold in hand as well. Getaway and Rev share that beautiful burgundy, although it’s a shame so much of Getaway’s vehicle mode deco is sticker-based (windows) and susceptible to yellowing. As a result, it’s really hard to find mint specimens nowadays. For reference, the Japanese Masterforce equivalent of Getaway was called Lightfoot.
The prototype shown on the Getaway packaging seems to have much more red than burgundy on it. Escape artist Getaway has risen in popularity thanks to his feature role in IDW’s More Than Meets The Eye comics over the last few of years, and the upcoming Titans Return figure will undoubtedly be a favourite. Surprisingly, his Nebulan partner Rev is given zero characterisation on the tech spec, not even an ex-profession. Rev does look absolutely superb in engine mode attached to Getaway. Of the three Powermaster Autobot cars, Getaway has the best robot proportions and most attractive vehicle mode. His boxart is tremendous too. A superb figure by every measure.
Next up is dune buggy Joyride and his Nebulan Powermaster partner, the ex-car thief Hotwire. Differing from his artwork and box photography only slightly in colour (more pink than red limbs, yellow stickers not orange), we have maybe the weakest of the Powermaster figures. I had mistakenly, again, written this one off as a dull and ridiculous looking block only to be surprised on handling just how fun he is. Sure, Joyride won’t stand up well on anything but a solid surface, and he has the same one-piece lower leg assembly, but he actually has a fair amount going for him. The transformation has the same waist and chest rotation as Getaway, and a similarly spring-loaded head. However, the highly blocky arms and gigantic wheels hanging off the side do detract from the overall look. The head sculpt is quite nice, though, the only one of the Autobot Powermasters to have a humanoid face.
In vehicle mode, Joyride looks like great fun. The shiny paint on the headlights, the gigantic tyres that tease you into thinking there’s working suspension (there isn’t) and the bronze chrome of the Powermaster engine. In Japan, during the Super God Masterforce series, Joyride was recoloured into the mostly light grey/red exclusive Godmaster Ranger. The moulded springs, raised ride height and reflective headlights would no doubt have made this an enjoyable vehicle to have as a kid, but the robot mode really is bereft of dynamism or a truly recognisable feature beyond its colour. Having said that, it’s a figure I enjoy handling and just adds to my belief that there’s not a weak figure among the Autobot Powermasters.
Finally, it’s the weird and wonderful Slapdash. This unforgettable-looking yellow and blue F1 car and his unfortunately-named Nebulan partner Lube stand out from the other Powermaster cars. For a start, Slapdash is the only one to have separate accessories beyond just the handgun and Powermaster engine. The yellow engine and grey rear wing cover are detachable parts. Putting me very much in mind of the championship winning Renault F1 cars, Slapdash can be displayed with the shiny Powermaster engine attached (where you’d expect to find it exposed on a 70s/80s F1 car), or with the yellow engine block attached. The latter configuration allows one to mount the gun there pointing forwards as with the other Powermaster cars. When Lube is attached, the gun cannot be mounted there, so the yellow engine block can attach to the back of the rear wing and the gun stored there too (see earlier pics above). As with the others, Slapdash’s stickersheet brings out a fair amount more in the vehicle mode than without.
Almost the diametric opposite to Joyride, Slapdash has a very unique appearance as a robot. The Powermaster engine is front and centre, as it is with Optimus Prime, as opposed to hanging off the back or detached completely. The grey wing piece and yellow engine block are combined and attached at the back. Alternatively, you could attach the yellow engine block to his chest as shown on the box artwork and paperwork and have Lube separate. Slapdash has such a memorable look with his shoulder mounted rear wheels, the front wing as a waist plate and the blue/red robot head. In Japan, for Masterforce, Slapdash was unchanged but called Roadking instead.
His transformation is another special standout moment, being completely different from Joyride and Getaway’s shared concept. The rear of the vehicle basically folds out, leaving nothing but the base, and then both halves fold over to the other side and connect to make the main Slapdash silhouette. The shoulders and arms ratchet out appropriately, giving him his signature look. The feet are not particularly well defined but he gets away with it by dint of the flaring out of the lower body in robot mode. I just love those stickers on him as well, especially as I applied them myself from the vintage sheet mere minutes before this photoshoot! Slapdash’s tech spec is brilliant, too, describing him as a sloppy and negligent Autobot often at odds with his Nebulan partner, or just plain leaving him at home and being stuck in vehicle mode. Clearly this Powermaster concept was not thought out as well as it should have been!
While the Powermaster concept occasionally works out badly for Slapdash, as toys, these figures are some of my favourites now and I love the gimmick. Visually they are as diverse as we have come to expect from post-Movie Transformers sub lines. The packaging and Earth-based nature of the Powermaster Autobots means that they slot in very well next to the 1988 Autobot Headmasters and Targetmasters, if you’re not tremendously bothered by the scale of vintage G1 Transformers. They almost help create a second generation of Autobot Earth vehicles alongside the rest of the 1988 vehicle-based range. They also have an Optimus Prime to lead them.
The enjoyment I have been deriving from the 1987/1988 Headmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters and Monsterbots has been one key reason why I was so excited for the launch of Titans Return. The transformations, interchangeability of Nebulans, immediately accessible play value and diversity have really struck a chord with me. Powermaster Optimus Prime always had a place in my heart, but Getaway, Slapdash and Joyride have joined him there, winning me over with their qualities. I enjoyed the Japanese Masterforce cartoon a great deal, but I feel I’d get an even bigger thrill out of seeing these Powermasters/Godmasters take centre stage now with a better appreciation of the toys involved. Getaway’s looks, his and Joyride’s great transformation, the uniqueness of Slapdash and the magnificence of Optimus Prime all make me wish the Hasbro Powermaster range stretched far beyond just these four Autobots and the four superb Decepticon Powermasters (including Overlord). Despite the lack of a Sunbow Cartoon to support these figures, 1988 and the Powermasters shine brightly as a highlight in the vintage Transformers era.
All the best