It’s fair to say that I’ve chosen some pretty exciting Generation 1 ‘bots for the Vintage View articles I’ve done so far. After all, how much better does it get than the Dinobots, followed by the double whammy of six-changing excellence that is Sixshot *and* Greatshot? I mean, why even pretend that I can top all of that, eh?
Fortunately, pretending is pretty high on the agenda for today, as when deciding what the next focus for this series might be, I concluded it should most definitely fall on one of the most maligned parts of the original Transformers toyline of all. Yes, Pretenders were precisely no-one’s favourite figures back in the day, but they’re more than due a fresh appraisal after all this time, and I for one am only too happy to oblige.
I say that about their historical reputation with a hint of hyperbole, of course, but even then it’s not stretching the truth too much to say they’re not exactly the most popular part of G1. That’s for many reasons, but chief amongst them is surely just that the very nature of the concept is somewhat bizarre: the idea of robots wrapped in fleshy outer shells is one that never quite sat right with some ‘purists’ who preferred the simpler earlier days when they just turned into cars and jets and left it at that.
Except, well, it was never really all that simple, was it? It’s true that the latter years of Transformers’ original run may have been heavily characterised by ever-increasing levels of gimmickry, but in truth such deviation from the norm was nothing new in terms of Takara’s output. In fact there’s since been unused concept artwork emerged for the original Diaclone versions of the Dinobots showing that they were at one stage imagined with fleshy outer animalistic shells, much like the Pretender Beasts that we will also be looking at another day.
Perhaps some of the grumbles related to the generally fragile nature of the Pretender toys, too. After all, it’s very difficult to find second-hand copies of them these days without obvious evidence of severe paint wear or often quite extreme degradation over time. The outer shells are of course the worst part for this, frequently looking like they have quite literally been in a war when you see them up for sale online, although in truth they still often fair a little better than a lot of the Diaclone hand-me-down examples from earlier years, in my experience.
I’ve heard lots of chatter about the lack of articulation on the shells over the decades, too, so perhaps this is another reason that they’re frequently thought of as somehow less magnificent that other mid-80s examples from the toyline. It’s true that the outer armour typically boasts just one point of articulation at each shoulder and that’s your lot, making them rather brick-like by any metric. Still, given how nicely-painted they are and also considering that the Transformers of yore weren’t exactly known for their extreme levels of posability, I can’t say this is a criticism that’s even been close to my mind, personally.
Then there’s the part of Pretenders which could well be one of the most divisive – the inner robots themselves. A far cry from the often bulkier or more complex humanoid forms found on more ‘traditional’ Transformers toys, they perhaps understandably feel like a bit of a departure from what the line had tried to do previously, and often fall foul of fan opinion as a result. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that a lot of people will often cite the Pretenders robots as some of their least favourite for this very reason.
I can understand a lot of that criticism myself, to be honest, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the perceived differences on the one or two Pretender toys I had as a kid. They do definitely feel a lot more simplified versus your typical Transformer, with distinctly less alternate form bits & bobs present, and not to mention some very straightforward transformations as a result.
The alternate forms themselves are often a source of disappointment too. Again, it’s not entirely unfair, as a lot of the critiques do stack up even when assessing these things through a nostalgic lens. In fact it’s really only been in more recent years that I have come to appreciate this line for all its worth!
But here’s the thing – despite everything, there’s still absolutely tons to love about the Pretender line, too. It’s super creative and really turns the core concept of Transformers on its head in many ways, but it also excels in a number of areas that more traditional Transformers sometimes don’t. I’d also add that some of the criticisms levelled at the toys can even be turned around and shown as true strengths, at least in some cases.
So really, it’s about time to start giving these toys the accolades they deserve, especially as, and I don’t say this lightly, they’re still *the best* takes on these unique characters we’ve ever seen in toy form. Seriously, with no Masterpiece, third party or Generations-proper updates (bar a quasi-nod in the Power of the Primes line), the 1988 to ’89 crew remain untouched in every sense. It’ll be fascinating to see them given new life at some point (surely it’s inevitable, right?) but for now, they remain a real oddity of the line that’s never been brought back better.
So, how about we take a look at each example in turn, giving them all the focus they deserve? And where better to start than with Cloudburst, who for many is kind of the poster boy of the Pretenders line. After all, he’s one of the more recognisable toys and also one of the characters who was given the biggest focus as part of the 1980s’ Marvel comics storyline.
He’s also entirely typical for the range in its first year, with the Autobots especially fitting to a particular form of “chunky human in space suit”. The shell itself is a real beauty as it goes, and represents the kind of thing that I definitely appreciate a lot more as an adult than I ever would have during my youth.
After all, the finish is quite spectacular all over, despite how careful you really do need to be with it. I made great pains to ensure that I had truly mint copies as part of my collection, which certainly wasn’t easy in some cases, but the result is one that I really couldn’t be happier with. The red and grey colour scheme looks fabulous already, but the thick paint on offer certainly adds something to the look here.
That’s particularly true on the face, with Cloudburst sporting a traditionally-handsome appeal, typified by those big brown eyes and almost Superman-esque quiff. He really does resemble your classic square-jawed action man-type hero come to life, in many ways.
Of course, like all of the Autobot Pretenders from 1988, Cloudburst does also come with a hat of sorts, which I suppose completes the spacesuit look, for what it’s worth. Here’s the thing though, I never use them on my copies! Sacrilege, I know, but they always have a habit of looking a little… dorky, for my tastes. It’s compounded a bit by the helmet not really clipping into place particularly well, so it never feels like it’s very stable or sitting flush. Honestly, I prefer the look without.
Then there’s the even more important fact that you will scuff or wear away the paint over time if you use the hats, without question. As great as it looks, that paint is simply not up to the repeated rubbing that comes from applying them again and again, and having made the effort to acquire these lads in pristine form, I’d much rather they stay that way! So we’re a no-hat household, as far as Pretender shells go, I’m afraid!
In terms of other accessories there’s also his blue belt (which has the added benefit of making sure the shell stays clipped together securely by tabbing over the sides) and a pair of weapons. The belt is another area where paint rub is all but guaranteed, sadly, but given it came attached to the toy in the box and has a more functional purpose, I’m ok with that!
As for the weapons, they both peg securely into his moulded hands and really complete the look here. His whip is often the subject of a lot of smirking online, but really it shows that the designers were willing to get as creative as possible with their approach to these toys.
It’s also worth mentioning the stickers, as the sheet includes examples for both the inner robot and the outer shell. The decals included are of a semi-transparent nature and, at least in my opinion, look a little lacklustre when applied as the vibrant colours end up being muted. The same is true on all the first year Pretenders, including the Beasts and Vehicles even. Again, it might be a point of contention for some collectors, but I opted for a repro set from Toyhax as they’re more opaque and I think look way better overall. In Cloudburst’s case they’ve done a full ‘upgrade’ set, including a lot of extra labels that they’ve designed themselves, but I opted to only use the ones that recreate the classic decals included with the toy itself, and I’m very happy with the result.
Remove the belt and clip open the shell and you will of course find the real Cloudburst figure folded up slightly inside. Unlike some of the variations on the Pretender concept, the classic Autobot trio are very easy to fit in their shells as it’s a simple matter of folding the arms backwards and popping them in.
The core concept of Pretenders was advertised at the time as you getting two toys in one, and whilst I do still think that’s stretching it just a tad, there’s little doubt that it’s a lot of fun to see both parts of this figure lined up next to one another.
It may still be a bizarre idea for the Transformers line, even after all these years, but there really is something about the concept that appeals to me somehow, and Cloudburst is a good demonstration of why that is more than most. There’s a visual appeal here, despite the obvious departure from everything the toyline had tried to do previously.
As for the robot itself? Well, as I say, I can appreciate where a lot of those criticisms come from, of course, but looking at this guy with fresh eyes after all these years has been a bit of a revelation for me in many ways.
For starters, he’s quite remarkably articulated for the time. Now, articulation is not typically a metric I give much of a stuff about in regards G1 toys, but still I will appreciate it as and when it occurs. What’s worth mentioning here is that although Cloudburst may lack a lot of what is considered essential by modern standards, he easily outclasses most of his contemporaries. In fact he’s arguably even more impressive than the Action Masters line, which touted posability as one of its major benefits when it was launched in 1990.
Really, all he’s lacking is an elbow bend of some kind, to the point where I think that extra joint would have made these toys a bit of a revelation for the Transformers toyline as a whole. It’s a shame it didn’t happen, but I still appreciate what we got.
Besides, the real appeal here is the look, and whilst he may be different to a lot of other Transformers toys, I still think Cloudburst is a handsome devil all the same. The proportions of the robot mode are a little unusual too, with a larger head than we might expect on a typical figure from the franchise, but overall I think it works.
I also love that headsculpt, with the dark blue face proving very striking against the vibrant red body on the whole. My copy is again wearing the Toyhax labels on the inner robot, which I maintain do wonders for making the colours sing.
One thing that’s also really fun about Cloudburst in particular is the fact that you can pop out his vehicle wings on his back for robot form, which can only be classified as serving up a look!
Overall then, it may be a relatively simple affair but I’ve definitely come to appreciate this inner robot mode a lot more than I had done previously, and it’s certainly helped by seeing it in such nice condition with the opaque labels present. Lovely.
Transformation to jet form is as simple as the reputation states, with the result being fairly obvious as a folded up robot on the whole. Those legs are perhaps the biggest offender in that regard, although the head just turning around to face the floor isn’t really fooling anyone either!
Still, as much as it may be very basic, there’s something to like about the jet mode too, especially with the main blaster clipped in under the nosecone. If anything it sort of reminds me of the fold-up nature of the Jumpstarters, although a tiny bit more involved along the way.
And yes, it may not be the sleekest thing you’ve ever seen, but still it’s a bit of fun on the whole. I remember as a kid being somewhat perplexed by the comic storyline where Cloudburst transforms and then has his outer shell ride inside his cockpit, but a healthy dollop of imagination is perhaps required at entry to this subline anyway.
Looking at Cloudburst in a line-up of other toys from the time, he definitely fits in better with a lot of the latter-year examples. Stylistically, he compares well to stuff like the Autobot clones or even the Headmasters, and probably represents one of the ‘purest’ attempts at a Cybertronian-style alternate form that you’ll find.
In robot mode it’s a similar story, with his very nature being best served alongside other toys from the 1987-’89 era. Something about the chunky aesthetic works well enough, to my eye.
It’s funny how I always think back on the Pretender inner robots as being relatively small, but then compare Cloudburst to stuff like Action Masters and you’ll note they’re actually larger than you might think. He comes up about head height with one of the Turbomaster cars, for example.
Of course, the shell is a fair bit larger, and together it’s not hard to see why they represent a bit of a quirk in the Transformers line for a lot of people. Still, I think there’s something about the look that really works in a larger line-up of G1 Transformers toys, all the same.
Yes, it may be a bit ‘out there’, but I always enjoyed seeing so many mixed-up teams being represented in those Marvel comics adventures, so in many ways the oddity of it all works well for me. You’ll always spot a Pretender in a line-up, let’s put it that way.
And whilst stuff like Micromasters may be more beloved overall, I really do believe that Pretenders are due just as much affection today. They swing into the concept quite unapologetically and definitely manage to bring something a bit different to your display.
It may well be true that they’re stylistically very different from the popular earlier toys from the Transformers line, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to love here too. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to see that Cloudburst worked with a 1984-’85 team better than expected, in many regards.
Ultimately whether you love them or hate them, Pretenders are just another idiosyncratic part of the early days of the Transformers line. There were some very weird and wonderful concepts along the way, but this is definitely one of the more memorable!
Next time we’ll be looking at another member of the initial 1988 line-up of Pretenders, so if you’ve been feeling like maybe these toys weren’t all that good for some reason then I hope today’s example has helped to burst that bubble a little, if nothing else.