Legacy is shaping into an intriguing toyline, isn’t it?
After all, we already have influences from across the Transformers spectrum, including figures homaging the Unicron Trilogy and TF: Prime, amongst others, and that’s to say nothing of the universe-spanning Wreckers line-up too.
Yet it seems we’re now heading back to where it all began and mining some of the oft-forgotten depths of Generation 1, as lo and behold, there are Deluxe Insecticons on the horizon.
Perhaps this little-known subgroup of characters was inevitable to be revisited at some point down the road, given the stones being unturned in the Generations line at present. However, I equally wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d simply been resigned to history, given what absolute Z-listers they are. That’s not me knocking them, you understand – I adore the toy designs and think it’s fantastic they’re being considered for a modern re-do – but they’re hardly on the tip of anyone’s tongue when it comes to potential character choices, are they?
So, who are the Deluxe Insecticons anyway, and what makes them such an intriguing prospect for a Legacy revival?
Released in 1985, the Deluxe Insecticons were the second set of bug-based bad guys alongside the more well-known crew made famous in the accompanying Sunbow cartoon. In comparison to their comrades, however, the Deluxe line-up went largely under the radar, never making it into animation and only very briefly appearing in a UK-exclusive story of the Marvel comic at the time (where they were immediately killed off!). Undoubtedly, their lack of fictional presence has kept them from becoming franchise mainstays in the same manner as their black and purple namesakes, yet even this harkens back to their strange toy origins.
Before they were released in Transformers, all four Deluxe Insecitcon designs hailed from a line called Armored Insect Battalion Beetras, released by Japanese outfit, Takatoku. The company had already made a name by releasing the popular Macross toys series in 1982 to accompany the anime series of the same name. However, they had sadly struggled to replicate that success with subsequent lines.
After Macross, there was Special Armored Battalion Dorvack, which included the designs that would become known as Roadbuster and Whirl in Transformers. However, bankruptcy was not far behind, with the company faltering just as the Beetras line was being released.
Events took a turn in the road from here, as all of Takatoku’s designs were ultimately bought by Japanese toy manufacturing giant Bandai. By this point, Transformers had quickly become an overnight success in Western markets, and Hasbro was desperate for fresh robot designs to complement their supply of recycled Diaclone and Micro Change toys and keep up with demand! Bandai had limited USA presence at the time, so agreed to licence a number of their newly-acquired designs to Hasbro, including Roadbuster, Whirl, the Macross 1/55 VF-1S Super Valkyrie that would become known as Jetfire and, of course, the Deluxe Insecticons.
The toys themselves bore little resemblance to the regular Insecticons (which began life as the evil Waruders in Takara’s Diaclone line). However, they did go through a surprisingly colourful makeover whilst being prepared for release in Transformers, abandoning their comparatively drab Beetras colours for much more eye-catching fare, well away from even the typical Decepticon palette. Curiously though, they still appeared in their pre-Transformers in at least one catalogue from the time, perhaps indicating how quickly the production process was.
Additionally, three of the Deluxe Insecticons can be clearly seen in the 1985 mural featured on the back of Transformers packaging. However, again, they appear to be sporting their Beetras colour schemes. Ransack’s absence here is of particular note, although there may be a reason for that, which we will come to shortly.
Sadly, they’re also quite fragile specimens, prone to a variety of paint wear and all sporting precarious limbs, antennae and, in some cases, translucent plastic wings. It makes them an interesting prospect for vintage collectors today, and I feel it has surely contributed to their mystique as time has gone on, purely because pristine copies are a relative rarity.
First up, we have Venom, who, according to his tech spec, is the group leader (although it doesn’t specify if that means he’s in command of all the Insecticons or just the Deluxe variety). This design was known as Beet-Zeguna under Takatoku, but was given a bold new green and orange colour scheme for Transformers that quickly sets him apart from many of his comrades.
Venom transforms into a cicada (ironically, a peaceful insect by nature) and features a unique head design and an unusual painted pattern over much of his body. He ranks as one of the more distinctive Decepticons overall, despite his lesser-known status.
Next, we have Chop Shop, who is arguably one of the more memorable amongst the group, if only because of those protruding mandibles making quite the silhouette in robot form! His brown paint also makes him stand out somewhat, although sadly, it is prone to chipping if you’re not careful.
Chop Shop converts into a stag beetle and has the honour of being one of the more articulated insect modes found anywhere in early-day Transformers, with all six legs independently poseable on ball joints. His Beetras name was Beet-Gugal.
The group’s third member is Barrage, who again looks distinct for wearing that vibrant yellow and green colour scheme (especially considering the Beetras version was dark grey and reddish-brown). Barrage boasts hands down one of the most articulated robot forms throughout Generation 1, arguably just lacking joints at the elbows and a head swivel. He’s also exceptionally fragile, with those small antennae especially prone to damage.
Known as Beet-Gadol originally, the mould continues to be poseable in its rhinoceros beetle alternate mode, with six fully poseable legs and a pair of moveable wings! The transformation is quite something too, making this one of the more unusual experiences of vintage G1 for collectors.
Finally, we come to Ransack, who, as I mentioned, was notoriously absent from the 1985 packaging artwork. That may well be because Beet-Vadam was the final planned figure in the Beetras line-up and was scheduled for release when Takatoku was going bankrupt. In fact, it is widely believed that the toy was never released at all (which may indicate that the Transformers artist didn’t have a copy in hand to work with), with only a prototype ever existing in the original green and grey colour scheme. However, some scarce retail specimens have come to light since then, showing that the toy potentially made it to shelves in one form or another after all.
In any case, it was not until Transformers that the mould was more widely used, although sadly, in my experience, it is the most delicate of the entire squad! My first copy of this toy all but crumbled on me, with various joints simply not being up to snuff and the plastic wearing away inside the toy. It’s a shame, although if you can find a mint copy, I would say it’s certainly worth it, with both robot and locust modes proving to be real showstoppers in hand.
Still, despite being fantastic designs, this insectoid troupe of toys was relegated to Transformers obscurity ever since. Again, their lack of exposure in media at the time didn’t help, despite this being a direct result of the licensing deal with Bandai. Given the toys couldn’t be released in Japan by Takara, it effectively ruled them out from being featured in the shared Sunbow cartoon supporting both companies’ respective toylines (which is also why Jetfire underwent such a transformation into the character now known as Skyfire).
They have since popped up in more modern comics, including efforts from Dreamwave and IDW, but still, I’d wager they remain relative no-names as far as your average Transformers fan is concerned.
Image credit: storiesfromthetoyshelf.com
Could Legacy be about to change that and give the Deluxe Insecticons the franchise fortune they’ve been robbed of for almost four decades? Either way, it’s great fun to think they’re getting new toy releases at long last.