One thing Transformers fans are never shy of is a random fact or trivia tidbit to share.
Perhaps it’s no surprise given the four-decade span of the franchise, but there’s simply an incredible amount of minutiae to pick up from over the years; some of it fascinating and crucial and some of it entirely arbitrary or throwaway, but all of it thoroughly enjoyable.
So for today, here are 10 essential bits of random robots in disguise trivia, presented in no particular order or theme. Consider it the kind of stuff that might be useful for a Transformers pub quiz.
Be sure to check out part 1 in case you missed it!
#5: There was a lot of confusion about if the G1 Seacon Overbite was called Jawbreaker
The Transformers (Marvel UK) #152, artwork credit: Anderson/ Baskerville
Everyone knows the Seacons, right? There’s Big Man Piranacon, Tentakil (a good pun), (getting) Nautilator, Turtle Power… Depth Charge? Fish… Boy? OK, I swear I know the actual names. Still, they’re not exactly the most memorable examples, if only because the characters were never really fleshed out as individuals beyond just being men in fish. That said, one of the crew managed to create more confusion than the rest when making his debut in #152 of the Marvel UK comic. Yep, I’m talking about that chap fourth from the left, identified here as Jawbreaker but representing the 1988 toy known as Overbite!
This errant naming wasn’t a one-off situation, either. In fact, the character appeared using the name ‘Jawbreaker’ throughout his first several appearances in the comic, including that time he met Richard Branson (yes, you read that right!). This caused no little amount of confusion and led to a fair bit of speculation about which name was actually correct, including in the letters pages of the Transformers comic itself!
The Transformers (Marvel UK) #160, artwork credit: Sullivan
The situation continued through to late 1988, when the 1989 annual (for the coming year) even published a full-page character profile for the Seacon and identified him as ‘Jawbreaker’. The whole thing was compounded by him being correctly identified as Overbite in the USA material concurrently reprinted within the same comic! It led many to assume that the corresponding toy might have been released under such a name in different European markets (as did happen), but this wasn’t the case. The only real evidence of any naming contradiction could be glimpsed within Snaptrap’s instructions, where the combined mode section made a similar error. Otherwise, he was consistently known as Overbite across the board. So what happened?
We may have an answer thanks to a model sheet that more recently appeared on eBay and shows Bob Budiansky’s hand-written notes having crossed out ‘Overbite’ in favour of the name ‘Jawbreaker’. It’s worth knowing at this stage that Hasbro had already rejected the latter moniker for Grimlock several years before, so they likely vetoed this revision once again. However, this very same model sheet was the kind of document passed on to Simon Furman and others, thus creating the confusion discussed above.
For more on this situation in excellent detail, see this thread by TFW2005 member Nevermore.
#4: The Beast Machines Maximals were portrayed as not using guns in the cartoon, which led to controversy
Beast Machines was infamous for many aspects of its writing and production style. Still, one of the more unusual controversies it created was when story editor Bob Skir made online comments on the subject of guns. It’s rather apparent when watching the show that the Maximals don’t use traditional firearms and instead resort to more abstract attacks such as energy weapons and the like. This direction started with Hasbro stating this was the approach they were looking for, which synced up with Fox Kids’ tending to shy away from depicting guns in cartoons where it isn’t considered particularly ‘necessary’. As it happened, the story editors and Mainframe Entertainment agreed, and thus the decision was made to have the Maximals rely more on their ‘natural abilities and cunning’ rather than brute firepower, especially compared to the heavily-armed Vehicons.
However, the controversy was stoked when, on his own website, Bob wrote, “Our heroes use their wiles and resourcefulness, plus a few cool weapons. Guns? I’ve never been a fan of them myself, and do not write heroes who need them.” He also suggested that fans who want to see characters that use guns would be better off reading a Punisher comic. Unfortunately, this quote was interpreted as ‘real heroes don’t use guns’, which created a lot of adverse reactions from some corners of the fandom and further shoved the series into the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
Bob attempted to clarify his earlier comments by stating, “I personally would rather see heroes winning the day using their natural abilities and cunning than firepower. That’s my personal preference. …let’s just say that We (the writers), Fox, Hasbro, and Mainframe agreed to dis-arming our heroes, thus pitting them against a planet of heavily-armed villains which will push them to their very limits, making them all the more heroic for the victories that they achieve. I’m sorry if my personal approach/preferences disgusts/annoys/offends fans who like seeing heroes heavily armed. But for them, there are heroes who do need guns (such as the Punisher). Spider-Man doesn’t need guns. Neither does the Hulk. And neither do Optimus, Cheetor, Black Arachnia, et al.”
#3: Both Starscream and Shrapnel were portrayed as female in the French dub of the 1986 movie
Though female robots have become a staple part of the Transformers franchise in more recent times, this wasn’t always the case. In 1986, Arcee was the lone example in the notorious big-screen animated film of the time, which might explain why the creators of the French dub chose to expand the roster somewhat. Both Starscream and Shrapnel were gender-swapped and portrayed as female for this recording, with Starscream also being referred to by the female article “une” by Megatron and Shrapnel being called “Mademoiselle Shrapnel” by Kickback as they attack Autobot City.
In fact, both characters were voiced by the same actress, Marie Vergracht, who also brought Arcee to life. Interestingly, the previous French dubs for France and the separate production for Quebec had opted to make these characters male.
#2: The earliest Beast Wars concepts were inspired by Bio-Booster Armor Guyver
Bio-Booster Armor Guyver is a popular Japanese manga series that began in 1985 and is still ongoing. It features symbiotic bio-organic suits of armour that bond with human hosts and is famed for its insectoid designs and frequent body horror. It’s been hugely influential in many areas of sci-fi and toy design and directly impacted the aesthetic of many early Beast Wars toys before their release in 1996, with Hasbro subsidiary Kenner taking the series in such a vastly different direction to more traditional Transformers.
This all started when lead designer Chris Gross proposed supplanting the blocky robots of the past with Guyver-inspired “organic” machines, although attempts were also made to appeal to the franchise’s base simultaneously. The best evidence for this is a piece of surfaced concept artwork for the toy that would go on to become the Basic crocodile Megatron, where the outer beast mode ‘shell’ looks very similar to what we eventually got, but the inner robot parts are very obviously (and quite unashamedly) a Guyver design!
Ultimately the toys would continue to evolve in terms of their aesthetic, but that distinct ‘organic machine’ vibe remained.
#1: At one point, the G1 Optimus Prime toy was not planned to be released in Europe
Image credit: battlegrip.com
Everyone knows that the Transformers toy line began in 1984, right? Whilst that’s true for some of the world, Hasbro would only start exploring most European territories a year later, with plans to distribute their product via their newly-acquired subsidiary Milton Bradley, which was already set up throughout the continent. However, there was one big problem – a number of the toys had already been released in European territories by another company! Joustra, a subsidiary of French company Ceji, had acquired the licence directly from Takara to distribute Diaclone and Micro Change toys throughout France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, seemingly putting Milton Bradley in a put of a bind. It meant they were initially unable to release a number of the characters in the classic Transformers selection for fear of infringing upon Joustra’s licence, and incredibly, this included the rights to Optimus Prime. This, in turn, led to a greater focus on less prominent names than other territories and the character of Jetfire being initially branded as the Autobot Leader, which was also depicted in a pack-in comic available with the toys (although weirdly, Optimus Prime can be seen in the background!).
Transformers: Best of the Rarities (IDW), artwork credit: Kitson
Even more bizarre, a Dutch reprint of the Marvel comic gave Optimus Prime the name ‘Jetfire’, creating more confusion! Ultimately, it would be resolved, and Optimus Prime’s toy was eventually released with the second wave of Milton Bradley Transformers. The theory is that a financially-troubled Ceji signed over all their existing Diaclone and Micro Change stock to the company to be released in new packaging. Still, the comic of the time remains a real curiosity!
Transformers: Best of the Rarities (IDW), artwork credit: Kitson
For more on the Milton Bradley situation in excellent detail, see this article by 20th Century Toy Collector.
So that’s our list! Do you know any other good trivia?