THE VINTAGE VIEW #15: Generation 1 Pretender Submarauder

Despite hints in that direction, it remains incredible Pretenders have never made a full-scale authentic resurgence in the Transformers franchise.

Sure, it’s been talked about, and yes, these characters have popped up in various other formats by this point. Yet we’ve never seen anything quite like the classic delights of the 1987-88 era, as evidenced by the toys we’ve looked at in previous Vintage View entries.

All of which brings us to the last main entry of the first wave of these magnificent toys, and one that I remember very distinctly from childhood – it’s the fish-themed dweller of the deep Submaruader (known as Gilmer in Takara’s Masterforce line)! And let me tell you, they don’t make them like this any more, as in many ways, it’s the perfect encapsulation of what makes the G1 Pretenders so fantastic in some collectors’ eyes and yet so critiqued by others.

First, the shell is everything you could want from the concept. It’s monsterish and memorable in all the right ways and was a huge part of the distinct shift towards beast-like forms for many of the Decepticons around this late eighties period (a theme which can still be seen in areas such as the live-action movies, in a way). Submarauder is a giant sea creature, complete with gills, fins and whatever else you might imagine being present on such a nightmarish prospect.

He’s also rocking one of the all-time great Generation 1 colour palettes, essentially the template of classic Decepticon hues with a heady mix of teal, blue, hot pink, green, grey and yellow highlights. You would find some variety of this specific set of shades on a huge number of bad guy robots from the time, including the likes of Sixshot, Wingspan & Pounce, Slugslinger, Dreadwind, Doubledealer and many more. Still, Submarauder remains a highlight for being one of only a few to encompass all the colours simultaneously (alongside his 1988 fish-themed brethren, Piranacon).

Yet the hues employed are just part of what makes this aquatic adversary so appealing, as the sculpting work and moulded detail are also second to none. We’ve discussed this on previous Pretenders, but truly, there’s something so defined and intricate about Submaruader’s shell that it stands out even amongst the fine work of these early specimens. It all adds up to a look which feels entirely separate from anything Transformers had done before but now seems quintessentially part of the line in retrospect.

Again, there’s a lot about Pretenders that is no doubt easier to appreciate in the rearview (and with a healthy dose of nostalgia employed even then). They were heavily controversial on release, and it’s not hard to understand why. Yet, it seems the whole concept has undergone a collective collector renaissance in recent times. It’s as though so many of us bemused by them during the ’80s suddenly woke up one day and decided they were alright, actually.

And honestly, that resurgence in popularity is entirely earned and quite logical. Where a lot of vintage toys feel surprisingly simple when you return to them all these years later, it makes sense to me that the elaborate detailing and plentifully painted finishes on Pretender shells would appeal to collectors looking to reappraise the wares of their youth with the fresh perspective of what’s now suitable for their shelves. Sure, they may have their limitations, but in terms of presentation alone, these figures are second to none!

Besides, it’s not like Submaruader here doesn’t feature some play value to complement his good looks! As with other Pretenders, he’s sporting a natty belt (although here, let’s be honest, it’s more akin to a pair of Speedos if anything, which I suppose is perilously on theme), except in this case, it’s simply clipped at the front, similar to what we saw on Bomb Burst. It means the pants belt can be left in place when the shell is split open, so there’s no worry about paint wear, too.

Then there are the various other accessories on offer because what’s a warrior without weapons, eh? In Submarauder’s case, he’s rocking a fair arsenal, featuring more add-ons than any other Pretender release we’ve looked at thus far on account of the superb shield that can be either held in hand or plugged into the side of his arm.

That’s a terrific accompaniment to the sizeable sword which can be pegged in the shells’ hands, even if prying open the statically moulded but soft plastic fingers is a little nerve-wracking! Still, it looks superb once in place, and hey, at least it’s not going anywhere.

Finally, Submarauder can hold his robot mode blaster, and although it’s not quite the snug and steady fit you might find on more traditional Transformers toys, I at least found it to be the most secure of the three Decepticon Pretenders we’ve looked at thus far. Interestingly, this gun is a single piece and not made up of two combined weapons, as found on both Skullgrin and Bomb Burst.

It makes for a superb package overall and one that looks especially striking in a display. The combo of sculpt, detail, finish and accessories is one that honestly rivals the best of what this era of vintage toys has to offer, in my humble opinion, and represents a truly nostlagic voyage for anyone like me who owned this figure during childhood.

Naturally, that’s half the tale here, as you can easily crack open the scaley shell to reveal the real Submarauder lurking inside. Again, when we talk about new interpretations of these toys, it’s this very specific take on the Pretender gimmick that I don’t believe has ever been bettered. The sheer tactile elegance of how the outer casing pops open is hard to best, after all!

The robot form carries a similar colour scheme, as you might expect, but the primary hues are inverted for a more dominant pink with teal accents. It helps to separate the two whilst still keeping them on the theme and looks great overall.

As with my other Pretenders, I’ve opted for a set of fresh Toyhax decals on Submarauder over the vintage stickers which remain on the sheet for my copy. Some may think this is blasphemy, but honestly, the opaque repros are far superior to the semi-transparent finish of the genuine alternative and help to make the colours pop much more.

In any case, something about the look of Submarauder’s inner robot just works for me. Sure, it may have the same fairly non-descript and skinny aesthetic found on the other Pretenders’ true forms. Still, I appreciate the almost unencumbered ‘Cybertronian’ feel to it all, and there’s enough detail to make it all come together nicely.

If nothing else, that head sculpt is one for the ages, boasting an instantly classic and well-defined face underneath a typical G1-style helmet, complete with signature touches of the era, such as the ‘ear muffs’ and prominent head crest. I particularly like the asymmetrical line across the middle, which we also saw on 1988’s Autobot Powermaster Slapdash, in a weird stylistic design signature of sorts.

Submarauder may not be chock full of articulation, but at least you can move the arms quite freely at the shoulders, and the head can turn at the neck, so that’s something. Anyway, he looks suitably imposing after equipping him with his huge blaster, taking care of the worryingly tiny peg when placing it in his hand!

Additionally, you can clip the shell’s shield onto his rear as a sizeable and very attractive backpack in a neat touch. It gives enough options to allow for some imaginative play value and, again, makes Submarauder just a smidge more interactive than his two Decepticon contemporaries.

Speaking of interactivity, the journey to alternate mode is certainly not a complicated one, employing a highly traditional transformation scheme in terms of Pretender inner robots. It largely relies on moving the arms and folding up the legs to approximate a vehicle and can be achieved in mere seconds. It’s unlikely to convince anyone who looks on these latter years of Generation 1 with some disdain, but it leaves a fairly fitting submarine-type form all the same.

As with Bomb Burst and Skullgrin, the cracks are just about papered over by the addition of the weapon, which pegs into the rear of Submarauder’s robot head and helps to fill out the vehicular mode somewhat. There’s little doubt it still looks like an extreme yoga pose, but at least the gun placement aids in distracting from that a little.

That said, there’s no doubt the hands and feet remain all too present here, as does the face, which is entirely unobstructed and in full view when clocking this submersible from underneath as you (presumably) swish it around making water noises. It’s easy to see why many collectors were unimpressed by such a solution at the time and why these inner robots have been frequently clocked as ‘inferior’ Transformers ever since.

Still, whilst it’s definitely on the more simple side of things, I maintain there’s a sort of effortless charm to this kind of fare. Sure, you’d expect a modern re-do to make greater considerations with hiding the humanoid appendages, but given it’s just one part of an overall package and the shell is arguably the main draw here in many ways, I’m inclined to be a little forgiving, truth be told.

Besides, no part of me can feel too critical when viewing the various Pretender robots lined up as an ensemble. Yeah, they may be a major departure from the toys that preceded them, and sure, they’re scrawny as anything, but still, there’s an allure here that truthfully feels quite unique, even in almost forty years of Transformers.

I believe a lot of the appeal is down to the superbly Cybertronian styling, as though these ‘bots captured the very essence of what Transformers might look like on their native homeworld somehow. Ultimately, that’s up for interpretation, I suppose, but no doubt they retain a presence and style all of their own and feel like an integral part of a Generation 1 lineup as a result.

That’s especially true when stood face-to-face against their Autobot counterparts, with the whole show seeming so… weird and alienesque that I cannot help but love it. Given the inherent play pattern here and the supreme fun factor it allows, it amazes me now to consider these weren’t favoured toys during my childhood years. Still, they’ve come majorly into favour with me since, so it’s great to make up for lost time!

Naturally, there’s a similar buzz from seeing the three first-wave Decepticon shells together, their colour schemes and styles instantly making them feel like a uniform team despite their obvious differences. In many ways, Submarauder is the MVP here, tying together both Skullgrin and Bomb Burst by using different elements of their palettes whilst providing something entirely new along the way.

Without him, it would be a lot of hues, off-whites and (admittedly pretty) pinks, but that shocking dash of teal and green, along with the supreme orange highlights, is what truly sets this team off in terms of colour. That’s to say nothing of the ghoulish nature of the designs themselves: there’s no missing these three in the middle of a Decepticon display, even if the overall hues are so uniform of the era.

All in all, Submarauder is another sheer delight when it comes to wave 1 of Pretenders, ably completing this roster with style and aplomb. It’s not surprising to see why these toys aren’t for everyone, even now, but despite that, there can be little doubt they’ve never been surpassed in terms of what they are and how they deliver it.

We’ll be back for more Pretenders before too long!

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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