The cinematic Transformers have made a lot of money – a LOT of money and while fans of the toy line, comic and classic 80s animated film fume over the use of Grimlock and deride all those lovely messy explosions there to fill in all the plot holes, characters and lack of script there is no denying the fact that they will keep making Transformers film in the same mould Michael Bay has done (in fact, since this was written they announced that follow-ups to last year’s enjoyable BumbleBee movie will include added “Bayhem”. Er. Hurray? Ed.).
But what about those forgot Robots of yesterday? Will they ever get a film? Well no of course not as most of them were crap but let’s have a look at them anyway
We will start with the obvious ‘rival’ to Transformers – the bulky and not quite as good Go-Bots. Produced by Bandi the Go-Bots were named Robo-Machines in Japan but as with Hasbro and its buying up of the Takara range of toys the figures in the Bandai range were altered, tweaked and repacked for a western audience. Distributed by Tonka (well known for their solid industrial vehicle toys) the Go-Bots first appeared in 1984 much to the disappointment of little boys everywhere that Christmas when they found their parents had bought them Leader 1 rather than Optimus Prime.
It was the usual good vs evil with a set of heroic Go-Bots led by Leader 1 (who turned into a jet-fighter…cool) fighting against the evil Cy-Kill (who could turn into a Motorbike…also cool). Each side had a moveable base (Guardian Command and the monkey like Zod) and a wide set of characters and add-ons. The other positive element was that a lot of the characters came into two sizes, the sort of pocket money/Star Wars figure size as well as a larger toy version – meaning you could battle your warring robotic armies in two different scales.
The Rock Lords were actually a spin-off from Go-Bots and actually beat their originators in some way by having their own animated movie made. The problem, of course, is that frankly, the Rock Lords are a bit rubbish – you see they can transform into rock. Yes… immobile pieces of geological mass that could be useful to transform and hide in if you are fighting in a desert but utterly impractical in any other environment other than that.
While both the Transformers and Go-Bots could move around as either cars, planes or even hovercraft the Rock Lords could change and sit impassively disguised as a boulder or a bit of cave-well or a geode and wait for a passerby to give them a push or something. The toys were pretty bad too – a semi-organic looking robot transformed into a piece of colourful rounded edged plastic. Even the transformations were poor… with no intricate parts, clever twists or moves they just unfolded and voila! A robot. Actually, let’s move on.
Yet another port across from a Japanese toy line the Micronauts hit the shelves in the late 1970s and was really an oddity when they first came out with no real coherent style in their character and the fact they were pushed to the sidelines by the Star Wars franchise toy lines.
Originally coming from a set of toys called Microman the original line was actually produced again by Takara and were released by Mego. The original characters launched in the west were the same size as the original Star Wars figures and featured unimaginative characters like Space Gilder, Time Traveller and Galactic warrior which frankly were a bit uninspiring. This underwhelming style continued with the moulds used to create these ‘heroic characters as the initial line-up all resembled the worst emo band in the world being all feeble, pale, emaciated and looked like they needed a good feed.
On the plus side, some of the toys magnetic jointed figures that could be re-arranged and combined together (such as the awesome horse/Baron Karza Centaur) really came to the fore of the geeky consciousness when Marvel released a comic series based on the toys.
Published in 1979 and written by Bill Mantlo the book gave a background to the characters, added a bit of meat to their bones (figuratively) and drew heavily from the Star Wars mythos. The heroic Micronauts were a rag-tag set of freedom fighters that fought an empire ruled by the evil Baron Karza. Set in the Mircoverse a sort of alternative reality that you could only get to via shrinking Mantlo gave backstories and characters to the toys line and added his own characters such as Bug as well as redefining cool looking characters like Acroyear and Biotron all of whom were great looking buildable toys but where played with up until that point with no context of who they were.
Were a film to be made of this franchise things could get a little tricky as Marvel and numerous other publishers own varying rights to the characters which have led to all sorts of disputes over what could or can be done with the Micronauts/Microns, however Hasbro has the rights to the Micronauts toy line so you never know.
Another Japanese toy line? Yes indeed – originally called Mechabonica these kit build robots were released by Tomy in the early 1980s but rose to prominence a little later thanks to a tie-in comic with Marvel that ran in parallel with the Transformers. Originally appearing in Secret Wars and eventually getting their own title in Spiderman and Zoids the Zoids themselves were robotic dinosaurs and wild animals whose eternal war on Zoidstar was based on colour – the blue originals being the good guys while the red Zoids were sort of the bad guys. The adventures of these warring mecha-dinosaurs are probably known for a few things Firstly that the toys were awesome – gigantic technical lego-looking robotic dinosaurs that were either wind up or battery powered.
Ranging from pocket money toys like the Raptor-like Hellrunners to the immense Zoidzilla, Red-Horn or Gore the robots themselves were really well designed and hugely entertaining that allowed you to take parts from other toys and do custom jobs amalgamating elements of certain toys together using the rubber cup-like screws. The other major thing that the Zoids were known for was that the actual comic was written by comic superstar Grant Morrison. Running for 51 issues between March 1986 and February 1987 the Zoids comic took the toys and created a world in which the battling robots live in an eternal struggle of war – and set up that a crew of a spaceship crash on the planet and have to survive the hostile environment and the Zoids themselves (a bit like Avatar I suppose).
Oddly the comic which featured quizzes, competitions and the usual kid-friendly bits and pieces ran a bizarre cross-over back up comic strip story with the early 1980s UK Saturday morning television show ‘Wide-a-Wake-club’ in which Peter Parker visited Tommy Boyd and co on-set to find a Skrull working for the show (but that’s another weird and wonderful article entirely)
The book was for its time quite dark and innovative – having a wry British-ness to it but obviously borrowing and copying from the blockbuster American films of the time the books premise of a rag-tag team of survivors (whose leader Captain Heller looked uncannily like Deckard from Blade Runner) trying to survive in a hostile environment was cliché but Morrison as with a lot of his work put his own unusual spin on things and of course was filled with some superb looking Zoids that would make a perfect transition to a film
Finally, we have Robotix – a lesser-known set of transforming giant robots that were released by American toy company Milton Bradley/MB (who were the creators of the awesome Hero Quest, Hungary Hippos and Crossfire). The Robotix toys were not actually figures but rather a construction set of bits that were filled with arm joints, claws, pincers, wheels, cogs and varying sized wind-up motors to allow you to make your own robots. Similar to something like technical lego or KNex the sets allowed you to be your own engineer and provided the ability to make numerous deviations and varied robots with all the kit bits.
As with the majority of the robotic styled creations of the time, the set came with its own cartoon show produced by Sunbow. The show was similar in style to the Zoids comic where a team of humans were stranded on a planet where the Robotix lived. Some humans sided with the more aggressive Terrakors while some teamed up with the Protectons and as is per usual fought each other every episode. The unique thing about the Robotix cartoon was that the machines were actually former people whose souls had been transferred into the huge automatons and combined with human pilots could change shape, extend, fly or have laser cannons appear out of nowhere. The reconfiguring nature of these robots could make a fantastic transition to a film, or even a TV show and while they may not be as well-known as the battling residents of Cybertron having a human element that doesn’t just work as eye candy or run about saying ‘no no no’ could be a saving grace for a live-action adaptation of this franchise.