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Heard the one about the globally massive 1980s kids brand - which spanned cartoons and comics, toys and countless pieces of merchandise - that used its much-hyped debut motion picture to wipe out its most popular characters? An action that led to children crying in cinemas, and a raft of angry letters to its makers from parents? Yep, it's a whopper, alright - and the name of that whopper was Transformers.
Transformers today is still a massive brand. There are numerous TV shows, toy lines, video games (my personal favourites being Platinum's Transformers: Devastation and High Moon Studios' brace of War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron), clothing items and so much more, based on the shape-shifting robots from outer space. And it all started in 1984: first with toys, and then with a Marvel comic, and then a TV cartoon. Said cartoon was wildly popular, and in 1986 it moved from the small screen and into multiplexes in the shape of The Transformers: The Movie, starring a wealth of then-big-name actors (including Orson Welles, no less) and featuring a very-80s rock soundtrack.
Now, in the first act of this movie, a whole lot happens. The action's fast-forwarded 20 years, with the war between the Autobots (ostensibly the good ones) and the Decepticons (basically, but not always, the bad guys) having rather escalated. Things are getting desperate for the Autobots, but they've a plan - and to enact it, they need to journey from their base on a moon orbiting their home planet, Cybertron, to an Earth-based city that produces the energy they need.
Inside ten minutes, the Autobots that make the trip - all of whom were major characters in the TV show - have been wasted (and I mean wasted, like, dead, in pieces), and kids of the time were immediately on edge. Because if Ironhide and Ratchet - both characters that reemerged in the live-action movie series of the 21st century - could buy it, horrifically, their faces belching smoke and their insides ablaze, then nobody was safe in this widescreen new world of The Transformers.
And so it proved, with Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots and basically the mouth-plated face of the entire Transformers brand, being killed mere minutes later. Just as in the live-action films, he faces off with Decepticon leader Megatron in an epic tussle set to suitably heroic music - but in this instance, the encounter proves fatal. Surrounded by Autobots introduced for the movie - the new toys to replace the old ones, of the characters being killed off - Optimus Prime loses consciousness and, as he dies, all the colour in his body fades to dull greys and coal black. Cue: kids absolutely losing it, and those very angry parents.
That was 1986. Now, in 2020, the kids who watched The Transformers: The Movie are all grown up, and some of them (by which I mean: some of us) still collect toys based on their 1980s favourites. And into that market has arrived something that 80s kids will have had many a dream and nightmare about: the very-dead, very-grey, very-lifeless version of Optimus Prime who bought it in Autobot City, Earth, some time in the year 2005.
I cannot believe this thing exists - to torture me, to remind me of the pain I felt inside when a legitimate hero of my childhood was torn away from me, so cruelly and heartlessly, by a toy company that needed to refresh its range of products. The sensible adult in me gets it, understands why they did it, why they killed Prime. But goddamn, Hasbro. It hurt. And NGL, it still does. Having this beercan-high reminder of an early memorable sadness just staring at me, dead-eyed, from the other end of my desk right now is quite the mood.
For those that need to know such things: this battered-of-head, scarred-of-hide take on Optimus Prime is sold by its manufacturers, Hasbro, as Alternate Universe Optimus Prime, and it's an Amazon exclusive product in the USA (retailers in other territories will vary). Which I guess makes some sense, as there is a 'Dead Universe' in certain strains of Transformers fiction. But come on, we all know what this really is. It's a corpse. A shell. A fallen, faded hero that we can reanimate with our sweaty little fingers and thumbs to rise from the dead and take his revenge against Megatron. Or Galvatron, I guess. Whatever. Even the box it comes in is designed to evoke Prime's chest as his life leaves it, with grieving Autobots reflected in his titty windows.
Alternate Universe OP is a repaint and slight 'retool' - the back of his head is swapped out for a part that better represents his broken form of the '86 film, while the front is painted with cracks - of the widely available, traditional red-and-blue-hued 'Earthrise' Optimus Prime, which is very much available in all good toy stores right now (and, if I may be so bold, is both a very good and very affordable Optimus Prime that Transformers fans of the 1980s might want to treat themselves to). He comes with the Matrix of Leadership, for you to pass on to some other Transformer, forget their name; a blaster, which folds up for better storage; and with his trailer, which magically vanished in the cartoon but here just sort of... hangs around, being a trailer. You can open it up and lay him out on it, and make him play dead, if that's your thing. And obviously, if you get this, that is your thing.
And again: I cannot believe that there is a dead Optimus Prime, in my house, right now. I've enough of these toys to maintain a connection with the 1980s cartoon and the comics, too (come speak to me about the Wreckers, sometime), but this is a special kind of figure - a legitimate outburst of eyes-swelling emotion, hard to process at such a young age, shaped into textured plastic and metal pins and served to an adult who is immediately snapped back to seeing this icon of the late 20th century breathe his last. (Do Transformers breathe? You know what I mean.) Sure, I can change the fella into a truck, roll him around for a bit, and then my eyes don't meet his and it's kind of okay and I can kind of hold it together... But even in his cab mode, this is still Dead Prime. Dead good, but Dead Prime.
A thousand words on a toy based on a toy based on a character that died in a movie that came out 34 years ago. That's what this is, what you've read. And you, too, can have a Dead Prime to call your own now, should you wish it. A Dead Prime truly cannot die, I guess - and in that respect, this figure's existence can finally bring relief to children whose hearts were squeezed so hard and so unexpectedly, way back when. Do not grieve: soon, you too can come to terms with the scars that an animated motion picture left upon your fledgling soul, by manhandling a physical embodiment of that moment. Maybe.
Thanks to Hasbro for sending over Alternate Universe Optimus Prime for us to play with, and get real sad over. Stateside readers can find him on Amazon right now. Readers elsewhere? You're likely to need a little Energon, and a lot of luck.
Featured Image Credit: Sunbow Productions, Hasbro
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