As a child of the 1980s - I only missed three and a half months of the decade - I grew up with cartoons and comics starring The Transformers. And as an adult, I've found myself returning to the shape-shifting robots in recent years, building a little display of, ahem, collectibles, which always make me cheery when I spy them across the room.
Yes, they're toys, I'm not in denial about that. And arguably, they're for kids, and I should have a word with myself. But what are most definitely aimed at people my age are these new Transformers crossover toys, featuring as they do characters based on some truly seminal 1980s movies.
Transformers is enjoying a renaissance, right now - not that the brand really ever went away, after its introduction in 1984 via toys, a television cartoon and Marvel's comics. The mainstream toys - the ones of famous characters like Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave - are the best they've ever been; Netflix's toys-tie-in War for Cybertron series, currently up to its middle-trilogy chapter of 'Earthrise', is actually fairly decent (check out the trailer, above); IDW continues to tell fantastic Transformers universe stories in comic form; and longer-term fans have mostly forgiven Michael Bay for those awful live-action movies, what with 2018's Bumblebee having cleansed the palate somewhat. (It begs the question: when are we getting a new video game worth celebrating, and might it be this one?)
And existing on the periphery of all of that, are these: collaborative products that take the converting play pattern of the Transformers and apply it to classic vehicles from 1980s cinema. Right now, I've two of these figures: the 2020-released Back to the Future-based Gigawatt, which flicks and clicks from that time-travelling movie's DMC DeLorean; and the new-for-2021 Ectotron, which folds down from robot mode into Ecto-1 from the Ghostbusters series (more specifically, the version of the car that's starring in this year's Ghostbusters: Afterlife).
Turning to the newest of these figures, and while none of us have seen Afterlife yet, with only a few trailers to tease our interest, the ambulance/hearse shape of Ecto-1 is unmistakable in Ectotron. It's a little scuffed up, a little rusty or maybe dirty (the minimal paint apps aren't entirely clear, there), but from its profile alone, you know this is the get-around-town vehicle of the Ghostbusters. The smaller details - the Ecto-1 license plate, the tatty Ghostbusters logo on the doors, all of that scientific junk on the roof - set the basic design off superbly; and if you didn't know better, in alt-mode, you might assume this was simply a toy car and a toy car alone, so neatly to all the robot parts tuck away.
But Ectotron very easily converts into a fairly chunky robot with a see-what-you're-doing-there name badge and shoulder pads for days - there's some twisting, some extending, and a few folds to handle, nothing complicated. The Proton Pack accessory is a bit of a fiddle, with rubbery connecting pipes more eager to ping off than stay in place, and there's some paint on a tab which has already chipped off, after only a couple of transformations. Look, Hasbro's designers: we love a little bit of detailing on these things, but don't put paint in a place where it's going to immediately rub off, yeah?
Ectotron comes packed with issue one of IDW's tie-in mini-series, 'Ghosts of Cybertron' - which messes around with the old-school Transformers-on-Earth origin story, as told in the 1980s cartoon and other media, by throwing a robotic Gozer the Destructor into the mix and making Starscream the story's own Ray Stantz. (What'd he think of? Come on, this 'con only ever thinks of himself, right?) The four original Ghostbusters are here, too, so while the toy's an Afterlife Ecto-1, the comic only has eyes for the 1980s model. There's also two small ghost figures included, to display with Ectotron - Slimer in his familiar green, and the blue Muncher, a newcomer for Afterlife.
Gigawatt is smaller than his ghosts-trapping colleague (well, I say colleague - Ecto is an Autobot and Giga a Decepticon, though neither wears an insignia) but for my money a better-looking 'bot. He has functioning gull-wing doors, 'Outatime' on his license plate, a Flux Capacitor that flips around to sit centrally on his chest, a Mr Fusion attachment and wheels that fold down (so you can have that Back to the Future II, flying DeLorean look), and a rather bendy lightning rod (so you can reenact the climax of the first film, if you want to). He's very grey with a little texturing going on - but, really, what more do you want from a sentient stainless-steel sports car?
Gigawatt's back story is also explored in an IDW comic, the four-issue 'Transformers/Back to the Future' (catchy title), but that isn't included with the toy. One kinda-easter-eggy feature of the packaging, though, is that the side-flap opens downwards to slide Gigawatt out - like Dr Brown's truck does, in Back to the Future. I'm not sure that's an intentional reference to the film, but I'm going with it anyway.
Speaking of the packaging on these two toys, both have 1980s-style tech specs on the back, and Ectotron's larger box finds room for the same artwork that adorned the original toy boxes, with a close-up of a mostly-toy-accurate Optimus Prime engaged in a space battle, alongside similarly toy-modelled depictions of Starscream, Soundwave Prowl, Bumblebee and Sunstreaker. This picture, right here. It gets me, as they say, right in the feels. (Do they still say that? You know what I mean.)
The Transformers x 1980s Cinema love-in doesn't end with these two toys, though - there's also Maverick, which is... Oh you already connected the dots. For the slow-pokes, the Collaborative Maverick is based on the F-14 Tomcat fighter jet from Top Gun, and its accessories include a volleyball for anyone who wants to play out the film's 'Playing With The Boys' scene. And, let's be honest, who doesn't.
Maverick released in 2020, and from 2021 is X-Spanse, which transforms into a Lockheed Blackbird stylised as the X-Jet from X-Men. X-Spanse comes with some very-Wolverine-like energy 'claws', as well as small figures of both said exceptionally hirsute X-Men posterboy and his nemesis, Sabretooth. Transformers reconnecting with Marvel like that makes an old fan like me very happy.
The Transformers Collaborative series - which further extends to a Ghostbusters-branded Optimus Prime (a Masterpiece-level toy, so, that's the big-bucks) and a previous version of Ectotron from 2019 - is a great entry point for anyone keen on scratching a nostalgic itch but not wanting to go all-in on actual characters from the 1980s. These new figures are great to both fiddle around with while on Zoom calls (trust me on that), and look marvellous on a shelf beside any other toy or movie memorabilia. They're not the best Transformers on sale right now - but they each fantastically represent the silver-screen vehicles they're based on, so even if you keep them in alt-mode only, they're certain to put a smile on your face.
Comic artwork courtesy of IDW Publishing/Hasbro. Unless otherwise stated, all photos by the author. Ectotron figure provided by Zavvi, and can be ordered here. Zavvi's full range of Transformers can be browsed here. Maverick figure provided by Hasbro Pulse. Gigawatt figure purchased by the author. Want more Transformers on GAMINGbible? Read about that time Optimus Prime and Megatron turned into games consoles.
Featured Image Credit: IDW Publishing, Hasbro
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