Marching out from the mists of prehistory come the very first pieces in my collection. I recently decided to revisit the origins of my plastic robot habit and felt there was quite a bit I could unpack. So please indulge me as I (re)explore the first five years of my life with Transformers.
My collecting life began with Beast Wars and for what felt like a long time, that line formed the major backbone to my robot love. But now, twenty-plus years later, laying out all the figures I gained from those years feels slightly underwhelming. I'd pictured myself with loads of Beast Wars figures for years but really, between those formative five years, I'd only amassed about as many Transformers as I might bring home from a single weekend at TFNation now. To me however, this speaks volumes to how much more I would enjoy and value each singular piece at that age. So let's see exactly which golden memories shine out of those halcyon days before I passed the event horizon of Armada and would forevermore fall through the folding space of Transformers collecting towards some unknowable singular point...
Wave 1 - Christmas 1997
I'm not 100% certain my Transformers life begins on this year, but tracking back from more solid data leads me to believe the Christmas I received Beast Wars Waspinator was that of '97. Some sources say this was the first year of the line in the UK and that '96 represents its starting point in the US. For a time I'd been convinced '96 was when this happened but at that age I didn't understand that next year would be this year with 1 added to it because I couldn't count to 1997 so, I'll defer judgement here. Whatever the case, the initial push on this lifetime rollercoaster ride was a big green plastic wasp with bulging blue eyes that I would ask my dad to turn into that silly robot I'd seen on the telly. My most venerable copy of the figure still has super tight hips but both the clear missiles are long broken (half of one dangles from the shelf above my desk right now in a piece of tape. I don't really know why I've kept it). He's not the most bold or interesting or posable or even the best painted version of this mould but he is the one I ran buzzing around my nan's house, scaring my aunts and uncles with on that Christmas morning.
Wave 2 - 5th birthday 1998
The toy that really set the cart rolling from its starting line was Tarantulas who was the first thing I can remember asking for as a birthday present. Less than a month after Christmas I got another oversized creepy crawly, only this one freaked people out even more because it was the rough size and shape of an actual tarantula. On the day I got it, I brought it with me to the odd cabin shaped eatery I'd elected me and my dad would visit for lunch and the waitress at least pretended to be spooked by it. Excellent. Time to take it home and hang it from somewhere where it would make my mum jump. As far as looking after a figure goes I learned the hard way with Tarantulas after having to keep track of his four detachable legs/missiles. I'm pretty proud they're all present and correct but with the stress marks on the stalks they connect to, they'll never again be pulled off and used as ammunition for what is now strictly a grapple gun. I'm rather pleased the length of yellowing string emanating from his backside is all in one piece too as that web line feature was the one part of the figure I enjoyed most. And who doesn't like a good pair of those quintessential Beast Wars claw feet?
I'll mention Razorclaw here too as quite honestly, I can't remember anything about how I got him but he must have come along at some point during '98. At that time I'd often visit a friend who was quite frankly spoiled rotten by his mum and so had loads more Beast Wars than me. Razorclaw was one of his I was particularly smitten by and so simply had to find my own. A see-through blue craggy crab man with massive spikes hidden in one claw and a laser gun in the other. The absolute height of chitinous cool.
Wave 3 - Summer 1998
Now the wheels were rolling, I was fully prepared to make the most of '98's wealth of new Beast Wars offerings - in the sense of finding a couple more than usual to ask my dad for. One such newcomer was my first of the Fuzor subline, Airhammer. Spied in one of those metal baskets in Argos one fortuitous day, he came home with me and for only the briefest moment perplexed my young mind with his hammerhead shark/eagle hybrid stylings as I was more frustrated by how his arms transformed. My first Maximal, he'd be sorely outnumbered by all my previous Predacons but in actual fact, I don't think I ever made them fight like that. These days, his arms are loose and floppy and he might be getting a tinge yellowed but he's a cornerstone of heroism among my robot ranks.
His Fuzor nemesis in Quickstrike provides a similar scenario to Razorclaw. I knew I had him in '98 but I couldn't tell you how or when. I probably saw him at that same Argos. At this point my taste in insectoid exoskeletons must become clear as Quickstrike's scorpion body is supremely well realised. Couple this with the truly inspired move of making the tail the whole first half of a cobra and doing the whole thing up in a particularly Central American colour scheme, he screams "desert bandito". At the time I felt his characterisation in the show to be weirdly off but now I realise it couldn't have been more spot on.
Wave 4 - Christmas 1998
While I have very distinct memories of a Christmas full of then current Lost in Space merch - a wealth of which I'd be hard pressed to believe could have been mine on the same day as the following figures - all signs (and old photos) point to December 25th 1998 being all about Rampage. The biggest Beast Wars figure I would ever gain and the kind of prezzie to stand among the likes of my TIE fighter as simply too incredible to properly process at that age. I never could manage the tank mode, but having an even bigger crab provided quite enough excitement. Today I look at the figure as being particularly unwieldy, with nowhere to effectively stow any of the crab mode's eight appendages- and did he really need that little shotgun when he's already packing a functioning minigun? Either way, the shining, hulking, missile spewing Predacon would go down as one of those special things in my collection.
Testament to how Rampage overshadowed anything else at the time, it takes a feat of mental effort to remember he wasn't the only Transformer I got that Christmas. Well, I'm assuming that's the case - two separate photos exist of me unwrapping Spittor and Rampage in different rooms but I think those are the same Postman Pat pajamas I'm wearing in each... It ain't easy being a fashion icon. Spittor and Terrorsaur added to my growing horde of Basic figures, but compared to the living swiss army knife of Razorclaw they held less interest. So much so, that for roughly twenty years I'd forgotten Terrorsaur even had his piddly shooter til I found it and immediately put it in the box with all my other TF guns so it wouldn't disappear between the fibers of the carpet or some similarly microscopic crack in space. Spittor was always fun just for being a frog, but his amphibian prime is now behind him after the clear tab that secures his beast mode head snapped off. I think I've kept that in a bit of tape on this shelf too...
Wave 5 - 6th Birthday 1999
OK I'm totally spitballing here because I have no idea how the grinning driller killer Scavenger came into my possession, only that he was one of the last figures of the line I got and for reasons unknown, didn't see nearly as much play time as the rest. Thus I'll take a wild stab in the dark and say I got him for my 6th birthday? 1999 was pretty much a non-stop Phantom Menace based high for me so anything that wasn't Star Wars just doesn't seem to have been entered into my long term memory. As for Scavenger himself, I don't think I own a figure that exudes more of an aura of unhinged evil. His face is frozen in an almost beatific crazed smile. Huge curved horns adorn his head that have nothing to do with his ant alternate mode. The legs of which protrude from his arms to give him the silhouette of a gnarled dead tree. And he has blood red drills instead of hands. Add to all this the excellent proportions and articulation of his robot mode, the visible bones of his thighs through that candy red carapace, the veined underside of his big chrome abdomen shell and that metallic teal chest - and Scavenger is a sumptuous symphony of sin. Why they didn't give the spider transformer this Carnage-esque serial killer air, I have no idea but I'll happily take a giant ant that turns into a drill tank.
Wave 6 - Christmas 1999
Again, this occasion was mostly focused on all things Episode I but between my Obi Wan's lightsaber and set of droid starfighters, the now Christmas staple of Transformers weren't to be forgotten. Admittedly, after the previous year's Rampage (et al) I was a little disappointed by only a pair of Basic figures but I did enjoy the fact that for the first time I received a Maximal and a Predacon to face off against each other. Sonar and Scarem represent my only Transmetal 2 figures, despite how many times I might have dropped hints concerning Dinobot... My main memory attached to these two is playing with them while the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Movie played in the background and conjured up almost similarly metallic creatures on my TV screen. Scarem plays by the rulebook and provides another bug-based Predacon killing machine with scythes for hands and exquisite blue chrome while Sonar always played second fiddle to him due to her virtually impossible transformation. I still can't manage it without popping her legs off first. She was of course only my second Maximal but first female figure. Although I'm aware I've affected use of that gender in years since reading her wiki page, I don't recall ever attaching male pronouns to the figure in the past. She's just one of those designs that simply works as a girl - even if she doesn't really work as a bat. These two represent the end of my contemporaneous love for Beast Wars and with their awkward conversions, lack of articulation or accessories/play features and spare legs that could get lost for roughly a decade - I'd kind of already felt the prime of the line had passed. At least their chrome and spark crystals were cool.
Wave 7 - Christmas 2000/ 8th Birthday 2001
Parting ways with Beast Wars was somewhat embittering for 7-year-old me. My favourite toys were gone and replaced with a successor line that just didn't seem as good. To this day, these are all the Beast Machines figures I've accrued. No Vehicons. Nothing above Basic size. Without the show to propel any interest I might have been able to foster for the new line as it wasn't broadcast terrestrially, I was quite happy to not be a fan of Beast Machines. This didn't of course stop me from wanting some of the toys though. However this didn't really play out in the same way as in years previous.
I'd asked for the electronic Jetstorm I'd seen so many adverts about but... Dillo was the sterling effort which greeted me on Christmas morning of 2000. If I was even slightly disappointed with Sonar and Scarem the year before, I was almost distraught at the idea of this, this - lump being my Christmas present. Sure I had other presents, including my first means of self propelled transport in one of those fold-up scooters that were all the rage, but I still needed good toys! Dillo wasn't good. He didn't have a robot mode or even five points of articulation. Just a hidden missile launcher.
Luckily, my birthday bore better fruit with one of the figures I'd asked for for Christmas, Buzzsaw and the actually rather good oddity, Night Viper. The Waspinator parallels with Buzzsaw were clear but the figure didn't hit quite the same chord. For a start he's a Maximal? Admittedly, a much more realistic wasp, despite its futuristic techno-organic stylings, the robot mode was a little odd. I'll still stand by it as one of the best integrations of insect wings into a robot mode, but what is his right arm? It's just ...some legs... His left arm fares better being a wiggly spring stinger with a spark crystal inside but it's just sort of always dangling there. Gotta love those multiple red visor eyes though.
Night Viper would then come to stand out as my best Beast Machines figure. A snake mode would have always seemed to be some blend of impossible or boring when applied to a transforming toy, but Night Viper's cobra mode pulls it off. The fully jointed tail slides the full length of one of his legs through his pelvis to form his lower body. Insane. The snake head itself has a spring loaded snarling feature and the particular mix of metallic red and silver on the rounded and segmented surfaces of his body really makes for a futuristic look, even in the space year 2018. The robot mode's excellent articulation, lithe proportions and hidden blade make for a very unique figure - the likes of which I'd have been happy to receive more of but alas, this was it for Beast Machines for me. This was it for beasts in general...
Wave 8 - Christmas 2001/Spring 2002
With the silent departure of Beast Machines came the biggest change to my life with transforming robots - they now turned into cars! Initially I wasn't for these "Transformers" (you can read more of my thoughts on RID here) but Robots In Disguise still found its way into my life. The Spychanger duo of Ironhide and Mirage graced my "stocking" (actually more of a small sack) that Christmas and kept my collecting cart rolling along. I liked them, they were efficiently simple, but also the smallest figures. Such a lack of articulation was a bit of a blow after the abundance of ball-joints in the Beast Era but I figured, if they're cars they'd be clunkier robots than those made of animals anyway.
The year turned and while I was vaguely more aware of Transformers through the start of 2002, I didn't get my hands on any more until that seminal duo of Rollbar and Movor began to tip the scales. Found purely by chance at a now long defunct toy liquidation store, they opened my eyes to what transforming robots could be. Of course by all accounts a step backward from prior years' figures, (recycling G1 must have been odd for long time fans) without that knowledge of the past, to me they were incredibly fresh. They struck my imagination in a way that toys hadn't for quite some time and while they were almost painfully basic, did much to ready me for what 2002 was really going to be about... But that's a story for another time...
Wave EX - 199?
To say that RID provided me with my first ever vehicular expressions of Transformers would be a lie. At some point, possibly as early as '98, I visited my first local Collectormania fair. There in one huge plastic tub languished the ancient transforming robots of the distant shrouded past. I pulled out a small red helicopter and took a shine to it and was told by the vendor that it was "very old" and that I should look after it and be careful with it. It was alien to me but I did. I had no idea as to its age but it certainly seemed older than me. "It must have come from the 80's" I would think. It had all these red face badges stuck on it that seemed to mean something and its construction compared to my Beast Wars stuff was positively primitive. Why did its head fold down like that? Were these stickers supposed to be on it? What even was its name? I had no idea but the sense of a common ancestor to my new toys was clear. I handled it infrequently and gave it a pride of place in my room because it wasn't for playing with like all my other stuff, it was for looking after.
Fast-forward to 2003 and an issue of Dreamwave's More Than Meets The Eye Guidebooks I'd picked up with my latest issue of Armada features my very own mythical helicopter man on the very first page! It informs me his name is Blades and the other small red and white robot I'd picked up at a later Collectormania is his teammate First Aid. The strange joints in their torsos must be because they should combine with others to form this Defensor... The veil was parted but for what felt like the longest time I lived in total ignorance of the true nature of these two and somehow, that was its own kind of experience. It allowed me to apportion much greater value to these knackered old Protectobots than any collector might have done at the time. In the grand scheme of things it didn't really take me long to find out they were from 1986 but it's very likely they were only 1990 Classics reissues. Not exactly ancient. Add to this their yellowed plastic and faded stickers and I would start to view them in a different light. But to me, they represent so much about my very first discovery of capital T "Transformers" and the expansion of the nascent universe I was just starting to explore. So while you might only give me three quid for each of them if I was a stall at TFN, they're worth an immeasurable amount to me, infinitely more than any similarly beaten up junker I've ever foolishly parted with cash for.
In the end, each and every one of these figures is worth a king's ransom to me for being the ones that fill a particular little space in my life. A time when the prospect of even the most basic figure was the ultimate thrill, when the compunction to get more wasn't a monkey on my back. These twenty toys aren't my only childhood Transformers but they're the ones that occupied the pedestal before I knew to give it a good sweep and bolt a nameplate to it. They were just my toys that I loved because they were mine. Fruit of a simpler time. I haven't always given them their due, after all they're the figures I've had the longest to grow bored of if I'm going to grow bored of anything. But that doesn't change how they glimmer with a certain psychic light in my eyes only. I count myself lucky that I've still got them all - chances are you, dear reader, have long since parted ways with your first childhood Transformers but if not, just remember to dust them off every now and then and remind them they still mean something. 6-year-old you is still in there somewhere...
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