#678: Robots


Long-time readers know that mikeladano.com started as a site about music, but has grown beyond that.  Mike Ladano (that’s me) is passionate about music, but that’s not all.  You may have noticed that in addition to collecting rare Japanese import CDs with bonus tracks, I also like to collect tape decks and cars and trucks and planes that transform into robots.

The music/Transformers connection is pretty solid.  First there was a Bruce Springsteen-like character who debuted in the Marvel comic series.  Then, Stan Bush and Weird Al Yankovic contributed tunes to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.  (Weird Al’s song was “Dare to Be Stupid”, and you should certainly know Stan Bush’s songs “The Touch” and “Dare”.)  Two decades later, Linkin Park had the lead single from 2007’s Transformers.  In fact, Linkin Park have songs in all five Transformers “Bayverse” films.  Some members are so deep into the ‘bots that they even have their own Transformers action figure.  In 2013, Hasbro released a limited edition golden Linkin Park Soundwave figure designed by Joseph Hahn!

I should state for the record, because this really cheeses off a lot of Transformers fans:  I hated the old cartoon.  It was too kiddie, with nonsensical plots and characterisations.  The Marvel Transformers comic series, originally written by Bob Budiansky and later Simon Furman, was grittier and geared to older kids.  It ran 80 issues, from 1986 to 1991.  It was better than the Sunbow cartoon, and the Michael Bay movies too for that matter.

I “stopped playing with toys” around 1987, but still collected the comics for another year.  The Transformers toyline and comic were officially cancelled in the early 90s, but even that was short-lived.  Much like Optimus Prime himself, the toys wouldn’t stay dead for long.

1993 saw the debut of Transformers: Generation 2.  This consisted of a rebooted toyline with old and new toys, and a new Marvel comic continuing the storyline of the original.  While in Frankenmuth, Michigan I picked up issue #1 of the comic, in a special fold-out cover.  Unfortunately, the new G2 comic was adapted to the 90s: Big guns, and grittier action.  Meanwhile the toys were increasingly designed with kids in mind.  They sported bright colours and gimmicky play features, like squirting water.  Around the same time, while checking garage sales with buddy Peter, I ran across a massive stash of original mint condition Transformers comics that I was missing.  50 cents a piece!  I was back collecting the comics once again.

I regret that I didn’t buy any Generation 2 toys.  Some of them, including “Laser Rod” Optimus Prime, were really quite excellent.  I thought I “shouldn’t” be buying toys at my age.

When did that all go out the window?  In 2006 I quit the Record Store and started at Aecon Industrial.  I was teamed up with a fantastic lady named Julie in their Quality Assurance department, and she showed me the ropes.  She was also responsible for getting me back into transforming toys.

We had a little office to work out of, and on the shelf was a small black Beast Wars toy.  Beast Wars was a 90s incarnation of Transformers, a complete reboot after the commercial failure of Generation 2.  This time, a new cast of characters featured robots that turned into life-like animals, on a flashy new computer animated TV show.  Julie brought in a small Beast Wars toy that belonged to a nephew.  It was a bull of some kind, and when we needed a break we’d fiddle with it.  That’s what started it up again.  I remembered how fun those little toys were.  Like 3D puzzles that you solved by twisting and turning parts around into new formations.

I made a trip over to Toys R Us to see what they had:  Star Wars Transformers!  These were famous vehicles from the Star Wars movies that transformed into robot likenesses of their drivers.  There was a Vader/TIE, a Luke/X-Wing and many more to collect. Unfortunately they were not very good toys.  The whole concept was dicey from the start.  Darth Vader flies a TIE Fighter that transforms into a giant robotic Darth?  That never made a lot of sense, but the toys were just not good.  They were flimsy and the robot modes often had giant wings and spaceship parts hanging off the back.

A couple years later, things changed again.  Hasbro realized there was a massive market out there for old men buying nostalgia toys.  They began issuing new versions of old classic characters from the 80s, and that was all I needed to jump back in with both feet.  You could even buy “Encore” reissues for some of the original figures from 1984, ’85 and ’86!  Therefore, for just a few bucks you could get a brand new replica of the original Optimus Prime, with only a few minor changes (smaller smokestacks so kids won’t poke an eye out).

I buy both Encore reissues, and brand new iterations of old characters.  The new toys satisfy a lot of the wants of collectors today.  Unlike the old ones from the 80s, they have better articulation.  Elbows, knees and ankles all move so you can put your toys in the most action-packed poses.  But they’re not perfect.  They come with fewer accessories and sometimes lack the gimmicks of their 80s counterparts.  Materials are cheaper today, and toys are sometimes misassembled or defective right out of the package.  Design flaws and bad QA are a constant issue.  Toys are made so hastily that some can’t even transform properly like they’re shown on the packaging.

Sounds like Hasbro needs a full-time play-tester.  I’m available.



  1. You’re never too old to collect toys. One of the service users I work with is in his late forties and he has several bags of Star Wars and other film and TV related figures.


  2. If you ever do a solo album write a track called ‘Robots’…
    I can already say it will be better than that Frehley slop track “Dolls”..Gah!


  3. As you know, I dig these posts, man… I don’t collect or have any intention to, but I find the Transformer toys incredibly interesting.

    As for the old cartoon, I loved that. I bought the videos a good 15 years ago and while I’d agree it was a bit mental, I think that was part of its charm?

    The movies, though… oooft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose the cartoons had charm. But imagine a 13 year old kid who loves the comics. And then he turns on the TV to see, “ME GRIMLOCK! ME NOT STUPID!” My sister and I had constant fights about how Grimlock talks! LOL

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Another thing I liked better about the comic book. They got it across better that these were living robots. Even though Optimus “died” in the cartoon, it was never really a convincing death because in the cartoon, they could just build more transformers from scratch. Where is the life?

          In the Marvel comics they came up with the idea of the Matrix, which is a computer program that can instill life into mechanical beings. Only a Prime can possess the Matrix, but the Decepticons of course figure out how to use it to make new reinforcements before the Autobots….

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Those bloody Decepticons!!

          It certainly makes sense that you couldn’t just rebuild prime (or any robot), cause there’s no ‘spark’… it’d be just a robot that functions. Those dudes had souls!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Unfortunately the comics were a little inconsistent at times. Optimus dies — he always does. But he can’t be repaired and do his body is launched into space. Later on there was a brand new Optimus toy so they had to bring him back. We discover that there was a copy if Optimus’ mind and memories made in issue #24. On a human’s 5.5″ floppy disc! And they use that to bring him back.

    Optimus. On a floppy disc.


      1. I have ’em too. And the Vader Death Star. Could never get all the bloody pieces to click in and make a perfect sphere


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