2014 has come and gone, and what a glorious year it has been. The Thrilling 30th year of Transformers has seen a fourth live-action Transformers movie with more POW and kaboom than Warpath’s vocabulary, while the comics have continued to impress with ongoing series and miniseries which are all united by being some of the best written and most fun Transformers comics we have ever enjoyed. The toyline continues onward, of course, with Hasbro adopting an overtly “something for everyone” approach with the introduction of One Step Changers and Power Battlers alongside the traditional larger Generations toys.
Meanwhile in the fandom, Botcon celebrated its 20th year, and TFcon expanded into the US with TFcon Chicago… Two big events dominated the Transformers scene in 2014 – the 30th anniversary, and the fourth live action movie, the Age of Extinction. Like Revenge of the Fallen before it, Age of Extinction descended on the year like a vast, predatory bird (that caused many, many explosions in its wake) and completely dominated the year, at least in the public consciousness as far as Transformers went.
Transformers: Age of Extinction trailer
Age of Extinction was something of a soft reboot for the movie franchise, jettisoning the previous human cast and many of the robots. Gone was the human / Autobot alliance – this was a world where the Decepticons were hunted by a black ops group, and the Autobots had allegedly been granted amnesty, provided that they remained out of sight. But, the black ops unit, Cemetery Wind, and its director Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) were secretly hunting down the Autobots too with the aid of a Cybertronian bounty hunter, Lockdown. Hunted, the Autobots once more had to become robots in disguise in order to evade their hunters.
Into this story entered Cade, a struggling father, played by Mark Wahlberg, his daughter (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend who drives (Jack Reynor). This new human cast provided a new perspective on the story, and while Sam may have been teamed up with Bumblebee from that fateful day at Bobby Bolivia’s used car lot, Cade brought a junk truck that just so happened to be Optimus Prime himself. Revived, Optimus Prime set out to defend his new friends and to claim bloody vengeance on those who were hunting and killing his fellow Autobots. We really wish we were kidding about that last part.
Clocking in at three hours long, Transformers Age of Extinction was the longest live-action Transformers movie yet. While the film was wall-to-wall action, with very few quiet moments, it was criticised for having many cringe-worthy moments with its human cast (such as the Romeo and Juliet law scene) and for being extremely bloated in its running time. The “big” event of the movie that was in all the trailers, the Dinobots, almost felt like an afterthought given how late they turn up and how little they are then involved in the story (even though it was cool seeing them in action on the big screen).
On the positive side, the robots themselves got more screentime, with the three new additions to the Autobots, Drift, Crosshairs, and Hound, all getting enough time to flesh them out as characters – particularly Crosshairs and Hound, who established themselves in the film’s running time as great characters and we will be looking forward to seeing them again. In addition to Lockdown, who was one of the most threatening villains to grace the live action movies, we had Galvatron – voiced by Frank Welker, giving us the classic Optimus and Megatron voices facing off on the big screen. Galvatron was Megatron reborn, and escaped at the end, so we’ll hopefully see more of him in the next installment. Galvatron had an arrmy of human-made Transformers including the Stinger, a Bumblebee clone, who transformed by “morphing”, irking some fans, though it was a cool visual. Hopefully this element of Galvatron will not carry over to the next movie, though.
Most controversial was the revision of Optimus Prime’s character. This was a Prime angry at the senseless murder of his friends to obtain more of the base metal that Transformers were made from. This was Optimus at his most action-movie, a far cry from the noble figure of old. This was an Optimus who did not shy away from gunning down the human antagonist who was behind all of that pain. Debates rage as to how justified Optimus’ actions were, but in truth, Optimus’ entire character throughout Transformers Age of Extinction was off-kilter from his traditional depiction. To quote former Hasbro Transformers brand team leader, Aaron Archer, when asked about Optimus Prime in the movie series, “it was a tragedy, the direction they decided to take that character”.
Transformers: Age of Extinction Generations Toys
Like every previous movie, Transformers Age of Extinction was accompanied by a toyline. The toyline for Age of Extinction embodied a new direction, by what was a new Hasbro Transformers brand team at this point. The toyline went with the idea of having simpler toys for younger ages, with the more complex stuff marketed to the older audiences. Hence, the line introduced a new series called One Step Changers, which transformed in one motion, and their larger brothers Flip and Change, which as the name implied could change when a particular motion was used. Power Battlers, which were a return of the basic idea behind the old Fast Action Battlers from the first two movie toylines, and lastly the “Movie Generations” which were the more complicated toys fans came to know and expect. The biggest toy of the line was Stomp and Chomp Grimlock, a gigantic one-step transforming version of the Dinobot, which interacted with the smaller One Step Changers when they were placed on the back of his dinosaur mode.
Notably, there was no Cyberverse line released for the new movie, outside of some Legion class toys which were a Walmart exclusive. There were side lines, naturally, with gimmicky toys like Dino Spark figures which had Dinobots with riders who could be set against each other in a form of jousting, and the Titan figures kept the large, plastic versions of the Transformers going. More interesting were the things we did not get, which had been leaked in a Hasbro product list in November 2013. These included a series of talking Titan figures, for which the voice studio even posted a video of the recording session – but alas, they never saw the light of day save a couple as K-Mart exclusives. The Dino Spark figures were to have additional waves, including Lockdown riding on the back of one of his Steeljaw wolves, and the Walmart Legion class toys were to have a second assortment with characters like Hound represented – again though, these exist only as entries on a list, so we as a fandom have no way of knowing how far these ideas went.
The Age of Extinction Generations line, though, was a different matter, delivering all but one of the major characters of the movie in either Deluxe, Voyager, or Leader class. These figures were largely well received, although even though they were marketed as being “more complex” the majority were actually fairly simple, both in transformation and in articulation. A welcome addition, for those who liked posing their toys, were the presence of sockets to attach display stands to the figures, in order to post them in jumping or flying poses. Less welcome was a general lack of paint applications on some toys, such as Crosshairs.
Japan also got the Age of Extinction toyline, releasing the Generations subline under the name “Movie Advanced”, and supplemented the line with some redecos and retools of earlier movie toys, such as the long-requested 2007 Movie Payload toy getting a remold as the Mountain Dew vending machine ‘bot, and the Audi Sideways getting a remold and retool to become the Autobot Dino from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Both Hasbro and Takara-Tomy also released alternate decos of the Dinobots to represent their on-screen appearances – Takara-Tomy with their “Black Knight” versions, and Hasbro with a Platinum Edition giftset of “Dinobots Unleashed”. Japan also got a couple of unique molds, such as the Battle Command Optimus Prime, who was designed to interact with the One Step Changers, plus a retool of the leader class Optimus Prime as “Armor Knight Optimus Prime” – an extensive remold which was to the original leader class as the Revenge of the Fallen Buster Optimus Prime was to the first Revenge of the Fallen leader. The Japanese market exclusives were capped with a redeco of the new Camaro Bumblebee as the Stinger – the one character not represented in the US line – in January 2015.
Just some of the Transformers Generations “Thrilling 30” toys released in 2014
The other main event of 2014 was the 30th anniversary of Transformers, and like the 25th anniversary before it, the celebration mainly took the form of a celebratory toyline updating characters from across the franchise. The Generations line had been carrying the “thrilling 30” branding since 2013, but 2014 saw it take a big step forward. The line offered a true celebration of the many eras and factions of Transformers – from the Vehicons of Beast Machines with Tankor, to Sky-Byte from Robots in Disguise, to Rhinox, Rattrap and Waspinator representing the Beast Wars. Even the origins of Transformers had a stealthy reference in the line with Crosscut, who was based on the Diaclone version of Skids.
The Thrilling 30 line also offered a number of fan-pleasing releases. Stickers made a comeback with the release of Roadbuster and Whirl, two toys who were exceptionally close updates of their Generation 1 toys who had been licensed from Takatoku. Fans of female characters had three great releases to celebrate – first, there was the fan-built bot, Windblade. Windblade’s name, backstory, gender, alternate mode and weapons had all been decided based on a series of fan votes in 2013, and 2014 saw her toy released – a toy that was noticeably higher-budget than her wavemates. Windblade was followed up by the release of Chromia, one of the first female characters introduced to the franchise, and a Generation 1 style Arcee – who, after 28 years, finally got the toy everyone had wished for. Unfortunately Arcee and Chromia were an end-of-line assortment, which meant that this pair have to date proven hard to get.
The Generations line also offered one major Leader class release, in the form of a new Jetfire. The new Jetfire combined the animation model robot design of Skyfire with the alternate mode of the Generation 1 Jetfire toy, delivering a great fan-pleasing centrepiece to the 30th anniversary celebration Generations line.
Not to be left behind, Takara-Tomy continued with releases in their own Generations line, offering many of the Hasbro releases, before launching a new version of the line under the name “Transformers Legends” later in 2014. Both the Japanese Generations line and the Legends line offered a selection of what Hasbro has been releasing, with tweaked decos usually intended to be closer to animation color layouts. Debate rages in some cases if it is a good thing, or if it really justifies the higher import costs.
A number of sidelines were also released throughout 2014, including the Transformers Hero Mashers line. Building off the Marvel Superheroes Hero Mashers, the Transformers Hero Mashers offered non-transforming versions of the Autobots and Decepticons from throughout the franchise, who could be mixed and matched (or “mashed up”) to provide custom robot modes. The Transformers Construct Bots also continued, offering new sets based on Transformers Age of Extinction. The Age of Extinction Construct Bots included Construct Bots versions of the Dinobots, along with smaller “Dinobot Riders” to ride on them. There were also larger figures of the main Autobots and Decepticons, who came with Dinobot sidekicks that could combine with the main figures to provide armor and weapons. Lastly. Kre-O continued, although it was now relegated to a Toys R Us exclusive line. The line also shifted away from offering kits that could be assembled as robots or vehicles and instead started to push the Kreons, with the larger sets mainly being playsets or vehicles, in the vein of Lego.
Masterpiece Ultra Magnus, Wheeljack, Bumblebee and Generation 2 Sideswipe – just some of Takara-Tomy’s 2014 Masterpiece series releases
The Masterpiece Transformers line continued to blast forward throughout 2014. In Japan early on there were a pair of redecos, Soundblaster who came with new mold Ratbat, and a Generation 2 version of Sideswipe. As the year progressed they would be joined by three new releases, Wheeljack, Bumblebee (with an exo-suit Daniel) and Ultra Magnus. The latter three were all extremely well received, and were some of the very best releases to have come out of the line to date. In Asia there was news of a second release of a Masterpiece Megatron, one done in a shiny golden finish – rumors persist that a yet-to-be-announced Megatron version 2 will be the 25th numbered release in the line. In the US, the Masterpieces also continued to arrive via Hasbro’s partnership with Toys R Us, and we saw a re-release of Masterpiece Grimlock, along with a US version of Masterpiece Sunstorm and Masterpiece Prowl.
Looking ahead, 2015’s Masterpiece releases will include Exhaust, the “Marlboor” Wheeljack variant who has provided controversy after controversy, first by his inclusion in the main numbering of the Masterpiece series even though he has never before been released in the Transformers line (he originates from Diaclone), then because of a cease & desist sent to US online retailers asking them not to carry the figure, because of his close resemblance to the trade dress of Marlboro cigarettes. MP-24 will follow as Masterpiece Star Saber, the Cybertron commander from Transformers Victory, who again caused some outcry from purists who felt that the main Masterpiece series should not include the latter Japanese characters, as their designs deviate from the currently perceived “core aesthetic” in the Masterpiece line. In Asia, a Masterpiece Skywarp based on the MP-11 Starscream mold is set to be released, which will finally complete the Seeker trio from the updated Starscream design. And then there is MP-25, who has yet to be announced, but if you follow the rumors, it may be Ironhide. Or Ratchet. Maybe Mirage? (in all seriousness, there was a period when a different rumor or theory would spring up every week, the most popular of which is a new Megatron, but nothing substantiates this, yet)
Transformers: Dark Cybertron Part 12 Cover
On the comics front, 2014 saw the finale of Transformers: Regeneration One. Simon Furman wrapped up the last arc of the series by resolving plot threads involving the Underbase and Jhiaxus, before hitting the final issue and unmasking the real architect of much of the chaos witnessed in the series. The ending, much like the series itself, left fans divided, and it provided a very bleak ending to the original Marvel Generation 1 continuity. It almost certainly also knocked Beast Wars out of this particular series’ timeline.
In the main comic series, Dark Cybertron reached a truly shocking finale, and resolved one of the IDW continuity’s longest running threads – the 13 Ores Shockwave had seeded across the galaxy. Out of Dark Cybertron, the two ongoing series – Robots in Disguise and More than Meets the Eye – forged ahead in new directions.
Robots in Disguise kicked off post-Dark Cybertron with a mission to Earth led by Optimus Prime in search of Alpha Trion. Unfortunately, the Decepticons, now led by Galvatron, had made it there first and were working with the humans! The ripples of Dark Cybertron’s finale continued to be felt as the new storyline unfolded, with intrigue aplenty, and the shared past of Galvatron and Alpha Trion resonating in the present. Long-absent human characters from the IDW universe Jimmy Pink and Spike Witwicky saw their reintroduction, along with the return of the fan-favorite Decepticon Thundercracker! Toward the end of the year, the comic dropped its subtitle, becoming the second ongoing IDW series to be simply titled “Transformers”.
More than Meets the Eye issue #30 cover
Meanwhile, More than Meets the Eye continued the voyage of the Autobot ship Lost Light in search of the Knights of Cybertron – under the (co-)captaincy of a reformed Megatron no less! James Roberts continued to wow fans by kicking off with an arc explaining why you really did not want to open the coffin, followed by a major and shocking revelation about a character who had grown close to the heart of the fandom during his appearances in the series. Woven through all of this was a real delving into the psyche of Megatron, giving us an angle on the personality of the Decepticon leader we had never seen before. As the year ended we were reminded that the Decepticon Justice Division are five guys you want to run away from, really fast, and a story arc involving time-travel and Functionist era Cybertron kicked off.
IDW also published a steady stream of miniseries throughout 2014. The first exploded out of the pages of Dark Cybertron and focused on Windblade, and life on Cybertron with Starscream in charge. The series featured very slick artwork by Sarah Stone and a script by Mairghread Scott. After Windblade concluded its four issue run, a further miniseries, Transformers: Primacy, told more of the story of the early history of the war for Cybertron, continuing the story that began with Transformers: Autocracy and Transformers: Monstrosity. Once again, Flint Dille handled the script and Livio Ramondelli provided some great art. Rounding out the year in miniseries were a pair of new minis kicking off in November, Drift: Empire of Stone and Angry Birds Transformers. The former caught up with what the ex-Decepticon turned Autobot had been up to since leaving the Lost Light in More than Meets the Eye, and the latter told the story of the mobile game by Rovio (which also arrived in 2014) that crossed Transformers with some seriously perturbed avians.
IDW’s Transformers VS G.I. Joe #1, San Diego Comic Con Variant Cover(s)
One last comic event in 2014 was an ongoing crossover between Transformers and Hasbro’s other big property, G.I. Joe! Transformers VS G.I. Joe was controversial from the word go. Co-authored and also featuring art by Tom Sciloi, the series went with a very retro art style evoking the feel of the pulp comics of the 1940s and 1950s, with some strong Jack Kirby influences coming through. Some decried the art as crude, and in truth, it is an acquired taste, but it does make the series stand out with a unique identity all of its own.
One notable absence from the IDW comics lineup in 2014 was anything to tie in to Age of Extinction. Past movies, in addition to a movie adaption comic, had sported sequels and prequels to the events of the movie, which helped to explore and flesh out the characters. Not so for Age of Extinction. Suspicion lies with the fact that major plot details of the previous movie, Transformers Dark of the Moon, had leaked online via Amazon posting several pages of the movie adaption comic online – perhaps Paramount did not wish to take the risk this time. Titan Magazines in the UK, however, rebranded their Transformers comic to an Age of Extinction theme, and published short, self-contained stories which fleshed out the backstories to some of the characters, though the short page count and young audience the stories were aimed at meant the stories rarely went into much depth. However, they did tease at what could have been, with one story showing what Lockdown was doing before coming to Earth, and another getting into the murky past surrounding Drift.
Transformers: Rescue Bots continued in 2014, with both the second (and third!) season of the show airing, continuing the young-audience friendly incarnation of Transformers. The show and toyline began to add new themes to the line, namely, Rescan, which took the characters and reworked them into new alternate modes – Heatwave, for example, became a fireboat. The second new theme that was added to the line were Dinobots – the core cast, along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, adopted dinosaur forms in both the toyline and also in the third season of the show (although, of those, Bumblebee has yet to appear in dinosaur mode). Some of these “Rescue Dinobots” came in larger sizes, such as a non-transforming Heatwave Rescue Dinobot and a large, transforming, “Optimus Primal” version of Optimus Prime’s T-Rex mode.
Games were another growth area for Transformers in 2014. In addition to the ongoing Transformers Legends mobile collectable card game, DeNA launched a tie-in Transformers: Age of Extinction game, as well as a new mobile collectable card game, Transformers: Rising, though the latter was limited to Asian markets. A further game by DeNA was Transformers: Battle Tactics, an inoffensive strategy style game based around choosing to use the right moves at the right times.
Angry Birds Transformers Cinematic Trailer
DeNA was not the only one to get in on the mobile game scene. Rovio, makers of Angry Birds, crossed their Angry Birds franchise with Transformers to make Angry Birds Transformers. Rather than a simple Transformers skin on the traditional Angry Birds, as with Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Transformers was a shoot ‘em up – part run and gun, part endless runner. The approach was applauded by those who’d expected a similar approach to the Star Wars version of Angry Birds, as it stuck closer to the core appeal of Transformers. Others were critical, though, of the game’s use of “paywalls” – forcing players to either put up with slow progression, or pay actual money to get on with the game – though in truth, later patches of the game did address some of these issues and rebalance the ability to make progress, though this in turn drew criticism owing to the fact that the iOS patches have yet to be issued.
Angry Birds Transformers was also supported by a toyline, which consisted of spring-loaded transforming versions of the game characters who interacted with the game via “telepods”, to unlock new features in game, as well as speed up the healing of that character should they be defeated in a mission. Track sets were released – which contained their own exclusive characters, corresponding to some of the most powerful ones available in the game, as well as smaller “Jenga” sets which involved crashing non-transforming vehicles into blocks, in a concession to the traditional Angry Birds formula. These sets came with a code to unlock the Jenga mode in the main game.
Consoles were not left out either with the release of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, one part an Age of Extinction tie-in game and one part a follow-on to the Fall of Cybertron game. The game used the basic engine and assets from Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, but High Moon Studios did not take the reins. The end result was considered disappointing, with the action considered to be mindless and lacking any real strategy or depth beyond “shoot the wave of enemies, advance until next wave shows up, repeat”. A handheld version for the Nintendo 3DS was developed by Wayforward and was a strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars, and while the graphics were not much to look at, the gameplay was solid. This one was much better received, but garnered little mainstream attention, meaning it ended up something of a hidden gem.
On the conventions front, Botcon 2014 was held once again in Pasadena, though unlike previous movie years there was disappointingly little in the way of advance footage of the new movie shared. There was however an evening celebration of Transformers at the Universal Studios theme park, along with free line-cutting passes for Transformers the Ride, and a chance to see some props including the Optimus Prime truck from Transformers Age of Extinction. The convention boxed set went with a “Pirates VS Knights” theme, an unusual choice for a 30th anniversary set, but the at show exclusives made up for it, as 2014 was not only Transformers’ 30th anniversary but also the 20th anniversary of Botcon – and the occasion was marked with new renditions of some of the past exclusives, such as Shokaract and Apelinq. The second year of the Figure Subscription Service has also seen fans add characters such as a More than Meets the Eye style Chromedome and a Classics rendition of Action Master Treadshot to their collections.
2014 also brought with it not one but two TFcon shows – TFcon Chicago was held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in October 2014, marking the US debut of the world’s largest fan-run Transformers convention. The convention was well-attended and great fun was had by all present, with highlights including singing happy birthday to Dan Gilvezan, the voice of Bumblebee (and hearing Venus Terzo and Allan Oppenheimer wish him a happy birthday as their various characters – yes, that means Skeletor wished Bumblebee a happy birthday… !) TFcon Chicago was a very strong start for TFcon in the US – here is hoping that there will be many more!
And so that is, in brief, the year 2014 for Transformers. The 30th anniversary year proved to be a strong year both for toys, and also for media. Throughout the year though hints emerged that even bigger and better things might be coming in 2015 – one of which has already begun to come to pass with the first releases of the Combiner Wars line arriving on US store shelves. Combiner Wars is the 2015 theme for the Generations line, and brings back the classic combiners of Generation 1, using the much-demanded formula of a Voyager body and Deluxes for limbs. The first wave has begun to hit in the US and also in the UK, and provides much excitement for fans who have been longing for new, official, Hasbro combiners.
The other big thing that has been building in the background throughout the year is the next Transformers series – Robots in Disguise (not to be confused with the 2001-4 series of the same name, or the 2012-14 comic series). Set years after Transformers Prime, it follows the adventures of Bumblebee and a rag-tag team of Autobots hunting down dangerous renegade Decepticons who escaped from a crashed prison ship. It looks set to carry on the basic toyline arrangement of Age of Extinction, with One Step Changers and Three Step Changers for younger audiences, and Warriors (Deluxe equivalent) for older fans, plus a return of the Legion class of smaller toys, Titans and other assorted side-series. My fellow TFW staff member SilverOptimus has put together a timeline of the development of the series, from a news perspective, which we shall share with you soon.
Until then, cheers 2014, and bring on 2015!