2017 has come and gone, a year of ups and downs for our beloved Robots in Disguise. On the positives we had some excellent new toys including the ongoing Titans Return line, an all-new convention in Hascon, and a strong conclusion to the Transformers: Robots in Disguise show. On the less positive, Transformers The Last Knight became the worst performing of the five Transformers live action movies with an equally poor performing toyline, and fans were undecided about the reboots of IDW’s Transformers comics.
Join us as we dive into the year that was 2017.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Transformers The Last Knight theatrical trailer
Transformers The Last Knight was the main event of 2017, with the now traditional media blitz building up to the movie’s launch and a tie-in toyline across multiple size classes.
The movie itself was about the gruff loner Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) taking in an orphan girl, Isabella (Isabel Moner) while being hunted by a multinational Transformers Response Force (whose ranks include returning character Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel)) and a squad of Decepticons led by Megatron and Barricade.
Partway through the movie the story transitions into a fantasy adventure involving Transformers fighting alongside the Knights of the Round, the last living member of a secret society called “the Witwiccans”, a prophecy concerning “the Last Knight”, and a desperate search for a staff that once belonged to King Arthur’s wizard, Merlin, in order to keep it out of the hands of Quintessa, who is on her way to Earth along with Cybertron and a corrupted Optimus Prime. Also, the Earth is Unicron.
If that sounds a little confused, then congratulations, you have identified our biggest issue with the movie. Transformers the Last Knight suffers from the same failing as Transformers Revenge of the Fallen – it tries to cram two movies’ worth of plot into a single movie. The result was a movie whose first half could easily have been a whole movie based around Mark Wahlberg’s character development as he played off Isabel Moner’s character, while dodging both humans and Decepticons. The second half likewise could have been its own movie with more time given to exploring the new lore introduced and to give more time to the drama that should have accompanied Optimus Prime falling to darkness. Unfortunately we got a movie that tried to do both plots, and as a result neither had the time they needed to be fully explored or properly fleshed out. Nemesis Prime in particular was wasted as a late second act showdown that got resolved far too easily, and failed to deliver on what the trailers teased as a tense showdown. The split in the story also meant some characters, like the heavily promoted Sqweeks, Isabella, and any returning Autobot not named Bumblebee, vanished from the plot for an extended period in the middle of the movie.
Critical reception was extremely scathing, which was almost a tradition at this point, but this time out the public voted the same way with their cash, too. The film closed after 65 days with a worldwide gross of $604 million, the lowest gross of the entire series to date, and a shockingly low domestic gross of around $130 million. While the opening weekend in China was very strong, it fell off sharply and commentary within the country was particularly scathing of the blatant pandering and Chinese product placement. The low gross and sharp drop offs led critics to speculate that the public was getting tired of Michael Bay’s take on Transformers, while fans voiced their discontent at a movie that placed far too much emphasis on style over substance and missed the spirit of what made Transformers enjoyable, in addition to some of the more glaring plot holes induced by combining two movies into one.
We feel that the Transformers movie franchise should learn from Transformers The Last Knight. The ambitions of the fimmakers needs to be kept in check, and they need to focus on one plot at a time, and doing it well, rather than continually throwing lots and lots of ideas into a storey. They need to de-escalate the tension once in a while – you might have cringed at Sam’s parents or Sam’s awkward romance with Mikaela, but it helped to ground the story and bring things back to a human scale. And keeping with that theme of reducing the tension, perhaps also bring the scope of the action down to something more personal, less-world threatening. How about we also stop changing the status quo between sequels, and explore more of what the world is like now that Transformers are a part of daily life? The Last Knight set up a very interesting backdrop with the implication that the US government is okay with cordoning off whole cities into no-go areas and giving a paramilitary group apparent free reign to hunt any and all Transformers. That’s an interesting setup – can we see what life is like for those living in this world?
We’ll leave off here with a few thoughts on what we did like about Transformers The Last Knight. Megatron and the Decepticons were excellent, from their standout introductory scene that could have been lifted from a different movie to their interactions and personalities. Quintessa, while not properly explored, was an excellent villain, and the King Arthur tie made a lot of sense. While we’re not a fan of how the name “Hot Rod” was attached to the French-accented lambo Autobot, we welcome the appearance of some more unconventional abilities with his time slowing bullets. Cogman was another fantastic addition to the cast, who stole every scene he was in and demonstrated that yes, Transformers can have personalities in these movies. We also liked the easter eggs which acknowledged the previous films.
Selection of Transformers The Last Knight toys
Transformers The Last Knight was supported by a toyline – as always – and as has been the tradition for Transformers movie toylines, it offered several different ways to collect the cast. These included the larger Deluxe, Voyager, and Leader class toys, one-step and three-step changers, a great series of Tiny Turbo Changers, a returning Legion size class, and various other “gimmick” toys.
The problem with the toyline, however, was it offered a huge amount of toys from Transformers Age of Extinction, including the majority of the Dinobots, of whom only Grimlock had any real screentime. These mold reuses were heavily front-loaded in the line, so early assortments were not offering as many “new” toys as they could have otherwise done. This meant the first assortments were sluggish sellers, preventing later assortments from getting to stores – and the later assortments had some of the more interesting and fun releases. Combined with the movie’s poor reception, you can see evidence of some of the larger chains backing off from Transformers – Target, for example, was supposed to get one of the line’s three exclusive sublines, Reveal the Shield, but many of these releases ended up going to other stores, suggesting that they may have got cold feet over the whole transaction. Similarly Walmart’s Autobots Unite subline ended up mostly going to Ross, with the Deluxe class Hot Rod getting a wider release in non-exclusive packaging, although the latter may have always been a part of the plan.
If you look past the line’s questionable case assortments and shockingly poor distribution, the new toys were actually quite good. Megatron’s new Leader and Voyager class toys did a great job at capturing the menacing look of Megatron’s latest body, while Nitro showcased a genuinely creative transformation and an excellent look in his robot mode. Leader class Dragonstorm introduced a new style of transformation with two roughly Voyager class figures merging into a huge dragon, and Sqweeks managed to look adorable and accurate, while also managing to transform. Several other characters received welcome updates from their earlier Age of Extinction designs, including Hound, Crosshairs, and Scorn – although the latter was not in the movie. The quality of these figures bodes well for the Movie Studio Series line which will continue the Transformers movie toys into 2018, this time with a celebration of all five live action movies.
IDW’s Transformers Comics
Transformers: Optimus Prime issue 9 cover
While Optimus Prime and Lost Light, the successors to Transformers (Robots in Disguise) and More than Meets the Eye had both launched at the end of 2016, 2017 saw both books complete their first arcs and tell some stand alone stories along the way. Optimus Prime continued to delve into political intrigue, with Optimus’ decision to bring Earth into the Cybertronian Council of Worlds and the issues that this created being a central theme throughout the first year of storytelling, together with how many characters are starting to look upon the legendary Autobot with increasing disillusionment.
After the initial Junkion arc kicked off the series, the series came out with some good single issues, including one that developed the wider mythology of the comics and introduced the Thirteen into the comics. Issue 9, The Life of Sideswipe, was another standout self-contained issue, for reasons best not spoiled here. The series dragged in a few places (the initial arc seemed to go on for longer than necessary) but was brought to life in excellent fashion by the art of Kei Zama. The underlying themes of the series ran in tandem with IDW’s Hasbro universe, while also laying groundwork for a Power of the Primes story arc in 2018.
Lost Light, meanwhile, kicked off with its own six issue arc, involving Rodimus, Megatron, and the crew journeying to a parallel universe. The arc explored the parallel reality first introduced in the Elegant Chaos story arc in 2014, and showed just how bad a Cybertron without a Megatron could have been. Hint: it’s not a happy place. The arc also served to cap off (for now) Megatron’s journey of redemption. Being placed in a universe that had never known him allowed Megatron to redefine who he was, free of the stigma of his former actions. The coda to the arc showed a character very different from the Megatron we had known. And the primary universe would go on without a Megatron.
This initial arc was also followed with some shorter stories, including one which had Nautica coming to terms with the loss of Skids, and another which dealt with Tailgate’s condition following his acquisition of superpowers. The year wrapped with the return to the titular ship as we looked in on Getaway and the mutineers, and all is not well on the Lost Light. A common criticism of Lost Light’s first year was that it had lost its way, that writer James Roberts was not delivering to the same quality as his previous stories, and while that may certainly have been true in places the latter issues seemed to indicate a return to form. Artwork for the series was primarily provided by Jack Lawrence, who brought his own style to the series and while fans complained that the series was no longer worth reading because the art was not by fan-favorite Alex Milne, the series still looked the part and captured that same lighter feel when compared to the darker tones of Optimus Prime.
The third ongoing series, Til All Are One, met its end in 2017. The year kicked off with the conclusion of the arc dealing with Sentinel Prime’s undead Titans attacking Cybertron, and the desperate measures used to defeat them – the activation of Carcer, Elita-1’s Titan, who was revealed to be the fallen Titan Vigilem, complete with the Liege Maximo sealed within him. Windblade was left comatose after her contact with Vigilem, which would not be resolved until the final issue of the series. The rest of the series issues resolved other plot threads, and set up a few, such as Chromia’s new role as the hunter of the Liege. Of the three Transformers series going into 2017, Til All Are One was the best received, and delivered some of the most interesting storytelling – which was the greater pity when the series ended but for its annual releasing at the end of the year.
Rom VS Transformers: Shining Armor issue 1 cover
IDW also pressed ahead with its shared Hasbro universe through the year. The Transfomers and Rom crossed over in a five issue miniseries, Shining Armor, which introduced a new Transformer, Stardrive, who was also one of the Solstar Order alongside Rom. Stardrive quickly became a popular enough character that her inclusion in an upcoming issue of Optimus Prime has elicited some excitement from fans. Elsewhere, IDW launched Revolutionaries, a teamup book featuring Kup and Garrison Blackrock / Sovereign alongside G.I. Joe’s Mayday and Action Man as they tried to unravel the mystery of an object known as the Talisman and fought against a new enemy, Baron Ironblood and his Red Shadows; although one of the main recurring foes was Garrison Kreiger. A central mystery of the series was what had become of an earlier proto-G.I. Joe team, the Adventure Team, and how this all tied into events in the present day, with one of the series’ great twists being a retcon that moved the Hearts of Steel miniseries into the main Transformers canon. Hearts of Steel Bumblebee and the rest of his fellows were revealed to have been victims of a sadistic experiment by Shockwave, with Bumblebee, or Centurion, as the last survivor. The series also introduced Predaking into the main Transformers continuity, with little fanfare or explanation. As a series, it was enjoyable, though its purpose as buildup for First Strike, the next major crossover event, was spoiled when the final issues were delayed such that First Strike spoiled one of the big reveals of the final issues of the series.
First Strike itself arrived at the end of 2017. Building on the events of Optimus Prime, Earth is set to take its place as a part of the Cybertronian Council of Worlds, but it comes under attack from Baron Ironblood and a host of villains drawn from various Hasbro properties, including Destro and Miles Mayhem. The Transformers and G.I. Joe both mobilize to stop the threat, but first have to overcome their mutual distrust. As a miniseries, and as a crossover, First Strike was a good story. While self-contained, it had an impact on the different ongoing series, and particularly the Optimus Prime ongoing, whose themes were strongly reflected in First Strike’s story. Moreover, as a whole, the storyline hung together far more effectively than 2016’s Revolution, and demonstrated the good that could come out of a shared continuity. If this is the shape of things to come, then we are cautiously excited.
Selection of Titans Return toys from 2017 (and Triggerhappy. But could we do any less than unite all three of the Decepticon Targetmasters for this yearbook shot? No, no we could not)
Generations continued to be a fan-favorite series in 2017, with the Titans Return line giving a strong showing throughout the year, albeit with a somewhat reduced presence probably owing to the movies. The line’s 2017 flagship was the gigantic Titan Class Trypticon, who cut an imposing figure and literally ate Titan Masters for breakfast (he even got his own breakfast cereal box). With the traditional Headmasters released in 2017, the line filled itself out with some other favourites who had been in demand for some time, including Topspin and Twin Twist, the Decepticon Targetmasters Slugslinger and Misfire (Triggerhappy making it to market in late 2016), triple changer Broadside, Legends class versions of Brawn, Seaspray, and Kickback, as well as the Sharkticon Gnaw in the early months of 2017. The Leader classes offered the full trio of Phase Sixers from the IDW comics: Sixshot (our first new six changer in many years), Sky Shadow, and Overlord. Other characters got revisited, including Bumblebee, Blitzwing, and Octane, each one generally in a form that skewed closer to their Generation 1 looks. All in all, the toys were excellent and one of the highlights of the year; and unless you were looking for Ramhorn, the line wasn’t as poorly distributed as The Last Knight.
Titans Return was also supplemented by two store exclusive five figure boxed sets in 2017, as well as a store exclusive two-pack and three convention exclusives. The boxed sets were the speed-themed Chaos on Velocitron, and the strength themed Siege on Cybertron. The former set offered such coolness as a Quickswitch themed redeco of Sixshot (unfortunately not possessing the new head shown on promotional images), IDW comic character Nautica, and a Generation 2 version of the Optimus Prime fuel tanker figure, complete with decal referencing the original toy’s “burn down the forest” design. Siege meanwhile offered Tidal Wave, the Japan-exclusive Super Ginrai tooling of Powermaster Optimus Prime as “Magnus Prime”, and a Metalhawk. Both sets also included die-cast Titan Masters, and Legends class reimaginings of the Generation 1 Autobot and Decepticon clones.
The clones themselves were nice inclusions, although some fans complained about being strongarmed into buying the entire boxed sets to get one small figure (neglecting the other four guys in each box). The clones were completed by a Walgreens exclusive set that offered the remaining two members of the four man band, completing a set of toys who looked genuinely good together. The other exclusives were somewhat more hit and miss, but generally offered something cool that probably would not have seen a release individually.
The remaining exclusives were the San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and Hascon exclusives. SDCC 2017 got a very cool black Powermaster Optimus Prime in a partnership with Primitive Skateboarding, with a deco recalling the early 2000s Nucleon Quest Super Convoy, and some extra accessories to make a skate park for his Titan Master, Shreddicus Maximus. NYCC 2017 meanwhile got a retool of Titans Return Blurr as a Headmaster Arcee – 30 years later, she finally got that official Headmaster toy! Hascon meanwhile rounded out the Monsterbots by offering an exclusive Grotusque. Both Arcee and Grotusque came with additional, die-cast Titan Masters, leading some to speculate that these two exclusive figure sets and the other two clones were intended for inclusion in two additional five figure gift sets (themed around firepower and intelligence), but no actual evidence of this has ever surfaced.
Titans Return’s counterpart line, Transformers Legends, continued in Japan, offering the Japanese market redecoed versions of the US toys. A notable entry into the line was Godbomber. Godbomber, a Leader class figure, was exclusive to the Japanese market, and was designed to be able to combine with the previous year’s Super Ginrai (or indeed, Hasbro’s Magnus Prime version) in order to form God Ginrai. The two figures would later be released as a giftset, with a pair of bonus Headmasters based on Cab and Minerva, the two Headmaster Jrs not released in the regular Transformers Legends line by this point. Godbomber was a welcome and surprising release from Takara-Tomy, although some complained that various parts on him did not hold together too well, or that the combined God Ginrai form was not particularly stable. This was true – the feet are notorious for disengaging. The look of the combined form is nothing short of awesome, however.
The end of 2017 saw the arrival of the Power of the Primes line, which exchanged Headmasters for Combiners once more, and brought back several characters from the original line, including the Dinobots. Fans welcomed the new line, although some of the choices made – such as making the Dinobots into a combiner – were less well received.
Machinima also launched their Titans Return web series in late 2017. The series of 11 minute episodes continued the story that had begun in 2016’s Combiner Wars, and chronicled the consequences of the previous series which led to the awakening of the Decepticon Titan Trypticon, and a desperate struggle to stop him by all means necessary. The show included some recasting of vocal roles, including Peter Cullen taking on the role of Optimus Prime. The show’s CGI and directing were slightly improved over Combiner Wars, and character personalities were played more closely to their Generation 1 selves, although some of the script was still a little stiff. The show included Overlord as a character – a very welcome addition – and once again, Megatron proved to be one of the show’s best characters, both in terms of voice, lines, and personality, even if he has less to do on the show compared to Combiner Wars. Unfortunately one area the show falls down on was its availability to viewers outside the US, which was limited to a Tumblr page that was hardly an ideal platform for the show. As with Combiner Wars before it, Titans Return was also better enjoyed when viewed as a whole, rather than in its episodic chunks.
Some of the Masterpiece series releases from 2017
Collectors had the Masterpiece line to continue to excite them through 2017, although it was something of a quiet year. Early on, there was the release of Grapple, and the second Beast Wars Masterpiece, Cheetor – the latter completely nailing the look of the character from the Beast Wars series. Dirge followed, completing the Masterpiece series versions of the Decepticon Seekers, and Artfire, a retool of Inferno, was also released as the first Masterpiece series Targetmaster. The real highlight in the Masterpiece line in early 2017 was (at last) Masterpiece Megatron version 2.0. This was a figure fans had been demanding ever since Convoy version 2.0 in 2011, and their patience was rewarded by a wonderfully show accurate Megatron complete with a bevy of alternate parts including alternate faces. Although he carried a high pricetag, he also embodied what it is to be a Masterpiece Transformer.
After Megatron, the Masterpiece line was quiet right up until the end of the year which saw a new version of Masterpiece Sideswipe, and the release of his brother, Sunstreaker – who was exceedingly well designed, sporting not only his original super countach design but also a street legal lamborghini form – without the need to remove any parts. Meanwhile Takara-Tomy Mall released an exclusive four figure cassettebot vs cassettetron set, which redecoed some of the previous cassette figures – and offered a brand new mold, Nightstalker, who opened the door for a possible Masterpiece Steeljaw, and with him, Masterpiece Blaster. Coming in 2018?
During that lull in Masterpiece releases in the middle of the year Hasbro and Takara-Tomy jointly revived the Movie Masterpiece line, in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the original live action Transformers movie. The first two releases in this series were Bumblebee and Optimus Prime, each one offering an impressive level of accuracy to their on-screen counterparts, and demonstrating the will to diversify the Masterpiece line into other areas of the Transformers mythos beyond Generation 1.
The two Movie Masterpieces were not the only Masterpieces to hit the US in 2017 though – MP-10 Convoy got another run in the US as MP-10 Optimus Prime, laying claim to the MP-10 moniker on both sides of the Pacific. He was largely unaltered from his previous release, which had been reissued in Asia a short while previous leading to some questioning why Optimus again when so many others had not seen a US release.
Lastly for collectors, the final Transformers Timelines subscription service figures were shipped to fans in 2017. The lineup included some fan-requested entries including a Paradron Medic and a pre-Beast Wars Scorponok to round out the Dawn of Future Past Predacons set, but the real highlight was the Pretender Optimus Prime and Megatron figures – adding yet another gimmick to the arsenal of the Autobot and Decepticon leaders. Optimus Prime proved he could be both truck and monkey by being a redeco of the 2015 Botcon figure, Oilmaster, while Megatron brought out the vintage Generation 1 Grand Maximus Pretender shell tooling – the first time the tooling had been made available since its original release 29 years earlier. With those two, the subscription service ended on a bang.
Robots in Disguise Combiner Force
Menasor was a major threat to the Autobots in season three of Transformers: Robots in Disguise
Robots in Disguise underwent its second rebrand for 2017. The line’s focus shifted again with the introduction of the Combiner Force branding, focusing on combiners. Crash combiners were introduced, two packs of characters who could be driven into each other to form a larger robot in the style of Transformers Energon’s Autobot pairings. Team combiners were also introduced, as giftsets of five characters who combine into a single, larger character. Mini-Con Activators were also introduced, which paired a familiar character with a smaller Mini-Con character who could unlock their concealed weapons.
The line’s other size classes were also retained, with new entries added to the One Step, Three Step, Legion, and Warrior size classes. There were only a handful of new releases in each size class, a reflection of how Robots in Disguise was playing third fiddle to The Last Knight and the Generations releases. The Warrior size class had a lot of great figures released, including Generation 1 inspired figures like Skywarp and Bludgeon, a War for Cybertron inspired version of Soundwave, and some new designs like Stormshot and Blastwave. One of the most unique was Twinferno, who was modeled on Generation 1 Doublecross but given a stealth jet alternate form and flamethrower accessories. Unfortunately a crowded marketplace meant many of these figures were very slow to make it to US retail, with some doubt as to if some of the end of line figures would arrive at all – but overall, Hasbro did better in 2017 at getting the line into stores than the issues the line had faced in 2016.
The show similarly underwent a soft rebranding, with a shift in focus to combining. After the defeat of Steeljaw at Decepticon Island and the defeat of Starscream, Bumblebee and the team found themselves facing a powerful new threat from Motormaster and his Stunticons. To counter this new foe and their powerful combined form, Menasor, Bumblebee’s team had to master a whole new level of teamwork to combine and face him. Such was the premise of the show’s third season, which adopted more of an arc-based approach than the show’s formerly episodic take on things. Decepticons of the week still turned up to challenge the Bee team, so the show did not go fully all-in with the arc approach. A secondary story arc concerned Soundwave working from the shadows throughout the season to try to make Megatron return to Earth.
Part way through the season the Autobots managed to defeat Menasor, which cleared the way for a new threat. No, just kidding, it’s Steeljaw and his pack again. Even though Steeljaw got a thorough defeat in his last appearance in season 2, he was brought back for one last showdown with Bumblebee, aided by “mysterious benefactors”, who would be revealed to be a corrupt Autobot high council – or rather, a group of Decepticons posing as the council. The show’s final episodes at last resolved the issues on Cybertron hinted at throughout the show’s run, leading up to Optimus Prime choosing Ratchet as the new leader of a free Cybertron – declining the role himself as he was too much of a warrior – and Bumblebee’s team becoming ambassadors to Earth.
That was the final sendoff to the “aligned” continuity that started with the Transformers Exodus novel and Transformers Prime show. In some ways it paralleled the resolution of the Mike Costa ongoing series and the Death of Optimus Prime one shot from IDW (or alternatively, Transformers Cybertron) with Optimus Prime recognizing what he stands for and how he simply no longer fits into the peacetime Cybertron, and chooses to step aside, to let those who he mentored mature and take the reins. And while Robots in Disguise did have its issues, like many Transformers shows, it matured with time and developed into something that was consistently fun to watch, with some unique and interesting character concepts throughout. While it is unlikely to ever be remembered as a classic like some of the former Transformers shows, it is deserving of its place within the mythos of Transformers.
(As a coda to this section, I confess I missed some episodes of the show. I’d hoped to catch a full runthrough of the season on a rerun, but Cartoon Network only aired the season once in the UK, a fate it also doled out to its US airing, which instead of airing reruns went off air between new episodes. So we can also add in that Robots in Disguise suffered from the poor treatment of Transformers shows on Cartoon Network before it. Here is hoping that is one thing that does not continue with Transformers Cyberverse).
Rounding off our look back at 2017 is Hascon! As a part of Hasbro’s ongoing efforts to build all their brands, a new convention was launched to replace the late Botcon which brought Transformers under the same roof as My Little Pony and Magic The Gathering. The inaugural Hascon was held over the weekend of 8-10 September, 2017, and was a successful event; albeit, one lacking the single brand focus of Botcon. Rather the event was closer to an all-Hasbro San Diego Comic Con. Time will tell if this event proceeds to blossom into something that can truly inherit the legacy that Botcon left behind it, or if it will take a different path.
Ahead to 2018
That concludes our brief overview of what happened in the Transformers franchise in 2017. We’re looking ahead to the promise of 2018, a year which offers two new cartoons, Transformers Rescue Bots Academy, and Transformers Cyberverse. There’s the first live action spin-off of the movie franchise coming, the Bumblebee solo movie, which is set in the 1980s and has Bumblebee take on his classic VW alternate mode. The Movie line is set to continue with the all-movie celebration that is the Studio Series, and Generations is carrying on with Power of the Primes, which is going to give us new versions of Predaking, Abominus, and the Dinobots before the year is out, so plenty to look forward to there. IDW’s comics are also shaping up into something interesting, with both Optimus Prime and Lost Light kicking off new story arcs which seem to be moving their respective series forward toward a conclusion, as well as two more events – Power of the Primes, and Unicron!
There’s a lot to look forward to – so let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Bonus – our frontpage image, “It Never Ends”, showcasing the Optimus Prime VS Megatron pairings of 2017.