History of the Transformers
Created | Updated Jun 22, 2007
Transformers are robots with the ability to control their bodies in order to resemble other objects, such as vehicles and animals. They have been embodied in the form of toys, cartoons, and comic books.
1984 - 1995
'Generation 1' was originally a mix of Japanese toys, such as Diaclone and New Microman. The Transformers were produced by Hasbro and first released on the US market in 1984. The first line of Transformers changed into realistic looking trucks, cars, planes and household objects, including cassettes, a tape player and a Walther P-38. As the toy line progressed, alternate modes began to vary, resembling anything from futuristic-looking vehicles to mechanical animals. Gimmicks became much more prevalent, such as Transformers whose heads and weapons were Transformers themselves.
There were teams of Transformers that merged to form giants (known as gesalts) and there were also four toy cities, the largest being Fortress Maximus, who, at the time of writing, is the largest Transformer ever. The most controversial of these gimmicks were the Action Masters, Transformers who did not even transform. The Action Masters marked the end of Generation 1 in the US in 1990. However, the toy line did continue to do well in Europe and Japan. In 1992 Hasbro released Generation 2, a mix of original toys and repaints of Generation 1. Initially popular, the toy line quickly lost steam and ended in 1995.
The Generation 1 cartoon has had various incarnations. In the US, there were originally four seasons, the fourth consisting of only a three-part episode. Within the cartoon universe, beings known as the Quintessions created robots as consumer and military products on a planet called Cybertron. The robots successfully rebelled against their masters. Shortly after, they fell into two factions. The consumer robots became the good-aligned Autobots while the military robots became the evil-aligned Decepticons.
The war between the Autobots and the Decepticons ravaged Cybertron. About 4,000,000 BC, a group of Autobots led by Optimus Prime left Cybertron in search of energy. In space, they were attacked by a group of Decepticons led by Megatron. While both groups were aboard the Autobot spacecraft, the Ark, the ship crashed into a volcano on Earth. They lay dormant for four million years until 1984, when a volcanic eruption awoke all of the Transformers.
The two groups began to fight on Earth, with the Decepticons out to conquer the planet and drain it of its energies and the Autobots out to stop the Decepticons. The first two seasons took place on present day Earth and incorporated the toys produced in 1984, 1985, and a few from 1986. The most popular characters included Optimus Prime, Megatron, Soundwave, Starscream, and the Dinobots.
In 1986, Transformers: the Movie was released. Many stars such as Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, Judd Nelson, and Eric Idle lent their talents for the film. The setting was 2005 with the Decepticons having conquered Cybertron sometime before the beginning of the movie with the Autobots stationed on Cybertron's moons and on Earth. During the course of the movie many of the older characters were dramatically killed and new characters stepped in to fill their places. Unicron, a planet that devoured other worlds, was the focus of the movie. Also introduced to the cartoon universe was the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, which was used to destroy Unicron.
In Japan, there was a video called Scramble City that takes place between the first two seasons and the movie. Season three of the cartoon picked up where the movie left off. The Autobots, led by Rodimus Prime, had re-taken Cybertron and the Decepticons had fled in disgrace into space. The Autobots spent their time divided among fighting the Quintessions, who were revealed to be their creators, and the Decepticons, led by Galvatron. The third season was much darker than the first two seasons and is generally considered to be of much lower quality. The fourth season in the US consisted of a three part series named Rebirth. It is also generally considered to be of poor quality, and marked the end of the original Generation 1 episodes in the US. In Japan, the fourth season was ignored completely and instead a series of one season new shows would be released: Headmasters, Super God Masterforce, Victory, one episode of Zone, and a colour spread series called BattleStars: The Return of Convoy.
The comic book form of Generation 1 had its highs and lows. In the comic, a god named Primus created the Transformers in order to combat the chaos god, Unicron. Primus also gave the Transformers the ability to create new Transformer life with the Creation Matrix. The conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons and their crashing on Earth four million years ago is similar to that of the cartoon. The stories were mostly 'hit-and-miss' with some very ridiculous storylines (such as the infamous Carswash of Doom) for the first 55 issues. In the UK, the comic reprinted the stories of the American comic as well as original, high quality stories. Starting with issue 56, the American comic was written by one of the UK writers named Simon Furman. Furman turned the US comic around and changed its direction from a simple 'good robots vs. bad robots' story into an epic of good versus evil on a cosmic scale, and brought more complex emotions to the stories.
The series was cancelled in July 1991 with issue 80. Furman returned to Transformers in November 1993 with the 12-issue Generation 2 comic. Within the Generation 2 comic, Optimus Prime and Megatron had to unite to combat a wayward branch of Decepticons who called themselves Cybertronians, led by Jhiaxus. It was revealed that one time Transformers could reproduce by 'budding', but Primus eventually caused this ability to be forgotten. A group of Decepticons rediscovered the process and began to multiply. As they continued to bud, their basic morality faded and a by-product was created: an amoral entity called the Swarm. At the end of the series, the Swarm had been re-created by Optimus Prime into a force of good and Jhiaxus was destroyed. During the series, it was revealed that Jhiaxus' forces were but a small fraction of a larger empire ruled by a Decepticon called the Leige Maximo, who claims to have been the first Decepticon.
1995 - 2000
In 1995, Hasbro handed the line over to Kenner, who stopped the Generation 2 line and soon released a new line: Beast Wars. Taking a departure from previous Transformer toys, Beast Wars Transformers changed into realistic-looking animals with fur and scales. The names of the factions also changed; the Autobots becoming Maximals and the Decepticons becoming Predacons. Some older fans initially rejected Beast Wars, but the line proved to be popular and has since become loved by older and newer fans alike. As Beast Wars progressed, the line changed much like its Generation 1 predecessor did, and the robots began to have hybrid (fuzors) and mechanical animal (Transmetals) alternate modes.
In 1996, Hasbro released Machine Wars, consisting of repaints of toys never released before in the US, exclusively to Kay Bee Toys with little marketing. The line failed. Takara released two different lines in Japan: Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo. The lines consisted of repaints of the American Beast Wars toys, original moulds, and some repaints from Generation 1 and 2. In 2000, Hasbro released a new line known as Beast Machines. In Beast Machines, the Maximals are techno-organic with animal alternate modes, while the Predacons have been replaced with the completely mechanical Vehicons. The Beast Machine line combines some of the best of Generation 1 and Beast Wars, and at the time of writing, the success of this toy line indicates that the Transformer toys will continue to be very popular.
While Beast Machines was released in the US, Takara released Transformers 2000: Car Robots in Japan. In the Car Robots line, the good Cybertrons are completely mechanical with vehicle modes, and the Evil Destrons have cybernetic animal alternate modes; almost a complete contrast to that of Beast Machines. In general, the various new toys are marked by a higher degree of articulation and possibility than Generation 1 toys, without sacrificing their alternate modes.
In 1996, the Canadian-based computer animation company named Mainframe released a new Transformers show based on Beast Wars. Taking place a few centuries after the Generation 1 cartoon ended, the Autobots have evolved into Maximals and the Decepticons have evolved into Predacons. The Maximal Elders rule the Maximals, and the Predacons are ruled by the Tripredacus Council, who may have been Generation 2 Decepticons.
A group of Predacons, led by Megatron II, stole a golden disk and went back in time using Transwarp technology. A group of Maximals led by Optimus Primal followed them. Both groups crashed on Earth some time after the Ark had crashed, but still a million or so years before the Transformers would awaken. During the course of the show, both groups encountered structures and artefacts created by advanced aliens known as the Vok, who may have once been the Swarm. They were performing experiments on ancient Earth until the Maximals and Predacons interrupted, forcing the Vok to cease their experimentation.
During the second season, the Maximals and Predacons realised that they were on ancient Earth and Megatron’s plan was revealed: to alter history so the Decepticons would defeat the Autobots when they awoke in the 20th Century. To this means, Megaron attempted to wipe out primitive humans and to destroy the dormant form of Optimus Prime. Megatron was eventually defeated, and at the end of the third and last season the Maxmals started on the trek back to Cybertron with Megatron in tow.
The show unified certain aspects and introduced a new concept: sparks, the life force of each transformer. In Japan, the Season 1 cliffhanger was followed by a movie called Beast Wars Special. Beast Wars II, a cartoon with traditional animation, was released, depicting the struggles between Lio Convoy and Galvatron II. Beast Wars II was then followed by Beast Wars Neo, this time showing the struggle between Big Convoy and Magmatron.
In the US, Beast Machines followed Beast Wars in 1999. While the Maximals were returning to Cybertron, Megatron freed himself and arrived to their home world first. Once there, he stole the sparks from all the other Transformers and set himself up as the supreme ruler. After their arrival, the Maximals were reformatted into techno-organic forms by a manifestation of the Matrix called the Oracle. The Maximals set out to free the sparks and to restore a balance of nature and technology on Cybertron while Megatron and the Vehicons set out to eliminate all traces of organic material on Cybertron. The show ended with both Optimus Primal and Megatron meeting their ends and with Cybertron becoming techno-organic. The show is a source of much controversy among many 'Transfans', especially the ending, but the popularity of the show cannot be denied.
Sources for additional information:
The Formidable Transformers FAQ Version 6.0