Wednesday, September 17, 2008


At this point in time, just about every 80’s toy line has had some sort of modern reemergence. Even properties that haven’t returned in toy form, like Thundercats for example, have DVDs, T-shirts, and other merchandise. But the GoBots are all but forgotten. There are no DVDs or T-shirts. No comics or reissues or collectors busts. The GoBots have seemingly become nothing more than a faded memory, one most Transfans are more than willing to let dissolve into nothingness.

It’s a condition that exists in every fandom; Brand Snobbery. The chosen license is the pinnacle of human achievement, which makes any similar license a pretender to the throne and deserving of contempt. Just bring up GoBots on any Transformers message board and watch the replies pile up.

“I had a bunch of Go-bots, but they weren’t as good as Transformers.”

“Cheap knock-offs.”

“The Gobots cartoon was cheesy and goofy, G1 was much better.”

“OMFG! gehy-butts R teh suXX0rz!!111!!!!1111!!!!!!”

But there is a small group among Transfans that really appreciate the GoBots and wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of revival. This, however, is a tricky prospect.

When Hasbro acquired Tonka in 1991, all the rights to the GoBots reverted to the makers of the Transformers. Hasbro has built incredibly strong branding around the Transformers name, and for any real relaunch of GoBots to move forward, it would have to fit firmly within the Transformers brand. Toys like the Marvel Crossovers and the Star Wars Transformers proudly carry the Transformers branding, but are wildly different from the core lines and don’t really cause any sort of confusion to kids or fans. It’s very clear that they are set off to the side from the continuing adventures of the Cybertronians through appearance alone. While the Go-Bot name was used for a subline of Generation 2 minicars and later the Playskool Transformers, to utilize it as a subline of the existing Transformers brand with classic GoBots designs and characters could cause some on-shelf confusion, especially among older buyers who actually remember GoBots. Reissues of the old toys are practically impossible, as the originals were produced by Tonka through a licensing agreement with Bandai, still a direct competitor to Hasbro/Takara. This also begs the question as to how far Bandai’s rights to the toy designs go. Could Hasbro even attempt to update the old figures with the same recognizable forms using updated articulation and detailing techniques?

Leader-1 by Dave Reynolds

In the realm of Comics, Hasbro would have to, essentially, either cede licensing rights as part of the pre established Transformers package, or create a whole separate license. The Transformers comics license itself is very expensive, so would IDW see any financial gain in acquiring a second license from Hasbro to gamble on a Gobots title? And if not them, what other publisher would take that risk? It just seems easier for whoever is making Transformers comics to have GoBots characters show up as Easter Eggs in the backgrounds of crowd scenes or be have their parts strewn around as casualties of some off-panel action. Or, as was the case in the Megatron: Origin story, quickly dispatched by Megatron in gladiatorial combat.

Apparel and other little knick-knacks seem unlikely as well, in that these items would be in direct competition with Transformers merchandise. As for video games, well, we can barely get a decent Transformers game as it is. A DVD release of the old series is probably a whole other barrel of scorpions. Old cartoons like that always seem to be twisted up in a confusing jumble of rights and ownership. It’s probably best that I don’t even try and speculate on that one.

So where does that leave the GoBots?

Well, thankfully Hasbro has not forgotten them entirely. In fact, in the past several years small nods have been given to the mechs from Gobotron that let us know that they’re still a living part of the 1980s transforming robot nostalgia. First was the naming of Megatron’s Minicon in the Armada series as Leader-1. This showed us that the name of the Guardian commander was far from forgotten. And thanks to the horrible dubbing of the series, we never got a chance to forget it since it seemed every Minicon was erroneously called Leader-1 at one point or another.

Next was Takara’s E-Hobby exclusive Minibot repaint set. Originally intended to be named after the GoBot vehicles they most resembled, Bad Boy, Bugbite, Path Finder, Road Ranger, Small Foot, and Treds never had their names on the official packaging, an attempt by Takara to not raise the ire of Bandai. Minibots are always popular with fans and collectors, and these were no exceptions. A quick look on eBay shows that the last listed set sold for almost $300.

Growing from this, the Official Fan Club repainted Classics Bumblebee as Bugbite for its Games of Deception set of exclusive figures for Botcon 2007. The character was also included in the accompanying comic and has made a few other appearances with his repainted comrades in other Timelines stories since. But perhaps the best homage to the Gobots to date is the Fracture figure currently available as a Transformers: the Movie exclusive repaint for Wal-Mart. Actually intended to be the femme Renegade Crasher, trademark issues prevented Hasbro from being so direct. Nevertheless, Fracture shares a color scheme with her 80’s counterpart and the tech specs reveal that she has also retained her trademarked seismic energy stomp.

So, while the GoBots may not be headed for a big comeback anytime soon, there is still some hope for Transfans who enjoyed more than one transforming toyline in their youths. And who knows, a repaint of Classics Starscream in all gray and bearing the same name as a certain Minicon may not be farfetched.


Mako Crab said...

I grew up on both Transformers and Gobots and loved them both at the time. Hindsight has not been kind to the Gobots though.
For all the flaws with the cartoon, there are still some good ideas and characters contained within it. Certainly enough to inspire some fondness for the big lugs even to this day.
I've kicked the idea around a few times as to what a Gobots reboot would look like. Would they still be called Gobots even? The name sounds so cheesey today.
Dr. Go?
But then again, going down a list of all the Gobot names, I see plenty of potential in there. Not all of the names are corny like Hans Cuff or Spay-C.
Personally I'd like to see it. I don't know who or how, but there's something I think everyone loves about a good challenge, and what better challenge is there than taking the maligned Gobots and making them cool?

Phil said...