Transformers may be known as a Hollywood box office giant now, but that was not always the case. What is now a franchise capable of taking in $100 million with the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction has its series origins in two separate Japanese toy lines. Microman and Diaclone toys were purchased by Hasbro from Japanese company Takara and combined to create the first generation of Transformers toys. Generation 1 is a term adopted by fans and Hasbro to refer to any Transformers product produced between 1984 and 1991. The toy line launched as The Transformers in 1984 with television and comic book series alongside the toys.
The back story for the origins of the Transformers series characters and television show were created by Marvel to be explored in the comic series and television series. The premise is that two factions of warring robotic, shape-shifting aliens crash onto a prehistoric Earth in search of energy. When a dormant volcano awakens, it also wakes the damaged Autobots and Decepticons who are then programmed with the ability to transform into vehicles, devices and even animals of Earth in case the humans are hostile. The character of Sam Witwicky that Shia LaBeouf plays in the first three Transformers movies, directed by Michael Bay, is a derivation of a character, and subsequently family of characters, that appears in the original Marvel Comics mini-series. Much of the 2007 Transformers movie uses plot points and lore created in the first few issues of the mini-series. Part of the lore that did not carry over is the Autobots and Decepticon’s inclusion in the Marvel Universe. While Spiderman and Nick Fury made appearances in the original series, Transformers became a mostly self-contained universe.
The toys and television show only grew in popularity and have since become an iconic aspect of 80’s culture. Along with G.I. Joe, Transformers is one of the most popular toy series and cartoons from that decade. With the coming of the 90’s came Transformers: Generation 2, a name that gave the series origin its designation by default. While this second generation brought many new toys the new television series was actually just the classic cartoon with a new opening and some computer graphic transitions thrown in. Marvel also produced a Generation 2 comic book series, one that had a darker feel that would be the first step towards the relatively serious Transformers movies of today.
From 1994 and onward, fans saw many confusing continuity problems and changes to the various Transformers series, including Beast Wars and a crossover with G.I. Joe. The brand had resurgence in popularity from 2001 forward, with multiple animated series airing in Japan and America. Then 2007 brought the first Michael Bay Transformers film with which most audiences are familiar. Bay’s version of Transformers combines many aspects of the extensive history of the characters while also creating original plot points to condense and in some ways simplify the series. Much like modern superhero films the newest iteration of Transformers takes inspiration from many classic elements of the series’ origins while combining them and adding to them to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. With Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth film in the series, debuting with $100 million in box office revenue it seems to be working quite well.
By Matt Isaacs