Previous: My Late-80s Childhood
Follow the latest chapters of Always Goodbye on Webtoons
Featuring being a weird kid, divorce, and becoming a fanboy…
Does the following count as anime/manga?
We all know the theme song.
There was a certain cartoon — a classic American cartoon of the 1980s that happened to be brought to you by Ronald Reagan’s toy advertisement deregulation. (So THAT’S why there were so many awesome 80s shows which were basically advertisements for toys.) A certain program we all grew up with, and it had Japanese origins.
In the early 80s Hasbro bought up several toy lines of transforming robots hailing from Japan. Marvel was hired to create the backstory, as the comic company had done with G.I. Joe. Jim Shooter and Dennis O’Neil created the Autobots vs. Decepticons of the planet Cybertron premise, with all the character profiles and so on.
The show was produced by Japan’s Toei Animation, and it was a hit. Transforming robots, what’s not to love! There was also Gobots that predated it a bit, from Tonka and Hanna-Barbera, and the less said about that.
To me, the highlight was 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, set in 2005, a brilliant piece of outer space escapism that killed off Optimus Prime and had all Cybertronians facing off against the planet Unicron. AWESOMENESS.
And I fucking hate the new Hollywood blockbuster movies. They are shit. I’m not even going to get into that. No, I am all about the Generation 1.
Going back to the post My History of Comics, when I was about 11 I moved into some relatives’ house and inherited a ton of 1980s Marvel Comics. I didn’t mention that many of those comics were the original Transformers. I had almost all the issues from # 1 to 55 written by Bob Budiansky, although there were gaps filled in later.
It was originally intended to be in the mainline Marvel Universe, and issue 3 featured Spider-Man vs. Megatron! That full issue to this day can’t be legally reprinted by other companies.
Actually, it was fascinating to me and much better than the TV series. Optimus Prime died early on, replaced by Grimlock. Prime did come back to life. Megatron died and came back too. The Headmasters spinoff featured more complications, and it built up to an epic mythology. Even a crossover with G.I. Joe.
It got even better after 56 as writer Simon Furman took over the franchise until the final issue 80. He said that at the time Hasbro was winding down the product line and he was given free reign. He incorporated much of the futuristic film’s characters, and told of the secret origin of the Transformers. Most of those issues are rare and valuable today; I didn’t read much until reprints in graphic novels years later.
I did however eat up the short-lived 12 issues of the Generation II written by Furman. It was pure 90s Marvel, violent, and I an adolescent just loved it.
Nowadays, it’s hard to recall that there was a time when the popularity of Transformers was uncertain. In the early 2000s, Pat Lee led a resurgence with high-quality art in the anime style, and Dreamwave was licensed to publish new Transformers comics.
Now a proper grownup, I geeked out as only a well-read adult can. I’m too old for toys. Most of the time. There more decorations than toys. Yet will not apologize for my taste in fine literature.
The first two miniseries were actually not that great, but then an ongoing series by Brad Mick got much better. I felt they were building up to the film’s 2005 year, and then they were going to get into Arcee and the female Autobots, when Dreamwave abruptly went bankrupt and the whole thing was stopped short at issue 10.
Simon Furman also wrote an amazing prequel set of series, The War Within, on the ancient beginnings of the Cybertronian civil war. The art and redesigns were meticulous. Two 6-issue miniseries, but then a third one cancelled in the middle.
IDW took up the mantle and currently publishes many Transformers comics. I hear some of them are supposed to be good. Sadly, I got burnt out on reboots and moved abroad and don’t follow.
I really should get around to reading Last Stand of the Wreckers…
Back: My hobby of comics
And now the history thereof:
Back in the 1980s, I was a weird little kid. I had an unstable upbringing, and although I was encouraged to read I didn’t really discover my passions until a bit older. I didn’t get into comics until that decade was over with, although as a small child I did typically love Ninja Turtles and Transformers without even knowing the original comic book origins.
By the time the 90s arrived, I was a hyperactive nerd with bad social skills and hailing from an increasingly-broken home. My destiny as an escapist comic geek was inevitable, it must have been. I did enjoy watching the brilliant X-Men and Batman cartoons, though I hadn’t read much of the source material yet.
Finally, my parents divorced. I remember it as a great relief.
I was about ten or eleven years old and my dad lived in Indianapolis, Indiana while my mom moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. The great question was which insane parent me and my sister were to stay with (spoiler: wasn’t going to be my mom). The answer to that question was postponed, as we were sent to stay with our loving older, richer, Jewisher relatives to live with for a year as my parents got it together and proceeded to fight each other in court.
It was an interesting year, living in a big house in actual American suburbs. Like you see on TV and everything. A taste of the good life!
But what really made it a good life was that my old relatives had an adult soon who had moved away. Their son was a comics fan, and closets upon closets upon basements in the house were filled with classic 80s and 90s Marvel comics. Lots of Star Wars toys as well, by the way.
Some of my best memories are of exploring that ol’ house. All the things I discovered…
Putting comics in chronological order. Making sense of the crossovers, filling in the gaps of storylines bit by bit. The Avengers. Fantastic Four. The story of Tony Stark losing his armor to James Rhodes, Captain America quitting, Spider-Man’s black costume, and marriage. Tie-ins to Secret Wars, Inferno, Acts of Vengeance, and more.
I lived in the Marvel Universe, I truly did.
Here’s the thing about superhero comics as hobby. To truly understand the profound continuity, you need to read a lot. Not just casually pick up an issue or even a graphic novel every so often, you need to obsessively understand everything that has ever happened to these characters over the course of decades. Hundreds of characters with their own biographies and histories and villains and to follow it all you have to basically become an expert.
Then, in the midst of figuring all this out, I started buying the latest 90s Marvel comics. Spider-Man and X-Men, of course. Crossovers like Maximum Carnage and the Phalanx Covenant. The early 90s did not measure up to the heyday of the mid-80s by any means, although as a dumb kid I was very impressed by those Image-era artists. And there was nothing better than Wednesdays at that fondly-remembered little comic shop in downtown Broadripple. It was my first. It’s gone now.
The time came and my dad moved to Cincinnati and me and my sister moved with him. Life was more or less stable from middle school to high school. But by that point, the damage was done. I could not move anywhere without finding the local comic shop and I was wired so that it was one of the most important things in my life. Soon I would meet my lifelong best friend in the cafeteria of our middle school, because we both read comics and didn’t sit with the cool kids.
But before I moved, I was given the greatest gift one could ever be given, a hundred-odd issues of 1980s-era Chris Claremont genius.
Remember what I said about continuity, about being an obsessive expert to truly understand the story? That goes quadruple for the epicness that is classic X-MEN.
Next: My early affair with the X-Men (and not that current movie shit, the original awesome groundbreaking All-New All-Different series…)