Friday, March 7, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: The Micromaster Race Car Patrol

Going through my oldest Transformers toys, I have chosen to review them in individual sale units. That is to say, if toys were packaged together, so you had to buy both at once, as was the case with Grand Slam and Raindance, then I'd review them together. But other toys that may have similar characteristics, but were sold separately, I'll review separately (you'll see the first of a pair of such examples in two weeks). When Hasbro first introduced the concept of the Micromasters, they were available in sets of four, so the Race Car Patrol gets reviewed all at once.

The members of the Race Car Patrol are (from left to right in the image to the right) Tailspin, Roadhandler, Free Wheeler and Swindler (not to be confused with Swindle). Hasbro designed these tiny toys to be in direct competition with the line of "Micro Machines" toys that was incredibly popular at the time (ironically, Galoob, the company that produced Micro Machines, is now a part of Hasbro. It's tempting to point to this as evidence that Hasbro won the battle, but actually, Transformers reached their hiatus in production before Micro Machines did).

Although Micromasters, in some form or another, would continue to be produced throughout the remainder of the original run of the Transformers toy line, this team was one of few to get any serious characterization in the Marvel comic (the cartoon had already ceased to exist in America by this point). The Race Car Patrol actually got two issues more or less devoted to them alone (incidentally, the final two issues written by long-time writer Bob Budiansky). The depiction of the team in these issues highlights some of the issues of scale that have always plagued the fictional depictions of Transformers: although the robots were shown as being only slightly taller than humans (even able to enter human buildings with little-to-no difficulty), they were still perfectly capable of holding humans within their vehicle modes, just like any car. That such an impossible phenomenon would even need an explanation is never considered or touched upon.

A couple of weeks ago, I'd commented that Hasbro began to rely increasingly on gimmicks (besides the concept of transformation itself) to sell the Transformers. This is where I see that situation start to become a real problem. Within months of the introduction of the Micromasters, every Transformers toy being released fit into one of either of two gimmicks: Micromasters such as these, or Pretenders. We'll talk about Pretenders in a couple of weeks. I have another Micromaster to talk about first....

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