Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jim Shooter's Original Transformers Treatment

One of the surprises to come out of BotCon 2010 was a display of the original treatment, written by Jim Shooter of Marvel Comics, creating what we know of as the Transformers franchise.  A discussion on resulted in someone asking if the treatment had been archived on Usenet for posterity.  I decided to give it a shot, transcribing the document (which is currently visible on the web only via images taken of the PowerPoint displays at the convention, but "Thank you!" to the Allspark for making these available!), and posting the end results both in that ATT thread as well as here.  I've tried to retain the style of the original document as much as possible, and have included a number of the "corrections" made by Shooter and/or his staff, visible on the document itself as seen in the images, using "strikethrough" code.  The result is a fascinating look into the origins of the franchise.

This is a pretty long bit (well, it was 8-pages typed!), so here goes:


Civil war rages on the planet Cybertron.  Destruction is catastrophic and widespread, and yet no life is lost.  None, at least, in the sense that we know life--for the inhabitants of Cybertron are all machines.  There is NO "life" on Cybertron save for mechanical, electronic, "creatures." As mankind is first among the organic denizens of Earth, intelligent, sentient robots are the dominant species on Cybertron.  Even the planet itself is one vast mechanical construct.  Perhaps there was once a "real" world upon which Cybertron was built on, into, under, and through until no trace of the original planet can be found, but the origin of the planet is unknown, lost in antiquity.  Similarly, it is unknown whether the robotic "life" of Cybertron was originally created by some mysterious, advanced, alien race in the dim, distant past, or whether these strange metallic beings somehow evolved from bizarre, basic life forms beyond human comprehension.

What is certain is that the sentient, robotic beings of Cybertron are destroying one another.

The Autobots have, for untold eons, devoted themselves to peaceful pursuits--commerce, trade, and travel--wayfaring endlessly upon the broad turnpikes, through the winding transit tubes, and across the soaring skyhighways of Cybertron.

The Decepticons have no use for peace.  For untold eons they have developed their technological capabilities and quietly prepared themselves for war, all the while dwelling among the Autobots in seemingly perfect harmony.  Finally ready, they struck.

It is a war of annihilation.  The Decepticons, many of whom can convert their bodies at will into awesome weapons, or into mighty aircraft, able to swoop down from the sky upon their astonished enemies, seek to erase the Autobot presence from Cybertron.  Some, capable of transforming themselves into seemingly innocent communications devices, act as spies, undermining Autobot resistance.  Once in absolute control, the Decepticons plan to rebuild their world-machine into a cosmic dreadnaught-- to turn their very planet, a sphere the size of Saturn, into the single most awesome weapon ever conceived.  And then-- let the universe beware...

The Autobots, though peace-loving, are not weak by any means, however.  They, too can transform themselves-- from their usual robotic configurations into unearthly vehicles -- and they, too, are mighty warriors.  They fight back fiercely.  The Decepticons wiped out billions of Autobots in the first surprise attack, which was orchestrated with precision that only machines could effect.  The surviving Autobots, fighting desperately, gathered together here and there around, through, and within Cybertron, establishing strongholds against the Decepticons.  Thus, a sparse network of Autobot City-States, each surrounded by vast areas of Decepticon-held territory, struggle for survival.

A thousand years after The Treacherous Attack of the Decepticons, the war still rages.

Cybertron has sustained much damage, and, in fact, has been shaken loose from the orderly orbit it once maintained around Alpha Centauri, and hurtles through space out of control--a runaway planet.

Thus, it is that the Autobot City-State, Iacon, the mightiest Autobot stronghold of all, launches a space vessel bearing a computer-picked Autobot crew.  Their mission--to clear a path for the planet through an asteroid belt that orbits a certain yellow star which Cybertron is passing near, lest a collision with a large asteroid further damage, or perhaps destroy their beloved, war-torn world.

But, the Decepticons have learned of the Autobot mission, and send out their own space vessel.  It lurks in ambush while the Autobots work feverishly to destroy a huge asteroid.

Once the job is done and Cybertron is safe, the Decepticons attack!  They're bent upon capturing the Autobot ship and learning the secrets of the Autobots' latest weapons.

Their weapons' power exhausted from shattering the asteroid, the Autobots can only flee, and take evasive action.  The chase covers millions of miles through space.

But, at last, the Decepticons manage to close in on the helpless Autobots, near the third planet from the yellow sun.  They manage to hold the Autobot ship for only seconds with their tractor beams, but it is enough.  A Decepticon boarding party smashes into the Autobot ship.

Outnumbered and outgunned, the Autobot crew holds off the invaders for precious moments, while locking the controls to crash their ship at full speed into the crust of the third planet!

Witnessing the apparent destruction of the Autobot ship, the remaining Decepticons turn homeward toward Cybertron, which is already hurtling out of the solar system and onward into the black reaches of space.

Time passes.  Much time.

Four million years after the crash of the Autobots vessel, Mount St. Hellens Hilary erupts--and deep within the rocky carapace of the Earth beneath Oregon wilderness disturbed by the volcanic rumblings, something stirs.

It is the Autobots' ship -- badly damaged but not utterly destroyed.  Automatic force-shields helped protect the ship's mighty hull.  Though battered into dormancy for eons, the shock waves emanating from the volcano have at last reawakened the ship's "brain" --computer would not be the right word.  It begins to probe the world around it.  This thinking machine, whimsically called "Aunty" the Ark in the Autobot language, has been damaged in the fighting and the crash.  Her Its sensors are no longer fine enough to detect life, but she it does discover much mechanical activity.  True to her its programming, Aunty the Ark begins to alter the structure of the ship's inhabitants rebuilding them to resemble what she it detects in the environment according to standard first-aid/repair procedure.  Only partially functioning as she it is, Aunty the Ark does not distinguish between Autobot and Decepticon; friend and enemy alike are subject to her its attentions. Aunty's The Ark's alterations are done in such a way as to preserve the robots' true, basic nature.  The Autobots, therefore, resemble Earthly vehicles; the Decepticons look like Earthly weapons, aircraft, and communications devices.  Both can revert, in a few moments, to forms very much like their original robotic forms.

The Decepticons leave the ship first.  Although they have been in stasis for millions of years, they remember their mission.  They group in battle formation and aim their combined firepower on the ship and the Autobots still inside.  They fire -- but Aunty the Ark, who has endured so much, somehow summons the strength to raise her its defensive shields one more time and blunt the force of their blast. The Decepticon leader realizes that their forces are too low to annihilate Aunty the Ark and her its crew.  They leave in search of power -- power to fuel themselves and destroy their enemies.  Thus, the hostilities that swept Cybertron are renewed on Earth. its defensive shields one more time and blunt the force of their blast.  The Decepticon leader realizes that their energy levels are too low to annihilate

A day later, an Autobot shaped as a dune buggy sees a Decepticon infiltrate a human atomic energy plant.  When he reports this, his leader is alarmed.

He realizes, as the Decepticons already have realized, that the earth is a prize of incalculable value, for, unlike Cybertron, where there are no resources -- all materials must be recycled and nothing new can be made without cannibalizing something old, and energy is scarce, indeed -- the Earth has coal and oil, oceans, a mineral-rich crust, and a molten metal core!  It is all that Cybertron lacks -- and its riches, in Decepticon hands, could spell doom for the Autobots and all other peaceful races of the universe!

The Autobots ponder trying to send a message to Cybertron, seeking to learn what has happened there.  Is the war still going on?  If not, who won?  Did either side survive?  It might take centuries for these questions to reach Cybetron, centuries more for the replies, if any, to reach Earth.  And if the Decepticons have won, the reply might be their annihilation.  One thing is certain, the Autobots have no choice; they must defend themselves, and prevent the Decepticons from gaining more power here to abet their evil cause.

So the age-old struggle continues, but in a strange, strange land, full of strange creatures...

(page break)

In the first adventure the preceding origin will be briefly told, and the following will be accomplished:
  • The Decepticons will establish a new, high tech, futuristic base of operations on Earth.  The Autobots will headquarter inside Aunty, their ancient, battered, half-buried spaceship.
  • Some supporting human cast members will be introduced.
These will include "Sparkplug" Witwicky, and his son, Spike Buster. Sparkplug (whose real name is Stanislas Piotr) is a rough, tough guy -- uneducated and rowdy, but a natural mechanic with an affinity for things mechanical.  By instinct he can take apart, put together, and fix almost anything.

Spike Buster, despite his name, isn't much like his father.  He's not much interested in mechanical things.  Dad might be able to understand that if he were interested in sports, or adventuring, or even science -- but he's not.  He likes to draw, and he reads philosophy books, and even some poetry.  "Where have I failed?" his father moans.

Spike Buster and his father meet the Autobots and become their confidants, though they relate in completely different ways.  Sparkplug thinks of them as the ultimate machines, and is eager to help them in their battles.  Spike reacts to them on a "human" level.  He cares only about them as beings, and would give anything to stop the war.

Spike's Buster's friends, a big, somewhat rotund kid called "O" and Worm Jessie whose diminutive stature belies her boundless courage, will eventually become involved in the conflict.  Sparkplug's lady friend, called "Toots" can't understand why he's suddenly so busy all the time, until she, too, gets caught up in the fray.

In addition to these human characters, there will be human pawns and allies of the Decepticons.

Being highly developed, sentient machines, they will have distinctive personalities.

For example:

OPTIMUS PRIME - If he had been born on Earth, he would be a doctor, a mechanic, a scientist, and a warrior.  But on Cybertron there is no difference between these professions.  So Optimus uses his skills to heal and repair -- which are the same thing to Autobots -- to control the world around him and, if necessary, to destroy.  He is the leader of the Earthbound Autobots, and also the largest, strongest and wisest of them.  Both in power and in intelligence, he has no equal.  He has the personality of an Abraham Lincoln.  He can be immensely kind and his compassion extends to all that lives, including the creatures of Earth.  Yet when what he holds sacred is threatened, he can wage war swiftly and mercilessly.

PROWL - He is quiet, competent and very loyal, but perhaps his most valuable trait is his almost endless patience.  Once Prowl is assigned a task, he will keep at it until it is accomplished.  He works with proven facts, not imagination or guesses.  If he has any doubts, he will radio Optimus Prime, his commander, before proceeding.  He hates doubt in any form, and strives to make everything he encounters reasonable and logical.  He believes it only when he can explain it.  Personally, he is friendly, but not too sociable.  In conversation, he will tend to listen instead of talk except when someone says something unreasonable.  Then, he will demand an explanation.

ULCHTAR STARSCREAM -Soaring swiftly through the clouds, Ulchtar Starscream gazes with scorn on the creatures below.  He is utterly contemptuous of anything that cannot lift itself from the ground and claim the sky.  Occasionally, he expresses that contempt by diving and striking, leaving flame and destruction as he again speeds upward.  Yet he is not totally insane.  He needs a reason for his violence, some way to justify it.  This is provided by his Decepticon companions.  He believes their words about the war against the Autobots being a holy mission because his soul requires that belief.  Without the sense of purpose that the other Decepticons provide, his life would be meaningless and this he could not bear.
  • The Decepticons' goals, and hence, the conflicts faced by the Autobots will be developed.  In the first adventure, the Decepticons might decide to dry up the oceans in order to gain access to certain raw materials from the ocean floor.  As the series progresses, the Decepticons will continue trying to sieze (sic), control and exploit Earth's energy and resource.  Ultimately, they will seek to transform the Earth itself into a world like Cybertron -- a machine world/weapon of incredible power, with which they intend to fulfill the destiny of conquest they dreamed of for their lost world.
We see the Autobot/ Decepticon battles as far-ranging, outrageous action sequences in various road-oriented settings.  We'll do desert highway battles with a Road Warrior feel, battles on the Pacific Coast Highway along the cliffs, and some in city settings in crowded, high-traffic areas.  We're going to use lots of 'props."  We plan to wreck skyscrapers, Boulder Dam, offshore oil rigs and possibly the Grand Canyon.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway certainly isn't safe either...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Punch/Counterpunch (Club Version)

Well, BotCon 2010 is in full swing by now. Sadly, I am unable to be there this year. I'll be posting updates as I get them via Twitter (not to mention the exclusives datasheet), but won't be able to do proper features on the convention exclusive toys (the ones I'm getting, anyway) until I get them myself.

Also, I need to take a moment to apologize for not having the "ceremonial cat shot" as I've done for past club exclusives. The reason, of course, is that I no longer have a cat. You may pause now for a moment of silence.

With that out of the way, here's the official Transformers Collectors' Club version of Punch/Counterpunch. It's a redeco of a mold created for Universe Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, with a new head. When the toy designers created the mold for Universe Sunstreaker (well, Sunstreaker came out first. I don't know who was in mind first during the creation process), they designed a couple of different transformation possibilities for the mold. By offering different transformation instructions (at least, that was the theory) and giving each character a new head, Hasbro could offer two distinct-looking toys out of the same mold. When fans realized this, they pretty much immediately suggested that Punch/Counterpunch was an ideal possibility for a club exclusive using this mold. At last year's BotCon, it was revealed that the club was listening.

When Punch/Counterpunch was finally offered for pre-order a number of months later, it quickly became the only club exclusive to date to sell out while still in the pre-order process. In fact, out of (what is believed, but not yet confirmed to be) a record 1800 figures available, they were all spoken for in only three days! Naturally, this created a fair bit of anger among many fans, many of whom would argue that it was somehow "unfair" for other fans to snatch up all the figures before they could get to them, but if there's one thing that has become clear about exclusive figures by now, it's that there's no pleasing everyone. (UPDATE: At BotCon 2010, it was announced that the club will be doing a new run of 300 more figures, available only to those unable to get one during the original pre-order process. I don't know when these will be made available, so check the club's site to see when they post details.)

Unfortunately for the Transformers club, Punch/Counterpunch proved to be controversial in a number of other areas, as well. One was the fact that actual photographs of the figure were never released on the club website until after the figure was already starting to arrive in members' mailboxes. Couple this with the fact that the size of the head on this toy is notably smaller than on the Sunstreaker and Sideswipe figures, and many started to argue that the club knew that Punch/Counterpunch was inferior, and were actively trying to hide this fact until it was too late. Personally, I think this argument is pretty outrageous, and in fact pretty hateful. It's not that I think the head couldn't have stood to be a little larger, but I refuse to attribute malice to a group like the club when innocent (if perhaps not particularly flattering) motives will do.

All in all, this is actually a pretty good exclusive, and I really don't get a lot of the fan rage against it. That's not to say that some parts aren't disappointing, but I guess that I'm not one of those who thinks that just because it is an expensive figure is sufficient reason to have a conniption if every aspect isn't perfect. That cost is for the fact that this is a small run, before we've even gotten to the discussion about perfection. Your mileage may (and perhaps does) vary.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Punch/Counterpunch (Original Version)

I promised that I would feature the original Punch/Counterpunch once the new club exclusive version finally arrived. That time has come! I'll focus on the original version today, and on the club version on Friday.

A toy from the 1987 line (that is to say, the same year that introduced the Headmasters and Targetmasters), this toy is often referred to as the "doublespy."  Punch is an Autobot who masquerades as a Decepticon named Counterpunch.  Apparently, it's public knowledge that the two robots are related to each other, as in the character's sole significant American appearance in the old Transformers cartoon, "Counterpunch" famously tells his Decepticon "comrades" that his "Autobot counterpart" is "nearby... real nearby" (this last part said as he transforms into Punch mode out of sight of the aforementioned Decepticons). 

Remembering that this is a 1980's toy, one doesn't really expect even an ambitious (for its time) toy like this to go to the lengths that the more recent Animated Shockwave toy does to achieve unique appearances for each faction.  Whereas Shockwave goes so far as to have alternate vehicle modes for each of his identities, Punch/Counterpunch has to make do with just one, which the TF Wiki says is a Pontiac Fiero.

In my "teaser" post, I noted that this toy was designed to have a different "Punch" transformation than what the instructions finally made official.  I'm really not entirely clear as to why they changed their minds.  Although the official form is certainly taller and less stumpy looking, it really looks pretty bizarre from the waist down.  Also, you'll note that the official package art at the top of the page depicts Punch with legs that definitely seem to be drawn using the "dwarf" transformation as a reference, rather than the official transformation.

Transformation to "Counterpunch" isn't especially difficult. Basically, you turn the robot's back to face you, swap out the arms (and the weapon, although since there's no place to put the weapon not currently in use, I tend to have both robots holding both weapons all the time), make sure the toes are in place, and flip the cap on the robot's head to reveal the appropriate robot's eyes. For such simplicity, the new robot mode is strikingly distinct. Of course, it would have been more distinct if Punch was as short as originally intended, but I've pushed that point enough. And, naturally, one must suspend disbelief to imagine that no Decepticon ever looked at Counterpunch from behind and thought, "you know, that looks familiar...."

I got this specimen from eBay, and the stickers were pretty well-worn.  This toy looks as nice as it does now thanks to the miracle of Reprolabels.  I really can't recommend them enough.  Now, if only they'd finally get around to making those Gutcruncher labels I need....

Friday, June 18, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Dion

This is truly a season of plenty from the official Transformers Club.  In the past few days, Dion, Punch/Counterpunch, and Shattered Glass Cyclonus have all been arriving in members' mailboxes.  And in just another week, BotCon 2010 will be taking place, bringing with it even more exclusive toys.  I'll be dealing with as many of these figures as I have access to as I have time.  For now, I'll focus on Dion.

Dion was this year's membership incentive figure, given to all fans whose memberships were active on March 16, 2010.  The club actually refers to it as "free," but since one has to pay a minimum of $40 for a membership, it's easy to see why some fans argue otherwise.  Still, when one considers that this is only the second deluxe-sized incentive figure to be offered by the club in six years (the others were the smaller "scout" size), it's really not a bad deal at all.

Dion is a redeco of the 2009 Universe Hot Shot mold (or, more properly, the Japanese version of that mold, which includes some minor retooling and a couple of missile launchers the Hasbro version lacks).  This mold is, to be blunt, not especially popular among fans.  I never got Hot Shot, so I can only really comment on the basis of this figure.  The bits of Dion's vehicle mold that sit behind the shoulder's in robot mode really do get in the way pretty bad, limiting the robot's mobility.  A number of ways of dealing with this flaw have been suggested by fans, but these seem to involve removing parts of the figure to relocate them in robot mode, an alternative I'm not particularly thrilled with.  Your mileage may vary, of course.

As the Hot Shot mold came with the helicopter Mini-Con, Jolt, that mold is included redecoed with Dion, as well.  This is Cop-Tur, named in homage to a classic GoBots character.  Being a straight redeco of Jolt, Cop-Tur inherits Jolt's deficiencies, as well.  Specifically, Cop-Tur simply cannot stand properly.  The helicopter kibble on back is just too heavy, and will cause Cop-Tur to fall over.  If one poses Cop-Tur with a serious hunchback, and with his arms raised forward, as you see here, the figure can indeed stand unaided, but it does make him look a bit like a zombie.

The Universe Hot Shot mold is, of course, patterened after Armada Hot Shot.  The big deal with Armada figures was that, if you plugged a Mini-Con into designated ports on larger figures, you'd activate some kind of special feature.  The Universe mold retains the ability to plug the Mini-Con in, but no special features are activated.  I suppose that one can imagine that Dion is granted flight capabilty if Cop-Tur is plugged in, but I wouldn't take any bets on the official fiction backing up such imaginings.  Assuming they ever get around to featuring Cop-Tur in the first place!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Offbeat Transformers Items: Movie Prime Piñata

While shopping this past weekend, I saw these piñatas at a local Wal-Mart.  If you've ever dreamed of being able to literally beat the stuffing out of Optimus Prime, here's your chance!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BotCon 2010 Video

I won't be able to attend BotCon this year, but I thought that some of you might appreciate having a link to the video being used to promote this year's event.  Here you go!

Transformers Wiki