Saturday, May 17, 2014

Big Bot Books: Transformers Generation One More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook Vol. 1 & 2

WHEN I first began collecting Transformers in 1984, the thing that fascinated me the most was those short bios on the back of the Generation 1 (G1) packages. Not only did the bios include a function (Beachcomber was a geologist and Doublecross was a supply procurer) and a motto (Optimus Prime: “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”).

Add to that the cool tech specs, which initially could only be read with a special decoder (it was a red plastic strip). The bios made every TF a true individual and made Cybertron seem like a huge place teeming with diversity—and the mind-blowing idea of robots with personality problems. This is important because the G1 TFs are the rock stars of the entire TF line. All the succeeding series had something to offer, but for me, the G1 TFs are the OG TFs. If anything, the only real criticism I had of the bios/tech specs was that they were too short.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Hasbro had hired Marvel Comics writer Bud Budiansky to write much longer bios for each character and Hasbro had actually shortened them to fit on the back of the packages.

This problem seemed to have been solved in 1986, when Marvel published “The Transformers Universe, ” a four-issue limited series which featured Budiansky’s expanded bios. I remember being amazed by this series, overlooking things like meh art, improper coloration, the inaccurate takes on the “Transformers: The Movie” characters and, the biggest problem of all, it did not include all the G1 TFs. But what did shine was Budiansky’s writing, and “Transformers Universe” left quite an impression on me.

I had actually almost completely forgotten about TFs until 2003—17 years later—when I came across Dreamwave’s “The Transformers Generation One: More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook” # 1 in a Greenhills comic book store. Arranged alphabetically (except for the subgroups, who were listed alphabetically by subgroup name—and then had the members listen alphabetically within that part, so the Dinobots and Aerialbots were all together as were the Constructicons and the Insecticons), the comic book had even longer and more specific bios but still rooted in the bios Budiansky came up with in the 1980s.

These bios were written by Dreamwave writers James “Brad Mick” McDonough and Adam Patyk, who would write the Easter Egg-heavy run of Dreamwave’s ongoing “The Transformers” series. McDonough and Patyk were serious TF nerds and they wrote the bios with an obsessive streak. For example, they not only stated that Doublecross was a supply procurer, but they explained what he was like as a supply procurer (not very good as he constantly gets distracted). They dove deep into the “Weakness” of each character and brought measurement and science to the TF’s arsenal and abilities, including things like speed and rate of fire). While McDonough and Patyk had the original crew of The Ark down pat, it was their bios for the more obscure characters that really won me over. After all, “The Transformers Generation One: More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook” included every single G1 TF from 1984 to 1992, unlike the more limited “Transformers Universe.” They even included second bios for transformed characters like Powermaster Optimus Prime and the Pretender Classics. The best bios were for those characters with complex, conflicted personalities like the spy Punch/Counterpunch, the mercenary Doubledealer, the amoral Autobot Repugnus and the dignified Decepticon Thundercracker. They gave bios to the largest TF (Fortress Maximus, who had a similarly large bio to go with him) and the smallest such as the Micromaster Combiners like Blastmaster (who, like his fellow Micromaster Combiners, is really only half a Micromaster alt mode, strictly speaking). It was like each bio was a Spotlight comic issue by itself, with each TF having its own complete story. McDonough and Patyk even wrote original bios for TFs who didn’t have bios due to one reason or another, including the Mini-Spies (remember those?), the Powerdashers, the Omnibots and the cassette combiners Squaktalk and Slamdance (The writers made Slamdance a journalist—just pure coolness). The time and attention McDonough and Patyk gave to these bios just shouts devotion. The final book in the six-issue series featured write-ups about the various concepts McDonough and Patyk employed for their TF series run, providing their own explanation for things like the original Earth mission, cloned sparks, Pretender tech and life on Cybertron.

And of course there was the art, the glorious exaggerated anime-proportioned Dreamwave art. Every character was distinct and dynamic on the page. The Dreamwave style isn’t for everybody, but I adored it and still prefer it to the more angular art that IDW likes so much. For me, the original package art will always be the definitive look for the G1 TFs—but this is a very, very close second. The art was provided by the Dreamwave stable, highlighted by Pat Lee, Don Figueroa, Dan Khanna, Guido Guidi and Makoto Ono.

“Transformers More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook” ran for six issues in 2003, which were compiled by Dreamwave into two paperback volumes in 2004. The first volume features profiles from Aerialbots to Pretender Monsters, and the second volume features Protectobots to Wreck-Gar. I collected all the original issues and bought the two trade paperbacks when they came out. I enjoyed reading them over and over again and, at several high points of TF nerdiness, I played a game of whether I could memorize them all on sight in order. Yes, I actually managed to do it after much effort, which wasn’t a problem because every time I read those bios it was always fresh and new. Dreamwave went under, but those guidebooks stayed with me and stay with me today.

Once they got the Transformers license, IDW Publishing reprinted the two trade paperbacks in 2008, virtually untouched. It was wonderful act, considering the two guidebooks weren’t even part of IDW continuity, but the publishers clearly recognized the books’ popularity. If only they would reprint them again as they are now out of print. I myself wish I had bought the IDW versions so that I would have two copies of the series. It’s that good. There were later incarnations of “Transformers More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebooks” which covered Beast Wars and the Armada line, but these never matched the energy and the depth of the G1 version.

Dreamwave may not have made the right choices, but I will always remember them for producing these books. They grabbed my imagination and led me to start collecting TFs again. They are, in my mind, the single most important and impressive books that Dreamwave ever did—and they are my all-time favorite TF graphic novels. If I had to choose just one series of all the TF series of all time, these would be my choice.

If you guys ever come across the opportunity to buy these books at a reasonable price, do so. They have become ridiculously rare and massively expensive on the second-hand market. “The Transformers More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook” Vol. 1 and 2 were each originally sold at retail for US$24.95 (That’s about PHP1,125).

Today, a single original mint volume on will set you anything from US$126.71 to US$664 (PHP5,701.95 to PHP29,880). The used volumes are also expensive, ranging from US $49.49 to US $64.99 (PHP 2,227.05 to PHP 2,924.55). That’s why fans should write IDW Publishings and ask them to reprint the two-volume series.

Otherwise, those who already possess the two volumes of “The Transformers Generation One: More Than Meets The Eye Official Guidebook” should cherish these fantastically well-made references, the best that TF comics have to offer.

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