This is a tale from childhood …. This is history … This is about the delights of mooching around a vintage shop and seeing something that resonates …. This is about a Transformer …
WOAH!!!! WAIT A MINUTE!!! Give me a second before you go running off yelling “Nerd” (after all being a nerd is cool these days … apparently).
So sit back for a moment and let me tell you about a Transformer that holds a special little place in my heart, he is called Ultra Magnus.
I recently made a visit to The Vaults on Abbeydale Road to get a few promotional shots. Now The Vaults is an Aladdin’s Cave of wonders (a cliché I know but in this case appropriate) and whole wandering around the wonders I came upon a cabinet of toys. Stood proud on one of the shelves was the chappie in question, Ultra Magnus.
Long before a certain Hollywood personage with a penchant for the Stars’ N Stripes and explosions got his grubby little mitts on it, Transformers was good. The cartoon series was fine, but the comic books were dark and edgy. There was also a rather good animated film made, which followed the dark comics rather than the fluffy TV series. When they decided to make the film they also decided to sell more toys by slaughtering a fair amount of the existing characters and introducing new ones.
They even killed Optimus Prime, who was beaten, shot and stabbed.
The death scene of him slowly turning grey still has an emotional punch to it. The aforementioned Hollywood personage really should had taken notes at this point (incidentally he thought Raiders of the Lost Ark was going to be rubbish …. This should tell you all you need to know).
It was a pretty brave decision, almost as brave as it was stupid for they replaced them with pretty forgettable characters. The new leader of the Autobots was a charmless forgettable chap (and going full nerd here, was arguably responsible for Optimus’s death) who appeared in only the last five minutes of the film.
But they did get two elements bang on right …. The new leader of the Decepticons “Galvatron” was an unstoppable powerhouse in the film, but nothing compared to when the comics got hold of him and turned him into an indestructible psychopath. A Jason Voorhees of the Transformers world.
But they also gave us Ultra Magnus, who was actually the same huge powerful design as Galvatron as a toy…. Unlike the new Autobot leader who was tiny and delicate in comparison to his equal. The comics picked up on the insanity of the toy design team and set Galvatron and Magnus up as adversaries.
And our boy Magnus got the nuts and bolts kicked out of him every single time. Time and again they would clash and the unstoppable powerhouse would beat the oil out of Magnus. There was even a story arc with Ultra suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and rendered catatonic at even the thought of facing the psycho again. Pretty strong stuff for a kids comic ….. But also a huge amount of fun when playing with the toys and devising new and humiliating ways for Ultra Magnus to not quite be up to the task.
Eventually the powers that be saw the errors of their ways and brought back Optimus Prime. They even grasped that Roddy Piper/Roddy McDowell/Roddy Prime/Rodney Dangerfield or what the hell his name was had little to no charisma. He spent much of his time moaning about how he would never be as good as Optimus, which I always thought ironic that even their fictional creation could see the obvious.
But Ultra Magnus was the plucky underdog, they guy who would time and again go up for a beating to try and stop his nemesis. He may never have beaten him, but he always managed to delay him long enough for the brains of the operation to work out some plan to temporarily vanquish the robotic nut job with a tenuous grasp of sanity.
You should pop down to the The Vaults and stare into his eyes. You will see power, but you can almost also see the trauma of what he has been through …. And yet he still survives to fight another day. You just have to respect that.
He stands there proud and resolute and earning a rest from his many battles. He was our Rocky Balboa from the first movie. It was written in the stars he would lose the fight, but he would win our hearts with his refusal to give up.