Transformers Vault, by Pablo Hidalgo

Review published on July 15, 2011. Reviewed by Erin Britton

No more disguises! I used to think that the best geeky things in the world were the Nintendo NES, fan trailers for a live-action version of Thundercats, binary watches and books by or about William Shatner, but then I received a copy of the Transformers Vault. For the first time ever the complete story of the Transformers, everyone’s favourite robots in disguise [unless the GoBots fans are massing again anyway], is available in a single slipcased volume. The Transformers Vault is an amazing [and indeed beautiful] book/collectible and is a real fan pleaser, guaranteed to lead to hours of intense discussion and eBay browsing.

The Transformers Vault begins with a brief Foreword by Peter Cullen [the voice of Optimus Prime in the original TV series, the 1986 animated film and all three of the Michael Bay exploderamas] before Pablo Hidalgo takes over and leads the reader on a fantastically illustrated tour of the Transformers universe.

Chapter One, ‘The Toys That Started It All’, gives us the history [or, if you will, the origin story] of the Transformers. While all [transforming] roads eventually lead back to GI Joe, the real kick-starter for the Transformers toys were the Japanese Micro Change and Diaclone toy lines which were unsuccessfully launched in the United States in 1983. Both of these lines had only the thinnest of backstories and had no leading characters or epic mythology to capture the imaginations of the toy-buying public. However, Hasbro saw the potential in these early toys and, one year and a lot of repackaging later, released the Autobot heroes Ironhide, Trailbreaker and Sunstreaker. Hidalgo details the development and impact of the Transformers toys through Generation 1, Generation 2, The Beast Era, Robots in Disguise, The Unicron Trilogy, Alternators and Masterpiece Editions, Transformers: Animated, and the live-action Transformers.

In Chapter Two, ‘World-Building in Comics’, Hidalgo discusses the twenty-five year history of the Transformers in comics. It was the creative team at Marvel Comics who laid the foundation of the Transformers, with then-editor in chief Jim Shooter crafting the backstory and Bob Budiansky establishing the cast of characters while Hasbro assembled the first series of toys. The Transformers then entered the comic book fray in a four-part limited series from Marvel in 1984 which, having proving immensely successful, led to an ongoing series. There are some excellent reproductions of various covers and panels from the series included in this chapter. While comic series have come and gone along with the various incarnations of the toy line, they have always proved a popular and exciting [if continuity bending] source of Transformers lore.

Hidalgo moves on in Chapter Three, ‘The Transformers on Television’, to consider the animated lives of the Transformers. After He-Man and the Masters of the Universe demonstrated the massive impact that a television show can have on toy sales, Hasbro were quick to green-light a Transformers series for the small screen. The original series ran from 1984 to 1987 and yet again the saga of the Transformers proved immensely popular. The success of the television series led to The Transformers: The Movie which, although initially not a hit at the box office, quickly became a cult classic after its VHS release [interestingly, it is also notable for being the last film that Orson Welles ever made]. Although there have been several spin-off Transformers series, none of them ever quite lived up to the magic of the original.

It took a while for the Transformers to venture back into the film domain, but they have now done so with great commercial success and in Chapter Four, ‘Big Robots, Big Screen, Big Hit’, Hidalgo analyses the recent Hollywood outings. There are plenty of action shots from all three of the films included in this chapter as well as an interesting discussion about adapting the Transformers to maximise both CGI and toy potential. Be warned though, there is a [warning-free] mega-spoiler for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Finally, Chapter Five, ‘The Future’, looks towards the next steps in the evolution of the Transformers, including video games and spin-off novels.

By way of additional goodies, the Transformers Vault includes: removable tech specs [complete with red acetate decoder] for Sunstreaker, Trailbreaker, Inferno, Wheeljack, and Smokescreen; an unreleased sketch by comics artist and fan favourite Casey Coller; a removable animation cell featuring Optimus Prime; rare artwork for the official poster for the 1986 Japanese release of The Transformers: The Movie; a character sheet created for reference during the making of The Transformers: The Movie; and a premiere ticket to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The Transformers Vault is a superbly produced and illustrated archive of the Transformers universe; packed with facts and intriguing insights, it showcases rare collectibles and memorabilia and is a real ‘must have’ for Transformers fans.

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