So, I don’t want to exaggerate or hyperbolize, so I’ll just leave it the Transformers Combiner Wars toyline is the greatest line of toys ever conceived in the history of humanity. In my long history of being a Transformers fanboy and a general toy aficionado, I cannot think of any single toyline that had as many features and as much potential as this toyline. If you aren’t familiar with it, I weep for the sunless world that you inhabit because oh sweet mercy, is it good.
For just a bit of backstory, the Transformers is about alien robots who can change from humanoid robots into vehicles. The initial run of characters were strictly Earth vehicles like cars and jets, but pretty soon dinosaurs and insects and spaceships were introduced.
In the 34-year run of the series, a huge array of gimmicks has been introduced to refresh the line. Specialty weapons, motorized features, new color schemes, etc, but probably none has been more successful and consistently welcomed then the combiner. See, if one alien robot is good, then two alien robots must be twice as good. And what if those two alien robots could combine to become a new, larger alien robot? That’s like good squared!
Typically, the combiners in the Transformers franchise (and indeed most franchises that involve combining robots) are composed of five figures (four figures for the limbs and a slightly larger figure for the torso), all based around a similar theme (emergency response vehicles, planes, cars, etc). In the past, Transformers had about a half-dozen standard teams – the Aerialbots who were all jets, the Protectobots who were all emergency vehicles, you get the idea. The problem was that often the figures were a little lacking. Vehicles were easy enough to make work: you just need wheels for the most part. But the humanoid figure side of thing was often lacking. You’d be lucky if the figure had shoulder joints, much less anything approaching a fully articulated figure. The combined robot, too, was often woefully lacking in movement ability. Most had the ability to swing their arms and that was about it. Even turning the head was beyond these giants.
So the Transformers Combiner Wars series…y’all, I really can’t describe how great these things are. Each individual figure is about as poseble and mobile as your average GI Joe figure: IE the standard-bearer for poseability for all toys. The transformation sequences are smooth, make sense, and are pretty simple. Each figure, excellent. BUT THEN! But then, they combine.
The resulting combination is…again, I don’t want to oversell it but this might be the most hopeful I’ve felt about humanity since the invention of penicillin. Just put one of these robotic giants together and tell me you don’t have just a little bit renewed faith that maybe, just maybe, the universe will be okay. Like, seriously, these things are gorgeous. They are incredibly faithful to the cartoons and comics, amazingly poseable, and the replay value simple can’t be understated. BUT THEN! But then, they expanded.
In the past, the combiners of the Transformers line were kind of their own little thing. The Aerialbots, for example, were often on a different size scale from other toys in the franchise. In fact, you could be mistaken for thinking them an entirely different toyline. And so you often kept the toys isolated or segregated. The Aerialbots are over here, doing their thing, while the main Autobots are here. Not anymore.
Pretty much every figure in the Combiner Wars line combines. The figures at the extreme ends (the really big figures and the really small figures) don’t participate in this glorious perfection for which all human understanding has been leading towards. But the bulk of the line, the overwhelming majority, are combiners. There’s about 10 central figures, around which the remaining 30-something limb-figures combine to. The team dynamic is actively subverted by having all these new combiners, with making new combinations an active part of the toyline’s narrative.
Now look, I could go on and on about how great this toyline is because it is, again, objectively the greatest thing mankind has invented since the taco (come at me). But there’s so much more at play. See, the Combiner Wars narrative is part of a larger three-part story known as the Prime Wars. The second installment was known as ‘the Titans Return’, or the Headmasters toyline. If you don’t know what a Headmaster is, you’re better off. Disregard this line like most fans seemed to have done. But then the third portion and the climax of the narrative is the Power of the Primes. Don’t worry about what a Prime is and just focus on the fact that they returned to the combiner gimmick and made the figures combiners again. This means another 5 central figures and 14 limbs characters were added. That’s like Christmas getting a sequel!
So that’s great and all – and it is great – but there’s been a problem with the line: availability. See a bunch of the figures are only available in specific sets, some of which saw very limited releases. That means that if you’re a fan of, say, the Technobots, you could only get them if you bought the Technobot boxed set. Okay, cool, that’s not that big of a deal…unless people stop carrying it. Then you’ve got to shell out some serious money. And some figures aren’t even available on this side of the globe. The perennial medic Ratchet is available only in the Asian markets, and even then only as a figure found in a single boxed set. If you want him, start counting out the dollars now.
But it further expands. What if you want a combiner for which there aren’t characters?
The forever villain of the franchise, Megatron, is not available as a combiner (he’s one of those larger figures at the farthest end of the franchise). But in the story, he’s often surrounded by a specific crew of characters (Soundwave, Shockwave, Starscream, etc). What if you wanted a combiner of Megatron with them? Or what if you wanted the Seekers to combine (Seeker is the evil jets in the series, of which there are anywhere from six to eight).
And this is where custom figures come in.
In the old days, long ago, custom figures were akin to magic. If someone made their own figure, or radically overhauled a pre-existing figure, it was safe to assume they were on staff at Hogwarts or at the very least were adjunct faculty at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. But now that we have 3D printers available for sale, and with 3D printed services reasonably priced, the game is changing. Specialty kits are available to accentuate and adjust the figures. But more than that, the ability to create new figures or to radically alter existing figures is being realized.
Imagine it. Take my hand and imagine a future where toys are not purchased, but dreamed. Imagine instead of going to a store and hoping they have a figure on hand, imagine instead of trolling through auction sites to maybe find a figure you want for a decent price, you simply buy a spool of 3D printing material (or whatever you call that weird spaghetti stuff) and hit ‘Print’ on the design of your choice.
Imagine a future where toys of all types are made to whatever your preferred specifications. Imagine being able to realize the entire Transformers line as combiners (which we are already pretty close to with the Combiner Wars). Imagine being able to take characters from any fandom and reimagine them. Wanted to see if KITT and Ecto-1 could be Transformers? Ever wanted to see Sailor Moon but with power armor? Batman in Iron Man-style armor? How about some decent Knight Sabers figures from Bubblegum Crisis?
Take it a step further and realize the dream: your own toys?
For ages on end, toys have been the first tools of a child’s imagination. For all the beauty of the modern era of toys, the loss of blank toys has been tragic. Gone are the days when knockoffs and store-brand toys were available to compete with the major brands, so that kids could project their own ideas and imaginations onto these characters. Occasionally, resurgences have been seen with the likes of Stikfas and the absolutely brilliant I Am Elemental toyline. What if we took that a step even farther? What if you could imagine a toy and customize it to whatever you preferred gimmick? Want combiners? Or maybe you prefer larger figures but with connectable features like armor and super-powered weaponry (a la Centurions)? What if you want to change out features of the character themselves?
The future is now and it is glorious. We are on the cusp of realizing a totally new world of imagination. And until that is realized for every child, let’s just sit back and bask in the glory that is the Combiner Wars series because, seriously y’all, Optimus Prime as a combiner? I didn’t know how empty my life was until this masterpiece filled it.
So things have been a bit crazy recently, both locally and professionally. I had a bunch of events slated, and then they fell through at the last minute, in part due to Hurricane Florence. I’m still trying to piece those announcements together. When I do, you’ll be the first to know. For now, though, just be good to yourself!