The 1980s Gobots Comic Strip?
Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.
If you were a child in the 1980s in North America, you probably already know of the Gobots. Imported from Japan and rebranded by Tonka, the Gobots were a line of transforming toy robots, like, well, the Transformers. Most anyone can point out the interesting quirks about the toy line, including how even though the Gobots made it to the North American toy shelves months before the Transformers, they were still quickly surpassed in popularity by their late arrival competition. Why this happened can be discussed for ages.
Speaking as a child of the 1980s, on the playground the Transformers just seemed “cooler” than the Gobots. There was this perception that the Gobots were cheap copies, the bulk of the line was in the more miniscule 3 ¾-ish scale and they rarely came with accessories (i.e. guns). Basically we thought the Gobots were made for “babies” who couldn’t afford the more expensive Transformers. And yet, almost every kid in school had at least 1 Gobot in their collection, and in most cases many more. Kids are weird.
The media was a similar story. Both toy lines had widely broadcast cartoons. Though both cartoons were extended commercials for plastic and die-cast metal tchotchkes, the Gobots cartoon still seemed more childish to us sophisticated toy consumers. Kids loved Optimus Prime, he was like a cool surrogate dad to a generation. His battles with Megatron seemed to have actual gravitas to them. In a nutshell the stories seemed more mature and edgy.
Evidence of edginess pictured above. Thank you internet.
On the flipside, the leader of the heroic Guardians on Gobots was named Leader-1 (because he’s the leader, get it?). He’s a fighter jet, which is cool, but in terms of his character I really don’t remember much. I can list off other characters and their traits to this day (Crasher = psycho; Scooter = annoying brat ala Wheelie of Transformers fame; and so on). But Leader-1? The only trait that comes to mind is he nearly got killed in the first story arc and would often get his ass handed to him thereafter. That’s it. Still, at least the Gobots had a cartoon.
Print media was a little different. Both toy lines had the obligatory staples of coloring books, storybooks and the like, but the Transformers had a cool Marvel comic book. To the best of my knowledge, the Gobots never got the same treatment in North America. The closest we got was a Sunday newspaper syndicated comic strip, which we present here in all its glory.
It’s not quite… uhm… yeah. So, the plan is for Earth to be invaded for… reasons, I guess? Even for a kid who can barely put a sentence together, I expected more. The art was simple. The story is simple. It is clearly meant for very young and simple minds. And I still clipped it out of the paper and held onto it for over 30 years. Kind of speaks volumes about me as a human being, doesn’t it?
And hey, is it just me, or are Cy-Kill and Leader-1 brothers or something? Their faces look almost identical. But I digress. So, what happens once they arrive on Earth?
I still laugh at the mid-transformation image of Leader-1 in the center panel. It just looks all sorts of wrong. It is awfully convenient that the Renegades chose to invade Earth’s barren wastelands first, it keeps the artist from having to draw any backgrounds. Smart.
You also have to say this about the comic strip, it really stays true to form as once more Leader-1 gets his butt handed to him by the evil Renegades.
As you can tell, the printing on the above strip was terrible. If you can read it, you’ll learn the car’s name is Baron Von Joy and he managed to dig out Leader-1’s mangled corpse from the rubble. Apparently he and Leader-1 are all the Guardians could afford to send to Earth’s defense.
Also, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO LEADER-1’S FACE!
Awesome. So, humanity had the most powerful force in the universe, a Sorium crystal. An apocalyptic power safely stowed behind a chain link fence and gate, in a single story office building. Is it any wonder Cy-Kill could steal it in a single panel?
Apparently it’s taken a week for Cy-Kill to flee and for Baron Von Joy to get back to the Guardian command ship. And I still find Leader-1’s face in these panels creepy.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that the Renegade Thruster ship seen here looks nothing like the Thruster ship shown in the first comic strip. That’s what we in the business call “consistency”.
And so an anxious world waits with bated breath as Leader-1 is electrocuted floating in mid-air, while a Porsche 928 flies a spaceship.
Pretty dramatic stuff, eh? It’s been 5 weeks since Leader-1 got bashed, and he’s still out of it, floating in air. And what happened to the Sorium crystal?
Fun fact, Puzzler was a giant robot made up of 6 individual car robots. You wouldn’t know that by this comic though. The comic seems to imply Puzzler is a blocky robot stuck in the computer grid world from the movie Tron during a lightning storm. Oh, and it can destroy large cities. To this day I don’t know if Cy-Kill is ordering Puzzler to destroy large cities, or if he’s just stating the obvious to no one.
Apparently part of Leader-1’s revival included plastic surgery, because his head barely looks like his old self from week 1. Also, it appears he gained psychic powers because upon waking up the Guardians just know they need to go to the Arctic. How? Why? It’s a real puzzler (get it?).
Seriously, even as a slobbering brat I thought this week’s strip was dumb, and not just for Leader-1’s psychic hunch. See, Cy-Kill is having Puzzler sent to Earth from Gobotron, but at the SAME TIME he’s going to BLOW UP THE EARTH with the Sorium crystal. What? Why? Why send troops to a planet you’re going to destroy anyway? And how is destroying Earth going to win you Gobotron later? Cy-Kill said the crystal would let him conquer Earth, Gobotron and the universe, but he’s about to waste it here. And how is Puzzler even travelling to Earth? None of it makes sense!
Also, notice how on the last panel Cy-Kill has already thrown the crystal before Leader-1 arrives. Remember that, because no one else does…
How fast is Cy-Kill that he can outrun Leader-1 to the Command Centre? Pretty fast it seems.
That was it for the comic strip. I have a vague memory of reading the ending, where Leader-1 blasted Cy-Kill and Baron Von Joy (who is in the Command Centre) simply shot the Sorium crystal into space, which detonated and knocked Puzzler away. Yet I ‘m not certain if that actually happened nowadays, and I can’t really be bothered to research it further. Still, 10 weeks is an odd number to end at, 12 weeks (or 3 months) of strips would make more sense.
My best guess is this comic strip was an advertisement commissioned by Tonka and printed in the Canadian newspaper the Sun, though whether it went national or was only seen locally I can’t say. It explains the “licensed in Canada” note seen on some of the strips and the Canadian spelling in spots (“centre” versus “center” for example). Puzzler was first sold in 1985, so this strip would have to be published then or later.
It’s interesting to note that the strip only used Super Gobots, the larger scaled deluxe models of the toy, measuring about 10 inches in height. Puzzler would also be considered a premium toy as you’d need all 6 cars to create the giant. Thruster and the Command Centre were the largest toys in the line at the time, and also the most expensive as well. So yeah, an advert for some of their most expensive toys.
I know people (myself included) like to knock the Gobots, but truth be told they weren’t a failure. Far from it. It’s just their success pales in comparison to their more famous “cousins” who achieved true “Pop-culture Icon” status. 35+ years later and while not as famous, people still remember the Gobots and are still buying the toys (which in many cases held up remarkably well for their age). The Gobots still hit a nerve in a lot of people’s childhoods, and that’s not too shabby.
Thanks for reading.