Gateway to Obsession: From the Smallest of Starts …

Say hello to Tailgate.

tailgate_robot

Tailgate is the very first Transformers toy I ever owned. The figure you see in this picture is the very one I’ve had since 1986. As such, he has a lot to answer for. If not for him I might’ve remained a Gobots kid until the end of that franchise’s run and been safe for the next twenty-eight years.

This is probably not actually true. Tailgate may have gotten me through the door, but Transformers: The Movie put my butt in that seat permanently, and I bet I would have seen that movie Tailgate or no. Still, Tailgate came first, and the funny thing is that I wound up with him only by random chance and a childhood whim. It so happened one night that I was transforming a Gobots figure, the Japanese WWII fighter plane Zero, when that dude just broke. I forget how, I think one of his wings broke off. I was, naturally, upset. I remember it being imperative that he be replaced. My parents acquiesced to this bit of childhood tyranny, so the next time we were out at Wal-Mart (it was the 1980s, so it still had the hyphen), either that night or maybe the next day, they allowed me to get something to replace him. I remember looking up and down an endcap filled with Gobots, but no Zero. I was all set to give up, say we’ll get something next time, but for some reason I found myself taking a look at the Transformers. I rifled through the mini-bots and for whatever reason settled on little Tailgate here.

This is the package art that appeared on Tailgate's backer card. It's not just me, right? He looks like he's dancing, doesn't he?

This is the package art that appeared on Tailgate’s backer card. It’s not just me, right? He looks like he’s dancing, doesn’t he?

I remember obsessing over this little guy. I obsessed over the flashy graphics on the backer card, the little clip’n’save tech spec card on the back, the funny radio-looking sticker on his chest, and most of all the little rub sign on the top of his car mode. All Transformers figures from 1985 and 1986 have these heat-sensitive rub-signs that reveal the toy’s allegiance. Being the kind of kid who loved to pull things apart and put them back together again, I tried to pick the rub sign off of Tailgate. It didn’t go so well. My mom glued it back into place, but it never worked right again.

tailgate_car

You can sort of make out how the rub sign on the car hood looks kind of messed up. Ah, the follies of youth.

Tailgate transforms into a “cute” version of a Pontiac Trans Am, and is a retooling of the 1984 Autobot Windcharger. (Windcharger is red and has a completely different head sculpt and chest sticker.) Neither of these were things I was aware of in 1986, nor did I have any inkling that my beloved Tailgate, along with wavemates SwerveHubcap, and Pipes, would be inadequately represented in Transformers media for the next quarter century. Transformers comics and cartoons had no time for these little toys at the lowest price point in 1986; they were out to sell the key heroes and villains of the movie and the combiner teams, figures that are parts of greater ensembles.

You can thus imagine my surprise when, in January 2012, he turned up in the pages of IDW Publishing’s Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #1 by James Roberts (writer) and Nick Roche (penciler). And then again the next month (when the equally talented Alex Milne took over on pencils, as he would for most of the rest of the title’s “first season”). And the month after. He was a regular.

Not only that, a beloved regular.

mtmte2

From Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #2. Story by James Roberts. Art by Alex Milne. Colors by Josh Burcham. Lettering by Shawn Lee.

Briefly: More Than Meets The Eye follows the adventures of a crew of Autobots, headlined by 1986 movie heroes Rodimus and Ultra Magnus, as they set off aboard the Lost Light to locate the legendary “Knights of Cybertron” in order to (hopefully) bring about a new Golden Age on Cybertron. By and large, the crew is made up of characters who debuted from 1986 through the end of the original Transformers toy line, characters who never had a chance to have a major speaking role back when their toys were new. While this gives writer James Roberts a great deal of latitude with these characters, it also gives long-time fans like myself genuinely new Transformers stories, which is great given that the series celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.

mtmte_magnus

From Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #5. Story by James Roberts. Art by Alex Milne. Colors by Josh Burcham. Lettering by Chris Mowry.

 

The Tailgate we meet in More Than Meets The Eye was, six million years ago, a sanitation worker tasked with cleaning the coolant tubes of the original Ark spacecraft before its takeoff. He decided to take a shortcut to the launch site, had the ground collapse under him, and was badly injured. He then drifted in and out of consciousness until the present day — yes all six million years – until he finally managed to detonate a trailer of energon rations he’d brought with him to make his escape. This brought him to the attention of a group of Autobots making their way to the Lost Light launch. It was there that he discovered what happened, and the gravity of it sank in: he’d been allowed to sit there for six million years because nobody went looking for him. He coped with this by spinning a fanciful past for himself, filled with awards, accolades, and adventure — and as long-lived as Transformers can be, there was still almost nobody from that time around to call him on it. This would only occasionally lead to genuine trouble, like the time he got so wrapped up in his fictional past of being a bomb disposal expert that he actually tried to dispose of a bomb. His tendency towards spinning wild tales, however, is more than made up for a friendly disposition and a naive sort of charm that seems to have worked on readers and crewmates alike. Tailgate’s efforts to befriend Galvatron’s wayward lieutenant Cyclonus, despite Cyclonus’s chilly and abrasive disposition, lead to one of the two most touching, emotional relationships in the first two years of the series. To have finally broken through that guy’s barriers you have to be pretty likable. Also, naive enough to not get the hint the first twenty times he’s given you the cold shoulder.

The happy ending for this little dude is that he’s now a beloved figure in a beloved ongoing Transformers comic book, and he’s getting a brand new toy based on his depiction in those pages. But I will always treasure his original toy, the one that led me here, the reason I’m fan enough to even care that Tailgate is finally getting his day in the sun. It remains a cornerstone of my collection, twenty-eight years on and counting.

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2 thoughts on “Gateway to Obsession: From the Smallest of Starts …

  1. Awesome and touching story! My first TF was Skywarp, a gift from an uncle I haven’t seen in decades (I believe my old man owes him money.) I didn’t get attached to Skywarp like you did to Tailgate, though considering that he (maybe) becomes Cyclonus, one my favorite characters, maybe I did!

    I keep hearing good things about IDW’s Transformers comics; I’ll have to check them out one day! I’ve only been reading Regeneration One — Have you been digging that? I’m alternately anticipating and dreading issue #100, knowing it’s going to be quite emotional for me…

  2. Simon Furman’s run on the original Marvel Transformers series is one of my favorite runs of comics of all time, so of course I’m picking up ReG1; I signed the on-line petition to IDW for them to commission that book, so even though nobody would be able to check that I did it, I feel like I’m committed to buying it every month, even if it hadn’t turned out to be any good. Thankfully, I have enjoyed it for the most part, even if it was off to a bit of a slow, rocky start, and kind of feels like it’s heading for a rushed conclusion. Given that issue #100 is double-sized, though, maybe the finale will have some room to breathe. We’ll see. It’s funny, the strongest emotional reaction I’ve had to the series up to this point was the death of Buster Witwicky and his girlfriend Jesse in issue #0. And I’m certain it was the Jose Delbo art that really did the trick; even moreso than Wildman’s art for the series, Delbo’s work looked like pages from a missing issue of the original Marvel run, and seeing the deaths of those characters in that art style made the fact that this whole exercise is truly closing the book on those stories feel more real than any other event in the title so far. Of course I gazed over the Geoff Senior pages with glee for a bit, but I think I actually read the Delbo-drawn sequence the most times just to let it sink in.

    My personal recommendation with the IDW material is to read “Last Stand of the Wreckers” and the ongoing “More Than Meets The Eye” series, then go back and fill in any gaps you’re curious about later. James Roberts doesn’t write action sequences as well as Furman does, but his plotting, character writing, and world building are on par with Furman’s best work of the 1980s. This is a case of a talented guy growing up reading a series, eventually being handed the keys to it, and actually delivering the goods. No joke, until the blasted crossover came along (“Dark Cybertron,” ending in March) “More Than Meets The Eye” was the best monthly comic book series I was reading — and I’ve got a fairly long pull list, with a lot of well-liked creator owned Image titles on it. I’m just hoping the soft relaunch post-crossover doesn’t screw it up — but with the same creative team at the helm, I’m sure it’ll still be worth reading. I’m just not sure it’ll be the book I fell for so hard.

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