I started collecting Transformers in 1986, the year of the original animated movie — the year where the fine folks at Hasbro and Marvel killed off Optimus Prime and most of the guys from the first two years of cartoons and toys to make way for the new futuristic cast of characters living in the far-flung future year of 2005. (Yes, five years ago. I know.) My first Transformer was actually a replacement for a Go-Bot I broke; the Go-Bot I broke was an “Evil Renegade” called Zero, and the Transformer I wound up with was a little Autobot car called Tailgate — two terribly dissimilar things, but y’know, I was a kid.
Then I saw TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE in a theater, at Crown Center in Kansas City, and watched all the new toy commercials for all the guys who were in the movie, and decided I needed two things for Christmas: Ultra Magnus and Galvatron. Ultra Magnus I know I got for that Christmas. Galvatron I’m fairly certain I got several months later.
Ultra Magnus I have a soft spot for because he WAS my first big Transformer. He’s sort of interesting in the British Marvel Comics run because he’s the poor sap who has to keep fighting Galvatron, but in the animated series and in subsequent portrayals he’s sort of a stick-in-the-mud boring guy soldier. He’s either Rodimus Prime’s right hand guy who has to keep the still-young Autobot leader on task, or he’s boring space cop, or he’s the grim and pragmatic Autobot figurehead. Not a fun guy.
But Galvatron … man, where to begin with that guy!
In the cartoon, Galvatron was a ranting lunatic, a creature as liable to shoot his own men as he was to shoot at the Autobots. His goals tended to be on the simple side: he hated the Autobots and wanted to see them dead. He ruled the Decepticons from a burned-out hellhole of a planet called Charr, and basically saw the Decepticons through one of the roughest patches in their history. Remember, in the first two years of the TRANSFORMERS cartoon, the Decepticons ruled Cybertron. Not well; any time the Autobots wanted to head back to the old homestead to pick up a thing or two, all they had to do was find one of Megatron’s abandoned space bridges, use it, arrive in the Decepticon command center and bonk useless guard dog Shockwave over the head, but the Decepticons still nominally had control of the planet. Under Galvatron there were no grand plans to try and return to that former glory; there was just angry ranting about DESTROYING THE AUTOBOTS. I find him fun to watch. He does get more sensible as the season goes on, and becomes more of the scheming villain he had been as Megatron as the third year of the cartoon draws to a close, especially in “The Return of Optimus Prime.”
In the Marvel Comics stories, Galvatron is a terrifying force of nature; not insane as in the cartoon, but with a definite lust for power and possessing the sheer physical power to make a fair bid to seize it. Galvatron got a lot more major play in Simon Furman’s Marvel UK comics than Megatron did, hopping back into the past first to try and create a weapon to free him from the yoke of the Chaos-Bringer Unicron in the future, and then to seize control of our present-day Decepticons to create a future of Decepticon supremacy. A Galvatron from a different future would eventually appear in the U.S. TRANSFORMERS comic, which really kept the character alive for me; at the time, I had a VHS tape of TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, some hazy memories of season 3 of the cartoon — but here Furman was, in 1990. four years down the road, bringing the character back into play in ongoing storylines, torn from a future where he’d laid waste to planet Earth and ripped his foe Rodimus Prime to shreds. He would remain a major player in the title, sporting the same “I seriously need to get out from under Unicron’s yoke,” schtick he had during the movie’s running time, from issue #67 through his defeat at the hands of Autobot Earth defender Fortress Maximus in issue #79.
The Galvatron toy was one of those 1986-series figures that was designed based on the animation design. Unlike most of those toys, he is not a weird, barely posable flat thing. However, he also isn’t 100% accurate to the animation model. For one thing, he sports an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT COLOR SCHEME. Galvatron in the animation is almost entirely purple. As you can see, the Galvatron toy is mostly gray. I’m not entirely sure which version I like more, mostly because I’ve lived with both for so long; I’d probably go with this one, mostly because Takara in Japan did a rerelease of this figure in animation-accurate colors a few years ago and it still just looks wrong to me. Aside from colors, though, this is actually a remarkably accurate representation of the animation design, and as you can see below it’s actually quite a posable figure.
One of the few shortcomings of the figure, in fact, is his stubby little forearms, and you look at him, it doesn’t actually seem to be a big problem in terms of getting him to do stuff. It’s just sort of a problem in terms of his proportions, aesthetically.
The toy does have a light and sound gimmick, activated either by pulling a trigger on his back or by pushing that black button on his waist. On mine it stopped working for good about ten years ago; the red trigger had stopped working about five years earlier. That’s really the big reason I keep thinking of getting one of the reissues or getting a better condition second-hand vintage one. That and the worn-off chrome on his collar, but mostly the light & sound thing. (It makes his eyes flash orange, and his gun barrel in weapon mode.)
While both the Galvatron and Ultra Magnus toys were billed as “City Commanders” in the toy line, and were both approximately the same size, and were made out to be arch-rivals in the UK comics, in reality it was Rodimus Prime who was Galvatron’s true opposite number during season three of the cartoon series; both were the leaders of their respective camps, and it was Rodimus Prime who ultimately defeated Galvatron in the movie, getting in a few good blows and then pitching him out of the Chaos-Bringer’s body, sending him on a one-way trip to a lava bath (and, consequently, crazy-land). Unfortunately, Rodimus Prime is a whole different kettle of fish than Galvatron or Magnus, a skinny, gaunt-looking figure with two points of articulation — at the shoulders — and a really ugly face. I picked up the reissue of this figure for completeness’ sake a few years ago, and while I enjoy the vehicle mode and the whole separating-out-battle-platform thing, the robot himself is kind of a disappointment. Since I didn’t have Rodimus Prime as a kid, Galvatron always had to contend with someone a little more on his size scale: Powermaster Optimus Prime. Just as posable as Rodimus, sure, but with a whole lot more firepower and, let’s face it, gravitas.
Galvatron transforms into a weird futuristic laser artillery thing like so:
It’s a fairly intuitive transformation, made easier to complete by the fact that he turns from a robot into a ridiculous made-up thing. That design philosophy served the TRANSFORMERS toy line fairly well from about 1986 through 1990 in the States, and even longer in Europe. Besides its intuitive nature, another nice thing about the toy is that there are only two parts to lose that aren’t part of the weapon mode: the connector that goes on Galvatron’s bicep and the big black laser rifle. And if you’re worried about losing the connector, you can always slap it on one of his tread-legs.
As ridiculous a made-up thing as this is, I always liked it. Both Hasbro and Takara had to know that the handgun thing with Megatron was only going to fly for so long, and this ridiculous fantasy space laser thing is the obvious place to go next with the gun-mounted-on-his-arm Decepticon Leader given the shift of TRANSFORMERS from the present day to the futuristic space opera style of 1986/season 3. Plus it makes for a fun toy with a light-up barrel and laser sounds.
Even though I’m pondering getting a different Galvatron for the collection — one with the working electronics — the fact of the matter is that this is a figure will always have a place in my collection for as long as I have a collection. I like it aesthetically, functionally, and — I freely admit — emotionally. I love the character in his ranting psychotic persona and in his calculating betrayer and force-of-nature engine of destruction persona. I dig me some Galvatron, and pretty much any time Hasbro or Takara wants to offer up another Galvatron, I’ll take them up on that offer, as you’ll see over the next couple of days. (Yes, more to come!)