Say hello to Tailgate.
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.
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 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 Swerve, Hubcap, 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.
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.
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.