Today we’re going to take a look at what I think are four of the most under-rated figures in the history of the Transformers brand; the Laser Rods.
These figures came out in the second year of Generation 2 in 1994, and known as the Illuminators in the UK, these figures featured a number of features which were a first in the Transformers market, and as such these figures act as vital stepping stones in the legacy of the Transformers brand, where nearly all figure ranges add something to the rich tapestry and have bought us to the present, where we take many such features as light-piping and poseability for granted.
Before we get to the toys, I’ going to share some rare imagery from a Transformers Generation 2 style guide. Style Guides are issued so licensees can ensure they keep to the company style, providing license holders with approved images and pantone codes to ensure everything matches up. Not always easy when the packaging art and character names change from the US to Europe. This covers a wealth of G2 characters, and I will crack this out from time to time if it is relevant to a subline we’re looking at. This is a brief and incredibly nerdy look at a niche aspect of the fandom, some people will love seeing this, others will skip ahead to the toys. Both are fine.
Let’s start by taking a look at the Decepticons.
Sizzle is a Decepticon (no relation to the G1 Sparkabot), although you wouldn’t know it because none of these figures are actually branded with any logos, which is very odd because the majority of G2 figures usually feature a mixture of G1 and G2 logos, and at the very least a branded tampograph with the logo and faction name. Known under the name Fireball in Europe, but I tend to go by the US names on these guys for some reason.
Like all of these figures, the engine and the hands can light up when you press a button, hence the Illuminator / Laser Rod branding. All of my figures have long since had the batteries removed to preserve the innards of the bot, but at last check, they worked just fine.
Second up, is his fellow partner in crime Jolt, the first Transformer to use this name in the history of the brand, before Minicons and Bayformers came along. He’s also known by the really unimaginative Hotrod in Europe (no relation to the future Bot who would be Prime). If he looks minty fresh, it’s because I only tore him free from his cardboard prison a year or two back and he’s been behind glass ever since.
Moving onto the Autobots, we have Volt, who sports a slightly different look in his toy form to his packaging pictures as his roof suddenly became his chest, possibly just to vary the line so there weren’t three ‘bots with hood chest designs in a four ‘bot line, but it does mean that the Autobot Laser Rods have roofs for chests and both the ‘Cons have hoods for chests, so there is an easy “how-to-differentiate” guide for these un-faction-logo’d ‘bots. It’s maybe of note that the European versions of the Autobots both kept their American names.
Finally, we come to Volt’s brother, Electro . Interestingly, the Unofficial Transformers Recognition Guide states that Electro doesn’t suffer from GPS like a lot of other old figures, but I guess the figures were only 8 years old when that book was released, because as you can see…
Luckily, I carry a spare in case of this eventuality. Here’s a look at the Japanese packaging (complete with paperwork for nerds like Maz), this figure has never and will never be transformed by my hands, but I did take him out of the packaging and risked EVERYTHING for this photo-shoot. You’re welcome.
Electro also has the dubious honour of being the only member of the team to be “re-imagined” for the modern age, thanks to the Botcon 2013 souvenir pack. It’s a nice figure, and probably a better use of the mold than Kup to be honest. At one point I had the Hasbro Asia Swerve repaint, and the Botcon 2013 Hoist, and a spare Kup, which I was going to customise into the Laser Rods, but it felt like them sharing a single mold would cheapen them.
So, earlier I talked about some of the unique points of the Laser Rods. So what are these? Well, for one, three of them had unique names at the time they were made but this wasn’t that unusual for the first decade of the brand, they all had unique molds which have NEVER been reissued to this day (very rare, considering how many cut and paste repaints were released in the Universe toyline), they had a unique electronics feature which involved unplugging the LED and plugging it in elsewhere (primative maybe, but functional), light-up weapons, light-piping, but more than that, these figures were the first Transformer figures to feature ball-joints. Okay, sure, the waist section lets this down a bit as it’s held on by a rubber band similar to GI Joe or Action Masters, but the ball jointed legs and highly poseable arms meant these guys could strike poses that were unseen before them, and with awesome (and uniquely molded) melee weapons, without this step, would we have ever have gotten to Beast Wars levels of poseability.
Okay, they’re not the first Transformer to do this by any means, the Axelerators did it very well the year before as did their line nemesis’ (nemesi?) / evil equivalents The Skyscorchers. But these were figures where the weapons were integrated into the transformation. On the Laser-Rods, these swords are additional parts and quite sizeable too, having them store under the figures is a nice touch, and again, a stepping stone towards the weapon storage as standard Kenner bought us with Beast / Machine Wars.
I often hear Transformers fans complaining about Generation 2, because they didn’t like the colours (which are often no more garish than G1 a lot of the time), when mostly I think they don’t dislike it, they just prefer the G1 they grew up with to the G2 they have no affection for. I often say that every Transformers property, whether you love it or loathe it, offers something new to the franchise; The Bay movies bought us Blackout and Barricade, the Animated series Lugnut and Lockdown, even Cheetor and Hot-Shot contributed to the idea that Bumblebee’s character could evolve over time. No re-imagining contributed more to the evolution of the toys than Generation 2, and the Laser Rods stand to me as some of the finest examples of G2 figures. Bold, brash, creative, and unafraid to take risks, even if they mean that rubber bands snap, plastic breaks, and light features fail. They say there is no waste in science, because even a failed experiment rules out one option, and along with that theory, every risk that G2 took was an extra step towards the toys we have and love now.
Bravo Laser Rods, we salute you!