It’s always tough when things from your youth change inexplicably. Spider-Man stops being married, Superman starts snapping necks, nobody remembers how to pronounce Constantine… Sometimes it’s about the creators, sometimes it’s about the fans, other times, it’s the external forces of law and intellectual property that alter the fabric of the pop culture that we all love… Welcome to Ten Things!
Whooshman-Bicarbonate Films, in conjunction with ‘An Amateur Comics Historian’, and ‘Robots In Disguise’, Presents:
TEN TRANSFORMERS WHO GOT HOSED BY COPYRIGHT!
As someone who turned 13 the year that Hasbro bought up a bunch of toy molds from various companies and shipped ’em to America as the united Transformers line, my point of reference is in Generation 1 Transformers. The expectations of that time period (much like the comic books of the Silver Age) were that the toys were meant to have a short shelf-life and be replaced, and thus many were given nondescript names like Pipes, Gears and Huffer. Skids falls into that category, with the double indignity of having an alternate form that’s a minivan. When his name didn’t pass the test in the early 2000’s, later versions were redubbed “Skid-Z”, but the true indignity came when his name was used for one of dopey comic-relief racial stereotype characters in the Michael Bay movie franchise.
The heartless, brutal leader of the Stunticons, Motormaster is perhaps best remembered for his monumental arrogance (and rapid defeat) in challenging Optimus Prime to truck-to-truck combat. Though never one of the higher-profile Decepticreeps, he was nonetheless well-named, until naming rights issues caused him to be redubbed “Motorbreath” in 2012. It’s telling that this appellation (which sounds remarkably like a fourth-grade insult) is actually more humiliating than his failure against the greatest of the Autobots…
As that picture should attest, Shockwave is one of the most terrifying things in all of Transformer-dom, a coldly logical monster who isn’t afraid to go Frankensteining through his fellow Decepticons. For some reason, around the turn of the century he was revamped about ten years ago with a car alternate form and the name “Shockblast”, an appellation that turns him from Mister Hyde to Doctor Baker of Walnut Grove, complete with buggy and flat-brimmed hat. Thankfully, he has not only regained his true name and laser cannon form since, sparing us additional instances of what the TF fandom calls “blastification.”
An odd example to begin with, as sorta had two separate names anyway: Skyfire in G1 cartoons, Jetfire in comics. His toy form was a slightly modified Macross VF-1S Super Valkyrie, which makes him something of a continuity nightmare to begin with. Later attempt to revive Skyfire led to the discovery that his name was in contention, leading to the creation of an alternate character called Sky Blast in later tales. Personally, I wish more ‘Formers had such issues, as the team of Blastimus Prime, Ultra Blasticus and Blastlebee could make for a really entertaining story in one world or another…
Though his name is another example of the vaguely generic nomenclature used in the earliest Robots In Disguise adventures, the real problem with Ratchet came when the International Committee Of The Red Cross (a humanitarian organization headquartered in Switzerland, and yes it’s THAT Red Cross) recognized that ol’ Ratch, along with a couple of other medical-types, was wearing their trademarked symbol as part of his livery. They successfully sued Hasbro to protect their mark, and later appearances have Ratchet with different or no markings at all…
Sideswipe was always one of my favorites of the original Transformers, for three reasons: First, he was mostly a blank slate in comics and cartoons, so could act however I saw fit; he was red, which continues to be my signature color; and most importantly, it’s easy to turn his name into a super-rude insult. (I shan’t elaborate, but I’m sure clever Spoilerites are pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down there.) Sideswipe has also been a party to a back-and-forth about whether or not his name has a space in it, with Hasbro dubbing him Side Swipe when Sideswipe proved to be unavailable as a trademark, then switched back to the original, before successfully copyrighting BOTH versions.
The weird thing about Bluestreak is that, even in his earliest appearances, he (and his toy) are mostly silver in color. This made for an easy transition when the Bluestreak named proved unavailable for later use, changing to Silverstreak and/or Streak in various revivals over the years, with very few of his various iterations ever actually BEING Blue. Turns out his name comes from his speed (he was a Datsun 280-Z, after all) and that he is a figurative motor mouth, rather than the literal one that all the Transformers technically are.
For some reason, this is always the most heartbreaking of Transformers trademark issues, since “Trailbreaker” is an uncommon, unwieldy turn of phrase, and the updated version (“Trailcutter”) just sounds… wrong. Interestingly, this is one of the few changes that has been acknowledged in adaptations, with Trailbreaker actually CHOOSING his new name during the events of the IDW ongoing series. Several different TF toys that would have been Trailbreaker were actually changed into entirely different robots before release, as well, meaning that this founding Autobot has been repeatedly hosed by copyright issues. The biggest shame of all comes in the fact that he was one of several Autobots voiced by Frank Welker…
2) HOT ROD
Our man Hot Rod is a pretty major figure in Autobot history, being the ‘bot to take over leadership after the death of Optimus Prime during the Unicron Crisis. (You may know it as “Transformers: The Movie”, not to be confused with the Transformers movie, which I found to be predictable and dumb.) Fortunately, even though he hasn’t been able to go by ‘Hot Rod’ in years, he has an alternate name, Rodimus Prime. Unfortunately, he isn’t usually actually Prime Autobot (what with the backlash to the death of Optimus Prime we talked about a second ago), leaving him with the slightly off-color-sounding name “Rodimus”, made even more so in his Japanese appellation “Rodimus Convoy”, also the name of one-hit-wonder C.W. McCall’s big number…
An interesting example in that, like Hot Rod, ‘Bee has an alternate name/form called Goldbug, but is beloved in his cute-as-a-VW-Bug original form. His place as “young, wide-eyed innocent” has been usurped a number of times, with the most interesting being his non-appearance in ‘Beast Wars’, where having him turn into an ACTUAL Bumblebee could have been cool. Later character Hot Shot (who is NOT the same as Hot Rod, leading to one of the most complicated and annoying parts of trying to figure out Transformers history) was actually designed to BE Bumblebee, which explains why his aspect and demeanor are so similar to the Bumblebee of old. Of course, now he’s a Camaro who had to deal with Shia and Megan Fox making out on his hood, so his humiliations aren’t limited to just the vagaries of trademark issues.
As with any set of like items, these aren’t meant to be hard and fast or absolutely complete, and indeed, there are dozens of other examples of this sort of thing throughout the dozens of Transformers Universes, especially now that the movie franchise is in the habit of grabbing a name and proceeding to not pay attention to anything that was associated with said name before… The comments section is Below for just such an emergency, but, as always: Please, no wagering![signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]