Cheesy Toy Knockoffs!

Email Alex

Optimal Knock Offs: Part 1 in an On-Going Series!
By Alex Thatcher

There was a time, long ago, when there was only one Optimus Prime toy that existed, and it took a good two years before the first repaint of it occurred as Ultra Magnus. A time when it was at least four years before the next Optimus Prime toy was created. A time when there wasn't even an Optimus Prime, but instead Optimus Primal, which for all intents and purposes was close enough. This was due to the fact that until the cartoon made the Beast Wars Optimus Primal a "new" character it was the same old Optimus in a new skin (literally). Even then there were dry spells; years between new versions and some toys didn't even look like their cartoon counterparts. Well, those times are long gone.

In this last year, with the release of the new movie, there were so many new Optimus Prime toys and repaints that it wasn't too hard to lose count. While times are "optimal" now for collectors, what, if anything, did they have to do before? There were no other options ... right? Well, not officially.... For all those Optimus Prime/Primal fans out there I've compiled a list of some of the not so well known and well known "alternatives" that have come and gone.

First on this list is the "Jumpstarter" Optimus Prime. The reason I chose this as our starting point is simple...this is a toy that epitomizes everything about a "Knockoff" or "Bootleg". It is literally a Knockoff of a Knockoff and harkens back to a glorious time in Transformers and robot history - 1985, the second year of the Transformers. It was not only a year that introduced some of the most beloved and desired Transformers, it was also a time where retailers scrambled to find anything that was a robot and if it transformed, even better. This was the only time where legitimate retailers had the United States release product, the Asian release product, the Bootleg of the Asian product and the Bootleg of the Bootleg side by side on the shelf. To put things truly in perspective allow me to indulge in a beautiful flashback to that time.

Prime wasn't left out by any means during these days. He had his Diaclones and an infamous Italian version that came with Roadbuster's gun just for starters, but he kind of got lost in the craziness. While he was a popular character, it just seemed like others were in the spotlight. The Dinobots for example... Grimlock had a Diaclone version, the Bootleg Diaclone version and the Bootleg of the Bootleg which in this instance was known as the Pre-History Animal. This Pre-History version of Grimlock was bronze in color, had a horn on his forehead and ridges down his back somewhat like Godzilla. They even made Sludge with wings, and the mind numbing thing was that in most instances the quality was just as good. This made for a perfect storm of confusion among kids and an even worse time for parents. How could you sort it all out when even Gobots were selling model kits of Robotech Alphas and Cyclones renamed to be Leader-1 and Cy-kill as legitimately licensed product, but were also being sold as Robotech and Mospeada? This was the time period where the Jumpstarter Optimus Prime was birthed, or at least the Bootleg that it copied and modified came from.

The Jumpstarters were the first of the second year Transformers that were readily available to a kid like me that wasn't able to buy on demand. Six bucks was a lot easier to come by than ten or more. By some crazy streak of luck, I had already come across three other second year Transformers that somehow turned up in stores late 1984 instead of 1985. For one reason or another I didn't have the money or I had inadvertently bought another version. So when I got my first Jumpstarter it was well loved.

For those who care...those three early releases were Skids (at a store called Skaggs Drugs in October), Shockwave (at K-mart in November) and Jetfire (at a store called Ralph's Toys and Hobbies in December). I remember Shockwave particularly well because days before I had found the real Shockwave I had bought the infamous "Shackwave" from Radio Shack. It made sense for Shockwave and Jetfire to be out early; they had both been in the toon in 84, Shockwave in September and Jetfire/Skyfire in December of 84, but Skids? I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

So I had gotten my first Jumpstarter. It was Twin Twist. Maybe it was because of the waiting, the wanting, that special fixation that kids get for some things, I don't know for sure but Twin Twist was one of my favorites then and to this day he still is. I didn't get Topspin until the next year and I hated him from the moment I opened it. Although I didn't know why I liked Twin Twist so much I knew why I detested Topspin. I had been tempted by a Bootleg and it had left me wanting.

Maybe it's just me, but if you think about it - something about Topspin compared to Twin Twist is off. Twin Twist had more detail, his form makes more sense, he has tank treads and drill bits. Topspin has wings and flat chrome things. Are they supposed to be cockpits? Even his gun seemed lame all crooked and weak compared to the meaty cannon that Twin Twist had come with. It made sense for Twin Twist to have huge feet and look big; you would expect that from a earth borer, not an aircraft. The Bootleg had a cockpit, it had a built in gun, it had more guns on the wings and it was brown and yellow. In every way it seemed cooler and I wondered why I hadn't gotten it at that Hills department store as it hung there by the register back in 1985.

Fast forward to 1998, the dollar store changes the world, and it gives me a second chance. At first I hadn't even noticed it, I had been lured in by a horrible fake of a Macross Valkyrie. Then I turned slightly and caught a familiar blue and red in the corner of my eye. I saw the big feet and thought it was a horrible playschool rip off robot of some sort but then I remembered that first Bootleg I had seen at Hills all those years ago, it was that Jumpstarter, more or less, now it had an Optimus Prime head, and it was only a buck. As soon as I opened it I found out why.

The original Bootleg I had seen back in '85 appeared comparable to the Hasbro one, good packaging, nice paint aps and plastic that appeared to be strong. This version had none of those; however, I must admit that I was surprised it had foil stickers that were placed well. The plastic is almost transparent and begins breaking the moment you try to use the toy. The Jumpstarter feature has been completely removed and replaced with a friction drive (broke free of plastic mounts the first time used). It has a hand held gun that becomes part of the jet mode by attaching to its chest, a nose cone that flips down from its back, and the arm wings have larger weapons and more of them. Overall, this version just looks better in both robot and jet mode, it would look even better with paint, but what makes it look best is the addition of the head that resembles Optimus Prime. This is a prime (pun intended) example of what you can expect of most KOs, poor plastic, limited functionality and some twist to get your money.

To be continued...