Transformer in focus: Blaster
Blaster was released by Hasbro in 1985 as a counterpart to the Decepticon Soundwave. While visually different the pair were conceptually very similar; both transformed into stereo systems and housed smaller 'cassettes' that would eject to become robots or creatures. Though Blaster's cassettes would never achieve the same degree of prominence as Soundwave's, the character himself would become one of the most memorable Transformers from the comics and cartoons.
Hasbro - as UK fans know only too well - were very selective about the toys they chose to release on these shores. Perhaps fearing that the UK market could not sustain the full range of Transformers toys, many great characters like Blaster, the Dinobot Swoop, Shockwave, the Constructions, Predacons (and the list goes on) were sadly omitted. In 1990 an Action Master version of Blaster did make it to UK stores but this was a huge disappointment - not least because it did not transform - a cardinal sin for a Transformer! (To my mind this makes a mockery of the title 'Action Master' as well.) Consequently, while the Action Master version has been largely forgotten, original Blaster toys remain highly sought after, particularly in the UK. The few lucky collectors who do own him generally rate Blaster as a good sized and good quality toy; simple to transform and sturdy. To give some idea of his comparative size he roughly as big as the Powermaster Prime toy, which is to say somewhat larger than Soundwave (although both are of equal size in the comics and cartoons).
Blaster's motto is "When the music is rockin, I'm rollin". His tech specs tell us that he finds all Earth music interesting but it is rock'n'roll "good, hard and loud" that really puts the spark in his circuits. Blaster's AM/FM stereo mode in-part enables him to function as the Autobot communicator. He can transmit and receive radio signals on all frequencies up to 4,000 miles away. His weapon is an electro-scrambler gun which emits powerful waves of electromagnetic energy that can disrupt the operations of all but the most heavily shielded electrical devices, not least enemy Transformers. In theory, the gun should interfere with the minute electrical impulses of the human nervous system, but Blaster has never used the gun on a human.
The Blaster character that emerges from tech specs and the cartoons seems very much based around the cassette deck altar-ego. As you might expect from someone who spends half of their time as a stereo, Blaster has developed a passion for Earthen rock music and incorporated this into his very being. Toy and cartoon Blasters are presented as hip, streetwise, and cool, while embracing of human youth culture and not taking life too seriously. We're told Blaster would much rather be kicking-it to a searing guitar solo than fighting the scourge of the Decepticons. All of this seems very well but is hardly realistic for a character who has endured millions of years of warfare and the horrors that come with it. Bob Budiansky to his great credit understood this and would characterise him differently in the comics - taking into account these experiences and their effects. But cartoon Blaster ignores any such considerations and stays true to the original Hasbro toy concept. So we get an animated character that speaks in a constant hyperactive jive, almost like a DJ on acid. There are numerous examples but some that come to mind are in the Transformers Movie where he utters such lines as "cover your audio 'ceptors Perceptor" and "what's shakin' other than this fortress?" For many this character may be no less endearing but to my mind the comic Blaster stands head and shoulders apart.
The first time we see Blaster is in the classic US story the Smelting Pool (UK#66-67) written by Bob Budiansky, and drawn and coloured respectively by Don Perlin and Nel Yomtov. Thanks to their efforts Blaster looks the business! He cuts the figure of a tall, imposing hero, who stands in sharp contrast to the bleak Cybertron landscape. Blaster has a cool visor and a powerful electro scrambler gun that makes him seemingly indestructible. The story shines on many levels, not least by introducing a host of great new characters, but also by giving us our first taste of life on the present day Cybertron with the twist that the Decepticons have won the war. Blaster is undoubtedly the star of the show and personifies the struggle of good against evil as the Autobots battle to reclaim their world. The other side is embodied by the fearsome Lord Straxus (who welds an energised axe capable of cutting Transformers in two). The rivalry between both champions is evident early on and there is the sense that the two are destined to meet in battle before this mini series is out.
The Smelting Pool story was a significant departure from the issues that had gone before because it shifted focus from Earth to Cybertron. But the absence of established favourites like Prime or Megatron was adequately compensated for by the Blaster/Straxus dynamic. In the first few frames we get a grim taste of life on the Decepticon ruled Cybertron. The stench of death fills the air as a trio of mechanoids run for their miserable lives, pursued as sport, by Decepticon hunter planes. The bodies of the fallen are scooped up with casual disregard and meticulously disposed of by harvester units, which take them to the smelting pool to be melted down and recycled.
Out of the shadow of all of this steps Blaster and dispatches the remaining Decepticon bully with matchless ease and fury, saving the helpless mechanoid from a certain end. He has little patience for a show of gratitude though, and tells the quivering wreck before him that he can demonstrate his thanks best by crawling 'back to his hole', adding: "I've got better things to do than save the rusty hides of robo-wretches like you." This scene instantly establishes the personality of the comic book Blaster. It shows us his underlying compassion for the innocent along with a tough abrasive exterior that has little patience for pleasantries. This Blaster has no doubt been forged in the fires of countless battles and is a striking departure from the trivial beat-bopping character of the toy and cartoon canons.
Blaster demonstrates his intense loyalty to his friends in this story (and indeed later during his partnership with Goldbug). On this occasion when the Autobot Scrounge goes missing, it is Blaster who stands up for him at Autobase and demands they form a search party. Group leader Perceptor thinks that Scrounge is simply unreliable and most-likely laying low to avoid being caught telling another fanciful story. He would much rather concentrate on the wider objective of planning the Autobot resistance.. but this is not Blaster's way. Though Blaster respects Perceptor's authority he is willing to challenge it, and more than ready to go to Scrounge's aid alone if necessary. Here we see more evidence of Blaster's impatience with authority and his natural ability to never lose sight of the individual, no matter how insignificant their role in the grand scheme. He displays in these early scenes the rebellious qualities that would carry him through his subsequent adventures on Earth.
Blaster's example also adheres him (unintentionally) to the other Autobots who instinctively want to follow him. But he is by nature a loner who prefers to remain out of the inner-circle, and we must assume he is oblivious to the qualities he inspires in others. Nevertheless it is this independent spirit and determination to stay true to his principals, that makes Blaster a natural alternative leader to Grimlock, when the Earth-bound Autobots would later be oppressed by the Dinobot's tyrannical rule.
Horay for Bob!?
Credit where it's due guys, the much maligned Mr Budiansky gets a lot of stick for some of his sillier tales (Carwash and the wrestling contest to name two), but he definitely has the edge over the generally praised Simon Furman where Blaster is concerned. I'm not sure why Simon never properly got to grips with Blaster, maybe he just didn't get him? In the few Furman stories where Blaster appears, he is never more than a regular Autobot and is not singled out in any way. It could be that Furman is not too interested in him, or perhaps that he realises that Budiansky does Blaster best, and it's better for him to concentrate on his own favourites like Galvatron, Nightbeat etc. But whatever the reason Bob deserves praise for taking a toy blueprint and dumping the gimmicks to create a gritty, battle hardened hero in its place. Blaster's qualities are those of the classic maverick loner with little time for politics and leaders, and yet he is intensely loyal to his friends and the cause. In The Cure (UK#127) he would much rather slagged by acid than have Decepticons survive because of him. Comics Blaster is a product of the countless battles he has fought, and the harrowing losses he has sustained. He emerges as a more realistic character than the toy concept - after all how many of us would be happily preoccupied by rock music if we'd endured years civil warfare? While Budiansky makes the odd overture to Blaster's musical tastes, it is not this character's overriding concern, in contrast to the toy and cartoon depictions. Finally Blaster's tough exterior belies a soft centre and deep concern for the people of Earth, who have been unwittingly caught up in the Transformers' war.
Blaster the rebel:
Blaster really came into his own in the issues that dealt with his defection from the Autobot army under Grimlock. The storyline played beautifully to his strengths as a rebel and loner who prefers to fight the Decepticon menace on his own terms. Furthermore his double-act with Goldbug helped to accentuate the characteristics of both. We see from their early conversation with G.B. Blackrock that Blaster is the hothead of the outfit, and Goldbug is undoubtedly the diplomat and measured voice of reason. Brawn and brains if you like. The two compliment each other more so in that Goldbug provides the transport and Blaster packs the brute strength. Blaster's fiery temper and underlying loyalty are revealed when Goldbug questions him over the death of Scrounge. "You watched a fellow Autobot die Blaster? And did nothing?" he says. Blaster responds that war sometimes makes you do things you'll hate yourself for forever, and bellows: "If you think I'll abandon you to die too why don't you run back to Grimlock?" The scene for me also reveals Blaster's protectiveness to his new companion - he will not allow harm to come to him - and this may be his way of making up the death of Scrounge.
The Scraplets story provides a new twist in the partnership. Blaster becomes infected by the parasites and Goldbug appears to abandon him. Blaster is incensed by the betrayal (his penchant for action won't allow him to consider that Goldbug is seeking to resolve the situation some other way) but their bond is strengthened further when Goldbug returns with a cure. The story also introduces the Throttlebots, who join them, but in subsequent adventures it would be Goldbug who'd act as the guide and 'leader' of the convoy. Blaster is content stay in the wings and only emerge at the forefront when action is needed.
Blaster's life on the run comes to an end when Grimlock sends the Protectobots to capture him. Though even here he chooses the cause above his own needs by revealing himself and joining the fight against the Combaticons - even he risks arrest. He comes full circle when he battles Grimlock for supremacy on the moon - but the two must put aside their differences to combat a Decepticon ambush. The result is that Blaster is welcomed back to the fold.
Blaster for leader?
One of the great missed opportunities of the comics (in my view anyway) was when the writers passed up the chance to make Blaster the Autobot leader. The prospect was raised in issue 144 when Blaster returns to the Ark and is implored to take the job by Grimlock's weary followers. Instead he chooses to surrender himself to safeguard a group of human children from the Dinobots.
But what kind of leader might Blaster have made? There are many fascinating possibilities. On the one hand it could have been disasterous because Blaster is more a loner than a team player, while his instincts to rush-to-action might have led the Autobots into trouble. On the other hand he is a great motivator who inspires by example. And his instinctive compassion for the victims of war (be they Autobot or human) is something he shares with the best of Autobot kind, namely Optimus Prime. But while Prime was able to see the big picture and make peace with the Decepticons in order to fight Unicron, this might have been a step beyond Blaster. His hatred of the Decepticons was simply too great. If not it would have been a great soul searching moment for him that surely would have been worth a tale. One thing is certain, he couldn't have been worse as leader than Grimlock.
"I have another game for you Decepticon. I call it 'try to fly straight after a blast from my electro scrambler'"
"Burn you tin plated tyrants! Feel what Scrounge felt when you tossed him into your stinking pit"
Goldbug: "We have a new leader -Grimlock - but we've decided we would be more effective fighting Decepticons on our own"
Blaster: "Yeah, Grimlock's a mechanical moron"
"No Decepticon is going to function for an extra nanosecond because of me!"
Goldbug "That's the Decepticon Vortex - how'd he find us?"
Blaster: "What's important Goldbug is now we've found him!"
"Enemy humans, disabled allies, no weapons and enough firepower aimed at us to atomise the Ark! I've had better days."