Thursday, April 19, 2018

Taking Names & Sl#*!ing Throats

One of the biggest reasons why the original G1 Transformers cartoon made such a lasting impression on me was that it was full of visually interesting characters with uniquely distinct personalities. From the noble Optimus Prime to the treacherous Starscream, almost every single character from this rather large cast had at least one trait or quirk that made them instantly identifiable to their target audience.

The Autobot scout Hound was one of the first characters I latched onto as a kid as he was featured quite prominently in the original 3 part cartoon “More than Meets The Eye”. I believe Hound was initially supposed to be the character the writers really wanted us to identify with. Unlike most of his team mates, Hound wasn’t the smartest, strongest or most skilled warrior. He didn’t transform into a flashy sports car or a sleek jet, but a rugged army jeep. His personality was easy going and down to earth. And speaking of “earth” I think his original toy bio says it all about what made him stand out from his other Autobots. While quite a number of his crewmates longed to return to their cold metallic home of Cybertron, including his close comrade Mirage, Hound was quite happy with his adoptive new home.

“Hound loves the natural wonders of Earth, prefers it to Cybertron. Brave, fearless, loyal. Secretly desires to be human.”

Anyway Hound was the first Transformer in the series to have any meaningful interaction with the Autobot’s first human ally, Spike Witwicky who was meant to serve as our perspective in the series. They go out on a drive in the desert and tell each other about their respective home planets. It’s a real quick conversation, but even back then it made an impression on me and I knew that this cartoon was definitely more special than most stuff I was also watching at the time.

Throughout the series, he continues to be Spike’s constant companion as he happily answers all his questions about the Transformers and serves as the human’s preferred ride. His unique ability of generating holograms is also heavily featured and plays an major role in the final act of the series as the Autobots try (although unsuccessfully) to fool the Decepticons into attacking a fake military airbase.

Unfortunately for some reason, after original 3 part cartoon, Hound was relegated more into a background character as Bumblebee started gaining momentum and pretty much took over the role as Spike’s BFF.

The next time “Hound” would be featured in a prominent role in any Transformer medium would be years later in the 2007 series Transformers Animated...sort of. One of the new characters the show introduced was the Autobot Bulkhead. Now to be fair Bulkhead looked nothing like the original G1 Hound. He was your typical cliche big and clumsy oaf with a heart of gold. The only reason why people initially connected him to the original G1 Hound was that he also transformed into some sort of military styled vehicle, which in itself was really a stretch to begin with.

Anyway as the animated series won over new fans, Bulkhead grew into his own unique character and pretty much all those comparisons to Hound were dropped. Bulkhead proved to be a pretty popular character that when Animated ended and a new series called Prime was launched in 2010, Bulkhead was front and center again as a member of the new Autobot team. Even if this more polished version of Bulkhead transformed into something closer to a jeep, there was definitely no mistaking him as Hound.

But then here’s where things start coming full circle and well...a little confusing. In 2014, the 4th live action Transformers movie, The Age of Extinction was released and it introduced yet another new Autobot character (after they killed off pretty much most of the other Autobots from the prior 3 movies). This guy was big and green and transformed into a huge armored military vehicle. Considering the tone of the last tv series Prime was heavily influenced by the live action movies, it didn't really come as a surprise that Bulkhead was finally making his live action debut...only, the character wasn’t Bulkhead….his name was Hound!

Of course this guy was nothing like the original G1 Hound. The original Hound was more reserved and not much of a fighter (he once got his ass kicked by a Decepticon half his size). This Hound was more of the old grizzled battle veteran with a big and boisterous personality. He was also armed to the teeth and was more likely to single handedly take on an army of Decepticons head on.

The live action movies were quite infamous for giving pretty forgettable Transformer characters. Aside from a select few, most were either one note cliches at best and terrible racial stereotypes at worst. Given that very low bar, I would have to say I really liked how this version Hound turned out. Voiced by actor John Goodman, just like the original Hound from the 80’s, this guy made a pretty good impression on me. I mean any character that smokes live ammunition like a cigar (and later blows off a Decepticon’s head with said bullet) and refers to himself as “a fat ballerina taking names and slitting throats!” is definitely a memorable character in my book.

Anyway, I know not everybody will agree with me, but as far as I’m concerned, G1 Hound, Bulkhead or movie Hound are all just one logical and favorable evolution of the same character. As much as I liked the original Hound, even I have to concede that next to the “bigger” & flashier characters from the original cartoon, it was pretty inevitable that he would eventually get lost in the shuffle. Changing his physical appearance to the big hulking Bulkhead definitely helped him stand out. And if I really wanted to connect the dots on the similarities, movie Hound had a very distinct look. He didn’t look like your typical Transformer. While most of his comrades sported fit and well proportioned bodies, this guy had an actual belly and his face was covered by a big thick beard. He almost looked...human, something the original G1 Hound “secretly desired to be”.

In the end though, one trait that remains consistent in all these different characters that is good enough to convince me that they were all meant to be the same character. They were all no nonsense soldiers loyal to Optimus Prime and the Autobot cause.

Anyway I’ll just wrap up this post by talking about a few more Hounds I have in my collection.

Alternators Hound was one of the first toys I actually ever bought. If I remember right this was actually the first 2nd hand or “loose” toy that I bought off a fellow collector well over 10 years ago! This guy’s robot mode definitely looks really dated now, but his selling point was actually his alt mode which was an officially licensed Jeep Wrangler.

I remember Generations Hound being a highly sought after toy when it was first released 2008. I had a hell of time looking for this guy. I finally found him amongst the chaos of a huge toy sale in one of the bigger malls in Singapore. I had already scoured that same area a few hours earlier with no luck and before heading home on a whim I decided to take one last look and lo and behold, I found one lone piece that someone probably decided to return. It was a pleasant surprise that I remember distinctly until now.

Finally there’s Combiner Wars Hound which was basically Hasbro cashing in on a repaint. This toy was originally released as the Combaticon Swindle. While this was definitely meant to be Generation One Hound he’s a bit more on the bulky side which I don’t really mind, he’s like the missing link between the original Hound and Bulkhead.