In 1986, the greatest animated film based on a toyline in history premiered. It had celebrity voices, stunning visuals, and in the years following, it became an unstoppable cult classic.
A few months prior to that, Hanna-Barbera produced a cheap, ugly little movie, as is their wont, this time about warriors that turn into rocks. It had “celebrity voices” and the same discount animation they always used, and was quickly (and deservedly) forgotten. It was called GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords.
I could go on all day about the differences between franchises, and how they were managed. But the truth is, despite the inherent stupidity of selling toy rocks to children, the Rock Lords were mostly decent toys. In fact, my collection has held up extremely well, for playthings just shy of 30 years old. The biggest negative regarding Rock Lords was how easily you could huck one at your cousin’s head, and start a rumpus.
Because of my allegiance to Hasbro’s Transformers brand, I would purchase (or shoplift, whenever possible) off-brand robot toys, and make up new characters for them. I felt that the entire GoBots mythos was shite, so I conjured up a fanciful backstory for the Rock Lords, based loosely on the Transformers’ origin. A ship full of robots crashed on a planet with an atmosphere that turns metal into stone. The scanner carved their mechanical workings loose with a laser, and they began fighting over their new and strange territory as Petrobots: Powerful Living Rocks.
Come on, as lame as that is, you know it’s better than what Tonka coughed up.
Anyway, please allow me to share with you my Rock Lords. I will append notes regarding “Petrobot profiles” wherever memory does not fail me. (The invaluable website tfu.info was a huge help in clearing away the cobwebs.)
This guy ruled. “Granite” is a decent enough name, so I probably called him that in 1986. The only part that’s fatigued is the slider that pops his head out, so it slowly sinks back down, making him look increasingly embarrassed. He’s cute, solid, and he slides into a pocket nicely in rock mode. He didn’t come with any weapons; does it look like he needs them?
“Spikestone” is a “Rockasaur”. See why my 14-year-old self felt moved to create a new story for these hunks of crap? I guess Tonka’s creative department was staffed with Flintstones fans.
I can’t remember if I came up with anything better though. If you’re an insane shut-in, and you’re wondering where Spikestone’s tail is, I removed it long ago. It was silly-lookin’.
In 8th grade, my friend Marc saw this and said “Crack-Pot: two drugs in one.” He was also responsible for a nonsensical joke that I still think is funny:
Q: “Does your dick burn after sex?”
A: “I don’t know, I’ve never tried lighting it.”
Crack-Pot was purportedly composed of azurite, “a mix of violet and gray that’s tough enough to resist good-natured kidding” (Tonka profile). He’d likely disapprove of our japes.
Crack-Pot is butt ugly.
Brimstone is a great name, and Hasbro obviously agreed, because they’ve introduced Brimstones of their own in the past ten years. He had a crummy golden axe, which I lost. I’m not taking pictures of these things in “rock mode”, so just imagine them wadded up and you’ll get the idea.
Brimstone was “a foul smelling combination of sulfur and rock”. I think an opportunity was wasted to make him actually stink. It was probably wiser not to.
Terrific name, terrific toy. I could easily believe the entire toyline was created as an excuse to name a bad guy “Tombstone”. He’s quartz, which “flashes with a wicked glint as he goes about his deadly chores”. He had a reaping scythe, which I lost. So much for those chores. His tiny lower jaw doesn’t open, even though it looks like it should.
Marbles kinda sucks. His joints are all too tight or too loose, and he’s so ugly that my childhood self got out the Testors paint and gave him a makeover. As you’ll see, many Rock Lords were sculpted to vaguely resemble different science-fiction icons, and Marbles got a raw deal, as a combo of a classic Martian and a wimpy Star Trek alien. Poor Marbles.
“Boulder” (wow) is the leader of the Good Rock Lords. Seriously, how long did it take to hash this all out, an afternoon? “Good Rock Lords” sounds like something a young man might exclaim if he’d like to be punched.
Because Boulder is the leader of the good guys in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 80s, he is of course an obvious white man with blue eyes. Way to hedge your bets there, Tonka. At least he isn’t named “Jasun”, or “Jayce”, or some other goddamn J-thing.
Despite clearly being a complete jerkoff, Boulder is a great toy. It’s just too bad he’s a honky with a hat. Plus he came with a red rifle that looks like it should belong to Brimstone, who lacks the articulation to aim it.
Terra-Rock is another Rockasaur, with the evil power to rip your fingernails from their beds when you try to unfold his neck. A flying dinosaur made of rock. Even as a kid, I knew that was dumb.
Rock Shock’s name is so deadly dull that it took me ten minutes to work out what it was. Regardless, this was a direct inspiration for the Gargile “rock ducks” in Ceaseless Fables of Beyonding. That little ball on his gut is attached to a short string, and can be extended so that his jai alai arm can toss it. It works poorly enough to get Rock Shock picked last for any ball team.
You know, I kicked off this article all excited that I was gonna share my childhood ideas with you, and I can’t remember most of them. Though, to be fair, Tonka didn’t bother to write profiles for most of these toys either.
With distinctive names like these, is it any wonder Tonka’s GoBots went on to such tremendous success? “Stone Hook”- he’s a stone, and he has a hook. C’mon, a five-year-old could look at this toy and call it something better. It’s got an interesting design, nice paint accents, and a retractable hook attached to a string. Jeez, “Hookerock” would’ve been an improvement. (That’s not what I called him.)
If you look closely, Stone Hook has an offended expression. That’s how he looked when Tonka named him. He froze like that.
“SANDSTONE” (original name: PULVER-EYES)
Hoo boy. I think you can see where problems began to arise within the Rock Lords property. First off, those are some serious boulder-birthing hips. Second, “Pulver-Eyes” is just indefensibly terrible, and thirdly, I think we can all agree this dude (or dudette) should be barking at Mark Hamill in the desert.
Maybe the idea of a Tusken Raider that turns into a rock isn’t awful. Disney’s done worse.
“SLAMDANCE” (original name: MAGMAR)
I named this one “Slamdance” because of his “mohawk”, and made him the punk good guy character (read: Hot Rod from Transformers: The Movie). Imagine my delight when Hasbro coincidentally named a robot Slamdance a couple years later. Serendipity like that is a huge jolt to a kid’s creative ego.
“Magmar” is an okay name, if you’re wholly unaware of the old girls’ appellation that is “Dagmar”. Familiarity with the Frank Zappa song “Broken Hearts Are For Assholes” makes matters even worse.
[There it is again, folks; the point in the article where I’ve gone so deep inside that I don’t even know if I’m making sense anymore.]
Magmar was composed of igneous rock, “formed of molten lava that reflects his fiery emotions.” That’s about as much character development as Tonka offered. They didn’t care; they just wanted a piece of the fortune Hasbro reaped with a similar property. The difference is, Hasbro hired guys from Marvel to carve out a colorful story, and characters to match. Tonka picked words at random out of a booklet or something.
Like I did with Marbles, I painted over Magmar’s barf-colored face to tone it down. The menorah on his chest is a wonderfully festive touch, but since he’s the leader of the Evil Rock Lords, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to imply.
Yeah. Don’t expect anything decent in the names department from here, if you even did in the first place. I apologize, as those are some horrendous colors. The chrome looks as nice as it does because I obsessively polished it. I learned my lesson from 1984 Optimus Prime’s chrome bumper and thighs. I don’t think making this article readable to a normal person is within the realm of possibility.
This toy folds up into an almost-spherical ball, which hits a button on the bottom when rolled, popping out the appendages you see here. It works so well that it’s harder to store it as a rock. This toy is also good for inducing sudden heart attacks.
Let’s close this out with my two favorites.
“SCI-FI” (original name: STICKS ‘N’ STONES)
In my story, the crew that crashed on the planet with the ossifying atmosphere included a good guy and a bad guy who were the most injured. The ship’s onboard computer combined them to save them, and they became the Petrobot Sci-Fi. (If you’re “that guy“, please note that I hadn’t yet heard of Rack ‘N Ruin. Serendipity again.)
From Tonka’s packaging:
“Sticks ‘n’ Stones are living proof that two heads are worse than one. They’re constantly at odds with each other. But give them a single purpose – destroying good rocks – and they become an awesome fighting force. The very sight of them charging into battle with their Cactus Club and Double Duty Mace is enough to send enemies flying home!”
I COULD’VE WORKED FOR TONKA AT 14 AND YOU KNOW IT.
I’m a big fan of the Creature From The Black Lagoon, and it really speaks to how creatively void Tonka was when they labeled this toy “Stoneheart”, instead of anything else. Did they really care so little about reusing the words rock and stone? Even Mattel’s dumb Comet Warriors were jazzed up with “Stonedar” and “Rokkon”, dubbing them cool/gay enough to hang with He-Man. But Stoneheart? Really? It sounds like a Rainbow Brite villain, or a Kevin Costner film.
Stoneheart is slate, “a cold hard rock symbolic of [his] personality.” He hangs around ponds and kids slip on him. He has red teeth like the badger from Watership Down. Like all Rock Lords toys, he deserved a better backstory than the pittance Tonka and Hanna-Barbera gave him.
Except the Narlies. They were for shit.