Rock Lords (franchise)
|The name or term "Rock Lords" refers to more than one character or idea. For a list of other meanings, see Rock Lords (disambiguation).|
|“||POWERFUL LIVING ROCKS!||”|
Whilst lesser toylines like Transformers were insecure enough to turn into things like tank or planes or cars, Rock Lords doubled down on being POWERFUL LIVING ROCKS, transforming into rocks, stones, and boulders. Released in 1986 by Tonka in the U.S. and Bandai in Europe and Japan, the Rock Lords spun out of the adventures of the GoBots, launching in the West as part of the Battle of the Rock Lords movie and in Japan as part of the Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos cartoon.
The Rock Lords toys were actually really well-made, and do not deserve the sneers often aimed at it. As Oscar Wilde famously put it: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are playing with Rock Lords".
The Rock Lords toys were designed by Tonka in conjunction with Bandai, though whether the American company did more than commission the figures is unknown. Unlike GoBots the Japanese company featured a clear shout-out on the packaging, with their logo on the cardbacks. In Japan itself the figures were released as part of Machine Robo; in North America, Tonka decided to release them as a standalone line which did not mention GoBots anywhere on the packaging. Which release came first is currently unknown, with the answer most likely some combination of "neither" and "does it matter?". In an interview ahead of the release of GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords, Jeff Segal claimed the idea for the Rock Lords had come from his script and only after that did Tonka decide to make toys of the characters, but this seems incredibly unlikely.
The 1986 series featured 12 rock-to-robot figures, two beast-based Rockasaurs, four non-transforming Narlies and - after a playset was cancelled - a vehicle for each faction. The line was a solid success, earning Tonka revenues of $30m in 1986 ($5m more than the floundering GoBots). A second series of figures included the Jewel Lords, more Narlies and the gimmick-driven Shock Rocks, though a planned release for the combiner Fossilsaurus was cancelled. Revenue fell to $15m for 1987, while Bandai had taken Machine Robo in a different direction with Battle Hackers. The combination of falling sales, less engineering help from Bandai and perhaps a general feeling that the line had reached the limit of what could be done in terms of rock-to-robot toys saw the line cancelled after the second series.
In Europe and Australia Rock Lords were released by Bandai themselves, using a hodge-podge of branding - they were released under the markets' long-running Robo Machine and Machine Men lines (as GoBots had been), with prominent Rock Lords and GoBots logos. Several of the second series toys - notably the later Narlies - were not released outside of North America.
GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords
In 1986, there was only one movie about transforming alien robots that was on everyone’s lips: GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords. Like the cartoon, it was produced by Hanna-Barbera, and was the last of their work on GoBots. It beat The Transformers: The Movie to the screen by five months, though comparing them side-to-side its' easy to see exactly how they managed this feat - for all its' many faults TF:TM features a huge step-up in production terms from the normal cartoon, whereas Battle of the Rock Lords looks exactly like an episode of Challenge of the GoBots.
The movie focuses on launching the Rock Lords franchise with Rock Lords Solitaire and Nuggit travelling to GoBotron to ask for help in stopping the evil Magmar, a warlord on the planet Quartex (named as 'Cordax', a working title) busy collecting weapons of mass destruction. Leader-1 immediately launches an invasion of Quartex in the name of freedom, roughs up Magmar a bit, and then legs it.
Battle of the Rock Lords featured almost the entirety of the first series toys, though many - such as Boulder and Slimestone - were based on early versions of their toys that would differ from those actually released in stores. The film ended on an open note that could either set up the Rock Lords for a spin-off series or see them reintroduced as guests in a second series of Challenge of the GoBots; however, neither of these things came to pass. Not helping was that the film was a financial bomb that dealt a mortal blow to distributor Clubhouse Pictures' already parlous finances, and what critical notices it did draw were not kind.
In the years since the movie has become a minor cult favourite. Between the end of the franchise in 1987 and the Warner Archive Collection DVD release of Challenge of the GoBots in 2011 the film was one of the more prominent pieces of GoBots/Rock Lords fiction as the VHS was reissued several times. However, the same rights issues that meant it could stay in circulation for so long now seem to count against it - Battle of the Rock Lords has never been officially released on DVD due to its' complicated ownership situation.
Probably the most famous of Rock Lords media outside of the movie, there were two mini-comics available with the Rock Lords toys to help children realise they needed to buy more Rock Lords.
The first comic is the most well-known, being available with the series 1 and 2 toys. Titled "Powerful Living Rocks Face a Deadly New Peril", the adventure sees Magmar discover a new weapon at the fortress of Stonehead—the dreaded Cryon Ray! The second comic is much rarer, having come with later toys. It has no title, the cover being a random panel from the main story and so can be called "There's Ssomething Flashing over There". Magmar, Saberstone and Spearhead discover the location of the Jewel Lord’s palace. Magmar pretends to have an army with him and steals the Jewel Lord’s powerful nuclo-crystal.
Blue, Child of the Earth
In 1986, French artist Philippe Druillet was given a television show to exert complete control over. It was titled Bleu, l'Enfant de la Terre ("Blue, Child of the Earth") and was about a Silver Surfer-esque character fighting evil in a post apocalyptic world. However, the production company IDDH had a deal with Bandai and so was forced to put Rock Lords into it. The first episode features a 12 minute segment of Rock Lords happily playing on the beach, watched over by a lion from Voltron. And that is how you sell out. Rock Lords in this series were unlike the Rock Lords we know and love—they were tiny, fist-sized people who could fly about in rock mode. Once the main action begins, they run away.
The show was beset by production woes and eventually limped onto screens in 1990, way past Rockmania. It was also dubbed into English and shown in the UK in several obscure time slots.
Revenge of the GoBots
While the Rock Lords didn't appear in any new Hanna-Barbera cartoons their Japanese equivalent, the Rock Robo, did get into Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos, where they were presented in different terms as a tribe who came from the same planet as the rest of the Machine Robo, although many of them were among the more powerful natives of Cronos. As it was incompatible with Challenge of the GoBots and the line was winding down anyway it does not look like importing the series to America was ever considered. However, in France Les Defi des GoBots (the French dub of Challenge) had been a smash hit and Revenge of Cronos was licenced and dubbed as a follow-up.
It's often inaccurately described as being turned into a sequel to the American show. While it reuses many of the same cast and character names (resulting in hilarity - Rom Stol is renamed Nick, Leina Stol is renamed Agi and Cyclos is inexplicably a good guy due to Bike Robo being a heroic character in Japan) it is more like a reboot. Several episodes revolve around the Rock Robo, which even led to one VHS release of the series bearing Rock Lords branding (albeit with cover art depicting Blast Rock and Rock Roller, who were never in the series). It is not known to what extent the Rock Lords names were used for the characters in the dub, which was reputedly not of particularly high consistency.
GoBots Magazine was a quarterly mail-order publication devoted to all things GoBots. And space and science and computing as page-fillers, meaning the typical GoBots content was around 5-6 pages per issue. It lasted for five issues before being cancelled, and subscribers received the Official Statue of Liberty Magazine in its place. The strips seemed to be based firmly on the Challenge of the GoBots continuity (such as it was).
The last two issues of the magazine featured a Rock Lords comic strip by artist Paul Kirchner. Issue four features an exciting cover with Magmar battling his age-old foe, Nuggit. It also has a five page comic titled "Conquest of the Command Center!". The Rock Lords and GoBots hang out together in this comic, obviously already good friends! Magmar and Cy-Kill team up to infiltrate the GoBots' base using the good old Trojan Horse routine, which of course the good guys fall for. Luckily Nuggit and Scooter had been reading a book about Greek history and foiled the plan! Issue five has a one page comic titled "Update from Quartex", which focuses entirely on the Rock Lords. It opens on a cliffhanger (though there was no previous story that this follows on from). Magmar is about to beat the good Rock Lords when Nuggit turns up with an army of Rockasaurs, causing the villains to flee. Kirchner clearly really liked Nuggit. But then again, literally every other Rock Lords writer seems to have made him the hero!
Challenge of the Machine Men
Challenge of the Machine Men is an eight page minicomic written and drawn by Richard Rae and advertising Machine Men, the Australian release of GoBots. A battle between the good and evil Machine Men is interrupted as the Australian army drop a nuke on them! This unleashes the Rock Lords! The Rock Lords appear with their prototype designs and names, and the comic ends with a chilling cliffhanger revealing that the dreaded Narlies are going to attack! The end of the comic claimed there would be a "next issue" but it has never surfaced. Presumably the Narlies killed them all.
"Rock Lords: A Giant Coloring Book" was an adventure so thrilling it had to be rendered in black and white to contain the pulse-pounding excitement. It was released by Western Publishing Company under their Golden Books imprint, as many GoBots activity books had beeb.
- The various trademarks associated with the Rock Lords brand would have been taken over by Hasbro when they acquired Tonka in 1991 - leading to the Template:Transformers: Rescue Bots character Boulder, probably. However, who owns the toys is less clear - while the other Machine Robo figures that made up GoBots were owned by Bandai and merely licenced to Tonka, Rock Lords was co-developed by the pair, raising the possibility that the figures are part-owned by both Hasbro and Bandai. Which makes reissues highly unlikely. Boo!
- Rock Lords rock.
- The singular of 'Narlies' is arguably 'Narlie'.
- If you get a Rock Lord stabbed through your heart, you die.
- Rock Lords.co.uk Rock Lords blog and galleries
- Rock Lords Archive
- TFU.INFO Rock Lords info
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