Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. In this entry, we smash that pause button on The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and marvel at a certain wickedly bizarre cameo.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special landed on Disney+ wrapped in a bow. It’s a gift from Marvel Studios, writer/director James Gunn, and the whole cast. We didn’t need it; we didn’t crave it. We were happy to patiently wait for next year’s third volume in the trilogy. And yet, the forty-four-minute “Special Presentation” provided more than good cheer, but crucial connective tissue between two franchise players and a cameo that seemingly cracked time, space, and intellectual property contracts to occur.
No, not Kevin Bacon – although the great one’s presence will certainly go down as a guest spot for the ages. Instead, I’m currently obsessing over the GoBots cosplayer (played by John Wick stuntman Daniel Bernhardt) looking to score a few selfie bucks outside the TCL Chinese Theater. The Hollywood landmark is one of the first locations Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) explore once they arrive on earth hunting for the Footloose actor in an effort to inject some merriment into their sulking pal Peter (Chris Pratt).
A pal that’s more than a pal to Mantis. As we learn early on in the special, both Guardians share Ego (Kurt Russell) as their papa. Mantis wants to keep that on the down-low, but she still feels a sisterly compulsion to take care of her brother.
The Chinese Theater scene is an immediately surreal one for the normally space-set troublemakers. First, Mantis mistakes a costumed Captain America for the real deal. The poor fellow runs screaming for his life after an extraterrestrial tackle. Then, Drax spots the GoBot most eighties kids should recognize as the villainous Cy-Kill and leaps into beatdown mode. Mantis attempts to put herself between her friend and the soon-to-be-pummeled. In her apology to the bystanders about to witness the bloodbath, she blurts an astonishing revelation, “I’m sorry. GoBots killed his cousin.”
As if the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t get any weirder, we’re now left to understand that GoBots are real, they’re deadly, and for some reason, they already have a fandom on our planet. The gag is as giggly as it is flippin’ weird and sorta mind-melting.
Today, GoBots have the reputation of being the lesser, wannabe Transformers. For good reason. They began as a Bandai toy line in Japan, a collection of human-piloted mecha. However, as Hasbro did with Transformers, when Tonka purchased the American toy rights in the early eighties, they converted the suits into sentient robots. They also divided the characters into good-guy Guardians and bad-guy Renegades.
The GoBots have zero connections to Marvel. Oddly, when Tonka required a cartoon to sell the idea to children, they turned to Hanna-Barbera, a Warner Bros. company. The Challenge of the GoBots animated series ran for one season. While Marvel Comics did produce a Transformers comic at the time, the GoBots never quite secured a big enough audience to branch out into other mediums.
Tonka kept the action figure line going for three years. The GoBots had a strong foothold in the market but faded under the unbelievable success of Transformers. The toy company could not compete with the seemingly endless Autobot and Decepticon variations, never bothering to create a second wave of GoBot molds.
Hasbro eventually bought Tonka and folded the GoBots into the Transformers narrative. This is where GoBots ownership becomes a little tricky. While Hasbro currently has the narrative rights to GoBots, they don’t own the toy rights. Those still belong to Bandai, under their Machine Robo division. So, no new toys in America.
Years later, IDW Publishing produced a significantly successful Transformers comic book seires, licensed from Hasbro. In 2018, they hired cartoonist Tom Scioli to write and illustrate a GoBots mini-series as a prequel of sorts to his beautifully bonkers Transformers vs. G.I. Joe comic. In the final issue, the Renegade Cy-Kill and the Guardian Leader-1 perish in combat. Their parts are retooled and combined into a red and blue F-15 fighter jet robot character. Yep, Starscream, the Decepticon from the Transformers line.
Fast forward to The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, and some poor shmuck is trying to make a buck wearing a Cy-Kill costume. More importantly, we’re told by Mantis that GoBots, at some point, murdered Drax’s cousin. Meaning somewhere out there in the Marvel cosmos are the Hasbro-owned progenitors to the Transformers.
If there was any doubt in your mind, James Gunn Tweeted a confirmation shortly after the Holiday Special‘s premiere.
When Twitter user @jamesbrophy asked Gunn if they licensed Cy-Kill from Hasbro, the director replied with an affirmation. Twitter user @thenickfanclub asked if they used a GoBot because Gunn’s fan-favorite Rom the Space Knight was unavailable due to similar licensing issues. Gunn replied, “No. GoBots was used because I thought it was funnier!”
Guardians of the Galaxy has always been a celebration of the eighties. Since Yondu abducted Peter Quill in 1988, Peter’s personality stalled within the Day-Glo decade. Hence his Kevin Bacon obsession.
You can bet young Quill had a bunch, if not every one, of the GoBots figures. They were smaller than Transformers and a little more affordable. Peter is a touch of a contrarian too. It’s easy to imagine him defending Tonka’s GoBots during recess when all the cool kids were championing Hasbro’s heavier hitters.
Then again, Mantis divulging that GoBots killed Drax’s cousin elevates the sentient robots to something more than mere children’s toys. The presence of a GoBots cosplayer at the Chinese Theater suggests a fandom on the MCU earth of 2022. For whatever reason, in this corner of the Multiverse, the franchise did not die out with a single-wave toy line.
So, where does that spring from? Are Drax’s GoBots the same as the Cy-Kill cosplayer, or is it a coincidence? If Drax’s GoBots are not related to the GoBots cosplayer, then why the hell are MCU earthlings still excited about GoBots decades after our Earth’s version faded into obscurity? Or have Drax’s GoBots already made contact with earth and those humans immediately went full-speed fanboy?
We’ll most likely never get answers to these questions. Hasbro playing nice with Marvel Studios for a sight gag in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is a one-and-done thing. Good for a laugh, and probably a laugh appreciated by no one more than James Gunn.
Clearly, I’ll spend the rest of my days fantasizing about those cousin-killing robots, their relationship to the Transformers, and the possibility of Optimus Prime one day bumping into Captain Marvel on her way to the Kree/Skrull war. I should be noodling over how Mantis’ relationship with Peter will change, and vice versa, now that they know they’re half-siblings. Instead, I’ve spent the last thousand words questioning why MCU earth still loves GoBots and how I can transfer my reality to theirs.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is now streaming on Disney+.