Rob's Pile of Transformers: N I G H T B E A T

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About

NIGHTBEAT

Around 1988, the Transformers toy line was beginning to flag, in both quality and popularity. Toy sales were way down compared to previous years, the cartoon had come to an end in the U.S., and the comic series was losing readers left and right, despite the fact that the story writing was at an all-time high under Simon Furman, complemented by the top-notch artistry of Andrew Wildman and Geoff Senior. The toy line was inundated with an increasing number of strange (many would say silly) gimmicks, including but not limited to Headmasters, Targetmasters, Powermasters, Pretenders, Micromasters, and finally the non-transforming ActionMasters, all of which turned off many fans with their seemingly slapdash quality of conception, design, and construction.

This was the scene when Nightbeat made his debut in the Transformers universe.

Coming in under such circumstances, it would seem that he was destined for obscurity. And, indeed, he remains one of the lesser-known characters, nowhere in the realm of Megatron, Optimus Prime, or Starscream. Nevertheless, Nightbeat has acquired a sort of cult following among Transformer fans. Many, like myself, consider him to be one of the coolest characters ever to come along. Read on to get some insight into just what it is that we dig so much about the guy...


The Official Take


Why Nightbeat?

What is it that appeals so much about Nightbeat? Well, for starters, his only appearances in the official TF universe were in the comics, under the deft hand of Simon Furman. Furman has a knack for creating strong characters, and for whatever reason Nightbeat got singled out to be one of them. Thus there is only one portrayal of him, and it's a very good one. Furthermore, it came at a time when the comics were gathering an epic scope, when there was a sense that lots of things were going on and it was going to get even better in the months to come. It's easier to like a good character when they're in a good story. Finally, Nightbeat's debut was drawn by Geoff Senior, which means that he looked really cool.

Unlike a lot of the Autobots portrayed in the comics, Nightbeat is a very independent thinker. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anyone or anything; he's got a lot of confidence and a smart aleck attitude -- but also has the brains to back it up. He works for the cause, but he does it his own way. And it's fun for the reader to watch. Yet, he has enough things go wrong for him that you never feel he needs to get some come-uppance. His misfortunes keep him grounded in the real world for the reader.

Additionally, there was never a sense that Nightbeat was introduced and shown for the purpose of selling a toy. He never gave explicatory sentences about what his weapons could do; he never bragged about his fantastic abilities. In the U.S. comics, we never even saw him do the Headmaster gimick. Ironically, all this has had the effect of making his toy wildly popular compared to other comparable-quality Transformers.

Nightbeat was never animated, but for the record I picture him having a Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart style of voice. "Now listen, shweet haht, we got two dead bodies out dhere..."


The Ignomy of Being Nightbeat

Nightbeat just has a habit of having bad things happen to him. Even before he was introduced into the comics world, he was having a tough time of it:

  • Nightbeat's toy, as released in Japan, was white with red trim, was named Minerva, and was a female. Not the most auspicious start for a member of a male-targeted toy line. On Dave van Domelen's home page you can see images of his Nightbeat-Minerva repaint, to get an idea of what Minerva looks like.
  • So, for America, the toy was repainted, got a gender change, and was given a name that is an extremely obvious double entendre.
  • Because the American cartoons ended with the introduction of the season 4 toys (the first Headmasters and Targetmasters), Nightbeat was never animated. (Minerva did appear in one or two of the Japanese series, however. You can see some screen grabs from the series at Chris Meadows' Minerva Shrine.)
  • On top of all this, the toy in question was rather poor. It was chunky, made of cheap plastic, could hardly move any of its limbs, and had garish colors.
  • Further compounding the toy's undesirability, it was a Headmaster, a none-too-popular gimmick among Transfans where the head of the robot detached and unfolded into a humanoid figure. In the comics, many of the Headmasters were portrayed as though the original robot's mind was no longer present, and they were simply a robot body controlled by a human operator -- an idea that still arouses the ire of fans today. I mean, who wants a squishy controlling a TF? Personally, I don't think this was the case, but others disagree...

Then Nightbeat made his comics debut, and more bad stuff happened to the guy:

  • Rather inexplicably, the head and face of Nightbeat's character model was based upon that of Siren's toy, and vice-versa -- meaning poor Nightbeat's toy looks even less like the comic model than it already would. Want to make your Nightbeat look a lot more comic-accurate? Switch his head with Siren's, and give them both a quick paint job.
  • His very first issue, he gets shot in the back by Thunderwing's crew.
  • He is then stuck to a mind-torture device for the next three issues.
  • He very nearly gets sucked into space while saving the Autobots from Thunderwing.
  • He gets slammed into the wall and knocked out by the Ratchet-Megatron fusion.
  • Circuit Breaker thinks he tried to shoot her in the back -- when in fact it was Shockwave. CB blasts the heck out of him.
  • He gets blown across a control room when the console he's working on explodes at the beginning of an attack.
  • Finally, he winds up with Grimlock's group and is one of the unlucky few that the Swarm takes out right before Megatron shows up to save them all.

You gotta admire a guy who can go through stuff like that and still make deadpan wisecracks about Peter Lorre and "Thunderwing's merry little band".


Why Nightbeat's "Death" is Not Canon to Me

Nightbeat meets his fate in the Generation 2 comics, the very last issue. The G2 book killed off a lot of characters in the heat of battle, seemingly just to make the fight scenes more violent, and to give the book a darker and more serious air than its predecessor. And it suceeded in that, I suppose, but it also violated what to me is a fundamental axiom of storytelling: if you kill off a major or well-developed character, it has to be for some reason. It has to move the story along, or have some effect on the surviving characters, or has to be a culmination or choice or fate for the character who is dying. Otherwise it's just gratuitous death, death for death's sake, and that's not really a story, to me. I can get that in real life; I don't need fiction about it. Nightbeat's death did none of these things. It therefore becomes meaningless in the context of the story, and, for me, non-canon: it simply didn't happen.

If that's too esoteric for you, there are also a couple of "plot contrivance" methods one can come up with:

  • Nightbeat dies via a self-destruct. Such a self-destruct might well have an option to preserve the brain module of the robot who's exploding, enabling them to be recovered and rebuilt later.
  • Second, we have seen that, in the comics, Transformer brains are very tough (ie, Starscream in Issue 50 surviving his body's explosion). So the idea that Nightbeat's brain survived the destruction of his body is not so far-fetched.
  • Third, Nightbeat is a Headmaster, and it seems logical that he would turn his human component (Muzzle) free before he destroyed his own body; therefore his mind might still be preserved in the same manner that Optimus Prime's was (via Hi-Q, at the end of the G1 run.)
  • Fourth, in the Headmasters limited series (where Nightbeat presumably got his Nebulan partner, even though he was not explicitly shown) the fates of the original heads of the Autobots was never revealed. So it's possible that the original (pre-Headmaster) Nightbeat is still out there somewhere, on Nebulos or elsewhere perhaps.

    Transformer writer extraordinaire Simon Furman was asked about Nightbeat's death at Botcon '97. Here, copied from the home page of Malin Huffman, is his brief response:

      Q (asked by fellow Nightbeat fan Trixter [Trixter43@aol.com]): After building him up in G1, why kill off Nightbeat in G2?

      Furman: I don't have a good answer for you... It was too easy to say, I'll kill off all the incidental characters, all the ones I don't like. It sort of added to the bigger picture by ... some of the favorites got it in the neck as well... It's like, say Rattrap or something died, it's like.. Who cares? I do like Beast Wars as well... it was too easy to just knock off 'B' characters...


    Nightbeat Fan Fiction

    At any rate, in my personal extension of the comics universe, Nightbeat lives on; after all, since when has Transformers canon been so set and fast, especially in the comics? Guys "die" and come back all the time. Joyride re-appeared in G2 after getting a near-direct hit from Unicron. The comics repeatedly referred to deactivated warriors as "dead". So it's not such a horrible stretch for Nightbeat to suddenly pop up again in the post-G2 universe, in my opinion.

    I know for a fact that I'm not the only one. Fanfics that Nightbeat appears in include:

    • "The Corrosion of War Without End", by myself. He'll also appear in one or two other bits I've got in the works...
    • Supposedly he will one day show up in M Sipher's "The Phoenix War" if the man ever finishes writing it
    • Kevin J. Guhl's "Turbulence", and another goofy and rather funny story at the same site (about Gobots!)
    • Here's one by Walky: Siren, he says it's called, if you gotta give it a title.
    And I'm sure there are others; I know more fans are out there as well who just refuse to give up on our favorite mechanical detective.


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