"Transformers" opened yesterday, and there is a certain group of 30-something males who were both salivating over the prospect and dreading it. The men who grew up on the popular '80s TV cartoon and toy line are no longer children awed by the ability to recreate the robots' epic battles on their living-room floors. But many of them have kept and even expanded their Transformers toy collections over the decades, and now want to see how director Michael Bay interprets their childhood obsession. "I feel that director Michael Bay might have gone a little too far with the design changes that he has made to the original Transformers characters from my childhood," fan Jamie Nicholson wrote in an e-mail about his collection and the movie. Although some fans are apprehensive about how the integrity of the Transformers saga will hold up in a summer blockbuster, they're still excited to see the film. "I'm kind of at odds," says 27-year-old Transformers fan and collector Jason Bump. "I'm hoping it's a good movie and not just a bunch of special effects." Inspired by a Japanese toy line, the Transformers burst onto the United States' toy, TV and comic-book scene in 1984, says Greg Lombardo, Transformers marketing director for Hasbro. Hasbro and Marvel Comics infused the transforming robot toys -- the good ones turned into different kinds of vehicles and the bad ones into weapons -- with multifaceted personalities and wrapped them in a good-versus evil storyline with the survival of humanity at stake. Since then, the Transformers have starred in several incarnations -- including the mid-'90s "Beast Wars Transformers," in which the robots could turn into animals, and the 2002 "Transformers Armada," where they morph back into machines -- keeping new generations hooked on the series and maintaining their household name. For avid Transformers fans, the robots represent more than just action heroes. They're a nostalgic piece of their childhood. Glenn Kayea of Wilmington owns more than 3,000 action figures, lunchboxes, pictures and other items gathered over nearly 20 years. "They're neat to have and collect, and to have that and look back on the years when you were a kid," says the 30-year-old. "It brings back memories." Comics scribe Simon Furman, who wrote Transformers stories for Marvel in the 1980s and worked on IDW Publishing's prequel to the movie, told USA Today that "Transformers" derives its staying power from its complex characters. "If they'd just been robots and talked and thought and acted like robots, it wouldn't have caught on," Furman told USA Today. "But they were such Everyman characters that you treated them like they were a person, with flaws and imperfections and conflicted natures." For 31-year-old Nicholson of Bear, "Transformers" is a coming-of-age tale that speaks to his generation, particularly "Transformers: The Movie," which came out in 1986 and killed a lot of the original characters, a move widely considered to have hurt the line's popularity. "It had a lot of emotion for a robot movie. That's kind of what stuck with me," Nicholson says. He has about 100 Transformers collectibles, including some of the rare Japanese reissues of the toys. "It's like recapturing a piece of my youth," Nicholson says.
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