In honor of tax day for all Americans, I wanted to do an appropriate article for the occasion. So I thought to myself, “Self, what better way to celebrate tax day than with the return of the Decepticon Energon Auditor, Ratbat!” I mean really, what’s scarier than a Decepticon? How about a Decepticon Auditor!

Read on for lots more!

Ratbat is a character that received little love in the Generation 1 cartoon. He was basically resigned to being another member of Soundwave’s cassette army. Ratbat’s special ability allowed him to detect different forms of fuel. That would facilitate most of his cameos in the original cartoon. His original Tech Spec read as follows:

Function: Fuel Scout
Has no friends, only business partners… his only allegiance is to himself. Refuels by plunging his mecha-fangs into new cars’ gas lines — the better made the car, the better the gasoline tastes. Maximum flying speed: 65mph. Carries two radar-guided, free-electron lasers that detect the presence of an object as small as a fly. Wings contain mechanical sensors for locating fuel sources. Has one foot wingspan that can enlarge to ten feet. Wings are vulnerable to artillery.

Pretty standard fare for a G1 Tech Spec. What really brought Ratbat to the realm of fan relevency was his characterization in the original run of comcis from Marvel. Instead of being relegated to Soundwave’s cassette army, Ratbat held an important office on Cybertron during Straxus’ rule of Polyhex. When Straxus was believed destroyed on the Space Bridge, Ratbat more or less siezed power as the Decepticon fuel auditor. A stickler for efficiency, Ratbat condemned all operations that wasted fuel. The largest culprit of this waste were the Decepticons on Earth led by Shockwave. Ratbat would eventually come to Earth to oversee his own plans of energy collection to show the other Decepticons how to do things right. The title of this particular story was called Buster Witwicky and the Carwash of Doom. The somewhat ridiculous combination of the title, hypnotic carwash scheme, and Ratbat himself have made it quite a popular story to reference by fans of the comic.

A greater title has never been made.

More modern comic continuities (Dreamwave and IDW) have tried to bridge the gap between the two disparate personalities displayed in Ratbat’s first two incarnations. Both continuties have shown Ratbat as a more human looking robot that was in a position of power either by leading the Ultracons (a small faction of Decepticons from Dreamwave’s WarWithin: The Dark Ages) or by scheming profits from conflict as a pre-war Senator. Each of these incarnations was met with treachery that led him to become enslaved by Soundwave in the form of one of his cassettes. In subsequent appearances he has just been reduced to his function as a fuel scout.

Ratbat from IDW's Transformers: Devastation

Now that we’ve gotten some background out of the way, one may note that the title of this post is The Return of Ratbat. Where did he go? In 1986, Ratbat’s original toy was on sale in a two-pack with Frenzy in the U.S. and packaged individually in Japan. Up until last year (2008), no other toy or other representation of Ratbat had ever been released in the U.S. or Japan. There were a couple of knock offs along the way, but those were cheap and are outside of our consideration.

In 2008, Hasbro released a Target exclusive 2-pack featuring Ratbat and Springer. Springer was a repainted Cybertron Evac figure, while Ratbat was a repainted Cybertron Sideways. One of the gimmicks on Cybertron Sideways was that the faction symbol on his shield changed when the Cyber key was applied. Ratbat’s faction symbol changed from Decepticon to Ultracon, which I mentioned earlier as being a splinter group of Decepticons led by Ratbat in Dreamwave’s The War Within: The Dark Ages comic. The actual comic was supposed to be included with this two-pack, however the comic was actually in the other comic book 2-pack (Dirge/Roadbuster), while that set’s comic was included with Ratbat and Springer. Oops!

Also in 2008, a bust from Diamond Select was released featuring the first American representation of Soundblaster (released here as Sound Blaster), which is essentially a repaint of Soundwave in darker colors. His origins lie in the Japanese cartoon’s continuity, but I won’t sidetrack us further. Perched on Sound Blaster’s shoulder is Ratbat. This was the first Ratbat merchandise available since 1986.

2009 has seen fit to bring us even more Ratbat. It was recently announced the this year’s Hasbro SDCC exclusive would, in fact, be a reissue of Soundwave with four cassettes. The included cassettes will be Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ravage and Ratbat. This version of Soundwave will be different from the Toys R Us exclusive reissue from a couple of years ago. The TRU exlusive actually used the Japanese Soundblaster mold which can fit two tapes in his chest. The 2009 SDCC exclusive will use the original mold released in the U.S. a.k.a. the single tape deck version. This will be the first time this version of the mold has been reissued state-side. Did I mention this set comes with Ratbat? That should be stressed a lot because this is also the first time he has been reissued state-side (or abroad).

In Japan, TakaraTomy has seen fit to release two reissue sets of cassettes. The second set will feature Slugfest, Steeljaw, Ramhorn and Ratbat.

So it looks like that covers most of the bases, right? Wrong! Not only is Ratbat getting reissue love on both sides of the Pacific, but he’ll be guest-starring in an upcoming episode of Transformers Animated as well. We’ve seen two teasers on the topic already. One in the form of Animated Ratbat’s head (see banner image at the top of this post). The drawing was released as a sneak peak from Derrick Wyatt, the show’s art director. The second teaser we got was a promotional image from Hasbro of a repainted Soundwave figure called Electrostatic Soundwave, which comes with a Keytar that transforms into Ratbat. The original Animated Soundwave came with a guitar that transformed into Laserbeak.

A random conversation made me realize a shocking parallel to the musical instruments transforming into animals. Anyone remember these two characters?

BlueGrass from the Silverhawks series had a guitar. In toy form, his guitar actually transformed into a bird called Sideman. Melodia was BlueGrass’ foil, being the musically themed villain. She never got a toy (but she had my 7 year old heart!). Her instrument was a weaponized Keytar. Had she gotten a toy, the Keytar would have surely transformed into another bird of some sort. Its just how the series worked. Everyone had a bird that did something different as an accessory (except for Windhammer, but I’m digressing too much again).

Could the idea of making Laserbeak and Ratbat transform into instruments for Transformers Animated be based off of Silverhawks? Its possible, but I haven’t seen any comparison before now.

So. The Return of Ratbat? Better twenty-two years late, than never!