Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Megatron Megabolt

This is perhaps one of the most bizarre Transformers ever made, with a pretty unusual history to match. Although the toy's most prominent mode is a head, this is not really a Headmaster, since there's no toy it becomes the head of... at least, not unless you get creative....

Obviously, I need to backtrack a bit. This toy finds its origins in the second season of the Beast Machines cartoon. At the end of the first season, both of the leaders, Optimus Primal and Megatron, destroyed themselves in a no holds barred battle. Of course, this situation didn't last long. Optimus Primal was already back to normal form by the end of the first episode of the second season. Megatron didn't have it quite so easy. In his quest to eliminate all organic matter from his body (obtained in the previous series: Beast Wars), Megatron had created a giant ship in the shape of a head that was intended to house his spark. Eventually, Megatron's spark did make it there, but that took a couple of extra episodes to happen.

Hasbro apparently decided that this giant ship that looked like a head needed to have its own toy. But they took some time in doing it. In fact, the toy didn't come out until the Robots in Disguise line, by which time the Beast Era was a thing of the past, so the bio put on the toy made it clear that this toy represented not the Megatron of the Beast Era, but the Megatron of the Robots in Disguise cartoon, who was an entirely different character. And, in an attempt to tie the toy even more closely in to the plotline of that cartoon, there was even an oblique reference indicating that the head was designed to replace the head of the Robots in Disguise version of Fortress Maximus. I'm guessing the toy wasn't designed to actually do that, but if you remove all the spider-legs from it, it actually fits reasonably well.

Of course, if it's a Transformers toy, it has to transform, right? (Don't answer that) So Hasbro created a robot mode for the toy, which more or less looks Megatrony... or at least, it looks more or less like the Beast Era Megatron it was originally designed for. It really doesn't look at all like the Robots in Disguise Megatron that the toy bio says it is. But, oh well. This robot mode is rather unusual among Transformers in that its hands are not in fists (nor are the fingers articulated, which is what happens for most non-fist Transformers' hands). Even still, this toy is one of the better articulated toys of its era (an era when articulation was becoming more and more important). Other features of the toy include a flip-up missile launcher (and firing missile, of course) and wheels on the bottom of the head mode geared together so that when you push it, the spider-legs move up and down, simulating walking. This is a toy with lots of play value.

Perhaps it's not surprising that such a fun mold was recolored a couple of times. The version seen here is the original. The second version was called simply "Megabolt," who was apparently an entirely new character (although this character has never actually appeared in any official fiction). The third version finally saw the mold used as the character it was created to be. Sadly, this version was only available in Japan, and is now almost impossible to find.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Ratchet

It's been a while since I've dealt with a Generation One figure, so this week I'm showcasing my favorite Generation One character of all: Ratchet. Ratchet is the Autobot's chief medical officer, and appropriately turns into an ambulance (or, at least, a van that's had ambulance markings stickered all over it). Ratchet plays a rather important role in at least two major arcs of the '80s Marvel Transformers comic. In both instances, he practically single-handedly defeats Decepticon leader Megatron despite the fact that, as a surgeon, Ratchet claims to have no skills as a warrior. Yay for brains over brawn!

A quick glance at this figure's robot mode, and most people will instantly ask the same question: "Where is Ratchet's head?" It's a fair question. Indeed, this rather pathetic excuse for a robot form has probably already led most of you to wonder, "Why is this guy Mark's favorite?" If the toy were all there were to Ratchet, I'd have to agree. This is definitely one case where nostalgia due to a character's fictional depiction overrides common sense when it comes to affection for that character's toy. But having already explained Ratchet's important role in the comics, perhaps a bit of a history lesson is in order. The original Transformers toys did not actually start out as "Transformers," but were in fact created for one of a couple of different Japanese toy lines that Hasbro brought to the United States. With the help of Marvel to create a unified storyline for these diverse toys, which only had the idea of transforming from one form to another in common, the concept of "Transformers" was created. Ratchet was actually created for the "Diaclone" line, which also gave us Overdrive, which I reviewed back in February. In the Japanese backstory for Diaclone, the robots were not actually considered sentient beings in their own right. In fact, the Diaclone robots were actually mecha, piloted by human beings. This concept shows up a lot in Japanese fiction, but was relatively uncommon in the United States at the time. In any event, although many of the piloted mecha of the Diaclone line did, in fact, have humanoid heads, it wasn't really considered all that big of a deal if they didn't. In the case of the mold from which we get the Ratchet figure, the Diaclone version came with a tiny figure that was supposed to sit in a chair just behind the windshield. That "chair" is still there in the Transformers version of Ratchet, but Hasbro attempted to give the robot a "face," by giving kids a dark sticker with a "face" that could be placed on the back of that chair to be seen through the windshield. You should be able to see that "face" if you click on the robot pictures to get the full-sized version. It's not very convincing, I agree, but that at least answers the question of where Ratchet's head is.

If nothing else, the Ratchet toy is notable for also coming with a "base" accessory, which the robot can ride on if one so chooses. Sadly, this was the only toy version of Ratchet available for quite a long time, and it's debatable whether or not this character has ever gotten a decent robot form. The BotCon 2005 version (scroll down after clicking the link to see the picture) isn't at all bad, but is one of the rarest and most expensive exclusives out there. Maybe someday when I win the lottery (which I pretty much never play, so that could be a while), I'll get one. There does seem to be some hope on the horizon, though. Ironhide, a character depicted by a recolor of this toy back in Generation One, is slated for a new toy in the coming months. It has been all but promised that Ratchet will be a repaint of that mold. If this is true, fans who have been waiting for nearly 25 years for a decent transformable version of Generation One Ratchet at an affordable price may not have to wait much longer.

EDIT: Long after I'd written this review, but before it actually posted (maybe only a day before, but still...), Big Bad Toy Store listed a new custom product designed to give actual physical heads to these toys. I have not yet seen pictures of what they look like when placed on actual figures, but fans may consider this custom project worth their time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Megazarak

Last week, I talked about an exclusive that was intended to be distributed at the 2004 Official Transformers Convention, but wasn't quite ready in time. This week, I'll talk about the exclusive that actually did make it to the convention. Megazarak is a recolor of the Armada Megatron mold. The story goes that Megazarak is a Decepticon from an alternate reality (the Transformers saga has quite a lot of those!) who was responsible for the total destruction of almost every single Autobot in his own reality (that's not so common!). I imagine that a creature capable of such a feat would make for a rather interesting villain in the stories, but sadly, the only story that exists for Megazarak is a rather short comic that was only available as part of the brochure given at the convention itself, and I've never had a chance to read it (although a short summary is available here).

Having originated from an Armada mold, Megazarak comes with a smaller Transformer, in this case named Caliburn. However, as was the case with Sentinel Maximus, the smaller Transformer is not generally referred to as a "Mini-Con," as the Armada versions would have been. Indeed, Caliburn is referred to as a "Micromaster," although I expect he could just as well have been called a "Targetmaster" (you can see one of Caliburn's weapon modes attached to Megazarak's arm in the picture above. Note: Ape-Linq is called a "Mini-Con" on Sentinel Maximus' packaging, but almost nowhere else. Caliburn, on the other hand, is never called a "Mini-Con," despite the Mini-Con insignia that Caliburn retains as part of the original mold).

Megazarak turns into a kind of tank, while Caliburn can transform into a wheeled-buggy with blasters. Although the electronics have been removed from this mold (as is common with most convention or club exclusives), there are still a number of spring-loaded gimmicks that can be activated if you plug Caliburn into various hardpoints on Megazarak's surface. While these features make for a fun toy, they don't translate very well into a series of pictures, so rather than bore you with that, you'll just have to take my word for it!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Sentinel Maximus

Seeing as today's the Fourth of July, it seemed appropriate to go with a red, white and blue Transformer. There are a few of them to choose from. Most Optimus Primes would qualify, but I thought I'd do something different. For those who don't know, Sentinel Maximus was an exclusive created for the Official Transformers Convention in 2004. But this is definitely a case of things not turning out according to plan.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Special Transformers Feature: Transformers Club Topspin

I got my 2008 Transformers club membership figure, Topspin, yesterday. Only about a week later than the first folks started to talk about getting theirs, which isn't too bad. Naturally, I had to go ahead and toss a note up here talking about it (I even had to preempt my already-planned entry for today, but since that one's time-sensitive, it's going up as an extra entry tomorrow). Here you see the plastic bag the figure came in, with the figure not yet removed. We can't allow this situation to stand! Out it comes!

Like the previous club combiner figures, Topspin uses a fair bit of colored clear plastic. While I definitely think that this makes these figures unique and attractive, I do share the concerns of some fans that this type of plastic may not be as strong as others. I have no conclusive evidence that clear plastic is, in fact, more brittle. That's just the prevalent fan theory. But having already had a breakage incident with my Barricade figure (which uses the same mold as the upcoming final part of the club combiner, to come out one year from now), I'm not eager to see that trouble duplicated with these expensive-to-replace figures. I guess I'll just have to be careful.

This mold is (perhaps inexplicably) my favorite of the Energon Combiner limb molds (which all of the club combiner toys have been recolored from. More on that below). I just think it manages to look nice in both modes, and has a weapon that, while not a proper hand, at least has discernible digits and a discernible thumb for the combined form. If I had my way, the club would be offering all-new fists and footstands for the combined form, but I'm not holding breath on that one.

Unfortunately, my specimen seems to have a flaw. You probably can't tell in the above picture, but this close-up shows that Topspin's face has a crack in it! I can't recall whether anyone else has had this particular problem or not (or, at least, can't find the reference I think I recall, so it may have been talking about something else), but it's a disappointment nonetheless. Thankfully, I expect I'll be getting another copy from a friend of a friend, since I helped pay for his trip to BotCon.

The Topspin mold has previously been used for Blackout and Stormcloud, the two helicopter limbs from the Energon combiner, Bruticus Maximus. Just like the combiners of Generation One, the Energon combiners were designed to have interchangeable limbs, so with three Energon combiners to choose from, the club didn't have to re-use limbs the same way that the original Energon versions did. What they've done is use the two unique limb molds from Bruticus Maximus, and the two unique limb molds from Superion Maximus. A lot of folks wish that the club had used at least one limb mold from the remaining Energon combiner, Constructicon Maximus, for a variety of reasons. I'm glad they didn't. Neither of the limb molds from that combiner are as good in their individual robot forms, in my opinion. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Here are the four figures we've gotten so far, eagerly awaiting their final member (at which point I'll obviously have to find a new spot from which to display them!).
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