Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Universe Skywarp

Skywarp - Wreckers #1After the Armada line of 2002-2003 was an unexpected commercial success, Hasbro needed a way to meet the increased demand for Transformers toys. However, designing and producing new transforming toys is a time-intensive process. Hasbro's solution? Starting in 2003, Hasbro released "Universe," a "side line" of toys that ran concurrently with, but separate from, the then-current line. The Universe line consisted entirely of redecos and remolds of toys they'd created previously.

Working with the people who (at the time) ran the official convention, Hasbro worked up a storyline for Universe that allowed characters from all over the Transformers "multiverse" to be brought together to fight against the ultimate of Transformers bad guys: Unicron. In addition, the folks behind the convention were allowed to use "Universe" characters in their own exclusive toys and comic stories. One such comic line: The Wreckers, which was originally released during BotCon 2001, was taken in under the "Universe" banner.

Universe Skywarp Robot ModeIn the first issue of The Wreckers, a reborn version of the Generation One character Skywarp was introduced alongside Cyclonus, who was to be featured as an exclusive toy at BotCon 2002. But there was still no Skywarp toy of this kind. That wouldn't come until the retail release of the Universe Skywarp toy in 2004. Universe Skywarp is somewhat unique in that it is pretty much the only character to have been depicted in (more or less) the same form in a convention exclusive comic before showing up as a non-convention-exclusive retail toy (The other convention exclusive that comes to mind in a similar context is Packrat, which was introduced as a BotCon 1997 exclusive and featured in a convention comic at the same time. The blue "Transmetal" Rattrap toy, which came out as a Wal-Mart retail exclusive in 1999, was quickly understood to more closely resemble Packrat than Rattrap, but this understanding came too late for Hasbro actually put "Packrat" on the packaging, and Packrat didn't appear in this form in the fiction until the aforementioned The Wreckers #1 in 2001).

Universe Skywarp Jet ModeThis version of Skywarp is a redeco of the Beast Machines Jetstorm toy, which was used for five separate toys, making this mold competitive in a top-twenty list of "most used TF molds ever." Skywarp was the last time that this mold was used, and as such a late-generation use of the mold, people with sharper eyes than mine will probably notice signs of the mold's age. However, I haven't kept any of the other toys made with this mold, so I really can't say.

Universe Skywarp Hover ModeI'm not aware of any mold changes from Jetstorm to make Skywarp. The toy retains all the features and gimmicks of Jetstorm, including the nosecone that can pull out and turn from side to side, and legs that can fuse together to create a "hover mode" rather than making him walk everywhere in robot mode. The toy also features a spark crystal (the plastic of which wasn't part of the Jetstorm mold itself, and indeed seems to have come from a Beast Machines era Dinobot), which is simply given a Decepticon faction symbol stamped right over it.

Skywarp's appearance in The Wreckers alongside Cyclonus is the subject of a continuity disagreement that has plagued fans for years. In the original Transformers: The Movie, Unicron takes a group of dead Decepticons and turns them into new creations. Skywarp was one of those dead Decepticons, and Cyclonus was one of the new creations. In fact, many fans have long argued that the dead carcass of Skywarp was what became Cyclonus, despite the fact that the animation frame of Cyclonus' creation depicts Bombshell in the foreground, with Skywarp further back (also turning into a Cyclonus-type robot, but that's a story in itself). Fans of the "Skywarp as Cyclonus" theory felt that Skywarp, as a "prominent" Decepticon Seeker, was a better candidate for becoming Cyclonus than the "lowly" Insecticon Bombshell (who actually featured as an individual in the cartoon at least as much as Skywarp did, but this is the stuff of very heated arguments...). Unfortunately for such fans, the "former identity" of Cyclonus was explicitly spelled out as Bombshell in the prose story that tied up the Wreckers saga, released a year and a half ago by the official Transformers club (as if the side-by-side Skywarp and Cyclonus already wasn't enough... and it definitely wasn't for some folks).

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