Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Countdown to BotCon 2014 - Pounce and Wingspan

Last week, I mentioned that there is a rumor running around about what toys will be at-convention exclusives at BotCon 2014. We'll find out for sure if these rumors are true by the end of the week, but in the meantime, these rumors give me a chance to feature a pair I've been looking for an excuse to do for over four years now: Pounce and Wingspan.

Pounce and Wingspan are clones, the Decepticon counterparts to Fastlane and Cloudraker. This means that they have (more or less) identical robot modes, but turn into different alternate modes. Besides the subtle differences that remain in robot mode (necessitated by the transformations), these guys also have special rub-signs that display an icon relevant to the alt-mode when activated. You can't tell in this picture, but like their Autobot counterparts, Pounce and Wingspan have distinct weapons, which would make it rather easy to tell them apart if they were holding them. Since I don't own the weapons, you'll just have to take my word for it. I suppose these guys could pull a "Parent Trap" swap and use the other clone's weapons if they wanted to fool an Autobot, but I'm not sure just how much advantage that would give them....

Pounce turns into a puma, while Wingspan becomes an eagle. This is where the rumored list of BotCon 2014 exclusives comes into play. The idea is that Pounce and Wingspan will be re-created using the Vehicon and Jet Vehicon molds from the recent Transformers: Prime toyline. While these molds do indeed look very similar in robot mode, I just can't get past the fact that they do not turn into animal alternate modes, but rather a car and a... well... car with wings, respectively. These alt-modes are more appropriate for Fastlane and Cloudraker than Pounce and Wingspan, and I feel that the animal alt-modes are pretty essential to what makes these characters who they are (and, believe me, there's not a whole lot that they have, so that little bit becomes pretty important). I do agree with those who point out that the Vehicon molds are pretty undeniably "evil" in robot mode, which does argue against Fastlane and Cloudraker, but can't help but feel I'll still be pretty disappointed if this rumor proves true. While it's certainly true that the folks behind BotCon have to work with existing molds, and there really isn't anything out there that's better for these two, I'm of the opinion that if something doesn't work, do something else!

Mine definitely seems to be a minority opinion on this matter. I suppose I might be happier if BotCon did, say, a Shattered Glass Fastlane and Cloudraker (thus, evil, and in Pounce and Wingspan's colors, but now with appropriate alternate modes), but besides being doubtful that this is what they have in mind, I imagine that would anger a whole different group of fans. We'll just have to take whatever it is we get.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Countdown to BotCon 2014 - Thundertron

When fans were speculating about what characters might be one of the "pirates" in this year's "Pirates vs. Knights" set at BotCon, Cannonball wasn't the only name to consistently come up. Although there aren't a huge number of pirate-themed Transformers through the 30-year history of the franchise, at least one other has been used fairly recently: Thundertron.

Thundertron was featured in the 2011 novel Exiles, written by Alex Irvine. Thundertron is neither Autobot nor Decepticon, but is the captain of a pirate crew, called the "Star Seekers," aboard the ship Tidal Wave. I have to confess at this point that, not having read Exiles, I'm a little unclear on some of Thundertron's back-story. I do know that Thundertron has a brutal hatred of Cybertronians, because they destroyed his homeworld. Now, in the continuity in which Exiles takes place, Cybertron has been rendered uninhabitable, but I can't tell from the materials available online if Thundertron considers Cybertron his homeworld, or if his destroyed planet is perhaps one of the colony worlds (such as Velocitron in Exiles) that Cybertronians inhabited during Cybertron's "Golden Age," when space bridges allowed ready interstellar travel. Indeed, I'm not even sure if Exiles even considers Thundertron to be a "Transformer," although concept art created by Emiliano Santalucia would seem to indicate so. Either way, it seems clear that both Autobots and Decepticons would do well to stay out of Thundertron's way!

The Thundertron toy has several details consistent with the stereotypical pirate, perhaps most notably the ability for one of his feet to come off, leaving him with a peg-leg. He also comes with a sword, but it's one of those pretty awful "Mech-Tech"-like weapons that transforms, and doesn't do so particularly well. In fact, it's impossible to keep the sword deployed in a way that would enable Thundertron to actually hold it, so I have it just sticking on the toy's arm in the picture here to the left.

When the box set was finally announced a few months ago, the fact that Cannonball (and not Thundertron) was mentioned as the captain of the Tidal Wave caused a bit of confusion among some fans. What happened to Thundertron? Did Cannonball take over? Honestly, most of these questions are probably best answered by the simple reality that the BotCon story takes place in an entirely different universe than Exiles, and thus that story need not have any bearing on the one BotCon is going to tell. You'd think we'd be used to the multiverse concept by now, but this kind of thing continues to come up.

In the two weeks since I featured BotCon 2007 Alpha Trion, a list of rumored at-convention souvenirs for BotCon 2014 has since been released. One of these rumors suggests a new Alpha Trion toy, using this mold, in homage of the design I mentioned that was apparently intended for the 3H-era convention. While this rumor remains unverified at the moment, past history indicates it's probably a reliable prediction. What I find most odd about this rumor, however, is that it would seem to indicate a very "pirate-like" mold is being used in a convention with an explicit "pirate" theme, but not for a pirate character! At least, I assume that this Alpha Trion is a good guy, and thus not a pirate, but I could be proven wrong there. Perhaps it's a new form for the Shattered Glass version? Time will tell....

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Countdown to BotCon 2014 - Cybertron Cannonball

As mentioned before, BotCon 2014 is featuring exclusive toys centered around a "Pirates vs. Knights" theme. Some fans may be surprised to know that there are, in fact, a few pre-existing "Pirate" characters in the Transformers franchise. One of these was introduced in the Cybertron toyline in 2006: Cannonball, and even when the convention theme was first revealed to fans several months ago, it was pretty obvious that one of the figures in the box set would be a new version of this character. But let's focus on the original for now....

The original Cannonball figure was a repaint of Cybertron Red Alert, with some creative paint applications to give the illusion of an eye-patch simply by painting one half of the figure's head a dark color. After all, what says "pirate" better than an eye-patch? The fact that one of the figure's hands was a Shockwave-like stump probably didn't hurt matters, either.

The addition of a green skeleton on the sides of the vehicle mode also helped convey the "pirate" concept, as well as a design on the top (see the picture below) that evokes (without copying) the "skull" motif associated with the Jolly Roger. While it might be argued that the undeniably land-based vehicle mode seems an odd choice for a pirate character, the deco nonetheless sells the concept well.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Cannonball's character, at least to me, was the bio released for him online (as opposed to the shorter version on the toy package itself) at the time of the toy's release. Basically, Cannonball is the Transformer version of the "Dread Pirate Roberts" from The Princess Bride. While that movie is more than 25 years old now, it was perhaps one of the most universally-loved movies of my generation, and finding a reference like this in a Transformers toy just amuses me more than I can say. I'm pretty happy to see Cannonball given a new lease on life with the upcoming BotCon figure.
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