Transformers sure has been ringin' my Marvel Transformers bell recently. Earlier this year we got Masterpiece King Grimlock, which was done up with his blacks as comic-blue and his Marvel-only crown. Generations has already given us Lord Straxus from issues 17 and 18. And in this new wave we get both Thunderwing and Skullgrin, who were prominent Decepticons from the Marvel material.
Thunderwing was one of the string of Decepticon leaders that rose to prominence following the disappearance of Megatron. It's anyone's guess why he was chosen out of the entire 1989 lineup to be the New Big Bad. Thunderwing wasn't the largest of that year's Decepticon toys. He didn't even rate an appearance in toy commercials. His packaging profile painted him as a typical lying, deceitful Decepticon. But nonetheless, Simon Furman chose him to be the Big Bad Dude in the days running up towards Unicron's arrival.
What set Thunderwing apart from all the other Decepticon leaders was, amazingly, his compassion. Unlike Megatron or Straxus or Galvatron, he actually seemed to care about the welfare of his troops. That doesn't mean he wasn't a jerk. He had a crazy streak in him that grew out of his escalating obsession with finding the Creation Matrix. Eventually he possessed it, but really it possessed him. Tainted by evil, the Creation Matrix took control of Thunderwing and transformed him into a careless monster. When he turned on his own troops, he had a brief moment of clarity as the weight of what he'd just done dawned on him, and he pleaded for the Matrix to leave him. You never saw anything like that from the other Decepticon leaders. This other, sane side to Thunderwing made him a little more three-dimensional than the rest.
Anyway, Thunderwing was a popular guy, and the good news is that because of this he gets a new toy. The bad news is that he gets it during a year in which all of the "Classic"-style Transformers are Deluxe Class guys! One of the few things I didn't like about the original Thunderwing toy was that it wasn't quite big enough. He needed to be larger to interact with and/or tower over his contemporaries. But the new Thunderwing toy is smaller still. D'oh! And he's one of the smaller Deluxes. D'oh again! He's a little taller than, say, Deluxe Classics Bumblebee, and shorter than most everyone else.
Part of it has to do with how much of his alternate-mode mass ends up on his back. ...which is all of it, so there isn't much toy left to make the robot very large. As a result, he's basically a jet with a robot folded up underneath, which isn't unique to him among jetformers at all, but is still a little disappointing. The advantage to this is that since none of his robot parts become jetparts, he can be as accurate to the original Thunderwing as designers wanted, and he is pretty damn accurate. He's like a little Thunderwing action figure with a jet on his back.
I don't mean to imply that he's incredibly simple, because he's not. True, his arms just line up under the wings, but the rest of the transformation was more complex than I was expected. A piece of the chest unfolds out of his torso and hides his head and streamlines the curvature of the undercarriage. His legs shorten not by shoving the thighs into the shins, but by unhinging everything apart and folding the legs up further into the inside of the body at the hips. I also like how the jet wings fold out into shapes that remind me of feathered wings.
Thunderwing's got a few other surprises. Though Hasbro couldn't budget a little robot for him to pal around with, Pretender-style, the nose of the jet does detach and become a little jet drone. His massive double missile launchers combine to form an even bigger double missile launcher. I kinda wish the jet drone attached to this combined weapon, but it doesn't seem to.
Getting back to that "Marvel love" stuff, what's most interesting to me are his colors. Thunderwing spent most of his comic book appearances looking like an approximation of his vivid toy colors, or at least as close as the comic book coloring process could manage. But then suddenly in his last two major appearances, the colorist dropped his color scheme and just made him an all-white guy with green arms and a yellow face. Generations Thunderwing incorporates those green arms into his color scheme, which is surprising to me. Hasbro tends to stick to the original toy colors, so taking inspiration from a specific two issues of the Marvel run is pretty neat. It's too bad the face is more Don Figueroa than Geoff Senior.
Drawing to a close, this is a damn fine Thunderwing if you don't have a Thunderwing. The original Thunderwing is mighty expensive on the secondary market. I was super-lucky to have friends who chipped in together to get me him a few years ago, and he's one of the bigger joys of my collection. It was also one of the better toys of its era! However, this new Thunderwing is definitely not one of the better toys of its era, but it's also only $12 instead of eleventy million. He's a great character and I'm glad he's earned a second chance at retail. Everyone can own a Thunderwing!
Unless you live in the UK, because Hasbro over there is kind of dumb.
And, sure, there were times when you didn't have the speed-talking gimmick. There were your few pre-Furman Marvel comics speaking roles. There was, uh, All Hail Megatron. The sad thing that I learned is that Blurr needs his speed-talking gimmick. He's super boring and unexceptional without it. It's all he has. Blurr's problem is what makes him remarkable is also what makes him annoying. He's an incredibly superficial character.
Which is why (gasp) I am going to go out on a limb and say that I like Drift's character more than Blurr's. So, yes, you might believe that Drift is the worst kind of Marty Stu, being some kind of magical sword guy who shows up just to be righter about everything than everyone else, with a dark, scandalous past and godlike training from a secret Mary Suetopia which he discovered... but at least he's not That Guy Who Talks Fast. It's way more fun to hate Drift than it is to love Blurr.
Thus part of my problem ranking Blurr's toy versus Drift's. As you can see, one is a retool of the other. Blurr has a new head (based on his IDW comics design), a large gun and two handguns instead of a large sword and two ... handswords?, and a different spoiler. And despite being a less interesting character to me, he's much, much, muuuuuch prettier. Drift's colors are pretty boring. He's solid white and dark gray, with some tiny bits of red. Blurr, instead of being solid white, has this vivid range of blues. The only non-blue non-black color on him is the red for his knees and his chest symbol. He's not solid blue. He's multi-blue. And they're very good blues.
I probably stared at Blurr the most of all the toys in Hasbro's BotCon 2010 display cases.
Blurr's guns work real hard to out-cool Drift's swords. Blurr has a huge gun, of course, just like Drift had the huge sword, and it's a huger gun than Drift's sword. It also has a fold-out peg in the middle of the barrel so that Blurr can hold the gun two-handed. What you can do with Blurr's two handguns is pretty neat. Yeah, they still store in the hip holsters, just like Drift's mini-swords did, and Blurr can run around carrying them individually while the big gun's snapped onto his back... but you can also clip them onto the end of the barrel of the larger gun. If you face them barrel-forward, you end up with a three-pronged supergun. If you face them barrel backwards, you end up with a tripod for the larger gun. A tripod! You know, for all your crouching and waiting snipery needs.
And yet is it cooler than swords? I dunno. That's a tough call. Sure, lots of characters come with bunches of guns, but who the heck comes with a veritable golf bag of blades? However, these blades don't combine like Blurr's guns do. And Blurr is prettier than Drift, hands down, but Blurr-the-character just isn't that interesting to me. You can't even ironically own Blurr's toy like you can ironically own Drift's toy.
People ask, which of the two should they get? I answer... fuck me if I know!
I won't have anything new toy-wise to talk about until about Thursday night, if this UPS tracking remains correct, so we'll just have to fill the emptiness with promises of future things to talk about.
Check out the cover of the next Transformers Collectors' Club magazine. Generations Wreck-Gar is coming! (Oh, and Perceptor truck, I guess, but meh!) And check out the pegs under his crotch and the matching peg holes on his motorcycle seat. If you get more than one, he can ride himself. I dig the asymmetric stuff going on with his body, plus how they managed to update him while harkening back to the original. He still rocks the facial hair, plus they kept his gun-tits! Hooray!
Oh, and the second Recordicons strip should be inside! Woooo!
My next batch of Generations toys got in from BigBadToyStore today. And by "today" I mean "8 fucking pm." Jesus, UPS. It's not a terribly exciting wave, consisting of my fifth iteration of the Sideswipe/Sunstreaker mold (and my third this year) and War for Cybertron Soundwave. I've been kind of lukewarm on him since his design isn't terribly interesting. And he transforms into a box. And he looks kind of awkward.
He's not the only transforming Soundwave toy who doesn't come with a little dude, but it still feels like something is missing. When your schtick is transforming into a box, even a box with wheels, you kinda need that extra little Mini-Con-esque interaction to work up some interest. His chest does open and you can fit his two weapons inside. Since they're cylinders and they both go in face-first, they do kind of look like cassette spools through the translucent chest window. That's a consolation prize, I guess.
But seriously, that altmode is hella boring.
Tomorrow morning/afternoon/whenever I'm hitting the road for Intervention The Webcomics Convention in Rockville, Maryland. I'll be at booth 53 and I'll be doing a panel on Saturday at 7! Friday, the first day of the con, is the thirteenth anniversary of me webcomicking, so I guess it's only appropriate that I spend it shilling my webcomic wares in foreign lands.
But I'm sure I can come up with even extra way to celebrate it.
In the meantime, enjoy this Hijinks Ensue comic spawned by a conversation Joel and I had at AnimeFest last weekend. There is a veritable sea of abs.
My Straxus wasn't shipped alone. His new casemate is War for CybertronMegatron. This is funny to me, because as I mentioned yesterday, he and Straxus shared bodies for most of the comics, and some believe it was actually Straxus-in-Megatron that became Galvatron in 2005! So, hell, maybe my new Megatron toy is Straxus, too.
The previous two WFC figures, Optimus and Bumblebee, were kind of annoying messes. Megatron thankfully does not follow this pattern. In fact, he's pretty friggin' great. He's by far the best of the video-game based dudes so far. (With only Soundwave and Cliffjumper, that we know of, to eventually follow.)
It's pretty neat how he works. In robot mode, he doesn't even feel like a Transformer. Instead, he feels and plays like a cohesive robot action figure. He seals up perfectly, with practically no visible transformation joints. This might mean that his transformation is going to be on the pathetic side, but this isn't the case. He splits up and folds into himself pretty amazingly. Sure, his tank mode is really made up, which helps, but it's not like it looks like a Megatron robot rolling around on his stomach or anything. His robot mode form is well hidden. In fact, most of it is hidden beneath his fusion cannon and the undersides of his feet. His forearms split open and form treads in a way not really seen before.
The forearm transformation is one of the few weak links, however. They're not very sturdy in either vehicle mode (you can also fold them under the chassis to make a hover-tank). Another is the missile launcher button placement on the cannon. It's right above the connection point for securing the weapon to the arm, so if you want to apply the right kind of force to the weapon to snap it on, you definitely have to push down on the button. I've lost the missile so many times already. At the moment, I keep it in my pants pocket. (I should make sure I find a safer place for it.)
Anyway, these grumbles aside, he's fantastic. I've extolled the glory of open-sculpted palms before, but Megatron's are the best I've seen. They're sculpted perfectly for aiming and firing his cannon arm. They're in that relaxed pose you'd expect, with the cascadingly-curled digits. It helps the toy come alive.
Thank god there are so few big-name early-G1 Decepticons. Once you pump out Megatron and the Seekers, maybe a Triple Changer or two, and Devastator, sure, maybe fit in a Ravage somewhere... you start running out of options, you know? So on the third round of Generation 1 Dudes Recreated Toyline, you're gonna have to start getting creative.
So say hello to Straxus. Okay, his toy's called Darkmount, after his fortress, because of some trademark trouble, but who the fuck cares. It's fucking Straxus, god dammit. Jesus Christ. Fucking. Straxus. The ferocity of my boner is incalculable.
Even though he's twenty-five years old, Straxus has never gotten a toy before. This is his first. Back in 1985, the Marvel Comics showed us a peek at what life was like on Cybertron. And it was pretty shitty there, if you can imagine. And the shittiest place was Polyhex, particularly its capital fortress Darkmount where Lord Straxus ruled. You know what he liked to do with his day? Yell at people and throw them into the smelting pools. And because that wasn't enough Throwing People Into Smelting Pools, he had all his dudes round up everyone they could find so that they could also get thrown into the smelting pools. He was an unstable, contrary dictator who could get his way simply because he was bigger and meaner than everyone else. If the Space Bridge was malfunctioning, and marching guys into it to die wasn't actually solving the problem, well, who cares, send more guys into there. Maybe eventually one of them would magically fix it by walking into it and dying. He had better things to do, like throw people into smelting pools.
He was pretty fucking great.
But he was only there for Blaster to kill him. He wasn't a toy. He wasn't somebody that Hasbro wanted to sell. He filled a story need. So he was terrible and horrible, and at the end of his second issue he got to die. That was all he was fated to do.
Yet it wasn't the end, weirdly enough. Simon Furman, the Marvel UK writer, was trying to weave stories in and around the US material. So he brought Straxus back as, well, a head. A head in a jar. And so for a while Straxus ran things even though he was just a friggin' head. Even Megatron showed up to Cybertron and was bossed around by this guy. Straxus's balls, even though they were severely fried and probably floating somewhere in unspace, were absolutely huge. He talked in his creepy font as a head in a jar and told Megatron to bring him a friggin' sammich.
Anyway, long story short, Straxus tried to steal Megatron's body, but things got confused, and maybe Straxus was Megatron after that or maybe he wasn't, and maybe Straxus was even the Megatron who eventually became Galvatron in the movie. But that's not important.
What's important is Fucking Straxus Toy.
Straxus transformed once in the original comics. He was a flying cannon thing, akin to Galvatron's alt-mode. The toy gives him an Earth mode that evokes it closely enough. It's a half-track tank! (Or a self-propelled cannon, if you want to get fancy.) And if that's not close enough, it has a third mode. Rotate the turret around and open the base of the tank into a tripod, and he's an artillery platform. Pretend it can fly.
That's not all that's going on. Starting with Recon Ironhide, a live-action film-style toy, some Transformer figures have sculpted bars and rods on their surfaces so that various weapons can clip onto them interchangeably. Straxus comes with three such weapons, and they can move around to various points on his body. Or you can swap them with any of the weapons that come with other contemporary, compatible figures.
But that's just scenery. The real deal is the robot mode. I can't believe the proportions on it. They're so perfect. He has this giant, broad chest that looks like it was carved out of something bigger than God. Powerful arms with big meaty fists sprout out of the shoulders. When he stands, he looks like he's a big wall of robot, as it should rightly be. Too often the robotic proportions of a design are lost in the actual toy due to transformation needs. Not here. Straxus is built like Straxus.
It's too bad he's just a Deluxe. Deluxe is the only size class that Generations is currently inhabiting, so Straxus didn't really have a choice. But, really, it's a fucking Straxus, so I think I can deal. Just don't stand him next to anybody bigger than him. (For example, I have him up on my desk shelf near BotCon Clench, and that just not flatter Straxus very well, no.)
I seriously can't get over him. He has his trademark battle-axe, which he can hold in both articulated hands. Despite the obvious compromises incurred on his design due to his need for an Earth mode, you can still see all of the little Straxus touches. The triangles on his chest and legs. The big round shoulders with the trapezoidal biceps. The perfectly-sculpted serpentine head.
Oh, sure, he's not a perfect figure. His transformation sometimes requires objects to clip through each other. (It's pretty complicated, but only in a moderately annoying way.) Oh, and the neck on mine is misassembled backwards. It's barely noticeable and doesn't affect transformation, so it's not a dealbreaker. If the misassembly's not a widespread problem I'll just buy a second one later. I need to support Straxus anyway.
So this is Drift, the character everybody loves to hate. He used to be a Decepticon, but then he fell in with a mysterious third faction of Transformers that taught him how to be zen, and now he's joined the Autobots so he can tell them how much better he is than they are! And he has three swords. One of them he only uses in the most dire of circumstances, which is all the time.
On that sword, it says that he's better than you.
(I'm serious. "Peerless under heaven" is written in Japanese across the blade.)
So, yeah, for some reason people hate Drift. But people somehow hate him with an intensity greater than his suckage, and it's not like he ever really did anything beyond being given a hilariously overwrought backstory, so it's hard to hate him too much.
And his toy is fucking awesome.
I'm serious! The toy somehow manages to come with all three swords and allow them to store. He's got the two smaller blades tucked into scabbards on his hips. The third, "special" sword stores on his back. And, sure, he's got three swords, big whoop, but he's also got enough articulation to use them. He can grip the special sword with both hands! I don't think I can begin to list all the points of articulation on his arms and in his shoulders. He's one of the few Transformers that can almost cross his arms over his chest.
His leg articulation is a little less awesome. It needs better (meaning any) heel articulation, but is otherwise pretty good. I forgive this because the way his lower legs transform is nifty. I don't know how to even begin describing the process. I guess the car parts sorta rotate separately from the upper robot shin parts, while the feet and ankles sort of fold up and around and...
I also like how neatly and easily it is to fold his arms up into the underside of the hood. In some Transformers, this is an ordeal, especially the ones like Drift who have wheels somewhere on their arms. With him, it's pretty straight-forward. Just fold them up into the shoulders, easy-cheesy.
Now, some genuine problems. First of all, he clips together really well in car mode. So well that it's a little scary trying to pull him back apart. When I say "clips together," I mean it. In some spots he doesn't just peg together. At the front and at the back, there are some legitimate irregular-shape in irregular-slot deals. You basically have to pull them apart with excessive force because there's no room at that stage to slide one side out of the other.
Oh, and one of my shorter-swords was missing the pin that goes through the hinge between the blade and the hilt. I cut a tiny bit off of a rubber-coated paper clip (so it was thick enough) and shoved that in there. Seems to be fine now, but still kinda annoying.
Maggie saw him on the coffee table this evening and said he was beautiful. Then I told her his backstory and she changed her mind. Can't wait for that Drift comic book miniseries this fall!
Cybertronian Optimus Prime was the talk of Friday, and here's his wavemate Cybertronian Bumblebee. Unlike Optimus Prime, who's had four "pre-Earth" toys to his name, this is Bumblebee's first! There was going to be one in Titanium Series based on his War Within design, but like the rest of that batch of guys, he was dropped. And I'm fine with that, because Titanium Series toys weren't terribly great in general.
Cybertronian Bumblebee transforms into a car that looks like a four-wheeled TRON lightcycle. This results in a pretty slick-looking vehicle. It's also very broad, using its Deluxe Class mass to be nearly as wide as it is long. Classics Bumblebee included a sizable accessory to keep Bumblebee himself relatively small while still being worth Deluxe Class dollars, but Cybertronian Bumblebee does no such thing. He's a big Bee, and he looks bigger than Prime even though they are at the same height. He's squat and round, but at a different scale, so a lot of his features are bigger relative to Prime's. Bumblebee's shouldn't be the same size as Prime! But all of the Generations toyline are Deluxe Class, so this sort of thing's going to be hard to avoid. Regrettable, regardless.
Like Prime, Bumblebee comes packaged in robot mode. I thought Prime's transformation to vehicle was rough until I attempted Bumblebee. It took 15 minutes to get him roughly into vehicle mode, and then another 30 minutes were spent trying to get all his various panels aligned. Locking one side into place would spring open the other side, and vice versa, rinse/wash/repeat for thirty whole minutes until I gave up. Man, I wanted to throw him into a wall. I did not encounter this problem on the second attempt. I think something very minor inside him, like maybe the wrist orientation, was fudging things up. But, jeez, I hate Transformers like these. I just want everything to lock together easily, not a back-and-forth game of fuss.
Bumblebee's sorta a pearlescent gold instead of the usual yellow. It calls to mind the 1986 Goldbug toy. Like Cybertronian Optimus Prime's pink accents, the gold color helps distinguish Bumblebee from previous Bumblebee toys. Oh, and, hey, surprise, 80% of the vehicle mode ends up folded up and stowed on his robot mode back. It's generally out of the way, though.
His handgun, when not in use, can be stored behind his bumper in either robot or vehicle mode. The instructions tell you this can only be done in robot mode, but they lie. So long as you insert the gun halfway through transformation, before the arduous task of getting the legs crammed in there, the gun stows in that same spot easy-as-you-please. Bumblebee also features a translucent red blade on each wrist that can be ratcheted manually in and out of battle-readiness.
Speaking of Bumblebee's instructions, the art within erroneously depicts Bumblebee with Cliffjumper's head. Seems we're getting a retool further down the line.
As you can probably tell by the frequency of video game jokes in Shortpacked!, (not that often!) I am way more into action figures than I am in video games. This is, after all, a comic strip about a toy store and not Penny Arcade. I will dutifully plow through any new Super Mario game when one makes itself available, but it is not a primary interest of mine. Regardless, sometimes these two interests intersect.
Because I get an email every other day from you guys letting me know, I think it's safe to say that it is general public knowledge that a Big Transformers Game is coming out this month. War for Cybertron is a multiplatform third-person shooter that takes place on Cybertron before the Transformers leave for Earth. Optimus Prime isn't leader yet, he's just "Optimus," sans "Prime." Everyone is in crazy alien hovertank-like modes because Volkswagen Beetles and Freightliner trucks won't exist for another few million years. And, as Hasbro tends to do, they have some action figures of the game's character models.
This is Optimus Prime! He transforms into an "armored tank." This is my... third? toy of a Cybertronian-mode Optimus? First there was the War Within Prime (another pre-Earth story), then I picked up Cybertron mode Optimus Prime from the Animated toyline, and now this. We have an extra housemate this summer, necessitating the packing up of my not-on-display toys in the attic, so I did not feel like digging out the entire attic closet to search through fifteen Rubbermaid containers for these two other dudes to photograph next to my new one. You will just have to imagine them!
He comes packaged in robot mode. I have to admit, this removes a lot of my incentive to do the inaugural transformation, especially since robot-to-vehicle is always much more of a chore than the reverse. With Cybertronian Optimus Prime, this is no exception. He's a little too complicated, but I hate him waaaaaaaaaaay less after attempting the same on his wavemate Cybertronian Bumblebee. Really put things in perspective. Prime is a deceptively complicated toy. I don't think there's an uninterrupted square inch on him. But things peg together well enough in each mode, so no harm no foul. The only annoying part of him in robot mode is his shoulder kibble, which likes to flair up and about when you don't want it to. A good portion of the vehicle mode roof folds onto his back, sorta shellformery, but it packs away out of site well enough.
The most intriguing part of him is his gun. It transforms as well, from robot mode rifle configuration to vehicle mode weapon-mount configuration. There's little springs in it that keep it in one mode or the other - there's no pegs. In weapon-mount configuration, it wraps around itself. In this compacted mode, it's also intended to be mounted on his forearm. (You can see it in this configuration in some concept art.)
My favorite aspect, I think, is his pink highlights. Generally, Prime has yellow highlights, but I really like the pink. It accentuates him in a different way, and it sets him apart from other Primes. And, lord, that's the kind of thing I need at this stage in my collecting days. I have a buttload of Primes.
There's some rumblings that War for Cybertron is going to be the established canon for future Hasbro Transformers ventures. That would include this fall's Transformers: Prime CGI cartoon. So if you want a head start on your TF: Prime collection, this is probably it.