Saturday, 13 October 2018

Robot RoBeginnings - Phase 1 1997 - 2002

- Ben Watson

Marching out from the mists of prehistory come the very first pieces in my collection. I recently decided to revisit the origins of my plastic robot habit and felt there was quite a bit I could unpack. So please indulge me as I (re)explore the first five years of my life with Transformers. 

My collecting life began with Beast Wars and for what felt like a long time, that line formed the major backbone to my robot love. But now, twenty-plus years later, laying out all the figures I gained from those years feels slightly underwhelming. I'd pictured myself with loads of Beast Wars figures for years but really, between those formative five years, I'd only amassed about as many Transformers as I might bring home from a single weekend at TFNation now. To me however, this speaks volumes to how much more I would enjoy and value each singular piece at that age. So let's see exactly which golden memories shine out of those halcyon days before I passed the event horizon of Armada and would forevermore fall through the folding space of Transformers collecting towards some unknowable singular point...

Wave 1 - Christmas 1997
I'm not 100% certain my Transformers life begins on this year, but tracking back from more solid data leads me to believe the Christmas I received Beast Wars Waspinator was that of '97. Some sources say this was the first year of the line in the UK and that '96 represents its starting point in the US. For a time I'd been convinced '96 was when this happened but at that age I didn't understand that next year would be this year with 1 added to it because I couldn't count to 1997 so, I'll defer judgement here. Whatever the case, the initial push on this lifetime rollercoaster ride was a big green plastic wasp with bulging blue eyes that I would ask my dad to turn into that silly robot I'd seen on the telly. My most venerable copy of the figure still has super tight hips but both the clear missiles are long broken (half of one dangles from the shelf above my desk right now in a piece of tape. I don't really know why I've kept it). He's not the most bold or interesting or posable or even the best painted version of this mould but he is the one I ran buzzing around my nan's house, scaring my aunts and uncles with on that Christmas morning. 

Wave 2 - 5th birthday 1998
The toy that really set the cart rolling from its starting line was Tarantulas who was the first thing I can remember asking for as a birthday present. Less than a month after Christmas I got another oversized creepy crawly, only this one freaked people out even more because it was the rough size and shape of an actual tarantula. On the day I got it, I brought it with me to the odd cabin shaped eatery I'd elected me and my dad would visit for lunch and the waitress at least pretended to be spooked by it. Excellent. Time to take it home and hang it from somewhere where it would make my mum jump. As far as looking after a figure goes I learned the hard way with Tarantulas after having to keep track of his four detachable legs/missiles. I'm pretty proud they're all present and correct but with the stress marks on the stalks they connect to, they'll never again be pulled off and used as ammunition for what is now strictly a grapple gun. I'm rather pleased the length of yellowing string emanating from his backside is all in one piece too as that web line feature was the one part of the figure I enjoyed most. And who doesn't like a good pair of those quintessential Beast Wars claw feet?

I'll mention Razorclaw here too as quite honestly, I can't remember anything about how I got him but he must have come along at some point during '98. At that time I'd often visit a friend who was quite frankly spoiled rotten by his mum and so had loads more Beast Wars than me. Razorclaw was one of his I was particularly smitten by and so simply had to find my own. A see-through blue craggy crab man with massive spikes hidden in one claw and a laser gun in the other. The absolute height of chitinous cool. 

Wave 3 - Summer 1998
Now the wheels were rolling, I was fully prepared to make the most of '98's wealth of new Beast Wars offerings - in the sense of finding a couple more than usual to ask my dad for. One such newcomer was my first of the Fuzor subline, Airhammer. Spied in one of those metal baskets in Argos one fortuitous day, he came home with me and for only the briefest moment perplexed my young mind with his hammerhead shark/eagle hybrid stylings as I was more frustrated by how his arms transformed. My first Maximal, he'd be sorely outnumbered by all my previous Predacons but in actual fact, I don't think I ever made them fight like that. These days, his arms are loose and floppy and he might be getting a tinge yellowed but he's a cornerstone of heroism among my robot ranks. 

His Fuzor nemesis in Quickstrike provides a similar scenario to Razorclaw. I knew I had him in '98 but I couldn't tell you how or when. I probably saw him at that same Argos. At this point my taste in insectoid exoskeletons must become clear as Quickstrike's scorpion body is supremely well realised. Couple this with the truly inspired move of making the tail the whole first half of a cobra and doing the whole thing up in a particularly Central American colour scheme, he screams "desert bandito". At the time I felt his characterisation in the show to be weirdly off but now I realise it couldn't have been more spot on. 

Wave 4 - Christmas 1998
While I have very distinct memories of a Christmas full of then current Lost in Space merch - a wealth of which I'd be hard pressed to believe could have been mine on the same day as the following figures - all signs (and old photos) point to December 25th 1998 being all about Rampage. The biggest Beast Wars figure I would ever gain and the kind of prezzie to stand among the likes of my TIE fighter as simply too incredible to properly process at that age. I never could manage the tank mode, but having an even bigger crab provided quite enough excitement. Today I look at the figure as being particularly unwieldy, with nowhere to effectively stow any of the crab mode's eight appendages- and did he really need that little shotgun when he's already packing a functioning minigun? Either way, the shining, hulking, missile spewing Predacon would go down as one of those special things in my collection.

Testament to how Rampage overshadowed anything else at the time, it takes a feat of mental effort to remember he wasn't the only Transformer I got that Christmas. Well, I'm assuming that's the case - two separate photos exist of me unwrapping Spittor and Rampage in different rooms but I think those are the same Postman Pat pajamas I'm wearing in each... It ain't easy being a fashion icon. Spittor and Terrorsaur added to my growing horde of Basic figures, but compared to the living swiss army knife of Razorclaw they held less interest. So much so, that for roughly twenty years I'd forgotten Terrorsaur even had his piddly shooter til I found it and immediately put it in the box with all my other TF guns so it wouldn't disappear between the fibers of the carpet or some similarly microscopic crack in space. Spittor was always fun just for being a frog, but his amphibian prime is now behind him after the clear tab that secures his beast mode head snapped off. I think I've kept that in a bit of tape on this shelf too...

Wave 5 - 6th Birthday 1999
OK I'm totally spitballing here because I have no idea how the grinning driller killer Scavenger came into my possession, only that he was one of the last figures of the line I got and for reasons unknown, didn't see nearly as much play time as the rest. Thus I'll take a wild stab in the dark and say I got him for my 6th birthday? 1999 was pretty much a non-stop Phantom Menace based high for me so anything that wasn't Star Wars just doesn't seem to have been entered into my long term memory. As for Scavenger himself, I don't think I own a figure that exudes more of an aura of unhinged evil. His face is frozen in an almost beatific crazed smile. Huge curved horns adorn his head that have nothing to do with his ant alternate mode. The legs of which protrude from his arms to give him the silhouette of a gnarled dead tree. And he has blood red drills instead of hands. Add to all this the excellent proportions and articulation of his robot mode, the visible bones of his thighs through that candy red carapace, the veined underside of his big chrome abdomen shell and that metallic teal chest - and Scavenger is a sumptuous symphony of sin. Why they didn't give the spider transformer this Carnage-esque serial killer air, I have no idea but I'll happily take a giant ant that turns into a drill tank. 

Wave 6 - Christmas 1999
Again, this occasion was mostly focused on all things Episode I but between my Obi Wan's lightsaber and set of droid starfighters, the now Christmas staple of Transformers weren't to be forgotten. Admittedly, after the previous year's Rampage (et al) I was a little disappointed by only a pair of Basic figures but I did enjoy the fact that for the first time I received a Maximal and a Predacon to face off against each other. Sonar and Scarem represent my only Transmetal 2 figures, despite how many times I might have dropped hints concerning Dinobot... My main memory attached to these two is playing with them while the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Movie played in the background and conjured up almost similarly metallic creatures on my TV screen. Scarem plays by the rulebook and provides another bug-based Predacon killing machine with scythes for hands and exquisite blue chrome while Sonar always played second fiddle to him due to her virtually impossible transformation. I still can't manage it without popping her legs off first. She was of course only my second Maximal but first female figure. Although I'm aware I've affected use of that gender in years since reading her wiki page, I don't recall ever attaching male pronouns to the figure in the past. She's just one of those designs that simply works as a girl - even if she doesn't really work as a bat. These two represent the end of my contemporaneous love for Beast Wars and with their awkward conversions, lack of articulation or accessories/play features and spare legs that could get lost for roughly a decade - I'd kind of already felt the prime of the line had passed. At least their chrome and spark crystals were cool. 

Wave 7 - Christmas 2000/ 8th Birthday 2001
Parting ways with Beast Wars was somewhat embittering for 7-year-old me. My favourite toys were gone and replaced with a successor line that just didn't seem as good. To this day, these are all the Beast Machines figures I've accrued. No Vehicons. Nothing above Basic size. Without the show to propel any interest I might have been able to foster for the new line as it wasn't broadcast terrestrially, I was quite happy to not be a fan of Beast Machines. This didn't of course stop me from wanting some of the toys though. However this didn't really play out in the same way as in years previous. 

I'd asked for the electronic Jetstorm I'd seen so many adverts about but... Dillo was the sterling effort which greeted me on Christmas morning of 2000. If I was even slightly disappointed with Sonar and Scarem the year before, I was almost distraught at the idea of this, this - lump being my Christmas present. Sure I had other presents, including my first means of self propelled transport in one of those fold-up scooters that were all the rage, but I still needed good toys! Dillo wasn't good. He didn't have a robot mode or even five points of articulation. Just a hidden missile launcher.

Luckily, my birthday bore better fruit with one of the figures I'd asked for for Christmas, Buzzsaw and the actually rather good oddity, Night Viper. The Waspinator parallels with Buzzsaw were clear but the figure didn't hit quite the same chord. For a start he's a Maximal? Admittedly, a much more realistic wasp, despite its futuristic techno-organic stylings, the robot mode was a little odd. I'll still stand by it as one of the best integrations of insect wings into a robot mode, but what is his right arm? It's just ...some legs... His left arm fares better being a wiggly spring stinger with a spark crystal inside but it's just sort of always dangling there. Gotta love those multiple red visor eyes though. 

Night Viper would then come to stand out as my best Beast Machines figure. A snake mode would have always seemed to be some blend of impossible or boring when applied to a transforming toy, but Night Viper's cobra mode pulls it off. The fully jointed tail slides the full length of one of his legs through his pelvis to form his lower body. Insane. The snake head itself has a spring loaded snarling feature and the particular mix of metallic red and silver on the rounded and segmented surfaces of his body really makes for a futuristic look, even in the space year 2018. The robot mode's excellent articulation, lithe proportions and hidden blade make for a very unique figure -  the likes of which I'd have been happy to receive more of but alas, this was it for Beast Machines for me. This was it for beasts in general...

Wave 8 - Christmas 2001/Spring 2002
With the silent departure of Beast Machines came the biggest change to my life with transforming robots - they now turned into cars! Initially I wasn't for these "Transformers" (you can read more of my thoughts on RID here) but Robots In Disguise still found its way into my life. The Spychanger duo of Ironhide and Mirage graced my "stocking" (actually more of a small sack) that Christmas and kept my collecting cart rolling along. I liked them, they were efficiently simple, but also the smallest figures. Such a lack of articulation was a bit of a blow after the abundance of ball-joints in the Beast Era but I figured, if they're cars they'd be clunkier robots than those made of animals anyway. 

The year turned and while I was vaguely more aware of Transformers through the start of 2002, I didn't get my hands on any more until that seminal duo of Rollbar and Movor began to tip the scales. Found purely by chance at a now long defunct toy liquidation store, they opened my eyes to what transforming robots could be. Of course by all accounts a step backward from prior years' figures, (recycling G1 must have been odd for long time fans) without that knowledge of the past, to me they were incredibly fresh. They struck my imagination in a way that toys hadn't for quite some time and while they were almost painfully basic, did much to ready me for what 2002 was really going to be about... But that's a story for another time... 

Wave EX - 199?
To say that RID provided me with my first ever vehicular expressions of Transformers would be a lie. At some point, possibly as early as '98, I visited my first local Collectormania fair. There in one huge plastic tub languished the ancient transforming robots of the distant shrouded past. I pulled out a small red helicopter and took a shine to it and was told by the vendor that it was "very old" and that I should look after it and be careful with it. It was alien to me but I did. I had no idea as to its age but it certainly seemed older than me. "It must have come from the 80's" I would think. It had all these red face badges stuck on it that seemed to mean something and its construction compared to my Beast Wars stuff was positively primitive. Why did its head fold down like that? Were these stickers supposed to be on it? What even was its name? I had no idea but the sense of a common ancestor to my new toys was clear. I handled it infrequently and gave it a pride of place in my room because it wasn't for playing with like all my other stuff, it was for looking after. 

Fast-forward to 2003 and an issue of Dreamwave's More Than Meets The Eye Guidebooks I'd picked up with my latest issue of Armada features my very own mythical helicopter man on the very first page! It informs me his name is Blades and the other small red and white robot I'd picked up at a later Collectormania is his teammate First Aid. The strange joints in their torsos must be because they should combine with others to form this Defensor... The veil was parted but for what felt like the longest time I lived in total ignorance of the true nature of these two and somehow, that was its own kind of experience. It allowed me to apportion much greater value to these knackered old Protectobots than any collector might have done at the time. In the grand scheme of things it didn't really take me long to find out they were from 1986 but it's very likely they were only 1990 Classics reissues. Not exactly ancient. Add to this their yellowed plastic and faded stickers and I would start to view them in a different light. But to me, they represent so much about my very first discovery of capital T "Transformers" and the expansion of the nascent universe I was just starting to explore. So while you might only give me three quid for each of them if I was a stall at TFN, they're worth an immeasurable amount to me, infinitely more than any similarly beaten up junker I've ever foolishly parted with cash for. 

In the end, each and every one of these figures is worth a king's ransom to me for being the ones that fill a particular little space in my life. A time when the prospect of even the most basic figure was the ultimate thrill, when the compunction to get more wasn't a monkey on my back. These twenty toys aren't my only childhood Transformers but they're the ones that occupied the pedestal before I knew to give it a good sweep and bolt a nameplate to it. They were just my toys that I loved because they were mine. Fruit of a simpler time. I haven't always given them their due, after all they're the figures I've had the longest to grow bored of if I'm going to grow bored of anything. But that doesn't change how they glimmer with a certain psychic light in my eyes only. I count myself lucky that I've still got them all - chances are you, dear reader, have long since parted ways with your first childhood Transformers but if not, just remember to dust them off every now and then and remind them they still mean something. 6-year-old you is still in there somewhere...

Follow Ben @Waspshot23

Check out our TFNation 2018 zine in digital form.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Powermaster Optimus Prime: The Stickering

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

Several years ago I received a Generation 1 Powermaster Prime, boxed and sealed. It was a wonderful surprise at the time (it was a birthday present from my father) and ever since then has remained one of my more prized possessions. I have since opened the toy, had a bit of a play on occasion but largely, kept it tucked away, cosy in its polystyrene and cardboard home, unblemished and unaltered from the day it left the factory, paperwork and all. 

Recently however, I decided to abandon this previously held mindset and took the step to sticker-up my Powermaster Prime. It wasn't a decision taken lightly and with this article I will take you through my step by step process of making this once sealed, Powermaster Optimus Prime, irrevocably, mine. 

For the years in which I have owned this toy, I always liked how box-fresh it was. Stickers still on their sheet, all paperwork accounted for and of course, absolutely mint condition. As bland as it seemed without the factory applied stickers, it had a certain purity, completely untouched but for my hands. I had always considered applying the stickers, recreating the experience children would have gone through back in the day with their newly released G1 toys but it always felt very final. Once they're applied, that's it, I can't really go back and restore this toy to its pre-stickered state plus, the sticker sheet itself would no longer have its freshly printed finish, instead being nothing more than a yellow sheet of paper with but a few scant reminders of the glorious lustre it once possessed. 

Through all this, I felt a slight nagging at the back of my mind, a question of why I was so loathe to sticker up this amazing toy. It all revolved around keeping a certain snap-shot in time preserved and perfect, a faithful example of "how it was back in the day" as it were. The counter to this was a feeling that I lacked real ownership, that I was just looking after this specimen until one day, in some far flung future it was passed on to the next owner. The feelings of being the first to open a MISB toy ran counter to the later feelings of wanting to preserve its sealed-condition. 

With all of this in mind, I grabbed a pair of tweezers (for precision stickering of course) and set about completing the journey I began when I first cut open the tape on this sealed vintage toy. Of course I could have fired ahead and just rushed the process like many a child would have years ago but I wanted to savour every single peel, every placement, every moment of confusion as the guide failed to clearly show where a sticker went leaving me to consult the box's images which in turn caused more confusion as they weren't consistent with the instructions........

The sheet itself. It is, well was, glorious. Packed with mechanical detail, directional arrows (for the all important ramps) and metallic finishes, it was a wonder to behold and was largely the main driver in my earlier decisions to not apply these stickers. To spoil such a sheet seemed to be out of the question. Seeing all the various stickers together on one sheet, from the smallest and most simplistic to the largest and most detailed, it was clear a lot of love and effort had gone into the design of this sheet. But still, I pressed on, intent on seeing this through to the end. 

My Powermaster Prime, sans stickers, naked as the day he was first forged. Before this, I hadn't really noticed how bland and poorly detailed the toy was. Besides a very early childhood memory, the bulk of my experience in handling this toy was with this particular copy so its seas of plain blue, red and grey plastic felt perfectly natural to me. Thinking back I can barely remember my childhood copy having the blue window stickers and maybe the Autobot insignia but certainly nothing close to what was to come. 

I started at what I felt was the most logical place, the truck cab itself. The difference a few stickers made was remarkable, particularly the blue chest and silver leg stickers. Immediately it brought the figure to life, further enhanced with the wrist, crotch and knee details. While evocative of the original Generation 1 Prime, these first rumblings of change implied a different beast altogether. Also, as you can see, this barely made a dent in the sticker sheet itself. 

Next came the trailer's stickers. While not as stark a difference as the smaller robot, they still added, in hindsight, a much needed finish to the alt mode. The rear door stickers are filled with great details but sadly, due to their smaller size, lose a lot of the effect they aim to create. As for the forward-most blue stripe stickers on the trailer, a lack of definite moulding to accommodate them made it difficult to get a best fit. In the end I tried to focus on lining up the silver stripe and hoped the rest would follow. As it is I'm not very happy with their placement but luckily they're mostly covered up in all modes. 

Knowing the bulk of the stickers were intended for the base mode, I pressed ahead with those for the super-mode. I had considered saving this, ensuring the main-event for last but at the time it felt more natural to continue in this way. Again, the stickers are both Optimus Prime focused details such as truck windows and Autobot insignias but also a wonderful array of technical details, evocative of those seen on the original Optimus Prime's interior trailer details. 

And so we come to the base mode, truly where the sticker sheet puts in the bulk of its work, turning a bland and unconvincing tertiary mode into a rather legitimate command post. It was here more than anywhere else that I noticed a lack of consistency in the instructions as compared to the box's images. The particular stickers were correct (well they have to be, there's no room for that sort of error) but their orientation seemed to be mixed up. Nothing serious and I'm sure the source of many cases of various sticker alignments in copies of this toy across the years. Maybe it was a printing error on the instructions or possibly the photo-sample used for the box was stickered incorrectly. Far be it from Hasbro to not faithfully represent their product in their official photography...

The difference is utterly remarkable. Beyond the plethora of brilliant technical detailing, the stickers draw the dark blue of the rear section/super-robot legs down into the grey flaps, bringing a much greater feeling of cohesion and intent that yes, this is a legitimate command base and not just a giant robot doing the splits. I honestly can't remember if my childhood copy of this toy had the base-mode stickers in place (the perils of a car-boot purchase) but even if it did, it couldn't have been even half as glorious as this freshly stickered up piece. 

And there we have it, one stickered up, Generation 1, Powermaster Prime, in all his glory. The experience, from breaking the precious seal on that first sticker, to seeing the final product was nothing but pure joy. I was intent on not using any online resources as a reference when I wasn't sure of a sticker's correct placement or orientation and instead relied only on the instruction manual and the box photography which, as mentioned earlier, created its own issues. I wanted to fully recreate the childhood experience as best I could and I can safely say I succeeded in this particular endeavour. 

Beyond this, I also learned a valuable lesson which I would urge others to take on board. Don't be so precious about your toys. Sure, look after them, maintain and even repair them if need be but play with them. Pose them, transform them, apply the factory issued stickers! Yes as time goes on many Transformers toys hold their own as collector items but in years to come, I doubt many of us would look back and think 'oh boy, I sure enjoyed looking at that boxed toy for all those years' (well, some of us might). I was sort of like that with this particular toy. I valued it's pristine, untouched condition above my own personal enjoyment of handling and playing with the toy and eventually, that didn't sit too well with me. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined. 

You can follow Dorian @Vigadeath

Thursday, 20 September 2018

RRCo Review - Power of The Primes Abominus

 - Ben Watson

Now that this year's main collector focused line Power of The Primes has unleashed upon the world all the oddly mismatched figures it's going to, it's time to give some quality time to one of its high points: the long awaited Terrorcon gestalt Abominus. 

After months with only a Rippersnapper under my belt, I've finally pieced together the standout ensemble piece of Power of The Primes. Thanks to the bounteous TFN dealer room and a right-place-at-the-right-time visit to the Smyths website only days ago, I've managed to circumvent the sad return to awful Generations distribution and complete my own Abominus. So was it worth the effort? This line has seen a return to Combiner Wars styled combination from it's outset, but when it comes to teams - apart from the prohibitive Predacons - only one has come marching back out of the late 80's under the POTP banner. Sure Dinobots are cool and I'm not averse to making random standalone guys (or gals!) limbs or torsos but as far as an established, anticipated, you-need-to-get-all-five-separately Special Team goes, the Terrorcons are the only representatives of what the first Prime Wars installment left us wanting. 

Sharing a development history with some of the Dinobots, it's hard to say whether they or the Terrorcons came first in Hasbro's planning. Did the idea of a dino combiner facilitate the necessary beast limb tooling for Abominus? Or were they going to do him anyway and brought the Dinobots into the ring as some preemptive retools/sparring partner in Volcanicus? Either way, Abominus carries on the Combiner Wars tradition of shared engineering to minimise costs - a fact most apparent in Hun-Gurrr's transformation scheme borrowed from Silverbolt of all people. To some this may belie the relatively low creative effort seen through much of Power of The Primes but quite honestly, I find it makes the Terrorcons feel like the Combiner Wars figures they could have been all the more and that's ok with me.

Eschewing the individual robots for now, as a combiner, Abominus dominates. The torso is more solid than any previous center component, with everything tabbing in multiple spots and tucking any extraneous matter from Hun-Gurrr out of the way entirely. No half folded wings jutting out or dangling cannon platforms here, just a giant robot's back. The head sadly doesn't look up or down for poses involving peering at lesser creatures but the sculpt is incredibly well detailed, translating original broad strokes sculpting into more intricate and layered details. The expression on his face though... Leaves something to be desired in the context of a raging engine of destruction. He's far too calm and composed. 

The overall expansion of details from the G1 toy carries on into the body of Abominus with more of a layered armour look to the chest and new shapes and colour added to the sides with a pair of metallic red stickers. Admittedly, yes these are POTP stickers we're talking about so their application isn't perfect but they really add an extra visual dimension to appreciate as for the most part, nothing on the figure catches light to shine. I'm not sure where the inspiration for this new colour on Hun-Gurrr comes from but I like to think it's a callback to the red deco of the Beast Hunters' Legion Class figure which was the core of a hugely successful and well received first update for the gestalt at a smaller scale. 

The chest also inconspicuously houses a square cavity for one of the line's many pseudo-gimmick cubes. Under the hatch in the center, the included Enigma of Combination can be slotted in, its details enjoyed for five seconds and then promptly forgotten about when you close the hatch back up. I like how the incorporation of the line's main "play pattern" (one set of quotation marks here isn't enough) is still there but in no way intrudes upon the styling of the figure. It's kind of fun to open a compartment to reveal hidden workings on a robot too. But apart from that, nothing can be said to elevate the playability of Abominus unless you bring in weapons from other figures as he has no massive rifle or somesuch to wield. In a way this fits with the bestial nature of the character - just using his spiked fists - but this is something that sets him apart from the previous Special Team combiners.

While the lack of a weapon is a negative compared to his Combiner Wars brethren, a positive comes in the form of his improved articulation. The new tilting combiner feet add a lot to the figure when its hips also facilitate the most natural stances with ease. I'm not a fan of the "lego man hands" with their alien double thumbs, but at a push you can ditch his extra digits and articulated mitts are always a bonus. A slight shame that he can't really make convincing fists with them though. If you're a die hard Terrorcon fan you might want to make noise about how the combiner hands are each different colours and don't match the feet and while on paper this should be visually jarring, up against the colours of the rest of the thing I can't say it has much impact unless you're looking for it. 

Breaking down the gestalt gives you an especially strong team of robots, most interesting in their own right. However at this level there is a noticeable dichotomy in their build quality. The first Terrorcons released, wave 2's Rippersnapper and Hun-Gurrr are perfectly sound with fine plastic and strong sculpting and paint apps. The later trio of Blot, Cutthroat and Sinnertwin however feel like a tangible step down in terms of materials. Each has their own structural deficiencies, Blot coming off the best (in other areas too) with only his arms feeling sort of soft. Sinnertwin however seems to be mostly made of this kind of spongier polymer. Whether this is to render the matte surface he has to his body parts is unclear but compared to other deluxes in the line, there's a tactile difference. Finally, Cutthroat comes off as by far the worst of the bunch. There's no kinder way for me to say this - he feels like a knock off. The bendy thin glossy plastic used for his wings is exactly like that which I've encountered in pound shop robots. Coupled with his pale matte beige sections and overall lack of fine detail on his parts that aren't borrowed from Swoop - Cutthroat is one figure I can't recommend for his own merits. 

However, despite these weak points, overall the Terrorcons seem just as strong a set of figures as any Combiner Wars team. Certainly taking the top spot in terms of Power of The Primes by virtue of their late G1 nature. Titans Return was such a hit because of its huge injection of post-movie Decepticons and Abominus really rounds out that selection and uses the last-hurrah ethos of POTP to basically give you a combiner from that line. Ready to face off against the Computron of your choice, Abominus fills a huge hole in the updated 1987 collection and short of a Scorponok we've been denied, would form the largest centerpiece for a display of the lot. To someone like me though, for the most part unfazed by glaring gaps in G1 groups, Abominus is worthy of a place on your shelf all by his own strengths. A colourful corps of mental monster men that throw the Combiner Wars Earth mode based, complementary colour scheme guidebook down their geared gullets. Abominus is proof that Hasbro could've pulled off a new beast combiner a long time ago and for a long time yet, it looks like he'll take the top spot among them. As long as Monstructor and Piranacon remain the fevered dreams of a madman that is...

Follow Ben on Twitter

Check out our TFN 2018 digital zine!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

TFNation 2018 Exclusive: RRCo Zine #2

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

As per last year, now that the dust has truly settled on another fantastic TFNation, we present to you this year's TFNation exclusive RRCo zine in digital format. If you weren't at the convention or were just unable to get your hands on a copy then fear not! You can now gaze in wonder at its magnificence (we're pretty pleased with how this year's zine turned out, in-case you hadn't noticed.)

A massive thank you must go to our lead designer and artist in residence Adam (@zerokaiser85) and to our corporate partners Umar (@Speed_Freak01) and Gherk (@TheLastGherkin). The idea to have a faux convention guide popped into my head one day earlier in the year but it was the creativity and ability of Adam and Umar who helped bring it to life. Also, I cannot forget my fellow RRCo colleagues, Ben and Dan. From photography to wisdom born of a thousand lifetimes (Dan is old), everyone had a part to play. 

Lastly, the reception this year's zine garnered was incredible. Honestly, it was quite satisfying having attendees approach me, asking if I had any zines to hand out. Thank you for all the support and encouragement, it has only spurred us on to bigger and better ideas. We have big plans for next year so keep your eyes peeled. 

As always, keep it #Refined!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Stories Only Transformers Can Tell - The Many Faces of Darkness

- Nicolas Bossons

Hi, I’m Nico. I’m nineteen years old, and I’ve been a fan of Transformers for as long as I can remember. These toys - and their associated stories - have been a big part of my life, and I’m particularly interested in seeing where those two often-disparate components of the franchise really intersect. With that in mind, I’m here today to talk a little bit about the Big Bad himself: Megatron.

c. Crockalley

When Hasbro first brought Diaclone and Microman overseas, they were faced with a simple question: “Who are all these robots?”
We all know the story. And now, over thirty years later, we can answer that question pretty definitively.

The Transformers (Marvel US) #1

2018 feels, in some ways, like a turning point for the Transformers franchise. Yet as many have pointed out, it rather feels like things are just turning back towards Generation 1. As old stories reach their conclusion, the likes of Cyberverse and the new War For Cybertron lines seem afraid to tread truly new ground - instead, they retreat further into the 1984 comfort zone.

Looking back, it strikes me that one particular bit of slavish G1-accuracy has slipped forever beyond Hasbro's reach: Megatron will never again be a gun.

c. Crockalley
I'm an Armada kid. I'd accepted tank-Megatrons since day one, and was forever rolling my eyes at the “geewunners” imploring Hasbro to instead turn the Decepticon leader into a tiny, immobile firearm. It struck me as an impossibility, as it still does. Yet somehow, I recently found myself trying to convince a stranger online that Hasbro should do just that.

“Oh no!” I thought once I realised what I was doing. I watched as my hands shrivelled and my hair turned grey before my eyes. “What's happening to meeeee?”
I wasn't even alive during the eighties! Surely I wasn't feeling nostalgia for something I hadn't experienced?

And, in truth, I wasn't. Rather, I had stumbled once more upon an idea that has perhaps become subconscious and dilute with time. The idea that an alt-mode means something.

Transformers fiction has always been seen, in many ways, as restrictive. Writers are subject to the capricious whims of Hasbro, wishing to promote a particular set of figures one moment and an entirely different set the next - and, of course, there is a morass of pre-existing lore for any new writer to navigate. But that's not the whole story. Something I think we're all aware of but rarely discuss is that there are some narrative tricks which are wholly unique to Transformers fiction.

Back in the eighties, Hasbro knew they were making a provocative statement. “This is the leader of the bad guys. His name is Megatron. Y'know, like Megaton.”


“He turns into a Walther P-38. Oh, but not a regular P-38, no- he's the one they had in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Y'know, the spy show.” (My knowledge of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. begins and ends with “it's a spy show.”). In the history of humankind, there is perhaps no greater symbol of “technology for the sole purpose of killing” than the handgun. Perhaps the nuclear bomb, of which Megatron's name is so evocative, holds similar meaning - but such a bomb is directionless, indiscriminate, self-destructive. Megatron's hatred has direction. The tank, meanwhile, is more a symbol of war as a whole - after all, a tank's just an armoured transport with a big gun on top.

You can't drive around in a gun.

Framed this way, the “Megatron should be a gun” argument makes perfect sense. It's easy to see why the “Megatron as a nerf gun” concept was so ridiculous.


I love that Classics Megatron exists, don't get me wrong- it just doesn’t make any sense. Neither, really, does the traditional handgun mode, which comes with its own ridiculous baggage. A gun on its own is powerless; someone must wield it. Who shall that be? Starscream? Donny Finkelberg? And, for that matter, how exactly is a tiny gun able to turn into a giant robot? These questions seemed obvious from the start, and have led to no end of riffs on the concept.

Transformers: The Movie

“Starscream! Point me at that Autobot so I can kill him!”

Megatron's days as a gun were numbered. It only took two years for the 1986 animated movie to come around. In that film, the leaders of both factions perish. While Optimus Prime “becomes one with the Matrix”, Megatron is dumped out of the back of a flying train and comes face-to-face with the devil. It is only then that Megatron dies.

I'll leave it to Terry Van Feleday, perhaps the only person to comprehensively apply a framework of critical analysis to the first four Transformers movies (well, first five of them, if you subscribe to her ideas about Spielberg's Duel), to explain what’s going on here:

“Galvatron differs from his predecessor quite significantly. The movie played up Megatron’s opportunistic cleverness to show it displaced completely by sheer, directionless anger and strength. It almost seems like a Buddhist allegory in which Optimus’ enlightenment allows him to ascend to a higher plane of existence, where Megatron’s attachment to life and power sees him be reborn a demon.”

I've discussed this quote before on forums, where it was met with disdain. To suggest that Hasbro and the makers of the 1986 movie were going for a “Buddhist allegory” of all things is patently absurd, surely? Don’t get me wrong, it is, but that’s not what Feleday’s suggesting here.

In my experience as a reader and a writer, I've come to believe in the idea of “narrative emergence”. Just as some ideas pop up again and again in completely different cultures, because they reflect a deeper truth of the human condition, so too can aspects of a narrative unintentionally align to reflect a greater meaning. That's when it falls to an audience to interpret the work, and perhaps the next writer will achieve a greater understanding of the themes which the previous one only skirted the edges of.

Megatron is gone, replaced with something altogether more abstract and alien. Gone, too, is his handgun-altmode - now he turns into a futuristic cannon. The Megatron who could once say “I belong to nobody” needed the help of a lieutenant to make use of his alt-mode- and so it is ironic that the newfound independence of his cannon-mode makes him beholden to a higher evil.


Therein lies something that is unique to sci-fi and fantasy in general, and particularly Transformers: the ability to so directly reflect internal changes in a character's external form.

It is interesting, then, to apply a similar lens to a story executed with far less competence. In the recent Prime Wars trilogy of Machinima cartoons, Megatron appears back in his original body with a new tank alt-mode. Oh, except for when he turns into a gun instead. Despite ostensibly being set in the same universe as at least the 1986 movie, the show regularly abuses existing continuity with a sense of “this is what I vaguely remember from that movie thirty years ago”. Megatron seems to have mellowed somewhat, and his brand-new snarky attitude endeared him to the audience at large.

Combiner Wars Episode 8: 'Destruction's Dawn'

What exactly does it mean, then, that Galvatron has apparently become Megatron once more? This exact same oscillation occurred several times throughout the Unicron Trilogy, a time remembered for its similarly-shoddy storytelling, and more recently in the live-action movies. The answer is, of course, that it means nothing - these transitions are rooted entirely in the toylines, and the writers failed to acknowledge the metatext. Again, in the words of Van Feleday:

“When Optimus Prime du jour mouths off “One shall stand, one shall fall” for the twentieth time, there is simply no longer that understanding that he will not be the one who stands.”

All Hail Megatron (IDW) #11

I'm pleased to say that, for the most part, IDW's Generation One comics have understood exactly the implications of a new body. Starscream, a character in a constant state of internal conflict, swaps bodies like we humans change clothes. Megatron reinvents himself after each defeat. More recently, Rodimus changed his colours from bright red and yellow to dark purple and magenta - reflecting the darker shift in his motivations - only for them to switch back during a moment of heroism.


In the franchise at large, Megatron has been reimagined countless times with varying degrees of success. Generation 2 gave us the first tank-mode Megatron, in a colour scheme that would be homaged again and again.

For Beast Wars, Megatron was reimagined as (what else) a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The creators of the animated cartoon got as much mileage as possible out of this alternate form, and it exuded the pride and cunning which defined that particular Megatron. As Megatron's ambition grew to finally exceed that of his buried-and-dead (in that order) G1 namesake, he reinvented himself as a creature truly unlike anything that had come before - a mythical dragon...

c. Crockalley

...with wheels.

However, Megatron ended up spending Beast Machines in conflict with his feral dragon alternate mode. In that series, the beast mode took on a spiritual significance - only by achieving internal harmony could the Maximals transform. Megatron retreated to a dragon's cave and locked himself in a cage of technology, stubbornly rooted to the world of Cybertron itself. Later in the series, he turned into a giant floating version of his own head. Egotistical much?

c. Primal Sabbath

I feel less desire to apply the same level of analysis to the series which followed - the six-changing Megatron/Gigatron of Robots in Disguise felt like complete overkill, particularly with the four - or five, depending on who you ask - additional modes from his Galvatron form (bat? elephant? hydroplane? devil ostrich? ...really?). I’ll admit that the flying hand mode was actually kind of inspired, and this body suited the campiness of the cartoon, but generally speaking forms such as Gigatron’s remind me of Tarn's second fusion cannon.


Armada Megatron's H-tank form is all about Mini-Cons. Energon Megatron's gunship... carries a tank on its back? Yeah, I'm not gonna try and parse that one. Cybertron Megatron was a triple changer with stylings evocative of Unicron himself. All three of these bodies are exceptionally cool, don’t get me wrong, but they don't scream “Megatron” in the same way as so many of the others.

I will, however, single out Shattered Glass Megatron's use of the Energon mold as being interesting. He's a mathematician and lecturer with optimistic hopes for the future of his race and its interactions with alien species - and he's not afraid to use force to secure that future. A futuristic spaceship mode makes perfect sense for that character - less so Jesse Wittenrich’s helicopter interpretation, which sure looks like Galvatron but doesn’t really feel like Galvatron to me.

c. TFW2005

Megatron's also had his fair share of random alt-modes. He's been sports cars, stealth bombers, fighter jets, crocodiles, shoes, games consoles, cellphones. It seems at one point he might even have transformed into a camcorder - and at another he might've transformed into Skywarp. No, really - and how exactly that fits into the “who is Cyclonus” debate is anyone's guess.

These figures have always existed as fascinating novelties - major departures from the Megatron “canon”. But starting in 2007, one particular continuity would make a departure of its own.

Transformers 2007

One of the major criticisms levelled at Michael Bay's live-action movies by the fanbase is that they don't “respect” the source material. Even now, with Travis Knight taking the reins, people are up in arms at the revelation that the jet-former in the trailer is Blitzwing and not Starscream as we'd otherwise assume. I guess they feel like they've been conned. No, but seriously, I think it'll be fascinating to come back to this ongoing debate once the movie's out and the dust has settled. For a time people thought that the jet might be Ramjet, and it seems like an interesting example of how the rumour mill can blow things out of proportion. On the other hand, I don't think anyone's upset to see 2007's Dropkick getting some love.

(But it really does look like Starscream.)

Bumblebee (2018)

These criticisms are not entirely baseless, though I tend to dislike many of the examples people give to support them. To give an example of my own, I'm under the impression that Bay outright scoffs at the idea of so-called “mass shifting” - and at the idea that Megatron would turn into a puny handgun.

Optimus Prime's design has remained largely unchanged over the first five movies - if anything, it has become bolder, more confident and secure. This clearly reflects the fact that Optimus Prime simply does not undergo a single bit of character development across those movies. Instead, he becomes more and more entrenched in his beliefs.

Megatron, on the other hand loses, a lot. He dies no less than twice across those movies, and the second time (much like in 1986) he doesn't really come back. Each loss is marked with a brand new body, one completely unlike those which came before. Though it may not seem to be much of a contest, there is no doubt in my mind that Megatron is the most complex character in these movies. To explain why, I must turn one last time to Van Feleday's writings.

“When I first learned English, I started to wonder why “Autobots” was the “good” name and “Decepticons” the “evil” one. After all, the transformers’ central tenet, disguising themselves as everyday vehicles, is inherently an act of deception. In giving the word a negative moral note, are they not calling the Autobots immoral as well? Or is there a difference between good, moral “deceivers” and evil, immoral “Decepticons”? What, then, is the fundamental difference in their perception of the world and the nature of their deception?”

Transformers (2007)

“...Megatron is an example of a cybertronian Transformer, i.e. one who hasn’t scanned a disguise for himself. Notice the fractured, bone-like protrusions of metal, the wide, unchanging, humorless grin of a skull… He looks nearly starved, and naked. [Look at] the Decepticons once again. Notice the way bits of the disguised mode seem to drape over the inner robot-y bits like futuristic armor. Because that’s what scanned alternate forms are: Armor, clothing, costumes. The Decepticons use them to hide until they’re needed, at which point the clothes shift aside and reveal the robot underneath. Nakedness symbolizes many things in fiction, but in many cases it symbolizes truthfulness – as Blackout partially takes off/transforms away his metal shell, his true nature is revealed (“more than meets the eye”). Megatron needs no disguise, so he doesn’t even bother scanning anything even once he wakes – the leader of the Decepticons deceives no one at any point, and doesn’t seem to mind being seen naked.”

For me, this is where the argument that Bay somehow didn’t understand the Transformers completely falls apart. In many stories, the “alternate mode” is completely overlooked (More than Meets the Eye in particular has been criticised for consisting mostly of characters standing around in robot mode talking, with very few transformations depicted on-panel). In reality, Bay was willing to approach the franchise with fresh eyes, stripping things back to the very essence of “robots in disguise” and adding in his own blend of nihilism (clearly, opinions vary on how successful that last part was). In Van Feleday’s thread, “SuperMechagodzilla” adds:

“The Autobots don symbols of humanitarianism (the ambulance), blue-collar work (the trucks) and libertarian freedom (the sportscars). But Terry rightly points out how these things don't fit - how the ambulance performs no medicine, for example. Optimus is not a blue-collar worker but a military commander. Optimus and the Autobots constantly disavow their cause and try to ingratiate themselves with the humans - saying, basically, that they're fighting for America and 'American values'. By contrast, the Decepticons wear utilitarian 'military' clothing that accurately reflects their goals. They are militant, and as unashamed of that fact as Megatron is of his nakedness.”

Megatron’s spaceship mode in Transformers is, put simply, a force of nature. Animated and Prime each offered their own variations on that theme, though I’d argue they were less successful. That first movie ends with Megatron dead. In the second, he returns - taking on the parts of “Scrapmetal”, he gains a new tank form. His silhouette subtly changes: the once-tall Megatron now stoops, with wider hips.

c. Notrab

Come the third, he changes once again - after another defeat, he is finally forced to let go of his pride and take on a terrestrial disguise: a Mack truck evocative of the Peterblit tanker from Spielberg’s 1971 Duel. This is a connection Bay is undoubtedly aware of, and Van Feleday makes a very compelling case that the director used Duel’s cinematic language in Dark of the Moon - you can look into her arguments yourself, if you’re interested, because I don’t think I’d do them justice here.

Whether or not the filmmakers’ intentions ran this deep is irrelevant. In truth, they probably didn’t - we all know that. But I believe we should be interested in narrative emergence, in seeing how a flawed story can reflect and focus our own values. Imagine a brand new writer starting work on the franchise, and crafting a story where these kinds of themes are truly in the spotlight - a story where an alt-mode is more than just a Transformer’s way of getting from A to B without having to walk. Surely, that’s the kind of story only Transformers can tell.

Follow Nico on Twitter @TheWadapan