Sunday, 19 May 2019

Collector Intent 2: Eclectic Boogaloo

- Ben Watson


Writing a response to a previous article from one of our most esteemed RRCo alumni hasn't really been something we've done before but after letting Dorian's last piece sink in, I felt I had to throw my hat into the ring of that discussion.



Any kind of intent to my collecting isn't something I've often thought about. I roll with my gut, living with the flow to line my shelves with whatever robots take my fancy. Maybe that means minuscule Legion Class lads alongside Unicron Trilogy bricks, Movie Deluxes and G1 reissues. That's just  - well - that's just "Buying Transformers". Without focus, without direction, without intent. At least from the outside looking in, I'm aware it looks like I don't practice a particular purpose to my plastic habit. Even as I type this my desk is populated with Energon Mini-cons, Titanmasters, G1 Micromasters, a couple of Masterpieces and a Barricade. My collection is an eclectic mix of the best of all and any eras of Transformers, but mostly leaning towards the early 2000's. I don't just "buy anything" and I feel like going forward, that's becoming more clear to me. 



The thing that's spurred me on to type this is how in the past couple of months I've really found time for the one subset of toys most overlooked and disdained by collectors at large: the gimmick based simple supermarket fodder. The Energon Igniters for the Bumblebee movie are a subject I've already immortalised my thoughts on; but them, along with a first foray into the field of Cyberverse have really been playing on my mind more than anything else. My phone tells me it's been exactly a month since I got MPM Camaro Bumblebee, an absolutely stellar piece well worthy of its own article, but it's the Camaro that's a third of the size for a sixth of the price that's been in my hands the most. 



Of course, Siege has come back from what feels like hibernation to furnish me with more must-have mini-masterpieces but while Hasbro UK were getting their act together for what may as well be the entire first quarter of this year, all I had to subsist on was what I could find in shops and honestly, I've relished it. Running with the little hit of hype that comes from seeing a new Cyberverse figure I didn't realise was out and actually taking it home has been more than enough to allow me to really enjoy a few of those figures. I mean really enjoy, in a way I'm rarely struck with at the ripe age of 26. Warrior Soundwave had me feeling like it's 2003 all over again. These toys aren't necessarily of the same lasting value as your Generations fare, they're the Transformers equivalent of junk food, but sometimes (like right now as I properly grapple with my mental health for the first time) that's exactly what you need. Comfort. 



I've just gazed off into the middle distance for a minute, regarding my Masterpiece Cheetor. A sublime figure, looking like he's just walked out of my telly in 1997. But I don't Love it. It doesn't make me feel warm, or secure or inspired or like as long as he's in my hands or on my bedside that everything's alright. I haven't transformed him apart from getting him to bot mode from his packaged cheetah state. I hate how the unending covering of paint makes every joint creak and feel like I'll break it. It's stiff and inflexible despite the abundance of articulation. It's one of the shiniest, most properly finished figures I own but handle it for any length of time? No, I'm good thanks. And this is where things like Cyberverse Prowl come in. Toys as meat for the hands. Toys as objects to be handled first and looked at second. Toys as toys. Without pretense, without finesse, without luxuriance, spartan in a way. 



So if there's currently an intent in my mind (or there was when I set out to write this and take this tack) it's to rep those gimmick guys. I'm well aware my taste in robots may be atrocious, but I still feel like I have taste. I'm not just scattergun buying for the sake of it. What I'll always care about first and foremost from Transformers is fun and I'm at a point now where that's all I want to pursue, all that really brings me anything. Go ahead, sacrifice some joints for sturdier build. Sacrifice some detail for a fun gimmick. Sacrifice some paint just so I don't feel like I'll chip and scratch the thing within the first five minutes of transforming it. Yes, of course I'll still have have space in my heart for the higher end pieces, I know what's good but I also know that the toys you, Dear Reader, will tell me aren't worth my time are also good in their own warm blanket kind of way. That's how it always used to be and I'm happy to make it that way again. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to hunt for a One Step Wheeljack. 



Read Dorian's previous piece here

Read my piece on the Bumblebee Movie toys here

Follow Ben @Waspshot23

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Collector Intent

 - Dorian MacQuarrie


Behind every collection lies some sort of intent. Whether that's... intentional... or not won't always be the case but underneath every purchase lies some driving force making you, the collector buy that toy. For some that intent could just be "buy the fun new toys" but for others, it might be a far more specific, far more refined direction. With that said, let's get to it. 


Now, I'm not saying there needs to be some highbrow, overly cerebral driving force behind every collector. There are plenty of people out there buying fun toys for just that, fun toys. But scratch the surface even a little and you'll find an intent to give yourself some good feelings and a dash of excitement as you hold that shiny new Siege toy and get to show it off among friends. Question it further still and I'm sure plenty of people are currently collecting a certain line, putting together a certain cast from a show or comic or even on a quest to buy every Megatron...

I wouldn't be myself if I didn't have several intents and directions ongoing with my collection. A lot of these just crop up without much forethought. One purchase informs another and suddenly I'm keen on completing the entire Fansproject back catalogue. Maybe I've just read a particularly exciting comic and now I'm tracking down suitable toys to bulk out my Lost Light crew. These are examples of the sort of intent I'm getting at. A purpose, something that it is driving your collecting and buying habits. It can be fairly vague, just a plan to buy the recent releases and enjoy them or it can be particular, specific, exact, such as looking to buy a Diaclone Powered Convoy (literally, in my dreams). Currently I'm sitting somewhere in the middle, with an eye to picking up 1987/88 G1 Decepticons. Quite often they are some of the best Transformers toys of the waning years of G1, bringing together a plethora of gimmicks of the age, all decked out in the single greatest colour palette ever to grace transforming robot toys. It's a fairly narrow spectrum to buy from but at the same time, I'm being quite casual about it. I'm not looking on eBay or scouring selling pages on Facebook but I'm definitely walking into TFNation this year looking to pick up some Decepticon Clones.

Personally, I think having some sort of intent or direction is absolutely vital to maintaining a healthy balance between appreciating what you have and looking towards your next purchase. It has seen me possibly buy toys that I would have otherwise passed over for some small sense of completion but it has also seen me sell toys as I move my interests to another part of the vast range of Transformers lines. With the end of MTMTE/Lost Light, I definitely feel less need to have a shelf with all of my favourite crew members. It was a fun experience at the time, to have my collection align with a piece of media, (truly a core pillar of the childhood play experience), but now that we are all said and done, it's time to move on and find a new venture with which to fill my time whilst keeping in touch with my collection. 

Previously I've written an abundance of material on my waning collecting habits and now, as I sit here writing my first article after eight whole months (jings!) I'm fast realising that it is not just a lack of new toys which has seen my interest in Transformers wane but a lack of direction. For the most part I have many of the toys I want and it takes a new collecting direction for me to keep my interests engaged. Thankfully there are all manner of lines/cartoons/subsets for me to turn my gaze to in order to keep myself entertained. 

Even now I know that once I've assembled some more late G1 Decepticons, I have an eye to putting together a G1 Bruticus, maybe not piece by piece but definitely not as one large purchase as where's the fun in that? 

If you're currently indulging in a piece of collecting intent then please, sound off. I'd love to know what sort of factors drive other collectors, the more particular the better. 

As always, keep it #Refined.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Transformers #1 - What a world!

- Nicolas Bossons


The long-awaited first issue of Brian Ruckley’s biweekly ongoing has finally been released - but how much promise does it hold? Join me for a deep dive into the first part of “The World In Your Eyes”...

[Editor's Note: Some SPOILERS for the issue follow! While we feel the time we've left between publication of the issue and posting of this article is an acceptable gap, we realise it's still very likely you, dear reader have not yet read this issue. So track it down first! Yes, that means you Dorian!]


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente

I think all of us - writer, artists, audience - have found that treating this new continuity as an entirely clean break is a little harder than it looks.

Brian Ruckley is - much like in the image above - standing on the shoulders of giants. Already, he’s making huge steps of his own - and the prevailing sentiment seems to be that we should acknowledge those strides on their own terms - but it seems to me that drawing comparisons is the best way to show what exactly it is he’s achieved here. So before I delve into the contents of this issue, I think it’s important to take stock and make sure we’re all on the same page. Allow me take you back in time…


I. You Owe Nothing To Those Who Came Before You


The first attempt to revive the Transformers comics - left mostly abandoned since Generation 2 - comes in the form of Dreamwave Productions’ Generation 1 continuity, spearheaded by Chris Sarracini. It’s an instant hit.

Dreamwave Productions would later implode.

Smash cut to 2005. Veteran writer Simon Furman drags himself from the burning wreckage of Dreamwave. A shadowy figure offers him a hand. “Wh-who are you?” coughs Simon. The shadowy figure drags Simon to his feet. “IDW Publishing,” it says. “I suppose you want a job?” Simon nods emphatically. Just as they turn to leave, something moving in the wreckage catches IDW Publishing’s eye. “What’s that?” it asks, pointing. “Oh, that?” Simon replies. “It’s Megatron Origin.” IDW Publishing considers for a moment. “Eh, whatever, it can come too.”


c. Alex Milne and Joana Lafuente

For perhaps the first time, Furman gets the opportunity to build a new continuity from the ground up. Audiences are as excited at this prospect as he is, and his rapidly-escalating espionage plot is generally a success. E. J. Su presents brand new twists on classic designs, and his style on the book proves hugely influential - not just for later artists working on IDW’s series, but for the franchise as a whole.

But just a few series later, IDW starts to get a little antsy. They give Furman nine issues to end his run, and pass the baton to Shane McCarthy - who draws inspiration more from the original 80's cartoon than from his predecessor. The discontinuities start to pile up.

G.I. Joe writer Mike Costa takes over with a new ongoing series, which features questionable art direction and yet more discontinuities. After a fairly strong opening arc, Costa finds himself burning out sooner than he’d expected - he struggles to work out what motivates these robots; if not food, God, or women. It's around this time that IDW starts bringing on more writers, on more miniseries than ever before. Eventually, after thirty-odd issues, they're looking for another new direction.


c. Alex Milne and Josh Perez

The Death of Optimus Prime ushers in a golden age of Transformers storytelling, blowing almost everything that’s come before out of the water. Nick Roche, John Barber, James Roberts and Mairghread Scott draw fans to the franchise like none before - well, except maybe Michael Bay.

A hundred-odd issues later, the readership for these series is plateauing. With seemingly no end in sight for their plotlines, IDW decides to shake things up with their Revolution crossover. The gambit seems to pay off, and - with the myriad of new possibilities offered by the “Hasbro Universe” - we all start to feel like maybe, just maybe, this Transformers gig really can go on forever.

Before long though, we find ourselves meandering into a bewildering array of dead-end miniseries and annuals - seemingly held together solely by John Barber’s indomitable force of will. Lost Light - having garnered its own mainstream sub-following - manages to remain comparatively straightforward and standalone, mostly by pretending the rest of the universe doesn't exist.

When the sword finally falls, many writers are left scrambling to wrap things up. Unicron proves to be a very worthy end to the greatest Transformers story of all time - but an inevitable one.

It’s a tough act to follow.

Enter Brian Ruckley.

c. Gabriel Rodríguez and Nelson Dániel

II. Those As Yet Unforged


I was sceptical, I’ll admit. And - just as a reminder, before I try to read this issue’s bones - it’s still early days.

I remember when the news broke. A novel writer? Huh. How about that. I guess he does sci-fi or - medieval fantasy? Huh.

It seemed like an odd choice at the time - we’ve increasingly seen people hired straight out of the fandom - but this first issue has mostly alleviated any concerns I had.

Dialogue throughout the issue is very well-pitched - charming, concise, and with a certain dry humour that makes a welcome change from the quips that occasionally plague modern comic books. Fan-favourite Windblade returns with a little more self-seriousness than she exhibited in her continuity of origin, which hews a little more closely to her appearances in media since. Bumblebee, meanwhile, has a light air of good-natured exasperation, and it’s nice to see him acting as the experienced tour guide rather than an audience surrogate.

Taking Bumblebee’s place is new character Rubble, whose boundless enthusiasm ends up being surprisingly infectious. Ruckley has reimagined the very concept of transformation itself, putting an optimistic spin on the “functionism” of the previous continuity; each bot chooses their alt-mode once they find their place in society, and remains free to change their mind as they mature (although it’s unclear whether that applies to just their “job” or their alt-mode too). While the idea that a Transformer may choose their alt-mode is not new, this take on the concept has a real clarity of purpose.


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente

Ruckley’s happy to use Transformer-specific idioms here - “grit in his gears” is a highlight - but doesn’t overdo it. Perhaps the one piece of awkward dialogue comes in the form of Ironhide and Orion’s “Prowl under a pylon” conversation, wherein Orion finds himself explaining events that Ironhide is clearly well-acquainted with solely for the benefit of the audience.

Naturally for the first issue of a new series, we’re seeing the seeds of many future plot threads being sown here. Cybertron is - quite unusually - home to organic life, seen in the form of the wonderfully-alien “Voin scavengers”. Meanwhile, the Titans are one heck of a smoking gun - what exactly happened ten megacycles ago? Who is Termagax? What do the Ascenticons want? Why did Bumblebee leave security operations? Are any of these things connected? Ruckley presents this information with the practised ease of a seasoned storyteller - it’s exposition, technically, but it doesn’t feel like it.

As many have already noted, Ruckley’s novelist roots occasionally shine through in this issue. I think for many comic writers there would have been a certain temptation to present this first part in medias res, starting on the last page before jumping back in time to introduce Rubble. Maybe, in this hypothetical version of the comic, the Megatron/Optimus conversation would be moved to the end of the issue as a sort of coda.

I say this because the press material for this issue spoiled the fact that a murder would occur, leaving only the identity of the victim as a mystery - and upon reading the issue, I found myself clocking who it’d be the moment they were first mentioned. I suspect that Ruckley was happy to treat this issue as the first chapter - a part of the whole - and made the deliberate decision to let our first impression of this new continuity be the stunning vistas of Cybertron (as Rubble’s was), rather than the skeletons in its closet.


III. We’ll Never Get There If You Stop To Admire Every View


Enough about writing. There was another question on everyone’s minds when the reboot was announced - will any of the regular artists be returning?

The answer, as it turns out, is yes and no.


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente

Veteran colourist Joana Lafuente returns to lend these lightly-inked pages their depth and tone - and what a job she does of it! The first half of the issue takes place at sunset, and Lafuente uses orange and purple hues to create a landscape which is simultaneously warm and alien. As Rubble encounters the Voin, the sun sets further - turning the sky shades of blue and green. Throughout these sequences, Lafuente carefully uses texture to fade out the background - this effect is perhaps most noticeable on the title splash pages. All told, it’s a bold and consistent look - and I’m looking forward to seeing how Lafuente develops this style as we see more of Cybertron in future issues.

Letters for this issue are provided by Tom B. Long, a regular contributor to IDW’s previous Transformers comics - his careful placement of speech bubbles ensures that dialogue flows smoothly from one panel to the next, and emphasis is similarly well-chosen. Sound effects are fairly minimal throughout the issue, although I’ve already seen Windblade’s transformation sequence singled out as a highlight...


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente

Neither of the regular artists for this series - Angel Hernandez and Cachèt Whitman - have worked on Transformers titles in the past (excluding a single cover for Transformers vs. Visionaries from Hernandez). A biweekly schedule can be punishing for a single artist, so it’s only natural - if a little unfortunate - that each issue’s pages will be divided between several. Stories in the previous continuity have occasionally suffered from clashing art styles, but (mostly thanks once more to Lafuente’s colouring) the transition here is practically unnoticeable.

As explained by Ruckley in interview - and as was often the case in the last continuity - taking advantage of this restriction by assigning different artists to different scenes is a logical move. Roughly in the centre of the issue, Cachèt Whitman contributes four pages featuring Orion Pax, Ironhide, and Megatron - plus a surprise crowd-filling appearance from Ruckus, presumably chosen for the similarity between his name and Ruckley’s. Barber’s Robots in Disguise run included many an angry crowd, and Whitman’s first page here follows in that tradition. If you look closely at the balcony above the flag in the foreground, you’ll spot Orion Pax’s very first appearance - looking down on the Ascenticons below. Also spectating are a pair of floating robots - reminiscent of the eyebots from Fallout - which combine with the looming buildings to create a very claustrophobic and oppressive scene. This is Cybertron at the darkest we’ve seen it.


c. Cachèt Whitman and Joana Lafuente

The action soon follows Orion inside. Here, the colours return to the bright oranges of Rubble’s first sunset - only now they appear as overpowering block gradients illuminated by harsh white light. The panel gutters too - previously almost imperceptible - are suddenly solid white. The corridor outside is pitch black, with piercing blue strip lighting drawing the eye into the darkness. Orion can cling to his vision of a peaceful Cybertron - but Megatron sees it as an impossibility.

Perhaps my favourite panel from this sequence is the one in which we first meet Megatron. When I first saw this panel, I was taken aback - it’s squeezed in at the very bottom of the page, presented almost at eye level. In previous series, we might’ve expected this moment to appear as a full-page low-angle shot of Megatron entering the room. This is an important moment for us.


c. Cachèt Whitman and Joana Lafuente

But not for them.

This panel communicates everything we need to know about these two. Each takes up a roughly equal amount of space in the frame. The doorframe, however, divides them entirely. They each speak a single word - the other’s name. You can feel the tension between them. There’s history here - both from their perspective, as characters in this comic; and from ours, as readers. Even as Megatron enters the room, the converging lines of the lights behind him create the sense that the distance between these two is only growing.

Whitman seems to have a gift for the facial expressions of these robotic characters - a notoriously tricky problem for any Transformers artist to solve. He carefully chooses the angles of Orion’s head to communicate his emotions through the eyes and faceplate. There’s a wariness in Megatron’s earliest expressions here - wariness which soon shifts to anger as the scene progresses.

It’s a funny coincidence that Orion Pax appears here in a Cybertron/Galaxy Force-inspired body - that series was probably the last time we’ve seen characters rendered in such an absurdly toy-accurate manner. But more on that later.



The bulk of this issue - focusing on Rubble, Bumblebee and Windblade - is illustrated by Angel Hernandez. These sequences implement much looser panel layouts, which feel very well suited to Cybertron’s angular terrain. I particularly like the very first page, where the panels increase in height as Rubble scales the Titan.

As our audience surrogate, Rubble receives a distinctly generic character design that perfectly communicates his role in the story as our naïve audience surrogate. He lacks anything in the way of vehicle-mode kibble - reflecting his central character drive - but has some shapes on his back that maybe hint at wheels. It’s a charming look, and I can’t wait to see how Rubble develops over the course of this series.

This issue’s final cliffhanger is another powerful image from Hernandez. As our protagonists approach the station, it becomes increasingly clear something is wrong. We turn the page, and suddenly… a corpse fills the page, literally curled to surround Rubble in the frame. The rest of Cybertron is forgotten: this is his world now.


IV. Faults - Those Are Etched Onto His Memory For All Time


It’s a strong start - but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s go all the way back to Infiltration for a moment. Simon Furman’s first issue of that series was positively sedate, and many readers criticised what followed for focusing too heavily on human characters - to the point where Stormbringer was infamously advertised with the tagline “NOTHING BUT ROBOTS ON CYBERTRON.” Hopefully now, we know better.

I was initially very sceptical of the decision to eschew the typical Earth-based debut with a wholly Cybertronian one - but Ruckley’s take on the Transformers mythos has won me over for the most part. I’ve enjoyed seeing the Titans, the Voin, and even the angle from which Ruckley approaches transformation itself.

However, some of my earliest fears remain.


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente

One way or another, this isn’t 2005. That was a time before the movies, before Animated, before Prime - when the only ground-up reimaginings of the Transformers were Robots in Disguise, Armada, and Dreamwave’s Generation 1 continuity. Furman had a lot of heavy lifting to do - but the landscape of Transformers is very different today. First, with the “aligned” continuity, and now with “evergreen” characters, there is a real sense that “Character A Is Character A.” Ruckley is taking the time to introduce us to the likes of Bumblebee, Windblade, Optimus Prime and Megatron - but we already know these characters inside and out, and after reading this issue I can’t help feeling like we're reinventing the wheel slightly. Sure, the details are different - we’re seeing hints of Bumblebee’s past, of Megatron’s ideology - but the broad strokes are very much the same. For an issue intended to introduce us to a new world, it seems that we learn oddly little.

I think perhaps a good example of what’s going on here is the crowd scene I’ve previously mentioned. Such scenes have traditionally been populated with generic transformers - but in recent years (particularly in John Barber’s work) we’ve increasingly seen crowds filled with cameos of minor recurring characters. Even if these C-listers have never played a significant role in the continuity, our passing familiarity with them helps cement them as “real” people.

It’s understandable that Ruckley (and IDW at large) want a clean break. Hopefully this new run attracts lots more people to the franchise; people for whom the name “Transformers” is synonymous only with Bay’s blockbusters. But I think it’s worth stressing that, in the hands of a careful writer, the franchise’s history is not baggage - it’s a tool. They can’t put the genie back in the bottle - but they can tell it to play nice.

Already, we’ve seen the past come back to bite the new creative team. The decision to use - spoiler alert - a More than Meets the Eye fan-favourite as the victim in this conflict’s inciting murder has been met with some controversy, casting rather a long shadow over discourse in this first week. Ruckley has stated - both in abstract, before the issue’s release, and after - that this decision was made simply as a nod to the fans, and that the “out with the old, in with the new” metatext (my words, not his) was a happy (or, as it turned out, unhappy) coincidence.

This effect has been compounded by the fact that the victim is specifically depicted in Alex Milne’s old design - had a more generic look been chosen, we’d be much less inclined to read the character as specifically their “IDW” incarnation as opposed to a more platonic “Generation 1” ideal. As things stand, I think some portions of the fanbase are reading far too much into the connections between these incarnations of this character and ascribing malice where none exists. Regardless, insofar as we can expect standard murder-mystery tropes to apply here, we’ll probably learn much more about the victim through flashbacks or exposition in upcoming issues.



The toy-based designs come with additional complications. While most continuities get the chance to craft their designs from the ground up, here characters are drawn to the specifications of their most recent Generations figure. The current War for Cybertron line seems to want to make a clean break from the Prime Wars trilogy which preceded it - revamping many 1984-1986 favourites - yet paradoxically includes Battle Masters and Weaponizers, which are effectively accessories to older figures.

The figures in Siege are - to varying degrees of success - inspired by the first episodes of the 80's cartoon, which saw the transformers change from alien vehicles into robots with elements clearly drawn from Earth-based vehicles. It’s a little odd to take that aesthetic and use it as the starting point for a brand new story set on Cybertron: why does Bumblebee still look like he turns into a Volkswagen? This was something which the previous War for Cybertron did very well - and indeed, those Cybertronian designs saw use again when the action in IDW’s last continuity left Earth behind.

Not only is it that War for Cybertron: Siege is suddenly the Transformers comic’s toyline... but Transformers is now kind of the War for Cybertron: Siege toyline’s comic.

I realise that this is a relatively minor sticking point, but it does feel like something of a step in the wrong direction. Hopefully we’ll soon get to see more in the way of original designs like those of Rubble and the newly-revealed Geomotus, along with more redesigns for established characters.


c. Angel Hernandez

V. There Are A Great Many Things I Do Not Wish To See Again


The biggest of this issue’s lingering questions - at least as far as I’m concerned - is what exactly Megatron’s ideology is. Ruckley is a noted fan of More than Meets the Eye, and we’ve seen Roberts’ “revolutionary Megatron” interpretation reflected in several other continuities since. Will Ruckley follow in his footsteps?

c. Cachèt Whitman and Joana Lafuente

As many people have pointed out, this aspect of Megatron’s character wasn’t present at the conception of IDW’s last continuity. Rather, it was an artifact - grandfathered in through Eric Holmes’ Megatron Origin, which was originally written for Dreamwave’s continuity. As far as we can tell from the outside, Furman had no such plans for the character - it was Roberts and Barber who later felt obliged to smooth over the discontinuities, and Holmes’ story ultimately proved to be a massive influence on the universe. Chris Metzen and Flint Dille’s Autocracy trilogy had been conceptualised as a prequel to the original 80s cartoon of all things, and more continuity massaging was required after that.

The idea that the Decepticons “had a point” is here to stay, but I think Ruckley has a major advantage over previous writers: here is a continuity crafted entirely with this in mind, from the beginning, that is not shackled to pre-existing stories about things that happen later on Earth - no retro-fitting required. Those stories will (probably) come, and they will (probably) be the logical consequence of the events we’re going to see unfolding in this series.


c. Casey Coller and Josh Burcham

There’s another thing that this continuity is getting right - and it does pain me that this is something that’s only now becoming the norm - and that’s the inclusion of female Transformers from the very beginning, no comment, no disclaimers, no justifications. It’s still early days - so far, we’ve only got Windblade and the enigmatic Termagax, and we know that Chromia’s waiting in the wings - but hopefully we’ll see the return of more fan-favourites from Transformers history alongside brand new characters. Perhaps we’ll even see reinterpretations of traditionally-male characters - in a similar vein to Animated Red Alert, Nightbeat and Drag Strip, Cyberverse Acid Storm and Nova Storm, and countless Beast Wars: Uprising characters - although personally my gut feeling is that this is unlikely so long as the comic remains so closely tied to Hasbro’s toylines.

Even if this series isn’t “about” diversity in the same way one could maybe say the tail end of IDW’s last continuity was - and it probably won’t be - we’ll hopefully still see it continue to be diverse.


VI. It’s A World Of Possibilities


The last year has been an incredibly exciting time to be a Transformers fan. Cyberverse is the first brand-new mainstream cartoon continuity since 2010’s Transformers: Prime. The live-action movie franchise has been seemingly rebooted with Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, and its future remains uncertain. New toylines in the form of Studio Series, Siege and BotBots have made huge waves in the fandom. It’s a time of real turmoil - after years of the same old series, suddenly everything’s happening at once.

If you look at the history of Transformers comics solely from the perspective of its reboots - as I did at the beginning of this article - I think you get the impression of a series that was perpetually balanced on the edge of cancellation. But of course, that can’t be further from the truth - those are only the times when it came closest, and it took a little nudge to keep it from stepping over. The interesting thing to me is that - far more so than any other - this reboot feels like a shift from strength to strength.

As with any such transition, I suspect the reality is that many long-time readers will be taking this as an opportunity to bow out - but countless new readers will be jumping on, and hopefully this first issue gives them reason to stick around. We’re entering a bold new era, and I can’t wait to see what it holds.


c. Angel Hernandez and Joana Lafuente


You can purchase a digital copy of Transformers #1 through Comixology, or directly from IDW Publishing. Physical copies can be purchased online or from your local comic store. The second issue will be released on 27/03/2019, and subsequent issues biweekly thereafter.

Many thanks to Fear or Courage for proofreading this article, and to the rest of those on the Allspark Discord server with whom I’ve been discussing this new series. As always, thanks to Ben Watson and the rest of the RRCo team for having me. The TransMissions interview with Brian Ruckley has proven to be an excellent insight into Ruckley’s writing process, and I highly recommend you give it a listen. And, of course, thanks to the team at IDW Publishing for creating these comics in the first place!

Follow Nico on twitter @TheWadapan
Find more of his writing at thewadapan.tumblr.com/made

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Encore Unicron of Light and Deferred Selection

 - Ben Watson



Long time readers will be aware of my status as a hardcore Armada aficionado. What you may not know however, is that the one figure most Transformers fans in general dub the zenith of the line is one that's been mostly absent from my collection forever. Unicron is a piece that commanded awe from kids and collectors alike in 2003 and for many years beyond. This high regard led to a slew of respawns for the chaos bringer over the last fifteen years and now I'm here to talk to you about the one version that finally led to me adding this figure to my collection after so very long...



OK, I say "mostly absent" because for many years I did own a Unicron. Picked up from a boot sale for £1.50 he was missing every conceivable detachable or ancillary part except a single planet mode hemisphere. No wings, no abs, no missiles, no Mini-con. As I entered my twenties I decided this was no state for such a prominent figure in my collection to be in and I passed him on to the now RRCo CEO Dorian. So for me to enter the experience of owning Takara's new Encore Unicron of Light (or technically "Unicron (Micron Shūgō-tai Colour) or if you want "Universal Dominator Unicron" as the box's only English text states) I was somewhat prepared for its enormity. Except I wasn't. 



Before I go too far I'll take the time to explain just what the bloody hell a Unicron of Light is. In two episodes of the Armada cartoon (or Micron Densetsu anime if you like looking at half decent animation) all of the Mini-cons coalesce into a glowing green copy of the planet eater threatening Cybertron so they can wrassle with him. Because they're his children or cells or something? In the context of the Armada 'toon, the Mini-cons and Unicron share a lineage (see the 'M' on their noggin?), leading to the great green god you see before you. Basically the largest combiner ever, fueled by the fighting spirit and togetherness of a race of beings standing up to their oppressor. And if you haven't seen Gurren Lagann, I'll just say this is very cool and you're looking at a Unicron that isn't an impossibly malevolent force of universal annihilation. 



Being part of the Encore line also means you're looking at a roundabout reissue of a venerable and sought after toy. In this case it's not as clear cut as having a minty fresh Jazz or Big Convoy with a bit of a palette shift so I won't blame you if you go "but Unicron was never green?" What this release does seek to emulate is the insurmountably rare Lucky Draw Hikari no Unicron, that Takara only made ten of. If you're part of the hideously small fraction of humanity lucky enough to own this figure, I can only imagine how you feel seeing an infinitely more accessible and actually better painted version get released. Boo-hoo, you poor soul. So to summarise, not only is this Unicron an enormously obscure Armada reference made manifest but also an enormously obscure Armada figure made manifest. And that's Unicron of Light, kids. 



Beyond the multilayered fandom zeitgeist creating a series of concentric metaphysical spheres around this figure like some 12th century interpretation of the cosmos, Unicron of Light is just a pretty nice thing. First things first, this is a sixteen year old mold that stands at a height and weight above 90% of all the Transformers ever. As such it's a bit wobbly. The tectonic ratcheting in most of the joints does a really good job of jostling the wings and hip skirts from their mounts. Move the shoulders and they'll untab from the torso. Getting the planet mode all locked in is a herculean task. But at least this time it seems like the chest cannon actually behaves. Structural compromises aside, there's still an awful lot to enjoy with this toy. 



Of course hailing from Armada, all of Unicron's missile gimmicks are activated by their small round friend Bug. Originally the Mini-con Dead End, a moon-like sentry drone fella forever trapped within (evil) Unicron's mass and thus driven irredeemably insane - I've gotta say it feels nice to have this calm green version. He's like Dead End Wellness Ver. A What If tale of his mental recovery and ongoing wellbeing fueled by the energy of all his friends. But when you consider the larger toy he comes with is supposed to represent a gestalt of All Mini-cons, why's he left out? Aw mate. Needless to say, I like Bug. We'll try to forget that's probably mostly because he's the only totally new thing to me in this set. 


That's no moon!

As an action figure (yeah we got there in the end) Encore Unicron is very much a product of its time. That time of course being the early 00's. It's not just huge but heavy and noisy and not at all subtle. Some posing is left difficult to the mind of a collector in 2019 expecting swivels and such but honestly it still holds up. Mainly because of all the ratchets. What you do get that still sits pretty unparalleled in the world of Transformers is really articulate hands. I won't say "fully articulate" but they're the benchmark for anything pushing that foot-plus scale. When I was twelve I'd have made Unicron swear and pick his nose and do Spidey thwip hands but now I do all that and basic yoga mudras. I can't overstate how important it is to me personally to have a huge cosmic entity Transformer that can do Ditko fingers. If they had thigh swivels, I'd have had them sitting in half lotus like one of those massive moss-covered Buddhist statues. 




The truly unique part of this figure is, I'm sure you've guessed, its deco. Improving on the original Hikari no Unicron look with lashings more translucent green plastic (finally making both hands match) and a level of metallic teal that gets a big gold badge marked "AESTHETIC" from me - this is a very good looking toy. Taking interstellar liberties with the on-screen appearance of the behemoth has really paid off. I mean, its actually interesting to look at. Even the grey parts are in fact slightly tinged with green and under the right light, that "glow" effect they've gone for overall really works. In either mode, Unicron is imposing and still worthy of a centerpiece spot on your shelf, even in this get-up. But clearly you're not going to display it in planet mode, are you? 


O Green World

Moving on to the alt mode - which in the context of this release is a totally unnecessary byproduct - yeah, it still works. It never was a perfect sphere but it's round enough and does the chompy maw thing and ...has a... ring. I can't quite get past the idea that this isn't a planet eater so what's this planet gonna be doing? But it does get points for all that clear green plastic creating a kind of internally reflective layered effect and me being the Armada goon I am, finally being able to populate that ring with twenty-seven Mini-cons is just - ahh it's A Moment, man. 




Encore Universal Dominator Unicron Micron Colour Ver of Light then, is a pretty big deal. Even without some watch batteries in their skull and wrist to allow me to go on about the light-up bits too, it's exactly the sort of thing that belongs in my collection. That gap of ages since I first considered the chaos-bringer has done wonders to bring me to a point where I can really enjoy everything about this particular figure. A figure which speaks to my depth down the Armada abyss, as someone that can truly appreciate every facet of its being and also well, just doesn't really care for Tangy Cheese Unicron. I'd much rather play host to a composite being formed from the love and hope of an entire race than one single plot device masquerading as a "character" for the last thirty years. You gotta go green, baby. 



Follow Ben @Waspshot23 





Friday, 8 February 2019

CollectionDX and the Illusion of Permanence

- mantis nine nines

A Transformers fan in 2019 has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to reference. The TF Wiki alone is as comprehensive an info source as you will find, and the numerous dedicated websites and message boards fill in every gap imaginable. Once you add in social media accounts there's not much you can't find with a quick Google search or Twitter post.

Like most spoiled kids we take for granted how good we have it. What made me realize this for myself is the recent news that CollectionDX is in dire financial straits and will shut down if its GoFundMe fails. Operating for almost 20 years, the site is a gold mine of information, pictures, and reviews of robot and robo-adjacent toys.

Many of you may have never visited the site, if so I encourage you to check it out ASAP. (Here's a link) It's like wandering through the warehouse in Indiana Jones, except every crate is full of toy robots.

As a collector of rare and obscure robots, CollectionDX has been invaluable to me. The photos, the reviews, sometimes they are the only information available I can use to see if an item is complete, or how it transforms. Not to mention the world of knockoffs and bootlegs it takes detective work to identify.

The thought of this site disappearing is painful to me personally, and devastating to the robot collecting community.
So I humbly ask you check out the site, and donate if you can. And also that you take inventory of the sites you have enjoyed and rely upon. For those that don't ask for money directly, use their links, support their advertisers, take a few extra seconds.
As much as we love our plastic, I think we can all recognize that we enjoy the immaterial part of the hobby just as much.

The endless creativity I see on social media, the YouTube videos, blogs (*waves hello), and every other corner of the internet, we understand these are fleeting. This CDX situation reminds us that even the institutions we take as permanent are only as enduring as a servers pay cycle. Don't get me wrong, the fickle nature of the cloud is worth the lack of durability, but I am still glad to have the old bricks of paper sitting on my shelf. Buyers guides, Almanacs, the Marvel Handbooks, solid as a rock.

Let's do what we can to keep our beloved hobby sites just as permanent.

Thanks for keeping it #refined!

And if you find yourself wanting to explore some unique robots, check out the Super Toy Archive the very comprehensive Figure Realm or the Robo Synergy blog.


Follow dan on Twitter @mantisninenines


Saturday, 26 January 2019

2019 Under Siege

- Ben Watson

As our first piece of 2019, we at Refined Robot Co. would like to wish you a very happy new year. But what will the next twelve months bring in terms of Transformers? The stand out line looks like it will be the start of the new War For Cybertron Trilogy: Siege. So let's digest what we've got from the first taste of a line that promises to be a heartier meal than we've had in years... 



Returning to the gritty flame-lit days of the Transformers' war before they set foot on Earth, Siege offers a much different beast to its predecessor Power of The Primes. The whole design of the line is a clean break from the brighter Prime Wars Trilogy, from the packaging and instructions, to the use of scale and detail. But somehow, even with wacky space vehicle modes, the line already appears to lean harder into the G1-But-New aesthetic than anything prior. For many this is either a huge selling point or a massive turn-off; but whatever your mileage may be, there's no denying Siege is offering a new pinnacle of Generations quality.





Starting at the bottom, the smallest pricepoint in Generations originally introduced with the Titanmasters and expanded with the Primemasters, now encompasses the Battlemasters. Legion-esque sized weapon partners including classical Targetmaster gun-to-man fellows along with animalistic Action Master partners. Ostensibly another "G1 thing we've not updated yet" for Hasbro to cross off their list, these figures fill (hand)holes left in your collection from Titans Return but also push the central play pattern for Siege: Guns. Calling this a "gimmick" feels like a bit of a reach when 5mm and 3mm compatible weaponry has been the only other playable feature alongside transformation for the entirety of Transformers' history. It's more accurate to say Siege drops the line-wide thematic gimmickry of the Prime Wars Trilogy and just delivers you each figure on a case-by-case basis, albeit absolutely riddled with ports to let you tool them up to your satisfaction. The only real new thing offered by the whole line comes in at the Battlemasters size class however: effect parts. Long a mainstay in many a high-end Japanese collectible, now you can stick see-through explosions and blaster fire on your Transformers and their guns and to a toy photographer like me, this is quite simply a godsend. Even with only the single yellow SPOOM! I got from Blowpipe. 





Next up the hierarchy are more small robos mined from the rich seam of Toys We Left In The 80's, Micromasters! Replacing the Legends size-class from previous lines, for your (roughly) £10 you now get two tiny Mini-con sized guys instead of one anemic Scout Class figure. To an Armada fan such as myself, the idea of only getting two mini men for your ten English pounds is quite frankly hurtful - especially when there's room in the box for one more - but putting that aside you can instantly see where that money goes. While appearing to just regurgitate half of a Micromaster Patrol of your choice with knees this time, the Siege Micros offer so much more. Upon opening the pair in my possession (Flak and Topshot), I was instantly hit by how high quality they feel. Positively covered in paint with crisply applied detail and tiny (white-bordered, that's important!) Autobot badges they certainly look the part. Add to that ball-jointed shoulders and hips and working knees along with a little head movement, and you've got a pair of barely 2 inch tall figures offering more articulation than all of the toys on supermarket shelves four times their size. But wait, there's more! Remember Guns? These guys can do that too! Able to combine into a - well ok yeah it's kind of crap - gun mode, the Micromasters also get in on the whole 5mm party. And with a little imagination and ingenuity can even fill that Mini-con shaped hole in your heart thanks to their own little posts to jam in Megatron's shoulder or wherever... 





Now we begin to get to the meat and potatoes of the line. The Deluxe class offers the first tangible yet admittedly hard to define step up in quality for a retail Transformers line in years. Seeming to adopt a design ethos from the concurrent Studio Series, each figure in the line stands at a height appropriate for their character, with some (like Hound) substituting height for mass or extra points of articulation. I'm just gonna come out and say it, these are basically Masterpiece figures in a main line. Engineering is painfully elegant. Detailing is perfect. Articulation is solid. Paint is abundant. The overall finish is that of something far superior to your regular deluxe. This first wave offers a strong selection including a pair of '84 Car A-listers, The Duocon You Really Wanted and the first of a new subset of figures: the Weaponizers. Cog may historically be a complete nobody that only completists will worry about standing at the feet of their Fort Max, but now, now he's Cool. The largest figure in the wave, he can form two smaller vehicles or one long tank thing but his real selling point is how he makes a load of guns. Able to thoroughly dismember himself into an arsenal of 5mm compatible weaponry, there seems no end to the combinations you can make with other figures. And he's only the first, with Brunt and Sixgun following in future waves to suddenly make you need all these cityformer companion nonentities more than actual characters like Prowl. At least that's how I'm feeling. 





Continuing the onslaught of indisputable quality, the Voyagers hold nothing back to give you the most definitive feeling Optimus and Megatron since Classics. Optimus in particular is where the Masterpiece vibes continue. Takara's hand in the design is no more clearly felt than with this figure. Intricate, complex, taking a huge number of steps to give you all the beats of the classic Optimus character model, this figure is the real wake-up call for this line. I never expected to feel so good about having a (for the most part) toon accurate Optimus Prime, but here we are. Perfectly detailed and much more proportionate and posable than MP-10. The figure is a triumph. Even with the half-baked space truck mode, there's nothing about it that doesn't scream Optimus Prime at his best. To think I picked this up off an actual store shelf is crazy. A (semi)regular retail figure would never be this good. 




But Megatron is no slouch either! It's no overstatement to say that no other main line figure captures a proper Megatron likeness as good as this one. The Titans Return one was adequate? In which universe? In terms of my collection, I feel like I finally have a capital "M" Megatron. No other attempt has really done him justice until now. Apart from the lack of light piping and wrist swivels, this is a perfect G1 Megatron figure - and it isn't just a G1 Megatron figure... You can find details that call back to G2, War Within, IDW's Cybertronian form and most prominently in the formation of his vehicle mode, Armada. After the reveal of a Cybertron Optimus themed reworking of Ultra Magnus, this alt mode has my teeth itching with how close it is to being my Megatron; ditch the panel in the front and the antlers on his head would even poke out where they're supposed to. While it's not as strong a show of engineering wizardry as Optimus, Siege Megatron is simply the best update of the character we've ever had. Throw in the sword and there's just no backing down from the fact they've finally got Megatron right. 




Now we reach the final stretch for the Siege line, with the top of the totem (until Titan Omega Supreme is officially shown off), the Leader class. This is where the largest shift in what you get for your arbitrary amount of cash per figure comes into play. To put it simply, the figures are smaller. But where towering size is lost, an abundance of quality is gained. So Magnus only stands a head taller than Prime, but he's still huge. Playing with scale in this way will inevitably annoy some people, but honestly I find it refreshing. Rather than keeping to a set average size for each size-class, you get the characters being as big as they need to be in respect to each other within a collection; with room for cool extras. Shockwave is essentially a Voyager figure with some bits to stick on. Where's that other ~£25 come from? I don't know but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt it's one of the best figures of this year. Yeah it's only January. "Quality over quantity" could become the mantra for Generations going forward, and why would that be a bad thing? These figures are basically perfect. How long have you waited for a new Magnus with a white Optimus inside? How long have you waited for a full size Classics Shockwave? If the answer is "a long time", pal you are not gonna be disappointed. I started the new year very, very close to dropping almost 3X the price of Leader Shockwave on the MP29+ figure. I must have been mad because to my eye, Siege Shockwave is better in every way. He's got the dark purple, he's got the badges on his arms, he's got the hose, he's got the most unstoppable light piping but he's also got a set of armour to give him four arms. And as for Magnus, I am one of the people who care about the white Prime mode so to see it realised without being an Optimus repaint, while also working in a RID truck homage? I was always gonna put that cash down. 





Siege then, has got off to a blistering start. Each figure from Deluxe to Leader feels like a complete 10/10 - even with the I've Been In A Scuffle paint. Anything smaller is a nice bonus for the 5mm system and a rare focus on the tiny guys of G1. All in all, it's an unbelievably stellar line and I am vibrating with anticipation over what's to come from it next. When it's already given me unbeatable figures of some of the most iconic designs in Transformers, it's hard to believe it can get better than this, but all grey prototype or pixelated box shot signs point exactly to that future. Better get ready because 2019 looks like the year Hasbro will well and truly have your wallet under siege. 





Follow Ben @Waspshot23