Monday, 4 March 2013

#63: Red Alert (1985)

Red Alert was a toy and character I was only peripherally aware of when I was a youngster, mainly because he wasn't really promoted that well over in the UK. He was only ever a bit part character in the Transformers comics that Marvel put out, having appeared in only UK stories, and even then only being a bit part player at best.

It was the cartoons where Red came into his own, being the paranoid, borderline psychotic (that sometimes crossed the border) security guard that we all know and love. And boy, did things get weird; Red rebelled against everybody at one point, thinking that they were all out to get him, Autobots and Decepticons. Funny then, that the only person he trusted at this point was Starscream. That's more than messed up right there, if you ask my opinon.

Of course Red was snapped out of it by his best buddy in all the world - Inferno! Because Red's alternate mode is a Lamborghini Countach Fire Chief's car (and I want to live in the town that considers a high performance supercar to be a good vehicle for the job) then he was a natural fit for Inferno, who obviously transformed into a fire truck (albeit a Japanese one). But more than that, Inferno's carefree attitude counters Red's paranoid intensity, and they always worked well together in the show.

In the IDWverse, Red hasn't had that balance, and is currently on ice, waiting the end of Rodmius' quest. Will we see him again? Probably. Might be a little while, though.

As previously stated, Red's alternate mode is a bit flashy for the purpose he's meant for; it's one of those occasions where it might have been a good idea for them to have repainted another vehicle. Still, it does make Red stand out, so really, it might be a stroke of genius. Regardless, it's a great example of a G1 Autobot car, with all the right notes being struck in exactly the right order. Red's a winner on that front.

Red Alert's one of my favourite characters in G1, because he's completely different to anything that came before or since. He has a serious problem, and although it took 30 years to get round to it, it's being addressed in a very sensitive and dramatic way, even in the G1 cartoon his problem wasn't ridiculed or made light of, it was dealt with in a caring way by Prime and the other Autobots. For that at least, it makes Red a very sympathetic and worthy character.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

#62: Motormaster (1986)

Of all the combiners I can remember people liking both as a kid and an adult, I think it's Menasor that people seem to like most. I'm not altogether sure why (it might be the fact that they're Decepticon sports cars, and that as a concept alone is pretty cool), but people really seem to have a thing for Menasor. And Motormaster in particular. I remember when Botcon did their Transformers Animated-inspired Stunticons, a lot of folks were VERY excited to see the reveal of Motormaster from that set.

But I digress. In 1986, Motormaster was the coolest of the combiner commanders, I think it's fair to say. He transformed into what is feasibly an evil version of Optimus Prime (Nemesis Prime, anyone?), and had really cool colours of grey, purple and black. And he HAD A SWORD. This was a novelty at the time, and was really a great gimmick, to me at least/ It made him look at least 40% cooler, and was chromed as well, so he looked like a Decepticon pimp.

He was a bit of a badass in the cartoon too, always going after Prime and wanting to wreck him. In the comics, he fared a bit worse, blending into the back ground after the initial rush of excitement of the combiner teams. It always seemed to me that Bruticus was the Decepticon poster child for the Special Teams, after Devastator (who wasn't included in that group). Menasor, being portrayed as critically insane, never got much of a look in. One thing was always consistent though; Motormaster wanted Optimus gone, and as someone who even to this day doesn't care for Optimus too much, this was always a good thing.

I never owned the Motormaster toy, but I went to school with someone who did, so I can tell you that it's one of the good ones. The Scramble City combiners were always solid, but Motormaster had a lot of play value as well, being a badass truck, and really well put together robot. The colours were good, the weapons even more so, and even his articulation wasn't too bad, mainly due to the fact that as a combiner he needed it. Base mode wasn't something I can ever remember being used much, but when was it ever?

Now that Fansproject are releasing the Stunticons set they've produced, I foresee a lot of interest in the G1 versions, so basically, get them while they're hot. As far as I can tell the Stunticons have always commanded a pretty penny on the secondary market, and thats not going to change anytime soon. I will say that I think it's worth trying to pick up a Motormaster at sone point, as it always was a solid toy and a good example of Scramble City tech at it's best.

Monday, 4 February 2013

#61: Dogfight (1988)

The Triggerbots, being cheap price point toys, didn't have too much love heaped on them by Hasbro. By 1988 standards, anyway. By today's standards, they got War and Peace devoted to the backs of their boxes, even when compared to 'Leader' class toys (or whatever passes for that nowadays). As such, Dogfight gets only the most spartan of bios, basically stating that he's the 'wild, wicked street fighter of the skies', and that he doesn't like Decepticons. A little bit banal, if I'm being honest. Maybe this was foreshadowing of later years. Don't get me wrong, there are gems in there, the 'dance of doom' being a particular favourite of mine. But later Tech Spec bios just ended up riffing off more technobabble, and less about the robot itself. Which is what we wanted, damnit.

Still, the Triggerbots got a story all to themselves in the Matrix Quest, so it's not all bad news. And what a story it was, let's face it. A pseudo-western, complete with vampiric aliens and hypnotism, and Transformers actually killing organics (albeit in self-defence, of course). If you've never read it, 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' is a great story, in a collection of great stories. Simon Furman wrote it, you'll not be surprised at all to hear. I always feel that Furman likes the characters whose toys were forgotten by Hasbro, because that means he can pretty much do what he likes with them, and Hasbro won't really mind. This always works out well for the reader, and this story is no exception. Seriously, check it out.

Like I said, the Triggercons were cheap price point toys. Boy, does it show. Mainly because the toy is built around the gimmick, in this case a VERY gearjack spring sweeps Dogfight's wings back to reveal his guns. Both literally and figuratively. I have to admit to liking Dogfight though, because he is cheap and cheerful, and his colours are kinda nice. The combination of powder and dark blue works well, and just screams middle period G1 Transformers, before everything got bright and psychedelic.

If you can get hold of Dogfight, do so, because he's a good addition to anyone's Transformers collection, and his gimmick's kinda fun. Also, check out 'Kings of the Wild Frontier'. Just be careful though, because those Vrobians are kinda scary.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

#60: Finback (1988)

It might not surprise you to learn that I am, in fact, a big fan of the Pretender gimmick that Hasbro employed for the Transformers brand in 1988. I think it's just great. Part of the reason for this is that I like the idea that the Transformers are technologically advanced enough to use organic material as a further disguise for themselves (something that would be built upon even more in 1996's Beast Wars). To be perfectly fair though, we in the west never really got to grips with the idea, and what we ended up with was 20ft tall humans, which completely went against the Pretender idea in the first place. The Japanese understood though, so you had Transformers that were human-sized, mass-shifting all over the place. Much more logical, to my mind anyway.

The Decepticons got off a bit lighter than the Autobots, seeing as they all had monster visages, I'm much more willing to accept a 20ft fish monster than I am a human. Such is the case with Finback, who DOES transform into a 20ft fish monster. Well, his outer shell was, anyway. His inside was a generic looking robot who transformed into a hovercraft BECAUSE HASBRO SAYS HE DOES SO FUCK YOU THAT'S WHY. His whole backstory was that he has a debilitating disease, the result of a raid on a world dreadfully polluted world (some environmental message perhaps?) and so his shell is his refuge, a place where he can be free from the ravages of his condition. I always loved that justification, it gives the shell some actual purpose rather than 'it's a disguise'.

As for fiction, well, Finback got a little bit, but nothing too meaty I'm afraid. He was with the other Decepticon Pretenders when they fought Underbase Starscream (his attacks doing little to damage them), he was part of the team that created Scorponok's massive underground base in New Jersey, and then he fought against Unicron. Everything was going pretty well for him until the power core of the mobile turret he was firing blew up, killing him and Misfire in the process. It's always the way.

In the IDWverse, he was recruited by Bludgeon to undergo the Pretender process started by Thunderwing, and was doing ok, grafting more bio-mechanical carapaces onto himself when Jetfire and the Autobot survey team stumbled upon his team. Sadly, Finback's torture of Jetfire was cut shot when he was blasted apart by the Wreckers.

As I said before, Finback's Pretender shell is a fish monster thingy. Really, that's the best description for it. The only articulation it has is in the arms, mainly due to the fact that it has to split apart to accommodate the robot component, which again, is limited in it's articulation. The only bits that has really is to form the basis for the transformation, into it's hovercraft mode. If indeed that's what that's supposed to be. Have I mentioned yet that I love Pretenders?

All in all, Finback is a toy that you're either going to really love or despise with all your being. I love it, I know plenty who don't. If you're new to the world of Pretenders, or you're on the fence, Finback's a good place to start. He has a freaky Pretender shell, and his inner robot isn't too shabby either (especially for a Pretender). 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

#59: Ironworks (1989)

One of the coolest things about Micromasters were the bases. The fact that these little figures could essentially have a whole 'city' to play in if you collected all of the myriad playsets was really quite awesome. Sadly, I haven't been able to collect them all (yet), but believe me, one of these days, that's exactly what I'm going to do, and my Man Cave will be resplendent and replete with Micromasters.

Ironworks only ever had fiction in Japan, and never showed up in the west at all. In the Land of the Rising Sun, he and the construction station (the base aspect of the toy) turned up briefly in the one and only cartoon produced for 'Zone' (the main Micromasters fiction) 'Enter the New Supreme Commander, Dai Atlas!'. and in the manga and story pages that followed on from the cartoon. Ironworks' only function as far as I can tell is that he helped fend off the Decepticons from attacking the Autobots, and really, that's about it. Shame. Still, that's way more than he got in the west, at least. 

To be fair, if he'd had fiction, there isn't much in his Tech Specs to suggest what he might have been like, considering that most of that concerns itself with what he can do, rather than what he's like. This seems to be a leimotif of later Tech Spec bios, almost as if Hasbro had given up by this point even trying to make their toys interesting, and just getting them out there. As we know, that's pretty much how it happened.

The toy itself, is great, mainly because of the playset aspect. Ironworks himself is a repaint of the Off-Road Patrol's team leader Powertrain, and that in itself is a positive boon, because it's an off-the-wall toy which is different to most of the Micromasters around at the time, transforming into a truck cab and all. Rendered in a very nice construction yellow, Ironworks commands a transforming base, which is both a construction yard, and what appears to be a fortified communications tower (at least I think that's what it is). Without other Micromasters, this isn't a great base by itself, but with a couple of patrols, and even hitched up to another base, and it becomes rather nifty and quite awesome. This isn't a bad thing, because that's what it was built for, collectability. It's not meant as a standalone piece, and because of that, it works perfectly. So if you're into your Micromasters, then this a definite. Thumbs up for Ironworks!

Monday, 14 January 2013

#58: Sports Car Patrol (1989)

Micromasters first appeared in 1989, to compete with Galoob's Micro Machines, which were Hot Wheels but a lot smaller, to put it in basic terms. Micromasters of course had the added bonus in that they transformed into tiny robots as well, and a whole backstory was created in the comics whereupon fuel had become scarce on Cybertron and the Transformers therefore had to downscale in order to keep running. (Dreamwave went a bit further than this, to make them another faction completely, run along the lines of street gangs, but this is generally considered awful. Along with most of DW's stuff)

I was down with Micromasters from the get-go. I don't know what it is, but I like the little guys. From the very first time I got a set of my own (the Off-Road Patrol), I was hooked. The Sports car Patrol didn't help any with my addiction.It didn't help that their Tech Spec bio was pretty rad, either. A team of mini miscreants, whose main funtion is clearing the road for their bigger brothers? Count me in, because that sounds like a lot of fun. It helps that their designs are cool, from the hot hatchback glory that is Blackjack, to my own personal favourite, the quite frankly eye-searing electric neon blue and amazing naming that is the mighty Hyperdrive. Everything about these guys is immensely cool to me, and for the life of me I can't explain why. It must be some kind of primeval thing.

Sadly, they didn't appear too much in the original Marvel comics, mainly because their Air Strike Patrol cousins got all of the love, being pitted against the Race Car Patrol. I should think that two sets of cars battling each other was deemed too much, and so Blackjack and the boys didn't really get much of a look-in. As for the DW 'effort', let's just forget that ever happened, and hope that IDW come up with something someways down the line. Although I'm not going to hold me breath on that one.

They toys, how shall I put it, are SPECTACULAR. As I stated earlier, they're four mini bundles of joy, all distinct, all different (apart from the transformations, which are ALL THE SAME. Get used to that with Micromasters.) One running theme you will notice is that of colour reversal; Blackjack and Road Hugger share purple and black; Detour and Hyperdrive yellow and blue. Personally, I like this and think it's a clever way to make these toys economical; some people will think of it as cheap and possibly even a bit nasty. But then Micromasters have always been a bit Marmitey, I find.

My love for Micromasters is pretty well known by now, I should think, so I won't labour the point too much, but I do think that everyone needs at least one MM set in their life at some point. The Sports Car Patrol isn't a bad one to have, not at all. I heartily recommend them to anyone looking to purchase a set. If you only get one, get Hyperdrive. Because he's awesome.