Way back in 2000, my third BotCon, we got two exclusive toys. The first was Apelinq, Wrecker Commander, and the second was Shokaract, cruel lord of all time and space. Once a lowly near-nameless Predacon grunt, the Hunter found the Dark Essence of Unicron buried on Earth and was awarded the Matrix of Conquest. Now he was Shokaract, rule of Cybertron's future, powerful beyond measure, speaker of hilariously over-the-top Simon Furman villain dialog. But since time travel exists, he guarded the Dark Essence zealously. Of course, his own paranoia led to his downfall, and Shokaract's reign was erased from existence.
There's no way there'd ever be a toy of the Hunter! That'd be just crazy!
Well, sometimes crazy works, and here we are fourteen years later with a danged Hunter toy. Very recently we got a new toy of Beast Wars Rampage as this year's club membership exclusive toy, which mounted a very very very tiny new head on the body of Deluxe Transformers Prime Megatron. A great idea with a kind of hilarious noggin. Don't get me wrong, the thing is beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. But that tiny, tiny head. (It has to be, to fit in vehicle mode.) Since Shokaract was originally a redeco of Rampage, folks clamored for a Shokaract redeco of him. I did not. I didn't think it'd be what I wanted. Shokaract should be huge, not a deluxe. Why would I want a tiny Shokaract? It's not like they'd designate him his pre-Shokaract Hunter form. And once we learned Club Rampage had a tiny head, that was another nail in the coffin as far as I was concerned. Did not want!
Well, old me was dumb. I love this thing. It's probably my favorite toy of the whole set. Somehow, amazingly, in these different, darker colors, Shokaract's head doesn't look so puny. I'm not sure how. Maybe it's just the color scheme creating an optical illusion. But it's surpisingly okay. And the toy itself is astoundingly pretty. Shokaract was always pretty, so it shouldn't be that surprising, but still here we are. And, yes, the goddamned thing is officially the Hunter, pre-finding-the-Dark-Essence. It's like a toy just for me!
Plus it comes at a pretty opportune time, since the original Shokaract is covered in blue chrome that does not survive well decades past his production. The chrome on mine was falling off like autumn leaves just by picking him up and moving around -- and that's without all the dusting I had to do to make him presentable. I was dabbing lightly with a cloth to keep from scraping his surface off too much. Oof. Some day I will just have to bite the bullet and send the thing to Cheetimus to scrape and repaint the blue. It won't be chrome, but it'll be something I can friggin' transform again. It sucks when you can't handle one of your favorite toys which is super expensive to replace.
Anyway, the new one doesn't have chrome and so it's something that can actually be played with. It's very, very welcome. As of this writing, he's still available (with his fellow pirate Brimstone) on the Collectors' Club website and on Big Bad Toy Store.
Tankor's wavemate is Rattrap, who's a Deluxe Classed version of his original 1995 Basic Class toy. Back in 1995, all of the Basic Beast Wars figures had autotransformations -- in Rattrap's case, you move his rat mode tail and he springloads roughly into robot mode. Most of these worked by cramming robot limbs up inside the altmode, resulting in a standard "robot guy with huge altmode backpack and a chest made from the head or ass or something" look across the size class. Rattrap made it onto the Beast Wars television show, so it was established that Rattrap is that guy with a rat head on his chest and everything else from his rat mode piled up on his back.
Well, now it's 2014 (ninteen years later!), and it's time to make a larger, non-autotransforming version of that same design. He definitely still has most of his rat mode on his robot mode back -- if he didn't, he wouldn't look like Rattrap -- but there is an attempt to integrate more rat parts in with his robot mode. Well, okay, only his hind legs. Those unfold and pack into the back of his robot mode legs. His rat hindfeet become his heels. The rat backpack does collapse in on itself better than the original's does, which is nice. (The show Rattrap's backpack SHRANK, which isn't exactly an option here.)
Since new Rattrap doesn't auto-transform, that means all the business of shoving his robot mode limbs into his animal shell is now your job! And, yikes, is it a job. It is a quagmire down there, with everything competing for the same spot at certain points. There's about three separate joints in each knee that need to be bent and compiled in a way Just So in order for everything to fit together as it's supposed to, and until you figure out this correct way, transforming him may take you quite a while.
That said, his rat mode is wonderful. It's got a prehensile tail (it's soft plastic with a wire running through it) and he's got somewhat poseable legs and feet. He's also got an openable jaw. But what really blows my mind is that he's also designed to stand upright if you want. There's a patch of fur-textured gray plastic you can rotate up behind his rat head so that when you bend the rat head forward while upright, there's no unsightly gap in the back of his neck. Of course, there's always going to be those robot arms in place of his rat stomach, but making the rat mode able to get on its hind legs goes a real long way towards making the toy feel like Rattrap the character. I think this is my preferred mode.
The robot mode is great, but there are some small limitations. His elbows can't bend a full 90 degrees, for starters. This limits the amount of things you can do with his arms. It'd be nice if his wrists rotated, too, and they look like they do, but it's possible this was something budgeted out at some stage. His rat ears are also pretty large and tall (as they should be for rat mode) but they get in the way of most of his peripheral vision. Photos of him need to be head on or from slightly above or you aren't going to see his head.
On the plus column side, he's got some interesting weaponry in this mode. He has a rifle that can split up into two separate guns. Open up his left forearm and you can pull out one of his sticky bombs which he used on the show.
In summary, this is a Rattrap toy with two great modes, some minor flaws, and an annoying transformation. The latter deal should be somewhat mitigated once the proper leg transformation order is discovered, but not entirely. It's a toy full of character and stuff to do.
(Like Tankor, his comic book pack-in is published with terribly out-of-order pages.)
Transmutate is a heroic character. She has trouble reading facial expressions, but that doesn't mean she lacks compassion. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and she believes in justice and making things equal for all. But her lack of empathy makes achieving her goals difficult, and it gets her into trouble. Yet she perseveres despite all odds.
And it's unlikely that this time she's going to die at the end of her story so that everyone else learns an Important Lesson.
Transmutate is a redeco of First Edition Transformers Prime Arcee. She's in teal and a silvery gold plastic color that really likes to photograph an ugly brown. (I have done some color nudging in Photoshop.) The colors look pretty nice in person, especially with the translucent red accents to set off the neutralness of the teal and gold. The toy's face has a smile sculpted on it, which is pleasant, but Transmutate's face is usually expressionless, so that feels a little odd in context with the character. She's exclusive to the Transformers' Collectors Club, and so she comes in a medium-sized presentation box with cut-outs in the foam inside for both her and Rampage, who is the club's free-with-subscription figure this year and arrives separately.
I like the toy a lot for what it represents -- a kind of character we don't get much of, in Transformers or otherwise. At least not the nondisposable kind. She makes me happy.
If I had a time machine, I would probably use it to go back to like 1999 or so and tell myself that this toy would exist. Look, little dude, you don't have to pull all the parts off your Rhinox and sculpey yourself a more show-accurate one. Just... wait a while. You'll lose that thing anyway.
Also in a few years you're going to stop believing the Earth is 6000 years old, so why not cut that shit out earlier. You'll be free. Let it go. Let it go. Turn away and slam the door!
The original Rhinox toy was designed to be kinda like a samurai guy. He's got his samurai skirt and he gets a sword and a mace weapon and his mutant face splits out and kinda looks like the sides of a samurai helmet. The cartoon model was all "hell naw" and removed a bunch of that and ignored his sword and just made him this huge unstoppable bruiser who's also super-smart and really good at being a leader and settling disputes and... okay, Rhinox was kind of on the edge of being annoyingly perfect. But he was humble and kind of a homebody, so that kept that from happening. Rhinox was never "i have to go now my home planet needs me," and other folks mostly ignored that he was clearly the most awesomely competent dude in that show.
The original Rhinox toy was also a mess. God dang. Everything hangs everywhere. He transformed from rhinoceros to a Christmas tree, I'm pretty sure. Just cascading panels everywhere. Thank goodness the newer, bigger Rhinox toy emulates the cleaner look of the television show. The back end of the rhinoceros does split into quite a few parts, but they all compact neatly around him and usually lock down. A hanging crotch skirt piece remains as the single remaining callback to his original samurai look. (You can fold it up under his jaw-chest if you want to erase that motif completely.)
In rhino mode, he's a very satisfying rhino, if immobile. His butt and tail and horns and ears are all made of soft plastic. There are no gimmicks in this mode. He will look pretty and that is basically it. Don't even open his jaw. It's not supposed to be opened. The jaw is for transformation and there's rows of very very not-rhinoceros-like sharp teeth in there for robot mode and the whole thing is hinged too far back in the jaw anyway to look good. Don't do it! Enjoy your static rhinoceros, dammit.
In robot mode, Rhinox has the articulation you expect, though I'm appreciative that his balljointed neck allows him to look up, which facilitates some nice chaingun of doom poses. Speaking of which, he comes with two of those, as is Proper. As with the original (single) weapon, pump the lever and the chain spins. As not with the original, it's an actual chaingun thing, and not a weird rotating mace sawblade thing. If you don't want your Rhinox to be encumbered with his weapons, you can shove the 5mm handles into the deep screwholes in the backs of his shoulders. We always wondered where Rhinox was reaching when he'd grab behind himself and pull these outta seemingly nowhere, and now we know.
Rhinox is packaged mistransformed so that his torso is elongated. Properly transformed, his crotch compacts deeper into his torso. He's depicted this incorrect way on the packaging as well. But done correctly, he's rightly stout.
Two things I don't like about him: 1) His legs are a little loose! Sometimes he's hard to stand. 2) I wish they'd kept his lips. This new toy's mouth is more of a simple sculpted line. Not only can't he be a samurai anymore, but he can't be a black dude, either (who is voiced by a white dude). Stop this cultural erasure, Hasbro!
Man, Waspinatoris the one guy in this wave of Generations Deluxes that is always hard to find! He was missing when I got the other three in Austin (no worries, he was bought up by the dude who sent me there), he was the lone member of the wave when I found them yesterday, and there was just one lone Waspy remaining when I finally found him this afternoon. He's not shortpacked or anything -- there's two of everyone in each case, and most places seemed to have multiple cases. Folks are just buyin' up Waspinators and leaving everyone else.
In your face, G1!
When folks learn we're getting new toys of old Beast Wars guys, they often wonder why. It's an understandable viewpoint if thought about in the abstract -- I mean, usually fans want modern reimaginings of characters who are from Before Articulation, and Waspinator is definitely on the After side of that wavefront. Usually folks want new toys of old dudes just to get those dudes with articulation, and Waspy's original toy doesn't fall short there.
But once you get the original (well, mine's the Japanese release with bright green shoulders instead of pea green) next to the new one, you realize, oh, hey, Hasbro/Takara's gotten a lot better at things that aren't articulation in these past nigh-20 years. Next to the new Waspinator, old Waspinator looks like someone blindly put him together out of mud. Increased show-accuracy aside, new Waspy is just much more crisp and solid and visually interesting. He's got a lot more going on.
Waspinator's lost his spring-loaded missile launching (he still has the stinger gun though) while picking up a wing-flap gimmick. Pull on the lever on his back and they either swing forward or clap together, depending on how you have your wings placed into the balljoints. He's also lost the head-swapping "mutant head" gimmick, but I wouldn't be surprised if the "robot" head exists in the tooling somewhere so they can pump out a Buzz Saw redeco in the future.
Waspinator also transforms a little differently. Instead of transforming Waspinator's robot legs into some amazingly oversized wasp legs, the legs instead try to hide themselves underneath the insect mode. Well, "try." They're pretty obvious under there, because they're actual robot legs, but they do run along the contour of the body. It's also better, I think, than trying to do it the old way. I prefer the insect legs to look like insect legs, even if they're sprouting out of robot parts.
He's basically a perfect Waspinator toy, if what you're looking for is a toy of Waspinator-the-character, not toy-that-will-become-Waspinator-the-character. But if you'd rather the latter, then you probably already have that one.
Like the other Deluxes from this wave, Waspy comes with a comic book issue that features him. It's not a great issue, but hey it's a comic book, and I'm sort of happy that Waspinator has been inserted into this continuity. It's fun to see guys like Jhiaxus and Optimus Prime interact with him. And since Wheelie's in there, too, it's not like Waspinator's the guy with the most annoying speech gimmick.
I like Beast Wars a lot, in case you haven't noticed. So when the six Transformers Collectors' Club Subscription Service guys were announced at last year's BotCon and one of them was a redeco of Big Convoy in Ultra Magnus colored named "Ultra Mammoth," I was abnormally excited. You know, given the circumstances. It's a redeco of Big Convoy, after all, who's kind of a pile of mammoth parts loosely attached to a robot. But it was a new Beast Wars toy, with a new name! Exciting!
It was the new name that gave me hope. He was "Ultra Mammoth" and not just plain ol' "Ultra Magnus." Obviously, he was a new guy like Optimus Primal's a new guy and not Optimus Prime. Obviously! But, ha ha, no, eventually we'd discover that he was indeed just Ultra Magnus. Silly David and your stupid hopes and dreams. But what really took me for a trip was the eventual reveal that he wasn't even in the friggin' Beast Wars. Instead, he's native to the Shattered Glass Universe, or is at least "our" Ultra Magnus after crashlanding in the Shattered Glass Earth's past with a bunch of other Generation One guys who fight in a completely different war. For reals, it was just a bunch of G1 guys fighting, like always happens whenever somebody gets their hands on the Beast Wars franchise. I mean, it's nice that it's not mucking around with the "real" Beast Wars and doing its own separate thing, but it's still not really something I want to see.
(I do want to see it DRAWN like that, though. Matt Frank draws the best beasts, expressive yet ferocious.)
Long story short, I wanted to rescue this toy's potential -- in my own mind, even if nobody else cared. I just wanted a new Beast Wars guy. And so I decided I'd draw a story about Ultra Mammoth being a new guy. Nothing about how he has to rescue the universe or anything, and nothing with all of the weird claptraps that modern Beast Wars fiction has fallen into. My Ultra Mammoth was going to be a newborn protoform, as was originally intended with stasis pods, before the stasis pods became the means for writers to inject more G1 dudes into the Axalon crew. (When your random Maximal exploration ship somehow includes Grimlock, Soundwave, and one of two distinct-but-simultaneously-existing versions of G1 Prowl while the other G1 Prowl and G1s Silverbolt, Ironhide, Ravage, and Starscream are already involved, there might be a problem here.) I also wanted a story where a stasis pod landed and its inhabitant actually does what a Maximal protoform is supposed to do -- scan an indigenous life form and do science.
(Also I threw in Waspinator, because I like stories that involve/advertise toys currently on shelves, plus both had fates of ending up alone on a planet, so that felt like some theme cohesiveness was built into the pairing.)
I hope everyone liked the story! I'm sorry it took over Shortpacked! for two and a half weeks -- I knew that if it didn't publish in public where there was a very visible deadline each night, it would be something I'd never finish. Ultimately, I just wanted something different hammered into my brain when I saw this Ultra Mammoth toy, something that reminded me more of Beast Wars. You guys kind of got corralled into this like so much colateral damage.
The toy itself is, as mentioned briefly above, the Big Convoy mold, for better or worse. It's a sizeable thing with many, many parts, and a Beast Wars Neo toy, so you know those many parts are going to annoy you at times. The new color scheme is very attractive, even if it's just the original Ultra Magnus toy colors mapped onto this thing. A blue mammoth rides that sweet groove between dorky and beautiful.
The harpoon missiles which holster in his legs have sadly been remolded. They're now thicker all around, which means they don't fit inside him any more while in beast mode. They click into the launchers fine, but there's not enough room inside him in mammoth mode for them to fit. Other than that, this mold doesn't show much age, even though it's fifteen years old. My Ultra Mammoth's elbow joints are even strong enough to support his massive trunk gun, which is unheard of. Usually you gotta rest it over his shoulder. He still has that wacky third mode where his mammoth mode grotesquely opens up into a cannon, and his tusks still wiggle when you pull back on his ears. The rubber in his trunk is a little stiffer than in earlier iterations of the mold, so pulling on the lever at the top of his head doesn't cause the trunk to curl as much as it used to.
Man, I still have a huge-ass backlog of toys from BotCon and SDCC which I haven't talked about. I remember when weekend updates were unlocked during the Dumbing of Age Kickstarter, and folks worried I wouldn't have time left to do comics. Oh, I'll have time to do comics! Just... other non-comic things fall through the cracks, is all. Like toy reviews. And so let's try to put a dent in this backlog.
One thing I really really need to talk about is this customized BWX Megatron. Cheetimus painted one up to look like Transmetal Megatron, which is basically the one thing this universe is sorely missing. And I know I talk a big game about Dinobot and Ratchet and Hot Shot, but I assure you that Beast Wars Megatron is, in fact, my favorite Transformers character of all time. And that his Transmetal form is my favorite iteration of him, though I think I like his BWX toy the best.
So obviously, the BWX toy painted up in is Transmetal colors just might be the best thing possible.
I was surprised at the number of vendors selling Transformers at Calgary Expo. It was a sizable representation! Quite a few booths were Transformers-only.
For example, there was this booth at the back of the hall, and, huh, they had mint carded 1984 Frenzy/Laserbeak and Rumble/Ravage sets for like $20 and, weird, is that a boxed Sunstreaker for $40? ...oh. Right. I see. Counterfeit. Just buttloads of counterfeit Transformers. You'd only know because they weren't hundreds of dollars. (Well, there are really slight ways to tell from examining the specifics of the packaging, like if something or another is a millimeter to the left, but that is not knowledge I possess.) Thought that was kinda skeevy. The guy who was selling them referred to them as "reprints." I suppose that's a euphemism.
But actual Transformers that were real Transformers made by real Transformers factories weren't badly priced, either! Like the Axalon here. I think when he came out he was like $50 to import. He's just a deluxe, but he's "limited run" or something, and TakaraTomy needed the dough I guess and so they cranked up the prices for this leg of United stuff. But a booth at Calgary Expo had him for $30! Canadian! That's like $25 American. So I scooped up the heck outta that.
And then Air Canada lost my luggage on the way home (nearly getting me stranded in Toronto since you can't go through customs if your luggage ain't security-cleared) and it took a few days for me to get him home.
BUT WHO IS HE?
He's, uh, the Axalon. The Maximal ship from Beast Wars. As a robot. Look, okay, Takara released the Deluxe Class bug-machine-tank-thinger Unicron as "Ark Unicron," aka "The Autobot Ship Is Possessed By Unicron Or Something" and so the story is that Primus made the Axalon be alive too in order to fight him. Crazy, right? It's the kind of crazy I'd buy for $25 but not $50.
And, look, yes, I know, he has an Autobot symbol on him despite being a Maximal ship, and yes, I know that his toy was designed to be the Nemesis, an entirely different ship which was also around at the time so why is it the Axalon, but...
It's another year of Transformers and Halls and Fames! And yet again, there's a Beast Wars guy in the fan-selected nominees! I'm gung ho for 2010's Dinobot and I enjoy 2011's Waspinator, but I have to tell you, Beast Wars Megatron is genuinely my favorite Transformers character of all time. And once Hasbro let us know that even though they auto-inducted "Megatron" for the first year of the Hall of Fame, it didn't mean we couldn't fan-nominate the young upstart who took his name, traveled into Earth's past, and blew off Optimus Prime's head!
So I'm voting BW Megs. There won't be a storyline or anything pushing for him this year like I did for Dinobot, but I just thought I'd let you know the voting has begun.
(Though if Sky Byte wins instead, I won't be pissy or anything.)
In 1994, Transformers was dead. Again! It died once in the United States (while it lingered overseas), and they tried bringing it back in 1993 with the original toys and characters. It didn't work. It was antiquated and it didn't speak to the new generation. Hasbro, who had recently acquired their former competitor Kenner, tossed them the rotting corpse of their once-golden property and told Kenner to have their way with it.
And for the first time in 10 years, Transformers was suddenly a top-selling toyline and a top-rated (Emmy award-winning) cartoon. The Beast Wars toys were the third-most popular boys toyline of its time, behind Power Rangers and Star Wars. The syndicated cartoon consistently ranked first in its local timeslot among the target demographic. It resurrected the Transformers franchise and saved it from the abyss. Why?
Because it was allowed to be different.
Some things that made Beast Wars popular were ganked from the Transformers franchise's recent history. Its incredible articulation, for one. Its willingness to resurrect older characters if needed. Its insistence on integrating weapons into the toys in both modes, so no accessories got left behind. But what it did innovate allowed Transformers to become a living, breathing, organic property. So to speak. Yes, everyone transformed into "real" animals. It was weird to the long-time fans, but it drew in children like crazy. For the longest time, Transformers had to be designed within a certain visual perimeter. Sort of Gundamy, sort of Robotechy... everyone had to have a normal face with a crest and maybe a visor, with blocky legs and arms. Beast Wars opened that up to toothy grins, bug eyes, and frightening mandibles. Sometimes arms ended in legs or claws. Sometimes feet didn't end in giant blocky boots, but in talons. Transformations were more complex and more creative. Shapes were new. Faces were new.
Transformers had become stale, and its near-death allowed the powers that be to unchain it, let it go, and let it find its own way, free of the conventional wisdom.
The cartoon benefited from a similar Renaissance. Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio, the co-story editors of Beast Wars, didn't know Transformers from a hole in the ground. But they knew how to write. And it turned out that was way more important. Financial and technological constrictions turned out to not be minuses, but pluses. Since Beast Wars was computer rendered, and this was 1995, the cast was tiny by necessity, starting with just five characters on each side, marooned on barren Earthlike planet. Instead of being agoraphobic, this allowed the writers to focus and explore the characters they had. Generation 1 started with 20 characters in its first season. By its second, there were more than 50. Some were lucky enough to get a line of dialog. A sparse few got spotlight episodes. But in Beast Wars, every character had time to shine. We knew these characters inside and out. They became real to us in ways that Transformers characters had rarely accomplished previously.
And it helped that Optimus Primal was not Optimus Prime. By the time we met Prime, he was already a fixture, a living legend. Inspirational to a child looking for a faultless father figure, but not very conducive to storytelling. When we met Primal, he was a nobody. He was new to his crew, and they to him. He made mistakes, but he was obviously learning on the job. And the rest of the cast knew it. Rattrap gave him so much grief. This was something rarely seen before, a hint of dissent within the good guy robots! The things Beast Wars introduced that we take for granted today...
Better yet, this was not the status quo. Rattrap organically learned to begrudgingly respect Primal. Dinobot learned over several seasons what his place in the universe was, and what he truly believed in, and what that meant for him. (It meant he would die.) Blackarachnia evolved from a by-the-numbers femme fatale into a compelling three-dimensional character. The show would always find a way to take away something from the characters that would show us who they are, allowing them to grow. In Blackarachnia's case, it was her autonomy. In Tigatron's case, it was his lover. In Dinobot's case, it was his certainty.
These things were made possible by the incredible caliber of writers assembled by Forward and DiTillio. Their ranks included Len Wein (creator of Wolverine, Storm, and Colossus), Christy Marx (Babylon 5), Jules Dennis (Real Ghostbusters and Batman: The Animated Series), D.C. Fontana (so much Star Trek), and, yes, Simon Furman (everything Transformers ever). For the first time, a Transformers show was allowed to have an over-arching plot from season to season, still with room for individual adventures. Transformers for the first time in animation was sophisticated, intelligent, and three-dimensional.
Some critics at the time of Beast Wars scoffed at its existence, claiming that once it was over it would return to obscurity, never to be seen or heard from again. They've been proven wrong repeatedly. The influence of Beast Wars persists to this very day. Transformers Animated gave us an Optimus Prime that was very much like the untested Optimus Primal, and included characters such as Rattletrap, Blackarachnia, and Waspinator. Beast Wars showed us that Transformers exists outside of the exclusive realm of the original cartoon, and incorporated elements taken from the Marvel Comics, like Primus, a concept that still informs Transformers fiction. The very idea of the spark, the tangible "soul" of a Transformer, has existed in every single incarnation of Transformers since, including the live-action movie, as has the concept of the Matrix/AllSpark as the Transformers afterlife. The cartoon set the golden standard for what Transformers television fiction should be and aspire to, according to both the fans and the creators of current Transformers content.
Beast Wars is why Transformers still exists. It pulled me back into Transformers after having left it, and is the biggest reason this very webcomic about toy collecting exists. It's informed my own storytelling in the past and will continue to inform it in the future. And there will always be a shelf in my house dedicated to its toys, as they portray a series of characters that will never, ever leave me. Characters that have taught me valuable things.