Back in the late Eighties, Japan didn't get Thunderwing. Instead, they gave Thunderwing's oni-styled Pretender shell a new head and chest and tried to pass him off as a different, fully robotic character. He was Black Shadow, whose function was Space Mafia!
...well, it is if you're not very precise at translating his function from Japanese into English, anyway.
No, he's "just" a space gangster. Which is still space cool, but I think the phrase "space mafia" evokes the imagery of a single guy who is the ENTIRE friggin' space mafia. He is all space gangsters combined. That always pumped up his reputation in my mind. He was not a dude to mess with. He runs everything, and not nicely. Black Shadow is a one-man Illuminati, with guns.
And because Hasbro was on the Good Crack this year, not only did we get a new Thunderwing toy, but they also made sure he had an extra head and chest somewhere on the tooling so that we could get Black Shadow later. Though he's "Sky Shadow" and his bio mentions nothing about gangsters or mafias or even racketeering.
Ah well. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Its head might end up under your bed sheets later.
Transformers sure has been ringin' my Marvel Transformers bell recently. Earlier this year we got Masterpiece King Grimlock, which was done up with his blacks as comic-blue and his Marvel-only crown. Generations has already given us Lord Straxus from issues 17 and 18. And in this new wave we get both Thunderwing and Skullgrin, who were prominent Decepticons from the Marvel material.
Thunderwing was one of the string of Decepticon leaders that rose to prominence following the disappearance of Megatron. It's anyone's guess why he was chosen out of the entire 1989 lineup to be the New Big Bad. Thunderwing wasn't the largest of that year's Decepticon toys. He didn't even rate an appearance in toy commercials. His packaging profile painted him as a typical lying, deceitful Decepticon. But nonetheless, Simon Furman chose him to be the Big Bad Dude in the days running up towards Unicron's arrival.
What set Thunderwing apart from all the other Decepticon leaders was, amazingly, his compassion. Unlike Megatron or Straxus or Galvatron, he actually seemed to care about the welfare of his troops. That doesn't mean he wasn't a jerk. He had a crazy streak in him that grew out of his escalating obsession with finding the Creation Matrix. Eventually he possessed it, but really it possessed him. Tainted by evil, the Creation Matrix took control of Thunderwing and transformed him into a careless monster. When he turned on his own troops, he had a brief moment of clarity as the weight of what he'd just done dawned on him, and he pleaded for the Matrix to leave him. You never saw anything like that from the other Decepticon leaders. This other, sane side to Thunderwing made him a little more three-dimensional than the rest.
Anyway, Thunderwing was a popular guy, and the good news is that because of this he gets a new toy. The bad news is that he gets it during a year in which all of the "Classic"-style Transformers are Deluxe Class guys! One of the few things I didn't like about the original Thunderwing toy was that it wasn't quite big enough. He needed to be larger to interact with and/or tower over his contemporaries. But the new Thunderwing toy is smaller still. D'oh! And he's one of the smaller Deluxes. D'oh again! He's a little taller than, say, Deluxe Classics Bumblebee, and shorter than most everyone else.
Part of it has to do with how much of his alternate-mode mass ends up on his back. ...which is all of it, so there isn't much toy left to make the robot very large. As a result, he's basically a jet with a robot folded up underneath, which isn't unique to him among jetformers at all, but is still a little disappointing. The advantage to this is that since none of his robot parts become jetparts, he can be as accurate to the original Thunderwing as designers wanted, and he is pretty damn accurate. He's like a little Thunderwing action figure with a jet on his back.
I don't mean to imply that he's incredibly simple, because he's not. True, his arms just line up under the wings, but the rest of the transformation was more complex than I was expected. A piece of the chest unfolds out of his torso and hides his head and streamlines the curvature of the undercarriage. His legs shorten not by shoving the thighs into the shins, but by unhinging everything apart and folding the legs up further into the inside of the body at the hips. I also like how the jet wings fold out into shapes that remind me of feathered wings.
Thunderwing's got a few other surprises. Though Hasbro couldn't budget a little robot for him to pal around with, Pretender-style, the nose of the jet does detach and become a little jet drone. His massive double missile launchers combine to form an even bigger double missile launcher. I kinda wish the jet drone attached to this combined weapon, but it doesn't seem to.
Getting back to that "Marvel love" stuff, what's most interesting to me are his colors. Thunderwing spent most of his comic book appearances looking like an approximation of his vivid toy colors, or at least as close as the comic book coloring process could manage. But then suddenly in his last two major appearances, the colorist dropped his color scheme and just made him an all-white guy with green arms and a yellow face. Generations Thunderwing incorporates those green arms into his color scheme, which is surprising to me. Hasbro tends to stick to the original toy colors, so taking inspiration from a specific two issues of the Marvel run is pretty neat. It's too bad the face is more Don Figueroa than Geoff Senior.
Drawing to a close, this is a damn fine Thunderwing if you don't have a Thunderwing. The original Thunderwing is mighty expensive on the secondary market. I was super-lucky to have friends who chipped in together to get me him a few years ago, and he's one of the bigger joys of my collection. It was also one of the better toys of its era! However, this new Thunderwing is definitely not one of the better toys of its era, but it's also only $12 instead of eleventy million. He's a great character and I'm glad he's earned a second chance at retail. Everyone can own a Thunderwing!
Unless you live in the UK, because Hasbro over there is kind of dumb.