Monday, 8 June 2009

Universe Darkwind

There's a funny series of coincidences to this thing... Or perhaps it's not as coincidental as one might think.

Back in 2007, the BotCon box set - Games of Deception - featured a Classics reimagining of Generation 1 Powermaster Dreadwind. Fans immediately began theorising about what this might mean. Would the soon-to-be-rebooted Universe/Classics 2.0 line feature Darkwing? If so, would the two combine into the fearsome superplane Dreadwing? All the evidence seemed to suggest a negative on both counts... Until Kitbashers discovered that, with the right paintjob, Universe Silverbolt looked eerily similar to the Generation 1 gloom-sayer. Very soon after, official photos of Hasbro's own interpretation surfaced. Frankly, both the home repaint and the official one were a huge improvement on the model's original Autobot colourscheme, so I vowed to pick this one up, despite its simplicity.


Vehicle Mode:
Let's get one thing out of the way: This model, much like Generation 1 Silverbolt - and far too many other aeroplane-based TransFormers - is basically a plane with a folded up robot stuck to the undercarriage. There's no denying or avoiding that assessment. It's inelegant, unconvincing and, in this day and age, considering some of the Movie TransFormers, pretty much unforgivable... And yet, in this case, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and forgive the clumsy, 20-year-old engineering, because it looks fantastic. The colourscheme - as subdued as a colourscheme can be when it involves purple, gold, and an almost fluorescent cyan - suits the model and the character so well. On the surface, it's utterly garish... and yet somehow the model pulls it off. Compare and contrast with Silverbolt - basically white, white and more bland white in plane mode, with the addition or red and gold in robot mode, and Darkwind is the clear winner.

While the Generation 1 Darkwing (notice the subtly different name) was a swing-wing fighter, this is clearly a high-speed stealth plane, homaging the Blackbird. It's an odd move but, according to some sources, this model was created with the intention of making it Silverbolt (originally a Concorde) to start with, and then repainting it as Darkwind.

Certainly, having a giant slab of folded up robot stuck to its undercarriage does nothing to enhance its sleek, slender silhouette... but somehow it's forgivable when it actually blends with the rest of the plane. Additionally, Darkwind's gun - a rifle with a strange, Stealth Bomber-like motif - plugs into the underside of the nose and looks quite effective.

Electronics-wise, Darkwind offers three sound effects in vehicle mode, running in rotation when the button between the jet engines is pressed - engine ignition, afterburners, and machine gun fire... the same effects as Silverbolt.

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Officially, there is no combined 'Dreadwing' mode, but those crazy Kitbashing fans have come up with several workably solutions to this grievous omission.

Robot Mode:
Again, there's no avoiding the fact that this is basically a robot with a plane folded up on his back. In many ways, that just adds to the feeling that this is the perfect homage to the Generation 1 character. The colourscheme works just as well in this mode, keeping the colours of plane mode and adding a darker blue, staying close to the paintjob of the 20-year-old toy it references. The whole thing, down to the arrangement of the wings on his back, strengthens the similarities.

I really cannot explain why, when I can't stand the way Universe Silverbolt turned out, that I love Darkwind. It's the same, terrible model. It has an equally garish paintjob. Design-wise, it's a rather awkward halfway house between its Autobot and Decepticon inspirations... and yet somehow the whole is far, far more than the sum of its parts.

The damned thing isn't even that poseable - with or without batteries, it's back-heavy, and the design of the feet is such that it's just not that stable. The fixed wings on the back interfere with the motion of the arms to an embarrassing degree. In so many ways, this model is utterly outdated in its design and construction...

...And yet, in my hands, it's not a disappointment. It somehow conspires to be a perfectly satisfactory update of the Generation 1 Powermaster... And I wasn't even particularly attached to the Powermasters... The only ones I picked up were Optimus Prime (because the comics had such a strong story to back up the Powermasters, and how Optimus Prime became one) and Doubledealer (because he was cool). The rest were dull, and frequently very limited by this bizarre gimmick which left them unable to transform unless these little figures were folded up and plugged into them.

Robot mode offers less by way of sound effects - only gunfire for the most part, and the ubiquitous transformation sound effect during the final stages of getting to robot mode (also accompanied by flashing lights behind the eyes). The head sculpt is adequate, but closer to Silverbolt than Darkwing, lacking the latter's crazy, angular goggles. Moreover, something about it makes me want to caption all the pictures "I'm Batman"... something about that 'masked' look.
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Overall, this figure should be an utter failure, unworthy of its pricepoint... but there is something endearing about it - it fits the character so well and, despite being hopelessly out of scale with BotCon Dreadwind, complements him well. I'm sure I should regret spending £25 on such a basic model with such bland electronics (the batteries came out within minutes of getting him out of his box!)... but I can't bring myself to regret it, and I just don't know why... Or care.
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