Monday, 25 July 2011

TransFormers Collectors' Club BotCon 2006 (Timelines) Boxed Set: Dawn of Futures Past

For the most part, being a UK resident, I really didn't see the point of joining something like the TransFormers Collectors' Club. It's expensive, and it's run from the United States. Anything ordered from them would be hit by Customs and VAT charges, plus whatever extra ParcelForce decided to add on top as their 'handling fee'. If Hasbro UK don't see the point of forming an official UK or European branch of the club, then I'm just one more member they don't have. I didn't even really follow BotCon, even after getting back into TransFormers for the 20th Anniversary. That all changed in 2006, though, due to that year's pre-Beast Wars theme, and the boxed set 'Dawn of Futures Past'.


Packaging:
One of the staples of Fun Publications' tenure as the license holder for the TransFormers Collectors' Club is the excellent, solidly-built, premium quality printed display boxes and their figure-hugging foam inserts. The DoFP set includes the five repaints (two Voyagers and three Deluxes, by today's standards, two of which had remolded heads), their 'Gold Disks' (repainted Galaxy Force planet keys), an enamel commemorative badge, the Dawn of Futures Past comic book, instruction sheets, bio cards and an attendee certificate. Back in the day, this was about $250 worth of materials, though I paid closer to £250 at a show in the UK and, given the secondary market prices on eBay, I think I got a pretty good deal. The painting on the box isn't exactly a masterpiece, but it shows the characters more clearly than the intro to the first episode of Beast Wars ever did, so it's perfectly reasonable to believe that the crew of the Axalon did actually look like this prior to reformatting for the Beast Wars. It's also nice to see artwork of the toys - like the old G1 murals - rather than either a middle-ground between these and the TV series CGI, or just paintings of the CGI characters.
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Enough about the box, though... What about the contents?

Dinobot
One of the best-loved characters from the TV show, it's good that Dinobot became one of the characters in the boxed set, despite not being part of the crew of the Axalon. He's even billed as 'Darksyde Dinobot' on the packaging. He starts out as a Decepticon (sorry, Predacon), but soon switches sides as a result of Megatron's dishonourable conduct.

Vehicle Mode:
Armada Ransack seems like a very odd choice as the base mold for Dinobot. The mechanical digger doesn't fit the svelte, agile Beast Wars swordsman quite so well as it did Cybertron Longrack and, leaving that aside, it's not even a particularly attractive mold. However, given the whole Unicron Trilogy to choose between, I'm not sure I can come up with a single mold that does suit.

Suspend disbelief, then, and look upon this digger. The colourscheme fits quite well - predominantly dark brown (I still remember the BotCon website stating emphatically that "there is no black on this model", perhaps because their photography wasn't wonderful), with a lighter brown for the digger arm, pale grey for the treads, and an astonishing amount of otherwise incongruous, yet all-too-ubiquitous 'Allspark Blue' (OK, I realise that phrase was coined a year later, with the first movie toyline, but it's definitely that kind of almost fluorescent blue!). It turns up in the strangest places, both in paint and plastic, without rhyme or reason, and sticks out like a sore thumb.

The model itself has a pretty cool key-activated gimmick, in that the huge plunger on the back can be pushed in to extend the digger arm. It seems almost counterintuitive for the button to work that way, but any kind of movement on the digger arm is welcome. I quite like the additional 'piston' pieces, which are as much for decoration as they are functional parts of the mechanism.

It's also pretty cool that the digger's cab can rotate freely above the treads... Armada didn't get much right, but it rarely missed an opportunity for interactivity.
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Robot Mode:
And Ransack is still looking like a bizarre choice for Dinobot. The robot mode is awkward, gangly and boxy... but it is poseable and, miraculously, the original head fits Dinobot almost perfectly. Sure, it's far wider than any other version of the Beast Wars character's head, but the 'helmet' and the facial expression are bang on and, with the brown/copper paint job, he looks excellent.

Robot mode also gives the first hint as to why this mold was chosen. Sure, the digger arm doesn't suit Dinobot, but the other 'clawed' arm has a Mini-Con port in the palm of its hand, referencing the holes that would accommodate Dinobot's sword or spinny-shield-thing on the Beast Wars toy.

I'm still not sure where all this 'Allspark Blue' came in - the only blue in Dinobot's original colourscheme was his face... but I will concede that it breaks up what might be an otherwise bland, and very brown paint job.

Despite some very strange joints, Dinobot's legs are very poseable and, coupled with a mobile waist, this model is capable of some truly awesome poses.
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Cheetor
Another weird choice of mold, this one. Galaxy Force Skids is one of the very few Galaxy Force/Cybertron molds that I didn't pick up at all. It's small, flimsy, and the original versions - both US/UK and Japanese - didn't look particularly good. How on Earth could it ever be appropriate to a pre-Beast Wars Cheetor?

Vehicle Mode:
Well, if you can believe the Animated Blurr mold for Cheetor, why not this one? It's a compact, yet sporty little car, which must surely suit the Beast Wars ADHD speed freak. The distribution of colours in this mode certainly harks back to the reissued BW toy (though 'harks back' isn't strictly accurate, since the reissue came the year after Dawn of Futures Past) although the spots are limited to appearing on the seats... So Cheetor's quite... um... discerning in his choice of upholstery.

One of the things I disliked about the Skids mold and, by extension, this mold's use as Cheetor, is the key-activated weapon. It's wide and flat by default, and opens up to be wide and flat with a strange protrudence from the top when activated. As weapons go, it doesn't look too bad in vehicle mode because it basically fits into the context of the vehicle. Probably not the worst in Galaxy Force...
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Robot Mode:
I was actually amazed by how well this mold suits Cheetor in robot mode, even ignoring the entirely new head mold. The colour scheme is cleverly arranged so that the chest looks as much like the Beast Wars toy's Cheetah head as possible, and the sparse spot pattern on the arms doesn't look so out of place in this mode as it did in vehicle mode.

It's also quite a poseable little robot, the biggest surprise being the superfluous waist joint. Had it been utilised in transformation, it might make sense.... but it's a welcome extravagance. Having hollow lower legs and a comparatively dense torso makes Cheetor quite top-heavy, and prone to falling over backward, but holding the handgun balances him out.

The handgun certainly doesn't work as well in robot mode as it does in vehicle mode, though. Cheetor may have had the most bizarre weapons imaginable in Beast Wars - the tail blaster and the intestine rifle - but Galaxy Force Skids' weapon really takes the biscuit... it's like a pair of handguns balanced on a tray... and, despite having two pegs, it can only ever be held in one hand or the other, rather than in both, because of the way the forearms are molded. The triple exhaust pipes make for an interesting, claw-like weapon for robot mode, but the length and the strange kink in the pipes make them rather awkward to wield.

The best thing about this model is the remolded head, since it captures the essences of both the original Beast Wars toy, with its humanoid face in a bulky helmet, and the CGI character's more feline features. Considering how small a head it is, that's no mean feat.
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Rattrap
One of my favourite Beast Wars characters, Rattrap needed to be something small and nippy. The Galaxy Force Gasket mold wouldn't have been my first choice (Autolander was almost rat-shaped, and the large wheels on his robot mode shoulders would have harked back - or forward, perhaps - to the Beast Machines design), but it turned out pretty good.

Vehicle Mode:
The Gasket mold, being a futuristic motorcycle, kind of fits Rattrap, and the colourscheme is very well organised - predominantly grey, with touches of copper and black, and a kind of smokey, almost fluorescent orange for the wheels, windscreen, headlights and weapon. This is also, I believe, the first - and, so far, only - instance of the Gasket mold being properly assembled, with the back wheel's supports oriented correctly. Even the Japanese limited edition Police-Type Gasket is misassembled, so three cheers for Fun Publications (or the plant that produces their toys) for getting it right!

The bike design is like something out of Akira - very elongated, with massive, chunky wheels. All it's really lacking is handlebars...

The key activated gimmick transforms the rear-mounted cannons into tail guns... and that's probably the safest thing for them to do, since they'd otherwise be aimed squarely at the rider!
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Robot Mode:
I still say Autolander would have been a better choice, but I must admit that the head mold somehow fits Rattrap. The accompanying comic depicted him as having a removable 'cap' which covered the 'exposed brain' effect on the Beast Wars toy's head. It does not, however, explain why this toy has a humanoid face, rather than the rodent-like look of both the original toy and his CGI incarnation.

The distribution of colours in this mode is far more accurate to Beast Wars Rattrap, though I do feel they missed a trick by painting the bulk of the chest silver/grey, with the box details in red... had they filled in the V-shaped piece in the middle in black (or the coppery colour), and the block directly beneath that in white, the chest area would look like a cartoony robotic rat face.
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Rhinox
Easily my favourite component of the Dawn of Futures Past set, Rhinox is derived from Galaxy Force Guardshell. Somehow, due largely to some amazing coincidences, this mold fits Rhinox perfectly, and not just because Rattrap always referred to him as "ya big bulldozer".

Vehicle Mode:
Considering the size of the cab, and the ladders between the wheels, it's obvious that this mold represents quite a large bulldozer, and the huge wheels suggest a lumbering machine which is probably capable of moving at rather high speeds, if necessary, just like a mechanical Rhinoceros.

This alternate mode is more colourful that any version of Beast Wars Rhinox, though this is only due to the lack of large, beast-flesh panels hanging off his frame. Some of the robot's green and gold is plainly visible, but this just makes for a more rounded colourscheme. Flat grey or beige would have been pretty dull over the whole vehicle.
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Robot Mode:
Here's where the coincidences in design between BW Rhinox and GF Guardshell become obvious. The head mold, while rather more mechanical that the original Rhinox, is as similar to it as Armada Ransack's was to Dinobot. The way the gold paint is applied the the mold cements the common elements. The exhaust pipes on the shoulders seem to evoke the 'wings' that close to form Rhinox's mutant head, and the bulldozer panels on his shoulders are very reminiscent of the Rhino legs on the original.

His weapons aren't a great match - the large rivet gun/engine thing isn't exactly the 'Chaingun of Doom', but the key-activated blades in his wheels are quite similar to the saw blades of the toy's weapons.

The Guardshell mold is also very poseable, and thankfully without the same level of interference caused by the huge slabs of Rhino armour on the Beast Wars toy. It's also quite amusing that this mold has visible screws on the shoulders... just like the misassembled BW Rhinox. It's not misassembly on this model, though - the shoulders cannot be switched as they're not identical, symmetrical moldings.
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Optimus Primal
Probably the only truly controversial - dare I say contentious - model in the set, this is based on Galaxy Force Landbullet which, on the surface, seems like an odd choice. Many commented at the time that the Deluxe-sized mold for GF Inch Up would have been preferable to this turbo-powered tricycle. For me, personally, this is a better fit because of its overall bulk, and Optimus Primal's colourscheme suits the mold very well.

Vehicle Mode:
Bizarrely, this was the first iteration of this mold I picked up and, on the strength of this model, I went and picked up a Cybertron Crumplezone (still unwilling to pay import prices for the superior Japanese version!). It's a unique vehicle, nothing like anything I've seen before in TransFormers, and looks to have been built to break land speed records on as many planets as possible.

The key-activated gimmick seems a bit lame - the spoilers flip out to the sides as the massive turbines rotate round from back to front, revealing that they are spring-loaded missile launchers as well as jet engines. Naturally the accompanying sound effects have been removed from this version of the mold, but I always felt they were rather bland - and far too loud - anyway.

The colourscheme is high-contrast - mostly black and white, with odd details picked out in blue, and red highlights to complement the use of transparent deep red plastic.
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Robot Mode:
Inch Up might have been better proportioned overall, but I would say this mold fits the idea of Optimus Primal rather better, due to its size and upper-body bulk. Land Bullet/Crumplezone was a very ape-like bruiser of a Decepticon, and the articulation of this model allows for some referencing of one of BW Optimus Primal's mechanical gimmicks - the lever-activated chest beating.

The colour distribution in this mode is very strongly reminiscent of Optimus Primal, both the original release and the 'Beast Wars Reborn' version, though perhaps the white is purer on this. Due to the layout of the mold, some parts that should have been white are blue (the biceps, mainly), and I have to admit that the shoulder launchers do seem rather too bold in white.

The only downside to this model is the size of the remolded head versus the rest of the body. Landbullet/Crumplezone got away with having a small head because it emphasised his bulk. That same effect overemphasises the body because Primal's head seems absolutely tiny, and is almost lost when the shoulder launchers are activated. The sculpting isn't bad, and actually looks fairly close to the CGI version of Optimus Primal, rather than the toy, but I can't help thinking it would have been cool to keep Landbullet's mobile jaw gimmick, to create a middle-ground between the original Beast Wars Optimus Primal's complete faceplate, and the CGI model's mouth-revealing open faceplate.
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Although I wasn't a member of the TFCC until the end of 2006, it was on the strength of this boxed set, as much as it was my desire for their DoFP Airazor, that tipped the balance in favour of joining. The idea was cool, the toys were excellent, and the presentation of the set was classy.

As attendee-only figures, Fun Publications added Darksyde Megatron and Waspinator, and both Buzzsaw and Laserbeak, with Tigatron reserved for BotCon pre-registrants. While the latter pair was reasonably cheap to pick up, the former set - or even Megatron on his own - rapidly exceeded the price of the whole 2006 boxed set. I'd still like to pick up both of them - Megatron made out of the Galaxy Force First Gunner mold was awesome, and the perfect antagonist for Landbullet Optimus Primal, but this boxed set, the two Shadowhawk repaints, Tigatron/Unit-2 and the Collectors' Club Exclusive Airazor are enough for now...

The comic book explores the events leading up to the Beast Wars, beginning with Megatron's theft of the Golden Disk (which, in at least one continuity, is the disc that was sent out with the Voyager probe). It introduces the all characters from the boxed set, plus the attendee and pre-registrant exclusives, and even TFCC Exclusive Airazor (as the pilot of the Chromia 10, commandeered by Tigatron in an attempt to catch up with the fleeing Megatron). While it focuses on shoehorning these characters into a kind of "Previously On..." story for Beast Wars, explaining how the Axalon and the Darksyde ended up transwarping to Earth's past, the story is reasonably well self-containted, and it also tantalises with a brief look at what happened later, back on Cybertron... hints which, as yet, the Collector's Club have yet to really follow up on.

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