Monday, 12 October 2015

Combiner Wars Alpha Bravo

The wild-card in the set, Alpha Bravo is a whole new Aerialbot, replacing - temporarily, at least - Slingshot from the old Generation 1 character roster. Being a helicopter, he was also quite a blatant hint that the Protectobot Blades was on his way and, knowing Hasbro, set to be reused - likely with minimal, if any alteration - as the Combaticon Vortex (a move confirmed at this year's BotCon, when testshots of the Combaticons were first revealed).

Naturally there was a massive fan outcry when Alpha Bravo was revealed - not least over his nondescript name - which may have led to the repurposing of Firefly as 'Quickslinger'... but was it at all necessary, or is this a decent replacement for the loud-mouthed Aerialbot?

Vehicle Mode:
Pretty much the first thing that struck me about this helicopter was that the very front looks suspiciously like the Space Shuttle, but with a greater number of larger windows... It's rather uncanny, feels like more than simple coincidence, especially considering a certain element of robot mode... but more on that later. Helicopters, more often than not, end up rather lacklustre in the TransFormers toyline. There's generally something missing, or an excess of visible robot parts, so it's good to see that Alpha Bravo turned out pretty well and, in some ways, the simplicity of Combiner Wars Deluxes has worked in his favour. The main body of the helicopter is excellent - well proportioned, nicely detailed, and with rotors that look about the right size for the vehicle. The back end goes a bit weird, as the robot's arms are clearly visible stuck under a pair of extraneous wings (positioned right in front of another pair of wings/fins) and not entirely disguised by the rack of three missiles attached to the forearms... Comparing the size of the missiles to the size of the chopper, they must be pretty heavy-duty weapons.

Adding to the shuttle-like appearance, Alpha Bravo is largely white, with only a couple of thin stripes of metallic blue to break up the whiteness of the main body. Curiously there are window details molded down the length of the body, but none are painted specifically as windows. Probably the most disappointing aspect of the paintjob, though, is that his tail rotor - while molded in a reasonable amount of detail - is entirely unpainted. Even the area around the main rotor is devoid of paint, though there's really not a great deal of detail there to deserve it on Alpha Bravo.

While he transforms into the type of helicopter which would have retractable landing gear rather than landing skids, the model doesn't actually have landing gear. They may not have been much use anyway, considering how back-heavy the model is - just like the other Aerialbots, the robot's chest incorporates the spring-loaded, ratcheting gestalt limb joint, which weighs it down considerably more than the legs. Still, it would have been nice to have small, flip-out wheels... or even just molded protrusions. Then again, none of others have them, and only one has a single fold-out landing wheel, so it's no surprise...

The rotors spin quite freely but, since they have joints quite near the central hub, they are as likely to pop out of position as they are to spin if not handled carefully. The central hub is actually reasonably detailed, too... though I wish it had had a little paint to break up the black and to better match it to the body of the chopper. The same could be said of the stubby 'wings' at the robot's shoulders, despite their being rather superfluous.

There are 5mm ports on either side of the main fuselage, as well as one on the underside of the chopper. The robot's handgun, which features a short ammunition belt on one side, looks sort-of OK mounted on the lefthand side, slotting in neatly above the missile rack and well below the spinning rotors, but it doesn't seem wholly appropriate on a helicopter that doesn't look in the least bit military. The hand/foot gun, which appears to be a pair of Gatling guns, can only fit on the underside, but seems equally inappropriate. With the thumb/heel extended, it does provide a base stable enough that Alpha Bravo actually lies parallel with the ground. It seems disproportionately large, but it's not a bad weapon, overall. In theory, Alpha Bravo's fists are accessible as weapons ports as well, but neither weapon is suited to mounting in either of them in vehicle mode. It's interesting to note that Skydive or Air Raid's double-barrel guns would work pretty well as an attachment for the underside of this vehicle mode - far better, in fact, than it looks on either of the characters it was actually packaged with.

Robot Mode:
I don't know whether Hasbro thought they were being clever, but Alpha Bravo's robot mode pays quite an obvious homage to Slingshot in its colouration (similar to the new Stunticon Offroad). The very red-orange chest and the orange face are so clearly intended for Slingshot, it seems bizarre that a whole new character was created as an entirely different type of aircraft, to fill a vacancy that wasn't even necessarily there (and then got filled by the original character anyway). Hasbro's thought processes are very strange sometimes.

Nevertheless, Alpha Bravo looks pretty decent for the most part. He's easily the slimmest of the Aerialbots, thanks to his slender shins - even viewed from this side, his lower legs don't seem as clumsy as those of the jets. The head sculpt is very much like the Combaticon Vortex - further proof of the mold's next most likely re-use after the Protectobot Blades. His proportions are good, but the combiner joint sitting in his chest somehow doesn't blend in quite as well as it does on his team-mates. The only downside to his paint job is that it's all just blocks of one colour at a time - black upper arms with no paint, blanket coverage with red-orange on the chest, unpainted grey thighs, and shins that are basically just white. The most exciting elements of his look are the coppery-gold missiles on his forearms and the blue visor breaking up the orange strip down his face... which says a lot about how dull Alpha Bravo is.

The other homage in his design is to Classics Astrotrain, whose legs and feet Alpha Bravo seems to have stolen. I'd rather hoped that this implied a re-use of his legs for the eventual release of the Combaticon Blast Off but, for some bizarre reason, Hasbro ended up re-using the Firefly/Quickslinger mold again, much to the anger and/or disappointment of most fans. Given that the legs could so easily be repurposed into the front of a shuttle, it's not inconceivable that Takara Tomy will pull the same trick they did with the Protectobots' Deluxe Groove and create a proper Blast Off (hell, either Alpha Bravo or Firefly have a perfectly serviceable head sculpt for that purpose!). The only downside to the legs is the huge gap below the knee, which shows how empty his lower legs are... Though this is a fairly common feature across all the Deluxe Combiner Wars figures thusfar released.

In common with the other Aerialbots, Alpha Bravo's hand/foot gun seems large and unwieldy in his hands, but the handgun, just for a change, looks great. This is possibly the only Aerialbot handgun that actually looks suitable for a flight-capable robot to wield, making the others look all the more bizarre by comparison. Its molding is rather more solid than the double-barrelled guns of Skydive and Air Raid, and with similar amount of detail to Firefly's weapon.

In a way, Alpha Bravo is a rather back-to-front Aerialbot, with the front of the helicopter becoming his legs (using a transformation eerily reminiscent of Classics Astrotrain) and the chopper's tail rotor slipping down onto the robot's back. The arms do literally nothing by way of transforming other than unpegging from his hips, so he's about the simplest of the Deluxe Aerialbots. The only problem I've had with this mold - both as Alpha Bravo and Blades, though more frequently with this one - is that the hinged piece on which his rotors sit sometimes doesn't want to sit flush in vehicle mode, and tends to flap about, allowing the rotors to drop out of place in robot mode.

He's as well-articulated as any of his Deluxe team-mates, including the rare ability to look up thanks to a decent notch at the back of his head. The arms feel clumsier than those of the other Aerialbots but, functionally, there's little difference between them other than the lack of any transformation to get his shoulders into position. Despite his weird feet, he's just as stable as any of the others, and just as dynamic.

Alpha Bravo is actually a pretty good figure... but since he was clearly intended to be Blades and Vortex primarily, the question remains of why he became an Aerialbot in the first place. Since both Hasbro and Takara Tomy eventually recoloured Firefly into Slingshot/Quickslinger, what purpose was really served by creating a new Aerialbot? Still, he's a departure from the otherwise G1-slavishness of Combiner Wars, which is surely to be applauded, and his appearance does mean there are no complete duplicate molds in the default form of CW Superion. Since I have him, I really can't be bothered to seek out Quickslinger... but part of me does wish they'd used the right vehicle modes for all the Aerialbots in the first place.

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