Monday, 4 January 2016

Combiner Wars Defensor

Well, it's taken me long enough! I think Defensor was actually the first Combiner Wars gestalt I managed to complete, thanks to that whole issue of Wave 2 not getting a European release but, since I'd already started writing up Superion and his constituent parts, it felt as though Defensor sort of had to wait until I got my hands on Air Raid.

I'd originally thought that Superion was a little lacking and that Defensor seemed, on balance, to be the better prospect... But, with both complete and Superion being so good, has my opinion changed at all?

Combined Mode:
Defensor being the first (and only) Autobot gestalt I tried to complete back in the days of Generation 1, I was very much looking forward to the Combiner Wars update. The original looked pretty cool, and several Third Party companies have created their own contemporary takes on Defensor but, following on from CW Superion, my hopes for Hasbro's mainstream release were quite high. As I picked up the team and, eventually, Hot Spot, I found there weren't so many oddities in the way the components were made - all the robots had decent proportions, and the team leader worked as a 'robot in disguise', rather than being simply tagged onto the underside of a vehicle. It was also nice that the gestalt's head didn't require any modification to function properly.

The first thing that really leaps out at me when I look at Defensor is his amazingly skinny waist (which is actually the hips he shares with Hot Spot). Superion got away with it because he's made up of jets, so you tend to expect something sleek as an end result, and he uses Silverbolt's shoulders as his hips. Defensor, meanwhile, is made up of a bunch of largely quite bulky emergency vehicles. He ends up shorter than Superion by about an inch, but far bulkier regardless of limb positions because his upper torso is already so wide, any extra bulk on the sides makes him look like a real bruiser... or it would if it weren't for the massive spaces on either side of the waist. I'd hope that a Third Party company would come up with something to fill in those gaps but they're needed to allow Defensor to move his legs, so that seems unlikely.

To be honest, with this combination of limb-bots, there's no real way to make him look great - you basically have three very wide vehicles that make for very wide legs or very chunky arms, then one comparatively thin one who will end up looking odd wherever he goes. In my preferred configuration, the two bulkiest vehicles - First Aid and Rook - form legs, leaving Blades and Streetwise to be arms. The latter is still pretty wide - not to mention effectively hollow - in the forearm, but overall better than using First Aid as an arm, which appears to be the stock (G1-homaging) configuration. First Aid's bonnet pops up over one knee concealing the joint and the cab half protruding from the side, while Rook extends forward just below the exposed joint, then sinks sharply back midway down the shin. It's not exactly elegant, but it's certainly better than having Rook as an arm.

Since Groove was released as Legends class figure rather than a Deluxe, he's relegated to the position of chest armour and, contrary to a lot of fan whinging, I think he looks OK - certainly not incongruous, given the gestalt nature of the robot he attached to, and he makes Defensor that little bit less flat-looking from the sides, so I suspect much of the fan hate came from the fact that it was an unusual thing to do with a character who had previously been on equal footing with most of his team mates. In a way, it's similar to the old PowerMasters and Breast Masters, so it's not exactly unusual in the grand history of the TransFormers franchise. What's most weird about it, to me, is that the mystery of his panniers' port and peg is not solved by his combination with Defensor...

In Defensor's favour, all the joints - other than the hips - seem reasonably solid and offer decent support for posing, even with weapons. No obvious signs - thusfar - of any of the sagginess in the elbows that I've had with Superion. In fact, the only problems I have with his arms is the way the shoulders tend to clash with the vertical protrusions from the outside edges of his chest plate (this is especially bad when using Streetwise as an arm due to the way the Deluxe's arms peg into place for limb mode... Really not sure why these protrusions are there, since they serve no obvious purpose in either of Hot Spot's individual forms.

Hot Spot's pair of rifles are designed to combine - the peg on the back of one plugs into the barrel of the other. I've no idea if it's a widespread problem, but mine barely hold together. The combined weapon is far too long anyway, I think it's better just to give Defensor two separate handguns, just like the G1 version, and the guns scale just as well for the gestalt as they do for Hot Spot.

While he doesn't look quite so coherent as a single robot as Superion, the level of detail across all components is consistent enough that it all fits together fairly well. I'm not quite sure what it is that lets Defensor down in the coherence stakes as red, white and blue are common colours throughout. Perhaps it's having three mostly-white-ish limbs, then one mostly-red one...

The head sculpt is truly fantastic and, having a proper face rather than a battlemask, it's far more detailed than Superion's. Its overall shape is much the same as the G1 version, but with better proportions - still perhaps a little small for the robot as a whole, but a decent size in and of itself - and I absolutely love the 'Aviator' shades look of the eyes. Unfortunately, just like Superion's it will only rotate... but that's still far more movement than most G1 gestalt heads could manage and, given that Defensor's head has to be dismantled for Hot Spot's vehicle mode, I can well understand them not wanting to include a ball joint in the neck.

The hand/foot weapons look just as inadequate on Defensor as they did on Superion. The hands look too large and clumsy - though probably better suited than they were on Superion, not least because the fingers themselves are slightly chubbier - and the feet looking positively miniscule given the width of three out of four of his limbs. As before, they also have a detrimental effect on his poseability. Most of the problem, to be honest, is with Hot Spot's hips, which feel too weak to support a bulky 'bot like Defensor. Coupled with the loose connection of Hot Spot's lower leg on the small peg just below the hip swivel joint, the right leg has an annoying tendency to suddenly grow longer just as I'm trying to find stable footing for him, so the small, awkward footprint offered by these components just isn't good enough.

Another issue is the way the ladder wraps around the body. For the most part, it's structurally sound - the chestplate doesn't wobble or try to rotate (though the two side parts do like to come unpegged from Hot Spot's arms behind them) and the bucket plugs into the shoulders fairly securely, but the stark white patch at Defensor's crotch tends to draw the eye, and the two prongs from the base of the ladder have a habit of getting in the way of his legs (mine are actually bent out slightly, which doesn't help, but I'm not convinced that they didn't bend as a result of clashing with the legs). The planning behind Defensor was very clever, but I feel the use of a more rigid material for the base of the ladder - coupled with some additional armour, in a more appropriate colour for the area (ie. black) - would improve the look of the area.

The bottom line is that Defensor is an absolute blast, well worth picking up, but it should also be noted that Hot Spot's potential shortcomings (the leg problem, mainly) are rather more harmful to the completed gestalt than were those of Silverbolt... And if either of them were crying out for the Perfect Effect upgrade treatment, it's Defensor.

I do still think it's a little weird that Hasbro/Takara Tomy are literally just rebooting Generation 1 with the Combiner Wars line - it really is a continuation of Classics, etc - rather that trying to create something new. I guess it's a fairly clever move in some respects - making the line appeal to those kids who may only just be discovering the 1980s cartoon thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, as well as the adult collectors who watched it on TV in their youth - but part of me does wonder if it's also a bit of a missed opportunity. G1 branched out into Technobots, Terrorcons, Seacons and Predacons, while Combiner Wars seems intent on recycling the same set of terrestrial vehicles with a few shell modifications and new heads. That's not to say I think updating the Technobots, Terrorcons, Seacons and Predacons is necessarily a good idea - I do own the G1 Terrorcons and Seacons but, in retrospect, they seem more than a little silly in the context of Generation 1 - but some themed gestalts that aren't just upgraded Optimus Primes can hardly be a bad thing.

Roll on Bruticus... though I'm currently planning to hold out for news of the Unite Warriors version. I'd like to see the Alpha Bravo/Blades/Vortex mold retooled into a shuttle (seems to me that'd be the easiest way of doing it, rather than designing an entirely new model). After that, I'm only really planning to pick up Sky Lynx, because he looks kind of cool (if weird), but I do have Unite Warriors Grand Galvatron on preorder, so there should be quite a bit more Combiner Wars stuff on this blog in 2016...

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