Sunday, 21 February 2016

iGear Con Air Raptor Squadron IG-C01 Star-Burst

IGear don't have the best reputation among the third parties (and, at the moment, seem to be entirely out of action) with some truly awful products in their back-catalogue, as well as some blatant rip-offs (specifically the customised Masterpiece Seekers which were 'acquired' by iGear for not-quite-mass production, and their 'Faith Leader', a downscaled MP01). As well as their (as far as I know) wholly original mini-bot remakes, they released a set of larger-scaled Seekers and Coneheads (designed by Cassy Sark, after Guido Guidi's updated Seeker design for the IDW comics) which were just as divisive as their other products.

Now I have a set of the Seekers, I honestly can't understand why...

Packaging:
When the Raptor Squadron trio arrived at my office, I figured they'd been packaged in an oversized box for shipping, but it turned out they're just far larger than I'd expected them to be. Each box is about 30cm x 25cm x 11cm (approx 12" x 10" x 4.5") and that turned out to be a pretty reasonable size for the contents.

Emblazoned on all but one side with an Expendables-inspired 'Con Air Raptor Squadron' logo, the outer boxes are glossy and nicely printed. The front shows CGI of 'Star-Burst' (thankfully neither of the others are named after chewy sweets) in both jet and robot mode, while the back shows a sort of blueprint-style image of both modes, featuring a generic, battlemasked head on the robot, as well as a second head off to one side with a set of bombs (which, sadly, are not included). There's also an extended bio which makes this Starscream out to be partly G1 and partly TF Animated, with reference to his immortality in this new shell, though no explanation of how he achieved it other than 'experimental upgrades'.

Inside the box, as well as the jet, there's a set of weapons - two null rays, two dual missile racks - a replacement head, a display stand for jet mode, as well as a bio card and instruction leaflet. Aside from the inclusion of the display stand, it's a bit no frills, but it serves its purpose.


Vehicle Mode:
When IDW took on the TransFormers comics, one of the first things they did was turn the Seekers into jets that were rather more contemporary than the traditional F-15. While the fans continue to debate the relative merits of the F-15, the F-22 and the F-35, iGear aren't the only people who think Seekers look good as F-22s, as that's the form Starscream took in the first three TransFormers live action movies, albeit in a real-world colourscheme rather than his traditional red, white and blue, and with mixed success as toys. IDW's take later morphed into the F-22/F-15 hybrid which eventually got adapted into the Combiner Wars Leader class figure, but iGear's take is mostly pure F-22 with very few embellishments.

The first thing that struck me about this jet - especially compared to any of the movie Starscream toys - is how slim a jet it makes. The construction is halfway between an upscaled Classics Seeker and one of the Masterpiece versions, with the front end looking fairly true to life, the mid-section showing off the robot's torso on the underside and the back section deepening rather than slimming out toward the afterburners. It's also rather obvious that the flap-things below the strangely quadrangular afterburners are the robot's feet. The front two thirds of the jet look pretty convincing from most angles, but that back end is far too large below the wing line, and even slopes up very slightly above the wing line. Some of it is disguised by the tail fins, but the gentle upward slope is still easily discernible.

The colourscheme is more G1 animation that G1 toy, with a fairly light blue - not quite vivid enough to be called Royal blue - and a rather flat red adding a bit of visual interest to the otherwise pale grey/off-white plastic. The red plastic exhibits signs of some vague kind of shimmery component, but neither the colour nor the shimmer are quite vibrant enough - it's the equivalent of a Hasbro tomato red rather than a Takara Tomy rich, bold scarlet. There's not a massive amount of paintwork - the wings carry simple red and white stripes, the tail fins have the same (curiously, only on the insides, which feels like an error) while the cockpit is outlined with silver, the two raised intake things behind the cockpit have dashes of matte black paint and the ridged areas on the underside, either side of the nose (that is, where a real F-22's intakes would be) have been painted silver.

One very nice feature of jet mode is that it has three sets of deployable landing wheels which do actually roll. Not necessarily very well, as they're basically plastic dumbbells in c-clips, and their central core seems to be uneven, but it's cool that all three wheels can be deployed to stand him evenly on any flat surface.

Weapons-wise, there are four 5mm ports on the underside of each wing, so Star-Burst can carry his missile racks (nicely molded, but entirely unpainted) and his null ray guns in a variety of configurations... None of which are remotely true to life because the F-22 stores most of its missiles internally. I was disappointed to find that the bombs depicted on the box weren't included, but it's not a massive loss as Star-Burst has all of Starscream's traditional weapons. I wonder if the surfeit of sockets means the bombs were, at one time, intended to be included...

The set also includes a 2-part display stand for jet mode (that is to say, I've yet to find any way to make it work for robot mode). A vertical support plugs into a rotating section in the base and must then be sandwiched between the robot's legs, just below the knee. It's an extremely tight fit, and I've not been able to mount the jet on the stand without the legs remaining a millimetre or so apart because the pegs just don't go far enough into the legs, but it's a good, solid connection and allows the jet to be positioned at almost any angle, with only a slight wobble. I'm not sure why the base features a rotating section as the whole base is easy enough to position, but it's well-constructed and a nice addition to the set.


Robot Mode:
In this form, Star-Burst is a clear and impressive homage to Guido Guidi's design, albeit with a few subtle changes. I like the way the wings transform into a more G1-accurate shape, then split open for a slightly more unique silhouette. The chest is essentially a blending of Guidi's design with G1 and Classics (and with slightly disturbingly protrude-y turbine nipples), while the rest of the torso is designed to look like the irregular, interlocking panels of Guidi's Seekers, as allowed by the necessities of the jet mode.

One thing that was frequently complained about when images of iGear's Seekers first appeared online was the apparent thinness of the arms. This appears to be largely in service of transformation, but I honestly don't find them disproportionately small, just comparatively so, when looking at things like the Classics version or even the Masterpiece versions both of which, let's face it, had rather unnecessarily blocky arms to better resemble the old G1 animation model. Sandwiched between the shoulder joints and the bicep swivel is the mounting point for weapons - another 5mm socket which can, itself, rotate around the arm.

The distribution of colour is all very traditional, with the rather anaemic red across much of the torso and on part of the hip joint, then white for the majority of other parts with blue coming in for the feet, shin details, kneecaps, forearms and hands, with additional touches peeking out from the shoulders and knee joints. Paintwork is as minimal in robot mode as it was in jet mode, with dark, glossy grey picking out the chest turbines, spots of off-white at the waist where a mixture of plastic colours is used, silver on the kneecaps and blue on the raised shin details into which the landing gear is stowed. Considering the amount of molded detail a touch more paint - perhaps a dark wash over the off-white plastic and the chest panel - or the use of more vibrant plastic colours would have helped. What paintwork there is, is all crisp and cleanly applied but, in terms of quantity, it's no better than a Hasbro toy.

Right on the centre of the upper chest (just behind the cockpit, in other words), is a slightly indented section whose size and shape are just crying out for a Decepticon insignia to be applied. It's a neat touch that looks perfectly innocuous in jet mode, yet its true purpose is obvious in robot mode.

Either the null ray guns or the missile pods can be mounted on his arms, but the latter look rather too small and don't really fit the traditional image of Starscream. The null ray guns are very nicely molded and in proportion to the rest of the robot, but the connection peg seemed rather too far back when I first saw them. Given that the mounting is right at the top of the arm, just below the shoulder block, the peg position turned out to be ideal, allowing his arms to move freely without the back end of the guns ever coming into conflict with the shoulders or the wings, unlike the massive spring-loaded bricks of the Classics Seekers.

Now to the downside: the head sculpt on this is truly dire. Well, that's not entirely fair - the head is OK, the face is awful. Between its high but tiny 'cheekbones' and the robo-chin-bump, the face is basically a featureless concave surface apart from the nose and a very amateurishly cut mouth. Two different head fronts are provided, one with a bland expression, one with a terrible attempt at Starscream's trademark smirk. Neither are especially effective, but at least the smirk is an attempt at a face resembling Starscream. The back of the head is molded in translucent plastic, but the eyes are painted over with opaque red, removing any potential it had for light piping.

My only other gripe is that, fully transformed into robot mode, the chest still looks amazingly gappy because the arms require more (or different) space to the cockpit area of the nose. Even so, I'm sure the red chest panel could have been molded closer to the cockpit area, particularly above the chest turbines.


One of the weirdest things about transformation - other than the woefully inadequate instruction sheet, which shows you a 'before' image for each step and frequently fails to explain how to actually get to the next step - is that the instructions appear to recommend the removal of the wings. It's not absolutely necessary - he can be transformed fully with them still attached - but it highlights that they are designed to be removed to facilitate transformation. Most of the transformation is simple and predictable, though the nose of the jet folds down and feeds through into the chest from the back, rather than the front, despite the chest opening up completely. I've found the arms rather difficult to transform, though not because the step is in any way confusing, just that the arms get in each other's way on their way out, and then don't lock into position once deployed. The legs are also notably stiffer than I'd expected, to the point that I initially thought I was missing some sort of release catch to allow them to extend. Most parts come together quite nicely in both modes, but the chest plate really doesn't like to stay in place, popping out most frequently on the left side, but sometimes on the right as well.

Like most third party products, the articulation on Star-Burst is excellent, with a great range of movement on most joints. The feet are a little limited, despite being on ball joints, as their movement is useful mainly for transformation rather than changing his stance. The knees are double-jointed but, since the thighs don't move that far forward, and he has an awful lot of wing/fin conflict on his back, it's difficult to really make use of that feature. There's an upper thigh swivel, and full waist rotation, though the wings can get in the way of the latter. In the upper body, the shoulders are on very stiff ratchets for their outward movement, but swing back and forward easily and smoothly, while the elbows are double-jointed with a slight curve to the hinge so Star-Burst's elbow looks mostly natural in just about any position. The fact that the shoulders don't peg into place for robot mode also means the transformation joint gives a touch more movement to the shoulders, almost allowing him to cross his arms. The wrists are on ball joints which, curiously, allow the hand to angle into a 'sword thrust' position... making me wonder if there was meant to be some sort of melée weapon accessory at some point. The mobile 5mm port on the arms further assists, allowing for a greater range of more natural firing poses. The model poses quite well and seems very stable, though I wonder if the lower legs actually needed to be as massive as they are to ensure a stable footprint. Aside from the stiff shoulders, the only problem with my Star-Burst is a slightly loose left hip, though this doesn't seem to affect his stability or his ability to hold a pose.

When I first got Star-Burst out of the box, I had trouble getting the wings to align and properly connect at the front and the back, the thigh flaps didn't want to plug in to fully solidify the top of the jet, and the legs kept popping apart as I tried to remedy either issue. Now I'm more used to this figure, it all goes together much more smoothly and feels very sturdy. While I love the Masterpiece Seeker mold (the original more than the update), I've always been troubled by it's slightly wobbly lower legs. This version, with its stiff but smooth extension, feels far more solid. Since buying these, I've read loads of complaints about the head sculpt (with which I agree wholeheartedly) and about the 'thin arms'. I don't quite know what to make of that, because they look fine to me and, if they'd been bulkier, they would have needed a larger space in the chest cavity to store.

The collectors' card is a bit of a puzzle - it has the standard eight bar graph entries on the back, then a massive empty space before the Con Air Raptor Squadron logo, making me think there was, at some point, going to be a text bio included. Bushwacker at least fills the space with a blueprint effect wireframe image of the robot and vehicle modes and, while this card does have a wireframe of the jet, it's faded to the point of being almost invisible, leaving this card looking unfinished.

In some ways, this feels like an underachieving model - it's very solid and nicely sculpted (bar the head), but it's also very simplistic, very much 'upgraded Classics' rather than 'downgraded Masterpiece'. All the more strange considering its rather long development time (initially announced in early 2013, it finally appeared mid-2014) Its scale is annoyingly random - larger than a Voyager from just about any TransFormers toyline, but far smaller than the Masterpiece jets - so it wouldn't really fit with any official TransFormers toys, even if it had a more suitable head sculpt. Jet mode looks phenomenal - easily one of the best interpretations of an F-22 - so I wish Hasbro would sit up and take notice, if only to give us a realistic contemporary Deluxe, rather than the Jetfire remolds they released as Leader class Seekers under the Combiner Wars banner. It's also - being a Third Party figure - very expensive, particularly since it's now only available on the secondary market. Still, on balance, it's an excellent interpretation of Starscream, and I'm very pleased to have it in my collection... But I'm also very keen to find a replacement head at some point.

4 comments:

  1. I thought I saw heads for these guys on ShapewaYs.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jason! I'd heard about replacement heads on one of the fan forums, but they were only made to order, and I didn't find out about them in time. I still search Shapeways every once in a while, but no luck so far... But if you find them again, let me know!

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  2. I will keep an eye out and let you know if I find anything. Once I have one of them or one of the spare heads I may be able to talk to a few friends and get them to make them. Still hoping to get 3 or 6 of them myself since they scale so well with Hegemon. I have the 3 new Leader size seekers and a spare Jetfire and I'm hoping to find someone willing to trade or trade plus cash. Lol

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    Replies
    1. Much obliged, Jason! iGear's interpretations of the Seekers are only let down by the heads... just about anything would be in improvement.

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