Thursday, 24 March 2016

Robots in Disguise Dreadwind & Smokejumper

While overlapping continuities are positively de rigueur now that Hasbro has separated the TransFormers brand into age groups and whole new branches of the toyline open up whenever a movie is released, it was fairly unusual about ten years ago. Nevertheless, around the time Robots in Disguise/Car Robots was phased out in favour of Armada, Hasbro decided to re-release a 1994 Generation 2 set as a swan song for RiD.

This is one of those odd situations where I don't remember exactly how/where I came to buy this... but I'm going to have to assume I picked it up loose because, according to my research, there's something not quite right about the set.

Flight Mode:
G2 and RiD/Car Robots were notable for some pretty massive toys for the time and, with a 30cm (12") wingspan, Dreadwind can be counted among them. That said, being a Stealth Bomber, there isn't much mass to him beyond the central section of the 'flying wing' design. It's loosely based on the B2 Spirit, but rather more angular and chunky, with a couple of large blocks of robot leg hanging off the bottom serving as landing pontoons, the robot's arms laying back over the top of the craft masquerading as jet intakes, and the pointed tail replaced with what could be a massive afterburner. Also, rather than presenting surfaces as smooth as possible, there's an awful lot of fairly deep detailing on this mode, including three sets of vent-like slots on each wing, and another set either side of the cockpit. This is probably not the stealthiest of Stealth aircraft. There's no way to collapse the afterburner further into the body of the jet because of its dual role as a massive underslung Gatling-style missile launcher. Below and either side of the afterburner, a set of jet-like details is molded onto the backs of the robot's legs.

The colourscheme is mostly olive drab, but split between a darker, pearlised version and a flat, paler version, with touches of grey plastic visible here and there. One of my favourite things about this toy is the inclusion of light piping which is essentially specific to vehicle mode: the band of translucent red plastic on the leading edge of his wings is illuminated by any light coming in through the cockpit or the red buttons on the tops of his wings. It's not especially effective, but it's the thought that counts. Prettying up Dreadwind - and further breaking up the plastic colours - are some good quality stickers which add details in black, red and purple. They don't entirely fit with the rest of the jet, but at least the red details complement the attempted light piping and the cockpit windows.

Given that Dreadwind does combine with Smokejumper in this mode, the massive open area on his back is just about forgivable but it means that, in himself, Dreadwind looks incomplete. It occurred to me, as I was taking the photos, that only a few small changes would have been required to the design of this toy to allow the robot's legs to occupy the space at the back, slimming his silhouette considerably and allowing him to look whole without being combined with his partner. The legs could then attach externally for his ground mode and combined mode. Maybe, one day, there will be an update for this... Perhaps in 2018, for the 25th Anniversary of Generation 2?

The 'not quite right' thing about this toy relates to the missiles included: this set should have had 14 missiles, and I only have 12, but also they're meant to be grey rather than blue. It really should have occurred to me that something was adrift as there's no blue plastic anywhere else on the model, so I can only conclude that he had his missiles swapped with those of the Robot Masters Gigant Bomb & Smokesniper. It makes no difference to me, but I know some Collectors would object. The missiles can mount (loosely) on the undersides of the wings and are deployed at the rather satisfying touch of a translucent red button. This is precisely the kind of feature that could have been remolded to function with a single Mini-Con port on each wing, so such a late release in an otherwise defunct toyline is made even more strange when the mold could have been 'upgraded' to fit the new. The afterburner/underslung launcher is quite brilliant - six missiles are plugged into the front, then launched in anticlockwise sequence by twisting the rear end clockwise (turning it anticlockwise elicits a clicking sound, but has no other effect). This appears to be a kind of friction-based launcher, and fires the missiles more strongly than the spring-loaded launchers for Smokejumper - roughly twice the distance in my lounge experiments.

Ground Mode:
I don't know what it is about this vehicle, but it looks somehow aquatic to me... Perhaps it's the subtly boat-like underside of the main body and the extremely dubious 'tank treads' that emerge from the jet's landing pontoons at the touch of a button. Having the wings fold up over the sides of the main body seems a bit pointless as it renders the bomb-deploying buttons redundant though, to a small degree, from the sides, it does disguise the fact that the cannon sticks out of the back of the vehicle on a great, long, thin arm.

But, when I described the tank treads as dubious, it's not due to a lack of molded detail - it's very well done and at least two of the six screws are cleverly incorporated into the design, as the hubs of the front and rear wheels. The trouble is there's no paintwork at all, nor any stickers, so the uniform grey of the section leaves it looking decidedly poor. That's the great shame of this model - all of the stickers service the jet mode, with some remaining visible in robot mode, while tank mode looks weird and very, very plain.

One thing I quite like about the treads is that they deploy via another spring-loaded mechanism - a small, grey button at the back of the jet's landing pontoons allows them to flip open, revealing the new detailing. It doesn't automatically fasten into place - in fact, the clip has to be forced into its final position, and the connection is very secure - but it's a neat trick.

Robot Mode:
These days, a chunky green character tends to be Bulkhead (except when it's Hound) so, strangely perhaps, this guy makes me feel a little nostalgic for the time before Classics/Universe/Generations, when there seemed to be a bit more creative freedom in the design and naming of characters. It's also interesting that, these days, toy designers strive to make the more 'obese' robots look slim (see AoE Hound and the mainline release of TF Prime Bulkhead) when, back in G2 days, 'slim' almost wasn't an option. That said, bulky he may be, but he's also a bit of a floppy mess. The spring-loaded wings clatter about on his back, the armour on his forearms is connected by the most tenuous, cheap-looking clips and the torso doesn't peg together in any meaningful way, just like one of the G2 Cyberjets. With no heel spurs, his balance is well and truly off, so he has to be leaned forward to counteract the extreme back-heaviness, leaving his profile looking very awkward.

One thing that becomes clear is that all those details that make his Stealth Bomber mode less believable are wholly in service of making his robot mode more visually interesting - had the jet been as smooth as the real thing, he'd have a dull and featureless torso. And, let's face it, this is a toy of a transforming alien robot, so there's already plenty of artistic license in his design.

Colourwise, there's now a far better balance between the two olive shades and the grey but, with most of the stickers now either partially obscured or simply hidden on his back, he suddenly looks quite plain. He has a couple of stickers still visible on his arm-mounted armour panels, but the only other decoration is the Decepticon insignia stamped on the roof of his cockpit crotch. Most versions of this mold were lacking in robot-centred paintwork, though, so the only thing to choose between them is the colourscheme.

The massive missile launcher gets perched behind his right shoulder in robot mode and, while it's meant to clip in loosely to his back, doing so restricts its rotation. The difference made by leaving it slightly out of true is essentially invisible, and means the launcher can be directed left or right as well as being tilted up or down though, obviously, the downward tilt is limited by his body.

The head sculpt is very bare-bones - it's precisely the kind of blobby, dome-like bonce that would have been right at home in the Armada toyline, but it's also entirely unpainted. The only thing that makes it interesting is the large, light-piped visor, which managed to channel a heck of a lot of light whichever direction it moves.

Vehicle Mode:
Cast in the same dark olive, light olive, grey and translucent red plastic as his partner, Smokejumper only has a couple of stickers on each of his tailfins, making him very plain compared to Dreadwind... which is really saying something. Unlike some of the earlier - and later - G2 Cyberjet-derived figures, it's not entirely clear what's supposed to propel him through the air, but I'd guess it's the closed-up robot feet, functioning as afterburners. Between them, the rear surface of the jet is almost featureless, with certainly nothing that suggests engines. The top surface of the jet is packed with all the panel line detailing one tends to expect from this sort of thing, and the profile of the jet is typically chunky below the wing line. The nose seems strangely flat - there's not much of it below the cockpit - which further exaggerates the proportions of the jet.

Below the unfeasibly tiny wings a pair of spring-loaded missile launchers attach, covering up the robot's exceedingly incomplete-looking legs, but further bulking out the plane. This thing looks like it was built for speed in a straight line, though it has some superficial similarities to a sci-fi interpretation of an F-22 that's had its wings clipped - obviously to facilitate his combination with Dreadwing.

Smokejumper comes with the usual complement of three retractable, non-rolling landing gear, and the rear two actually lock in place rather than just staying put due to friction. The wheels offer good ground clearance, but they do somewhat emphasise the bulkiness of the underside of the jet.

Taking the place of wings, to an extent, Smokejumper's two spring-loaded missile launchers use the same missiles as Dreadwind's launcher, but with the traditional sprung clip arrangement. They seem far too large for the jet, suggesting that they'd also be too large for the robot, but if one assumes that this is some kind of spacecraft rather than a terrestrial jet, it's actually a pretty good look - Dreadwind and Smokejumper wouldn't look out of place in a 2-player shoot 'em up arcade game. The launchers have some nice details molded on the insides but perfectly smooth outer panels, giving the impression of weapons encased in armour. The spring mechanism isn't as powerful as Dreadwind's launcher, but that probably makes them marginally safer.

Robot Mode:
For the upper half, there's nothing out of the ordinary about Smokejumper other than how slim he is. The arms might be slightly boxier than some Cyberjet-derived figures, but his overall look from most angles is pretty average. From the hips down, changes are visible. The hips themselves look as though they were molded backwards, as a protrusion on the inner side gives him a permanently bow-legged stance. To compensate, his legs straighten out at the knee, but the lower legs look as though something is missing on both the outer and the inner sides - the former, because that's where his weapons attach in jet mode, the latter, while featuring some interesting, deeply-recessed detail, gives him the look of a very bare-bones figure. In terms of proportions, Smokejumper is probably one of the better humanoid robots - the arms seem to be the right sort of length, given that his hands end up at hip level, and the legs are about the right thickness for their length. The only point I'd question is the size of the head, but TransFormers toys often have disproportionately small heads to ensure they can be stowed away in their vehicle modes.

He's not the most detailed of robots, indeed his 'hands' are little more than sockets with molded thumbs (I realised only after taking these photos that the forearms had been attached to the wrong arms - with the thumbs on the outsides - not that it makes any difference). The arms feature a small but effective amount of detail, though it's all crying out for a touch of paint, or maybe a couple more stickers

The two spring-loaded missile launchers do indeed look too big for Smokejumper - with the missiles loaded, they're almost as long as he is tall - but, somehow, it suits the look of the robot. The elbows, being very simple friction joints, aren't great for holding the guns up, but that's to be expected - just about every Cyberjet-derived figure I own has this problem on at least one elbow. It seems odd that most of the detail on the weapons ends up on their undersides when held in his hands, particularly a part which could be taken to be a laser sight, but some folks do mount a laser sight underneath the barrel of their handguns, so it's not unprecedented. Interestingly, I've seen photos and artwork where the launchers are underslung on his forearms and, while the sight does plug into a convenient slot on the backs of the tailfins, the fit isn't so good that it seems intentional - had the sight been longer, the fit would have been a lot more secure but, as it is, it's actually pretty tenuous.

The head sculpt looks surprisingly like Optimus Prime considering this mold has only ever been used as a Decepticon. The circular details either side of the faceplate even resemble similarly-placed protrusions on Powermaster Optimus Prime/Super Ginrai, and the large central crest flanked by antennae couldn't be more Optimus Prime if it tried. Like Dreadwind's head, it's molded in grey and features no paint... but it does have the advantage of some of the fiercest light piping I've seen on a toy this size, despite a comparatively small area of input.

Combined Form - Dreadwing:
Unlike most combiners, before and since, Dreadwind and Smokejumper combine in vehicle mode rather than robot mode, to create a marginally different but far less gappy-looking Stealth Bomber with an underslung missile launcher. Could it fly? Highly doubtful. Does it look awesome? Oh yes.

One oddity of this design is that Dreadwind only has two deploying landing wheels, and they're in the robot leg chunks/landing pontoons beneath either side of the main body. With the cannon occupying the space in which one would normally expect to find a front landing wheel, Dreadwing is reduced to balancing on a protrusion from the base of the cannon and the two wheels below his wings. It works well enough, just looks extremely daft considering how high off the ground he ends up.

Also interesting about the design of this pair is that Smokejumper connects in via a clip on the underside of his nose and a catch just behind Dreadwind's cockpit. Removing Smokejumper then releases the catches holding Dreadwind's wings in place, starting the transformation to his ground mode.

Ah... I see you thought I was joking when I said I'd be trying this with just about any aircraft TransFormer... Come on, you must surely know me better by now. The only reason I didn't bother with Armada Thundercracker is that the closest thing he can achieve to a GERWALK mode is his robot mode - once the legs are in a position that can actually balance him, his head has automatically popped up. These two are awkward, certainly, as there are some weird restrictions on the movement of their legs leaving both standing nose up. The barely-there wings on Smokejumper don't help his look and Dreadwind's cannon has to hang off the back to distribute his mass more evenly but, for figures that were never intended to have GERWALK modes, they do a halfway decent job...

Dreadwind is an interesting case where spring-loaded 'Automorph'-style features get in the way of fluid transformation, as certain parts have to be dealt with in a very specific order. In fact, given that the spring-loaded movement of the wings is activated by the removal of Smokejumper from his rear, you basically have to start from Dreadwing mode or 'tank' mode to achieve robot mode at all: releasing the wings also releases the cockpit section to become the chest. Some of his construction feels cheap and sloppy despite the design being quite accomplished, overall. It's particularly irritating that his chest doesn't peg into place as his shoulder ratchets are quite tough, meaning that moving his arms invariably lifts his chest up. Smokejumper, meanwhile, is as rickety as the average Cyberjet - particularly with his floppy shoulders that don't peg into his body - but has a few extra joints versus the average G2 figure, including the lateral hinge just below the knee, responsible for his bow-legged stance, and sort-of articulated feet, in that they're two hinged parts, front and back. The essentials of the transformation remain unchanged, though the rear section of the jet does feel alarmingly brittle versus some of the older figures. Like his partner, his torso doesn't peg securely into place at the front, though it does (sort of) at the back, making the omission all the more glaring.

In theory, both are fairly well articulated but, in practice, both have strangely restricted hips - both look as though they should be more mobile than they actually are. Additionally, the knees on Dreadwind tend toward floppiness so, while he can - eventually - achieve some decent poses, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to get there, and the armour panels on his forearms conspire to clash with the elbow, upper arm and wings quite a bit. On the upside, the transformation joint at the shoulder means he's one of very few TransFormers toys who can actually cross their arms. His biggest problem, though, is that lack of any meaningful heel. Dreadwind is very back heavy, even with the cannon deployed over his shoulder, so he often has to be leaned forward, with his thighs angled back and his lower legs bent forward at the knee to balance him. Meanwhile, Smokejumper's knees have a habit of bowing inward at the least provocation, with surprisingly limited range in their bend and, as mentioned above, the arms don't actually connect to the body at the shoulder - a common feature of the Cyberjet mold that continued to plague later toylines. One of his elbows is particularly floppy due to weird plastic tolerance issues, but the shoulders and bicep swivel permit a good range of expressive poses.

Given that Hasbro weren't averse to retooling existing toys to add Mini-Con ports, it seems strange that this set was simply rereleased in a new colourscheme in what was, by 2003, a defunct toyline, rather than being upgraded to fit in with the new. Aside from some weird joint design, floppiness and the abiding feeling that it really wouldn't take much to break either of these, they're actually remarkably good fun to play with. This duo were released in three different flavours aside from this one: G2 Dreadwing & Smokescreen, Takara's Beast Wars Second BB & Starscream and Robot Masters Gigant Bomb and Smokesniper (this latter being the only instance where the pair were sold separately) and, honestly, I think I picked the least interesting option, both in terms of the colourscheme and the stickers. They may be a little basic, underachieving and behind the times these days but, for their time and for what they are, they're a decent pair of TransFormers.

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