Sunday, 12 March 2017

Titans Return Hot Rod & Firedrive

It should come as no surprise that, when the Classics line came along in 2006, certain characters from TransFormers: The Movie - set in 2005/6 - featured quite prominently. Hot Rod - rebranded as Rodimus, no doubt for complex legal reasons - was one of the very first releases, and the mold was reused about a billion times over the years, twice by the Collectors' Club, and most recently appearing in a Platinum Edition boxed set. It was a decent mold for the time, but certainly not one of the best... and plenty of people have been wanting a proper Deluxe class update of G1 Hot Rod for a good few years, given that we have two Masterpiece versions as well as interpretations for other continuities (though surprisingly not TF Prime where, arguably, Smokescreen took his role).

Cut to Titans Return, where Hasbro is basically reliving their glory days once again by rebooting the entire Classics line, and remaking quite a few characters who received adequate toys ten years ago, but are now considered ripe for updating into the latest part of the continuing Generations line... and, finally, we have a Hot Rod named Hot Rod rather than some variation of Rodimus...

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing that struck me when I first saw images if this toy is how similar it seemed to be to the Masterpiece versions - it's certainly more like the G1 animation model than the earlier Classics figure, all sweeping curves rather than the comparatively angular figure from 2006 and a massive improvement on the fudged boxiness of the G1 toy. It also follows Hasbro's more recent tradition of making Hot Rod red - and what an uncharacteristically full-on scarlet it is! - rather than his traditional burgundy/mauve mix. I have no problem with this decision in and of itself, since Hot Rod - both the character and the toy - tends to work equally well in a fully saturated red, a more muted, darker colour or even the Shattered Glass-style black-and-purple. The central portion of the bonnet gets a coat of its traditional orange, though it's quite a flat, almost pastel orange rather than the metallic look of the G1 toy's bonnet sticker. Equally traditional is the yellow flame pattern, here in a bright, no-nonsense yellow that blends a little too well with the orange. It's a shame that the orange paint didn't extend to the outer sections of the bonnet, where the recessed area extends back just beyond the start of the canopy as the red edges as I find that the areas of 'missing' colour draw the eye. The headlights are also picked out in the same orange, cleverly referencing that the headlights on the G1 toy were actually protrusions from the orange plastic behind the burgundy bonnet. Below these, while the vehicle is too sleek to feature a bumper of any kind, it does have a couple of blocks of grey paint - more for robot mode, to be honest - and the two diminutive grilles in the middle have been painted over in glossy black. The wheels are unpainted black plastic, but that's becoming the norm with TransFormers toys these days, and one of the rear wheels on mine doesn't spin very well - likely because of a plastic burr.

The spoiler is a curious piece - it's very heavily painted, and it seems as though there's a silver undercoat beneath the thick yellow paint, obscuring the colour of the base plastic. If I had to guess, it's the same translucent blue as the cockpit, giving it something very strangely in common with the Masterpiece figure and it's heavily painted (and scratch-prone) spoiler. On the upside, the sculpted detail may be sparse, but it's deep enough that the paint doesn't flatten it out entirely... and this may well be the first Hot Rod whose spoilers actually feature sculpted flap details. I'm guessing the spoiler ate up most of the paint budget, as the vehicle is otherwise quite plain.

Probably my favourite aspect of this toy is that, for once, the back end is pretty much entirely enclosed. Both the Classics version and the TF Animated version had large, open spaces in the central portion of their tail ends. While the former occupied the space with his handgun, doubling as an afterburner, and the latter left it empty, this version features two large, grey engine vents and a single afterburner in between. Coupled with his traditional (albeit not painted, let alone chromed) long exhaust pipes running more than half his length down each side, Hot Rod looks like a vehicle with a ridiculously powerful engine... even though the visible portion, protruding from the bonnet, is less prominent than on any other version. Naturally, there's no paintwork on the back end, so the lights and smaller vent details either side of the large, grey vents are allowed to blend in to the otherwise plain back, with only the larger grey vents standing out either side of the prominent, but conspicuously unpainted afterburner.

Unlike virtually every other Hot Rod toy, the canopy of the Titans Return version actually opens, allowing Firedrive to sit inside a cockpit which is well sculpted, albeit with massive gaps and pits surrounding it, as well as a sad lack of paintwork to bring out the console details. The cockpit is a good, snug fit - not too difficult to get Firedrive in or out, and he stays in pretty securely even with the canopy up. What's odd about the canopy is that it features clearly defined structural details indicating that there are three separate windows in a framework... but the paintwork largely ignores this, attempting - for no obvious reason - to give the impression of a single-piece, wraparound canopy.

In yet another callback to the G1 toy and the Masterpiece, there are a couple of slots cut out of the silver-painted engine block to allow his two pistols - tabbed together - to peg in and provide Firedrive, or any other Titan Master figure, an alternative role as Hot Rod's vehicle mode gunner - after all, unlike some other Titan Master weapons, Hot Rod's guns clearly cannot function as an autonomous vehicle for his partner. Alternatively, or for those Titan Masters who like car-surfing, Hot Rod features two well-spaced pegs just in front of the spoiler.

Robot Mode:
Like virtually all of the post-Diaclone G1 TransFormers, Hot Rod got a bit of a bum deal in toy form - the character model from the animated movie was every inch the superhero, with the appearance of knee-length grey boots, red pants over an orange onesie and a large flame emblem around the Autobot insignia on his chest. I mean, I know Marvel were producing the TransFormers comics in those days, but the character model for Hot Rod couldn't have been a more blatant homage to the garish costumes of the more traditional comic book adventurers that made Marvel's name. Trouble was, while he looked all cool and dynamic on screen, that sort of design is all but impossible to translate into three dimensional transforming plastic figures, as the Masterpiece sadly demonstrates all too well. Classics Hot Rod was decent for its time, and certainly better than the G1 toy... but it was comparatively clumsy and blocky even for the time - and none of the mainstream homage characters were ever really as svelte as a Hot Rod toy needed to be. TF Animated came close, emphasising his heroic physique with the sort of massive upper half more frequently seen in Bruce Timm's work than Derrick J. Wyatt's.

This figure strikes a better balance except inasmuch as, to my eyes, quite a few Titans Return figures seem to have comparatively short legs. I suspect the proportions are actually far more humanoid than most, and it's just in comparison that he looks odd because so many TransFormers toys have miniscule thighs and enormous shins. One feature I rather like about Hot Rod's legs is the way the lower sections are molded with a subtle flaring toward the ankles, resembling both the G1 toy and the character's appearance in the Marvel Comics series back in the day. The thighs are perhaps not so intricately sculpted as those of some Combiner Wars figures but, given the need for the overall appearance of bulk, I appreciate the spring-detailed bone-like structure in the cavernous interior. While I'm sure everyone would have preferred his thighs to look solid, this feels like a halfway decent compromise.

What really confuses the issue of his overall silhouette is the massive arms - they just look too damned long because the shoulders stick so far up above the actual joint, and because of the vehicle panels protruding from his wrists. The hands seem to hang down into approximately the right position relative to his thighs, and it probably wouldn't look quite so bad were it not for the fact that the tops of his shoulders are a little over half an inch above the top of his head. The excessive arms also cause what some feel to be the most significant problem for this incarnation of Hot Rod: the fact that his spoiler is barely visible in robot mode. This has always been such an important factor  Hot Rod's aesthetic that I am genuinely surprised at such an obvious design flaw... and all it would have needed to correct it would to just shave about 5mm off each end of the spoiler - after all, the spoiler didn't need to be wider than the vehicle body. Failing that, a more swept-back style of spoiler might have done the job just as well.

TR Hot Rod is predominantly red and orange in robot mode, with flat grey sections on the tips of his shoulders, and a silver detail on each shin blending well with the metallic/pearlised plastic of his knees and feet. The use of both grey and silver seems strange, as one could easily replace the other in all instances. I very much suspect that the Takara Tomy version, when it finally surfaces, will feature silver painted/chromed exhausts and grey/brown shins to better match the G1 version's on-screen appearance, but this is one of a few occasions that I don't actually object to Hasbro's version. I might have preferred a bit more paintwork on the arms and legs but, thanks to the vibrant red plastic, he doesn't look plain by any means - and I certainly wouldn't want anything like the bonkers, multi-colour tech-detailing stickers of the G1 toy - but there's some decent sculpted detail on the figure that isn't immediately apparent due to the lack of supporting paintwork.

The HeadMaster noggin appears to be lacking some paint applications to the helmet going by some of the pre-production images, though the differences could be more the fault of the CGI as the images showing the paint requirements of the figure don't indicate any paint on the helmet. The face is painted the same flat grey as the panels on the shoulders and, while silver might have looked better, the G1 toy's face was also painted flat grey. The overall look of the face could easily be Rodimus Prime rather than Hot Rod, as he looks so grim and serious, but I gather a unique Rodimus Prime Titan Master is  in the works...

The original G1 Hot Rod came packaged with two 'photon lasers' and, while it's not expressly stated anywhere, it could be assumed that TR Hot Rod's twin combining guns are much the same. Despite the gaping holes in each one, to facilitate the seating of the Titan Master when the guns are combined, they actually look pretty decent in Hot Rod's hands, kind of halfway between Hot Rod's short pistols and Rodimus Prime's enormous photon eliminator.

Titan Master Firedrive:
Firedrive appears to be modelled on G1 TargetMaster Hot Rod's Nebulan weapon, Firebolt, albeit molded entirely in a faintly metallic-looking grey plastic. There's no paintwork whatsoever, which appears to be one of the subtle changes Hasbro made between waves, and it's a real shame because it's a fairly detailed model, and a touch of paintwork - or even some variation in the plastic colour - would have benefitted Firedrive no end. I can see why they wouldn't want to add black plastic into the mix, given that he becomes Hot Rod's head, but a couple of touches of paint wouldn't have gone amiss.

There's also a structural change to the Titan Master figure versus earlier waves, in that the toys I have from waves one and two have pinned knees, but the hips only clip together via little pegs on either side of the groin. Firedrive, along with other figures from waves three and four (and Legends Blurr) have pins through both joints. I've never had the pegged legs disconnect at the hip when removing a Titan Master from the shoulders of the larger robot, but I can imagine it could happen on some.

In common with most TR figures with two similar handguns, Hot Rod's weapons can combine into a double-barrelled cannon which can mount on Hot Rod's exposed engine block in vehicle mode, or plug into either side as a kind of sidecar... but it's pretty useless in and of itself, relegating it to 'extra turret' duty on one of the Leader Class figures in base mode. I am more than a little puzzled by the cutout areas either side of the 'seat', as they're not required to fit a Titan Master figure (they're too far back for them to be intended to accommodate a Titan Master's splayed arms), and this leave little holes either side of their posterior.

This new incarnation of Hot Rod is a curious mixture of pretty standard elements of contemporary Deluxe class figure transformation and some elements borrowed from the Masterpiece figures. One of the former comes from the Combiner Wars range most specifically: where older toys would have the upper legs literally collapse into the lower legs for transformation using little more than nubs and indentations to lock pieces into either position, Combiner Wars made a virtue of a trick we first saw with Classics Cyclonus, where the lower leg splits apart and hinges up over the upper leg. Hot Rod uses a much simplified version of this, in that the backs of his lower legs hinge outward to become the sides of the car, and the knee joint - a double joint for the purpose of transformation only - flips them over into their vehicle mode position. There are two Masterpiece-inspired elements: the flip-and-rotate of the spoiler section of the car so it pegs in over the vehicle mode's cockpit in robot mode, and the removal of a small section of the front of the vehicle as it becomes the robot's chest... though, on this figure, the remaining parts do not collapse inward to make him appear slimmer, he's just left with a huge cavern revealing his waist details. I'm in two minds about this entire section of his transformation. On the one hand, he'd probably have looked better if the front of the car had been left intact, however the cutaway section does give him a more layered/sectioned look, in keeping with other toys from both the Combiner Wars and Titans Return ranges.

One of the complaints I saw in reviews of this figure, when he first started appearing, was that the ankle pin protruded too far out between the legs and prevented them connecting properly in vehicle mode. There has evidently been a running change in the way this figure is put together, as these pins now have flat heads, which sit flush with the surrounding plastic, allowing a perfect connection

The bane of the ball-jointed figure - loose hips - is very evident on my Hot Rod. That, coupled with feet that are actually quite restricted in their movement, means that he can be quite tricky to pose, and I rather wish they'd found a way to mount the feet on ball jointed ankles rather than pinned. My figure's left hip in particular will sag whenever the figure is moved. Given that the feet are little more than flat plates, one would expect them to be reasonably stable, but their lack of range and the angle they're molded at means he often ends up trying to balance on the edge of one or the other if he's not just adopting a simple A-stance. The knees are technically double jointed - for the purpose of transformation - but the chunk of vehicle used to close off the backs of his legs pretty much completely prevents the use of the lower joint, and the exhaust pipes sticking up behind the knees restricts their range to a little under 90°. ­­His arms are surprisingly similar to those of the Classics figure, albeit with the addition of a rotation joint directly above the elbow. With fists that swing out from the wrists, it's no surprise there's no wrist rotation, but Hot Rod's fists are covered over on the outsides and undersides with vehicle mode panels, so they wouldn't be able to move much even if there was a joint. As with all Titans Return figures, he has a ball jointed neck thanks to Firedrive's ball jointed neck, but the support on the back of Firedrive's feet tends to clash with the cockpit/spoiler section connection just behind.

I'm generally pretty ambivalent toward Hot Rod and similar characters, and I've been telling myself for a while that I really don't need an update to the imperfect-but-still-OK Classics Hot Rod. However, I recently realised that I've got both Classics Cyclonus and the Unite Warriors update, and that kind of twisted itself into my giving myself permission to pick up some of the Titans Return versions of the TransFormers: The Movie characters I already own in Classics form. Hot Rod looks excellent in vehicle mode (just in need of a touch more decoration), his robot mode still isn't perfect (and could certainly do with a lot more decoration to bering out the details on his arms, if nothing else)... but it does feature some improvements on the Classics figure. Ultimately, Titans Return is a whole different continuity - effectively a reboot of Classics - so it doesn't feel like a duplication to have both. Hot Rod may not be one of the best Titans Return figures, but he's better than I'd expected, and further confirms that the HeadMaster gimmick can be a lot of fun... even though Hasbro's take on it is a weird hybrid of HeadMasters, TargetMasters and Powermasters...

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