Sunday, 16 April 2017

Combiner Wars Sky Lynx

Back in the days of Generation 1, Sky Lynx was yet another of those toys that Hasbro 'appropriated' into the TransFormers line and, like Omega Supreme and Shockwave, he never appeared in the UK (in retrospect, it's rather suprising we got Jetfire!). In fact, Sky Lynx was one of the very strange few who never had an official Japanese release until appearing in the Encore line back in 2008... and he's still never had an official UK release.

I'd been debating whether or not to try to track down the Encore figure - it's still fairly easily available almost ten years after it appeared, albeit pretty expensive on the secondary market - when, all of a sudden, a year or so ago, Hasbro released images of a whole new Sky Lynx for the Combiner Wars line - a Voyager class figure that would become the torso of a wholly original gestalt named Sky Reign. It met with a fairly mixed reception, so I wasn't entirely sure I wanted it after all... and only really made up my mind when I realised that my purchase of the Deluxe class Groove left me with three 'spare' limb-bots (two from the Collectors' Club's Subscription Service year 4), giving me the opportunity to level the playing field between Autobot and Decepticon gestalts with a slightly customised Sky Reign.

But is this new Sky Lynx sufficiently glorious as a homage to be worthwhile in and of himself..?

Vehicle Mode:
While the G1 figure was made up of separate shuttle and motorised transport units, only one of which looked even slightly realistic, the Combiner Wars version simplifies things by making the two into a single unit (screwed together in three main chunks), so the transport unit comes across as more of a cargo pod... or just a jumble of super-patriotic 'red, white and blue' plastic parts that don't really look like anything, depending on how generous you feel. The mostly-round white parts don't appear to have any bearing on the conjoined vehicle's locomotion (there are two tiny sculpted wheels in the blue part just in front of the rear white shoulder caps, and they seem to be the only wheels on the whole thing), but the entire undercarriage is such a mess, and constructed purely in service of Sky Lynx's robot mode and gestalt torso mode it's difficult to know what any part of it might be intended to represent.

The good news, then, is that the shuttle component looks fantastic. It's far more detailed than the G1 original, featuring plenty of panel lines, flap details on the wings, odd, angular features of indeterminate purpose, and even escape hatches on either side of the nose section (cunningly used to partially disguise the pin for one of the neck joints). There are bulbous protrusions from each side of the section just behind the nose that, on a military jet, would imply concealed guns. Sky Lynx being closer to the realms of science fiction, perhaps he is more of a military shuttle than the scientific transport/cargo vessel developed by NASA. It has an excess of fins - three at the back (of which two are angled forward by default, for no obvious reason), then another two dinky ones just on the roof just behind the cockpit area - but this is the sort of embellishment we're all basically used to at this point in the TransFormers brand history.

Where Sky Lynx really falls down is that his paint job is several steps backward from the G1 figure (or, more accurately, the Encore re-release) and uses only a single colour of paint over the entire toy. This gold-ish colour isn't a patch on the gold chrome of the G1/Encore toy, and even compares poorly to the stickers. It's applied to most - but not all - of the windows, the textured stripes down each flank, several patches on the top of the booster section as well as the boosters themselves, and details on both sides of the angled fins, but not on the central fin. There's also no paintwork whatsoever on the cargo pod apart from a patch of gold on what will be Sky Reign's belly. I can understand why the G1 version wasn't painted up more like a real shuttle but, given the extra detail on this model, some black paint on the nose - particularly the underside which is textured to resemble the thermal tiles on a real shuttle - wouldn't have gone amiss. That level of detail may take it away from the traditional look of Sky Lynx but, seriously, this really needed a touch more paintwork... even a subtle grey wash just to bring out the panel lines would have been a worthwhile addition. The back end looks particularly silly with gold boosters and little other paintwork while, again, some darker paint just to emphasise the details would not only improve the look of vehicle mode, but add some variety to the Sky Reign torso too. The only other decorations are the large, gold-framed Autobot insignias on his wings and the smaller, inverted logo on the booster section.

A significant - albeit understandable - omission versus the G1 toy is the opening cargo bay. Granted it didn't do much beyond opening to reveal a large chunk of gold chromed plastic featuring basic tech detailing, but it was a cool functional detail. Its absence here is most likely down to the necessities of the Sky Reign gestalt.

One thing that really bugs me about this model is that I'm sure - with only a little more thought - the back legs could have been tucked inside the largely empty back end to neaten things up a little more. Given that the back legs are constructed pretty strangely as they are, it shouldn't have been too tricky to make them fit around the front feet and the gestalt head, already hidden away in the back end of the vehicle. I've seen photos an an alternative transformation where the back legs are 'hidden' under the wings, but that rather goes against the G1-based look of CW Sky Lynx by obscuring the rear white 'not wheel' part.

Sky Lynx's weapons - a pair of grey sword/gun things - peg in nicely under the shuttle's wings or (with a bit of force applied) to the holes in the rearmost 'not wheels', though they don't look quite intentional in either spot, largely because their design is neither sword nor gun entirely successfully... they look like a bit of an afterthought, to be honest.


Robot Mode:
Having his pre-TransFormers origins in a toyline that wasn't even created by Takara Tomy, let alone a part of Diaclone or MicroChange, Sky Lynx never really fit into the traditional TransFormers aesthetic nor even really the wholly original, post-Diaclone look that came along after the animated movie. Nevertheless, the designers of the Combiner Wars update have done what they can to fit him into the semi-realistic, tech-detail-replete CW robot style. Of course, being the only beast-type robot in the whole Combiner Wars line - at least until a repaint, Dezarus, turned up in the Liokaiser boxed set - Sky Lynx can't help but stand out, even with the right aesthetic.

Virtually no additional paintwork is revealed in robot mode - in fact, all I can see is the gold paint inside his mouth, and that's only on the lower jaw, for no obvious reason. The white of the shuttle is broken up mainly by the red and grey neck parts at the front and the blue wing tips and, with the wings flipped over, the ugly holes in what was the undersides are now fully on show. Here, in particular, some paintwork would have been welcome, and a dark paint with a lighter, possibly metallic wash - designed to resemble re-entry scorching - could have given the wings an almost organic look - not exactly like Beast Wars Silverbolt, but something to benefit both modes and break up the vast amounts of white plastic, as well as going some way to disguising the holes. The inner surface of the flap that becomes his 'spine' has some molded panel detail, and I think that could have used some of the gold paint as a nod to the contents of the G1 figure's cargo bay. There does seem to be a rule with Hasbro's figures, that the first usage of any mold gets a miserly paint job and, compared to Dezarus, Sky Lynx looks unfinished.

Given that the character's name seems to apply more to the individual beast robot modes of the G1 toy's two components, I've never been sure whether Sky Lynx was meant to be some sort of dragon or simply a strange, robotic chimera. The CW version certainly tends toward the look of a dragon, with two-clawed feet and wings that are actually poseable and positioned more naturally on the torso thanks to a double-hinge transformation joint with a mushroom peg on the end to allow them to flap up and down. The blue sections of the wings don't open out in two stages anymore, but they're large enough to look just about right, albeit kind of the wrong way round. They're also molded with an almost feather-like design, though it looks suitably angular rather than organic. Let's face it, though, he's hardly going to be using his wings for propulsion when he has a set of rocket boosters on his backside.

Since the 'head' is basically the nose section of the shuttle, there's not an awful lot to say about it - just like the G1 original, it looks like the nose section of a shuttle that has been given a mouth. About the only improvement - if you can call it that - is the pair of dinky fins that end up on his crown, looking a little bit like ears. The teeth are small and rounded, so he doesn't look remotely threatening... although the overall effect of the head is more like a long-necked bull terrier than a traditional dragon thanks to the rounded snout and beady eyes.

Sky Lynx's neck pegs in much further forward on his body than the G1 version's, making it look far more like a single, coherent robot-beast. My one gripe about this figure would be over its stubby tail, which barely gets the tail fin away from the robot's backside, and the illusion of a long tail is achieved by attaching the two gun/swords to the tip.

While having his two sword/guns attached as a tail extension does make the tail slightly more impressive, the two swords still look like an afterthought and - more critically - leave Sky Lynx unarmed in robot mode, unless you count his teeth. The G1 figure had a gun concealed in his mouth, but this version doesn't. There's a detail on the grey throat piece that looks like it might be intended to represent the gun, but his mouth doesn't open sufficiently wide to make this work. There's also the possibly implied hidden guns in the bulbous protrusions just behind his head but, in this mode, they seem a little awkwardly placed for that purpose.


Torso Mode:
Even with the angled fins pointing downward on his torso, Sky Reign is a dramatic and imposing-looking figure. The beastial head is easily one of the most impressive in the Combiner Wars line... which is something of a shame considering Sky Reign is also one of only two original gestalts in the line, and the other one isn't really that original because it's Galvatron.

I do find the gold paint to be a little cold and flat for the head, considering the G1/Encore toy used chrome for its lynx-bot head, but equally some of the finer detail on this sculpt would probably have been lost under super-reflective chrome. The eyes are painted in blue - more like the Encore release than the original G1 - and the head is set within a blue collar. I was rather disappointed to find that the jaw is fixed in its open position, but it does appear to be mid-roar, at least. It also seems as though the gun that's missing from Sky Lynx's mouth could have been transferred to Sky Reign, though the purpose of the vent-like detail inside his gob isn't entirely clear - perhaps it's just a very large speaker, to ensure his roar is adequately conveyed..?

The overall colour balance is quite good, but I still feel that another paint colour would have been nice, to bring out some more of the details on the blue part of the torso.

Sky Lynx is fairly easy to transform and, even though the G1 figure's two components are inextricably linked in this update, the two halves still transform entirely separately - the transport/cargo pod does the legs, the shuttle part does the head, wings and tail. I have found that the belly flap doesn't like to close when the forelegs are transformed into the body, but it's just a case of fiddling the cuffs out of the way. One interesting feature of the transformation is the flap on the top of the shuttle that flips over to cover the area vacated by Sky Lynx's neck - it comes at the expense of slightly exposing the gestalt's head but, in practice, that amounts to little more than some additional colour at the rear end. The neck doesn't peg into the front end very securely, and the wings don't peg into place at all, but they're all supposed to be fairly mobile so the extra freedom of movement isn't necessarily a problem.

On which subject, the configuration of the legs is surprisingly not especially conducive to excellent poseability. Four-legged TransFormers robots are somewhat renowned for poor balance on anything less than four legs, but Sky Lynx can be cajoled into some fairly dramatic stances. The facts that his front legs can be splayed, and that all his limbs have the equivalent of bicep rotation certainly should give plenty of options, but the neck is still the primary source of expressiveness in this toy. Even so, and despite having three hinges, its single rotation joint - at the base of the neck - can leave the head at some weird angles.

It should be apparent from the robot mode photos that mine is no longer the standard, stock Sky Lynx figure. I've swapped round the lower parts of the rear legs, making them look rather more natural without exposing the screws, and with the beneficial side-effect that the blue foot parts no longer droop under the weight of the figure. I've also reversed the two angled fins on the booster section, mainly to improve the look of his vehicle mode, but it looks a lot better in robot mode as well - all the angles sweep backward. Less noticable are the fixes to the ratchets in the front shoulders/gestalt hips and to the blue sections of the wings, applied because they are all especially floppy straight out of the box. Details on these are easily available online, so I won't explain them here, but I will follow up this post with a few notes.

After having required that work, one could easily infer that Combiner Wars Sky Lynx is utterly crap... But, actually, even the stock model isn't too bad... whether it's down to quality control, material tolerances (highlighted by the warping of the blue part that Sky Lynx's back legs are attached to) or just poor design, it just doesn't come together as well as it should have. In terms of overall quality of construction, Sky Lynx is more of a Hot Spot than a Silverbolt, in that he has lots of very visible gaps in robot mode. The undersides of his wings are probably the worst offenders at first glance, with great long strips of plastic missing for no readily discernible reason (beyond the requirements of the budget). The vast open spaces within the torso are easily visible from the sides, though, and there's even an inexplicable space at the base of the robot's throat. Despite being quite bulky overall, Sky Lynx looks and feels a little flimsy in hand, as much the result of cheap materials - the rear legs of mine are slightly bowed because the blue piece they're mounted on is warped, both the neck and tail sit at a slight angle - as it is of the somewhat dodgy design decision that left his legs sticking out of the back of his dubiously combined alternate mode.

CW Sky Lynx one of those toys where I think I can see what the designers were aiming for - largely a less clunky, more dynamic, yet non-motorised version of the G1 toy - but didn't really understand how four-legged animals normally work. Also, while the G1 toy was simply shoehorned into the TransFormers brand, this one was planned as both a G1 homage and a viable gestalt torso and, to be honest, it's only mildly successful in either respect. That's not to say I don't like it... and Sky Reign has a lot of potential, so I'm in two minds as to how I want to display him: his individual robot mode is nearly unique in Combiner Wars (and will remain unique in my collection as I have little or no interest in the Liokaiser set), and Sky Lynx is an iconic character... but I now have a few 'leftover' CW Deluxes (two from the Collectors' Club's fourth Subscription Service set) who could help create a unique Sky Reign. Since it seems daft to have a Voyager and a set of Deluxes displayed separately (not to mention taking up more shelf space that way), I'll probably take the latter option... Though that kind of leaves me wanting to pick up the Encore re-release of the G1 toy in all its clumsy, 80s motorised glory...

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