Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Combiner Wars Silverbolt

Now that Combiner Wars is in full swing (kinda), I've even more glad I didn't bother buying the Universe/Classics Silverbolt back in 2008, instead choosing the Darkwind repaint. It was utterly daft of Hasbro to release a Silverbolt remake that wasn't going to be part of a gestalt because the whole point of Silverbolt is that he's the leader of a gestalt team of flight-capable Autobots... and he's afraid of heights. Leading the team and becoming the main part of Superion is all intended to keep his mind off his phobia long enough to do something useful. Take the team away from him, and there's really no point to a Silverbolt toy (unless it's an update to the Fuzor - go on, Hasbro, you know you wanna).

But back in 2008, Hasbro had no apparent plans to do any more combiners, repeatedly telling BotCon attendees that they weren't financially or technically viable these days. More than five years later, and in the wake of a veritable plethora of third party combiners, Hasbro announced its latest phase in the continuation of the Classics line: Combiner Wars... and one of the first teams to be released is the Aerialbots... meaning, at long last, we have a true Silverbolt

Vehicle Mode:
One thing that (almost) never seems to change with Silverbolt is that he's a jet aircraft with a robot stuck to his undercarriage. The only variation that ever happens is the style of jet. Generation 1's Silverbolt was based on Concorde, Universe/Classics Silverbolt was an adaptation of the SR-71 Blackbird, and the third party effort was a white, but otherwise true to life (save the undercarriage) SR-71. Combiner Wars Silverbolt seems to return to his passenger-carrying roots and, while this is clearly not a Concorde, it's surprisingly similar... the sort of thing we might actually see in an airport today, if supersonic flight was still viable and if someone decided to redesign one of the most iconic aircraft of all time.

In a lot of ways, it's only the extremities of the aircraft that are significantly different to Concorde - the nose is slightly more bulbous with a couple of small foreplanes and a tilting nosecone made of black rubber. The tail has three fins rather than just one and the very tip is, you guessed it, made of black rubber, while the wings are angled towards the tips from the back as well as the front. The wings and the overall slightness of the jet itself do absolutely nothing to disguise the enormous and unsightly thing stuck on its underside. There is no way it could ever be considered part of the plane because all the bulk is in the wrong places and lots of robot parts are quite plainly visible. Not since the likes of Classics Jetfire (or, y'know, Windblade, or RotF Voyager Starscream, or... wow, this is actually a pretty common feature, isn't it?) have we seen a TransFormers aircraft where the robot's fists are just there, hanging around for all to see, and that alone really spoils the look of the jet. And only a Silverbolt toy could have the legs bent back on themselves under the tail of the plane (OK, that's not quite true...). It's a hideous mess of a jet... but 100% in keeping with the traditional look of Silverbolt, so I guess that's OK.


One thing that's quite remarkable in a good way is how well integrated the undercarriage is with the wings. Towards the back, the wings are made up of part of the robot's legs and a panel which folds out of the robot's legs, yet everything lies fairly flat and even, so it's not immediately obvious how many separate pieces you're looking at.

There's a bold orange stripe running the length of the jet on either side, covering over all the windows which are otherwise unpainted. The cockpit window is painted, and the jet engines at the back have a small patch of gunmetal on them. Other than this, the only jet-specific decoration is the Autobot insignia on each wing, so it's a fairly plain jet. Obviously more colour is visible on the underside, but it's really not meant to be, is it?

While Silverbolt has no rolling wheels, he does have curved protrusions toward the rear of the undercarriage, and a single landing gear deploys from the body of the jet, just in front of the undercarriage. This seems a little redundant, as he'd sit quite comfortably just resting on the undercarriage itself... but I guess a flip-out landing gear is Hasbro's way of telling us they care...

The alternative to using the landing gear (or not) is plugging in the combined weapon, since that features another curved molded protrusion with a passing resemblance to a wheel. The gun actually looks pretty good in there, but it sticks out of the front a hell of a way and, if his undercarriage weren't already enough to upset the aerodynamics of this aircraft, the gun surely would be.

Robot Mode:
It's a robot with a plane folded up on his back. So far, so Silverbolt. If there hasn't been much variation in his vehicle mode over the years, there's been even less in his robot mode. I think the biggest changes came with the Energon/Superlink combiner version (where the jet nose became the robot's chest) and the Universe/Classics version (where the jet's nose folded up his back, rather than down it). Where this Silverbolt's silhouette differs from others is that he has a massive tail dangling down past the backs of his knees as well as the nose of the jet. I guess the former obscures the latter, but that's a hell of a lot of redundant jet parts on this robot...

There's a lot more colour to robot mode - more of the orange, a nice block of red on the chest and, as Hasbro keeps doing these days, large chunks of pretty unsightly black. G1 Silverbolt may have had black shoulders, but they don't look as good on this version... and, let's face it, G1 Silverbolt had gold chrome over his forearms and thighs... this thing makes do with orange, and doesn't use it quite so liberally on the arms. However, what he lacks in paintwork, he makes up for in molded detail, at least on the arms and body. Despite the lack of gold chrome, he's a lot more interesting to look at than his G1 ancestor.

Bulking up Silverbolt's legs are a couple of panels that serve no real purpose in this mode, except to look rather like G1 Jetfire's armour pieces, perhaps. They make his lower legs a hell of a lot larger - disproportionately so, given his skinny thighs.

It's obvious the moment Silverbolt comes out of the packaging that his weapon is intended to be Superion's rather than Silverbolt's - it's just too damned long! By the looks of things, the designers were seriously overcompensating for the gun packaged with the G1 version, as both serve as their respective gestalt's weapons. The G1 gun looked small and stubby in Superion's hands, so this version comes with a barrel almost as long as the robot is tall. As a concession to Silverbolt's size, the weapon splits down into a tiny shield which barely covers a forearm (and, on mine at least, only fits snugly in the right arm - in the left, it's too loose) and... and handgun that really isn't much shorter than the full version. It's as if Silverbolt is intended to the the Dirty Harry of the Autobots, with such an unfeasibly long barrel.

I'm not quite sure what to think of the head sculpt. For the most part, it's very true to the G1 cartoon appearance of Silverbolt with all its angles and blockiness - probably better than the Universe/Classics version, in fact - but that prodigious chin is very nearly getting to TF Animated Starscream levels of enormity, and the expression on his face is just plain bizarre. I can't figure out if he's meant to be smiling... and, really, it looks as though he's not sure either. The eyes are painted in with a flat pale blue, as there doesn't seem to have been the option of light piping on this one.

Torso Mode:
This being a Combiner Wars team leader, Silverbolt transforms into the torso of the gestalt robot, Superion. Taking their lead from Energon/Superlink as much as the third parties, everything required for the torso is contained within Silverbolt - no additional armour parts are required. He looks terribly skinny around the waist, but that's probably quite true to the G1 version in a lot of ways. His hips are wide and square, and he lacks the elaborate paint job of one of the third party torsos, but this actually looks pretty promising... and Silverbolt's combined weapon certainly looks right for a robot with a torso this size.

The head sculpt follows the TV series rather than the G1 toy, giving CW Superion exactly the head most people seem to have wanted for TFC's Uranos. Well, almost exactly. Due to the way Superion's head is stored, his orange antennae have to be flipped up into position but, most likely due to ridiculous 'safety concerns', they're molded in rubber. That, coupled with the orange paint, means they just don't like to flip round fully, so his antennae are invariably angled slightly backward. I gather replacements, molded in solid plastic, are available from third parties, but I may take the head apart to see if anything else can be done. His red visor is painted rather than light-piped, which is a small disappointment, and I actually find the faceplate rather dull. Then again, considering Silverbolt's face, I'm not sure I'd have preferred an update of G1 Superion's toy face...

If I had a real gripe about this, it's that Silverbolt's fists are just hanging out behind Superion's knees. I don't expect it to cause problems with Superion's articulation, but it looks really daft, and I'm sure something better could have been accomplished with a bit more thought - perhaps having the fists on a rotating piece within the forearm, at the opposite end of which was the combiner port, for example.

Considering Silverbolt doesn't really have an alternate mode in the same way most other TransFormers do, I have to confess I find the transformation between his three modes quite elegant. The end result certainly isn't, but the means of getting from one mode to another works very smoothly. Going from jet to robot basically involves folding up the jet and unfolding the robot, but parts of the legs do form parts of the wings, so there is a small transfer of mass. Getting Silverbolt into torso mode is enormous fun, though. He's cleverly designed so that he ends up doing a handstand - the gestalt's thighs are the robot's arms, and the robot's legs transform back to something very like their jet mode configuration, but the panels from the outsides of Silverbolt's legs hinge inward to form the gestalt's chest. Superion's head is stored inside Silverbolt's belly and Silverbot's head is stored... erm... up Superion's backside. Having almost the entire jet on his back is, of course, a disappointment, and I sincerely hope that, one day, we'll get a Silverbolt (or analogue) who actually transforms into a jet, rather than being just another massive brick stuck on the underside of a jet. On the upside, the wings actually peg onto the foreplanes on the jet's nose in robot/torso mode, so at least they're not flapping about back there...

In both robot and torso mode, Silverbolt has pretty much the standard sort of articulation we expect these days. The arms have an excellent range of motion with nice, tight joints, though it's a shame that the fists can't rotate due to the way they're dealt with in torso mode. The legs are actually pretty stunning, largely due to a the double-jointed knee which services his transformation. Unfortunately, his feet aren't especially mobile or effective - the heel spurs are barely enough to keep him upright when standing straight due to the size of his backpack. Since the heels spurs are separate from the main part of the foot, they can be angled to offer better support in other poses, but it's not as effective as it really needed to be. Silverbolt's head is serviced by two separate joints - a rotation at the base of the neck and a tilt at the top. The range of rotation is limited a little by his collar, but the tilt is excellent - I'm starting to wish all TransFormers toys' necks were made like this, rather than with ball joints.

Silverbolt was something of an impulse buy, and I'd intended to pass up the first couple of waves of Combiner Wars to wait for Defensor but, since I've always somehow managed to complete Decepticon gestalt teams and miss components from the Autobot teams, I'm now considering picking up the rest of the Aerialbots (though I wish they'd updated the jets to something a bit more contemporary!). More than a week after getting him out of the box, I still can't decide whether I like him more than I'd expected to... It's all the bad points of virtually every G1-style Silverbolt ever, mitigated only by the potential of the Combiner Wars brand. This is unlikely to be my favourite CW toy, but it's self-containedness is fairly cleverly designed and well constructed (apart from the rubber antennae), but I seriously wish someone would completely redesign Silverbolt for a more convincing alternate mode.

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