Sunday, 11 October 2015

My Take on the New York Comic Con Reveals

You will no doubt have seen by now the many images of Hasbro's upcoming output, as revealed at the New York Comic Con this year. Obviously, I wasn't there, so everything I say here is based on those photos on the editorial accompanying them.

It occurs to me that it wasn't that long ago that Hasbro had basically said super-large scale TransFormers were never going to happen as they're expensive to make and (based on Armada/Micron Legend Unicron and Cybertron/Galaxy Force Primus) tend not to sell very well... and yet Combiner Wars - which started this year - now seems to be coming to a close next year to make way for Titan Wars/Titans Return, in which more larger scale figures will be prominent. Furthermore, Titan Wars/Titans Return has been revealed to be chapter two of what's now being called the Prime Wars trilogy, with strong indications that chapter three will involve some form of Fortress Maximus figure.

Being a new phase of the ongoing Generations line, this is all more 'G1 Reimagined' stuff, as it looks set to include HeadMasters and, if one of the booth staff in the video clips is to be believed, GodMasters/PowerMasters as well. All we've seen thusfar are a couple more of the G1 HeadMasters - coincidentally those already produced by at least one the Third Parties - Hardhead and Skullcruncher (a natural pairing, I guess, since one's name is effectively a challenge to the other), but there are some rather odd choices of other characters being turned into HeadMasters for this new chapter of what's beginning to feel like Hasbro taking a mulligan on their 1980s toylines in an almost cynical attempt to get the long-term Collector market to supplement their earnings from the toy range aimed at older kids.

Thus, along with Hardhead and Skullcruncher - who do follow on logically enough from the likes of Generations Brainstorm - we get a Leader class Blaster who transforms into a slightly more contemporary boombox (as if anyone actually uses those anymore - all you need is an iPod and some Bluetooth speakers) and, in a somewhat surprising twist, has a third mode... as some kind of weapons base? And he has a HeadMaster partner now? With his head transforming into a miniature version of himself, cunningly called Twincast? So, with the inevitable Blaster-to-Twincast repaint, are they going to call the HeadMaster 'Blaster'? Aside from base mode, there are two hugely dubious elements to the upcoming toy: Boombox mode looks like a robot's torso sandwiched between two large speakers, and robot mode has a huge chunk of junk in the trunk due to his new minion gimmick. Because cassettes are so hopelessly out of date now, and CDs/data discs proved to be rather limited in the Generations/War for Cybertron line, a whole bunch of iPod-style minions have been designed, with a 'docking' feature in what used to be the cassette compartment. Because these mini datapod things are actually comparatively large, they slide in right through the chest and into Blaster's bum... which ain't a pretty sight however you look at it.

I'm also forced to wonder if this same triple-changing boombox will end up being turned into Soundwave as well (echoing the Blaster made out of the Cybertron/Galaxy Force Soundwave mold, without even giving it a new head sculpt).

Cleverly, they're using the same scale of HeadMaster (and, potentially, other -Master types) across Deluxe, Voyager and Leader class toys, with the larger models getting helmets to go around the HeadMaster, giving the illusion that the head is larger that it actually is. The execution of this feature looks a bit variable in the photos thusfar revealed - Blaster gets a full head helmet, which gives him his G1 toy-style visored appearance (and is actually very effective), but Galvatron just gets a flip-up plate.

And speaking of Galvatron... Having introduced the gestalt form Galvatronus, why would we need a Voyager class Galvatron? Obvious answers include the fact that, just like Hardhead and Skullcruncher, there are now several Third Party interpretations of Galvatron, and Hasbro has clearly been taking notes. This Voyager version (so, theoretically, about the same size as Combiner Wars Cyclonus, who forms Galvatronus' torso) looks like a slightly dumbed-down Third Party model, with the kind of gaping chasms we're becoming used to in Hasbro/Takara Tomy's output. I think it looks OK in its pre-production state, but when it becomes subject to the final production budget, I fully expect some of the paint applications to end up as bare plastic. It seems to be a fairly clever update of the G1 toy, taking the G1 animation model as inspiration to an extent, then throwing in the angles and details of the current IDW comics version. Some of its proportions look a bit off, and the tank tread bingo wings look just as crappy as they did on the G1 toy. His cannon, too, looks enormous, and doesn't seem to attach to his arm very well though that issue may be fixed before the toy goes into production. While I've only seen Galvatron in robot and cannon mode, based purely on the parts which are unused in either mode, it looks very much as though he'll be a Triple-Changer as well... my guess is that the third mode will be some kind of Energon/Superlink-homage spacecraft. And, is if it weren't weird enough to have two Galvatrons in what is essentially the same toyline, Galvatron's HeadMaster is... G1 Megatron. Except they're calling him Nucleon. Which is odd, because Nucleon was the alternative energy source that turned some TransFormers into Action Masters...

There's a whole new character with the strangely familiar name of Sentinel Prime. Currently an orange and red behemoth (perfect for David Willis, with his fetish for orange TransFormers), he's another Triple-Changer but, rather than being a vehicle and a base, following Blaster's pattern, he's the more traditional kind of Triple-Changer, becoming a spacecraft and a weird hybrid train/battleship which reminds me of an even more eye-searingly coloured Energon/Superlink Omega Supreme. Can you see an Astrotrain repaint?

Much has been made of the return of Tech Specs, which appear will appear on the backs of the collectors cards (halle-frickin'-lujah!)... but even these are dumbed down. While they feature ratings for each character both with and without their partner (one can only speculate how the giant robot is supposed to function at all without its head), there are only four characteristics - Strength, Speed, Intelligence and Firepower - versus the eight we had to play with back in G1 (Endurance, Rank, Courage and Skill were apparently deemed superfluous). I'm not averse to representing each feature with an icon because, if nothing else, it removes the need for expensive text localisation in non-English-speaking territories... even so, I'm still disappointed by the lack of a proper bio.

That said, there's supposedly a Combiner Wars/Titan Wars/Titans Return/Prime Wars animation on the way, so hopefully we'll get an idea of each robot's character from that. The writing team - including Mairghread Scott - is certainly promising.

As far as the toyline goes, though, I've yet to see much that interests me - which is good, because the tail end of Combiner Wars is likely to be expensive enough for me, but bad because I do consider myself a collector, yet I don't see much that I want to collect. With Fortress Maximus already hinted at, we have yet another example of the Autobots outnumbering and outgunning the Decepticons. Unless Hasbro suddenly reveal new takes on both Trypticon and Scorponok, things are going to get just a bit silly. Plus, with a Third Party Scorponok already on the way and looking pretty fearsome, they need to grab some attention back.

Are we going to get Seacons and Terrorcons? Piranacon would be a perfect fit to the new six-member combiner teams because any one of the five smaller members of the Seacons - though normally Overbite or Nautilator - could become his Target Master weapon. A Combiner Wars update formalising which one becomes a gun would be no bad thing. There's already a Third Party Abominus, so it would be quite a coup for Hasbro to sneak out their new Piranacon first.

Also, while Combiner Wars is still on the go, the Collectors' Club have made it clear that they intend for their exclusives to better reflect Hasbro's main output in future. This sounds like a good idea to an extent, but I'd really rather they maintained consistency with their own output rather than Hasbro's. Timelines has been very hit-and-miss, jumping between - as well as merging - disparate toylines and, with several molds already reused multiply for Combiner Wars, having them used all over again for BotCon, Club exclusives, and the Subscription Service really doesn't make sense. I can see them losing a lot of members over a decision like that. Expecting members to pay premium prices for new versions of molds they already have is part and parcel of what the Collectors Club is... but this may well be taking it too far.

Personally, I've signed up for Subscription Service 4.0, and think that Rise of the Predacus is an interesting concept (though I'm pretty ambivalent about the Ravage and Tarantulas reveals so far), but I would have appreciated BotCon taking a very different route with Timelines... Though I'm unlikely to be attending the convention anytime soon, regardless.

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