Friday, 20 November 2015

San Diego Comic Con 2015 Combiner Hunters boxed set

(Femme-Bot Friday #32)
One of these days, I hope to get myself to either the San Diego Comic Con or the New York Comic Con (or both), but I fully expect that the TransFormers exclusives available at whichever event I manage to attend will not be my cup of tea. They tend to be rather 'hit-and-miss' (moreso than BotCon, even) with only a few - since I've been aware of the phenomenon - really catching my attention.

With Combiner Wars in full swing, though, the SDCC exclusives were something special: a premium Devastator (with a positively obnoxious amount of purple chrome) and the all femme-bot team of Combiner Hunters - Windblade, Chromia and Arcee all in one box, with new oversized weapons! I considered spreading this out over three Femme-Bot Fridays but, since they come as a set, I may as well cover them as a set...

The big American Comic Cons tend to do something a little special with packaging for their boxed sets. This year's SDCC Devastator box featured a cute front flap modelled after the scoop on a front-end loader (Scrapper) and an image of Devastator's face on the back, but the Combiner Hunters set received something a bit more subdued and classy - a slipcase featuring a quite beautiful painting (by Sara Pitre-Durocher) of the trio posed, ready for action, which wraps around the top, front and bottom of the box. The back is plain black, with a spot varnished starmap featuring three planets (one possibly Cybertron) in a section of circular grid. The slipcase is a couple of inches shorter than the box, revealing the metallic red "TransFormers" masthead on the righthand side front of the box and the "Combiner Hunters" name on the back. The box seems oversized for three Deluxes but, removing the slipcase, the three femme-bots and their accessories are revealed to be quite sparingly packaged in a nice plastic bubble shell. It is deeper and taller than it needs to be, but otherwise pretty much the right size. Each figure comes with mostly the same weapons as their original release (Arcee loses both of her guns), and a new, oversized weapon taken from the TransFormers Prime/Beast Hunters toylines.

Behind the figures is the sort of schematic diagram that has been a staple of TransFormers toy packaging since the Age of Extinction toyline, featuring lineart of the three protagonists, their weapons, and their nemesis, Devastator.

The set also features a large (approx 36cm x 76cm/14" x 30") full-colour poster of the femme-bots (painted again by Sara Pitre-Durocher) and their weapons, along with some interesting mission details (Devastator listed as 'neutralised' on Moon Base One, Menasor 'contained' on Caminus (Windblade and Chromia's home), Bruticus described as a low threat on an unstable rock planet as there are no other life-forms there... and, cryptically, an 'unidentified' threat on 'Unicron', appearing as a wreck of his planet mode...) Could this be a hint of things to come in the Combiner Hunters comics? On the back are full-colour transformation instructions, which look much better than the average 2-colour leaflet we get these days.

The TakaraTomy version of Windblade used more red plastic than the Hasbro version and, at first glance, this version seems to use even more red plastic than that. Certainly, in her jet mode, CH Windblade skews more red due to having fewer applications of dark paint. Her secondary colour is now gold, and the only dark parts are her nosecone, the shins, the afterburners, the thighs and the arms, all being molded in charcoal/dark gunmetal plastic. Just about all the plastic has a fine metallic sheen to it, making even the unpainted parts look premium and, while the metallic red paint doesn't quite match the plastic, it's used sparingly enough that it's not very obvious. It's a shame it wasn't used on the wing parts of the tilting fans, since the dark, angular framing sections stand out on the otherwise red wings. Her cockpit and VTOL fans are molded in a translucent orange which also seems to have a sparkly component .

Windblade's primary weapon plugs into her underside, as before, but her new weapon has no way of mounting in this mode... not that it would look good if it did...

While jet mode is comparatively lacking in paint versus Takara Tomy's version, robot mode got a lot more attention, with a range of metallic paint colours dotted about all over the place. Her jet mode's red and gold are now complemented by small touches of blue on her collar, cuffs knees and knees, as well as - somewhat bizarrely - a slightly lighter shade of dark gunmetal paint on her dark gunmetal plastic forearms, just below her elbows. The chest paint is vastly more elaborate, with panel lines painted across the red bust section and other details picked out in gold and gunmetal.

This version of Windblade still includes the Stormfall Sword and its scabbard, though the former now has a very pale translucent cyan blade and the latter is red with gold panels painted in. The sword itself seems to be a tighter fit than the mass release (or the Takara Tomy version, at least), but it fits well enough.

Along with her Stormfall Sword, Windblade now carries the Spectrospear, which "allows the bearer to take on a temporary spectral form - a combiner can't hit what it can't see"... so it's more of a cloaking device, really. The Phase Shifter, a relic of Iacon which featured in TransFormers Prime, would turn its user spectral. The spear looks almost like an alternate form for the key to Vector Sigma from TFPrime, or perhaps one of the Omega keys. The molding is a bit basic, and it's painted gold and silver, with a subtle graduation between the two about quarter of the length from each end. Not the most exciting addition to the package.

The head retains the original sculpt, but is molded in red plastic rather than black, and the 'fringe' is painted blue with a gold tiara. While the face itself  features a simpler variation on Hasbro's face paint on a silver backing, the sweeping panels at the sides and her crest are painted gold (only on the front, so the side panels in particular don't look good from the sides). The lower lip features a thin line of red paint and her fan is cast in the same translucent orange as her fans and cockpit.

Windblade's big drawback on the original - both Hasbro and Takara Tomy - version was that the heels weren't quite long enough to offer support in a normal standing stance. Nothing has been done to rectify that on this special edition, so she still has to angle her upper legs back and her lower legs slightly forward to ensure the feet are in the right place relative to her centre of gravity.

There's a weak link in just about every boxed set, and Chromia fulfills that role for the Combiner Hunters trio. The original Hasbro version actually looked pretty good in vehicle mode, substantially reshelling TFPrime Arcee and turning her into something vaguely resembling a Light Cycle from TRON. This version... isn't quite so impressive. I suspect the folks who came up with her colourscheme didn't really know what to do with Chromia, as it's basically blue, white and silver, thrown on without much thought to the structure of vehicle mode, so it doesn't look as coherent as a vehicle. Add to that the use of translucent red plastic for the canopy and the inner wheel parts, it's striking, but not in a really good way. Then there's the silver 'flame' pattern applied to the nose and wings of the bike... for no obvious reason or purpose, since these parts hang off the robot's back. The wheels are painted in concentric circles of white, silver and metallic blue (with a small ring of red on the front wheel), giving this futuristic motorcycle an almost 1950s 'whitewall tyre' vibe.

Chromia comes with her original pistol, which mounts - as before - at a weird angle just behind the front wheel. It should be no surprise to learn that her massive sword cannot attach to her vehicle mode in any way.

As far as I can tell, this version has the same kickstand as the regular version, but it doesn't seem to keep her stable as well on mine. The problem may actually be with the front wheel, however, as that seems somehow misaligned, or the mounting is bent out of shape.

Chromia's robot mode looks a bit more sensible and cohesive than the vehicle mode... but only just. There's far too much contrast between the metallic blue and the silver/white, even against the pale grey plastic used here and there. Weirdly, while other iterations of this mold have got away with different colours between the main part of the chest and the central part that leads to the neck joint, this version of Chromia ends up looking like she's wearing a metallic blue bra-and-knickers combo, like a female warrior from some daft Fantasy story.

As well as her original pistol, Chromia wields the Primeon Blade (is that as in 'Prime On!' or 'Prim-ee-on'?), of which it is said that it is "light enough to be wielded by one, strong enough to slay the combined form of many"... which is surely useful in a Combiner Hunter's weapon... 'cos they'll be going up against many combined forms... though I'm not sure the five or six in each gestalt team can really be considered 'many'. It's a nicely molded sword with a black and silver hilt and a blade painted metallic red and silver, with five 'Devastator Chestplate' crests on one side, subtly documenting Chromia's successes on the battlefield. Unwieldy as it may be, Chromia can just about wield the Primeon Blade two-handed, thanks to her ball jointed wrists, and can hold it in some pretty decent stances thanks to a very long, narrow footprint.

For weirdest new face paint, it's basically a toss-up between Chromia and Arcee but, for my money, Chromia wins out of sheer excess. Even the comics took the piss out of her 1990s American Wrestling/Glam Rock face paint, with her white helmet receiving a metallic blue edging, her face getting a sort of 'superhero mask' in a sort of metallic aubergine colour and her lips getting a drag queen-esque overlining in metallic blue. I know I sometimes complain when Femme-Bots toys are without lipstick when the sculpt is obviously designed for it, but this is ridiculous overcompensation.

This could almost be considered a 'Stealth Assassin' repaint of Arcee were it not for all the neon paintwork. Virtually the entire model is molded in the same plastic - a very dark charcoal/gunmetal - darker than CH Windblade's but retaining the subtle shimmer. Her paintwork is a strange mixture of a pale metallic grey/blue (which blends into the plastic colour at certain angles), neon pink and a pearlised pink. It all looks good, though it doesn't necessarily fit the design of the vehicle all the way. It does make her look like something out of TRON Legacy, though.

Whereas the other two members of this team come packaged with their full complement of original weapons, Arcee loses both her guns, which does make her vehicle mode slightly less solid, as her arms have nothing to hold onto on the underside. They don't actually flap around, but I would have thought at least the smaller gun could be included so that her hands could be pegged onto it. The two original swords she comes with don't attach to vehicle mode as securely as they might, but I'm not sure why... Probably just tolerance issues.

As with Windblade and Chromia, her ginormous sword cannot be attached to her vehicle mode... but it'd look pretty daft if it could!

Combiner Hunters Arcee singlehandedly vindicates my 'black repaint' fixation - the mold looks incredible, even though it's basically all one colour of plastic (other than some joint parts, most of which are largely covered over in this mode). This could easily be Hasbro's response to Azalea Stealth Assassin, and it would have been the perfect response had it been a mass release rather than an event exclusive limited edition. Granted, that's what Azalea SA was, and there's no guarantees that a repaint like this would sell on its own other than to a probable minority of collectors like me, but I still think it would have made sense.

Robot mode does feel as though it could have done with a bit more variety in its paintwork - most of what's visible in this mode is pink. I suspect that this was the most prudent choice, however, as painting her 'belly' with the metallic grey/blue (for example) would have made her look like a Dominatrix in a black rubber tank top, knickers and thigh-length boots with suspenders...

What's interesting about this iteration of Arcee is that the forearms have been remolded to allow her hands to (almost) grip standard 5mm pegs. On the upside, this gives her access to a wider selection of weapons... on the downside, the rather wide open 'grip' means her original pair of swords have to sit in her hands at a strange angle or they just fall out and, strangely, can't go very far into her hands before her index finger butts up against the inside of the knuckle guard. I'd imagine the guns would experience similar difficulties, which could explain their omission.

Along with the two swords from the original release, Arcee has the Combiner Slayer, on which "Toximech sawteeth deliver a poison that scrambles a team's combined circuits". This weapon immediately makes me think of the videogame series Monster Hunter, though it also features a circular detail which reminded me of the Monado from Xenoblade. Molded in dark gunmetal plastic with a heavy metallic flake component, the blade is painted with pink-to-white gradient giving the impression of a coherent energy blade. This is my favourite of the accessories, because it looks absolutely deadly... though it also looks far too large for Arcee and doesn't stay in her hands especially well due to the aforementioned molding issue. Thankfully, due to the 5mm pegs molded on either side of the blade, there's an additional hand-hold which Arcee can just about make use of with careful posing.

Like Chromia, things get a little bizarre with the paintwork on Arcee's head - along with the pink highlights and metallic paint on her helmet (so far, so Azalea Stealth Assassin) she has heavy blocks of pink around each eye and an enormous Autobot insignia stamped on one cheek... all on a very stark white face. Her lightpiped eyes look excellent against this weird contrast, but having her faction symbol on her face just seems a bit too random. I'm not quite sure which is weirder, though: that, or the almost perfunctory line of pink which vaguely indicates her lips...

Combiner Hunters is an absolutely fantastic set for Femme-Bot fans and for lovers of special editions. The three models are good, very poseable designs (Windblade being the most limited due to her heel issues), the paint jobs to are phenomenal for two of the three and the idea behind the set - a companion piece to SDCC2015's Devastator - works well. The extra weapons are perhaps a little too big for each of the Deluxe class figures and are certainly of exaggerated proportions based on their portrayal in both the box art and the comics (what little I've seen), but they're nicely painted and their low-tech design has been explained away in a vaguely suitable fashion.

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