Sunday, 14 February 2016

TransFormers Collectors' Club Botcon 2011 (Timelines) Boxed Set: The Stunti-Con Job

While I was - obviously - going to get around to this sooner or later, I've re-prioritised this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it's a sort-of celebratory post. I don't tend to harp on about the number of views this blog gets, as it's not usually foremost on my mind, but I did note the first time I got more than 1,000 views in a month (June 2013), and January 2016 saw the count pass 5,000 for the first time, so thanks to all you visitors for that!

Secondly, this is probably an appropriate time to tackle this old BotCon set, considering I've done two complete Combiner Wars gestalts now, and currently have no intention of trying to get any of the CW Stunticons (though the Perfect Effect upgrade kit including the new head may eventually change my mind as it does make a decent-looking Menasor out of the CW Stunticons). This boxed set from BotCon 2011 was designed entirely around the Stunticons, who were the first and the coolest of the G1 combiner teams that I picked up. For a contemporary version of Menasor, I'm happy with FansProjects' Intimidator... which is just as well, I suppose, as this team of Stunticons don't even combine!

So... what's the point of a combiner team that doesn't combine?

Well, it's the usual large, sturdy BotCon box (actually the largest of the four I own!) with a nice, glossy finish and simple artwork with the Timelines Stunticons' team-specific version of the Decepticon insignia. I guess this makes them look like a race team, or something? The purple and grey chequered bar runs behind it, and mugshots of the five team members surround it.

One thing that didn't initially twig with me was the idea behind the name of the set - I thought it was 'Stunti-Con Job' as in a confidence trick... One look at the cover of the comic, though, and the penny dropped: it's intended - for whatever reason - to reference the old Michael Caine movie, The Italian Job. Can't figure out why, as the plot of the comic bears no relation to the plot of the movie - briefly, 'The' Motor Master and his performing team of stunt drivers are secretly part of a plan to free a bunch of Decepticons from their prison cells (amusingly, inside Trypticon), with a TF Animated version of G2 Sideswipe playing Murtaugh to TF Animated Cheetor's Riggs. Or something.

Along with the comic is a Certificate of Authenticity (which wrongly gives the set's name as "Stunticons: The Con is On"), the G1 Tech Specs-style bio cards and instruction sheets, as well as two pin badges. The first is the standard sort of badge that comes with any set... the second - a representation of the Stunticon insignia - was apparently only sent out to anyone who ordered early enough. Go, me!

The Motormaster
While the whole thing of Optimus Prime inevitably being repainted into Ultra Magnus and Nemesis Prime was a thing for quite a while, more recently, there's been a habit of repainting Optimus Prime into Motormaster. The first I can remember was the Cybertron Legends class repaint, bizarrely named 'Menasor', but a more recent Legends class Optimus Prime got a repaint that was very nearly Nemesis Prime, but ended up stuck with the name 'Motorbreath'... Clearly all this was designed to pave the way for Combiner Wars, where Motormaster was a fairly substantial remold of Optimus Prime... Not so much of that here... The Motormaster is characterised as loud and boorish, like a certain American wrestler, but this supposedly comes from insecurities.

Vehicle Mode:
It's worth remembering that the original G1 Motormaster toy was a teeny-tiny truck-and-trailer that looked quite similar to Optimus Prime, but with a sleeper compartment stuck on top. Even so, that's not necessarily a good enough excuse to simply repaint TF Animated Optimus Prime in Motormaster's truck colours - black, purple and silver - and call it Motormaster. Even having the partial trailer/axe weapon thing doesn't really turn this weirdly stylised part of a firetruck into something recognisably 'Motormaster'... but I guess it's too much to ask for a full trailer, even though TF Animated Optimus Prime really deserved a full trailer accessory that would actually make him look like a firetruck... And there's still no disguising the fact that the two bits sticking out of the rear of the truck are quite obviously the robot's feet.

Oh well.

It's a decent enough mold, certainly, but the darker purple windows lose some of the tech detailing molded onto the insides. On the upside, though, the choice to mold certain parts in grey means the small blocks of the robot's wrists that are visible just below the headlights isn't quite so incongruous here as it was on Optimus Prime.

The Motormaster also comes with Prime's weird, blocky gun which, for no obvious reason, Hasbro decided to turn into a water pistol. It almost made sense on a vehicle that was supposed to be a firetruck, but The Motormaster isn't. Still, it does mean he has an axe and a pistol for robot mode.

Robot Mode:
While it has been said that The Motormaster is based on the American wrestler Randy Savage, I've always thought the head sculpt looked more like Lemmy from Motörhead (RIP, 2015). I mean, I can see the Randy Savage element... but that 'tache and his grimace look far more like the rock legend to me. Maybe that's just because I'm British, though.

But, I mean... Motörhead? The Motormaster? And that 'axe' could just as easily have been a guitar...

Yeah, you know what? Derrick J. Wyatt may think his look is based on the 'bad guy wrestler archetype' but, to me, this is the TransFormers version of the Motörhead frontman, and that's that.

All that said, and despite the fact that I absolutely love the head sculpt, I just don't think it fits the model at all. It keeps G1 Motormaster's 'head case', but neither the look nor the colour are suited to the TF Animated Optimus Prime mold, regardless of its colourscheme. This is one of those weird occasions where an awesome new head sculpt and a cool TransFormers toy don't really come together as a great premium figure... which is a real shame. I've also found the paintjob on The Motormaster's head to be rather sloppy. The front is OK, but the sides - each featuring three recessed purple stripes - almost look as if they were filled in by hand using a Sharpie... and the middle stripe on the righthand side of the head doesn't even look like the same paint as the other two - it's the right colour, but nowhere near as sparkly and punchy.

Part of the problem with this figure overall is the choice of colours on the body - particularly the purple plastic. The torso almost looks like the robotic version of a black leather biker jacket (matte textured plastic isn't so bad after all!), but the look is really ruined by giving him purple trousers...

Dead End
The Jazz mold was a decent attempt at making a toy out of a frankly impossible animation model, and is a fairly logical choice for Dead End, since the G1 vehicle modes of both Jazz and Dead End were Porsches, albeit very different models (specifically, the 1976 935 for the former and the 928 for the latter). Dead End doesn't get a lot of dialogue, but he's supposed to be somewhere between the drearier kind of Goth (or 'Goff') and a self-indulgently morose 'poet'.

Vehicle Mode:
The purplish burgundy-based colourscheme suits the vehicle mode, and looks far better than the drab, nigh-featureless white of Jazz. It's not quite an accurate match to the brownish-red of the G1 toy, but the base colour, molded in the usual TF Animated matte-finish plastic looks pretty spiffy. While Dead End's striping is far more subtle than that of Jazz - thinner and off to one side, rather than large, bold and front-and-centre - it references the stickers of the G1 toy well, running the full length of the car rather then just over the bonnet, while being far less likely to peel or wear away over time. On the downside, the stripes are flat yellow and white, rather than the silver and metallic yellow of the original. While that may fit with the TF Animated aesthetic, it's not as interesting to look at. They also don't quite line up, with the bonnet stripe tending further over to the left as it reaches the windscreen, versus the stripe on the roof. The Stunticon insignia on the bonnet appears slightly skewed as well, though it may just be at an angle

The use of translucent purple plastic for his head and tail lights is an interesting effect, as the latter are unpainted and still look passable as tail lights. As one would expect from a BotCon figure, they've gone to the trouble of painting the hubcaps/spokes silver, but they've also painted the doorhandles black - a very nice, and largely overlooked touch.

I am a little surprised by the extent of the yellow paint - it appears on the wing mirrors, the start of the exhausts just behind the front wheels, and on the little spikes under the front bumper, giving him an almost fanged appearance in vehicle mode. While it's good that the burgundy colour is nicely broken up, I'm not sure the yellow has been used to its best advantage.

Robot Mode:
I have to say I probably like this mold more as Dead End than I did as Jazz, not least because of the inspired repaint (not remold!) of the head sculpt. The yellow face (substituting well for the G1 toy's gold, since this is an TF Animated figure) with the ridiculously hipsterish moustache complementing his chinstrap beard all adds up to give him the look of the kind of 'bot who should be lounging outside a tiny cafe in a forgotten backstreet of Paris, languidly smoking Gauloises as he composes terribly 'deep' poetry bemoaning the pointlessness of his existence.

While Jazz looked looked kinda like a guy in a black and white leotard covered in car parts, Dead End is sporting a tasteful burgundy and lavender leotard, though the suggestive downward-pointing molding on his belly doesn't have any separate paintwork.

What I find rather curious about this interpretation of the character is that, rather than make anything of Jazz's 'energy chucks', his bio describes his weapons as "mini-bazookas" which are "nigh-undetectable when stowed", implying (unless I'm very much mistaken) that one shouldn't even remove them from their mountings on his forearms. Given that the weapons are of such a specific style - let's face it, there's not much room for manoeuvre with a couple of sticks joined by a cord - it's bizarre that they're described as anything other than nunchucks, but that's Fun Pub for your...

For a character named Wildrider, there was really only one possible vehicle mode - the muscle car that is TF Animated's bounty hunter, Lockdown. The original looked dark and sinister, with the matte black plastic and silver spikes almost giving the impression of a leather biker jacket. While G1 Wildrider was simply a nutcase, the TF Animated version is much more considered and focussed as the team's stage director, creating their show and ensuring the pyrotechnics are perfect.

Vehicle Mode:
The first of this set's firsts, but only on a technicality, as this character is based on the Blazing version of TF Animated Lockdown, which featured a chainsaw instead of the original's hook. Since I picked up the original, I saw no reason to get the repaint, even for a new weapon. Wildrider's colourscheme is fairly close to the G1 original, in that he's mostly grey, with red as a secondary colour. What this version adds is a coat of glossy black on the bonnet and a couple of blocks of purple on the front bumper, along with the Stunticon team insignia on the nose. Lockdown's spikes add to the concept of 'Wildrider' although this is a very different style of vehicle to the G1 version's Ferrari. What I don't quite understand is why the spikes on the roof are painted purple, while the wheel spikes are silver. It also seems a bit weird that the exhaust pipes are painted glossy black, but at least they are painted. There's a vent-like molded detail on the car's flanks which is split by one of the transformation seams, and only one half was painted. Not sure whether that was accidental or a matter of paint budgeting, but it doesn't stand out too much.

For whatever reason, though, the new chainsaw weapon doesn't fold up into the body of the vehicle, so Wildrider either has a chainsaw permanently protruding from his front bumper, or a gaping hole right in its middle. It's a flaw in the Blazing Lockdown accessory rather than anything specific to this iteration, so I don't feel too harshly about it... but it doesn't look right to have a chainsaw protruding from the front of a car, even if it is one of the Stunticons

Robot Mode:
This is the second of the three molds in the boxed set that received a new head sculpt, and what a crazy sculpt it is, with one bulging eye and large jagged 'teeth'. The sculpt reminds me rather a lot of the Masters of the Universe character Trap Jaw, and the weapon attachments weirdly seem to support the idea of a crossover... but for most people, I suspect, this figure is way too expensive to go customising. I find it more than a little odd that the head is painted silver and purple - very far removed from the G1 character's colouring of black and red - even though, in robot mode, at least, this purple seems to be more the secondary colour than red on this version of Wildrider. He looks quite regal with so much silver paint across his shoulders and chest, and the asymmetrical molding of the legs is downplayed by a more consistent - if minimal - use of paint.

It should come as no surprise that the molding of the hands - specifically the part that prevents them fully deploying from the forearms - has not been corrected. The chainsaw/engine block weapon - now a 'phlogiston-reactor flamethrower' rather than an EMP generator - attaches to either wrist, as per the original, and the saw really comes into its own in robot mode, but it's a shame that this 'chaos crystal-edged chainsaw' wasn't molded in the translucent red plastic, then painted over with silver and/or black to make it look properly crystal-edged. Sadly, he doesn't come with the megaphone that's almost always in his hands while he serves as the Stunticons' stage director in the accompanying comic.

There's a bit of plastic flashing left on the mushroom peg of Wildrider's left hip, meaning it doesn't rotate well. At some point, I'll probably try to fix that as, despite some weird jointing, this is a well-articulated figure.

The first of the true firsts for me in this set, Breakdown was my first - and, for quite some time, only - instance of this mold in my collection, since Rodimus/Rodimus Minor was never released in Europe and, apparently, had quite a patchy release in the States. How many Breakdowns can the Club produce? While Breakdown barely gets any dialogue or even action, it seems he's supposed to be much the same sort of prone-to-malfunction paranoid as his G1 counterpart.

Vehicle Mode:
The sci-fi speedster than TF Animated Rodimus transforms into is the ideal mold for Breakdown. While it doesn't really resemble the Lamborghini Countach, it's the right style overall and a similar enough shape that the paintwork didn't have to get overly creative to make it work... Molded in a fairly even split between a rich, royal blue and a slightly sickly cream, the paints used to join parts up matches pretty well except for the blue around the rear wheel wells, which somehow seems too light. His head and tail lights are painted a good, strong scarlet but, oddly, his exposed engine is unpainted blue plastic. While the G1 version had a red sticker over his bonnet, this version uses the a similar burgundy-purple (though tending more toward the purple) as Dead End, with another small patch on the roof. I really like the way the vehicle is split between cream and blue, referencing the G1 toy especially well, while keeping it within the TF Animated aesthetic.

I'm not a fan of the bow weapon generally but, on Breakdown, they had the opportunity to make it look like the G1 version's vehicle mode cannons by making it entirely blue. With the spring loaded launcher portions molded largely in the cream plastic, leaving only the arms of the bow and a central strip in blue, it blends in a bit too well with the car when mounted on the roof, making the car seem jumbled rather than weaponised. I'm also a bit dubious about the use of the cream plastic for the missiles themselves.

Robot Mode:
Breakdown's main problem in robot mode is that his head sculpt was so clearly designed to serve as both Breakdown and Sideswipe, one of the attendee bonus figures that year. That said, G1 Breakdown didn't exactly have the most iconic head, the toy and the animation model being styled completely differently, and this one most closely resembling the latter. The fact that this figure and BotCon 2011 Sideswipe use exactly the same molded parts goes to show how successfully a paint job can change a character, as the two look nothing alike.

The purple paint on his face is glossier and appears darker than that used on his bonnet, so his face doesn't pop out of his helmet as well as I might like, but this does give the impression of dark linework around his beady, pinkish eyes. There are also dashes of the cream paint highlighting details on the helmet, and an attempt was made to paint the 'teeth' in his grimacing face, but it's a little messy.

This version cleverly maintains the distribution of colour from the G1 original, albeit changing the chest completely due to the huge differences in transformation. It still works well, though, as the coloured patch on Breakdown's bonnet is one of his few defining features.

In the comic, Breakdown seems to be unfamiliar with his weapon, at first holding it backwards and blasting himself in the face. It's an ill-suited weapon, and probably my least favourite part of an otherwise rather cool figure... Even if I am already getting bored of the Club's apparent bias towards Breakdown as an exclusive (too many more, and he'll be the Club's equivalent of Bumblebee).

Drag Strip
And so we come to the reason this set could also have worked as an entry in Femme-Bot Friday. At the time, Drag Strip was the first instance of the TF Animated Arcee mold in my collection, and was far easier to come by than the original, due to the same 'end of toyline' distribution issues as Rodimus. You wouldn't know it from the comic, but Drag Strip is supposed to be rather an angry 'bot, and a bit of a brawler... unfortunately, for the purposes of the story, she's relegated to the role of 'damsel in distress' in Wildrider's show.

Vehicle Mode:
More of a drag racer than Formula 1, which makes it eminently suitable to a 'bot named 'Drag Strip', this is a really slick vehicle, and works remarkably well in yellow. She's also rather more interestingly - and extensively - decorated with stripes than her G1 counterpart, with dual burgundy stripes on the back half, a single stripe wrapping around her bonnet, and a short line down the centre of her bonnet. Additionally, she has headlights painted (somewhat sloppily and out of alignment) in silver, silver-rimmed and black-filled wing vents and more burgundy on the tips of her spoilers, as well as a pair of irregular yellow stripes down the black portion at the back of the vehicle. Her swords look like rather extravagant signal lights sticking out of the back and, while her hands are clearly visible from behind, the grille-like molding at the front of the vehicle also resembles her fingers and is painted to match.

One advantage to this mold - and Breakdown's, though perhaps to a lesser extent - is that it looks more Cybertronian than terrestrial, so it works better as part of a Cybertron-based team of Stunticons than any of the others. The biggest problems are that the waist rotation is far too easily accessible in this mode, making the vehicle rather wobbly, and that the spoilers are held on solely by friction on vertical tabs, which frequently isn't enough.

Robot Mode:
While I applaud Fun Pub for turning Drag Strip into a femme-bot, I don't feel it was strictly necessary to do so, even with the TF Animated Arcee mold. Then again, since the Club isn't averse to reusing a mold within it's boxed sets, perhaps we should just be grateful for five unique molds, and that one of them happens to be a femme-bot. IDW's TransFormers may be able to function perfectly well with gloriously ambiguous 'gender' identities, but I guess the BotCon and the Club can't guarantee such an open-minded readership for their publications. Still, I'm not sure I agree with the decision to describe Drag Strip as being "angry... that she was protoformed in a wimpy looking Autobot shell". Hardly a Strong Femme-Bot Character message, is it?

All that aside, the Arcee mold was an excellent choice and, for the most part, she looks brilliant, with the vehicle mode's striping carrying over well into robot mode, and complemented by additional striping - on the chest and backpack - that isn't visible in vehicle mode. Considering the vehicle mode stripes are just on the outsides of the backpack, the latter stripes seem like something of a waste of paint, but it does break up what would otherwise be two very large chunks of yellow on her back, and the Arcee mold did get a touch of paint back there as well. My one reservation with this figure's paintwork is that it seems to imply a mostly black robot wearing a yellow boob tube, leg warmers... and, somewhat uncomfortably, a thong.

One thing I particularly appreciate about the head is that, rather than actually remold it, they altered the paint layout to give her a thinner face. Given the shape of the head, it's surprisingly effective... but then they just had to blow it by painting her lips the same metallic teal as the rest of her face, rather than either painting them separately or simply leaving them unpainted, to better match the artwork.

I wasn't sure I could be bothered to track down TF Animated Arcee until I got my hands on Drag Strip but, aside from an occasionally sloppy paint job, it's a fine model. This set has been in storage since I took all these photos, so I'm not sure if this model suffered from the leg transformation impediment like my Arcee, or whether it was made from the later, remolded variety... A quick look behind the knee suggests I took a scalpel to the offending tab, but I don't remember for certain.

One thing that stands out on these BotCon figures, versus the related Club exclusive Cheetor, is that these figures are about the only TF Animated figures that had all - or virtually all - of the black linework painted in on their heads (other than several versions of Bumblebee). It make such a huge difference to see, and enhances the simple detailing no end. It's a shame the bodies didn't get the same treatment but, on balance, the paintwork is OK.

For a comic whose cover design is - ahem - heavily influenced by one of the posters for the famous 1969 movie The Italian Job, the story, somewhat surprisingly, is not really a heist of any kind, though it does make use of a few movie cliches, such as "grizzled veteran cop on the verge of retirement (Sideswipe, in G2 colours) partnered with hyperactive rookie (Cheetor)". It's a decent enough story, narrated - somewhat in the style of Film Noir - from Sideswipe's point of view. It introduced the TF Animated Stunticons as a team of entertainers (with a sinister agenda) and is probably one of the better, more self-contained stories that Fun Publications have put together, as it features so little of their background Timelines continuity versus an extended TF Animated continuity. It honestly reads like one a 'lost' episode of the TV series, rather than standalone Club fiction, and that works to its great advantage. Still, it does strike me as strange that the Stunticons almost take second fiddle to Sideswipe - one of the Attendee bonus figures from BotCon 2011 - and Cheetor - a Collectors' Club exclusive from the same year - although the Club/BotCon relationship has always been a bit weird in its crossovers, or the lack thereof.

The atypical formatting of the bio cards as G1-style Tech Specs (even down to the line graph for their stats) is a very welcome change from the usual rubbish cobbled together by the Club, delivering an extra layer of character that isn't necessarily apparent in the comic, as well as actually describing their weapons.

All things considered, I'd rate this as one of the best boxed sets BotCon has put together while I've been paying attention. It's well-considered, focussed, balanced and looks awesome. About the only downside you could point to is that it's a set of Stunticons that don't form Menasor, but the way this team is portrayed in the accompanying comic, there's no need for Menasor - they work better as a team of individuals than they ever would as a gestalt.

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