Sunday, 21 May 2017

TransFormers Collectors' Club 2016/Combiner Wars Bludgeon

Out of all the TFSS4.0 figures announced, I'd say I was least enthused by Bludgeon. Not that the Photoshop-recoloured images and the new head sculpt didn't impress me, just that the Hot Spot mold seems to have had more use than just about any other Combiner Wars torso Voyager figure (bearing in mind that I don't own a single iteration of the Optimus Prime/Motormaster truck mold). Also, by the time this package arrived in the post, I'd already planned to acquire Unite Warriors Bruticus, eventually giving me three very similar gestalts on my shelves.

But, this is the final part of the Collectors' Club's very own, 'unique' gestalt, Thunder Mayhem, along with the other members of the Mayhem Attack Squad: Needlenose, Grabuge/Ruckus, Spinister and Windsweeper. Let's first see how Bludgeon fares in his own, individual form...

Vehicle Mode:
When I opened the box and set eyes on this green and brown remix of the Onslaught-repurposed-from-Hot-Spot mold, my first impression was that he really looked like a knockoff. The green plastic looks rather cheap, but feels decent enough, and the clash between the cool green and the warm brown doesn't look like something you'd see on an official Club toy, despite some rather lurid palettes in their past. It also highlights how bitty this vehicle mode is.

Like the Deluxes, there's plenty of paintwork all over Bludgeon's vehicle mode, but much of it seems to have been applied without thought - more to fill out the paint budget than to highlight worthwhile details. Assuming this is still intended to be some sort of armoured personnel carrier, why the white lines at the front? Perhaps just to distract the eye from the robot's painted brown fists peeping out from under the bonnet? And then, when the doors sculpted into the sides of the rear section have their windows painted in silver, why not the odd, filled-in windows in the cockpits? Why the white panels on the roof at the back? Why the yellow lightbar? I like that the handrails on the roof have been painted but it hasn't been very accurately done. Probably the only bits of paintwork that I actually like on this thing are the hubcaps - which, actually, wouldn't be silver on a proper military vehicle, more likely black, or possibly green to match the vehicle - and the 'roll-up metal door' details above the rear wheels... but then, if these parts are silver, I'm confused as to why the panel details at the front of the vehicle, just behind the cockpits on either side, are painted white and the three lockers on each side of the central portion are left unpainted.

The central section, with the confusing jumble of possibly-turret (depending on whether the gestalt's chest wings are flapped down, or open to allow this central chunk to rotate) is even more of a confusing jumble than it is on UW Bruticus, because this features green and brown plastic, black and white paint... and pale purple guns tagged on the sides. Plus, Thunder Mayhem's head is rather more conspicuous than that of Bruticus, not only due to its less-techy sculpt, but due to its off-white and blue paintwork.

Along with the heavily painted versions on Onslaught's stock weapons, the Club saw fit to include a pair of off-white swords, which don't store in any really convincing fashion on this figure. They can be plugged into the 'turret', in place of the guns, but they end up angled upward due to their shape. His entry on the TFWiki actually has them pegged to the sides of his turret by attaching the purple guns through one of the holes in the blades... which looks pretty clever, but is actually a little floppy in practice. This may have been how he came packaged, but I honestly don't remember.

Coupled with all the vehicle mode shortcomings of Onslaught, we're really not on to a strong start here...

Robot Mode:
Based on the Onslaught mold, Bludgeon has the new shoulder and chest panels, the smaller feet, and the barely-effective heel spur. I do wonder if that 'improvement' could be made available to a rerelease of Hot Spot, so he doesn't have to use his ladder as a prop.

Since virtually none of the G1 Pretenders interested me at the time, this is only the second Bludgeon toy I've owned, the first being the version from the Revenge of the Fallen offshoot N.E.S.T. Global Alliance line, which took the tank alternate mode of the original - making it far larger and much more realistic - and the ghostly samurai Pretender shell as the basis for its robot mode, easily making it one of the more creatively striking toys to be made of a character who didn't appear in the movies. This one... doesn't come across quite so well for several reasons.

First and foremost, the colour layout of the toy is all wrong - it makes for a more consistent vehicle mode, and the paintwork on the upper body does conceal most of the green plastic with more character-appropriate orange and brown paints, but the lower half is a complete mess. If only they'd used a darker green plastic, then painted the lightbar and vehicle roof panels orange, rather than yellow and off-white, respectively, they'd have something slightly better... Or, at least, something more akin to the RotF figure's clever fudging of the colourscheme into the G1 toy's samurai shell.

Alternatively, had they gone with a sort of sandy yellow - if not exactly desert camouflage - for the vehicle mode, they'd probably have had better options for the robot mode. This thing seems to be the result of an unresolved argument over which element of the G1 Pretender was being homaged.

One obvious element of homage is that Onslaught's guns are painted purple to match G1 Bludgeon's tank cannon. Interestingly, the paint extends to the 5mm peg on the back of the lefthand gun and into the sockets/nozzles of both, but was left off the pegs on the insides of each and the grips. This means that, just like both Hot Spot and UW Onslaught, his guns aren't a great fit to his hands and, unlike both, the two guns peg together rather too tightly. Thankfully, they fit the sockets on the black frame 'concealing' the gestalt's head, allowing him to wield his twin swords - a mold borrowed from TransFormers Go!'s Optimus Exprime - which not only fit his hands better, but are more suited to the attempted samurai look.

And so we come to the head sculpt, which is easily the best thing about this character. It captures the samurai element without going overboard like the RotF figure, or Age of Extinction's Drift, while the face references both the Pretender shell's skull look - in terms of its colour and overall spookiness - and the visored look of the toy's inner robot. It has a good level of detail, as befits a Combiner Wars head sculpt, and is utterly covered with paint, included a black 'headband' which is painted in all the way to the 'knot' on the back of his head. This is probably one of my favourite Club head sculpts of all time, though I think the chin might stick out just a bit too far for its own good, and I'm concerned about the longevity of the paint if I keep cramming it into the chest cavity for vehicle or gestalt mode.

So, ultimately, Bludgeon turned out to be a fairly disappointing figure with an excellent new head sculpt... and that was before I confirmed that mine suffered from the assembly error where the two-part knee - the green part intended to lock in behind the lightbar, the brown part being the bit that takes it back to vehicle mode - is back to front, meaning the knee neither locks in place, nor even bends to its full intended range. This issue doesn't leave Bludgeon completely unstable as the two parts of the joint are at least reasonably tight, but it does leave him more susceptible to the mold's inherent back-heaviness. More care could have been taken with the choice of plastic colours and the paintwork but, personally, I'm not sure that Bludgeon has been done justice to any degree here, and wonder if a better idea would have been to repaint either CW Silverbolt, Scattershot or Cyclonus, so that Thunder Mayhem could simply be an upgraded, gestalt form of a Voyager class CW Thunderwing.

By this point, I don't think anyone expects anything good - or event particularly coherent - out of a Club character's bio card. The grammar is a little lax in places, and it's more 'backstory' than actual bio for the most part, making me wish the Club had had more time to bring some character to Thunder Mayhem in their comics series - not to mention give each of his components a little time of their own, the way they did with the components of Nexus Prime, right back at the beginning. I'm not sure the Matrix of Malice even appeared in the Club's story, so it's origins and the details of its effects on Bludgeon, are basically left to one's imagination, as are the politics of the Mayhem Attack Squad as they watch the "slow descent into madness" of their "commanding leader". Meanwhile, his guns aren't even mentioned in the mere two lines devoted to his weapons.

Torso Mode:
And so we have the beginnings of Thunder Mayhem - essentially looking very Bruiticus despite the new head - and a fair attempt at replicating the G1 Super Pretender's shell by adding off-white paint across the chest plates, and then - I kid you not - painting in the green details on top. The problem is, there's still far too much green and far too little off-white. The original Thunderwing was mostly grey, with green, blue, gold, black and grey details on his biomechanical shell. Had they molded the entire chest in pale grey plastic, they would have had a far easier time, and the black paint on the thighs - a callback to the originals rather Gigeresque legs - could have been supplemented by the off-white paint. Having Bludgeon's painted fists either side of the head also doesn't help, because they don't blend in with anything. I'd almost be prepared to sacrifice the consistency of Bludgeon's vehicle and robot modes for a better match to Thunderwing's colours in his gestalt form... Even just painting the tip of his crotch piece grey and the lower wings gold could have helped this figure along.

Coincidentally, the fact that Bludgeon's guns are painted purple makes them better suited to being Thunder Mayhem's weapons, as G1 Thunderwing's guns - and the spring-loaded launchers of the Classics version - were purple... and yet the Club comic only had him using the hand/foot guns of his components.

The head sculpt is very clearly designed after the angular, yet organic style of Geoff Senior - not my favourite TransFormers artist by a long shot, though I liked his work on Dragon's Claws - making it a very jarring contrast to the more strictly mechanical Bludgeon head sculpt and the very clearly robotic gestalt torso. The paint is exceptionally thick, with off-white covering the helmet, yellow splashed over the face (gold might have been better), heavy black eyeliner and pure white teeth, just like Senior's interpretation. While it has the central horn of Senior's version, the crest across the forehead is blue rather than green or black, perhaps just to make Thunder Mayhem unique as an interpretation of Thunderwing. Having to fit into the same space as the Bruticus head sculpt has left him with a very flat back to his helmet, which looks very odd from the sides.But what bugs me the most about the head sculpt is that it's yet another where some 'neck' has been added to the head itself when, given that the neck ball joint is mounted on a slightly raised platform, they would have done better to do without so that his chin could protrude down more effectively.

I'm also a little concerned about the paint on this thing, given that it tends to clash with the black piece that conceals it in Bludgeon's vehicle and robot modes. The very tips of his blue crest had worn down to the white paint beneath in transit... I dread to think what too much transformation scuffing will do...
So... Thunderwing's gone green..?
Given that this is one of the Club's last toys - from their penultimate Subscription Service set - I'm very much in two minds about his future in my collection... It's not a great standalone figure, with QC errors worse than those on UW Onslaught, so it's all down to how the completed Thunder Mayhem gestalt looks...

And, on that note...
Excitement Factor for Thunder Mayhem: 4/10

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