Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hunt for the Decepticons Hubcap

One of the few coherent and interesting concepts to come out of Revenge of the Fallen was the idea that TransFormers have been on Earth far longer than Optimus Prime and his team believed. It's an idea that deserved - deserves, even now, in the wake of The Last Knight - a proper and thorough examination in a movie of its own, rather than being shuffled aside as a minor plot point in one of RotF's many silly, ad-libbed scenes.

Perhaps by way of compensation for this oversight, Hasbro decided to release a few smaller Autobots and Decepticons based around the movie's reinterpretation of the 'Seeker' title, more generally applied to the earliest visitors from Cybertron on their quest to find the Allspark. One such visitor was the vaguely G1-referencial Scout class Autobot, Hubcap...

Vehicle Mode:
It may seems strange, coming from a TransFormers fan who started collecting with G1's repurposed Diaclone toys in the mid 1980s, but I've never really been into cars. As a young child, I had a small collection of die-cast model cars from various manufacturers but they were just cars, and didn't really hold my interest for very long. In my lifetime, the cars made by the bigger, mainstream automotive companies seem to have slowly merged into one basically uniform design, with only minor variations in the size, position and shape of certain features, like the headlights, tail lights and wing mirrors. Cars these days are utterly boring unless you look at the cars aimed at niche markets (specifically the rich and middle-aged), and even those often aren't as interesting and unique as cars were in the early days of the automobile.

On that note, Hubcap is a real breath of fresh air, since he's based - appropriately enough to the theme of historical Cybertronian visitors to Earth - on the 1930s-style hot rods, with great, curvy wheel wells protruding from the sides of a very long, narrow body. To complete the look of a customised vintage racer, he has a tangle of pipes leading out from either side of the engine compartment, into exhaust pipes mounted under the doors. It's not quite the Model T Ford shown in Seymour Simmonds' records, but it's a nice change of pace from the GM product catalogue element of the live action movies.

While there's no chrome, the bumpers, grille, lights, hubcaps and pipework are all painted silver. The doorhandles and cap for the petrol tank are unpainted. In fact, apart from the silver, the only other paint on the entire car is black for the windows, because the whole shell is molded in opaque reddish-orange plastic. Given the sparkly, embellished paintwork these vehicles often received, it's a shame there's no flame pattern or chequered sections or angular wing designs on the sides and bonnet - the plastic colour isn't as anaemic as some Hasbro has produced, but it's certainly not that interesting. The closest he comes to decoration is a single, solitary, black Autobot insignia right at the front of the bonnet.

Curiously, the colourscheme and style of car means that, in this mode at least, Hubcap bears a passing resemblance to the GoBot Good Knight... except he was an open-topped car from the 1970s, based on the old 1930s vehicles, whereas this one is closer to the real deal. While this figure could be easily modified into an open-topped vehicle simply by removing the two roof sections, it would leave the robot's hips and legs exposed in a most unseemly posture.

The most striking point about this vehicle mode is how few obvious seams it has... which is usually a bad sign, as it tends to suggest a shellformer... On the upside, it does lead to a very clean, very solid alternate mode... which is more than can be said for some more contemporary movie shellformers...

Being a Scout class figure, Hubcap came with no accessories... he also has neither ports nor pegs for connecting weapons borrowed from other figures

Robot Mode:
In this form, it's immediately obvious how much of a shellformer Hubcap is - he's a very skinny robot, cast largely in grey or beige plastic, covered with large reddish-orange panels of car, and he's not even remotely subtle about it. The fact the vast majority of the robot parts are in colours that don't appear in vehicle mode really lets the design down... Because the design, in and of itself, is not bad - in many ways, this is a Scout class version of essentially the same basic structure as Age of Extinction Bumblebee. The only problem is that the robot inside bears so little resemblance to the vehicle. You have the front of the car becoming the robot's chest, and the back of the car (sort of) becoming the robot's feet - both aspects being very true to the Diaclone-derived G1 cars - but the rest really is just a kind of stick-figure wearing large chunks of car shell on the arms and legs.

The stick-figure style is fairly true to some of the concept art for Revenge of the Fallen, which briefly featured images of an ancient 'Seeker' who took the form of a Ford Model T, and it's similar to the awkward and skinny aesthetic of RotF Ransack, but the lower legs - particularly the chunky, boot-like feet - channel Mobile Suit Gundam as much as they do TransFormers. That said the overall construction of the lower legs does somewhat resemble Optimus Prime, with the vehicle's wheelwells on the outside of the ankles and the large rings in the mechanical detail on the insides. There's plenty of molded detail on Hubcap, as with all the early movie figures, but very little of it even attempts to look like faked vehicle parts.

I'm sure it would have worked better had there been more consistency in the plastic colours, or a more sensible paint job, but Hubcap has neither. In fact, aside from the blue of his eyes and blobs of silver on his feet, the only paintwork on the figure is a smudge of orange on the battlemask and on either shin, just below the kneecap. If this paint was a more similar colour to the plastic, it would at least make a little sense... but it's a far lighter, very slightly metallic-looking paint, and it's applied to nondescript tech detailing rather than any of the armour panels. One amusing aspect of the plastic colour usage is that he almost looks as if he's wearing elbow-length driving gloves.

I find his proportions to be curiously TransFormers Animated-style, with a broad-ish chest, miniscule thighs coupled with enormous shins and feet - albeit mostly just due to the way his legs compress for transformation. For the most part, it looks OK but, with so much vehicle shell just tacked onto him, one has to wonder where some of his robot mass actually comes from.
It's disappointing that he wasn't packaged with any weapons, but that was pretty much par for the course for those movie Scouts not simply repainted from previous, non-movie toylines, but it's rather more disappointing that he can't make use of weapons packaged with others - the hands are molded mid-grip, and look as though they might just about be able to hold a weapon, but the area within his grip is smaller than 5mm and substantially larger than the smaller peg size used, for example, on the smaller scale 'Cyberverse'-type figures

I'm not a big fan of Hubcap's head sculpt, not least because it's molded in the beige plastic - it's neither G1-referential nor especially in keeping with the movie aesthetic... but it's also very bland and lacking any real character. If it had a visor rather than two eyes, it could easily have been an early concept for movie Bumblebee, it's that generic. The blue paint on the eyes seems metallic and helps them stand out very well, but the orange paint on the super-protruding-chinned battlemask is just a blob that doesn't even try to follow the details of his 'face'.

I mentioned above that his basic structure is quite similar to Age of Extinction Bumblebee, and his transformation is actually very similar - albeit much simplified - on the upper half. His arms simply peg into the vehicle sides without any of the fancy twisting of the shoulder detail, and the vehicle grille actually forms his chest rather than getting hidden away inside it. The legs are even more simplistic, with the hips and knees bending to compress the legs into their vehicle mode positions, and the shell pieces swinging into place at his backside and around his feet. It's nothing special, but it does lend him something of the appearance of a G1-style robot... if G1 had been based on cars of the 1930s rather than the 1970s/80s. There's also a sort-of semi-Automorph in the way his head is automatically revealed as the car's grille is pulled down into its robot mode position... but it doesn't function in reverse.

Movie scouts have generally fared well when it comes to articulation, tending to rely on mostly ball joints. Hubcap only has ball-jointed elbows and neck, but the pinned joints elsewhere are more than adequate. With most of the vehicle shell positioned in such a way as to minimise their interference with his joints, the only real problems he has are that his arms can't raise very far out to the sides, nor can they pivot at the shoulder - the ball joint at the elbow acting also as the bicep swivel - and the stubby thighs which essentially disappear behind his bumper when his legs are raised forward. I was a little surprised to find that he has a thigh swivel joint just above the knee and, while his ankle tilt is mainly for use in transformation, it can be very good for posing as well. My favourite thing about Hubcap's articulation - by far - is that his arms can be positioned in such a way that his hands, sculpted as if he's just starting to clench his fists, are holding onto his bumper. The only thing that lets Hubcap down, and only by today's standards, is that his feet are sculpted for a straight-legged pose rather than for the slight A-stance adopted by more recent toys, meaning a wider-legged stance leaves him balanced on a curved section in the insides of his feet.

The fact that Hubcap doesn't entirely fit the live action movie 'bot aesthetic really should have worked in the mold's favour, because it could have been re-used in other continuities. It might even be a better fit to the bizarre 'knight in armour' look of Age of Extinction and The Last Knight, than it was to Revenge of the Fallen. The poor choices in paintwork (most specifically in the lack thereof in robot mode) and plastic colours mean there's nothing to connect the robot to the vehicle except the vehicle panels tacked onto the robot, but the end result manages to look pretty cool even if it doesn't fully convince. The robot, while suitably skinny, just looks too high-tech compared to the likes of Ransack... almost like a futuristic robot endoskeleton inhabiting a vintage car costume. It's the vehicle mode that makes Hubcap interesting, and it's a shame it hasn't (yet) been used again... I suspect I'd be very tempted to pick up other versions of this figure...

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