Monday, 9 April 2018

Titans Return Brawn

I've often mentioned that I'm basically ambivalent about much of the fiction associated with the TransFormers brand. Sure, I watched the G1 TV show (when I could - it wasn't exactly aired consistently in the UK, jumping between various time slots in myriad different early morning TV shows), and I'm a huge fan of Beast Wars, TF Animated and TF Prime... I also read the Marvel comic back in the day, but didn't think much of it once the decree came down to stop using the toys as art reference.

But, to cut a long story short, I'm pretty sure that G1 Brawn was a figure I bought largely because of a story in the UK comics - specifically, The Enemy Within (written by franchise stalwart Simon Furman, and brilliantly illustrated by John Ridgway, Mike Collins and Gina Hart) - in which Brawn gets electrocuted and suffers a psychotic break, while Starscream makes his first proper attempt to usurp Megatron, the net result being that one ends up pitted against the other in a one-on-one battle in the desert. It's not the greatest story ever - Furman is far from being my favourite writer at the best of times - but it showcased the characters far better than the TV show ever did.

Like many G1 Mini Autobots who are not Bumblebee, Brawn has had only a very few reworkings over the years - the most notable probably being the bizarre Deluxe class figure in the N.E.S.T. Global Alliance subline of Revenge of the Fallen. With Titans Return, however, Hasbro are trawling their back catalogue - if not actually scraping the barrel quite yet - for characters ripe for an update... And Brawn just happened to be another of the lucky ones...

Vehicle Mode:
Where the original G1 Minibot was clearly a Land Rover, the Titans Return remix is a wholly fabricated off-road, jeep-style vehicle... which looks a little bit like a heavily modified, armoured Land Rover. It's almost a caricature of an off-road vehicle, molded in a deep, forest green plastic with a subtle but effective metallic flake, wheels right at the extreme ends of the car, and very low roof considering the overall size of the vehicle... I suspect it's literally just high enough to accommodate a Titan Master but, on the upside, they did add wing mirrors for a touch more authenticity. In a lot of ways, his vehicle mode reminds me of a smaller, squarer TFPrime Bulkhead.

The front end is adorned with a set of bullbars featuring large headlights and what I'd normally think of as spare petrol tanks but, if that's what they're supposed to be, they're in a pretty stupid place. Oddly, it looks as if there are a couple of smaller headlights, diagonally above and outside of the lights on the bullbars, but these are unpainted. Likewise, there's a set of small sculpted roof lights, but none are painted. The front grill is a bit too short, and reveals Brawn's head just below, but the other sculpted details on the vehicle are pretty good, despite the odd proportions. The back end... is a bit of a disaster area. It looks very much as though a piece of the toy is missing, what with the legs being essentially open and there being a large space between the wheels at the bottom of the vehicle... but one small detail reveals that this is exactly what the designers intended: there are rear indicator lights sculpted on to what would be the underside of the thigh, inside the knee joint in robot mode. On the upside, the back end also features sculpted suspension detail within the wheel wells, though this is arguably as much for robot mode as for vehicle mode.

Along the sides, it looks as though there are two windows behind each of the side windows around the cockpit, but they are unpainted - the canopy is actually molded in black plastic, with the roof and window frame parts painted in - while a couple of boxes and what are probably the actual spare petrol tanks are painted silver, and located below the doors on either side. It's a shame that the plastic these parts are molded in is otherwise unpainted, as that leaves incongruous yellow parts. Takara Tomy's version fixes this and the lack of paint on the hubcaps, but has a couple of issues of its own that means it can't really be considered 'better', just different...

Brawn's vehicle mode is unarmed, but the rear section of the roof, where the spare wheel is mounted can be removed... though, if you think the rear of the vehicle looks bad with the roof in place, it's even worse without it, as there's a huge gap between the two sides, each becoming one of the robot's lower legs, seemingly created to reduce the visual impact of the slot for the shield/gun's handle on the legs. One odd little detail is that the spare wheel is molded with five 'spokes' on the hubcap, while the four other wheels have only three...

Robot Mode:
Given that Titans Return is really just the continuing Generation 1 reboot that started with the Classics line more than ten years ago, it's a little surprising that it's taken so long for Hasbro or Takara Tomy to create a decent, G1 cartoon-based figure for Brawn. Granted, the Classics line took on more of an IDW vibe during the 'Thrilling' 30th Anniversary line, but Combiner Wars quickly brought things back to the toy line's roots... And TR Brawn could easily have leapt straight out of the TV show. He's short, stocky, with enormous arms ending in large, square fists made for punchin' things. It's a bit of a shame - to me - that he has fists rather than the spanner hands of the original toy, but I'm probably in a minority there. The arms and upper body seem a little long for the legs, but that just adds to the impression of 'power in a small frame', which is perfect for the character. One feature from the G1 toy that I really miss on this figure is the 'door wings', particularly as they could have been sort-of accomplished by having the shoulders rotate so the vehicle detail faced forward, and having a separate bicep part swing down from inside the wheel well.

This yellow plastic torso is styled more after the animation model than the G1 toy but, to be honest, that was one of the better features of the animation model - it was close enough but, again, bulked up to emphasise Brawn's physical strength. The torso is nicely detailed, and features cyan paint over the tech detail panel in his 'belt' as well as black in the upper section of the groin - simplifications of the stickers on the G1 toy - and a large Autobot symbol right on the belly. He doesn't feature anything like the strange 'ring pull' detail of the G1 toy's groin sticker, but there is a small circular dent of asymmetrical detailing between the hips.

Unlike G1 Brawn, the TR version comes with a weapon... or a shield... or something. He engages in a small amount of partsforming, whereby the rear section of roof - where the spare tyre is stored - has to be popped off before transforming his legs. It's been given a 5mm peg and can be either plugged into the outside of one of his wrists to act as a small shield (and, given that G1 Brawn was seemingly only vulnerable to attack with electromagnetic waves, at least according to the toy's Tech Specs, surely a little pointless?), or put in his hand to be used as some sort of three-barrelled blaster or missile launcher... Naturally, there are no details about the precise purpose of this accessory, so one can treat it as one sees fit. If you'd rather Brawn didn't have a gun or shield, it can be mounted in the 5mm port on the vehicle mode's roof on his back, for even greater G1 accuracy.

One of the things I liked most about the G1 toy, versus the animation model, was the bare-bones design of Brawn's head. It was shallowly sculpted onto the underside of the vehicle, and was basically a large silver helmet with a tiny silver strip of battlemask below a strip of black visor. Its simplicity, even among the G1 Mini Autobots, was one of its most striking characteristics, so I was always really disappointed by the humanised look of the character in the cartoon. Frankly, I'd still prefer the old kind of head, but I can't argue that the cartoon head works really well on this figure, and he is, at least, instantly recognisable. The proportions of the silver-painted face seem a little off to me but that, too, makes for an accurate representation of the animation model, which was always hopelessly inconsistent.

The funny thing about TR Brawn's transformation is that it's so much like a G1 Mini Autobot - the arms pull out from the sides of the vehicle, the lower legs flip round from the back of the vehicle, then you just stand him up and pose him... exactly like those early G1 figures. It's simple and very familiar... and it's not as if a G1 homage at this size class really needs to be complicated. Much as I do like the more complex transformations that came out of the Revenge of the Fallen toylines, it was the far simpler G1 toys that got me into TransFormers in the first place, and TR Brawn has a welcome sense of nostalgic simplicity.

Brawn's articulation is very much par for the course for a contemporary figure of this size class - the shoulder ball joints are on hinges for transformation, allowing a small amount of shrug, and letting him lift his arms quite a way out to the sides, while the elbows are ball-jointed; the hips are ball-jointed, with a swivel joint in the thigh just below, while the knees are pinned as they need to flip back over the thighs for transformation. His head can turn, but it's rather awkward to grip his smooth, mostly dome-like head and the joint on mine is fairly stiff. All he's really missing is a waist rotation joint, and that's not a huge loss. The lower legs/feet seem as though they might be a little clumsy and problematic in that they're sculpted with an angle to the base of the feet, with no ankle articulation other than whatever can be fudged by careful positioning the of fold-out heel spur. In fact, they're remarkably stable and, while the hips appear to be placed a touch too far forward (considering his large backpack and the placement of his head and shoulders), he doesn't tend to tip over backwards easily.

Curiously, this actually isn't Brawn's first appearance in the Titans Return line. The first was one of the early Titan Master figures, with a face very similar to this one, but packaged with a triple-changing weapon/vehicle accessory rather than an accompanying body. Since the Titan Master interaction with Legends class figures is limited to riding inside their vehicle modes, there's not even any point in acquiring Titan Master Brawn to use with this version. Seems strange to me that Hasbro would create the Titan Master, knowing that this full Legends class figure was on the horizon, but the first few waves of Titan Master figures and their transforming vehicles seem to have all been rather random, throwing out 'popular' characters just for the sake of it.

Titans Return Brawn is a really good figure, and reasonably accurate to the animation model of the 1980s cartoon, if that's your thing. Personally, I would have preferred something a bit more like the G1 toy but, having tried my luck with iGear's attempt at Outback, I've pretty much sworn off the Third Party G1 Mini Autobot updates, as there are so few which feel like genuine 'must haves' among the wide variety of premium Third Party products available, and most of them seem to be aiming to be even closer to the animation model rather than the toy. I've seen that Hasbro are releasing a new version of Outback based on this mold as well, but without his roof-mounted cannon... So I'll probably skip that. To be honest, at this stage, I think the only other G1 Mini Autobot remake I would be interested in is a Cliffjumper... as long as it's not made using the existing Titans Return Bumblebee mold.

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