Thursday, 3 October 2019

WfC2020 - Early First Impressions

And so, at the New York Comic Con 2019, Hasbro have revealed the first handful of toys from chapter two of the War for Cybertron Trilogy, and my worst fears were confirmed by the name alone: Earthrise.

Hasbro's stated aim with WfC2019 was to show the TransFormers on the eve of the war that eventually led them to Earth - the associated comic from IDW certainly delved into how and why the war started - but the toys they presented didn't fit that brief. With battle damage paintwork, and vehicle modes that were barely different from their terrestrial appearances, it was like Classics all over again, just with a mildly more pronounced sci-fi edge. As more toys were revealed, I felt that the line would have worked better as a continuation of G1, in an alternate timeline to the movie, where the Autobots were fighting to reclaim Cybertron without the fateful battle at Autobot City on Earth and all the subsequent events. What we got was toys that looked like they'd been plucked right from the middle of the war, perhaps a matter of days before a group of Autobots boarded the Ark. There were a few fan favourites and their inevitable repaints (Ironhide/Ratchet, Sideswipe/Red Alert, Prowl/Smokescreen/Bluestreak/Barricade) to bulk up an otherwise remarkably small toyline that didn't come close to covering the first year of Generation 1's vast pantheon, let alone a significant selection of the whole.

The automatic presumption based on what Hasbro originally described was that the War for Cybertron Trilogy would be the now-typical three-act toyline, with the first act representing the start of the war, the second representing the war in full swing and the final act most likely representing either the last batch to leave for Earth or the first to arrive...

...And now we find that WfC2020 is going to be another straight reboot of Generation 1 - with the first revealed toys having entirely terrestrial vehicle modes. The first three to be revealed, ahead of NYCC, were a 'Leader class' Optimus Prime (which is a Voyager class terrestrial flat-nosed truck with a trailer to make up the price point), Voyager class Grapple and a Deluxe class reimagining of the G1 Micromaster base Ironworks in the style of Siege's Weaponisers. At the show, Hasbro also revealed Cliffjumper (with the exception of the TFPrime version, this is the first unique mold for him since G1, as he's normally been a Bumblebee repaint, occasionally at least earning himself a new head), Hoist (last seen as a Trailbreaker repaint in the Thrilling 30 branch of Classics), Wheeljack (last seen as a retooling of Classics Tracks), and Starscream (little more than a Voyager scale version of the Classics mold, albeit with some changes to improve articulation).

Right from the start - maybe not as soon as the trilogy name was made public, but certainly when the first toy images were revealed - my concern was that this 'new' line would just be yet another retread of Generation 1, territory which has been well and truly, not to say repeatedly mined by the last 13-or-so years of TransFormers toylines, starting with Classics. Hasbro had given themselves the opportunity to do something new (perhaps even revisit the TransTech concept), and they fumbled it utterly. But I've already said more than enough about the shortcomings of Siege as a new toyline.

...So, while Siege was nowhere near being the breath of fresh air the toyline desperately needs, and while I loathe the boxy, hyper-detailed stylings of the toys, it at least presented us with an attempt at a fully Cybertronian aesthetic across an entire toyline. The only innovations offered by Earthrise seem to be an expansion of the Weaponiser gimmick, whereby a robot turns into a Micromaster base, and... "shields that can connect to base bots to make a bigger base"? Gotta admit, that's a bit of a disappointment, even with my already-low expectations...

Have the designers already got bored with the Siege style, without bringing us a Cybertronian Jazz, Trailbreaker, Tracks, Wheeljack, Skids... or even an official War for Cybertron Bumblebee? Much as I may hate the style, it seems insane to abandon it completely without first further exploring the war on Cybertron... And these new reveals just feel like Hasbro taking a second run at some of the more disappointing toys of G1 characters from Classics onwards. I wonder if they think they'll be able to do Jazz better than the excellent 2010 Classics version...

...And, really, Hasbro, Generation 1? Again? So soon? Please try to understand that there are TransFormers fans out there for whom Generation 1 is irrelevant. Try something new. And if you - or your shareholders - aren't brave enough to try something new, at least reboot a different bloody toyline.

Then again, maybe they're attempting to condense the whole Generation 1 saga, from 'More than Meets the Eye' to 'TransFormers: The Movie' - with the introduction of Unicron (and, seemingly, Scorponok, if the reveal of a roughly Deluxe class head robot with Titan Master Lord Zarak figure, along the lines of Titans Return Fortress Maximus/Cerebros/Emissary) for Earthrise, perhaps the third chapter will be set after the events of 'TransFormers: The Movie'..? That would, of course, necessitate a new Rodimus Prime, when we've only just had a halfway decent version in the Power of the Primes line...

I'd also expressed a concern that the size classes would be adjusted so that Voyager became the new Leader class, Deluxe became the new Voyager class, while the newly reintroduced Micromasters would become the new Deluxe class. In both cases, I'm almost sad to say, I was right on the money. What few Leader class figures the War for Cybertron line has presented so far have been the equivalent of either large Deluxe or small Voyager with additional parts to make the package up to the chosed price point. This new Optimus Prime comes after Siege has already given us two versions of that character, and the robot is basically the same size as the original Siege figure, but comes with a trailer to make it up to the Leader class price point (though, to be fair, much the same was true of the G1 toy).

Some thoughts on the individual bots? Glad you asked:

Optimus Prime - This one is actually somewhat tempting as a replacement for the 13-year-old Classics version, which was never that great to begin with. Earthrise Prime is better than either Siege toy, but pales in comparison to the Studio Series Bumblebee movie version, even though it shares some similar engineering in places. The head sculpt almost seems to be aiming for an aesthetic derived from the G1 toy but with toned-down elements of the animation model. It has yellow eyes rather than blue, and the trailer actually looks halfway decent. Perhaps this toy is why the most recent reissue of G1 Prime came without a trailer..?
Grapple - Also tempting as I didn't bother with the Classics toy since it was derived from Inferno and so didn't really work as a crane truck. It's very much based on the animation model in style, even down to the orange head, but looks pretty good aside from the very gappy thighs...
Ironworks - An easy pass, as it's not so much a Weaponiser as a miniature Metroplex-style base with a couple of Micromasters. Robot mode looks OK, I just have no need for this sort of toy.
Cliffjumper - Here we have pretty much the only must-buy of the first reveals, since G1 Cliffjumper was my first ever TransFormers toy. Admittedly, he doesn't look great due to its huge backpack, but it's a realistically-styled car rather than the Choro-Q/Penny Racer style of the original, and he comes with his BFG from the G1 cartoon as a multi-part weapon. Some of his engineering appears to be based on the original, non-movie Masterpiece VW Bumblebee...
Hoist - Very animation-style in robot mode, albeit with the toy's massive arm flaps... so, pretty ugly... and his vehicle mode has a rather unfinished, excessively boxy look. I didn't bother with the most recent Hoist (though I did get Trailbreaker), so it's unlikely I'll bother with this one... and the inevitable Trailbreaker repaint is equally unlikely because, while the one I have is far from perfect, at least it doesn't look like the cartoon.
Wheeljack - Bizarrely looks like a step backwards from the Classics version, in that the vehicle mode is hideously ugly and robot mode is boxy and has a 'toon-styled head.
Starscream - While the fan community appears to be debating the point, Hasbro themselves have stated this is basically an upscaled remake of the Deluxe from 2006 with a few tweaks to improve its articulation... Very much an easy pass... Unless I change my mind and decide to replace my 13-year-old Deluxe with a more appropriately-sized version.

Addendum 4/10/19:
I hadn't even fully noticed Soundbarrier, a new Battle Master who... transforms into a shield... that doubles as a platform extension for the bases? I guess it could be said that the emotive cannon-fodder 'bot from The Last Knight, Canopy, is now canon... but this is basically a variation on the Mini-Con concept with an added 'platform mode'. Is this really innovation? TargetMasters - and other Battle Masters from Siege - at least had a rudimentary transformation. Soundbarrier literally just has two hinged panels on his back that fold together for robot mode and out for shield/platform mode, and a peg on his chest to facilitate his use as a shield.

I'm also frankly disturbed by the way corporate speak has penetrated into the toy descriptions: "This ecosystem of collectible figures allows fans to build out epic space battle scenes and connect figures together to expand and customize the battlefield!" - seriously, Hasbro, leave that 'ecosystem' shit in the board meetings.

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