Monthly Archives: June 2016
For the past year or so Hasbro has focused their Transformers toyline around the Combiners Wars concept. Over a relatively short period of time they have given us modern updates of classic Cominers like Bruticus, Defensor, Devastator, Menasor, and Superion and they’ve even created a couple new ones, like Optimus Maximus and Sky Reign, using classic characters who weren’t traditionally combiner bots. It’s been a fun but expensive year to be a Transformers collector which is why I have to draw the line somewhere. When Hasbro revealed their latest combiner a few months back, a brand new gestalt named Victorion, I decided to pass.
Victorion was the result of the 2015 “Fan Built Bot” poll. Hasbro let fans vote to determine their latest combiners’ gender, name, vehicle build, color scheme, special power, origin, nemesis, and attitude. The result was a cyan/red/white female combiner made up of a firetruck, a motorcycle, and a couple of helicopters and race cars, that has gravity control powers, hails from the Sea of Rust, has a beef with Galvitronus and acts independently. I didn’t participate in the poll but I’m pretty happy with what those who did came up with. A female combiner was a neat idea but I determined that I didn’t have the shelf space or the funds to devote to a large expensive character I had no attachment to. Fortunately she was only available as an online boxset, rather than being sold as individual components in retail stores like the other combiners were, so that made it easier to pass on her. Out of sight, out of mind.
But then a couple of weeks ago I picked up the latest Transformers comic book from IDW. I collect the comics in collected trade paperback format so I’m a few months behind the standard releases. The latest TPB was called Distant Stars and it collected The Transformers: Windblade issues #4-#7, as well as the Combiner Hunters one-shot. The collection features the first appearances of Victorion and the Rust Renegades that combine to form her. After reading the story arc I knew I had to buy the damn toy. IDW’s comics are so good that I cannot help but want a toy of any character that appears in them. I was taking a few days to mull over ordering the set from BigBadToyStore when my buddy Darryl who owns Giant Robot Comics posted on facebook that he had a few in stock. I went over the next day and picked one up.
I admit that there’s a part of me cursing my lack of self-control for paying $175 for 6 repaints of figures I already have but for the most part I’m pleased with my purchase. Repaints and retools is the name of the game when it come to all toy lines these days so I can’t knock Victorion for a lack of new tooling. One thing I really like about the set is the unified colour scheme. Devastator is really the only other combiner to be so cohesive. The colours used are unique and don’t bring to mind any other Transformer.
It’s tough to pick a favourite Rust Renegade but I think mine might be Jumpstream. Her alt mode is that of a Lamborghini Diablo so she shares the same build as last year’s Stunticon, Breakdown. Their car modes are identical but there was some retooling done to differentiate the two in robot mode. Jumpstream has a new chest piece, new lower arms, and most notably a new head. I feel she has the most feminine head of all the Renegades which is why she’s probably my favourite. The face sculpt is reminiscent of Arcee with a paint deco akin to Windblade.
Jumpstream is a sturdy figure with good articulation and sculpting. Her only weapon is a shield which leaves her lacking in the offensive department but it’s a nice-looking piece that joins with the other Renegades’ weapons to form a larger sword for Victorion. I’m really pleased to add so many new females to my Transformers shelf. Fans went decades with none and now we have about ten. Girl Power. 8 out of 10.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a Beast Saga figure so let’s take a look at one, shall we? Here’s a quick refresher: In the 80s, Japanese toy company Takara produced a line of small animal warrior action figures called Battle Beasts. They were nowhere near as popular as other 80s properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers but I loved them just the same. The short-lived line fizzled out after 3.5 waves of figures. It vanished for over 20 years until , in 2012, Takara revived the line as Beast Saga. The name may have changed and the BS figures were bigger and more detailed but there was no mistaking Beast Saga’s origins. Both lines consisted of warrior animals wearing armor and brandishing weapons, and both were marketed more so as a game than a line of action figures. Many of the BS figure designs were clearly inspired by their old BB counterparts but there were a few wholly original characters in the mix as well; such as Bundot the pigeon.
The Battle Beasts line had a number of birds but it didn’t have a pigeon. Bundot here, or Saga Pigeon as I prefer to call him, was included in a 3-pack along with two other birds, an eagle and a falcon. You see, Battle Beasts were divided into teams by their chest emblems (wood, fire, or water) but Beast Saga critters were grouped by their preferred habitat: land, sea, or air. When I was a kid I didn’t pay any mind to the supposed emblem loyalties. I had two teams of Battle Beasts, good guys and bad guys, and I played with them just as I would any other toy line. If Beast Saga figures had come out when I was a kid I wonder whether I would’ve done the same or stuck to the land, sea, and air theme. Having multiple warring factions can be fun.
I like every single one of the Beast Saga figures so it’s a real shame that the line got cancelled so quickly. I never really expected it to catch on in North America but I hoped that Japanese interest would keep it afloat for a few more waves. I wouldn’t say that Bundot is one of my favorites but I still like him a lot. The fact that he’s a species of warrior animal I didn’t have as a kid makes him feel fresh and new but it also prevents any nostalgic connection; I can’t pretend he’s the son of any of my beloved Battle Beast figures as I do with characters like Saga Lion and Saga Deer.
If I’d had Beast Saga figures when I was a kid I think I would have relegated this character to a comic relief role. It’s good to have some light hearted characters and I just cannot imagine Saga Pigeon as a name-taking ass-kicker. I see pigeons every day and nothing about them says tough. I feed them on my lunch breaks and even when I throw food directly at them they almost always lose out to the smarter, faster birds and they just end up waddling around in circles cooing like clueless assholes. I wouldn’t make Bundot an idiot but I can see him being a little clumsy and oblivious.
The sculpting on this figure is top-notch. The armour, the feet, and the wings are all loaded with detail. The face sculpt really captures the blank stare of a pigeon. The paint job is also quite nice. The aqua blue armor with gold accents looks good against his gray feathers. It’s a shame that more of the sculpted details didn’t get painted.
One interesting thing about Bundot is that he’s the only Beast Saga figure to come with a gun. All of the other figures came with bladed weapons. I’m curious as to the reasoning for that. Besides the gun he also came with a shield, a gaming card, and a couple of dice for his chest launcher.
This is a silly but great little toy. 7 out of 10.
The first Interrogator figure was released in 1991. I had essentially stopped paying attention to G.I. Joe by then. I only bought one figure the year before (Rampart: my last childhood Joe) because my interests were shifting to other things. My little brother Brian had just started collecting Joes though so I still had a general idea of what was going on with the brand; such as the introduction of the Eco-Warrior and Sonic Fighter sub-teams. One ’91 character that managed to fly under my radar (or perhaps over it) was Interrogator. He came included with the Cobra Battle Copter and because vehicle drivers weren’t featured on the card backs I wasn’t aware of him. Before the internet card backs and department store catalogues were essentially the only way you knew what figures were released in a given year. A second version of Interrogator with a new paint job was made available as an exclusive mail-away figure in ’93 but I wasn’t aware of that one either. I didn’t discover the character until 2006 with the release of his third figure.
Interrogator v.3 was featured in a 6-pack called Viper Lockdown that also contained Joe Colton, G.I. Jane and 3 Vipers. That pack was a “must-have” for me back in the day. The first Joe and Jane figures, a “name” Cobra character, plus 3 awesome army builders made it a no-brainer. Interrogator quickly became a favourite of mine. I loved his Cobra Commander-esque helmet and formal dress uniform jacket. Plus the colour palette was very striking. His file card described him as follows:
He can usually break prisoners by simply talking to them. With a soothing voice that lulls captors into a trance, the careful application of logic and reason, and just a hint of sympathy, he soon as the information he needs. “Of course I could simply hurt them until they talk. But it’s so much more amusing to twist their minds until all they want to do is tell me every single secret they know.”
Sounds pretty badass. Interrogator was calculating and patient which made him a good counterpart to the impulsive Commander. That 2006 figure remains one of my favourites from the new-sculpt era.
A 4th O-ring version was released in 2010 as part of that year’s Con set. Version 4 had a removable helmet for the first time plus he looked more prepared for the battle field in a tactical vest instead of a dress jacket. I never got that version partly because of the price but mostly because I was fully invested in the modern-style of figures by then and a set of O-ring figures seemed immediately dated. Well thanks to the Collector’s Club I now have a modern-era Interrogator to add to my collection.
I’ve read some lukewarm reviews of this figure on other sites but I’m really digging it. It’s not 100% faithful to any past incarnations of the character but the design and colour palette are all familiar enough so that there’s no mistaking this figure for anyone else. His body is made up of Cobra Commander and Destro parts. Some have said that the legs are too long for the torso and they might be right but as long as he’s wearing his removable flak vest I don’t notice any proportion issues. I like the combination of the jacket with the vest. It’s like version 3 and 4 merged together. The removable knife and sheath on his shoulder is kind of oddly placed but it doesn’t look bad. There are some nice sculpting elements throughout such as the weird metal pieces attached to his boots. They look cool but I don’t know what purpose they serve. On Arctic Destro I assume they were there to help him walk in the snow but Interrogator has no need for snow grips. I imagine he uses them as some weird torture device, maybe poison tipped boots or hydaulics that allow him to crush bones.
His head is the face first used on Flash (2009) from the Rise of Cobra line. It’s a fairly generic masked head and it’s covered by the removable helmet from Interrogator v.4. I had planned to take a pic of him with his helmet off but it’s on there so tight I didn’t bother. I do like the fact that the helmet is removable though and I think the 2010 helmet holds up quite well. It’s a bit plain but closer to the character’s original appearance than the more elaborate 2006 version was.
For accessories Interrogator comes with a small knife and sheath, a display base, a blue pistol, blue handcuffs, blue nunchucks and a larger knife with a red cobra-shaped hilt. The blue accessories aren’t very realistic but it’s a pretty shade of blue that matches his equally sharp pants and I like them. The promotional pics of this figure didn’t really excite me but in hand I think its great. 9 out of 10.
The latest FSS shipment from the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club arrived a couple of weeks ago and it was a doozy. The two figures were Interrogator, who turned out much better than I was expecting, and the other was Billy Arboc.
Billy first appeared in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (RAH) issue 10 published by Marvel Comics in 1983. He was part of a small group of rebels trying to overthrow Cobra, a terrorist group who hadn’t taken over his hometown of Springfield. It wasn’t a major role and he wasn’t even given a name in that issue. However, two years later, in issue 33, he returned posing as a member of Cobra Youth (think Hitler Youth) as part of a ploy to assassinate Cobra Commander. The plot was foiled by Destro and in the end it was revealed that Billy is actually the son of Cobra Commander. The Commander spares Billy’s life but their family ties don’t stop CC from torturing the poor kid over the betrayal. These events result in Storm Shadow, Cobra’s resident ninja, defecting from the team, rescuing Billy, and training him as his apprentice.
Things seemed to be looking up for young Billy. That is until Scrap Iron, a Cobra mercenary, blew him up in issue 43 along with the Soft Master and Candy Apple. I wasn’t a big fan of Billy at that point so I wasn’t heartbroken about his demise but I was sad to see Ripcord’s girlfriend Candy bite the dust.
In issue 55 we found out that Billy survived the explosion. He was in a coma and missing both an eye and a leg but he was alive. Billy awakens and, after a short bout of amnesia, carries on with his ninja training with the aid of an artificial leg and an eyepatch. This is when Billy started getting cool. He had become an effective member of the Arashikage ninja clan and he was participating in Joe missions. Unfortunately, that momentum came screeching to a halt when Cobra Commander buried him alive with a bunch of other traitors in issue 98. Once again, Billy is seemingly killed.
In issue 114 it was revealed that Billy and Zartan managed to dig their way to safety from the buried bunker but fan favorite characters like Dr. Mindbender and Croc Master weren’t so lucky. Billy appeared a couple more times after that before the series came to a rather abrupt end with issue 155.
Billy really came into his own when Devil’s Due picked up the rights to publish Joe comics and continued the story nearly 10 years later. It was during the Devil’s Due series that Billy adopted the look used for this figure. Billy had a good run at Devils Due but during their final storyline “World War III”, published just before they lost the license to IDW, Billy was killed by his father and left hanging from a pole as an example to others plotting against Cobra.
Once IDW took over they started their own brand-new Joe universe but they also decided to continue Marvel’s RAH storyline in a separate book, picking up after issue 155 and ignoring everything Devil’s Due had done. That meant WWIII never happened and thus Billy had a new lease on life. He was featured prominently for a while but then IDW killed him off in issue 172. This dude just can’t catch a break.
So as you can see, Billy has been an important part of Joe lore for over 30 years and yet there has never been an action figure of him until now. He may not be the most interesting character visually but I think it’s about damn he appeared in plastic form. Billy now joins the ranks of Dr. Venom and Kwinn; integral characters created by Larry Hama for the Marvel series that didn’t get made into an action figure until decades after their introduction.
I’ve waited a long time for this figure so my expectations were high and I’m happy to report that I’m quite pleased with the final product. Some fans may have preferred a Billy figure wearing his ninja outfit and others may have preferred him as a young kid but this is the Billy I wanted. I’m actually kind of surprised the Club went with the Devil’s Due look since those stories have been wiped from the RAH continuity but I’m glad they did. The body is made up of Snake Eyes and Flint parts which work fine. The arms seem a little long and the shirt is insanely tight but those aren’t major issues. I personally dislike the wide neck style of his t-shirt (I would never wear it) but it is comic accurate so I don’t mind it here. The colors are pretty basic leaving the figure at risk of being drab but the bright red Arashikage tattoo on his forearm saves the day.
The head is a newly sculpted piece. It perhaps reads a little feminine (both Vanessa and my pal Ryan thought this figure was female) but I don’t really see it. I’m really glad the Club splurged for a new head because Billy deserves better than a lousy repaint after all these years. The eyepatch seems a little small and low to cover up his missing eye but other than that I think it’s pretty great.
For accessories, Billy has a sword that can be sheathed rather flimsily in his bandolier, a machine gun, a grappling hook, and a display base. It’s not a ton of stuff but a sword and a gun is all he really needed weapon-wise anyway. I’m not a fan of the card art and I don’t know why they gave him the alias of Billy Arboc (an anagram of Cobra) but those don’t detract from the thrill of finally owning a Billy figure. I’m thankful the Club listened to fans and finally produced this long in demand figure. 9 out of 10.