Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Zob's Thoughts on Robot Heroes Fortress Maximus vs. Scorponok

After all is said and done, I think the Robot Heroes figures are my all-time favorite Transformers merchandise to collect. They're small (so they don't take up much shelf room), they're cheap (these days you can get four characters for the price of a single Deluxe toy), and they're baby-safe (my 16-month old plays with my extras on a regular basis). A lot of people seem to have trouble getting past the fact that they don't transform—which might be a problem for me if the only thing I liked about Transformers was the gimmick of robots folding up into vehicles. I'm a huge fan of the characters and the mythos they inhabit, though, so whether or not every single piece of Transformers merchandise I own can rearrange itself into a car or a plane is, ultimately, immaterial. I think the people who criticize Robot Heroes for this fact are missing what the toy line is really about.

Probably the biggest Robot Heroes figures we're ever likely to get (unless they do mega-sized figures that Hasbro seemed to be hinting at in one of their recent online Q&A sessions), Fortress Maximus and Scorponok each measure over three inches tall—larger, even, than a lot of the regular Heroes of Cybertron figures, and significantly taller than the comparative behemoths like Darth Vader and Chewbacca from this toy line's cousin, the Star Wars Galactic Heroes. (It's quite possible that the reason the Robot Heroes appear to have been scaled down lately was to make Fort Max and Scorponok look bigger by comparison.) Unlike a lot of pairings that simply don't withstand scrutiny, pairing these two characters together makes perfect sense, given that they were arch foes in both the cartoon universe and the Marvel comic book. (We'll quietly ignore the fact that the original 1987 toys could never have been a match for one another, since Fort Max was easily twice the height of Scorponok.) They come packaged on a standard-sized blister but they're both held down with about eight rubber bands apiece, clearly a preventative effort to keep the sheer weight of the figures from dislodging the bubble from the card. (One oddity of the artwork is that Scorponok appears to have stubby little super-deformed hands, embedded inside his claws. Thankfully, the toy isn't designed this way.) The cross sell on the back of the package includes the G1-themed Wheeljack vs. Decepticon Reflector set, the Beast Machines Optimus Primal vs. Jetstorm set, and the Beast Wars Tigatron vs. Inferno set. This set ships with all of these plus repacks of Snarl vs. Sharkticon and Perceptor vs. Hardshell.

Robot Heroes are supposed to be cute, first and foremost, and Fortress Maximus does not disappoint. There's just something ridiculously fun about robots with huge heads, giant fists and feet, and tiny little bodies that I can't quite put into words. Some obvious concessions had to be made with his design (his head is normally nestled in between the components on his shoulders, so their size had to be reduced to accommodate his huge head), but all in all he made the translation to chibification quite gracefully. As with a lot of Robot Heroes toys, he seems to be based primarily on his original animation model (complete with torso guns that appear to telescope into his body instead of swinging out from either side, since this was the way the toy was designed in the prototype stage) but with a handful of elements taken from the G1 toy. There are lots of little sculpt details that make it clear that somebody was really doing their homework—the folded-up legs and arms of Cerebros are visible on the back of Fort Max's head, and the flip-open panels on his wrists and forearms that originally revealed hidden weapons are in evidence here. He's got articulation at the head and shoulders, though you can't completely rotate his arms around without the ramps mounted on his upper arms scraping against his body. He's got a gigantic Autobot symbol on his pelvis, probably the only spot on the toy that would accommodate such a large tampograph.

It's worth mentioning that the Fortress Maximus figure that was part of the Heroes of Cybertron figure series was originally from Takara's Super Collection Figure series, and as such was designed to resemble the Japanese version of the character, who had an alternate cartoon design and was equipped with a sword that the domestic version of the 1987 toy didn't come with. By contrast, the Robot Heroes version of Fortress Maximus seems to be modeled after the American version of the character—specifically, the Marvel Comics incarnation. While the cartoon version of Fort Max was colored pretty much like the toy, the animators made sure to give him blue optic sensors, as was the tradition for the animated series. In the comics, Fortress Maximus had red eyes, the same color as the consumer-applied eye stickers on the toy. The dead giveaway here, though, is the color of his helmet—only the Marvel Comics version of the character had a purple head (I'm thinking this was meant to represent a shade of grey, or at least the four-color printing process equivalent). It's difficult to say for sure whether this was a deliberate homage or somebody was just using a page from the comic book for reference (it's happened at least once before, when Starscream appeared in Beast Wars sporting his comic book colors), but given that the Transformers Universe version of Ratchet is also firmly grounded in comic book lore, I'd say this was done on purpose. After all, the cartoon incarnation of Fort Max was a lifeless construct—an old, abandoned Nebulon city that was rebuilt by Spike Witwicky—hardly a true Transformer. The Marvel Comics version of the character was far more compelling—to me, he ranks right up there with Blaster and Ratchet as one of the most significant Autobots in the comic book.

Leaving the Japanese PVC figure out of the equation, this is the first new toy sold in America designed to represent the original Scorponok (no, I don't count the Transformers: Energon toy or the 2007 movie toy as representing the same character). The reason for Fortress Maximus's comic book colors now becomes clear—Scorponok, too, is intended to represent the Marvel Comics incarnation of the character. I couldn't be happier with this choice. The cartoon version of Scorponok was just an ancient city on Nebulos that had been rebuilt by the Hive into a battle station—like Fortress Maximus, it wasn't even alive, and could barely be considered a Decepticon in its own right. The comic book character, by contrast, was a compelling, tortured soul, the result of a psychological fusion between the Decepticon tyrant named Scorponok and the comparatively benevolent Lord Zarak. Driven by his desire for power and victory, but tempered by a sincere fondness for peace, Scorponok forged a true friendship with Optimus Prime before meeting his heroic end at the hands of Unicron in what can only be described as one of the most tragic, poetic death scenes in Transformers lore.

Forget those cute and cuddly Robot Heroes Decepticons who want to give you a great big hug—Scorponok just wants to shake your hand! No matter how you pose him, his claws completely dominate the sculpt (I actually struggled with finding a good angle to photograph him from because his claws were blocking the view of everything else). Like Fortress Maximus, the figure has three points of articulation, though due to the sheer weight of his arms, it's difficult to get him to achieve certain poses (they will not, for example, stay pointed forwards for more than a few seconds at a time). I was a little concerned about the arm pegs breaking off because of the strain, and was fully prepared to disassemble him and reinforce them as a preventative measure—until I dipped the figure in hot water and discovered that the pegs are significantly thicker and stronger than those of your average Robot Heroes toy. Longtime readers of my reviews may recall that the original batch of Robot Heroes toys had thick arm pegs with easily-removed arms, which were later changed to thin arm pegs with limbs that were much more difficult to remove (probably so kids didn't lose integral parts of the toys). Scorponok's arm pegs are shaped more like the original thick versions, with gigantic mushroom-shaped knobs on the ends to ensure that the arms remain secured. (Ever after soaking the toy in hot water, though, I had a great deal of difficulty popping the shoulders back in place. I don't advise this type of disassembly.)

Obviously, the sculpt for Scorponok is based heavily on his animation design, but one interesting addition was the clear plastic visor for his face. The original 1987 toy was equipped with such a visor, whose presence helped to mask the fact that Scorponok's helmet was empty when the toy was in scorpion mode and the Lord Zarak figure was inside the toy's chest cockpit. While the alternate animation model used for the Headmasters episodes in Japan played up this feature of the toy quite prominently, it was completely ignored in animation for episodes aired in America. This is an interesting way of striking a balance between the two designs. All the other important design elements are present here—his arm-mounted guns, his back-mounted tail (which was omitted from the character's design by some of the Marvel Comics artists), and a tiny little version of his arm-shield.

Oddly enough, the color scheme for Scorponok doesn't seem to correspond to any existing version of the character. He's predominantly purple and green, but his helmet antennae are red (they should be orange) and his helmet and feet are black (they should be grey, like his chest plate). He's also got numerous paint applications that seem to be based on the consumer-applied decals on the original toy, like the dark blue panels on his pelvis and the blue rectangles on his upper legs, but it makes him look unauthentic. While other Robot Heroes toys are missing vital paint applications that would have gone a long way to help the appearance of the toy, Scorponok has the opposite problem—he's got too many different colors going on. A good color scheme can make or break a toy (and by "good" I mean "accurate"), and it bothers me that they took so many liberties with his paint applications (and by "took liberties" I mean "made mistakes"). Also, his Decepticon symbol obviously wouldn't fit on his chest plate (why they don't just start using smaller tampographs is beyond me), so they did the next best thing and stick it on his back.

Looking at the Robot Heroes toy line as a whole (I've been rather compulsive about collecting the entire series), this is definitely one of the coolest sets to date, despite the color scheme oddities—and considering the size of the toys, you're definitely getting your money's worth. I know that the Transformers Universe series is winding down to a close, and that the Robot Heroes series will be dominated by Revenge of the Fallen characters for the forseeable future, so it's particularly nice that they managed to squeeze in this set at the tail-end of the assortment. In my opinion, you'd be a complete fool not to buy this set.

Zob

11 comments:

Jimtron said...

I'm surprised you found it retail. I went nuts trying to find it until I broke down and got it on ebay for like $40. All the best ones seem shortpacked, no?

B-W said...

Not bad. How'd you do the pics?

monkeytoad said...

I love made up April Fool's crap! Beautiful work. I would so buy these it's not even funny.

Do Superion! Metroplex! Devastator!

BB Shockwave said...

Geez, please say they are NOT an April's fool joke. These are simply awesome.

Jimtron said...

Alas, BB Shockwave, those toys are not real.

Jimtron said...

And, if I may say so, an excellently constructed one at that.

WeeklyHero said...

I would love a Scorponok like that one day.

monkeytoad said...

Zob, can you explain how you made these? Did you photoshop Robot Heroes and Japanese PVCs? They look fantastic....

Zobovor said...

Monkeytoad, they're heavily-altered Japanese PVC images (for Scorponok's head, I used Robot Heroes Shrapnel).

Colin said...

You really had me fooled. I was googling sites to try and find them. Great custom job by the way. You should consider casting them and putting them up for sale.

monkeytoad said...

Great job General Zob. I thought Shrapnel's head looked familiar. It threw me because the original has an all silver face...

Seriously great job on these! The only thing that tipped me off that it was fake (other than April 1st and the fact that Hasbro hates me too much to actually release these great figures) was Fort Max's Left leg - it feels very Photoshop warped and stretched. But dude - it's better than many photoshop artists that I know could do. I'd love to see your robot heroes version of G1 Superion, Devatstator, Defensor or Bruticus. When you get around to it. ;)