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Knight Morpher Commander

Mastermind Creations
by yo go re

In 2006, IDW Publishing started a new subline of stories known as "Evolutions" - alternate-reality tales that cast the Transformers in different periods in history. It's basically the TF version of What If--? or Elseworlds or Infinities... you get the idea. It's also similar to Dreamwave's Transformers/GI Joe, which took place in WWII.

Anyway, so far they've only released one "Evolutions" series: Hearts of Steel. Set in the mid-to-late 19th century, the story involved Bumblebee and the other Autobots being awoken by John Henry - not that one, that one - and fighting steampunk Decepticons with the help of Mark Twain.

Half the fun of the story was seeing the redesigns, of course, but sadly, Hasbro doesn't have time on the schedule to put out random one-shot designs. [Tell that to The War Within and War For Cybertron, binkie! --ed.] It'd be like doing Marvel Legends based on 1602: really awesome, but impractical. And when it comes to "awesome but impractical," that's where super skilled fans come in.

In 2008, Singaporean Eric Chan re-started a project he'd begun two years before, making model kits of the character he called "HOS01." The sets were popular, but their very nature as garage kits limited the number of fans who could conceivably own one. Then, in 2009, he joined forces with a few other folks to form Mastermind Creations, and their first project was to turn HOS01 into a more traditional toy. Anticipation was high!

Make no mistake: just like Fansproject's TFX-01 City Commander was "not" Ultra Magnus, this set is "not" Optimus Prime. It's KM-01, aka Knight Morpher Commander. Any similarity to any real person character, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Knight Morpher Commander is sold in a stylish black box, with a photo of his head in the center of the front. Inside the figure is held in place by a clamshell tray, for safe storage capabilities.

Knight-Morpher Commander is a steam locomotive, measuring 9½" from the rear of the engine to the tip of the cow catcher. It's 5" at its tallest point - the smokestack - and is less than 3" wide the whole way back. The engine has a red boiler, an extended grey cab, and the footboard and structures below it are dark blue. The detailing on the train is excellent, from the tiny rivets seemingly holding pieces together to the large plates curving over the roof and the wooden planks on the sides. Look at the back and you'll see a door leading to the inside and ladder access to the roof; look at the front and you'll see light-piped headlights. It's beautiful stuff. 14 of the train's 16 wheels really rotate, as well. though you really have to question why the wheels are red instead of silver or gray.

Converting KMC is very similar to converting your Optimus Prime of choice. The grey cab breaks apart and is removed, like Prime's trailer, leaving you with a red and blue boiler. Even the arms and legs unfold the same way! As a very cool little Easter egg for old-school Transfans, the instruction booklet is even done in the traditional style right down to the useless technical chatter like "some poses may require hand support" and "please retain this information for future use." That is some crazy attention to detail!

In robot mode, Optimus "Knight Morpher Commander" stands nearly 7" tall, which makes him approximately the same height as the various "Classics" Primes. The color layout is mostly the same as the character you're thinking of, with a red upper body, blue legs, and silver limbs in between. The colors are rather dark, but that just gives him an aged, soot-covered appearance.

The figure has a swivel neck, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel wrists, wivel waist, swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, hinged knees and balljointed ankles. Now, the curve of the forearms keeps the wrists from really turning at all, and the elbows are technicaly double-hinged, but the joint is so tough to move as to be nearly useless. Still, you can get a lot of decent poses out of him. Oh, and so the leg armor doesn't get in the way at all, it's mounted on balljoints, as well.

If we can briefly drop the pretense that this somehow isn't meant to be Hearts of Steel Optimus Prime, there's a lot of detail in the design that harkens back to the standard; the front of the vehicle mode forms his chest - in this case it's the front of the boiler, rather than a truck's windows; a hinge sculpted below that takes the place of the grill, and he still has a silver "belt" with a yellow buckle; there are yellow arrows on his forearms, small lights over his clavicles, and vents on his shins. They even kept the exhaust pipes on his shoulders! But best of all, when you open his chest, you'll see the "Leadership-module," wink wink. And it's removable!

Prime's face is the same as you'd expect: blue helmet, silver crest on the forehead, antennae rising over his ears, big silver mouthplate, the whole deal. There have been some cosmetic changes to bring it in line with the Hearts of Steel aesthetic, such as small vents on his mouthplate, and the fact that his ear-dealies are now small smokestacks rather than something more futuristic. His eyes are light-piped blue.

Rather than just disappearing into subspace, KMC's "trailer" opens up into a battle platform. Boy, that sounds familiar, doesn't it? Looks familiar, too! The sides hinge out, there's a ramp at one end and even a cannon, and every inch of it is sculpted with as much detail as the space will allow. The cannon rotates, raises, and can even be broken down into a few different configurations.

For instance, when you first open the thing, the cannon is huge! But two pieces of the barrel are used to create a jetpack for Prime, so away they go. When they're gone, they reveal a telescoping lance that can combine with the former tip of the cannon to become a handheld weapon. If you don't like the remaining cannon looking so shrimpy, maybe you'd like to forgo the jetpack and have the spear sticking out of the barrel as a super gun. The choice is yours!

The train's smokestack becomes KMC's gun, and it looks very similar to the classic version. If you really want to put the "knight" in "Knight Morpher," give him the lance and the included shield, and attach the removable slatted visor, and he'll be ready to play A Cybernetic Yankee in King Arthur's Court. So that he can properly hold the lance (ie, like a jouster tilting on the list), there are extra fists stored beneath the battle platform. These fists are molded with a slight downward angle, so whichever accessory you want him to hold can be tipped forward. Just be warned: the wrist pegs are already showing stress marks, and the fit of weapons in the hand is indescribably tight; once you put a weapon in the tilted hand, you might not get it back.

If you want to get technical, Optimus Prime didn't really appear in Hearts of Steel - he was in the icy prologue, but wasn't one of the Autobots who woke up and took part in the story proper. However, series artist Guido Guidi did work up a design for Prime, and that concept art is what this fan-made toy is based on. There are some quality issues present - apparently a lot of people have gotten figures missing their hands, and mine is lacking one of the small tabs that locks the shoulder in place - but the materials and construction are nearly on-par with real releases, and the overall design is improved from the model kit version.

The $85 asking price is high for what you get, but it's a version of the character Hasbro will never, ever make. I'm an absolute sucker for trains, especially old steam engines, so getting one that turns into Optimus Prime is, like, 8-year-old yo go re's dream toy. If you look under the back of the cab, there's a hitch there designed to connect... nothing, yet. But it does suggest that Mastermind Creations wants to do more train-based TFs-- sorry, train-based Knight Morphers, and if that's the case, Knight Morpher Commander has me looking forward to it.

Still don't understand the red wheels, though.

-- 06/15/10

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