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Transformers Animated
by yo go re

These days it's pretty commonplace to get both Leader and Voyager Class releases of characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron - Hasbro wants to make sure that even kids whose folks can't drop $50 on a toy can still get the team leaders - but it's much more unusual to see two versions of anyone else. Brawl was an exception, because it's hard to justify only releasing a little Deluxe Class version of a massive tank. However, that still doesn't explain Bulkhead.

It's hard not to like Bulkhead. Despite being huge and strong, he's the kindest, most gentle of the Autobots, and he always has other people's best interest at heart. He's also a klutz. That's why it's so terrifying when the Headmaster takes over his body. Bulkhead regularly engages in wholesale property damage by accident. With the Headmaster in charge of his body, will anybody be able to stop the tide of destruction?

The Transformers Animated line offered two versions of Bulkhead: a Voyager and a Leader. But thanks to the same wonky size issues that led to $10 Lockdown being a bigger toy than $25 Lugnut, the difference between the two was merely a matter of inches. At least, as long as you're just talking size - get into the meat of the figures, and there are plenty of differences. Since I wasn't about to get both, I went big, and got the Leader version.

Bulkhead is 8¾" tall, which sounds sizable, but about 1½" of that is the kibble stacked over his shoulders. His head is only 7" high, so he can look MotU Classics figures in the eye. He has a very military feel about him (thanks to the olive drab body and the white stars on his arms) despite the fact that he's not military at all, but is instead an accomplished space bridge engineer - basically, a repairman. Imagine Andre the Giant showed up at your house and told you he was there to rewire your phone. It's like that.

Press the Autobot symbol on Bulkhead's chest and he says one of three phrases as his eyes and chest light up yellow - it would have been blue, but apparently yellow lights are cheaper. Additionally, his head turns to the side, his eyebrows raise and his jaw lowers. It's similar to the feature seen on Ultra Magnus, though obviously with its own twist. Bulkhead moves at the shoulders, biceps, elbows, hips, knees and ankles.

There are several good play features in this mode, even beyond the talking. Bulkhead has two "air torpedoes" mounted on each arm, and a buzzsaw in his right hand. In the cartoon, he could transform his hand into a wrecking ball, which this toy cannot do (the Voyager class could, somewhat), but sliding a tab on his left arm allows you to flex his fingers. Oh, and although it's entirely unintentional, there's an easter egg in his design: in the episode "Total Meltdown," Bulkhead relaxed by swiveling his kibble around to turn it into a chair; the Leader Class toy can do the exact same thing. Awesome!

Converting Bulkhead between modes is just challenging enough to be fun. There are a few steps that are easy to forget (going both directions), but since Hasbro has published the instructions on their site, you can always double-check you're doing things right. Part way through, yellow lights flash, and we hear the old "transforming" sound.

Bulkhead's altmode is a heavily armored APC, the sort that would look right at home in GI Joe, if it were bigger. The vehicle is 7¼" long, 4¾" wide and 4½" tall. All six wheels roll, and the quote-unquote torpedoes are mounted on the sides. There's an armored turret on the top that neither the Voyager toy nor the animation model have. In this mode, if you press the Autobot symbol on the roof, red lights flash and a siren sounds.

So yes, the toy is good, but there's another reason to choose the Leader Bulkhead over the Voyager: the inclusion of a second character. Technically it's just an accessory, but Bulkhead comes with the Headmaster unit, the robot/device/piloted mecha that was designed by Henry Masterson to take over other robots in combat situations. After he was fired, he discovered that it could just as easily take over Autobots - starting with Bulkhead. All the extra weaponry on the figure, by the way? According to lead character designer Derrick Wyatt, those are all upgrades Masterson would have made if he'd stayed in control of Bulkhead longer.

The Headmaster unit, which looks suspiciously like Galactus, is a hollow piece that fits over Bulkhead's... head. The face, forehead and antennae are molded from clear plastic, theoretically so that the flashing lights can shine through them. It doesn't work very well. Pushing Bulkhead's chest button when the Headmaster is on causes the lights to flash red, rather than yellow, and you'll hear Masterson screaming "Ownage! Total ownage!" Yeah, he's big on the IRL leetspeak (Henry is pretty much the typical internet tough guy). The head also fits the other Animated Leaders, though it doesn't change their electronics the way it does here.

Leader class Bulkhead is definitely fun, and has more to offer than the Voyager version. My only complaint is that I wish he were bigger - lose the electronics and give us another inch or two of plastic. Of course, it would also have been super rad if the Headmaster unit could change into its little stubby-legged robot form, but that may be asking too much.

-- 01/12/10

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