It's getting harder all the time to keep the various Transformers lines straight. Armada, Energon, Universe, Masterpiece, and even a few Robots in Disguise toys are all on the shelves at once. And now we can add one more line to that tally, the Alternators.
The idea behind the Alternators is simple: robots that transform into cars. Which, okay, yes, is the basic premise behind most of the Transformers. But this is different. This time Hasbro is going back to bot basics, drawing on the classic G1 for inspiration not just in names, but in every aspect of the toys.
Whether engaged in raging battle or friendly conversation, seldom is Smokescreen up to what he appears to be up to. More likely, an ulterior purpose exists. In combat, his job is to lead the enemy astray, to prevent him from discovering the true nature of an Autobot strategy until it is too late for the enemy to counter it. It is a job he performs with great proficiency. His duplicity carries over to his personal affairs as well. Charming and affable, it is easy for Smokescreen to use his genuine camaraderie with his fellow Autobots in order to root out their deepest concerns. Strangely enough, in Optimus' eyes, the most devious of the Autobots is also the most trusted.
Back in Generation 1, Smokescreen was a sleek racing car. Painted red and blue, the #28 car was, like most of the early Transformers, designed after a specific vehicle; this one was actually the customized Datsun 280 ZX driven by Don Devendorf. As the point of the Alternators line really is "robots in disguise," Hasbro has licensed the car designs from the manufacturers, re-creating specific cars with uncanny detail.
Alternators Smokescreen is still a sleek racecar -
specifically, the #8 Subaru Impreza WRC from the Subaru World Rally Team, driven by Tommi Makinen. In car form, Smokescreen is entirely indistinguishable from the real thing: it's got all the logos and sponsor stickers, the racing style mirrors, the proper golden rims and even the distinctive rear spoiler; the car is painted with the exact metallic blue and fluorescent yellow scheme as its full-sized counterpart and has real rubber tires, a feature not widely seen on Transformers since G1.
Even the interior of the car is detailed.
The dashboard has all the readouts and gauges of a real vehicle, a glove compartment on the passenger side, a gearshift and parking brake, adjustable seats and a moving steering wheel. The hood, trunk and all four doors (the SWR Team switched to a four-door model in 2001) open. This really is a terrific 1/24 scale model of the WRC, and would be a perfect addition for any race fan's car collection. But this is a Transformer, so we're not finished yet.
Even Smokescreen's transformation makes references to the old days: his arms are tucked into the engine compartment, the back window splits to become feet and his head pops out of the hood. Of course, things are much more complex now. The transformation begins by opening the hood and removing the engine. Then open the front doors and pull the front and rear sections of the car apart. Flip down the rear bumper, fold the legs into place, twist the waist around, pull the arms out from beneath the hood, drop down the front of the car and tuck the roof away. In robot form, Smokescreen stands 7" tall.
The point of all the added detail is that Smokescreen looks just like he used to, but actually has some articulation. He moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips and knees. He's also got two articulation points in each hand to move his fingers. In a wonderfully creative move, the car's engine folds out to become Smokescreen's gun, which looks extremely like the G1 figure's weapon. We're only missing the two rocket launchers on his shoulders. No, the figure isn't 100% G1 accurate, but I'd rather have a brilliantly engineered and executed approximation like this than any slavish re-release. It's great that G1 is inspiring new and better toys.
The Alternators are, sadly, expected to be short-lived. Original plans called for ten Autobots, released one per month. Smokescreen is the first, and we already know of at least four more. Hopefully the line will pick up some of the more recognizable Autobots, like Jazz or Bumblebee. And really, wouldn't a few Decepticons be nice, too? I'd love a set of six green and purple Constructicons redone in this style.
What G1 toys do you want to see turned into Alternators? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.