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Ultra Magnus and Skywarp

Transformers Classics
by yo go re

Surprising almost no one, the Transformers Classics line has proven fairly popular, even with no television or comicbook tie-in. These toys are selling by themselves without any kind of "soft advertising," and in today's market, that's a real rarity. To cash in on that popularity, then, it should be no surprise that a lot of the major retailers want exclusives. Wal*Mart and Toys Я Us have some on the way soon, but Target got theirs out first: the Battle for Autobot City.

As commander of Autobot City on Earth, Ultra Magnus commands the most powerful forces ever assembled, of which he is among the greatest. He was given the honor of City Commander by Optimus Prime because of his superior intelligence and incredible might as a warrior. Since taking command he has defended the city against dozens of attacks by Decepticons led by the crafty Skywarp. For his part, Skywarp is determined to breach the city's defenses and destroy Ultra Magnus in order to prove himself to Megatron.

Ultra Magnus is a repaint of the Transformers Classics Voyager Class Optimus Prime, which makes sense since OP and UM are putative brothers. Magnus thinks of himself as a soldier rather than a leader, even though he's more than qualified for the job. Optimus Prime even named Ultra Magnus his successor when he died (though that ultimately didn't work out so well).

This is a big figure, nearly 6¾" tall, and moves at the head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, waist, hips and knees. The range of motion is mostly good, but he'd bit a bit more poseable if his ankles could move, and his waist is somewhat restricted. Unlike "Ultimate Battle" Optimus Prime, this figure doesn't have any action features, which is nice. There's quite a bit of kibble to be found, though, particularly on the forearms and the small of his back. Really large, blatant kibble. Bleh.

The design really says "Ultra Magnus." Or, well, to be more specific, the design really says "Optimus Prime in white," which is the goal. The windows for a chest, the literally wasboard abs, all that. The small sculptural details that cover him are handled well, though his proportions are kind of wonky: the legs are absolutely huge, while the torso is remarkably short. The blue they used to detail him is a fine shade, lighter than Prime's color and therefore quite distinct. The "glass" in the windshield is the same light blue as Magnus' light-piped eyes, and his mouthplate is silver, rather than the G1's blue.

Ultra Magnus has two weapons, a blaster and a heavy rifle. Either can fit in either hand, or they can combine and attach to his back as a sort of over-shoulder missile launcher thing. Looking at the box art, the blaster was originally intended to be white and silver, not solid black. It's not a major change, but the planned version was decidedly more Magnus-specific. The guns both transform, as well: the blaster becomes the truck's smokestacks, and the rifle becomes a wind vane.

The hardest part of the transformation is getting the arms turned around the right way, but even that isn't too tough. Get things started by rotating the front bumper out of the robot's back, then spin him around mid-chest. Tuck the head back into the body, spin the arms out to the side, fold the shoulders backwards and roll the arms and hands into place. Bring in the sides of the cab, fold down the kneepads, raise the legs, straighten the feet and fold the final panels into the open space. Then just attach the former guns and you're finished.

Optimus Prime's truck mode is a quaint, early '80s style COE cab. A classic look, but not the kind of thing you see often on the road these days. The advance of technology means that modern trucks are more aerodynamic, to improve fuel efficiency, and that's what this vehicle offers. There are very few hard lines, but plenty of angles and curves. If this thing barreled past you on the highway, you'd be more impressed with how sleek it looks than annoyed at how fast it was driving. The truck is about 6¼" long and 3½" high. Ultra Magnus doesn't have a trailer to tow, but then, neither did the Optimus Prime he's repainted from.

This "battle in a box" set wouldn't be much of a battle without an enemy for Ultra Magnus to fight, and it's another repaint: in this case, Starscream repainted into Skywarp.

Skywarp was one of the Seekers, so having him share an identical body with Starscream makes sense. In the cartoon, Skywarp was the first Transformer to awaken on earth and get reformatted. He never really had much to do other than fill up crowd shots, and was badly injured in the movie when the Decepticons tried to raid Autobot City - thus his inclusion in this set.

The robot form is quite impressive, and heavily influenced by the G1 cartoon. He's got the big square chest with the cockpit in the center, the big spires on his shoulders, all that. His hands even have the same blocky look, although you no longer have to remove them to transform him. At 5½" tall, this is what the G1 Seekers wished they could be.

Articulation is plentiful. Skywarp moves at the ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and neck. His head actually has a helpful bit of kibble: the plane's nosecone sticks out back there, but you can use it to turn the head without trying to squeeze your fingers in between his shoulder stacks. He has big blasters on his upper arms,but the way they stick out means that you can't point them straight ahead without his wings getting in the way. Lucky for us, the wings can be moved out of the way, or the blasters can be held in his hands.

It's always been hard to turn a thick-bodied robot into a slim-boddied plane, but the Classics Seekers have done it perfectly. The plane's tail fins fold down and rotate away from his ankles, and the feet press up against the shins to reveal the rear landing gear, then the upper legs collapse to bring the halves of the plane together. His hands disappear into his forearms, and the arms then disappear into the body as the cockpit comes out. Spin that around, lock everything in place, and you're finished. The weirdest part of all this? His nipples become the plane's front wheels.

Skywarp is the black and purple plane, and his modern figure reflects the original paint apps without directly copying them. When he was released in 1984, G1 Skywarp was the only Seeker whose color scheme had not previously been seen in Takara's Diaclone line, so honoring that is nice. The interior of the plane seems a bit hollow when he's transformed, but since the body is a nice solid black, you don't really notice it - one definite advantage Skywarp has over Starscream.

Another advantage Skywarp had over Starscream was unintentional. When the G1 toys were released, the numbers on their tech specs were swapped - so while Skywarp's bio talked about his low intelligence, his stats indicated his intelligence was extremely high. In the fiction, he's portrayed as something of a malicious prankster, using his unique teleportation powers more to annoy than to actually achieve any sort of strategic advantage. The missile launchers plug under the F-15's wings, just like on the old figure.

It is admittedly a bit disappointing that Ultra Magnus doesn't come with any kind of armor to create his "super mode" - Hasbro did briefly consider this, but the cost would have been prohibitive. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter. This mold works better as big, bulky Ultra Magnus than it did as Optimus Prime - especially if you put the weapons on his back, giving him a little extra height. Get the "Ultimate Battle" Optimus and the two look great together. And this set is a great value, too: if you bought the two figures these are repainted from, you'd spend $30. This set, however, only costs you $20 - possibly the first time in toy history when a store exclusive cost less than its mass market counterpart(s).

-- 03/20/07

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