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Origin Wheeljack

Transformers Legacy United
by yo go re

Well this is a heck of a way to learn "Buzzworthy Bumblebee" has been cancelled!

This time last year, we were reviewing "Origin" Jazz and pondering how likely it was we'd get a Wheeljack to complete the set of "More Than Meets the Eye" Cybertron-mode Autobots. At this point, I'm confident saying the odds are better than 50%. While the first two releases were part of the Target-exclusive Buzzworthy Bumblebee branding, this one is just in regular Legacy United packaging. Still a Target exclusive, though, and rolling out across the country very slowly.

Wheeljack gets the honor of being the first Transformer ever seen in motion - "More Than Meets the Eye, Part 1" opens with him crawling up out of a sewer [*insert Civvie sound here* --ed.] and helping Bumblebee up behind him. He then changed into a car, making him the first one to do that, too. Damn, the writers shouldn't have made that character Wheeljack, they should have made it Trailblazer!

The unifying design theme of all three robots in this little sub-line is "a painfully excessive amount of kibble." Designer Ōnishi Yūya (who, coincidentally, also did the last Wheeljack I got) at least made an attempt to deal with it here: the robot ends up with a huge, obtrusive box just stuck to his back, but if you're feeling extra charitable, you can read it as him wearing some kind of backpack since he was sent on a retrieval mission. Wheeljack's got a knack to never lack a bring-it-back pre-attack backpack rack stack. [hey! --ed.] The block on his back does plug into place nicely, with the added benefit of keeping his little wings in place.

There's a lot of kibble around the lower legs, making them utterly blocky and larger than they need to be, and the forearms are long enough that they almost bump up against the shoulders. Wheeljack moves at the head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles. Finding a good balance point for the robot can be challenging, thanks to all that kibble on his back, but having balljoints for the ankles does a lot to help. His accessories include a silver blaster that he can either hold in his hand or wear on his shoulder, and two of the Dominator Discs Wheeljack and Chip Chase invented (and Optimus Prime approved) to forcefully take over a Transformer's mind against their will. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen! Those can fit on the tip of his gun, which is the way he shot it at Hook, but they're too large to hold in his hands.

Converting Wheeljack is fiddly, overly complex, and simply not fun to do. Since he was the first Transformer to change modes in the cartoon, the toy strives to follow what was shown there as closely as it can: his arms raise to become the car's front bumper, his chest disappears underneath for no clear reason, his legs turn sideways and form the back, etc. The engineering work that went into turning a robot that looks like that into a vehicle that looks like this is undeniably impressive, but design requirements mean it's a lot of tiny panels that need to hinge back and forth in specific orders lest they not actually fit where they're meant to go, and don't actually lock into place in any way until the very last step, leaving you with a floppy mess through most of the process. Obviously this could have been good, but as a final product, it isn't.

We know and accept that barely any thought was put into creating these one-off "Cybertron mode" designs for the first episode, but at least the other two made some attempt at a connection. Like, Bumblebee turned into a small yellow thing, Jazz was a sleek model with a rear spoiler... but here we have Wheeljack, who would eventually turn into a supremely flat race car, starting life as a tall, boxy van-type thing. We were joking about Trailbreaker before (you could probably tell, because "Trailblazer" isn't his actual name), but a truck with a camper shell would have made a far better choice for the story beats they wanted him for. And just looking at the cartoon design, they should have known better than to do translucent windows: the ones on the sides had to be half-painted anyway, so now we're just left with clear see-through parts that look like halfassed crap and offer no value on their own.

Wheeljack is a Voyager Class toy, which means he's (minorly) larger and (significantly) more expensive than the first two figures, but also that he's got some play features. For instance, you remember the inanimate carbon rods conductors Bumblebee came with, but couldn't actually use? They can be plugged into the sides of Wheeljack's roof. You can also open the rear of the vehicle to allow access to the interior... sort of. Like a '90s house party, the only way to do it is to raise the roof. The roof, which is the only thing really holding the vehicle mode together. So you pop that up, hope the entire back end doesn't fall apart, and then you can lower the back like a ramp. It's even big enough inside to house Bumblebee in his altmode, just like in the cartoon. (You have to fold his wings up, and it's a very tight fit, but "fit" he does.)

When the Autobots were ambushed on their way back to Iacon, Wheeljack reacted in two ways: he raised a blast shield to protect himself, and extended a pair of tiny spinning blades from his front bumper. The Dominator Discs stand in for those, and there's a translucent blue three-piece shield that can wrap around the front of the vehicle for the former. That can also be disassembled and reassembled into a small stretch of "roadway" for the vehicle to drive on. Or hover on, at least. The whole thing can also be plugged into the robot's back as a set of glider wings, or be brokwn down entirely and stored in the rear compartment.

Origin Wheeljack is an ambitious toy, but he doesn't quite achieve what they were attempting. The robot has too much kibble, the vehicle is unstable, and changing between the two is awkward at best. Plus, that blast shield piece is just a waste designed to help pad the price. He inherits a lot of goodwill from Bumblebee and Jazz, and the fact he completes the set of "MTMTE" pre-Earth Autobots. But now does this mean next year we'll be seeing a Leader Class Lamppost Soundwave?

-- 05/28/23

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