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Transformers: Robots in Disguise
by yo go re

For us "TRUKK NOT MUNKY" fans, the entire Beast Wars era was a long, unbroken string of disinterest. That finally changed in 2001, with Robots in Disguise. Though most of the Decepticons still had stupid animal forms, the Autobots were vehicles again, at last! Taking the G1 notion that Sideswipe and Sunstreaker were twins one step further, Robots in Disguise introduced the Car Brothers, three... well, cars. They weren't the same model or anything. Why were they brothers? Your mother, that's why.

X-Brawn loves extremes and is at his best in disastrous situations and brutal climates, such as dry deserts or snowstorms. He doesn't waste time on long-winded speeches and can be counted on to say it all in just a few words. He's very reliable and has fearsome strength. He's a martial arts master with an especially powerful left arm. His "Southpaw Lariat" is invincible.

First of all, what is up with that name? X-Brawn? I'm sure Hasbro had let the rights to the name "Brawn" slip, but X-Brawn? That just smacks of something chosen by committe to "proactively revolutionize outside the box" and grab that "totally outrageous paradigm" they've heard so much about. From their nieces and nephews. It would be a few years before it occured to anyone that they could just use "Autobot _____" as a name. In Japan, he was known as Wildride; Hasbro should have just stuck with that.

In Goldilocks terms, X-Brawn was the Car Brother that was just right. Prowl was too strict and Side Burn was too wild, so it fell to X-Brawn to strike a balance between the two. And for some reason, he had a Southwestern accent. Yee-haw!

X-Brawn's vehicle mode is a high-end SUV. Specifically, a Mercedes-Benz ML320, though with enough superficial changes to keep them from having to pay licensing fees. It had been almost two decades since we'd seen TFs based on real cars, so I for one was not expecting it. I remember how shocked I was to be out driving and see this exact car next to me. It was surprising, to say the least. Even the color scheme - silver with a green fade at the back - was the same. Eerie. The car (the toy one) features real rubber tires with "Transformers" in raised letters. The hood and front doors open, and though there's nothing about it in the instructions, the sunroof can be "retracted" (ie, removed).

Transformation is pleasingly complex. The legs fold out of the back, the arms fold out of the front, you know how it is. There are definitely a few surprises in there, such as having to twist the passenger cabin 90° to get it into position, but those surprises mostly get tricky when you're turning him back into a car: going into robot form, everything's fine.

When judging X-Brawn's robot mode, there's one important thing to remember: it had been a longass time since they had to design car robots rather than animal robots, so those skills were rough. X-Brawn is poorly proportioned, ridiculously designed and disturbingly asymmetrical, and yet he's still one of the best RiD offerings. That should give you an idea of how bleak things were back then. You kids should count yourselves lucky.

Two-thirds of X-Brawn's height is in his legs, and two-thirds of that is in his shins. His torso has a really nice design, but it's surprisingly small. Same goes for his wee little pinhead, which lacks a neck to lift it above his shoulders. His groin looks vaguely like a car's center console - which becomes a problem when the emergency brake is so... central. Overall, there's enough kibble to choke a cyber-horsebot, which might not be so bad if it was at least a bit more balanced. In addition to having the car's entire roof hanging, whole and complete, from his back, X-Brawn's left arm is lousy with the stuff.

One door juts off his shoulder, and the other clings to the back of his elbow. The front of the car is lodged between his elbow and wrist, serving as his left forearm. The right arm twists out of the driver's seat. His right hand is merely suggested by sculpted fingers, and its real purpose is to be a launcher for the two included missiles (formed from the car's running boards, they can be stored on his back when not in use). The car's brush guard can be removed and held as a shield in the gigantic left hand - or maybe some kind of brass knuckles. The figure is 5" tall and moves at the shins, knees, hips, neck, shoulders, elbows, left wrist and left thumb.

After Beast Machines ended, Hasbro was working on a new line called Transtech, which would have continued the story somehow, mixing true G1 characters in with the Beasts. The designs looked a lot like the "shardformers" we're going to be seeing in this summer's Transformers movie. For whatever reason, Hasbro axed the line, and decided to import (and rename) Takara's 2000 effort, Car Robots, as a stop-gap measure while the two companies began working together to create Armada. Despite being aimed at a younger audience, the line proved moderately popular even among longtime fans, thanks in part to the random and somewhat confusing/misleading references to G1 continuity. As a bridge between animals and cars, Robots in Disguise is often overlooked, but there are definitely some good buys mixed in among the weirdness.

-- 04/17/07

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