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Soundwave Thunder Machine, Zartan & Zarana

Transformers Collaborative
by yo go re

Megatron was good. Bumblebee was not. Let's see how the third Collaborative GIJ/TF entry is.

Having doubts about new allies, Megatron dispatches Soundwave to spy on the Dreadnoks. His mission: ensure the mercenaries aren't acting against the interests of Cobra and the Decepticons.

This is a very interesting choice for a vehicle, in several different ways. It's not necessarily "the" Dreadnok vehicle, but it's easier to turn this thing into a robot than a little two-person motorcycle or an even littler "Air Skiff," so it makes sense from that standpoint, but there are plenty of actual Cobra vehicles that are still recognizable and iconic that you might expect they'd have gotten to before going into the swamps.

The Thunder Machine was designed by vintage Joe artist Ron Rudat - it wasn't an assignment, it was just an idea he had and drew up, and when he presented it at work everyone else liked it, too. Inspired by the vehicles of Mad Max, the Thunder Machine is the front end of a 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am (fully licensed for this toy - the box has GM's logo and the Pontiac badge is on the car's front bumper) chopped off and welded to the body of a military truck, with a jet engine mounted on the back for that extra "kick" of speed. The armor plates on the doors, windshield, and over the rear wheels are all removable, and there's a pair of machine guns (which can rotate, cycling the ammo belt through) mounted on the hood and aiming out between the bars of the roll cage attached to the hood. It's got racing tires on the front, and all-terrain tires on the back. It's got floodlights mounted on the roof, and seats inside for a driver and a passenger - everyone else will just have to use the footpegs on the running boards.

After the disappointment that was Bumblebee, it's nice to get back to a comversion process that feels completely refined and fun to do. There's a little bit of partsforming, but not nearly anything as bad as Megatron had - the roll bars, the weapons, the jet engine... parts, not giant pieces of the shell. It's all very nice.

Soundwave appeared twice in the GI Joe and the Transformers sets: once as a tape player (sized like a backpack), and once as a HISS Tank. Well, the HISS is already taken, this time, so a new altmode was needed. Again: surprising that the Thunder Machine is what they chose, but it works.

At least part of the inspiration had to be the colors. While other Dreadnok vehicles were two-tone green, like Zartan's swamp skier, the Thunder Machine introduced a blue-and-red colorscheme that would be used a lot going forward. It gave them stylistic ties to Cobra, but still marked them as separate. And as far as Soundwave goes, it does a really nice job of allowing him to retain his traditional blue body in robot mode without having to cheat things.

The other reason the Thunder Machine was chosen is likely the vehicle's jet engine: that is removed and becomes Soundwave's familiar shoulder-cannon, because what else are you going to do with a big cylinder like that? He can hold the gun from the car's hood in his hand, and for some unfathomable reason there's a giant knife that can either plug into the side of his leg or be held in his hand. Why does Soundwave have a knife? Why does no one question the robot-sized knife on the side of the car? It's silly. He can at least pose decently with his weapons, thanks to the balljointed head, swivel/hinge shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel/hinge hips, swivel thighs, and hinged knees. You'd expect perhaps a waist, or even wrists so his hands could turn, but no, that seems to have been beyond their capabilities.

The robot modes for these Collaborative crossovers always feel a little blocky. The shapes of the bodyparts and the proportions between them favor the G1 cartoon, which was never what you'd call "dynamically animated" - lots of cubes with faces standing still and looking at one another. So there's always some indefinable "not-real"-ness to the robot modes? Don't want to say it's like a knockoff, because that's different, but you definitely get the sense the "GI Joe" half of the equation is taking precedence over the "Transformers" half. Soundwave, to his credit, is better than both the previous two (not that being better than Bumblebee is hard), though there is at least one flaw in the design: the antenna on the car doesn't shift, so it now sticks out behind him like a tail. But that that's the only thing we can really dub as being "wrong" with him says how good he is. It's particularly fun the way the car's seats become the robot's feets.

Soundwave includes one more accessory, one that would only make sense for him. It's a rectangle. Just a flat, blue rectangle. With two holes running through it. You may be able to guess where this is going: it's a cassette! It has no cassette paint apps, but the intention is not a secret. A button on Soundwave's shoulder opens the door on his chest, and the tape can fit inside. (The button will also open the door at any time, and since it ends up on the undercarriage of the vehicle, be careful it's not scraping on the ground.)

This isn't just any rectangle, though; it's Ravage. Specifically, Masterpiece Ravage, a toy that hasn't been available in more than a decade! The molds are the same, meaning a rather angular body, surprisingly good articulation, and rocket pods sculpted directly onto the body, but the colors are different: rather than black and silver, he's mainly blue, with a few red accents. Yes, that means he matches the Thunder Machine's colors, but more than that, it's a reference to G1 cartoon concept art, and how Ravage was almost colored there. Wild! If I'm remembering right, the Masterpiece tapes were the same size as the G1 tapes, so any of those old toys you have handy could secretly ride with the Dreadnoks, as well.

And he even gets his own accessory! He comes with Baroness's leash. Wait, no, that makes it sound like... well, I mean, what she and Destro get up to is none of my... look, we're saying this set has the same chain Baroness used to control the non-transforming Ravage in the 2013 SDCC GI Joe and the Transformers set. That leash. Or at least the same style: this one doesn't need to split at the bottom in order to fit over this Ravage's head, and the links are much larger. So don't misunderstand and expect the same mold from a decade ago.

Just as the set has twice as many Transformers as usual, it also has twice as many Joes. Or Dreadnoks, as the case may be. We get both Zartan and Zarana, and they're entirely new sculpts... but they're also O-ring figures, so who gives a crap? Hasbro can keep this line running for as long as it wants - we're never going to stop harping on what a bad decision it was to regress to these lower-quality designs. Someone did a great job sculpting them both, but all that means is they could have done a great job sculpting good figures instead. Including O-ring Joes drags the worth of every one of these sets down, since all they'll ever do is sit in the box, unopened. Love having to pay for superfluous things that have no value, Hasbro. Keep up the good work.

We still get the nice combo artwork on the outside of the box, with the outer sleeve splitting diagonally down the center. The G1 Thunder Machine box art featured all the Dreadnoks who then existed (including a mis-colored Monkeywrench), while this time we only get Zarana driving and Zartan hanging off the side. They can do that, obviously, but like the other sets, they can also stand on a platform looking over Soundwave's shoulders... though that does mean one of them would be staring right into the back end of his cannon. The inner box hints at the next planned collab, suggesting the rumors of Sgt. Slaughter's Triple-T Tank were correct.

Soundwave is easily the best GI Joe x Transformers release yet. Heck, one could argue he's the best Collaborative release, period. Megatron suffered from that ungainly kibble on his back, Bumblebee suffered from... everything, honestly, but Soundwave really blends the two modes expertly. As we said up above somewhere, the only quality of life improvement we could name would be the ability to do something with the antenna, which is a minor problem to have. And obviously the figures, but we all knew going in they'd be crap; I'm going to stuff Thrasher behind the wheel (it's already a tight fit for the smaller figures) and be happy with that. Soundwave is the first of the three to be a good toy, not just a good idea, and we hope they can keep the quality this high moving forward.

-- 02/20/24

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