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Ultimate X-Spanse

Transformers Collaborative
by yo go re

This is, hands down, the worst Transformer I've had the displeasure of dealing with in years.

Unlike the Sentinels, this robot is the ultimate mutant ally.

Until now, the Transformers Collaborative line has been pretty decent, covering popular properties (and Top Gun) with a series of clever retools of existing toys (and Top Gun). And on the surface, this one does the same thing, but somehow everything went wrong.

The altmode is an SR-71 Blackbird, fully licensed from Lockheed Martin. Despite the name, it's done in a dark blue, because this is specifically based on X-Men: The Animated Series rather than the comics. The X-Men originally got around in Professor X's private jet, but got a plane similar to the SR-71 when the team size expanded - similar, but larger, so it could carry more than two people. That's why the cockpit canopy here is so tiny.

The plane has the distinctive shape of a Blackbird, with the long, narrow fuselage, the broad ares between the jet engines, and the tiny wings at the back. The front and rear landing gear can be tucked away, and there are details sculpted on the underside of the plane that suggest its VTOL capabilities. Unfortunately, the wings are so poorly designed that they refuse to stay in position at all, just flopping around whichever way you have the jet facing.

Much like Collaborative Ectrotron shared engineering with Combiner Wars Hot Spot and Collaborative Gigawatt shared engineering with Siege Sideswipe, the bones of this toy are Studio Series Jetfire - after all, Jetfire was an SR-71 too, so it would be nuts not to reuse that. But judging by how this one turned out, SS Jetfire must have been just a complete mess.

We're not going to bother listing all the steps of changing from one mode to another, because I'm not sure I really understand them all. The instruction sheet is perpetually unclear on what you're actually supposed to be doing in each step; this is absolutely one of those Transformers where you won't be able to decipher what you're meant to do until you already know what you're meant to do. And a lot of times, the only way to get some pieces past others is to flex the plastic more than seems safe. Not sure how much of that is a holdover from Jetfire vs. newly introduced problems, but it's not great either way.

The robot design is... okay? Like, it's very leggy, and the inexplicable "wing" kibble that sits up above the shoulders is vastly obtrusive and distracting, but they did a really good job making it look like an X-Men robot. The body is blue and yellow, like the X-Men's uniforms traditionally are, and there's a harness over the chest with a big red and black X-logo in the center. There are more X's hidden in his sculpt, too, like on the sides of the knees or on the ankles. Plus, they're wearing a utility belt with pouches - and there are yellow stripes around the thighs, like the straps so many characters wore back then, too. Thanks, The '90s! So that part, at least, is good.

The problems start when they try to get more X-Men-y. First of all, this Transformer's name is "Ultimate X-Spanse." What the balls? What is that supposed to mean? "Ectotron"? Ecto-1. "Gigawatt"? Jigowatts. "Tyrannocon"? Tyrannosaurus. "Ultimate X-Spanse"? ...uhhhh... citation needed? What does that have to do with a plane, or mutants, or anything? Obviously they wanted some kind of "X-" word, but why "expanse"? Did they just open a dictionary to the end of the E's and take the first one they pointed at? X-Bird. SR-X. X-71. Gene Grey. X-Cell. Even if the "Blackbird" name is copyrighted, they were already licensing the real design, they could have done something with that. "Ultimate X-Spanse" is a bad name. It's dumb. It's even dumber than "JP93," and that was the worst! Try to imagine Optimus Prime or anyone else calling "Ultimate X-Spanse" by name to have a conversation with them. Hell, simply naming the character "X-Jet" would have been a better choice, and that's the laziest thing I can come up with! And why "Ultimate"? Ultimate X-Men is long forgotten at this point, so why that and not the franchise's actual flagship? Call them The Uncanny X-Bot! [that one's taken --ed.]

But back to actual physical issues. Rather than just trying to make X-Entinel look like just "an" X-Man, the designers have tried to make them look like every X-Man at once. The chest harness? Totally feels like Cable. The head? wears a visor like Cyclops, which can raise to reveal red eyes. Wings on the back? Archangel. The accessories include Psylocke's pink psychic knife, the focused totality of her telepathic powers, and a similar translucent pink piece that splits into three claws like Wolverine, which I guess means it's referencing Wild Thing, his bio daughter from the future who was taught how to manifest those because Betsy was her godmother? Deep cut, Hasbro!

We also get what is clearly Psylocke's eye-butterfly, but for some reason it's not designed to actually fit on the figure's face? Instead, the instructions indicate it's meant to fit around the waist of the included mini-figure of Wolverine, for some reason? What is that supposed to represent? And for that matter, why does this set come with tiny figures of Wolverine and Sabertooth? And when we ask that, we partially mean "why them," and partially "why any at all?" The minis don't attach to the plane or robot in any way, but you're apparently meant to stand them on the shoulder-wings for some unfathomable reason? Yeah, pass. They're unarticulated PVC and not very well painted, though you could probably fancy them up yourself if you cared.

At least the big bot's articulation is good? Underground X-Cretion moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, waist, wrists, elbows, biceps, shoulders, and head. The chest even has a side-to-side motion, which is rather unexpected! The shoulders also have some pseudo pec-hinges? You can plug the psychic knife and the psychic Wolverine claws into ports at the wrists, so it kind of looks like they're coming from where they would on the real mutants. The feet rock enough to keep the toy stable in some pretty wild poses, and although there's a lot of kibble on the back, it's close enough to the body that it doesn't cause any substantial balance issues.

So. Ultimate X-Spanse. Dumb name, nice altmode (with loose pieces), bad conversion process, utterly mid robot design, haphazard X-Men references, ill-conceived accessories, wasted pack-in minifigures. At least the '90s ToyBiz packaging reference is fun? There's a reason this thing just sat around at every GameStop in America for so long. The idea is clever, but the execution is lacking. Sorry, Slog and Straxus: we've got a new reference point for bad Transformers no one should bother with.

-- 08/09/22

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