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Transformers: Animated
by Artemis

Hell hath no fury like a psychotic cyber-organic arachnid hell-bitch scorned.

Blackarachnia Blackarachnia started out as a promising young recruit at the Autobot Academy. Accidentally abandoned on a hostile alien world by her teammates, she did the only thing she could - merged with the organic monsters that swarmed the caves in which she was trapped. Emerging as a technorganic mutant, she vowed revenge on the Autobots that had left her behind, and joined the Decepticons in their war of conquest.

To the Autobots' credit, they thought she was dead - it's not like she was five minutes late getting back to the ship, and the others just left without her because he wanted to get back to the Academy in time to catch the Friday night wet chassis contest at the bar. Elita-1 Back then she was Elita-1 - yup, Prime's girlfriend. I bet he wasn't that upset to discover that she'd gone all skanky and hot. It's kind of like the finale of Grease. Incidentally, she's voiced by Cree Summer, whose other credits include She-Hulk in the Incredible Hulk cartoon, Luminara Unduli in Clone Wars, and Foxxy Love in Drawn Together. Oh, and her brother is Rainbow Sun Francks from Stargate Atlantis.

Not that any of that has any relevance to the toy, but I found a whole lot of stuff to photograph on this one, so I'm waffling on aimlessly so that there hopefully won't be a bunch of pics left over by the time the text runs out.

As her name suggests, Blackarachnia's altmode is a spider - a black widow, more or less. Yes, the ones that eat their menfolk - although that's actually quite rare, and most of the time a male black widow has nothing worse to look forward to post-coitus Black Arachnia than sobering up and realising his mate wasn't as hot as she looked last night after all. Blackarachnia looks a bit tarantula-ish, but only because the limbs are relatively weighty, rather than long and spindly, but that's unavoidable on a toy like this - the limb placement, their pincer-like shape, the short pedipalps (mandibles), and of course the distinctive hourglass marking, are all widow. The only real flaw with the disguise is that the hands are plainly visible, beneath the points of the second-to-rear pair of legs - aside from that the limbs spread out fairly well in decently lifelike poses, the body is small and contained enough to pass muster, and though she's clearly mechanical, she looks like a mechanical spider, rather than a folded-up robot with extra legs stuck on.

bitey All eight legs are articulated to varying degrees, largely depending on what they need to do during transformation. The rear legs have balljoint hips and peg knees, the next forward have balljoints at both, and the two forward pairs are mounted on a shared vertical swivel at the hips, with each leg also having an independent lateral swivel, and the foremost having peg elbows as well. To simplify things, the back legs are pretty versatile, the front ones not so much, but she's far from immobile. The abdomen is mounted on a pin joint, for transformation purposes, but this allows it to be raised or lowered in a manner that suggests aggression (up) or stealth (down) - no idea of widows actually do that, but it looks neat.

Beneath the hollow abdomen this is one weird upskirt shot is a mounting point for Blackarachnia's spinneret weapon, a claw and line arrangement. There are actually two pegs to attach it, one main one and a smaller locking peg, slightly offset to make the piece secure - the effect is that it's a bit tricky to attach properly, but once it's in place it won't fall off easily. The claw has three digits, all mounted on a shared peg, independently mobile.

The pedipalps are also articulated, mounted on balljoints, and the jaws - or whatever they are - are on a hinge joint, able to move individually. These are all transformation joints, but they also allow Blackarachnia to assume an attack posture, with fangs and mandibles reared up to strike. As a spider, she's a pretty neat toy.

Transformation is rated 3 out of 4 - I'd say that's a bit generous, as the only reason it's not a simple job is that some stages are fiddly, rather than truly complex. Then again, I freely admit to loving insanely sophisticated transformations, so it's not often I find a toy for under $20 that's really satisfying. Start by removing the spinneret. The instructions then tell you to raise the spider's head, which is kind of hard to do since she's mis-transformed in the packaging: the head is already raised, so you'll need to remember to lower it when you transform her back. Then transform the hindmost legs - extend them fully, swivel the inner surface through 180 degrees, and flip down the toes. fully transformed The second-to-rear legs - her arms - are just a matter of rotating the biceps 180 degrees, turning the forearms back around, and swivelling the backs of the forearms around to reveal the hands. Lift the hatch on the abdomen, allowing the head to swivel up through the body, and swing down the lower body and legs, straightening her up into humanoid form.

Now some fiddly stuff - line up the two sets of forelimbs, and with the arms raised up out of the way, rotate them back and up so that they rise up behind the back. Then turn the pedipalps around and lay them flat against the spine, forming the humanoid abdomen - there's a knack to this, but once you have it they sit quite securely in their proper position. The inner set of forelimbs uses its elbow joints to peer over her shoulders, while the outer ones just stay where they are, out of the way of the arms. Finally, lock the spider abdomen up into place behind her hips. Weirdly, the instructions advise you to "ReveRse oRdeR of inst Ructions to conve Rt back into sPideR." Someone in the copy department did a search-and-replace without paying attention, by the looks of things.

In robot mode, there's one glaring flaw, so let's get it done with first up: she has no wrist joints. snikt True, the elbows are balljoints, but with the bulky blades on the back of the forearms, they're not practical to use as swivels to get the hands facing inwards or backwards, and that eliminates bending the elbows too. Basically, you're stuck with her hands, molded in an open grasping kind of position, facing half-forward, which makes it really tricky to get her into a pose that looks nice and threatening. This is a really good toy in all other respects, as I'm about to go on about - I just can't believe someone playing with the prototype for two minutes and not seeing that wrist swivels were sorely needed. It's not a documented feature, but for additional ass-kickery it's a simple matter to swivel the spider leg talons on her forearms back around into spider-mode, giving her a nasty-looking pair of wrist blades.

Animated model Anyway, that aside, she's a good-looking robot. What with the Transformers Animated style being all exaggerated curves and thin joints, there was no way in robot hell she could look like her animated self - but what the designers have cleverly done is to build a practical robot toy using shapes and angles strongly reminiscent of those used on the animated model. When you compare the two, point for point, there are many, many differences, but the overall impression is of a pretty good likeness.

She stands at or above 6" tall foureyes depending on her stance and whether she's using her high heels, has light-piped eyes - two pairs of them - and is remarkably devoid of kibble, especially allowing that the back-mounted talons and spider abdomen - now looking somewhat like a wasp's sting - are included in the animated robot mode too. Only the spider talons attached to her forearms remain as uninvited guests from the altmode - everything else is neatly folded into a pretty convincing feminine humanoid shape.

So far as articulation goes, well, we've mentioned the wrists already. Stupid wrists. Those aside, check out the poofy shoulders on the first design she's not lacking for mobility. Her head is mounted on a balljoint which itself is mounted on a hinge joint, allowing her to crane her neck forward or rear back. The housing of the joint allows only a little side-to-side tilting, but otherwise it's a pretty free joint. Her shoulders and elbows are balljoints, likewise restricted in their twist axis by the joint housing, and as a consequence of transformation she has a swivel waist, which the joint-mounted abdomen moves to accommodate in spite of being such a visually tight fit. The lower back talons have a single peg joint, allowing them to swivel forward and backward; the upper pair have the elbow joint as well, which lets them lunge forward over her shoulders, though they can't manage the positions of the animated versions, and thus look less threatening (in fact, left upright they're reminiscent of Thora Birch's stupid dragon empress dress from Dungeons & Dragons, which has to count as a negative). Her hips have balljoints with extra swivels at the thigh side, her knees are peg joints, and she has toe hinges, as well as a secondary hinge joint in the mid-shin.

This last joint allows the shin and foot to hinge forwards, while the back of the leg remains in place, feet forming a rather extreme high heel. Deploying the legs in this mode necessitates a bent knee, to get the curved shin at the right angle to the ground - keeping the shins a single piece allows a much straighter leg stance, and the toe joint by itself does a capable job of keeping her standing. A third option for fetishwear enthusiasts is to deploy the shin forward but keep the toes untransformed, pointing straight down, for a ballet-toe boot effect.

For hunting Autobots Spider-Man? she's got her spinneret weapon again, now mounted on a peg that attaches to the inside of either forearm. The weapon has an action feature built in, that at the touch of a button on the base the claw is reeled back in - rather violently if it's not dragging any substantial weight with it. For storage the spinneret can be mounted on her back, between her shoulders (and the back talons), with the claw facing down. An alternate mode is to have the claw facing up, behind her head, in which case it can be used as a grapnel line. The reel inside the weapon and the claw's "knuckle" joints are easily sturdy enough to support her full weight hanging from them, but she can't quite manage the trick the packaging boasts of, "climbing" up the auto-retracting line. The reel could do it, but since the button is on the base, you pretty much have to hold the figure to press it, which kind of defeats the point of her "climbing" by herself.

I admit, when I saw the image of Optimus Prime that was most people's first glimpse of the new animated Transformers series, I wasn't impressed - well, the exaggerated curves just reeked of designed-by-committee "Xtreem!!" lameness, the Transformer equivalent of Poochie - and I'm still not enamoured of the style. This is a great toy, though. With wrist joints she'd have been superb, but even so you just can't argue with quality.

''You got technology in my organics!''You got organics in my technology!


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