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Transformers Timelines
by yo go re

Since 1994, the Transformers Collectors' Club has been producing exclusive figures, both for BotCon (in its various incarnations) and as bonus figures available only to members of the club. 16 years, and they finally hit on one I had to own.

As the explosions roar and laser bursts slam into armor plating, Punch remains cool and aloof. It's a characteristic that his fellow Autobots envy during this time of war. However, buried in his processors deep below this false aura of composure, lurks a rampant paranoia with which the Autobot spy is in constant conflict. Recently this paranoia has become so intense that when in infiltration mode, Punch has started to black out due to immense fear. When he reboots he finds that he has no recollection of how he has completed the mission, but is always thankful that his Counterpunch persona has seemingly pursued the objective on its own.

The club-exclusive "Timelines" toys come in interesting packaging. Rather than a blister card or the typical sort of box the mass-market figures have, it's a heavy duty cardboard box. The lid just slides off, and inside, the figure is held in a purpose-cut foam cushion. Fancy fancy!

In 1987, Hasbro released a figure that took the triple-changer idea and turned it on its head: rather than one robot with two altmodes, it was one altmode with two robots; the heroic Autobot Punch, and his villainous Decepticon antithesis, Counterpunch.

When Universe 2.0 Sunstreaker came out, several fans made custom versions of Punch/Counterpunch - it was just too perfect an idea to pass up, which is why the TFCC borrowed it.

The car is unchanged from the previous two releases. It's painted a wonderful vibrant blue, with black windows and red hubcaps. On the original 87 figure, there were a few black sections, due simply to the fact that the robot joints that were visible were that color. On this version the black has been integrated, turned into a stripe pattern on the doors and a ridged section on the back. The headlights molded into the hood have been painted over: the original toy didn't have any details on the hood, so this is just a reference.

The back end is purple with green tail lights, and a personalized license plate that reads "PCNTRP" - Pecan Trap! [it says P/Counter-P, you improvident lackwit --ed.] Impressively, the painted sections match the molded sections perfectly, so he's already got a leg up on the originator of this mold. The roof-mounted supercharger or whatever is still here, and it's up to you whether you want to use it or not.

The reason everyone thought of using the Sideswipe/Sunstreaker mold for a Punch/Counterpunch update is due to the two transformation schemes: one body, two robots, it makes perfect sense. The instructions are (mostly) unchanged, though the actual piece of paper has been tweaked to show off both conversions on one sheet.

Punch uses the Sideswipe conversion: ie, the car's hood becomes his chest. To honor the old robot, there are yellow panels on his shoulders, chest, and waist - it used to be that Punch has an entirely yellow torso, but this is as close as we can get without having any yellow showing on the car (at least one custom left the roof yellow to allow for more chestiness, but that's just poor design). All the way through, the instructions show the legs transformed exactly like Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, but the final image shows the alternate arrangement used in the picture to the right: instead of turning the lower legs 90° at the knees, just leave them the way they are when you unfold the back of the car. Of course, doing this means you can't really straighten out his feet, so either he'll have to bend his knees the wrong direction just a little bit, or stand with his feet turned slightly out to the sides. It would have been nice if he had red hands, like the original, but he does get something else cool: a rubsign on his chest.

Back in the '80s, Punch was one of those characters who had distinctly different designs between the cartoon and the toy, but of particular fault was his head. The toy had individual eyes and a silver mouthplate; the animation model had a real mouth, but also wore a visor. This one splits the difference: he retains the separate eyes of the toy, but gets the cartoon's mouth. The entire face is yellow, which is new, but was probably done because there's comparatively little yellow showing on this robot.

"Counterpunch" isn't just a made-up word: It's a boxing term, describing a punch thrown immediately after your opponent punches, slipping in for contact before he can pull his hand back and return to a guard position. Counterpunch the robot uses the Sunstreaker scheme, so his chest is the car's roof. Like Punch, Counterpunch has a rubsign - it's the same one that was visible in vehicle mode. Appropriately, Counterpunch is almost entirely blue and black, matching the old toy. He has red stripes on his shoulders and red panels on his thighs, both of which add a little spark to the design. The rear end of the car hangs over his knees in this mode, so there's some silver, purple and green visible as well - of course, those are all traditional Decepticon colors, so it works out okay. Plus, the original toy had stickers in a similar location. There is one flaw with this design, however, and it's the hands: the robot's hands are placed to be "right side up" on Punch's side, so Counterpunch will either have them upside down, or the thumbs will be on the outside. You can pop them out of the sockets and switch them if you want, but it would have been nice if they'd designed him some new, more generic hands. Or heck, give him two of the same hand, so one is always right and one is always wrong on each mode.

Counterpunch's head didn't have the same incongruity as Punch's: the differences between toy and animation were mainly ones of color, not design. Thus, the new head is a nice update of the old look. He has a sinister red eye slit and a blue face, and there's a pointed crest on his black helmet. There are vents on his cheeks, and his chin/mouth area is pointed. His cheeks are painted silver, providing a break between the blue and yellow.

Now seems like a good time to mention the head: it's tiny. Back in the '80s, the best way they could come up with to handle the switching faces was to have a "cap" that swiveled back and forth, covering one face while revealing the other. Today, they used the same trick, and it still works just as well. But due to the "dramatic head reveal" that Hasbro loved so much, the head rising out of the chest as you spin the roof, the size of the toy's noggin is limited. They're trying to get a double-sided head and a large, articulated helmet into a space designed only for one head, and space is at a premium. That said, the size isn't all that noticable in person; photos exaggerate the effect, but when you're playing around with the toy, the head doesn't seem wrong.

It's also worth noting that my Punch/Counterpunch was minorly mis-assembled, and apparently I'm not the only one. The gear system that raises the head out of the chest wasn't quite aligned properly, so the car's roof wouldn't rotate the full 180°. Fixing it isn't difficult at all: undo five screws and the torso comes apart; then all you have to do is make sure the head is all the way down and the roof is straight, and close it back up. You'll probably spend more time on the screws than on the actual "fix."

Punch and Counterpunch used to have different weapons, but this toy only has the same one as the twins, formed from the car's exhaust pipes. However, it does introduce a new feature, one that was always present and we just never knew about: remember the engine intake that sat on top of the car? On Sunstreaker, it ended up behind his head. On Sideswipe, it was a jetpack. Here, though? Fold the flaps down, and it's just the right size to clip (somewhat loosely) onto the gun, making the weapon larger and chunkier. Neat! It also lets you vary the weapon between the two modes: give Counterpunch the "standard" form, with a single barrel pointing forward; since Punch's old weapon was double-barreled, turn the gun around for him, and the engine add-on will make it look like a unique gun rather than something held backwards.

Punch/Counterpunch is a brilliant idea for an exclusive. It reuses a body already engineered to be two robots, and uses them the way the original toy intended. Yes, it has its flaws, but none of them are worth avoiding the toy over. In fact, the worst thing about this toy is that it's an exclusive at all: he's obviously a character the fans want, and would have done well in the Universe 2.0 line with his "brothers" (or in the new Generations line). He's the fastest sellout in Collectors' Club history: 1,800 pieces went on sale late on March 26, and they were all gone less than three days later. For the first time ever, TFCC went back into production on one of their exclusives, doing a second small run that again, switly sold out. He's worth getting, if you can, but the demand proves there's going to be quite the mark-up.

-- 08/24/10

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