Transformers Commemorative Series Insecticons by Hasbro

My Unite Warriors Superion should be shipping any day now. Hopefully it will be here in time for next week’s Transformers Thursday. In the meantime, here’s a set that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long while and one that seemed appropriate to look at now. Not only are the Insecticons getting a whole lot of love from the Third Parties these days (got my Fans Toys versions on pre-order!), but the original figures recently got re-re-released as part of Takara’s Platinum Edition line.

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In case you’re unfamiliar, the Commemorative Series was a line of G1 reissues exclusive to Toys R Us back in the day. The releases came in some snazzy G1 inspired boxes, usually with velcro-secured front flaps. This was some fantastic presentation! Walking into Toys R Us and seeing these things stacked high on the shelves was like a dream come true. Many of the Autobot cars got re-releases as well as the Seeker Jets and even a very Takara-esque Powermaster Optimus Prime, which is still one of my all-time favorite old-timey Transformers toys. Needless to say being able to walk into a store and snag all three Insecticons in one neat box made me a happy camper. There’s not a whole helluva lot to say about these guys, but I’ll still take some time to bask in their retro awesomeness. Let’s start with their insect modes…

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Kickback was probably my favorite as a kid and still is. He’s a really cool looking cyber-grasshopper. I’ll just go ahead and point out here how amazing the decos on these toys were. The black and purple go so great together, but when you toss in the chrome parts and the translucent yellow these things had a way of turning heads. It’s rare that I can remember being attracted to a toy as a kid just because of its colors, but here’s a case where it was probably a big part of it and today they’re still as gorgeous as ever. My favorite thing about Kickback was always his wings and his creepy, almost featureless, insect head.

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I think Bombshell probably fell in at number two. He’s got a nice compact alt mode and I was a big fan of that needle-like protuberance coming off his head. One problem with these reissues is that the stickers don’t stick so well. Every time I take these out of the box I need to press some of them back on. Eventually, I’ll get tired of doing it and just glue them down proper like.

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And that brings us to their leader, Shrapnel. Just because I say his insect mode comes up third, doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It’s like saying that French Vanilla is my third favorite ice cream. I actually love Shrapnel’s chromed out pincers and the fact that they have laser guns on the ends. I think the only thing that mars this insect mode for me is he kind of looks looks more like a bug riding along on wheels than the others do.

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I’m not going to rank these guys when it comes to their robot modes, because I don’t think I could choose a favorite. They all look so good. Each figure is pretty close to its animated counterpart and with at least five basic points of articulation, these are some of the more playable of the G1 Transformers toys. Their transformations are also so simple that they were super fun to play with because I could take them from bug to robot and back in no time. Kickback has the cleanest of all robot modes and the way his insect legs join together to form his robot arms is pretty sophisticated stuff for a G1 toy. I also really dig the drum magazine on his rifle. It kind of looks like a futuristic Tommy Gun.

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Bombshell is a little more bug kibbly, but still a great looking figure. I knew some kids who transformed him with his cerebro shell launcher flat against his back, but they were wrong. I liked the distinctive look it gave him and the fact that it could be ready to fire at any time. Bombshell’s head sculpt is also super distinctive. That mouth plate always reminds me of the lower part of a knight’s helmet. His double-pronged rifle is also really distinctive looking and of the three it’s the only one that actually fits into the hand via a peg.

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Shrapnel’s big appeal for me will always be the head reveal. I love how the pincers split open to show his face. It’s brilliant. I also really dig the laser guns he’s got mounted under his wrists. The original Shrapnel that I had as a kid got so loose that it was almost impossible to keep his legs extended while he stood, but thankfully I don’t have that problem with this reissue. At least not yet.

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Even after nearly all of my Commemorative Series figures have gone the way of Ebay, this one remains and forever will. It’s impossible for me to put my finger on exactly why I love the Insecticons so much, but it’s an affection that was bred from both the cartoon and the original toys and one that I’ve never managed to shake. Being able to get a brand new minty set of these back in the day meant a hell of a lot to me and I think these figures hold up incredibly well even after all these years. The original price on this set was just under forty bucks, which didn’t seem too unreasonable at the time. Sure, they’re small and simple figures but I expect Hasbro to goose the price on these collector reissues and at about thirteen bucks a figure I was happy. Five years or so later I would expect some inflation, but when I saw the $90 price tag on the Platinum Edition I was rather taken aback. The scary thing is, if that were the first reissue and I didn’t already have a set, I might have ponied up for it. One thing’s for sure, getting these guys out and playing around with them again has me super pumped for the Fans Toys versions, the first of which should be shipping pretty soon!

Transformers: Commemorative Edition: Powermaster Optimus Prime by Hasbro, Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of the amazing Powermaster Optimus Prime. We’ve looked at Prime’s cruising and ass-kicking modes, so let’s check out everything else. Before we go anywhere we have to start with the tiniest robot in the set and the key to unlocking Prime’s awesomeness. He’s Ginrai!

For those that aren’t up on their Transformers history, toward the tail end of G1, Transformers were being designed with little robot buddies that changed into their guns (Targetmasters), heads (Headmasters), or in this case engines (yep, Powermasters). The Powermasters never seemed to catch on as much over here, and I never really understood them. In theory you needed to transform these little guys into the engine and plug them into the vehicle so it could transform into its robot mode. In practice, you could still transform the toy without it, so if you lost the little bugger, you weren’t completely screwed. Anyway, Ginrai is a pretty cool little figure for how small he is. His arms rotate at the shoulders, and his legs are technically articulated, but only as part of the transforming gimmick.
Anyway, you change him into his engine mode and plug him straight into the front grill of Prime’s cab and you can change Prime into his most basic robot mode. The overall design is fairly similar to the original Optimus Prime, but the truck-front chest is actually a fake, as the cab’s real front is on Prime’s back. I like the looks of this Prime, as he has a bit more of an animated look. The stickers on the legs add some nice detail too. Granted, the articulation on this figure is pretty limited, even for a Transformer. In fact, really all he can do is bend his arms at the elbows.
The rest of Prime’s trailer transforms into a pretty cool little base. Transformers bases have been pretty hit and miss over the years, but I really think this one is one of the better ones. There’s a couple of ramps and platforms to park other Transformers. There are two turrets and three larger elevated guns on the tower. The only real eyesore here is the obvious Prime arms sticking up the top, but if they bother you, you can always fold them down out of the way. Prime can also stand in the tower to man the guns, but as a base, this is more convincing when populated by smaller Transformers. Overall, I think this is a really cool looking piece. There’s a lot of great sculpted detail and the huge stickers really make it look great.
Next up, is Prime’s slightly more powered up version. You basically ball him up into a box and plug it into a body made up from his trailer. Pop on a bunch of guns and his new head, and you’ve got the more bulked up Prime. This version actually uses the front of the cab as his chest, and you can clearly see the Powermaster engine plugged in there. You get a little more articulation here. His arms rotate at the shoulders and his legs can assume a wider stance. Yeah, its not much more, but a little better.
At this point, you can also convert the spare trailer into yet another robot called Apex Bomber. This guy isn’t really a transformation, but rather building him out of the parts you break the spare trailer down into. Normally, I consider this type of Transformer design cheating, but in this case, its like a bonus robot, so I’m not complaining. Apex Bomber looks pretty great. He’s nicely proportioned, has arms that rotate at the shoulder, he can hold Prime’s weapons if the big guy feels like sharing, and he can mount the missile launcher on his shoulder. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of G1 Top Spin. I just like this design.
Ok, so enough farting around. Its time to take everything and stick it all together into Apex Armor Optimus Prime. He’s basically the medium bulked out Prime figure with bits of Apex Bomber attached all over him. He gets bigger feet, bulkier arms, and that magnificent chromed out bling-chest that was absent from the American release, and if you ask me it really makes this figure. AAOP can still hold both his guns, he gets a pair of duel cannons on his ankles so he can kick you in the face and shoot you at the same time, and he can mount the big missile launcher on his shoulder.
Yes, Apex Armor Optimus Prime is a brick. He has the same articulation as the medium bulked out Prime, which means he can only rotate his arms at the shoulders, and assume a wide stance at the legs. But he’s still a friggen glorious looking brick. He’s also a pretty solid figure, considering how much crap he’s got stuck all over him.
And there ya have it, one if my favorite Transformers of all time (if not my favorite). I love everything about this set, from the presentation to the design of the toy, to just how good AA Optimus looks standing on my shelf. What he lacks in articulation he makes up in spades with balls-to-the-wall play value. There are just so many options and combinations in both robot and vehicle modes that fiddling about with him never gets old. I’ve never regretted ponying up for two of these back in the day, although truth be told considering how awesome it is, you can still pick one up for surprisingly cheap. Sure, MISB versions can go for over a hundred bucks, but if you’re persistant enough, you can often find open and complete ones for just $10-20 over the original MSRP. Considering how much, oh let’s say the 2009 SDCC Soundwave goes for these, days, Powermaster Optimus Prime is a steal.

Transformers: Commemorative Edition: Powermaster Optimus Prime by Hasbro, Part 1

I’ve been meaning to get around to this one for quite a while now, but I never thought I had the time to do it right. This beauty was released back in 2003 as part of Toys R Us’ exclusive Commemorative Series, which were basically reissues of G1 Transformers. It was a great series of collectibles, and while many cases required Hasbro to ruin muck about with the molds for safety concerns, there were a few cases where Hasbro was able to improve on the originals and Powermaster Optimus here is one of them. This Commemorative release included parts that weren’t on the original US release, so outside of importing a Takara toy, this was the first time we Americans could really get this toy complete and as it was intended to be. After nearly 30 years of collecting Transformers, its hard for me to settle on a favorite figure, but if you were to put a gun to my head and make me choose, this one would probably be it. In fact, I loved this thing so much, I actually bought two so I could keep one in the package. There’s a lot to look at here, so I’m going to tackle this guy in two parts. Today we’ll look at the packaging and the vehicle modes, and then tomorrow we’ll look at the robot and base modes.

Prime comes in a huge box that just oozes G1 nostalgia. It has the same red grid pattern as the original issue toys did and the same Transformers logo. Even the side panels that show the various modes of the toy during conversion are similar to what appeared on the original box panels. The front has a flap secured with velcro that has some really awesome artwork of Apex Armor Prime. Fold it open and it reveals cutouts in the box with windows to show Prime in his truck mode, the extra Apex Armor trailer, the larger Prime head, and the Powermaster Ginrai figure.
The back of the panel features a gorgeous battle montage just like the ones that appeared in one form or another on the original G1 boxes throughout the years. There are also bio blurbs for regular flavor Prime, Apex Armor Prime, and Apex Bomber.
Open up the box and you find two sticker sheets, a large folded set of instructions, and the huge tray that slides out to reveal all the pieces of the set spread out before you. I can’t say enough great things about the packaging here. It really feels like those expensive collector sets that Takara releases for the combiners. It still baffles me that I was able to walk into a Toys R Us and buy this masterpiece off the shelf for a mere fifty bucks.
Optimus Prime’s basic truck form is fairly similar in design to his G1 version. The red cab with chromed front and silver striping should be readily familiar as is the blue and grey trailer with the stripe and Autobot emblem on the sides. There’s a little more kibble than on the original version of Prime. You can clearly see robot fists peeking out both behind the cab and on the front of the trailer, but to be fair, the designers packed so many modes into this toy, I’m amazed the basic tractor trailer mode looks as good as it does. The toy rolls along great and the cab detatches from the trailer, and as we’ll see later, transforms into a basic version of Optimus Prime, similar to the original version of Prime. This vehicle right here could have been released all by itself as a stand alone toy and it would have been just fine.
The Apex Armor trailer is a cool little battle wagon all on its own… sort of. Actually, its just a box on wheels with a big gun. The chrome front piece is made to look like a cab of sorts. And you can peg the big missile launcher onto the top. But this section really shines when its attached to the back of Prime’s trailer. Snap on all the additional weapons and parts and you get…
Optimus Prime’s Mega-Super-Destroy-You-Death-Train! That’s right, rolling along on seven sets of wheels, Prime is through taking crap and now he’s loaded for bear. This thing really strides the fine line between awesome and ridiculous, but you can hardly deny that its overkill. The cool thing about this toy is you can really customize the set up a bit by pegging the guns onto various places, but I tend to like the official version best. He’s got two angled cannons on the front of the cab, two giant guns on the front roof and one huge rotating missile launcher on the back. He’s also got a pair of wings for… well, they just look cool. You might as well be stylish while your running down Decepticons and blowing them into slag. This thing is so long, I barely have any shelves big enough to display it in all its glory.

So, that’s Powermaster Optimus Prime in all his vehicular glory. I’m going to break here and come back tomorrow to take a look at the base and various robot modes contained within this awesome toy.