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REVIEW:
TRANSFORMERS COLLECTORS CLUB AIRAZOR & ASTROTRAIN
By Thomas Wheeler



The 2006 Official Transformers Collectors' Club Convention presented a truly amazing set of Transformers toys, based on a subject of some conjecture over the years - what were the Beast Wars characters like before they landed on prehistoric Earth and took on the forms of Earth- based animals? It was reasonable to assume that Optimus Primal hadn't always been a gorilla, anymore than Megatron had always been a tyrannosaurus rex. But what had they looked like?

The Convention Set, entitled DAWN OF FUTURE'S PAST, answered that question, recoloring previous vehicular Transformers, giving them new heads, and naming them after the popular Beast Wars characters. Finally, here were the pre-Beast forms of Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rattrap, Rhinox, Dinobot, and on the side, Tigatron, Megatron, and Waspinator. And they all made sense. It wasn't at all hard to envision that Rattrap had been a motorcycle, or Rhinox a bulldozer, or Waspinator a small fighter plane.

There was a superbly produced comic book that accompanied the set, an excellent full-color production that outlined the events leading up to the first episode of Transformers Beast Wars - the departure from Cybertron, a battle in space, and more.

But there was one faintly annoying aspect to it. One of the characters fairly prominently featured in the comic book was Airazor. Certainly this was a character well-known to fans of Beast Wars, so it made sense that she was in the comic book. And yet, there was no toy of her available.

Until now.

The Transformers Collectors' Club offers certain toys apart from the Convention Set to its members as part of their membership. This year, one of them happens to be the pre-Beast Wars version of AIRAZOR!

Let's consider the character of Airazor. Although not part of the initial group of Maximals that were flying the ship, she came on the scene not too long after, and was an extremely popular character. Females in the Transformers universe were astonishingly scarce. Only Arcee, in Generation 1, had made much of an impact, and at the time, there was no toy of her made available. Arcee has since gone on to considerable popularity, and has had a few different figures, and even a statue or two. She was even mentioned once in Beast Wars. Apparently she's a great aunt of Rattrap's. I'm not even going to try to figure out how that happened.

Beast Wars featured two prominent female characters over the course of its run - Airazor and Blackarachnia. And although technically Blackarachnia saw more screen time, and was arguably a more complex character, starting out as a Predacon and eventually becoming a Maximal, Airazor still made a considerable impact.

She was able to transform into a large hawk and much like Tigatron, preferred spending time in the great outdoors as opposed to being cooped up in Maximal headquarters. She was always on call, though, and was a brave and loyal member of the Maximals.

Ultimately, both she and Tigatron were abducted by the mysterious aliens, the Vox, who were using Earth as a laboratory for their various experiments. In a sense, Airazor would return towards the end of the Beast Wars series. Merged with Tigatron, they became a new and powerful character called Tigerhawk. This mysterious being didn't last all that long, however (although he did made a highly impressive toy).

For all her rather brief appearances in Beast Wars, however, Airazor made an impact among the fans, and is generally regarded as being among the prominent characters in the entire concept, and a personal favorite of many, if for no other reason than the highly limited number of female Transformers over the years.

As for the toy: it's a significant recoloration - with a new head, of course - of a character named Slugslinger from the Transformers Energon concept. Rather unpleasant sounding name, but whatever the case, it certainly works as a pre-Beast form for Airazor. In vehicle mode, Airazor appears to be a very fancy and futuristic fighter plane, with two distinct cockpits up front, a spring-loaded missile launcher in the middle, and highly maneuverable wings.

The toy has been given an entirely appropriate color scheme for Airazor, a copperish brown, with orange trim, and limited amounts of silver and gold highlights, and a bit of black. Precisely in keeping with the character.

I'm not going to say that the transformation is an easy one. Honestly, it isn't. And sometimes, the instructions are little help. With no text as to what to turn which direction, sometimes the 2-D illustrations are difficult to visualize in the three-dimensions of the figure itself. This is not the Club's fault. This has been standard practice for Transformers toys of all types for quite some times. Sometimes it works okay. Sometimes it can be a real challenge to figure out precisely what one is supposed to do. I spent a fair bit of time figuring out how to properly align the arms on this figure.

However, the end result was certainly worth it. Airazor looks spectacular. In robot form, more of her orange body coloration comes through. The headsculpt is a perfect likeness of the character, and the jet wings on the back are certainly an excellent precursor to her eventual bird form. Airazor has the Maximal insignia on her left shoulder. The toy is very well articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, legs, knees, and ankles, with other assorted moving parts here and there. The spring-loaded cannon comes up over her left shoulder.

There's a tech spec with Airazor, which reads as follows:

CHROMIA 10 PILOT (AIRAZOR)

Function: Squadron Leader

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The Maximal Imperium employs many different tactics in their attempts to maintain peace throughout the galaxy. The smart and sassy pilot of the Chromia 10 heads up one of the numerous Maximal Squadrons assigned to prevent any rogue Predacon factions from operating outside the terms of the Pax Cybertronia. Airazor and her team are often delegated recon missions deep within Predacon space where many Maximals dare not venture. Her fellow pilots are inspired by her willingness to put herself in harm's way if it means protecting the peace the Maximals hold so dear. In vehicle mode she is able to observe her targets at a range of up to 30,000 feet and recreate any enemy intel she comes across with 3-D virtual reality maps. Equipped with a titanium plated exo-structure, in robot mode her weapon of choice is her retractable photon cannon.

For the record, "Chromia" was a name of one of a handful of Autobot females that turned up early on in the animated series, pre-Arcee. None of them were made into toys at the time, although they have since turned up in the 2005 Transformers Convention Set. Don't get me started on the irony of the character quote.

Let me say a word about the packaging. These Club items - G.I. Joe and Transformers alike - are always very well packaged. They are presented in very sturdy boxes with form-fitting foam linings, and the illustration on the box lid is a work of art in its own right.

This really is a superb figure. No doubt planning these toys is an arduous process, determining which ones are available, and which ones are the best and most plausible representations of established characters who have not previously appeared in such a format. I think the Club did a really great job with Airazor. The vehicle choice is entirely plausible and appropriate, the colors are perfect, the new headsculpt looks great, and given the character's prominence in the comic book for the 2006 Convention, one can't help but feel that AIRAZOR brings a much needed addition to the DAWN OF FUTURE'S PAST storyline and toy set.

But Airazor is not the only Club Exclusive Transformers offering for 2007. Another notable name from Transformers history, although not tied into the Dawn of Future's Past storyline, is ASTROTRAIN, and he has also been made available this year as a truly remarkable Transformer. Let's have a look at him, as well.

Among the Transformers, while the name of Astrotrain might not be quite as well-known as Megatron, Starscream, or Soundwave, the character is still pretty close to that first-tier of characters within the Decepticons of Generation One.

Astrotrain, along with the oddly-not-quite-as-well-known Blitzwing, was among the first of a new concept of Transformers that were introduced in the second year of the line - Transformers that could not only change from robot to vehicle, but from robot into TWO vehicles. They were officially designated "Triple-Changers".

It may have been, in part, Astrotrain's unusual vehicle modes that propelled him to a greater level of popularity than his fellow Triple- Changer. While Blitzwing could change to either a tank or a jet fighter, Astrotrain could transform into either a train or a space shuttle, neither of which had, at that point in time, entered the Transformers Universe.

Trains, especially, have been scarce commodities, at least in the American Transformers storyline. They've been somewhat more prevalent in the Japanese version. And, of course, a Space Shuttle is a very distinctive vehicle. A toy of a space shuttle is either going to resemble one or it isn't.

Alas, like many Decepticons, Astrotrain suffered from a lack of distinct personality. With rare exceptions - Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave - most of the Decepticons in the animated series were played pretty much the same - cheap thugs with limited intelligence and an emphasis on nasty behavior and a distinct disregard for human life. Granted, this was pretty much all that Megatron required of them, and what with Starscream's ambitious nature, Megatron probably didn't want anybody else around that was going to present any sort of challenge to him.

Arguably, Astrotrain's big moment came in the animated movie, even if it wasn't the most dignified of circumstances. Having caused massive damage in Autobot City on Earth, but ultimately still having lost the battle, the Decepticons must evacuate. One thing about the Transformers in the animated series that the toys were never capable of - they could not only change form, but alter size, and, presumably, their weight. This allowed for someone like Soundwave to transform himself into a small tape player that could be carried by a human being, and in the next moment transform to his full size, and presumably massive weight. By the same token, Astrotrain, who in robot form was no bigger than any other average-sized Decepticon, could transform himself into either a train or a space shuttle large enough to act as a transport craft for the fleeing Decepticons.

In a fairly remarkable quick-change stunt, Astrotrain turned into his locomotive form , allowing the retreating Decepticons to get on board as quickly as they could, and then took off very briefly in train form before transforming seconds later to his space shuttle mode and heading off for as far away as he could get.

It could even be argued that Astrotrain was partially responsible for Megatron's conversion to Galvatron at the hands of Unicron. Low on fuel and possibly slightly damaged, Astrotrain requests that the load in his cargo bay be lightened, or their chances of making it back to Cybertron are slim at best. Starscream suggests that the best way to do this is to kick out all of the seriously injured Decepticons. Of course, this includes Megatron, which falls in rather nicely with Starscream's plan to take over. Megs and the others are given the boot, later to be contacted by Unicron, and Starscream declares himself the new leader of the Decepticons. Soundwave and his associates object, as do the Constructicons, and Astrotrain gets to fly the rest of the way back to Cybertron with the Decepticon equivalent of the WWE Royal Rumble taking place in his cargo bay. That must've been a bundle of laughs.

The original Astrotrain toy was a relatively small item, but impressive enough given its Triple-Changer capability. Recently, Astrotrain returned to the Transformers toy line, in the Classics series, so clearly the name has recognition within the Transformers Universe.

And the Official Transformers Collectors' Club decided to make Astrotrain one of their exclusive offerings for 2007! And let me tell you, this is one highly impressive toy.

It's a remake of the Jetfire toy from the Transformers Armada line, and certainly that's a name with a lot of recognition behind it, but let's set that aspect of it aside for a moment. Just of his own accord, this Astrotrain is a spectacular addition to any Transformers collection.

Granted, this Astrotrain is not a Triple-Changer. It has no train mode. But honestly - who cares? It always struck me that the train mode was a little impractical anyway. Assuming that in train mode, Astrotrain actually needed a train track to use, this limited his maneuverability. And although it was shown on several occasions that Astrotrain didn't always need a track, I can't imagine that a trackless train is going to be the best form from which to either enter a battle, participate in it, or flee from it. As a space shuttle, Astrotrain had flight capability, something not all Transformers had, a greater level of speed, and certainly greater range. I've never seen too many trains in outer space.

The Club's Astrotrain is a big piece of work. In shuttle mode, Astrotrain is roughly 10 inches in length, with a wingspan of over eight inches. That's pretty good-sized for a Transformer these days. He is entirely appropriately colored in purple, with large areas of black and dark grey, and a small amount of yellow and white. His face, in robot mode, is silver.

In shuttle mode, this is easily one of the most incredibly detailed Transformers I have ever seen. There is a pattern of square-jagged lines on his wings that is absolutely incredible. There is what has to be one of the largest Decepticon insignias I've ever seen on a Transformers toy emblazoned across his cargo bay doors. This can't have been easy, especially given the jagged nature of those doors. All of the painted or imprinted detailing on this Transformers has been done with the sort of neatness and precision that I wish was more commonplace in many areas of the action figure world these days - and used to be, frankly. Astrotrain is a superb example of how a toy CAN and SHOULD be painted and detailed.

Transforming Astrotrain into robot mode is honestly not as hard as I expected. Astrotrain is actually easier than the other Transformers Club exclusive available this year, the distinctly smaller Airazor. In robot mode, Astrotrain stands about 8.5" in height, not counting his upswept wings. That's to the top of his head. Include the wings, and he's almost a foot tall. Astrotrain is well articulated in robot mode, being poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. The arms have some swivel features. You'll notice I didn't mention the legs. The one mild fallacy on this figure is that the design prevents the legs from doing anything except swinging outward a but. They cannot move forward or backward. This is a slight disappointment, but he's still more articulated than most of his Generation One ancestors, so I'm not going to complain.

Astrotrain's weapon was a surprise - literally. I didn't know the it was battery-operated, or capable of lights and sound effects. And the batteries were included! Astrotrain's weapon, in shuttle mode, takes the place of the third large engine in the back. When Astrotrain is in robot mode, it's a separate piece. I set the weapon to one side when I had completed Astrotrain's transformation, only to accidentally activate the trigger, which is the upward fin of the shuttle, and the silly thing went off and startled the heck out of me!

Further investigation revealed that the weapon has two modes. Press the trigger one direction, and the gun will fire laser bursts and the engine will blink red for as long as you hold the trigger down - or until the batteries run out, whichever comes first if you feel like being that persistent. Press the trigger in the opposite direction, and the weapon goes through this litany of light and sound effects, that starts off sounding a bit like Morse Code, fires a loud shot, makes a dull reverb sound followed by a shriek that sounds like a defective dial tone, and finishes up with a string of short explosive bursts. You almost feel like applauding the performance.

Another separate accessory of Astrotrain's is a little four-wheeled scout car. Cute, and it actually rolls. Just to make the overall package that much more impressive, Astrotrain comes with four-count-em-four Mini-Cons! For those unfamiliar with these, Mini-Cons have been part of Transformers concepts for the past several years, and are generally small assistants to the larger Autobots and Decepticons.

Each one is capable of transforming into a separate robot, but each one is also designed to be used on Astrotrain in his shuttle mode. One of them, Starcatcher, is probably more vital than most, since he acts as the shuttle's front landing gear! The other three include Astro-Hook, a crane vehicle with two separate rotating cranes; Astro-Line, designed to look like a large bomber aircraft, with two huge missiles on his wings; and Astro-Sinker, as amazingly effective rendition of a military submarine! All of these Mini-Cons have been given color schemes in keeping with Astrotrain's own.

Astrotrain is part of the TRANSFORMERS TIMELINES series, which is basically the title designation for all Club exclusive Transformers. He comes with a tech spec, which reads as follows:

ASTROTRAIN

Function: Bounty Hunter

"The greatest opportunities are borne from adversity."

Constructed to serve as a transport for Megatron and his warriors, Astrotrain became discontent ferrying unappreciative Decepticons across the galaxy. In the chaos that followed the Unicron Battles, Astrotrain struck out on his own as a bounty hunter. Astrotrain convinced the Mini- Con Starcatcher to join him by promising him wealth and riches. The same promise was made to a trip of Mini-Cons who joined him later: Astro-Hook, Astro-Line, and Astro-Sinker. Astrotrain is cruel, but he is also extremely loyal to those under his command. He has an innate ability to inspire loyalty in others. His years of successful commissions have afforded him significant wealth, allowing him to upgrade his systems, greatly enhancing his strength. However, he has never given up his primary weapon, an ionic blaster that disrupts an enemy's internal circuitry.

Those first few lines aren't a bad description of what Astrotrain had to put up with in the animated movie. "Unappreciative Decepticons", indeed! At least based on that personal quote, he's been fairly philosophical about it all, and based on the rest of the tech spec, hasn't done badly for himself since deciding he just didn't need the grief of Starscream and everyone else kicking around his cargo bay. Okay, he's a bad guy. It still sounds like he deserved the break.

So, to conclude the review - this is really an amazing Transformer. The Club should be duly proud of the results. Astrotrain is a well-designed, well-made, and astoundingly well-detailed Decepticon. The accessories are - impressive (hey, at least you've been warned), and the Mini-Cons are a cool group to add to the overall package. And speaking of the package, Astrotrain comes presented in a large, sturdy box, safely secured by a foam lining, with a really nicely painted box lid - and I pity the artist having to do those intricate wing patterns.

And certainly AIRAZOR is just as amazing, and brings an important addition to the "Pre-Beast-Wars" group that was the focus of the 2006 Convention Set. If you have any chance to add either or both of these to your collection of Transformers, the Transformers Collectors' Club AIRAZOR and ASTROTRAIN definitely have my highest recommendation!