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By Thomas Wheeler

Several years ago, the Transformers line of robotic action figures produced a new chapter in its long and varied history. Given the name of "Transformers Classics", these were updated, yet faithful versions of many of the most popular characters from the original, best-known "Generation One" Transformers, making use of updated designs to give them, most particularly, the level of articulation in their robotic modes that was now possible.

I really enjoyed the Classics. As much as I liked the original Transformers concept, my one lingering complaint about them was that, in their robot modes, they didn't do all that much. With rare exception, they could move at the head and arms and that was about it. The Classics finally gave these legendary characters the articulation that they deserved.

Among the Classics were some of the Decepticons known as the Seekers. These were the jet fighters, among the earliest of the Transformers, that were largely identical to one another except for their color schemes. The Classics would present to us three of these Seekers -- Starscream, Ramjet, and in a special two-pack exclusive to Target, Skywarp.

Alas, the Classics fell by the wayside with the premiere of the first live-action movie, and it seemed that the remaining Seekers would never be made. With that in mind, the Official Transformers Collectors' Club saw to it that the other three most prominent Seekers -- Thundercracker, Dirge, and Thrust -- were offered as part of one of their BotCon exclusive sets. That set sold out quickly and hasn't much been heard from since, obviously.

Somewhat to everyone's surprise, the Classics returned, merged into a post-movie line that included a wide variety of new Transformers. However, in light of the BotCon set, none of the Seekers would be a part of these new assortments. A new Seeker-type plane, named Acid Storm, was offered, but this was the extent of it. And then the second movie came along, and that was pretty much the end of the Classics for a second time.

Now, we're past the second movie -- and the Classics have returned yet again! They are now part of a line called TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS, but there's no mistaking who these cool robots are. And apparently enough time has passed since the BotCon Set that featured the Seeker planes, for at least two of them to finally be brought to the general retail world. Need it be said that I am exceptionally pleased, and sincerely hopeful that, even with the next movie coming along in 2011, that the Generations line will either run long enough, or be brought back, that perhaps finally, I'll have all of the Seeker planes.

So, I finally brought the Decepticon known as THRUST into my collection. This review will focus on the the second of the new Decepticon Seeker planes, by the name of DIRGE!

In the original Transformers line, the Seekers could be visually broken down into two groups. There was the first group, which consisted of Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp. They were all essentially identical, derived from the same mold, just with different color schemes. Of course, Starscream is the best known and most prominent of the entire group.

The second group of Seekers came along the following year, and consisted of Ramjet, Thrust, and Dirge. Although very nearly identical to the previous Seekers, these Decepticons had different wing structures attached, and one didn't lower the nosecone of the plane mode when forming the head, giving them a somewhat different look in their robot modes, as well, which garnered them the nickname "Coneheads" among some fans.

So, who is Dirge? Some online research gave me the backstory to this particular Decepticon.

Dirge was first introduced in 1985. He was described as a mournful, silent warrior reliant on - and consumed by - fear. Sounds like he was a barrel of laughs at parties. While an expert at inflicting fear on others, Dirge was also prone to succumbing to fear himself. Dirge's effectiveness evaporated in situations when he felt he was not in control.

In jet mode, Dirge had the ability to induce fear in other robots through his engines. The engines apparently emitted certain frequencies that caused disorientation and fear in the Transformers' equivalent of the central nervous system. He also carried two air-to-air missiles and two automatic machine guns. You know -- just in case...

The comic book origin for Dirge is an unusual one. In the earlier issues of the comic book, it was not unusual for some of the characters to have non-Cybertronian origins. Dirge's vehicle mode, along with Ramjet and Thrust, were mass produced under slave labor when the Decepticon Shockwave assumed control of the Blackrock Aircraft Assembly Plant. These three Seekers, and for that matter Starscream and his earlier group, are all based on F-15's, although Dirge and his group have greater modification to their wing structures. In the comic, at least, this suggests that Shockwave modified the design of the basic F-15 for specific Decepticon purposes.

His first appearance apart from his vehicle mode was in issue #17. He was next seen entering Earth via the Space Bridge, alongside Thrust and Ramjet, about the same time as the Aerialbots were being created. Dirge was seen using the power of his engines against Silverbolt, causing the acrophobic Autobot to lose control during flight. The new Decepticon Seekers were eventually forced to flee when the Aerialbots formed Superion.

Dirge would also appear as the Decepticon liaison to Cobra in Marvel Comics' G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover, where he was betrayed and destroyed by Serpentor, once Cobra realized that the Decepticons intended the destruction of Earth, not its conquest. Dirge would not be seen in the comic books again for some time, despite the questionable continuity of the mini-series with either the main G.I. Joe or Transformers titles.

Dirge would serve as part of the Earth-bound forces under first Shockwave, then Ratbat, battling both the Autobots and Scorponok's Decepticon faction. He also assisted Soundwave in sending a signal to Cybertron. Dirge would also appear in the Generation 2 comic book, serving as part of the Decepticon forces under Bludgeon. He was destroyed alongside the Autobot named Nightbeat while fighting the alien Swarm that threatened to overwhelm all of the Transformers.

Dirge had a much larger role in the Marvel-produced UK comics, especially in the storyline "Target: 2006", where he was portrayed as one of the Decepticons' deadliest killers, and one that needed to be taken out by the Autobot commando group known as "The Wreckers". The Decepticons had planned a major offensive to wipe out the Autobots. It is interesting to note that Dirge seems to be in a major command position overseeing the entire offensive, indicating a much higher rank than previously believed.

In the animated series, Dirge made his first appearance during the second season, in the episode "Auto-Berserk". It was not shown how he came to be on Earth, but by this time, Transformers seemed to be popping up all over the place.

Dirge made regular appearances in the second season, and played a prominent role in episodes such as "The Gambler", where he and Ramjet have been send to the planet Monacus to discuss "business" with a local citizen, and "The Girl Who Loved Powerglide", where he almost destroyed Powerglide. However, Dirge was never shown to use his fear-inducing engines. The closest example to this might be in "Megatron's Master Plan, Part 2", where, along with Thrust and Ramjet, he is shown flying low over a human city, using the sonic book produced by his engines to shatter the glass panes of a skyscraper. Admittedly, the special abilities of most of the Transformers were gradually minimized over the course of the show.

During the animated Transformers movie, Dirge was briefly shown during the Battle of Autobot City. Later, Dirge appeared on Cybertron, being the first at Starscream's coronation to spot the incoming Galvatron. He appeared towards the end of the movie, attempting to escape from Unicron as Cybertron was being torn apart by the massive entity. A blue jet similar to Dirge was shown destroyed during the scene, which led to speculation that Dirge was destroyed.

However, Dirge survived and made sporadic appearances in the third season. He appeared in "The Killing Jar", and more prominently in "Ghost in the Machine", where Dirge helps to liberate Trypticon from the control of Starscream's ghost, just before Starscream was about to aid Unicron in destroying Cybertron.

Dirge has also appeared in Dreamwave's comics, Fun Publications, and IDW Comics.

So, how's the toy? Extremely cool. Dirge has the basic body of an F-15, but with quite a different wing structure. In plane mode, he's slightly over 6 inches in length, with a 5 inch wingspan. His body is mostly dark blue with black trim, although his wings are gold in color. He has an unusual wing structure, in that there are two smaller wings about halfway back on his fuselage, and two larger wings, with upturned fins at their tips, towards the rear of the plane. This is definitely not characteristic of a traditional F-15.

The gold wings have somewhat jagged, almost claw-like red and white stripes on them, really an interesting and impressive pattern, and there is the traditional Decepticon logo imprinted on them as well.

Dirge has four wheels of landing gear, although none of them actually roll -- two near the front and two towards the rear. He has two missile launchers attached to his larger wings, that do actually contain spring-action features, and can fire two missiles that Dirge is packaged with.

The overall detail of Dirge in plane mode is superb, with many neatly sculpted lines delineating the panel lines that one would expect to see on a military aircraft. The imprinting of the stripes and Decepticon emblems is also exceptionally well done.

Now, let's discuss Dirge's transformation. On a scale of 0 to 5, Dirge is listed as "2", which is described as "easy" -- which he relatively is, especially if you've collected all the other planes in the line and have probably gotten used to transforming them.

First, detach the missile launchers. Next, pull the rear half of the plane back, thus starting the creation of the legs, and rotate the smaller forward wings around 180 degrees.

Now, flip the feet down and raise the entire front section of the plane away from the front of the jets and the underside framework.

The next part is the trickiest in the transformation. Bring the front of the main down, swivel the head around, and then swivel the midsection around. Then tuck this entire portion down into the rest of the main body, swing the arms out, and snap the entire works forward into what was the underside of the plane, but which is now Dirge's upper torso.

Finally, fold the former rear landing gear into Dirge's chest, and fold the arms back in slightly so they align with the torso. And you're done! Dirge's transformation is complete. You have the option of attaching the missile launchers to Dirge's upper arms at the shoulders.

In robot mode, Dirge stands about 5-5/8" in height. More of his black seems to show when he's in robot mode, as his underside, now part of his chest, as well as his lower arms, upper legs, and feet, are all black. There's still a generous amount of blue in evidence, though, including his head, lower torso, upper arms, and lower legs. His large wings extend from his lower legs. The smaller wings are secured to his upper body, and would probably be something of a hindrance should Dirge want to move his arm back quickly, but the overall look isn't bad.

There's a bit of gold trim on Dirge's shoulders, and some silver and red trim on his lower legs and feet, that was not visible before. Additionally, Dirge has a Decepticon logo in the center of his chest, dark purple with a white outline, against a black section of his body.

Dirge's face has been painted gray, and he has a decidedly mean facial expression, and red eyes. Unlike some Transformers in this series, Dirge's eyes do not glow. There was apparently no reasonable way to work out that rear reflection trick that some of the other Transformers use. It's not a big deal at all, however. The paintwork on the entirety of the robot is exceptionally neatly done.

The character profile for Dirge on his package card reads as follows: There is a certain sub-harmonic frequency that triggers the fear response in most living things across the galaxy. Dirge has used this frequency for centuries, tuning his engines and his vocal processor to generate it. Fear accompanies him like a dark cloud. Even his fellow Decepticons feel it. He enjoys the feeling of power he gets, watching other robots quaking in fear at his presence, or fleeing at the sound of his engines.

No great mention of his own fear is made here, until we get to his various power levels. Dirge gets an "8" in Speed, which one would expect of such a fancy aircraft; a "7" in Strength, Intelligence, and Fireblast; a "6" in Rank, a "5" in Endurance, a "4" in Skill -- which is pretty scary, and -- whoops! -- all of a "2" in Courage. Real nice. If his fear powers don't work and he gets scared, he's likely to just open fire, and based on his Skill ranking, he's probably a lousy shot. Not a good combination with that "7" in Fireblast.

Articulation is superb, and this to me is one of the real highlights of these particular Transformers. Dirge is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, and knees. The fronts of the feet move a bit, but this is mostly part of the transformation more than the articulation. And certainly, this version of Dirge is vastly more articulated than the original.

So, what's my final word here? I'm both impressed and delighted here. I'm delighted that the Classics are back, regardless of what they're being called. I can very easily live with "Generations" if it means getting some more cool robots in this collection, especially more of the Seekers. And Dirge is a superb figure, very well made, nicely detailed, carefully painted, and certainly well-articulated. He's a worthy addition to the collection and stands well alongside Starscream, Skywarp, Acid Storm, Ramjet, and Thrust.

And I wouldn't mind at all if, before this line doubtless makes way for the next movie, we get Thundercracker out of it. And dare I hope -- Sunstorm?

At the very least, though, Dirge is one plane closer to having all of the Decepticon Seeker planes, and I am very glad that Hasbro made him, and very glad to have him.

The TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS figure of DIRGE definitely has my highest recommendation!