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REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS SOLAR STORM GRAPPEL
By Thomas Wheeler

I tend to think that we remember the "firsts" of our lives with greater clarity than some of our other memories. As an action figure collector, I remember many of the first action figures from various lines I have collected. My first G.I. Joe figures were Snake-Eyes and Flash, bought at the same time. My first Masters of the Universe figure was Zodac. My first Mego super-hero figure was Aquaman. My first DC Universe Classics figure was Red Tornado. For some reason, I never seemed to go for the main characters right off the bat -- Snake-Eyes notwithstanding...

My first Transformer, from the original line, for reasons that I couldn't begin to recollect, was Grapple. Maybe I just liked the look of his vehicle form, which was how he came packaged. Maybe his bright yellow-orange just stood out a bit more than most. Anyway, he was my first Transformer.

Admittedly, I never had all that extensive a collection of the original Transformers. I loved the concept, I enjoyed the comic book, I thought the animated series was superb. However, I was pretty focused on G.I. Joe, and to be honest, there was always one thing that really bugged me about the original Transformers -- the toys were never as poseable as their comic or animated counterparts, or even as movable as the colorful illustrations on their packages.

I'll grant that this was not their main purpose. Their main purpose was to be able to convert between a humanoid robot and -- something else, generally some sort of vehicle, weapon, or device. And this they performed abundantly well. Still, it was a little disappointing to me to bring home a Transformer, transform him, and all he did was stand there and maybe was able to wave his arms around and turn his head. Clearly, this wasn't especially disappointing to very many people, given the success of the line to this day. Maybe I was overly picky.

Fortunately, however, since the days of Beast Wars, this has no longer been a problem. Modern design and toy creation capabilities -- I suspect assisted in no small part by computer-aided drafting and design, have resulted in generations of Transformers that have plenty of transformation capability -- AND plenty of articulation in their robot modes!

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when the Transformers Classics line first came on the scene. Here were the most iconic Transformers of all, the top names from Generation One, finally being rendered in a modern format that allowed for a full range of robotic motion. I've been a regular collector of them ever since, whether they call themselves Classics, Generations, Reveal the Shield, or whatever name they happen to go by.

Which brings us around to Grapple. When a Classics-styled version of Inferno came along as part of the Generations line, I was pleased for two reasons. One -- Inferno, a fire engine, is a very cool Transformer in his own right, and I did have the original version of him. Secondly -- in the original line -- he and Grapple shared most of their parts, although Grapple, a construction vehicle, traded out Inferno's ladder for an extending crane with a hook, and of course had a different color scheme.

So I was hopeful that with a Classics-style version of Inferno in the line, which I was very impressed with, that Grapple would soon follow. Certainly the Classics line had shown a willingness to follow in the footsteps of the original line, in the reuse of molds to create new characters. The various Decepticon planes, and no shortage of Autobot cars, were proof enough of that.

And yet, no Grapple seemed to be forthcoming. Finally, I heard that there was one, as part of the rather short-lived "Reveal the Shield" like, which incorporated the thermally-activated emblem stickers of years past, which were originally used on Transformers to differentiate them from the plethora of other robot toy lines that came out on the heels of this most successful robot product.

Grapple, slightly renamed "Grappel" for some odd reason, and technically his full name is "Solar Storm Grappel", although I'm not entirely sure what a solar storm has to do with anything related to this character, proved extremely difficult to find. However, I certainly don't regard it as too late to give him a decent review.

Grapple is admittedly not the most prominent Autobot to ever roll out of the Ark. However, one can track down a certain amount of backstory for him.

Officially, Grapple started out as a Mitsubishi Fuso Crane Truck (and yes, Inferno was a Mitsubishi Fuso Fire Truck). In the animated series, Grapple first appeared in the two-part "Dinobot Island" story, with no specific explanation to his arrival. This was not uncommon in the animated series, as quickly as the population tended to grow, reflecting new toys being released.

Grapple was never that major a player in the animated series, but he had at least one showcase episode, which featured an attempt to construct a Solar Power Tower. Most of the time, however, his appearances in the animated series consisted of him helping to repair assorted battle damage.

In the Marvel Comics continuity, which differed from the animated series, prior to the Ark leaving Cybertron, Grapple (along with Smokescreen, Tracks, Hoist and Skids) had his memories recorded onto crystals in case Optimus Prime required more warriors during the Ark's mission. Four million years following the Ark's crash on Earth, Grapple and the others were revived in new bodies on Earth.

In the comic book, Grapple can be credited with the construction of Omega Supreme. With Omega Supreme guarding the base, the Autobots were finally able to leave the Ark in great numbers. Grapple accompanied Optimus Prime and all the rest of the available Autobots to the Decepticons' coal strip mine base in Wyoming. Here, Grapple fought the Decepticons long enough for Bumblebee to steal combiner technology from Devastator. Once this was achieved, the Autobots retreated.

Later, when Optimus Prime, Ratchet and Prowl disappeared due to time-jumping Decepticons, Grapple found himself in the position of Autobot medic, repairing a damaged Hound.

Grapple remained with the Ark's crew for quite some time, and was seen on the moon during the grudge match between Blaster and Grimlock. When the Decepticons attacked, Grapple engaged Wildrider in some gunplay. They appeared to exchange hits, but his fate is unknown.

In the Dreamwave comics, Grapple was among a group of Autobots chosen to serve as a High Council, ruling jointly with the Decepticon Shockwave over the newly unified Cybertron. However, the Decepticon easily manipulated the council into giving him more and more power, until they were functionally impotent. Grapple and his fellow council members were among the last Autobots to truly recognize Shockwave's deceits, but did eventually join their fellow soldiers in bringing down the Decepticon's control of Cybertron. Revelation Afterwards, Grapple decided to accompany Prowl and the Ark's crew back to Earth, where he could put his skills to work on the construction of Autobot City.

Grapple hasn't been all that prominently featured in the IDW comics.

So, how's the toy? Extremely impressive, and surprisingly different from his counterpart Inferno in a number of significant aspects.

Unlike most Transformers, which come packaged on a card in their vehicular forms, Grapple (or Grappel, if you prefer), like most of the somewhat larger boxed Transformers, came packaged in his robot form.

In robot form, Grappel stands very slightly over seven inches in height, which is pretty good-sized for a Classics-style Transformer. That's to the top of his head, by the way. I'm not counting the additional height caused by his crane arm. At full extension, that would give him a height in excess of a foot, but I sort of regard that as cheating.

Grappel, like Inferno, has a fairly broad upper body, consisting of the cab section of his truck mode, which gives him a distinctly large and husky appearance. His legs are also quite thick, and his arms appear bulky because of folded panels around his shoulders and down his upper arms.

Grappel differs from Inferno in several significant respects. The head is different -- no great surprise there. The lower arms are different. Inferno's are square in shape, Grappel's are round. Grappel's feet are slightly different, and not as long as Inferno's.

The main reason for the arm difference has to do with the main vehicular feature of each Autobot. Inferno, for his Classics/Generations incarnation, traded in his extending ladder for a spring-loaded missile launcher, that fires a transparent blue missile that's designed to look like an explosion of water. Basically, it's supposed to be a high-tech water sprayer.

Grappel didn't really have that option. If he's going to be a crane truck, he needs to have the crane aspect. So, secured to the back of his lower right arm, and admittedly being a slight hindrance to robotic action, whereas Inferno's far smaller "water cannon" isn't, is a large crane hook on an extending arm. Still, it's something Grappel is supposed to have. I'm not complaining about it in the least.

Grappel's coloring is excellent. He is predominantly the same bright yellow-orange that the original Grappel was, and as such is a real standout even in the generally colorful world of the Transformers. The sides of his body have the diagonal black striping that the original possessed, and the light bars on top of his upper body are molded in transparent orange. Painted details are excellent, and his left shoulder armor has the "Reveal the Shield" emblem, which of course shows an Autobot logo when exposed to friction heat when rubbed,

Grappel is superbly articulated, naturally. One of the main draws to this line of Transformers, as far as I'm concerned. Grappel is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, legs, knees, and feet. Somewhat surprisingly, the wrists are not poseable. They are on Inferno. However, his hands are very nicely sculpted, and a little more creatively posed than a lot of Transformers I've seen, not so much clenched in fists, but slightly open.

This is usually the part of the review where I explain the transformation process from vehicle to robot. Transformers come with pictorial instructions, but I have found that sometimes the pictures don't quite provide enough of an explanation. Back in the days of Generation 1, written instructions were also included. So I endeavor to provide those here.

Customarily, I explain how to transform a vehicle to a robot, because my custom is to transform a given transformer from his vehicular mode into his robot mode -- and then leave him that way. However, Grappel already comes in his robotic form, so I sort of have to go against my own usual inclinations, and explain how to transform him into his crane truck mode.

First, flip down the panel on Grappel's back, then turn the head around 180 degrees and tuck it down. The head is actually on a spring-action that is activated by moving one of the light bars on the top of his cab. You'll want to remember that when you transform him back into a robot.

Next, swing the panels on his shoulders upwards ninety degrees, and swing them around so they're pointing towards the back. Then extend the arms outwards, and rotate them around so that the crane hook is on the top of its arm, and the other arm is pointed in a similar fashion. Then fold out the panels on the lower arms.

Next, swing the arms towards the back, rotate the upper arms so that they can be connected at the shoulder pieces, and snap them together.

Now, fold up the feet, and raise the front bumper so that is it at the front of the truck cab. Then turn the legs around individually so that they are facing the rear of the vehicle.

Next, fold back the panels on the cab of the truck. Then fold up the legs to form the back part of the truck, and rotate the front wheels outward from underneath the cab. Finally, swing the crane arm around so that the hook is facing forward, and you have completed the transformation of Grappel from robot to crane truck!

One online information source describes the modern vehicle form of Grappel as a hybrid of a 2002-2007 Pierce Contender "pumper" and 2008 Pierce Velocity "Heavy Rescue". It also has some characteristics from the Pierce Dash 2000 "midmount" with a crane arm instead of a "bucket/cherry-picker".

To be honest, I haven't the slightest idea how accurate that information is, since I'm hardly familiar with the products of this Pierce company. I've never been much of an automotive expert. It almost sounds like whoever wrote this is reaching a bit, but one might also assume that the designers of modern Transformers are going to be looking for reasonably workable, modern, real-life counterparts to these classic characters, that look enough like their classic counterparts to be recognizable, and then tweaking them just enough so that they don't have to be "officially licensed products".

In vehicle mode, Grappel is around 7" in length, and not quite three inches in height -- not counting the crane arm. Definitely above average for a Classics-type Transformer. He looks very impressive, and as with his robot form, is abundantly recognizable as a modern version of his classic incarnation. He rolls well on six wheels, on any smooth surface, and the crane arm has a considerable extension, stretching from 6 inches recessed to nearly 9 at full length.

To transform Grappel back to robot, just reverse the instructions. Remember the spring-action head, though. Basically, you take the left-side light bar and move it forward a bit.

Grappel's personality, as outlined on the side of his package, reads as follows: "Before the war, the skyline of every city on Cybertron was distinguished by the remarkable silhouettes of at least one building designed and constructed by Grappel. His work embodied the spirit and culture of his world, combining perfect functionality with unmatched elegance. It broke his Spark to see his works destroyed, one by one, as the war ravaged the world. Now he builds without art, constructing buildings meant to last only long enough to shelter the Autobots while they plan their next mission."

That's pretty much in keeping with previous explanations of Grapple's personality. He's a frustrated artist and architect who has no real time or opportunity to express himself anymore. Sort of feel sorry for him, really.

His various power rankings give him a full "10" in Skill, "9" in Intelligence, "8" in Strength and Rank, "6" in Endurance, "5" in Courage, and "4" in Speed and Fireblast.

So, what's my final word? I'm sincerely pleased I finally found him! I knew that after Inferno joined the Classics-styled Transformers, that Grapple was a near-inevitability, and I was right. It just took a little longer to track him down. But he's definitely worth it. He's a superb modern incarnation of this classic character, and on a personal note, I really feel like I have something of the very first Transformer I ever bought, restored to my collection. That aside, however, I really believe that any Transformers fan will be very pleased to add this fine Autobot to their collection.

The TRANSFORMERS figure of SOLAR STORM GRAPPEL from the "Reveal the Shield" Collection definitely has my highest recommendation!