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By Thomas Wheeler

Few action figure lines in the world can claim the success of the Transformers. These toys have enjoyed a virtually uninterrupted run from 1984 to the present day, in a wide range of incarnations, from Generation 1, to Generation 2, through Beast Wars, a series of linked series, live action movies, the whole works.

Almost assuredly, the best known and most beloved characters are those from the Generation 1 concept. Here is the original Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Jazz, and many others. For me, however, there was always one little problem with the original toys. While they certainly looked cool in both their vehicle and robot forms, and the animated series was a huge lot of fun, as was the Marvel comic book -- in their robot forms, the toys just didn't move all that much. It was something of a disappointment to see an illustration of the character on the package in an action pose, to see that character running, flying, and fighting in the animated series, and really, all the toy could do was stand there and move its arms.

Arguably, the original Transformers were not action figures per se. They were transformable robots. Their "action" was the transformation, not the articulation level in their humanoid robot forms. Still, it was something of a disappointment.

For years now, really ever since Beast Wars, that hasn't been a problem. Advanced (and no doubt computer assisted) design techniques have allowed for a vast population of robots that are fully transformable -- AND fully articulated. And yet, until the past couple of years, that still left the fine characters of Generation 1 a little high and dry.

Finally, this matter was resolved, with the advent of the Transformers Classics line. Here were all new toys of the Generation 1 characters, fully recognizable in both their robot and vehicular modes, and yet also fully articulated in their robotic modes as well. It was a long overdue dream come true for longtime Transformers fans.

The Classics line became part of Transformers Universe, ultimately, and then went on to become known as Transformers Generations. Presently, it has taken up the moniker of "Reveal the Shield", as it has resumed an interesting little feature from the 1980's -- thermal-active stickers that hide, or reveal, either an Autobot or Decepticon emblem, as appropriate to the character. But the line is still focused on the original characters from Generation 1.

One of my favorite characters from the original Generation 1 Transformers was, admittedly, not one of the major players, but he was still decently prominent. He was less a warrior and more of a scientist, and his non-robot mode was certainly proof of this. His name is PERCEPTOR, and in the Generation 1 series, he transformed into -- a microscope. What was especially interesting was that in his microscope mode -- he really worked! Oh, he wasn't an especially high-powered microscope. I doubt you would have wanted to have used him to analyze specimens for that important high school biology report. But he was an actual, functioning microscope.

Let's consider the history of the character, with a little online assistance.

Perceptor is a renowned Cybertronian scientist. He craves knowledge, and his discoveries have helped his allies on many occasions. His specialties lie in metallurgy, electrical engineering, and other sciences closely related to Transformer physiology, though his intelligence has made him reliable in many fields.

In the Marvel Comics continuity, Perceptor was originally part of an Autobot group in the "Dead End" region of Cybertron. Serving as the group's scientist, Perceptor would nonetheless lead a mission to save the captured Blaster from being executed by the local Decepticon commander Straxus. Later, he was opposed to the plan to save the captive scientist Spanner, but was outvoted. Accompanying the others to blow up the Decepticon base, they were horrified to discover that the Decepticons had built Spanner into the Space Bridge itself. Destroying the bridge as a mercy-killing, Perceptor and his companions - Beachcomber, Blaster, Cosmos, Powerglide, Seaspray, and Warpath - with no chance of escaping to Cybertron, crossed the bridge to Earth.

In the animated series, Perceptor made his first appearance in "Dinobot Island, Part 2", when he assisted the Autobots' human ally Chip Chase in understanding some unusual phenomena occurring in that episode.

His first major role was in "Microbots", when Megatron acquired the Heart of Cybertron, which was decimating the Autobots. He used his shrinking device to shrink himself, Bumblebee and Brawn, so they could infiltrate Megatron's body and disable the Heart of Cybertron, which he later destroyed.

In the episode "The God Gambit", Cosmos collected data in space on a potential new power source, but was attacked by the Decepticons Astrotrain, Thrust, and Starscream. Crashing on the moon Titan, which was inhabited, the locals worshiped the Decepticons as "sky gods", but rebels were able to reactivate Cosmos and call for aid from the Autobots. Optimus Prime sent Omega Supreme with Perceptor and Jazz. The trip to Titan drained Omega of most of his energy, but Perceptor and Jazz were able to gather enough energy crystals to reactivate Omega and defeat the three Decepticons.

In another episode, "Cosmic Rust", Perceptor used a special rust-proofing formula on the Statue of Liberty. He was kidnapped by Decepticons to treat a horrible case of rust that had afflicted Megatron. He diagnoses it as "cosmic rust", and uses some of the formula on Megatron. He himself was also infected, as well as all the Autobots. He and Wheeljack used the Matter Duplicator to duplicate the rust-proofing formula, as the key ingredient no longer existed.

Perceptor would continue to appear throughout season 3, following the animated movie, acting as Rodimus Prime's scientific adviser. Perceptor was one of a relatively small group of pre-1986 Autobots to survive from the movie, along with Jazz, Cliffjumper, Bumblebee, Blaster, Cosmos, Seaspray, Beachcomber, the Dinobots, and several others. His role as chief Autobot scientist meant that he could perform the duties of either Ratchet or Wheeljack, both of whom met their demise in the movie.

In the episode "Madman's Paradise", while Spike and Carly hosted a banquet for a visiting ambassador, their son Daniel became bored and wandered off. Grimlock followed him, and they fell into a lost chamber where Quintessons had banished criminals to other dimensions. A number of Autobots followed, and ultimately, with the help of Perceptor, the Autobots and Daniel were returned to Cybertron.

Perceptor's last appearance was in the episode "The Face of Ninjika". Battling over a Quadrant Lock Disc, Autobot, Decepticon, and Quintesson forces cross a rip in space and become trapped there, landing on the planet Zimojin. An inhabitant named Katsudan removes Perceptor's Autobot emblem and uses it as the head and face for an ancient robots named Ninjika, explaining that it resembles the missing face of this broken defender.

The name Perceptor turns up on other Transformers concepts, including Armada and Energon, and in these instances, he does not transform into a microscope, but I think it is fair to assume that these Perceptors are not intended to be the same individual as the Generation 1 Perceptor, who has been brought into the Classics/Generations line through the Reveal the Shield extension.

Interestingly enough, if perhaps not all that surprisingly, Perceptor's "alt mode" is not a microscope this time around. It's a little surprising, since for the most part, these "Classics" Transformers have tended to maintain something reasonably close to their original modes in their new incarnations for the most part. This hasn't always been the case, but distinctly more often than not, it has been. Conversely, it might have been just a little too impractical to try to recreate a microscope this time around, and the line is substantially vehicle-oriented.

For his Reveal the Shield appearance, Perceptor is described on his package as a "Research Truck". Technically, what he is, is a Half-Track -- a truck with front wheels, but tank-like treads in the back. This may seem like an unusual motif for Perceptor, but if you watch enough of the Discovery Channel or related programs, then you know that sometimes, scientists need to use some pretty rugged equipment and vehicles to get to the sites where they're conducting their research, so really, it works rather well for Perceptor.

In truck mode, Perceptor is about 5" long. While this makes him rather small scale-wise relative to most of the automotive Transformers in this line, he's more or less about the same size as them, give or take a fraction of an inch. So while he's rather small as a truck, the toy is about the same size as most of them. And really, if you think about it, the Transformers have never really been a "to scale" line, even among themselves.

In truck mode, Perceptor appears to be mostly dark red, which is one of his primary colors. His front wheels and rear treads are black. He does roll along smooth surfaces. The treads are not real, but if you look underneath the treads, you can see two small wheels. The tread sections are particularly well-detailed on Perceptor.

Additionally, he has a clear windshield, and a light bar on his roof, that transforms to become a shoulder blaster, reflective of his original microscope device, which also became his shoulder-mounted weapon in Generation 1. Perceptor's truck mode also has a rather foreign-looking (by American standards) license plate on the pack, one of those rather long ones, in off-white, with large black letters that read MR 5 1409. If this has any actual meaning to it, I don't know offhand what it is.

Now, let's proceed with Perceptor's transformation. One of the things about the modern Transformers is that while they come with illustrated instructions, there are no printed words with them. This can sometimes present moderate difficulties, as it's not always clear from a two-dimensional illustration what one is supposed to do with a three-dimensional robot. I have found that it also helps to keep the package handy, as the back includes a photo of the toy in both vehicle and robot form. Comparing the "finished version" with one's progress is sometimes helpful, and I also hope the same is true of the written explanation of the transformation that I try to provide whenever I review a Transformer.

Perceptor's transformation difficulty is rated "3" on a scale of 0 to 5, which is listed as "Intermediate". I've found that to be a reasonably accurate if occasionally relative scale, so let's see how it plays out this time around.

The first step is easy enough -- rotate the light bar on the top of the vehicle around 180 degrees so that the silver missile is pointing forward, and the entire apparatus is now sort of off to the side.

The next several moves involve the arms, which are located underneath the vehicle. Pivot them out 90 degrees, then raise them upwards. The swing them back down along the turquoise shoulder joint, swivel the arms around so that the chrome silver pieces are facing outward. Then pivot the entire arms around at the shoulders so that the front wheels are facing inwards. The instructions look like you can move the wheels to a fairly straight position, but you can't. They get caught on a piece under the hood. Hopefully this will resolve itself along the way. Then raise the arms once again so they're pointed towards the front of the truck.

For the next steps -- the instructions do not do justice on what you're supposed to do. Various views are provided, and the instructions are reasonably helpful, but it was still something of a fiasco. You're supposed to stretch the rear of the vehicle away from the main body, tuck the doors in very slightly, flip around and fold up the back of the car against what is not becoming the lower legs, fold out the feet, fold in the treads and bring them down, and then fold the doors partway into a slot in the lower legs. I'm still not entirely sure I got it right. This is one of those instances where you sort of have to do the best you can hope that most of the pieces will click-snap into place (most of them do), and pray you don't break the poor toy along the way.

Next, lower the windshield against what's left of the front of the truck, and raise the head. Swing the legs down, rotate the section now bearing the arms up against the back, and rotate it 90 degrees. It will more or less click into place. Swivel the light bar around until it now looks more like a missile launcher -- and Perceptor is now in his robot mode!

You know, I like the Transformers characters and toys perfectly well. But I am in the habit of putting a Transformer into his robot mode -- and leaving him that way. Most of these Classics/Generations have come packaged in their vehicle forms, so I have to get them into their robot modes. You can better believe Perceptor is staying that way. Maybe it was just me, but I'd certainly put him at the higher end of "Intermediate".

That's not intended as a complaint. I sincerely appreciate the engineering and complexity that goes into these toys. It can't be the easiest thing in the world to create a modern Transformer with the modern expectations of detail and articulation, that bears a sufficiently strong resemblance to his Generation 1 predecessor. It must be even trickier when the decision is made, in Perceptor's case, to make his "alt mode" something entirely different than the first time around, and still have the robot mode be recognizable. That's a lot of hard work on the part of some very talented, imaginative, and meticulous people.

Still -- Perceptor was one of the trickier ones I've worked with lately, and I hope he likes being in his robot mode, because he's not going back!

So, how is Perceptor in his robot mode? Extremely impressive. He's definitely evocative of his Generation 1 counterpart, but as one might expect, he's certainly more detailed and more articulated.

One of the things that is first noticed is the chrome details. Although chrome was frequently seen in Generation 1, it has been far scarcer in modern times. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single Classics Transformer that has had it -- until now. I don't know if it's the start of a trend, but it's pretty cool nevertheless.

On Perceptor, the dials on his lower arms, which originally corresponded to microscope equipment, so it's cool that they're still included, have been chromed, as has the framework around his chestplate, as well as the barrel of his shoulder-mounted blaster cannon.

The chestplate, additionally, swings open, also something that the original Perceptor was capable of. Within we find the "Reveal the Shield" emblem which, with a little thermal encouragement, reveals an Autobot emblem, just as it should.

In robot mode, Perceptor stands about 5-1/2" in height, a little on the short side for the Classics line, but not severely. The shoulder cannon gives him an extra quarter of an inch of complete height, bringing him up to 5-3/4".

The headsculpt is certainly indicative of the original Perceptor. It is mostly black, with a silver face, a curved head with a fin on it. The eyes are yellow, and the back of the head has been molded in transparent yellow plastic, so that when light hits it, it reflects through to the eyes. This is a fairly common practice among Transformers of this series, and some work better than others. For Perceptor, the effect works moderately well. I've been worse, but I've also seen far better.

In robot mode, Perceptor is significantly dark red, but he also has a fair amount of dark turquoise on him, his other primary color, dating back to Generation 1. His shoulders, lower arms, and upper legs are turquoise, and his lower torso, hands, and feet are black.

His hands are interesting. I'm used to seeing Transformers hands where all four fingers are grouped together in a partially clenched fist, all four fingers in an even row, to better allow the robot to hold a weapon. Since Perceptor doesn't come with a separate weapon, someone along the way decided to sculpt some rather more detailed hands for him. They still have a distinctly robotic look to them, of course, but the hands are more open, and the four fingers are not all in a row, but rather are open to differing degrees. The end result are some of the most detailed hand sculpts I've seen on a Transformer in some time. I'm suitably impressed.

Of course, one of the major points of these Transformers is the articulation level in robot mode, and certainly Perceptor is a superb example of this. In his robot mode, he is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. Here is a line of Transformers that really can assume all of the various action poses that their Generation 1 ancestors only wish they could have managed.

Paintwork on Perceptor, typical for most Transformers, is fairly limited, but where it appears, it is very neatly done. It appears mostly on the face, and on some details on the arms and legs, most of which relate more to the vehicle mode than the robot mode.

The back of Perceptor's package card offers some backstory for the character, and reads as follows: Perceptor is one of the most brilliant scientists ever produced by Cybertron. Much of the technology the Autobots take for granted is due to his discoveries. It is rare that he actually builds or invents anything himself, but his insights make it possible for engineers and inventors to continue the pace of technological development.

Interesting background in that it makes no mention whatsoever of the war with the Decepticons. Of course, Perceptor also has assorted power levels, which are as follows. He gets a full "10" in both Intelligence and Skill; "9" in Rank, "8" in Courage and Endurance; "6" in Strength and Fireblast, and "4" in Speed. But nobody said those Half-Track Research Trucks were going to win the Indy.

So, what's my final word here? I've always liked Perceptor. I wish I still had my original, but alas, I do not. Maybe this one doesn't function as an actual microscope, but it's still cool to have Perceptor back, and newly made among the Classics/Reveal the Shield, he's more articulated in his robot form than ever, and his Research Truck mode suits him very well. If you're a longtime Transformers fan, here's your chance to bring Perceptor back into the fold. You won't be disappointed.

The TRANSFORMERS "REVEAL THE SHIELD" figure of PERCEPTOR definitely has my highest recommendation!