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By Thomas Wheeler

In 1984, Hasbro, in conjunction with Japanese toy company Takara, unleashed the TRANSFORMERS into the action figure world. This amazing concept of robots who changed into alternate forms caught on hugely, and, accompanied by an animated series that presented the adventures of the heroic Autobots battling the evil Decepticons, ruled the toy and pop culture worlds of the 1980's right alongside G.I. Joe.

The Transformers have become the stuff of legend, and their saga has continued virtually uninterrupted for its 20+ year history, which has included a wide range of toys, assorted concepts such as Beast Wars, and a live-action movie with a sequel on its way in May 2009.

A couple of years back, Hasbro introduced the TRANSFORMERS CLASSICS line, and with it came all-new versions of classic Generation One characters -- Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Starscream, Grimlock, and a good number of others, all in very recognizable forms.

However, with the advent and obvious emphasis on the live-action movie, all non-movie Transformers toys were pretty much out of the stores in 2007. This was understandable, if unfortunate for those of us that were greatly enjoying the Classics. Then the rumors started to circulate, once the movie had run its course. The Classics might, just might, be back.

And -- indeed they are. The new TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE line has brought back the Classics, indeed with a little sub-header on the new package design that reads "Classic Series." I think we can figure it out, but it's nice to see that acknowledgment. Picking up where the Classics line left off, the Transformers Universe line seeks to continue the same procedure -- modern versions of classic characters, with better articulation in their robot modes.

And the first one I snagged when I saw them arrive was PROWL.

Prowl, as presented in the original animated series, was one of Optimus Prime's most trusted lieutenants. Taking the Earth form of a police car, he tended to reflect that image by being a no-nonsense type who believed in following the rules at all times. He tended to chide some of the other Autobots who wouldn't always obey orders to the letter, and believed that order was the best path to victory over the Decepticons, whom he viewed as highly dangerous agents of disorder and chaos. He tended to be rigid and rather inflexible, but he still got the job done and always watched out for his fellow Autobots.

The new toy maintains the image of the original concept very nicely. Prowl is indeed a fairly sporty-looking police car. In car mode, he's almost 5-1/4" in length, and about 2-1/4 wide at his widest point. Prowl is, as was his original version, mostly white, with some black trim. This is evidence along the lower portion of Prowl's car form on all sides. His doors read "Highway Patrol", in fairly small black type on the white portion of the doors, and "POLICE" in larger white type on the black portion of the doors.

He's a little sporty than one would expect from the average police car. I don't know of too many cop cars that have spoilers in the back. Interestingly, though, perhaps the fanciest part of his appearance is actually his siren lights. Across the top of Prowl is an angled transparent red bar with some silver trim along the top, and five molded lights on each side. This siren apparatus almost looks like a small "flying wing" aircraft, and is certainly far fancier than any siren- light mechanism I've ever seen. This is not a complaint. I rather like it.

Prowl's markings are completed by a fairly unobtrusive Autobot emblem near the front of his hood. Somewhat curiously, the Autobot logo is orange, rather than the traditional red.

Prowl also has painted red taillights and orange parking lights, and transparent headlights mounted into his front.

Prowl's transformation level is listed as "Advanced" on the package, or a "3" out of possible "4". This didn't worry me too much. After all, I've done other Classics. I've also done Alternators. Granted, it's been a while since I've done any of those, and it's even been a while since I've done any Classics.

I'll tell you one thing I DO miss from the original Transformers -- instructions that not only provided diagrams, but printed wording. Sometimes these diagrams are just a little vague. The first step in turning Prowl into a robot is to swing the doors out. This also brings the front fenders along, and it's not as easy as it sounds. They're snapped in place fairly well, and need to be carefully detached from several points. You may find yourself almost bending the back half of the car down a bit to get away with this.

Of course, the next step is to bend the back half of the car back and around. This effectively forms Prowl's legs. From there you pull his feet down, even though they act a bit like they don't want to, they will -- and fold them out a bit.

The next step is to take the doors that you've pulled out, and basically turn them at a right angle to the position of the remaining car.

Then comes the tricky part. You now have to fold the fenders and the doors together, and bring them outwards from the car, and then also fold the robot arms out. The tricky part here is making sure that the folded doors are out of the way enough to bring the arms out. It's not as easy as it sounds. The arms will then need to be folded fully out.

Finally, flip the hood out briefly to bring Prowl's head up. It's really the only "automatic" function on Prowl. It should pretty much spring up on its own. Then you can fold the hood back. Bring the front of the car down to form the robot's chest, tuck the roof of the car in the back, bring the weapons up to his shoulders, and let the doors display out to the sides. Here the illustrated instructions actually show it better than my words do, but it'd still be nice to have a combination.

If you've done all of this properly, you should have a nice Autobot that stands about 5-3/4" in height - a good size for the Classics line. If you haven't done this properly, you've likely got a real mess on your hands, and should probably take a break, and try again.

Prowl, in his robot form, looks very much what one would expect a modern-day Prowl to look like. The headsculpt is a perfect likeness for the classic character, complete with the white head, silver face, and the two red prongs on either side of his forehead, that look more than a little like his siren lights, even though they're not. As has become increasingly customary with various Transformers, part of the back of Prowl's head is transparent blue, which, with a back light source, allows his eyes to appear to be glowing blue. It's a nice effect, really.

Prowl's black and white coloration maintains itself in robot form, and in contrast to more colorful Transformers may make him seem almost dull, but really, whoever heard of a fancy police car? Prowl looks right for the job he does, and this modern incarnation of Prowl is a more than respectful update of the original character. It can't be the easiest thing in the world to take the classic Transformers and figure out how to bring them up to date and still maintain their images. So far, in the Classics line, there's been only one flub in my opinion. Unfortunately, it was Megatron. But there's certainly no problems with Prowl.

Articulation -- and here's the real improvement area and to a degree, one of the main reasons the Classics line exists -- is superb. Prowl, in robot mode, is poseable at the head, arms, upper swivel arm, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees (including a swivel), and feet, although the foot articulation was something that had to be incorporated for the transformation. What I find especially pleasing is the most of the rest of the robotic articulation wasn't incorporated out of necessity to the transformation. Hasbro just wanted to make sure Prowl was that well articulated. And he certainly is.

Even better, the articulation is decently tight. No one wants a floppy robot. I had no trouble posing Prowl, and then having him hold the pose. His legs were especially tight. That's not a complaint, by the way. The only time there's any such thing as too-tight articulation is if it splits the plastic, and I don't see that happening here. This is one well-made robot from an assembly standpoint.

The paint work is extremely neat and very well done, but it is here that I have to raise -- not a complaint, but a concern. Prowl's doors and roof were molded from transparent plastic. The apparent window areas were given a sort of "frosted" look, while those non-window areas were painted in solid colors. Now, as we all know, sometimes some paints don't react well with some plastics. And I noticed while transforming Prowl that the roof and doors felt -- just a bit tacky to the touch.

Prowl's not bad. Nevertheless, he does obviously require a lot of handling to transform him, and I found myself cleaning my own fingerprints off of his roof and doors once I was done, and hoping that the problem doesn't worsen over time.

I'm not sure if there's an answer here, or how serious the problem actually is. But I mention it as a cautionary note. Handle your Prowl carefully. Clean hands and gently cleaning these parts of him once you've finished transforming him would also be recommended.

Prowl comes with a small blaster which folds out and fits well in his hands. It can reportedly be stored in his underside in car mode, but I didn't try this. It's packaged separately on his card, and frankly, once I get my Transformers into robot mode, they STAY in robot mode.

Prowl has a character profile and various rankings in certain specialty areas on the back of his package card. Prowl's profile reads as follows:

"As the right hand man to Optimus Prime, Prowl is right at home in the thick of the battle against the new Decepticon armies. Confused Autobots are scattered across the universe, easy pickings for the gangs of more organized Decepticons. As a dedicated administrator and logician, Prowl feels it is his duty to whip them into shape and get them ready for a fight. It's only a matter of time before the Decepticons get themselves a real leader, and the Autobots need to be ready."

Excuse me, right hand MAN? How about right hand robot? And there seems to be a more extensive backstory hinted at here, as well. Since the emphasis for Transformers toys at the moment is largely on the animated series, I don't know how extensively this will come to light, but it reads interestingly. I can also readily see Prowl as a sort of drill- sergeant type -- at least until Hasbro gets around to adding Hound to this lineup...

Prowl's various specialty rankings are almost all quite high. He scores a "9" in Intelligence, Endurance, Rank, Courage, and Skill, a "7" in Strength and Speed. The only place he comes up a little short is Fireblast, where he gets a "4". Okay. so it's not a very big gun. I still wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of it, or those shoulder- mounted weapons he's got, which are advertised on the back of his package as "Acid Blasters". And he only gets a "4" in Fireblast? Seems to me that Acid Blasters could really ruin a robot's whole day.

So, what's my final word here? I was very excited to hear about the return of the Classics. Hasbro has started a whole new line with Transformers Universe, that actually includes quite a range of merchandise, including some new Robot Heroes, some interesting store exclusives and other cool stuff. But it'll be the Classics that will be getting my attention and, I believe, will be getting the most attention from the longtime Transformers fans.

These are, really, in my opinion, the ultimate Transformers. Modern incarnations of the classic, Generation One characters, with the updated articulation to make them the really amazing robots that their reputations have always allowed them to be. It is my sincere hope that this line is back to stay, and will be around for a very long time, continuing to present us with these impressive new versions of the legendary Transformers.

And need it be said, TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE CLASSICS PROWL most definitely has my highest enthusiastic recommendation!