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By Thomas Wheeler

Transformers have been around for well over a quarter of a century now, and they have had a great many incarnations in that time. Generation 1, Generation 2, Beast Wars, Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, Cybertron, right on through to the live action movies up to today.

I'll admit a distinct preference for the characters of Generation 1. I feel that they set the standard of the characters and situations, and they had a great animated series and a very decent comic book. I think a lot of people feel this way, since this particular incarnation of Transformers continues to be revisited in both the toys and comics to this day.

However, one thing did always bother me just a little bit about the original toys. In their robotic forms, they weren't especially well articulated. Now, this is probably an unfair statement. For the toymaking capabilities of the time, they were innovative and interesting. But I did find it a little frustrating to see the package illustration, watch the animated series, read the comic book, and see these amazing robotic characters moving about just like one would expect them to be able to -- and about all the toys could do was stand around and move their arms.

Admittedly, the primary purpose of Transformers during their initial release was not necessarily to be fully poseable action figures. It was to be transformable robots. The emphasis was on the transformation, not so much the action. And for what they were supposed to do, they did it very well, and it was certainly innovative for the time.

Thankfully, this problem has long since been put in the past. Modern toy designing, no doubt aided my computer technology, has enabled the Transformers to enjoy a full range of motion in their robotic forms since the days of Beast Wars, a level of articulation that, to one degree or another, has been maintained right up to today -- all while still maintaining their distinctive capability to transform into a car, plane, or some other sort of vehicle, weapon, or device.

This was fine and well, but I think many fans missed the characters of Generation 1, regardless of reasonably close counterparts in other Transformers incarnations, and given modern toymaking capabilities, there was certainly the potential to turn out an all new version of Generation 1, with the updated articulation now possible for Transformers.

Several years ago, it finally happened, with the Transformers Classics line. Here were all the popular characters, in vehicular and robotic forms abundantly close to their original versions, but with the full range of action figure potential in their robotic forms that was now possible. The line, needless to say, was a huge hit.

It has since come and gone a few times, sometimes under different names, working its way in and around other Transformers lines that are given more prominence for a time, especially those based on the live-action movies. It started as Transformers Classics, later became part of Transformers Universe, and was most recently known as Transformers Generations, even bringing in a couple of characters from Beast Wars.

At the moment, it is now known by the sub-heading of "Reveal the Shield", as the toys have been given the thermally-active emblems which show either an Autobot or Decepticon logo depending on the allegiance of the character. This was something that was implemented along the way in the original run of Generation 1 when, after Transformers skyrocketed in popularity, everybody and his brother jumped on the transforming robot bandwagon for a time. It was a way of saying, "This is a REAL Transformer."

The Classics/Generations line has certainly focused on Generation 1 characters, and there's also certainly no shortage of those to be found. One recent release happens to be a personal favorite of mine. His name is TRACKS, and this review will focus on him.

Officially, the toy's name is TURBO TRACKS, since a fairly simple name like "Tracks" is currently considered too generic to fully copyright and license, but any longtime Transformers fan will know who this character is, and I'll just be calling him Tracks for the purposes of this review.

Tracks was not one of the first Transformers turned out in the toy line, but he came along not too long after, and his somewhat abrasive personality and his fancy sports car alt mode definitely made him a prominent character and a hit among fans of the series. Some online research reveals more about this interesting Autobot, from both the comic book and animated perspective.

Tracks is somewhat of a rarity among the Autobots, in that he prefers his new Earth car mode to his original Cybertronian form. Hey, you get turned into a fancy sports car, that's bound to be seen as an upgrade. His concern over his appearance has led to some friction with his fellow Autobots, as they think he should be less concerned with his looks and more on the battle against the Decepticons.

Tracks speaks with a Boston accent, sounding rather stuffy and arrogant, and according to the original voice actor, Michael McConnohie, he modeled the voice on the character of Thurston Howell III, the millionaire shipwrecked on "Gilligan's Island", played by Jim Backus.

In the Marvel comics, Tracks was one of five Autobots who agreed to have their sparks transferred to crystal storage, some four million years ago, in case the Autobots needed extra troops during the mission of clearing a path for Cybertron through an asteroid belt. In 1985, the Autobots were suffering heavy casualties and the five "stored " Autobots were activated in a story called "Rock and Roll Out".

The group, except for Grapple, were shown around Earth by Bumblebee, and they eventually ended up in a battle with Decepticons at a local concert. Tracks was shown to be something of a complainer, but loyal to the Autobot cause. He was heard complaining about a surprise inspection, but he also readily accompanied Optimus Prime in locating the inactive hulk of Megatron later on.

Tracks continued to appear sporadically in the comics after this, although predictably he appeared less as more new characters were introduced. He was in a battle in the Arctic, where he was damaged by the Terrorcon named Blot, and he was subsequently among the scores of Transformers killed trying to stop the Underbase-powered Starscream.

The UK comic, also published by Marvel, although its connections to the US title remain debatable, resurrected Tracks, as Wheeljack attempted to revive him. His efforts were stopped by Grimlock, who didn't believe to be an effective warrior. Wheeljack eventually managed to revive him anyway, and Optimus Prime stationed him on Earth. His only subsequent appearance was in the final issue of the UK comics, where he is among a group of Autobots that engage the Stunticons in battle. Aside from Bumblebee, he's the only one left standing after a high speed chase leaves both groups incapacitated.

Tracks did turn up one more time in the US comics, in the Generation 2 title in the final battle against Jhiaxus' forces.

In the animated series, Tracks first appeared in the second season during the episode "Dinobot Island, Part 2." He would go on to make regular appearances in the series.

He was the definite star of two related episodes, "Make Tracks" and "Auto-Bop". In the first episode, he was one of the Autobots assigned to New York to combat a spate of car thefts. Tracks quickly became enamored with the city, but after chasing some car thieves, ended up crashing and being stolen by a street youth named Raul. The two soon came to an understanding and helped each other discover what the stolen cars were being used for - to make an army of drones for the Decepticons. The two stopped the scheme, and Tracks put his friend to work restoring the drone cars to their original condition as punishment for stealing in the first place.

In the episode "Auto-Bop", Tracks and Blaster encountered Raul again, who tipped them off that a local disco was being used to brainwash people. The Autobots investigated and soon found the culprits - Starscream and, hardly surprisingly, Soundwave. While Blaster and Soundwave dueled with sonics, Tracks used his flying car mode to pursue and shoot down Starscream.

Tracks had a number of other notable appearances in the animated series. When Omega Supreme ignored a giant space creature in order to pursue his vendetta against the Constructicons, Tracks was one of the airborne Autobots who tried to stop the beasts. In another episode, he was one of the Autobots captured by a big game hunter in order to lure in Optimus Prime. Later, Tracks was one of a team of Autobots sent to stop the newly-created Stunticons.

Later still, Tracks had a prominent appearance in "Trans-Europe Express", a charity auto race from Paris, France, to Istanbul, Turkey. Among the Autobots participating in the race were Bluestreak, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Smokescreen, Sunstreaker, Wheeljack, and Tracks.

The original Tracks toy from Generation One, released in 1985, is listed as a Chevrolet Corvette, which had retractable wings, giving Tracks the unusual (for an Autobot, and certainly for a car!) ability to fly.

Tracks has had several versions since then. He was part of the Action Masters line, but was only released in Europe. When the Alternators line came along in 2004, Transformers based on real world cars (I still miss that line), Tracks was part of this series, and was specifically based on a Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

As to the new Tracks from the "Reveal the Shield" line, it is described as being a cross between a Chevrolet Corvette C6 and a Dodge Viper. I am no car expert by any means, but -- I can see something of both vehicles in this new edition of Tracks. Interesting definition of "hybrid car", if you ask me.

In car mode, Tracks is a little over 5-1/2" in length, which is a good size for this particular line. He's appropriately dark blue in color, with a series of red and yellow flames on his hood, a somewhat more complex incarnation of the flame designs that the original Tracks possessed. The "Reveal the Shield" emblem is on the roof of the car, and as one would expect, shows an Autobot symbol.

Painted detail is relatively minimal except for the flames, and mostly consists of headlights, taillights, and silver hubcaps. All four wheels turn, of course, and Tracks rolls well on any smooth surface.

Let's consider Tracks' transformation. One thing I don't really like about the modern instructions for Transformers is that they're strictly pictorial. It used to be of great help to me when those images were accompanied by written instructions as to what precisely needed to be done. Sometimes a two-dimensional drawing just doesn't quite suffice when it comes to a three-dimensional Transformers. It is my hope that my explanations in these reviews will assist. I have found that it does help to keep the package on hand, since there's a picture of the character in robot form on the back. It's not bad for comparative purposes sometimes.

One thing worth noting right off is that Tracks does have a flight mode, from his car mode. Here is how to proceed with that. Remove the little side guns from the underside of the doors. Flip back the rear half of the car. Open the doors, and extend the wing sections. Then flip the "spoiler" around so the two tabs are pointing upwards, and attach the two side guns. Tracks is now in flight mode.

Now, proceeding from a basic car mode to robot mode, the first thing to do is, once again, flip the rear half of the car back, and then swing it to the underside of the car, while raising the arms up. Really, they'll detach from the back section of the car of their own accord.

Next, there's a little platform in the underside of the back half of the car, that needs to be brought out to a 90-degree angle. It's a little hard to get a good grip on it, but not impossible. Also, extend the arms to their full length. At this point, there's a little missile-like contrivance on a small post that you'll see between the arms. Remove it.

Now, move the front of the car slightly forward, and swing the doors down. Then swing the wheels attached to the arms downward ninety degrees, and pivot the arms around at the upper arm swivel so that the elbows are facing inward, and then swing the entire arms down at the shoulders.

The next step on the instructions looks like something that you wonder what it's really asking you to do, but it's precisely what's implied. Push up on the entire center section of the body. This will raise the head, and move the arms a little further out to the side. Just press your thumbs to the windshield and push gently. It works. It does have a tendency to recess a bit during the rest of the transformation, as it doesn't specifically "lock" into place as far as I can tell, so you'll want to check it.

Now, swing the wheels on the shoulder forward, and lower the legs. You accomplish this part by gently pulling on the hood of the car. I don't know if this will be the case with your Tracks, but mine very nearly had a stuck leg. It took distinctly more force than I was comfortable with to get it to lower, but it eventually did. Then swing the entire leg assembly around 180 degrees at the waist.

Now, extend the door wings, and swing the wings upwards at an angle. Then, split the legs and lower the feet. I had some trouble with lowering the foot on the same leg that didn't want to extend in the first place, and for one horrific moment I wondered if I'd broken the car when the rear bumper broke off. But it snapped back into place. Transformers are designed to do that when "excessive force" is applied, rather than actually breaking. Ultimately, it works. Finally, fold the rear of the car up into the back of the robot, inserting the two tabs on the platform into the back of the "neck". Then you can insert the two little side guns into the mounts provided. The little device that you removed during transformation becomes Tracks' hand-held gun.

And Tracks is now complete as a robot. His transformation is listed as a "3", on a scale of 0 to 5, and is spelled out as "Intermediate". I'd say that's a fair assessment. I've had easier Transformers, and there's a couple of odd aspects to him, but I've had far tougher ones, too.

So -- how's the robot? Very cool. My only criticism -- I can't even really justify calling it a complaint -- is that the sporty look of the flames on the good of the car is effectively lost in the robot mode, since they're now on the back of the legs, leaving only the "reveal" shield on what is now Tracks' chest. It's a little less than impressive in this respect.

In robot mode, Tracks stands about 5-1/4" to the top of his head -- a good height for this branch of Transformers. Technically, he's a bit taller than that overall because of his door wings, which at an appropriate upward angle make his full height roughly 6".

Tracks' headsculpt in robot mode does a good job of mirroring the original. Tracks has a bright red face, within a largely white head. The red face was definitely unusual at the time, since up to that point, the vast majority of Transformers had silver faces, regardless of what color the rest of their head happened to be. This definitely set Tracks apart early on.

Tracks has an effect that has been implemented on quite a few of these Transformers, where the back of the head is molded from a transparent plastic, and filters through to the eyes, so that when the back of the head is struck by a light source, it makes it look as though the eyes are glowing. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Tracks' effect doesn't work very well. I don't know if it's the design of his head or what, but I held it right up to a light bulb, and the eyes didn't look like they were glowing. Unfortunate, but not that big of a deal to me.

In robot mode, Tracks is mostly blue, with a white head and red face, white upper arms, black lower arms and hands with a red stripe, and dark grey legs with a few red stripes, and some blue detailing around the lower legs and feet. The backs of his lower legs are the hood of the car, so of course they're blue.

Of course, Tracks has an excellent range of articulation, which I sincerely appreciate in these Transformers. Tracks is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, including a swivel, and ankles.

Paintwork is relatively minimal, mostly red trim here and there, but where it appears, it is neatly done. There is a little glitch of red paint on the side of his head that I wish wasn't there, but I can probably deal with that. I do have to say that as a general rule, Transformers are some of the most neatly painted action figure toys you're going to find. Given what goes into their design and especially assembly, that's an impressive achievement.

There's a brief character profile on the back of his package, which reads as follows: If there's one thing Autobot Tracks loves, it's himself. In his opinion, nothing is quite so fine as the glint of sunlight off his perfectly polished chrome, or the looks humans give his sweet paint job as he rolls by. He's no coward, but he avoids battle all the same, if only to protect his precious body from getting scuffed or, even worse, dented.

If you want to go back a ways, his single-line quote, which was common for the Alternators versions of these characters, was "Hey, watch the paint job!"

His various power levels give him a "7" in Speed, a "6" in Strength, Courage, and Fireblast, "5" in Endurance, "4" in Intelligence, and "3" in Rank and Skill. Honestly, I've seen a lot more impressive stats.

So, what's my final word? As I said, Tracks has long been a personal favorite of mine. He's a little bit different, and he was certainly given a distinctive personality. This new Classics/Generations incarnation of him is superb, a definite tribute to the original character and toy, with the modern levels of articulation and detail that are now possible. I'm very pleased to have him, and I believe that any Transformers fan will gladly welcome him into their collection.

TURBO TRACKS from the TRANSFORMERS: REVEAL THE SHIELD collection definitely has my highest recommendation!