|Toy Design||Muneyoshi Shinohara|
Review by Ginrai
When I was a kid, we didn't have a lot of money and so most of the Transformers I had were small and came from garage sales, flea markets, or the church's rummage sale. Occasionally I got hand-me-downs from my cousin. They were all missing parts and usually broken at least a little bit, but I had that one friend who had ALL THE COOL STUFF. You know that friend. We all had that friend. The guy whose dad was frequently absent from his life and tried to buy his love. In this case, love was purchased with big huge Transformers toys like Fortress Maximus or his evil counterpart, Scorponok.
Scorponok is a giant robot scorpion/city with a removable head that transforms into a little dude. This sounds simple enough, but Transformers always finds a way to be complicated. There are three different versions of Scorponok's story.
If you watched the American cartoon from the '80s, Scorponok and his head briefly appeared in the three episode miniseries that ended the original series, The Rebirth. Scorponok was an existing city rebuilt into a big honking scorpion robot controlled by a green dude with one eye named Lord Zarak. This iteration of Lord Zarak was the petty ruler of The Hive, a group of aliens on the planet Nebulon whose bodies had atrophied to green withered husks as they focused entirely on their intellectual pursuits. Except that the animators drew them looking like green Hulk Hogans with Fu Manchu mustaches. Curious. Also "intellectual pursuits" in this case means "built a handful of super dangerous backhoes that terrorize ten or twenty pathetic peasants". The Rebirth was supposed to be a five partner that was chopped down into a desperate mess. It is kind of terrible.
After the original cartoon was cancelled in the west, it kept going for three more years in Japan. Toei opted to ignore The Rebirth and started fresh with their own version called Transformers: The Headmasters. It picked up immediately after the two part episode The Return of Optimus Prime and swiftly set about undoing said return. Before long, Optimus Prime (or Convoy if you like) was dead again, Rodimus was back in charge, and super evil new villain Scorponok had his Headmaster lackeys plant bombs all over Transformers' home planet Cybertron and blew it out of space. In this version, Scorponok is a generic cackling bad guy who lurks in shadows and has really long, pointy fingers. Also he is purely a robot that transforms the head for a giant scorpion robot Transtector (Transformer + Protector) named Megazarak. The scorpion in this series was essentially a lifeless body that could in theory be piloted by any Headmaster. P.S. Scorponok is from the planet Master instead of Nebulos or Nebulon. I guess Toei really missed the pun in the name "Headmasters".
But there's one more Scorponok.
If you, like me, read the Marvel The Transformers comic book growing up, then you got to enjoy the best Scorponok. The short version is starting in the four issue miniseries The Transformers: Headmasters, Fortress Maximus and a bunch of other Autobots were sick of millions of years of unending war so they just hopped in a spaceship and left for a peaceful new planet, Nebulos, where everyone dressed like Prince Valiant-meets-He-Man. Crooked politician Lord Zarak convinced everyone the robots came to conquer them instead of seeking peace. To show their good intentions, Fortress Maximus and friends gruesomely tore off their own heads. That makes sense, right? This temporarily put an end to Lord Zarak's ambitions. Then the Decepticons showed up and in order to defend their planet from the invaders, several skirt-wearing Nebulan men agreed to be horrifically bio-engineered into replacement heads for Fortress Maximus and the others. When combined, human and robot minds became one. Oh yeah, did I mention Fortress Maximus' new head is both Lord Zarak's political rival and his daughter's lover? Come for the robots, stay for the soap opera!
Anyway, Lord Zarak made a Faustian bargain with Scorponok to gain access to his power in exchange for increasing Scorponok's intellect and tactical skills with his own brain. The force of Scorponok's personality soon overwhelmed him, but from time to time, parts of Zarak's personality surfaced in the massive Decepticon. Zarak's influence eventually led Scorponok to agree to a truce with the Autobots and to heroically battle the overwhelming threat of Unicron alongside his foes. Yeah. This is good stuff. Sometimes the art is pretty rocky, sometimes the stories are pretty hokey, but Scorponok in the comics is a fascinating monster.
Enough about characters and stories and mushy stuff! Let's talk toys! When Hasbro converted many Diaclone toys into a big portion of the first year or two of Transformers toys, they omitted one nifty feature: most Diaclone robots/vehicles came with a pilot figure known as an Inchman or a Dianaut. These little figures were partly diecast metal and had magnets on their feet that allowed them to stick to various surfaces on the toys. They were probably removed for cost cutting reasons, though increasingly stringent child safety laws in the U.S. may also have contributed to the decision. What did Hasbro decide to in 1987 but bring those humanoid figures back! Every Headmaster toy has a cockpit for their partner to ride in and in robot mode, they combine with the body to form its head.
In a purely play sense, this is a great idea because it integrates the humanoid figure into the robot instead of just being an accessory. In a, "Where in the heck did I put that little plastic guy?" sense, it's a terrible idea. You lose one part and your robot is headless forever! This is a problem on a conceptual/design level. You will not be surprised to hear that my friend lost his Lord Zarak before I even saw the toy.
The Lord Zarak figure does not have the fine, jewelry-like detail of the Diaclone pilots, but is quite a bit larger and (due to the nature of its transformation into a head) has better articulation. It is still pretty limited, but at least Zarak has knees. The toy is a little awkward and a little plain, but the splash of silver paint on the face is nice and besides, it's a charming awkward, not an ugly awkward.
Speaking of awkward, Scorponok has a bit of a scale problem. The 1987 Headmasters figures are all pretty much the same size with two exceptions, Fortress Maximus and Scorponok. The reason they are all the same size is because their necks have a universal socket system and their heads are all cross compatible. But you have to have big fancy toys for the rich parents to buy or maybe for middle class families to save up for and get at Christmas. So you need bigger toys, too. How do you deal with the fact that you need a big toy who has a head the same size as a small toy? Well, the solution for Fortress Maximus was to make the small head plug into a robot that turns into an even bigger head! Good idea!
Unfortunately, Fortress Maximus is just shy of two feet tall and Scorponok is a mere fourteen inches. Don't get me wrong, that still makes Scorponok one of the largest of the '80s Decepticons (I think Overlord might just barely top him), but there's a big problem here: They basically just gave Scorponok a big dorky helmet to put Lord Zarak in and an inexplicable visor like an evil welder. This just doesn't work. You will not be surprised to see that the American cartoon and comics eschew this for a more normal-looking robot face. The Japanese show keeps the general look of the Zarak face and the goofy visor, but makes the proportions work a lot better than toy does.
Scorponok's robot mode has nice proportions (aside from the dodgy head), a cool-looking gun, and an impressive shield with pointy stabbing things on it so you can fight the Autobots. The articulation is pretty good for an '80s Transformer and while it's a large toy, it isn't so large that it's difficult to pick up and do things with like Fortress Maximus is. It does have gorilla arms and instead of hands it has claws like many early Beast Wars toys, but I kind of like this look. It makes Scorponok unique. I do sort of wish there were not pegs on both sides of the claws, though. I understand that the inner pegs are to help it hold the gun and the pegs on the outside are for base mode, but they are kind of unsightly.
I have to say, though, I was never a big fan of the lime green and purple color scheme of the Constructicons and Scorponok basically apes that color layout with the added noise of neon orange, which stands out badly. Scorponok kind of hurts to look at. The vacuum metaliized chrome shin pads are a nice touch, at least.
The scorpion mode is pretty cool. It has an interesting play feature: when you roll the toy on its belly, the wheels are connected to a gear system so that the legs move up and down as you roll it along. The claws look really good here, but I'm not a fan of the huge boxes on the back and the tail looks less like a scorpion tail and more like a lobster tail with a gun on it. That is an odd design choice, but I'm willing to let it slide. If you are a big fan of the classic film Robot Wars, you can also use this mode to represent the scorpion passenger giant robot from the movie! At least in that context the giant boxes on the back make some sort of sense. It's also too bad that the only real choices for where to put Lord Zarak are the chest cavity with an opaque door or inside the doofy helmet like some weird, highly uncomfortable chair.
And that actually brings up the biggest problem with Scorponok's scorpion form and it's the same problem as the robot mode: the head is really weak. You have this strange empty gray head with no eyes and neon orange mandibles and a clear welder's mask over it or you have a guy sitting in a stupid chair instead of a head. It kind of doesn't work. It's too bad, because otherwise the scorpion mode is fun, even if the transformation largely amounts to the robot lying on its back and bending its legs into a yoga pose.
Scorponok's city mode really is the weak link in the whole affair. Metroplex's city mode was more like an office park and Trypticon's city mode was a pastel office park, but Fortress Maximus really set the bar for a Transformers playset. While Fortress Maximus' base mode is a bit like a city block rather than an entire city, Scorponok is like a big purple freeway overpass. I can't help but picture Nebulan derelicts sleeping in cardboard boxes under his goofy purple roadway. Fortress Maximus is the shiny new skyscraper development and Scorponok is skid row. There's really nothing that can pass for a building in Scorponok's base mode and the million poking out radar arrays or antennas or whatever don't have anywhere to go in other modes and and easily lost. It's nice that they included little waldo arms for repairs and a shovel or crappy orange elevator or something, but they aren't integrated into anything and feel like an afterthought.
I do like that you can lift up flaps and reveal missile launchers, even if they are just molded in and do not fire, but I can't help but compare them to the similar missiles on Metroplex that are vacuumed metallized. At least the ramps are integrated and become the back of his legs in robot mode, but of the city Transformers that came up to this point, Scorponok is easily the weakest base. It's a good thing his robot and scorpion modes are pretty satisfying.
Here you can also see sidekick robot Fasttrack in car mode. While Scamper from Metroplex feels cheaper and more fragile, at least his car mode was recognizably a car. Fasttrack's vehicle mode is some kind of half-assed moon buggy with bright orange guns. There is a button at the top of the ramp that makes the platform in the center raise up a bit, which will cause Fasttrack (or a another small Transformer with free rolling wheels) to roll down that scorpion highway. It works better than Metroplex's launcher for Scamper, but is way less impressive because it is not hidden by a tunnel. At least it gives you something to do in this gross-looking robot freeway overpass.
Fasttrack's robot mode is passable, but that's about it. I'm not saying that Fortress Maximus' sidekick Cog is any great shakes (and Cog has two crappy unrecognizable vehicles instead of just one), but Cog, Scamper, and Trypticon's sidekick Full Tilt all manage half way decent (if blandly colored) robot modes. Fasttrack looks worse than the Wendy's kids meal Gobots premiums. Full-Tilt is bad, Fasttrack is the worst.
But don't let Scorponok's weak base mode, unimpressive partner, and shrunken head in a giant hat turn you off. The toy is really fun to play with, displays nicely, and if you put it context with large Autobots that don't have "Maximus" in their name, it works really well. Scorponok only comes up to Fortress Maximus' crotch, but can easily knock down Metroplex and give him a swirly.
If you like city Transformers, you might not care for Scorponok, but if you are into big Decepticons in hideous colors or arachnids or decapitation, Scorponok is the robot for you. It's kind of a shame two later toys fixed all of Scorponok's problems (except for Fasttrack). Scorponok, you coulda been a contenda. Be careful buying on the secondary market, though. There are convincing bootlegs.
For a good time, call Scorponok development sketches.
(C) 2015 Jeremy W. Kaufmann & CollectionDX
|Posted 19 February, 2015 - 19:12 by Ginrai|