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Warcry's Review: Crankcase

"Things are never as good as they seem."

A wheezing, whining ingrate. As welcome as a rash of rust-rot. The worse things get, the happier he is. Enjoys complaining about everything. Equipped with vast memory storage capacity and shell-resistant armor. Also equipped with infrared probes that penetrate and analyze enemy circuitry. Armed with two high-impact laser blasters and a distortion modulator that scrambles enemy cerebral impulses.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Crankcase. He's not an important character and his fictional appearances are few and far between, but he was in Bludgeon's army in the last few issues of the US comic and I have a disproportionate fondness for most of the Decepticons who showed up then. The fact that he's characterized as essentially an evil version of Eeyore probably helped with that too.

A new Crankcase toy was designed in 2008 for inclusion in the Universe line, but it wound up pushed forward and rebranded as a Movie release because that line was more popular than anyone had expected. Unusually for a random line-filler Hasbro redeco, the new Crankcase was a fairly good representation of the character -- it even replicated the original toy's eponymous Triggercon gimmick. I like it, but it wasn't quite good enough to stop me from being curious about the original Crankcase toy. A homage is nice, yes, but if you really like a character sometimes you just need to see where it all began.

When I spotted this guy at a local flea market for $5 I bought him, but I wasn't expecting much considering the toy's place in the Transformers' timeline. After all, the original Crankcase was released almost exactly twenty years before the modern one and 1988 wasn't exactly a shining moment for the brand. Smaller, simpler, brighter toys were the order of the day, and while a few toys managed to make it through the flurry of eye-searing colours, fused lower legs and awkward proportions while still maintaining some measure of dignity (if you know me at all you'll know I'm mainly thinking about Spinister here) my expectations for toys from this year aren't very high. Crankcase was no exception, and truth be told my expectations weren't that far off.

Alternate Mode: In vehicle mode Crankcase is a generic 4x4, and looks a bit like a prototype of a modern SUV. He's bigger than a typical combiner limb or Minibot, but paradoxically less detailed than either. This is a sign of the time he was made as much as anything else, but the end result doesn't look very good. The vehicle is mostly grey, but seemingly-random bits of it are coloured bright blue. That includes two stripes on his roof, his front bumper and his rear fenders -- or rather his obvious guns, feet and arms.

The massive cost-cutting that characterized the 1988 line mean that there's practically no paint on the toy, and while Crankcase's looks would have been drastically improved by a few paint apps that spread out the grey and blue a bit more that obviously wasn't in the cards. In fact, the only sign of paint on the guy is his windows. He has molded headlights, fog lamps, a winch and a spare tire, but none of them are painted. Those are virtually his only molded details, and painting them would have gone a long way to make him blend in with the fancier-looking toys that came in the earlier years of the line. As it stands, he looks more like a cheap knockoff than a Transformer. Stickers add a bit more colour, but since they're mostly blue and grey stickers they're not making a huge difference.

Since he's a Triggercon, Crankcase has spring-loaded weapons built into his truck cab. They can pop out with the press of a button, turning Crankcase from a normal 4x4 into a bizarre deathwagon with guns sticking out from his windshield. It's definitely on the strange side, but it adds a bit of play value to what would otherwise be a fairly banal vehicle mode. But the Triggercons and their Autobot counterparts are a couple decades old now, and they haven't aged gracefully. The weapon-trigger mechanism is subject to a lot of wear, and many (if not most) of the Crankcases you'll see on sale nowadays are no longer fully functional. My example has very weak springs, so his guns don't jump out so much as they slowly wheeze their way into position. The weapons don't lock into place very well either, so they tend to slooooowly deploy of their own volition when he's in vehicle mode. A Crankcase with fully-functioning springs isn't particularly expensive, but it can be a bit more work tracking one down since no one really cares about Triggercons and they're not a big seller. And if the springs don't work the alt-mode doesn't work. But honestly, it doesn't work anyway so I'm not sure there's much point worrying about it.

Robot Mode: It takes two steps to transform Crankcase into robot mode and a third if you're planning to deploy his guns, so it's no surprise to say that he's a simple, blocky robot. The blue and grey of his alt mode carry over but the blue is more prominent now, colouring his arms, lower legs, helmet, backpack and guns. His chest, shins and a few bits of vehicle kibble are grey, and his face is painted bright orange. Stickers on his chest and pelvis add a bit of interest to the whole package as well.

Unfortunately, Crackcase's robot mode suffers from some of the same problems as his alternate mode did. While the orange is a nice addition, it comes at the expense of the off-white colour of his windshield and the figure as a whole still looks like it was block-coloured by Jose Delbo. His head and chest are nicely detailed, but his arms and especially his legs suffer from the same lack of molded detail that plagued his alt-mode. It's a shame, because the detail that is there is very nice and just feels wasted.

Most noteably, his legs below the knee are a single molded block without a single sticker or spot of paint. The fused-block legs are just about acceptable on smaller figures, who can get by on cuteness if nothing else, but on a figure this large it's hard to swallow. The only larger figures who actually pull off the look are Spinister and Scoop, but they do it by using alt-mode parts that actually look like lower legs and toss in a lot more molded detail (in Scoop's case) and paint (on Spinister). Crankcase only has a pair of vaguely shin-shaped ridges on a generic block that's obviously the underside of his car front, with no real effort made to hide the fact that they're fused together. A splash of paint on the knees and feet or a darker sticker placed between the "shins" to create the illusion of space between them would have improved the package immensely. The problem is especially bad if you leave his backpack folded down, since it hides the outline of his hips and thighs and turns the entire figure's silhouette into one big block.

As a G1 toy, Crankcase is naturally light on articulation. His arms move at the shoulders and that's about it. His backpack can swing down to hide his guns when they're not deployed, but that looks terrible so you shouldn't do that. Pressing a button on his back deploys his cannons (though in my case, nine times out of ten they deploy when they feel like it anyway), but if you leave the backpack rotated up with the weapons hidden it looks like he's carrying a desk around on his back, so you probably won't want to do that either. That pretty much leaves him with one viable pose, standing straight up with guns deployed and some mild variation depending on whether or not you fiddle with his arms. He doesn't come with any accessories, but he does have 3mm post holes molded into the inside of his hands so if you've got a spare pistol or two lying around you can arm him up.

All things considered, Crankcase doesn't have too much going for him. In spite of that I really do like the little guy, though I can't really put my finger on why. He's not a half-bad addition to a late-run Decepticon shelf, and while he doesn't really stand out among his brethren he still makes a better showing of himself in robot mode than contemporaries like Sinnertwin or Nautilator or Flywheels. That's by no means a glowing endorsement, but Crankcase is what he is.

Transformation Design: Gimmick or not, this is a really shoddy transformation for a figure that's this big. 1/10

Durability: Time has not been friendly to the Triggercons' gimmick weapons. The rest of the toy is very sturdy, but without a working trigger mechanism the toy's functionality is seriously hampered. 3/10

Fun: He's got pop-out guns...and, uh, that's about it, really. With no accessories and no articulation, this is pretty much the only play value he's got. 3/10

Aesthetics: Crankcase is really lacking when it comes to molded details. His basic colour scheme is nice, but arranged in fairly simple blocks. Paint apps are limited to his face and windows, and while he relies on stickers to create visual interest there aren't many of those either. I like him just enough to avoid slapping him with a "boring" label, but he dances pretty close to the line. 3/10

Articulation: Crankcase is articulated at the shoulders and nowhere else, par for the course when it comes to G1 toys. His backpack swings around and his cannons pop up, which is nothing special by modern standards but in those days he was miles ahead of most of his contemporaries. And unlike some (the small Terrorcons, Broadside or Quickmix) his shoulders are at least in the right spot, so I guess that's something? 4/10

Price: Triggerbots and Triggercons are one of the least-popular ranges in the original Transformers toyline. Even a fully-functional Crankcase isn't going to set you back much more than $30 as best as I can tell, and with a broken trigger they're basically worthless. If you're interested in getting an example of the chunky, colourful 1988 line but don't want to drop the money for a complete Head-, Target- or Powermaster, someone like Crankcase is probably your best bet. 10/10

Overall: Crankcase is oh so much a product of his time, and 1988 wasn't a very good time to be a new Transformer toy. Crankcase is better than a lot of toys from that assortment, but that's what we call damning with faint praise. I like him, but he's about as far from "essential" as you can get. Unless you're a hardcore completist or stumble ass-backwards into him like I did, there's really no reason to give Crankcase a second thought. 4/10

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