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Blackjack's Review: Botcon Dirge

Name: Dirge
Allegiance: Decepticon

Back in 2005, Fun Publications took over from 3H Productions in hosting 'BotCon', the annual, official fan convention thing, which comes with convention-exclusive comics, fiction and toys... for a price. While 3H tries to tie everything together with a terrible series of fan fiction spanning G1 and Beast Wars starring a bunch of uninteresting Mary Sue characters, Fun Publications attempted to give us toys we couldn't get in the mainstream line, and the fanclub fiction was... well, less terrible.

Toys from Botcon, being limited and stuff, sell for ridiculously high prices in the aftermarket.

Unlike 3H's totally random toys, Fun Publications opted for a theme every year, and had increasingly more toys. But at first they simply followed in 3H's footsteps at telling the story in the massive time gap between G1 and Beast Wars, with the 'Descent to Evil' set. The toys were pretty random repaints, a bunch of original characters who ended up without personality, passable minimal-effort repaints to create Deathsaurus, Outback and a bunch of the cartoon's shit female Autobots. The only ones that actually stopped and gave me pause are the passable incarnations of G1 Ironhide and Ratchet, retooled from Energon's Tow-Line. Since the two never had proper toys until 2009 I think it's part of the appeal (even then Universe Ironhide arguably is worse than the Botcon toy).

Of course, the next year's "Games of Deception" set, basically completing the Seekers not released as part of Hasbro's Classic line, and a bunch of Classics-inspired redecoes, were met with much more enthusiasm, and much higher aftermarket prices. Until Hasbro went and released the Seekers Thundercracker, Thrust and Dirge as mass-retail toys six or seven years later anyway.

But we're talking about the 'Descent to Evil' set. See, that year's comic had the villains Deathsaurus (a Decepticon leader from one of the Japanese G1 lines) and Flamewar (an all-new character who managed to be relatively popular among the fandom) recruited descendants of the Insecticons, Dirge (not to be confused with the G1 Conehead) and Buzzclaw (not to be confused with the Beast Wars guy despite sharing the same mold), using them as basis for an army of 'Virulent Clones'. Dirge, Buzzclaw and the Virulent Clones were, of course, toys you can buy that year at Botcon, and were all repaints of Beast Wars Buzzclaw.

Of course since they are literally non-entities (the bio describes more about the background of their story than the character itself) they kind of faded to obscurity.

Let me tell you the story of how I brought Dirge. I was at a toy fair or something, and I bought a bunch of Beast Wars related things, until I stumbled upon a Botcon Dirge, still sealed in a baggie. He was sold for such a cheap price that among my haul that day, he was the cheapest. Frankly I didn't buy Dirge for anything specific... he's a nobody, but he was a cheap noobody and I figured I wanted to own a BotCon-exclusive toy just for the heck of it, but since I'm not willing to spend much on half-assed repaints and this guy is cheap and I don't own a BW Buzzclaw, so...

After ripping off the sealed plastic baggie with 'Botcon 2005 Dirge' stamped on it, plus 'Adult Collectable', I kind of enjoy Dirge more than I thought I will.

So, Dirge. He's an Insecticon, descendant of the original Insecticons, or something. He's got some awesome powers and is evil and stuff. But I don't think he even had lines in the comic. Unlike 90% of Fun Publications toys, he isn't supposed to represent any fan favourite character or an alternate universe version of a fan favourite character, so at least he wouldn't look like some idiotic 'Ironhide with Soundwave's head transplanted' or 'Crumplezone wearing an Optimus Primal mask' thing.

Beast Mode:
Dirge is a fuzor, so he transforms into a mantis-lizard fuzor. More accurately, he transforms into a praying mantis with the insect legs replaced by lizard legs... that's it. Granted, he has a vaguely more theropodal build than most mantises, but legs aside he's entirely mantis. Granted, a mutated-looking mantis. The proportions does look vaguely theropodal, with the rather large chest (for a mantis), and the abdomen kind-of sort-of resembling a theropod's large, long balancing tail. He's a mantis-saurus or something. Might be just me grasping at straws, though.

Both Dirge and Buzzclaw are coloured in vaguely G1 Insecticon colours, but where the Insecticons are predominantly black with purple and yellow accents, Dirge is predominantly translucent yellow, with black and red accents, plus a little purple. Specifically, his entire torso, lower legs, robot legs ventral abdomen and bug head are cast in translucent yellow, his mantis claws, wing frames, upper legs, feet, part of the abdomen and some miscellaneous parts are cast in black and the abdomen's top and wings are cast in red. The sides of the abdomen, feet and bug head are all painted in a fetching metallic shade of purple, which fades rather nicely into the bug eyes' red. (IIRC Botcon's Buzzclaw have the same colours, but predominantly purple instead of yellow). All in all, it's actually pretty nice, if a little bland. I especially like how the wings and abdomen look so nice and loud cast in red, with black picking out all the organic spines and veins and stuff. It certainly is very different from the original Buzzclaw's green or Repugnus' orange.

Funny thing, all three Buzzclaw repaints in the Botcon 2005 set -- Dirge, Buzzclaw and Virulent Clone -- apparently have their beast-mode mouthpiece misassembled. Instead of angling outwards and acting like a normal insectoid pincer mouth thing, they instead angle inwards which makes it look like Dirge has a funky moustache more than a set of deadly-looking mandibles. It's not something I can fix without taking apart his beast mode head so I won't try. It kind of ruins the impression of a deadly mantis-raptor thing, since from the front he looks like he has the head of a fly or something equally non-threatening, for the moustache-mandible kind of gets lost next to the black 'neck' and claws. No big loss there.

Since this is a beast, Dirge has articulation in this mode. The abdomen can be angled up and down. The wings can be angled up or folded downwards, and the legs are ball jointed in the thigh and knees, and the ankles are hinged. Dirge's mantis claws are thankfully articulated, connected at the shoulders by ball joints, and the bladed, serrated end is hinged.

Dirge's main play value, other than being a mantis-saurus thing, is that you can press the protruding button thing sitting on the center of his back, and it will kind of swing both claws towards the middle. Not very useful, and I would much rather have him with properly articulated beast shoulders, since as it is his mantis-claw articulation is a little inhibited by the location of the gimmick.

For a Beast Wars basic class toy, he certainly isn't bad, and certainly rates among the better ones I have.

Robot Mode:
By transforming Dirge into robot mode you effectively remove nearly half his mass. Many Beast Wars toys do use parts of the beast mode as weapons, but none that I own removes as much as mass Dirge does. The entire chunk of thorax connected to the best mode claws and wings are removed, and so is the pretty red abdomen. From there transformation is pretty much straightforward and unremarkable. The bug head becomes the chest, lizard legs turn into robot arms, the obviously-feet abdomen turn into feet. In robot mode Dirge has much more purple and black. His head is cast in yellow, and I like how his yellow eyes and grinning mouth gives the impression of a sinister villain. Without his accessories, however, his robot mode looks very, very generic with only the bug head on his chest and the lizard feet tucked under his arms being the only hints that he actually transforms at all.

I'm happy to announce that despite the moustache mandibles pointing the wrong way, they do not interfere with the transformation. The bug head fits just right. Just. By pure luck of the robot mode transformation is hampered by the inwards-pointing mandibles, but just a teensy weensy more and that would've happened. Articulation is fairly standard for a toy his size. Head, shoulder, elbows, hips, thighs, knees and ankles.

The pretty abdomen (with a Decepticon insignia under it) pegs onto Dirge's left arm as some sort of shield-blade thing, whereas his other hand can hold the insane thorax-wing-claw assembly. Dirge holds it by the handle where you press the gimmick, and can hold it in two ways, but either way it's an impractical looking weapon. The wings do nothing but point awkwardly downwards (or upwards), and pushing the button here doesn't move the sharp blades like you think they would, but kind of knocks Dirge's bug elbows together. Not very useful, and I can't think of any situation where this weird-looking weapon ensemble could be practical.

Dirge can wear the weapon as a backpack, with either the mantis claws pointing upwards from behind the shoulders and the wings kind of splayed downwards, or vice versa, which looks much better than if he was holding half his mass as a ridiculous weapon. And this way he looks like he actually transforms into his mantis mode instead of just wearing the bug head on his chest. It redeems his weak transformation and accessories somewhat. And this way he looks like he still can fly, albeit awkwardly, in robot mode.

I do like the design of Dirge's robot mode as well. It's a bit weak, but it certainly looks at home among my Beast Wars collection.

Marks out of ten for the following:

Transformation Design: 3/10 Like I said, it's not very creative. The accessory is really useless. If it couldn't peg into Dirge's back to give him a more awesome silhouette, this score would have been much worse.

Durability: 8/10 It's got ball joints, but other than that he seems pretty solid. Of course, I had just taken it out of a six-year-old airtight baggie and removed the clear plastic string things...

Aesthetics: 7/10 Despite my general disdain on Botcon toys in general, I actually like Dirge, so long as the robot mode keeps the backpack on. Of course, it a rather wicked looking Beast Wars toy in G1 Insecticon colours, and he's not supposed to represent anyone, so...

Articulation: 6/10 Pretty average for a Beast Wars era toy.

Fun: 8/10 For a toy who I bought only for the novelty, I surprisingly grew rather attached to Dirge and mucked around with him quite a bit. Being a mantis-saurus adds some novelty points too.

Price/Value: 4/10 I got him for a reasonably cheap price. It's not a cheap price if I was buying the original Buzzclaw, but it's not an entirely unreasonable price either, considering I bought him mind-in-sealed-baggie and he's BotCon exclusive and everything.

Overall: 5/10 I must say I rather liked Dirge. Now the question is, should you get him? He's not that expensive for a Botcon toy, certainly not as overpriced as some Japanese toy I imported in the past, but people will still charge a price higher than what's worth for a toy like him. And you can get the original Buzzclaw or Universe Repugnus for much cheaper. Not to mention it would require some effort to hunt him down, which I wouldn't recommend. Dirge is kind of pretty with his Insecticon colours, but that really is literally the only thing going for him.
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