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By Thomas Wheeler

There's no shortage of old proverbs and axioms about the idea of history repeating itself. In the world of action figures, the concept of history repeating itself, that is, of familiar toys making some sort of comeback to the toy shelves, isn't really all that uncommon. However, I do believe one must be impressed when a group of toys manages to return in a surprisingly similar fashion to their predecessors, especially when it's a group of toys whose formats one would think would not lend themselves all that well to such a comeback.

One of the most popular Transformers from the original "Generation One" line was a Decepticon named Soundwave. He was one of the most prominent characters in the concept. He had a group of agents, smaller robots that he actually carried within him, that could be dispatched on his orders to carry out Megatron's wishes.

Although many of the original, Generation One Transformers have been brought back, through the Classics/Generations line over the past number of years, in familiar forms but with greatly enhanced articulation, something the original Transformers sadly lacked to varying degrees, Soundwave and his cohorts understandably had some trouble making it into this group, despite the popularity of the characters.

The problem, really, were their alt modes, the items that they transformed into when they weren't robots. Soundwave transformed into a portable cassette tape player. His cronies, which in the original line were sold separately in two-packs, transformed into miniature tape cassettes.

That's fine and well for the mid-1980's. But in an age of iPads, iPods, MP3's, an age in which a friend of mine once encountered someone who didn't even know what a CD was...! A tape player and cassettes just isn't going to work that well for Transformers. It'd be like asking Megatron to transform into a flintlock.

Enter the video game "Transformers: Fall of Cybertron". This video game features Generation One Transformers, but the events of the game occur just prior to the adventures of the original animated series. In the Transformers series, the Autobots and the Decepticons were given new alt modes, in keeping with their new lives on Earth. But in the video game, they're still on Cybertron. As such, their alt modes are still Cybertronian in nature, and it gave Hasbro the opportunity to bring back the Generations line, and bring in reasonably familiar versions of a number of characters that hadn't previously made it into the Generations line, and give them alt modes that were more agreeable to the modern day, since technically, they didn't necessarily have to look like anything Earth-based.

This has worked better for some than it has for others. While I have no complaints about the toys based on characters that have already appeared in more familiar G1 modes, such as Optimus Prime or Starscream, I saw no great need to add them to my collection. But then there's been others where it has worked out very nicely. And topping that list was definitely SOUNDWAVE.

Needless to say, Soundwave doesn't transform into a tape player. He transforms into a Cybertronian communications truck. Nevertheless, his robot mode is abundantly recognizable as Soundwave. He looks very much as he did in the original series.

Then there's the matter of his internalized colleagues. They don't transform into cassettes. They transform into Data Discs, and I have to give Hasbro and Takara/Tomy a lot of credit for coming up with these clever little Transformers, and moreover, for packaging them just as they did back in the 1980's -- selling them as two-packs. That's a clever little blast from the past.

One of the two-packs features two well-known Decepticons, by the names of FRENZY and RATBAT. Let's start off with RATBAT:

As is the case with many Transformers characters, the various continuities in which Ratbat has appeared have portrayed him widely differently in terms of size, personality, personal history and back story. Indeed, Ratbat has been portrayed as a mere spy or even pet at times, while in other instances he has risen to become one of the most successful Earthbound Decepticon leaders of all.

Ratbat was one of the many Decepticons left on Cybertron, where he rose to the critical post of fuel auditor under Lord Straxus. With a drive towards extreme efficiency, he would rarely countenance unnecessary risks.

Ratbat grew increasingly dissatisfied with the inefficient use of fuel by the Earth-based Decepticons under the command of Shockwave, and soon began to visit Earth personally to oversee their operations. He gradually began to exert more influence and control over the Earth-based Decepticons, developing schemes to improve the planet's output and clashing with Shockwave. He dispatched hypnotizing machines disguised as car washes with the hope of taking over the minds of humans and using them to deliver fuel at minimum cost to the Decepticons, but this plan was disrupted by the intervention of the Autobots' ally Buster Witwicky.

When the Earthbound Autobots briefly left the planet in a repaired Ark, Ratbat was at the forefront of a new Decepticon reign of terror. He was able to manipulate the execution of the Throttlebots and kidnapped Buster Witwicky, taking him to the Decepticons' island base to use as a hostage. When the Autobot Headmasters and Targetmasters besieged the base, the Decepticons were forced to flee by deploying its rocket facility. In the process of departure, Shockwave was shot down in space and began to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Ratbat declared that it would be inefficient to rescue him and instead, seized sole command of the Decepticons for himself.

Of all the leaders of the Decepticons on Earth, few came closer to outright victory than Ratbat. He tracked the Autobots under Fortress Maximus when they set out to unite with those under Grimlock and launched an all-out attack that resulted in huge casualties, leaving the Autobots briefly stranded on the Moon, and retrieved several Decepticon prisoners of war.

Later, Ratbat promoted the newly-recovered Starscream to the position of second-in-command, and set out to learn the truth about the legendary Underbase, which could seemingly make a Transformer supremely powerful. Ratbat was determined to attain its power for himself, but this ambition was shared with Starscream. The latter lured the separate Decepticon faction led by Scorponok to a meeting with Ratbat's forces, which soon resulted in conflict between the two, allowing Starscream to seek the Underbase for himself. Both Decepticon factions allied with the Autobots in fighting against Starscream, suffering huge casualties in the process. However, both Ratbat and Scorponok independently suspected that the Autobot leader Optimus Prime had plans to seize the power of the Underbase for himself, and they set out to stop them. Learning that the Underbase was nearby, Ratbat declared that he would possess the Underbase's power—and was shot in the back by Scorponok, killing him.

Ratbat would make an appearance in the Generation 2 comic in flashback, shown in battle with Buster Witwicky as an example of the Autobots witnessing organic life fighting for its survival.

In the original Transformers animated series, Ratbat was one of several Transformers that transformed into cassette tapes in service to Soundwave. In the American series, like the other cassettes that turned into animals, Ratbat was not capable of speech, and was likened more to a pet than an equal member of the Decepticon forces. However, in the Japanese series, he and the other cassettes possessed the power of speech, though their roles seemed no different. Ratbat first appeared in The Transformers: The Movie and in the third season of the series, he was often sent on spying missions.

In the Dreamwave comics, millions of years ago, before the Transformers crash-landed on Earth, Ratbat was the leader of a sub-faction of Decepticons called the Ultracons during the time when Megatron had disappeared and believed to have died. Megatron's return saw the Ultracons reintegrated into the Decepticons. At this point in time, Ratbat possessed an original Cybertronian form, able to transform from robot mode to jet. However, sometime after the Great Shutdown, when Shockwave established control of the planet, many Transformers, including Ratbat had their bodies reformatted into Earth-themed modes, leading to Ratbat's bat/tape body. Ratbat was not pleased with his new unimposing nature compared to his original structure.

In the present, Ratbat was freed by Starscream from imprisonment and was given to Soundwave, implying a past connection—it is entirely possible that Shockwave may have viewed Ratbat as a threat to his control of the planet, and deliberately gave him a weak body and imprisoned him to keep him out of the way.

Ratbat made his first IDW appearance in The Transformers: Megatron Origin, where he is a senator (in robot mode) who observes the rise of Megatron. He shows distaste for the minor details of his job and is shown ordering various underhanded and corrupt business dealings (and appears bored by it). In his appearance, a partially obscured figure resembling Soundwave was working for him; Soundwave later tried to broker an arms deal with Megatron, making it possible that Ratbat wants Megatron's rise to continue for some reason. However, in #3 he is watching a litany of Decepticon terrorist attacks and feels things are going too far, although he still has Soundwave freed. After Megatron's gladiators free themselves and massacre the Senate, Ratbat plans to flee to Iacon, but is betrayed by Soundwave, who implants his Spark in a cassette body.

Ratbat is seen in his familiar "bat" form in issue #1 of The Transformers: Devastation (though he is redesigned as a personal CD player), where he observes the launch of the Ark-19 from Lake Michigan and reports it to Megatron and Sixshot. One year later, he is part of the forces under Megatron's command in New York, killing a commando party attempting to cross the river. Here he is in his traditional cassette form once more.

Much later, Ratbat was one of the captured Decepticons on Cybertron. He put himself in charge on his faction, seeking equity with the Autobots now that the war was over. Bitter at the Autobots for using his Decepticons as mere pawns, he decided to establish a plan: assassinate Bumblebee to disrupt the newly-found peace on Cybertron. His plans were countered, however, and Ratbat himself was assassinated by Arcee.

It should be noted that Ratbat was not one of the first group of cassettes allied with Soundwave, from a Generation One toy standpoint. That group consisted of Ravage, Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, and Buzzsaw. Ratbat came later. However, given the prominence that the character developed, I can certainly understand his inclusion in the line.

So, how's the toy? Very impressive, really. Although a robotic bat, Ratbat has always been notable for a very distinct color, a sort of bright pinkish-purple, and that has been carried over in his new form.

The toy uses the same basic structure as Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, although with slightly altered parts. Of course, Ratbat has a distinctive head, since he's supposed to be a bat, not a bird, and the wing and tail configurations are slightly different.

In bat mode, Ratbat is not quite three inches long, and has a 4-1/2" wingspan. His headsculpt is superbly detailed, and very batlike in appearance. His body is mostly pink-purple in color, but he has a fair amount of black on him, as well as some metallic gold trim.

His transformation is certainly the easiest among the Data Disc types. Swing the wings and head around 180 degrees, and tuck the head into the upper body. Swing the tail section over and secure it to the upper body. Then tuck in the wings. That's it. To transform Ratbat back into a bat, just set him on a surface, detail side up, and press down on him lightly. He'll automatically transform completely.

In Data Disc mode, Ratbat is about 1-1/2" in diameter, and 1/2" thick. His top surface, although certainly showing some of his traditional pinkish-purple coloration, has been painted over with a generous amount of black, and some extensive and very intricate metallic gold detailing, including a Decepticon emblem in the center. Really, more of his traditional color shows on his sides and base than on his top.

Now let's consider his in-pack associate, FRENZY. He is one of two of Soundwave's agents that transform into relatively humanoid robots, the other being his twin, Rumble, who is sold in another two-pack with Ravage. Technically, this isn't the first time Frenzy and Rumble have existed in a Generations-type of toy. Unfortunately, those other versions were not released in the United States. They were offered in Japan. I managed to acquire them, and they're great toys, and I highly recommend them. Those particular toys stand about 3-3/4" in height, not counting their laser cannons, and are really great likenesses of the characters. As one would expect, though, they don't transform into cassettes. They transform into mini-tanks.

It's a shame that two-pack wasn't brought over to the States, but it might have hindered their Data Disc versions, and that would have also been unfortunate. Let's consider the character of Frenzy.

For some reason, Frenzy was not as prominent a character as his twin, Rumble, first appearing in the episode "Countdown To Extinction" and he made few appearances after that, usually appearing alongside Rumble. He did appear in the movie, being punched out the city and fighting Ramhorn, one of Blaster's cassettes. He then appeared on Astrotrain and helped Rumble take down Devastator when they all fought for leadership of the Decepticons.

Frenzy did have a prominent, if fatal, moment in the short-lived Generation 2 comic published by Marvel Comics. Frenzy made an appearance in the Decepticon forces under the command of Megatron in issue #7 of the series, in a story called "New Dawn." Megatron lead his Decepticons against Jhiaxus' second generation Cybertronians near the moon of Tykos. The Decepticons were defeated and Megatron left injured, presumed dead, but swearing revenge.

Frenzy would meet his end in the final issue of the Generation 2 series. After battling against Jhiaxus' Generation 2 Transformers the combined Autobot/Decepticon alliance were attacked by The Swarm. In an attempt to slow it Frenzy had Wheeljack patch him into a massive source of sonic energy. Although he succeeded in temporarily halting the swarm, the sonics proved too much for his system and he was literally shaken apart.

"Oh. Oh, man! I'm gone! Solid gone..." These were Frenzy's last words in that particular continuity.

Both Rumble and Frenzy had similar personalities, more or less that of bad-tempered, tough-talking street punks with an overabundance of attitude despite their diminutive size relative to other Transformers. It's sometimes been pictured that they're not that much bigger than humans in their robot forms. One hilarious illustration of the Transformers shows Soundwave and Blaster competing as DJ's in a human disco, with Rumble and Frenzy dancing in the crowd.

Both characters appeared in the Dreamwave Transformers comics. When the Ark fell to Earth in 1984, Rumble and Frenzy were among the Decepticons on board. Battling the Autobots repeatedly, they were eventually defeated by a combined human-Autobot alliance. They were to be taken back to Cybertron, but were sabotaged by rogue elements of the U.S. military, who wanted to build weapons using Transformers technology (unaware they were being indirectly manipulated by Shockwave). Unable to do this, they began to control the Transformers themselves.

They would not appear again until the following year, when both sides were lured to the wilderness in Alaska by a mysterious beacon. Both sides battled until the arrival of a force led by Shockwave and Ultra Magnus, who defeated Megatron and arrested all present as war criminals.

Desperate to save their own necks, Frenzy and Rumble both joined up with Shockwave and were assigned by him to guard the badly damaged Megatron. They failed, as Starscream was able to dump Megatron's body in space. They were then sent by Shockwave on a critical mission - reviving the Stunticons.

They were subsequently co-opted by Starscream and headed to Earth with him, Soundwave, Skywarp, Thundercracker and the Combaticons. They defeated most of the Autobots still on Earth, but are themselves attacked by Sunstorm. After Starscream defeated him, with aid from the Autobots, he returned to his base to find Soundwave, Rumble and Frenzy acting oddly. The reason why would soon become clear - Megatron had returned, backed by the Predacons, and Soundwave had been taking orders from him all along.

Rumble and Frenzy made their first appearance in the main IDW continuity in issue 1 of The Transformers: Megatron Origin miniseries. Captured by the guard of the Senator after Megatron's riot at the energon mine, Rumble and Frenzy convinced the unwilling Megatron to help them escape. Breaking free and incapacitating the guards, the three fugitives took the ship underground, unaware they had attracted the attention of Sentinel Prime. After getting involved in underground bloodsports in Kaon, Rumble and Frenzy have become awed by Megatron's violence and charisma, and have been shown as loyal acolytes staying by his side. After Soundwave offered Megatron the use of advanced weaponry, Frenzy and Rumble were modified to be able to work with him.

Interestingly, although the original Generation One Decepticon cassettes were packaged as two-packs, Rumble and Frenzy were not packaged together. Rumble was packaged with Ravage, whereas Frenzy was packaged with Laserbeak . Frenzy also holds the distinction of being the only one of the original Transformers toys produced by Hasbro for four concurrent years, as he was available with Ratbat as late as 1987, which doubtless explains why Frenzy has been packaged with Ratbat this time around, since Laserbeak has been packaged with Soundwave himself.

So, how's the toy? Not bad at all. Frenzy stands about 2-7/8" in height to the top of his head -- 3-1/8" if you count the upraised shoulders -- and is a capable likeness of the original Frenzy, in that he's a humanoid robot, mostly red in color, with a fairly broad chest and large lower legs. The chest markings from his original cassette mode are missing, but he has a Decepticon emblem there. His abdomen has been painted silver, as has the lower part of his face, and he has a reddish slit above this to represent his eyes.

Frenzy is articulated, but he's not all that poseable. A lot of his articulation is for the purposes of the spring-loaded auto-transformation feature of the Data Disc mode. His arms do move independently, but his legs and knees, although movable, will spring right back into place. But it should be noted that poseability is not the primary purpose of these particular Transformers.

To transform Frenzy into his Data Disc mode, swing Frenzy's arms up, tuck his feet into his lower legs, fold his arms behind his back, and, in a move that's trickier than it sounds, swing the entire lower body up over the upper body, and then pivot the lower legs around so that they lock into place, forming the disc.

As with Ratbat, in disc mode, Frenzy is about 1-1/2" in diameter and 1/2" thick. I have to give the designers a lot of credit. There's at least three different versions of these Data Discs out there, and they all transform into the same size and shape of Disc. That had to be something of a challenge. Frenzy appears mostly dark red, with a slightly lighter red top surface with intricate silver detailing and a Decepticon emblem in the center.

Although Ratbat and Frenzy do not have accessories, they do each come with a transparent purple storage case, with Decepticon emblems. Rather looks like a cross between a CD case and an Energon cube, and I'll bet that was intentional.

The character profile on the back of the package for both characters reads as follows: Ratbat is the most independent of the agents employed by Soundwave. He spends most of his time away from the others, engineering complex financial schemes rigged to cripple the Autobot network. Decepticon Frenzy, on the other hand, enjoys the company of others, if only so that his sonic interference can cause chaos among those around him.

Sounds like they gave Ratbat a personality similar to that of the comics. Their various power rankings are as follows. Ratbat gets a "9" in Intelligence and Skill, a "7" in Speed, a "6" in Courage, a "5" in Endurance and Fireblast, a "4" in Rank, and a "3" in Strength. Frenzy gets a "8" in Fireblast, a "6" in Strength, Endurance, Courage, and Skill, a "5" in Intelligence and Speed, and a "4" in Rank.

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. Although certainly not as articulated as their larger siblings in the same line, these Data Disc Transformers are a cool concept, and a nice way of modernizing the cassette gimmick from the 1980's. It should be mentioned that there's no shortage of them out there, either. A second two-pack features Rumble and Ravage, Laserbeak comes with Soundwave, and Buzzsaw comes with a Soundwave recoloration called Soundblaster. Additionally, the Autobot counterpart to Soundwave, Blaster, is also available, and he has Data Discs of his own. The Data Discs can also fit within the robots.

If you have fond memories of the original Soundwave and his cassettes, then I'm certain you'll enjoy this modern take on them. The design principles are very clever, the detail work is excellent, and they're all a definite blast from the past brought into the 21st century!