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REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS REVEAL THE SHIELD "SPECIAL OPS" JAZZ
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. Even so...

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 is a longtime favorite of mine, and in a way, I'm surprised that it took this long for him to make his way into this line, given how prominent a character he is in the Transformers universe. His name is JAZZ, and this review will take a look at him.

Officially, the toy's name is SPECIAL OPS JAZZ, and one must surmise that for whatever reason, trademarking or licensing the basic name "Jazz" just didn't work out this time around, so he was given the "Special Ops" prefix. However, for the purposes of this review, I'll just be calling him Jazz, since that is how he is best known.

Jazz is certainly one of the most prominent Autobots, and was among the first of the ones to be awakened on Earth. I've always liked the character, I think in part because he was generally so upbeat, regardless of the situations in which they found themselves, and I think a bit because he was voiced in the original animated series by Scatman Crothers.

Some online research reveals more details about the history of Jazz, both from the comic book and the animated series.

Jazz regards himself as the "very cool, very stylish, and very competent" member of the Autobots. His original vehicle mold was based on a Martini Porsche 935 turbo racing car. Self-possessed, calm, and utterly collected, Jazz is legitimately the head of Special Operations within the Autobots, so his extended name for the purposes of this toy fits.

He often gives the most dangerous assignments to himself. It's not a matter of ego - he just really is the coolest head for the toughest missions. Jazz's ease extends to whatever environment he finds himself in, no matter how strange. He effortlessly tunes into the local culture, assimilating and improvising, and making creative command decisions, making him an indispensable aide to Optimus Prime. He has a particular affection for Earth.

In the early Marvel Comics, Jazz was portrayed as easily and productively making contact with humans. In the UK Marvel comic, one story saw him befriend a young boy in rural England. Jazz passionately opposed Prowl's idea to use the Creation Matrix to create dedicated war machines to crush the Decepticons, labeling such machines "abominations". This ethically questionable move was staved off and Jazz continued to serve the Autobots well on Earth.

Following the arrival of Galvatron in the "Target: 2006" storyline, Jazz was captured and his mind was altered. This left him incapacitated for a long time. He was eventually repaired, but soon met deactivation again at the hands of the Underbase-powered Starscream.

Sometime later, in order to stop Megatron, Autobot medic Ratchet restored Jazz, Bumblebee, and Grimlock as "Classic Pretenders". They remained on Cybertron and were in inspiration to the Autobots there, leading multiple raids on the Decepticons.

Jazz was also one of the main Autobots in the Earthforce unit of the Marvel UK's "Earthforce" series. In one story, "The Magnificent Six", it was revealed that four million years ago, Jazz was teamed with Inferno, Ironhide, Wheeljack, and Sunstreaker, and had been captured and tortured by the sadistic Decepticon Megadeath. Jazz would also appear in the Marvel UK story where he, Optimus Prime, and Hot Rod introduced Arcee to the human public.

In the animated series, Jazz was among the first Autobots who followed Optimus Prime on his mission aboard the Ark. They were attacked by Megatron's ship, the Nemesis, and crash-landed on Earth, where all on board were preserved in emergency stasis. Four million years later, a volcanic eruption awakened the Ark's computer, and it repaired all on board, Autobot and Decepticon alike. Jazz became a regular character throughout the show's first two seasons, serving as Optimus Prime's second in command, a role shared by Ironhide and Prowl, depending on the storyline.

Among Jazz's more notable appearances: In the episode "Attack of the Autobots", Jazz and Bumblebee were the only Autobots to avoid being brainwashed. But thanks to his new sound system -- and that will be pertinent to the toy review -- and Sparkplug's "attitude exchanger", the Autobots were able to be cured.

Towards the end of 1985, Jazz was among the team of five Autobots who disguised themselves as Stunticons in the episode "Masquerade". Jazz, a Porsche 935, was made to resemble Dead End, the Stunticon who was a Porsche 928. Infiltrating the Decepticons' camp, the Autobots ran into trouble when the real Stunticons arrived, and combined to form Menasor. With a combination of Windcharger's magnetic powers and Mirage's illusion-crating ability, the Autobots were able to appear as Menasor as well.

In the Transformers animated movie, set roughly 20 years in the future at the time, Jazz was assigned to Moonbase One along with Cliffjumper. Jazz was responsible for monitoring Decepticon activity on Cybertron using the base as a secret staging ground for planning the liberation of Cybertron. During the movie, Moonbase One came under attack by Unicron. Jazz radioed to Earth for assistance and his signal was received and relayed by Blaster to Ultra Magnus. Jazz and Cliffjumper tried to evacuate, but their shuttle was unable to achieve escape velocity. Later, during an assault on Unicron, Jazz and Cliffjumper were discovered about to be tossed into a smelting pit within Unicron. They were saved, and escaped Unicron before the planet-sized Transformer exploded.

Sadly, during the time between the movie's release and the start of the third season of the animated series, actor Scatman Crothers passed away. His distinctive voice could certainly not easily be duplicated, and the movie was the last time that Jazz really spoke. He made minor cameos throughout the season, mostly in "Five Faces of Darkness", which kicked off the third season.

Jazz remains a part of the Autobot forces in the current Transformers comic book title published by IDW, and even met up with the Avengers in the Marvel/IDW crossover in 2007.

Jazz has had no shortage of toys over the years. He was originally introduced as a Porsche 935 racing car, and later appeared as a more generic sports car as part of the Classic Pretenders line. He was also among the Transformers chosen for the Action Masters line.

He turned up in Generation 2, largely similar to his original incarnation, and in 2002, there was a special "Electrum" version of Jazz, covered in gold chrome plating, commemorating an episode "The Golden Lagoon", in which the Transformers coated themselves with a metallic gold substance and become temporarily immune to their various weapons.

Jazz turned up -- sort of -- in the Alternators line, as well. By now, for trademarking purposes, Jazz was commonly referred to as "Autobot Jazz". However, since that prefix had been used several times already, it was decided to release the character in the United States under his original Japanese name, which was Meister. But everyone knew who it was. In fact, some advertising on Hasbro's Web Site stated, "Incredible detail and 1:24 scale jazzes up the action!" Uh-huh... In this incarnation, Jazz/Meister was a Mazda RX-8, since Porsche, for whatever reason, was disinclined to license their cars to the toy line.

The new Jazz, from the Reveal the Shield line, does not represent any specific known sports car or any other specific automobile. The only real designation it receives is that it's called "Street Rally Mode" on the back of his package.

So, how's the toy? Very cool. Regardless of not being based on any existing automobile, Jazz nevertheless looks very sleek and sporty. In car mode, he's about 5-1/4" in length, average for an Autobot in this particular line. He is white in color, with transparent blue headlights, a broad blue stripe running from the top of the car down to the front of the hood, with a thinner red strips in the middle of it and a white number "4" on the hood; black "4"s on the doors, a red stripe across the front, and blue and red stripes running from the base of the doors over the rear fenders. The front windshield and side windows are also transparent blue.

There has been some complaint among fans and collectors that the back of the car lacks any painted detail whatsoever, and indeed, that is the case. I don't know that it's worth complaining about, though. I don't really see it as that big of a deal. However, there is obvious sculpted space for taillights back there. I suspect if one has some appropriate red paint and a fine brush, it wouldn't be too hard to add a bit of color.

Certain recent Transformers have been given what I would call a secondary, lesser transformation. For example, Tracks' doors pivot outward and fold out to represent wings. In Jazz's case, based on the sound equipment he received in a particular episode of the animated series which I cited earlier, Jazz has fold-out speakers. The transformation is fairly simple in car mode. Open the car doors, fold out the speakers, swivel them into place, and close the doors. The speakers are black, semi-rectangular cases, with round silver speakers within them. Nice touch, really.

Let's consider Jazz's 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.

The first thing the instructions tell you to do is to reach underneath the car and remove a small item which eventually converts to a weapon. This is actually not necessary since it's packed separately in the package anyway.

Next, open the doors, and flip back the legs. This is accomplished by sort of stretching the rear of the car back. They're on a sort of double joint, and move fairly readily.

Now, flip out the feet. This is a little easier said than done, as I found it just a little tricky to get a good grip on them. One of those times where you're reminded that Transformers are still a toy line, with kids in mind, and something like this would doubtless be easier for smaller fingers.

Finally, make sure the legs are at full extension, and separate the legs from each other. In this case, the illustrated instructions ate useful, as is the photograph of the toy on the back of the package card.

Next, rotate the arms outward. This is a step that may leave you briefly wondering "How?", and it is a little odd. They actually take part of the hood with them, specifically the part that comprises the number "4" on the hood. What you should have at this point is two arms pointed out to the sides, with the open doors angled open below them.

Now, bring down the front of the car. By some means I don't entirely understand, this also causes the robot head to raise up, and emerge through the "hole" in the hood left by extending the arms. The design specifications for this little trick must've been impressive. As far as I can tell, the front of the car doesn't actually snap or lock into place. Just bring it down as far as it will readily go and leave it at that.

Finally, rotate his arms around so that they'll lower properly, bring them down, and tuck the former windshield against the back of the robot, and Jazz is now fully in Autobot mode!

Jazz's transformation is listed as a "3" on a scale of 0 to 5, which is stated as "Intermediate" on the package, and I'd say that's a fair description. I've had easier, I've had lots tougher. There's nothing really all that complicated on him, but you need to pay attention, especially with the multi-jointed legs.

So, how's the robot? Very cool. Jazz stands about 5-3/4" in height, which is about average for this particular line of Transformers. He definitely looks like Jazz, with some modern styling, but not enough to lose the character.

Certainly the headsculpt looks like Jazz, with the black head, silver face, and visor across (or in place of) individual eyes. The facial expression on Jazz's nose and mouth is a rather nasty scowl, which isn't exactly appropriate to the character. I'm not really sure what they were thinking here.

Jazz 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, Jazz's effect doesn't work very well. I don't know if it's the design of his head, the fact that he has a visor instead of individual eyes, the relatively small transparent area in the back, or what. Unfortunate, but not that big of a deal to me.

The most apparent remaining "car section" of Jazz in his robot mode is of course his chest, which is the front of the car. Interestingly, Jazz's "Reveal the Shield" Autobot emblem was placed on the roof of his car mode, so now, it's on his back.

Jazz has black upper arms, with white lower arms and black hands. His abdomen is gray, and he has black hips, white upper legs, and black lower legs to what would be the equivalent of the calf region, where they become gray again. The rear sides of Jazz's car mode are now the sides of his lower legs. The spoiler that was in the back of his car mode flips back to protect the backs of his legs. This might almost be why there wasn't any painted detail on the very back of his car mode, because it really doesn't show in his robot mode.

Jazz's front wheels now appear on his shoulders, and his car doors extend out to the sides in the back. His sound system speakers can be raised up in robot mode just as readily as they can in his vehicular mode, so they can be used here, as well.

Virtually all of Jazz's paintwork is the striped trim and numbers of his car mode, all of which has been done very neatly. The only additional portion is the silver on his face, is a nice detail as well.

Of course, Jazz is superbly articulated in robot form, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles -- sort of, although the foot articulation is really designed more for transformation as much as anything.

Jazz has a personality profile on the back of his package card, which reads as follows: Autobot Jazz falls in love with every world he visits. The tiniest hint of alien culture is enough to fascinate him for months. His ability to immerse himself in a new civilization makes him an ideal undercover agent - he blends in with the environment, absorbing every bit of data he can, and looks for the anomaly that tells him Decepticons are present.

His various power levels are as follows: He gets a "9" in Courage and Speed, "8" in Rank, "7" in Endurance, "6" in Strength, Intelligence, and Fireblast, and a "5" in Skill.

And probably a 12 for noisemaking, with those speakers of his...

So, what's my final word? As I said, Jazz has long been a personal favorite of mine. He was certainly given a distinctive and more friendly than usual personality in the animated series, especially. 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.

SPECIAL OPS JAZZ from the TRANSFORMERS: REVEAL THE SHIELD collection definitely has my highest recommendation!