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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the earliest "special teams" within the world of Transformers was a group known as the Insecticons. They're not a combiner team, they don't all get together to form some gigantic robot. They're a trio of Decepticons who, as their name implies, transform into robotic insects, and do an impressive job of wreaking havoc as such.

The original Generation One Transformers remain my personal favorites of all incarnations of the Transformers over the years, and I was especially pleased when, a number of years ago, Hasbro (along with Takara/Tomy) brought out a series of Transformers originally known as "Classics", later given the designation "Generations", which were entirely recognizable versions of the most iconic Generation One Transformers, but were also entirely new toys that gave the robot modes of these classic characters the one thing that their original toys had lacked -- a decent measure of articulation.

I don't wish to malign the original Transformers. They're an abundantly cool and impressive, and certainly popular toy line. But in their robot modes, they just couldn't do all that much, and that could be a little frustrating, given all they could do in their animated series, and in the comic book, although it's interesting to note that the Insecticons were a little better articulated than most.

Some Transformers haven't made it into the Generations line yet, and the Generations line has been through several years of decidedly lower priority in favor of Transformers toys based on the live-action movies and more recent animated series. While understandable from a marketing standpoint, it's a little frustrating for a fan of the original characters.

However, the Generations line has returned, this time in conjunction with a new Transformers video game, called "Fall of Cybertron". Technically taking place just before the Transformers' fateful journey to Earth, it features the Generation One characters in more Cybertronian-centric forms. Nevertheless, many of them remain highly recognizable, especially in their robotic modes, and I have welcomed a number of them into my collection.

One recent addition happens to be one of the Insecticons, by the name of KICKBACK. Let's have a look at the history of the Insecticons in general, and of Kickback in particular, and then have a closer look at his Fall of Cybertron incarnation.

The three original Insecticon toys were based on Diaclone toys made by Takara in 1984. They were named among the top selling toys in 1985 by Playthings magazine.

The group included Shrapnel, a stag beetle; Bombshell, a rhinoceros beetle, and Kickback, who transformed into a robotic grasshopper. In his insect mode, Kickback can use his legs to leap up to heights of 40 feet and over distances of a tenth of a mile. Although small in this form, he can punch a hole in a one-quarter-inch steel plate with a single kick. Kickback's signature weapon is a Submachine gun.

There was a second group of Insecticons called the Deluxe Insecticons, but I'm not going to get into those here, since they have no direct bearing on Kickback.

In the animated series, the Insecticons were originally three Decepticons that Megatron had left onboard his ship, the Nemesis, which was pursuing the Ark, as back-up. When the Nemesis crashed on Earth, the trio evacuated in an escape pod, which crashed in an Indonesian swamp. In order to survive, they scanned the forms of the surrounding area's insects. The insect forms they adopted enabled them to extract energon from organic life and metals, though they still ingest fossil fuels and energy-based matter (electricity, energon cubes, etc.) as well. Because they took on the forms of insects the size of Transformers, the three Insecticons caused terror for any humans living nearby. They even developed the ability to make clones of themselves out of any metal, enabling them to literally swarm an area.

They were eventually found by Megatron following the revival of the rest of the Transformers, and were re-recruited back to the Decepticons. However, they became more independent as a result of their long absence, making them loose cannons: their relationship with the Decepticons proper was one of betrayals and counter-betrayals.

Originally appearing in "A Plague of Insecticons", they were discovered raiding human crops. They quickly joined up with the main Decepticons: unfortunately, the Insecticons swiftly decided this wasn't to their advantage and devoured Megatron's store of Energon instead, resulting in a battle breaking out between the two sides.

After this, the Insecticons entered into a free-lancing relationship with the Decepticons, helping Megatron if they had something to gain from it. They were tricked by Mirage into attacking the Decepticons, later using Bombshell's cerebro-shells to control him and lure the Autobots into a trap. Another deal, with Decepticons and Insecticons working together to raid a military power plant, went awry when they overheard Megatron planning to betray them. Munching on a nova power core, they grew in size and strength. They then controlled all the Decepticons except Megatron with cerebro-shells, forcing the Decepticon leader to team up with the Autobots to stop his mind-controlled troops. Using Megatron in gun mode, Optimus fired the antidote needed to restore the Insecticons size and prevent the nova core they ingested from overloading. However, even the Insecticons' rebellious streak was overlooked by Megatron, as the Insecticons could create clones of themselves, thus creating an instant army.

The Insecticons took part in the Battle of Autobot City in 2005, but were badly damaged, and were tossed out into space along with the injured Megatron, Skywarp, and Thundercracker. These discarded Insecticons, along with Skywarp and Thundercracker, were used by Unicron to create new Decepticon troops for Galvatron, with Bombshell possibly becoming Cyclonus (although the issue of whether Cyclonus was a recreated Bombshell or Skywarp is unclear), and with Shrapnel and Kickback becoming Sweeps.

In the Marvel comics series, the Insecticons could shrink down to real insect size in beast mode. However, they did not exhibit the cartoon Insecticons' ability to create clones. They first appeared in Issues 17 and 18 in a story set primarily on Cybertron, acting as bodyguards to Straxus. The comic Insecticons' appearances would be limited, and most often would involve Bombshell and his cerebro-shells. Their only major appearance would be in Issues 21 and 22 of the US comic. In those issues, the Insecticons have recently arrived on Earth; Bombshell, at Megatron's request, uses one of his cerebro-shells to mind-control a human worker at a dam as part of a plot to take it over. The human uses Megatron in gun-mode to threaten the Aerialbots, but the human's daughter is able to help him overcome the Decepticon control. Instead of retreating with the other Decepticons, Bombshell hitches a ride to the Ark aboard Aerialbot leader Silverbolt. Later in this arc, one of Bombshell's cerebro-shells is used on Optimus Prime. Although it is not able to control Optimus, Megatron is able to leech the energies of the Matrix to create the Stunticons and Combaticons as the Autobots reprogram the Aerialbots and create the Protectobots.

In the Dreamwave comics, The Insecticons would also appear in Dreamwave's re-imagining of the Transformers mythos. They originally appeared in The War Within miniseries as an elite group hunting Optimus Prime alongside Soundwave and Ravage. They failed, forcing Megatron to personally deal with the new Autobot commander. They were most likely not called "Insecticons" at this point, as their alternate modes were not insects. Shrapnel's alternate mode was a jet and although the other two Insecticons didn't transform in the series, Bombshell appeared to have a tank alt-mode, while Kickback's was a dragster. In addition, the Deluxe Insecticons had cameos with alternate modes as jets, or in Chopshop's case, a wheeled tank-like vehicle. In the second volume of the War Within when the Autobots and Decepticons had split into several sub-factions following the disappearance of their leaders, Kickback, Bombshell and Shrapnel remained with the Decepticons under Shockwave, while the Deluxe Insecticons would join Ratbat's Ultracons.

Eons later, after the disappearance of the Ark, the Insecticons were dispatched to Earth to find out what had happened, and they encountered the Dinobots on a similar mission. The two teams battled, knocking each other into stasis lock. Unlike the Dinobots, it is unclear whether they were revived after the reawakening of the Transformers in the Ark. In Issues 7 and 8 of volume 3 of the comic the Insecticons appeared, attacking a team of Autobots led by Jazz. The original Insecticons appeared to be working for Shockwave and had created a huge number of clones. Their plans to control the population of a town was defeated by Jazz's Autobots. The Insecticon clones seemed unable to transform and were possibly techno-organic, as the clones were developed in larvae.

The first in-continuity appearance of the Insecticons was in the Transformers: Spotlight issue on Blaster. Probing the seeming traitor Beachcomber on his motivations, Beachcomber told how, at Soundwave's behest, he had been implanted with a cerebro shell by the shrunken Bombshell. Kickback and Bombshell were also seen among Megatron's troops in The Transformers: Megatron Origin.

As for Kickback in particular, he debuted with the rest of the Insecticons in the first season episode, "A Plague of Insecticons".

Kickback seemed to take a back seat to Bombshell and Shrapnel in the leadership department. He loved to use his powerful legs to cause trouble for the Autobots (i.e. kicking tree trunks at them). His personality is described as charming, but cruelly clever. He makes friends so he can influence them to do his bidding by digging up facts he can hold against them.

In The Transformers: The Movie, Kickback and the Insecticons were involved in the battle of Autobot City. Kickback suffered major injuries when he was knocked over by Hot Rod and then quickly had his head was crushed by Kup and later gunned down by Optimus Prime. Ouch. As a result, he was among the Decepticons who were ejected into space during their return trip to Cybertron, and was transformed into one of the Sweeps by Unicron.

His original tech specs stated that he could jump 40 ft. in insect mode for a distance of .1 miles, and kick a hole in 1/4 inch steel. In robot mode he could fly 30 mph up to 100 miles, and his sub-machine gun fires 300 rounds per minute. He was reportedly very vulnerable as insect, especially flying in high winds.

As for his appearance in the new video game, upon which this toy is based, Kickback is one of three Insecticons modified by Shockwave that receive heightened intelligence. Kickback, Hardshell (presumably a new name for Bombshell) and Sharpshot (a new name for Shrapnel?) join Shockwave in viewing Grimlock, as witnessed by Starscream before he set the Dinobot free. Kickback volunteers to assist Shockwave in unlocking Grimlock's ability to transform, and sends several of his fellow Insecticons to attack the Dinobot. Eventually Grimlock's rage allows him to transform into a mechanical Tyrannosaurus, and once his legion is defeated, Kickback tries to escape, only to be partially crushed under a fallen door by Slug.

So, how's the toy? Impressive, but of all of the various Fall of Cybertron Generations figures I've picked up so far, he's the most extremely removed from his Generation One likeness. I usually employ a criteria of having a decent resemblance to the original incarnation, but -- what the heck, I've always sort of liked the Insecticons, so I decided to make an exception in this case.

Really, this Fall of Cybertron Kickback almost looks like he could have come from the live-action movies. I have no problem with those films, but I do think they took a few too many liberties with the character likenesses. Kickback isn't quite that extreme, but neither does he bear that much resemblance to his original G1 mode.

In his robot mode, Kickback stands about 5-3/4" to the top of his antennae. His full height is a bit over 6 inches, thanks to a couple of extra arms that come up over his shoulders.

The original Insecticons all had a common color scheme -- black and purple, with a certain amount of silver and gold trim. The black on Kickback has been replaced by a very dark gray, but the purple is still present and accounted for, as is the gold, and a somewhat lighter gray that takes the place of the silver.

Kickback's face, such as it is, is a V-shaped purple visor on the front of a face that looks a bit like the front of a Clone Trooper helmet. It has that sort of T-shape. The back of Kickback's head is molded in transparent plastic, allowing his visor to appear as though it lights up when there's a light source behind him.

The best way to describe Kickback is that his body consists mostly of sweeping, curved angles. There's not a lot of straight lines on him, but there's a lot of sharp points and sweeping curves. If one compares his structure to the original Kickback, one can see certain similarities. There's a fair amount of gold around his chest, and he has huge, bulky, lower legs. The strongest resemblance, really, are the two antennae on the side of his head.

There's a Decepticon emblem on his chest, and the overall design is certainly impressive, and just reminiscent enough of his original form to get away with it, but between this mode, which within the storyline technically precedes his more familiar G1 mode, and that more classic mode, one sort of figures that Kickback woke up after crash-landing on Earth in his new mode wondering what the heck had happened to him.

Of course, Kickback's robot mode is superbly well-articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, knees, and ankles. There are also swivels on his upper arms and legs, and he has two additional arms mounted to his back that sweep over his shoulders, and also have elbow joints of their own.

Kickback's alt mode isn't specifically referred to as a "grasshopper" on the package. Rather, it's simply listed as a "Cybertronian Insect Mode", although there's certainly a resemblance to a grasshopper. Let's see what's involved in his transformation. Kickback's transformation is rated "Intermediate" on the instructions, "2" on a scale of 0 to 3. Given that I'm more used to turning robots into vehicles, or vice-versa, we'll see.

Start by turning Kickback's head around 180 degrees and bringing his antennae forward a bit, and folding the panel on his back upwards.

Next, raise the chest on its post, and fold in the "flaps" on the chest. Then slide the shields on the arms down, and pivot the lower arms inwards 90 degrees, and then raise the arms up and out to the sides, and rotate them 180 degrees.

The next several steps on the instructions involve the manipulation of the legs, and to be perfectly honest -- I'm not entirely sure what's expected here. All I can recommend is following the illustrations to the best of your ability.

Next, take the head and chest, and rotate them towards the back. Then bring the pieces that were the arms, and connect them together. This essentially forms the rear part of Kickback's insect mode.

Now, swing the legs back so they're positioned alongside the rear part of the body, rotate the smaller legs forward, extend the rear legs, pivot the feet around, raise the additional arms so that they form the framework of the wings, and in one of the more interesting moves I've seen on a Transformer, connect the transparent purple wings that are used for some trim detail on Kickback's disc launcher weapon.

Oh, I forgot to mention -- Kickback does come with a disc launcher weapon, a fairly ornate piece of equipment that launches a small disc. It's not really spring-loaded, but it's a fairly clever little device, but he can't use it in his insect mode.

To be honest, with some of these last steps, it's just as informative to use the color illustrations on the back of his package card as it is to look at the instruction sheet.

In insect mode, Kickback is about six inches long. How much does he look like a grasshopper? Well -- maybe a robotic grasshopper from one of those robot combat "reality" shows, perhaps. I think if I saw anything like this hanging around my home, I wouldn't get a swatter, I'd get a shotgun.

And I'll admit I'm not entirely sure I got the transformation 100% right, either. This is really one of the most visually complex Transformers I've purchased in quite a while, and the illustrated instructions, based on computer models of the toy from the look of them, are just a little vague on some points. That's one of the problems with trying to use two-dimensional illustrations to operate a three-dimensional Transformer. Sometimes it can be a little tricky to figure out what's supposed to go where.

The character profile on the back of Kickback's package reads as follows: As the leader of his own squad of Decepticons, Kickback is more independent than most of those under the command of Megatron. He uses his freedom to surround himself with friends, who he then blackmails into becoming his servants.

The latter part of that certainly follows the established personality of Kickback, but somewhere along the way he got a promotion, because I don't think he was ever really the leader of the Insecticons.

His power rankings give him a "9" in Strength, Intelligence, and Rank, "7" in Skill, "6" in Fireblast, Courage, and Speed, and a "5" in Endurance.

So, what's my final word? Well, I think Kickback looks better in robot form than he does in insect form. But in either case, this is one very wild Transformer. His resemblance to his Generation One ancestor is marginal at best, even though it's clearly supposed to be the same character. I'm not sorry I got him, but he's certainly one of the more unusual-looking Transformers in my collection at this time.

The degree to which you may want to add him to your collection likely depends on the degree to which you're interested in a Transformer that captures the spirit, if not especially the look, of one of the notable classic characters from the original Transformers. For myself, I'm impressed with the detail of the toy, even if I found the transformation a little on the tricky side, and have to say that he's not quite as good a fit, visually, as some of the other "Fall of Cybertron" Transformers are with the rest of the G1-based Classics.

But, ultimately, he's still a cool Transformer, and I think that Kickback will make an interesting addition to virtually any Transformers collection, and certainly he's well-made, very well detailed, and definitely well articulated.

The TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS "FALL OF CYBERTRON" figure of KICKBACK definitely has my highest recommendation!