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By Thomas Wheeler

It's common practice for Hasbro and Takara to want to get more than one use out of their molds for Transformers Alternators -- and even some of the other Transformers -- these days. This is entirely understandable. Casting the molds is the single most expensive part of making a toy. Any toy company is going to want to get their money's worth out of it.

And Transformers, especially the Alternators, use a LOT of parts. Consider one of these compared to an average action figure. Take a classic Star Wars action figure, one that's articulated at the head, arms, and legs. Now, assuming that the torso is molded in halves, which can be sealed together containing but allowing for the mobility of the head and limbs, that's six parts -- seven if he has one of those slide-up-the-arm lightsabers. A traditional-style G.I. Joe action figure has twenty-seven parts -- including the screws, rivets, O-ring, and T-hook. A typical Marvel Legends figure, using the Green Goblin for an example, has, and this is something of an estimate since I'm not 100% sure of internal workings, somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty parts -- in Gobby's case, not counting the pumpkin bomb glued to his hand. A modern-day Microman figure from Japan comes close to sixty separate pieces.

The closest to a Transformers Alternators figure is probably a Gundam action figure, depending on how many additional points of articulation some of the jets, wings, or exotic built-in weaponry might create. And the Transformers Alternator is still going to beat a Gundam figure by a considerable margin.

Consider that the average Transformers Alternator has to be a sufficiently accurate 1:24 scale representation of a real-world car to satisfy the automaker from whom that vehicle's likeness has been licensed. That scale car is going to have its own moving parts. The hood will come up, the wheels will turn, and quite probably steer left or right as well, the doors will open, and there's a good chance that the front seats will fold forward and even some chance that the steering wheel will be adjustable.

Now, as if that in and of itself isn't going to create a considerable supply of needed parts, this toy also has to be able to transform from its vehicle mode into a humanoid robot that bears at least some resemblance to its Generation One Transformers namesake. So, on top of all the moving car parts, you have to arrange for this toy to have the mobility necessary to accomplish the transformation -- AND have a decent amount of "humanoid robot" articulation once the transformation has been completed! This would tend to include the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, ankles, assorted swivels in the limbs, and in some instances, even the finger groups!

Every time I get one of these, I am profoundly thankful that it's not MY job to design them! Or assemble them in the factory. It's hard enough sometimes just transforming them.

But, needless to say, it takes a lot -- A LOT -- of parts to make one of these toys. So before you go beefing again that they used one set of molds three times to give us Sideswipe, Dead End, and Sunstreaker, understand that Hasbro and Takara have to get a decent return on what is no doubt a considerable investment -- and besides which, they're all cool cars and well-established characters, so I really don't see any reason to complain.

But then we come to the dilemma of Optimus Prime, who was finally brought into the line as a Dodge Ram SRT-10 Pickup Truck. Now, setting aside whether or not it was appropriate to turn Optimus into a pick-up truck -- personally I was delighted that he was finally introduced into the line and I knew darn well that they weren't going to make a semi-truck out of him -- using this set of molds a second time around presented something of a problem.

For one thing, the truck was noticeably larger than most of the Alternators, even though, amazingly, in robot form, Optimus is about the same height as everybody else. They even had to modify the packaging a bit. Whereas most Alternators allow enough room for the plastic bubble to be sealed to the TOP of the cardboard base on which they're packaged, Optimus was just that much larger so that his plastic bubble had to be sealed to the SIDES of the base.

And -- it's -- OPTIMUS PRIME! You don't just casually re-use that set of molds! Not within the Transformers universe. It's one thing to put out a Jeep Wrangler as Hound, Swindle, and Rollbar. It's quite another to give Optimus' truck molds to any other character. Still, there's something to be said for wanting to get at least one more use out of them. Who could be brought into the Alternators line where this would be appropriate?

There could only be one -- NEMESIS PRIME!

Nemesis Prime has never been all that heavily featured in any of the storylines. Although a Decepticon, he's not the leader. That's Megatron's job. Ultimately, Nemesis Prime has, in several incarnations, served the same purpose that he is serving in the Alternators line -- getting a second use out of a set of Optimus molds without disgracing or minimizing the character of Optimus.

The origin of Nemesis Prime is an interesting one. He's a Decepticon who, through some sort of technical glitch when his body was being reformatted for a new form, accidentally ended up with the same format as Optimus Prime! Needless to say, he's none to happy about it. Although no leader like Optimus Prime, or even Megatron, Nemesis Prime is a powerful warrior, with a serious mad-on against the Autobots in general, and Optimus Prime in particular, that for obvious reasons is a whole lot more personal than the Autobot-Decepticon conflict is for most of the participants. I mean, basically, Nemesis Prime ended up looking just like -- paint job notwithstanding -- the leader of the sworn enemies of his entire race! That'd give anybody a short temper, and probably a few loose screws in the cranium.

For whatever reason, and I can think of several theories, but that's all they are -- theories (cost of producing a larger Alternator, shipping weight, etc.), Hasbro opted not to make Nemesis Prime part of the general Alternators assortments. Instead, they reserved him as an exclusive to the San Diego ComiCon.

One of these days, I have to get to this Convention. Not only has it been, for many years, THE place to meet, greet, and talk with creators from every major and most of the minor comic book companies around, but increasingly in recent years, just about every major and a lot of the minor toy companies have been showing up, too. You can go to a G.I. Joe Convention and talk with Hasbro representatives, and attend their seminars. But all the talk is going to be on G.I. Joe. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and the Conventions are inevitably a great time. However, you can go to the San Diego ComiCon, and talk to Hasbro about G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Wars, then go talk to Mattel about Justice League, see what SOTA is doing with Street Fighter, find out NECA's plans for Masters of the Universe statues, and this year, could've attended a combined Toy Biz/Hasbro seminar on the future of Marvel Legends. There is a lot of breath at ComiCon but not much depth of any toy line.

The toy companies are no fools. While none of the big ones can place a real emphasis on the collectors' market, they know it exists, and there are times and places where it will be dominant. That time and place may not be Toys "R" Us, but it's certainly the ComiCon. And a lot of them bring exclusive toys to sell.

This year, for Hasbro, it was NEMESIS PRIME. And I think they did an amazing job with it. I wasn't at the show, but fortunately, the Web Site had some up the day after the Convention ended -- and I'm a fast typist when I have reason to be...

What's amazing is that this thing looks mean even in truck form. Now, while I am no car expert, I'm sure I've seen any number of Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup trucks in real life. As a matter of fact, I think I saw a black one, as Nemesis Prime is colored, over in the Wal-Mart parking lot not far from my apartment complex fairly recently. It's an impressive vehicle, and indeed, fairly large even for a pick-up truck. But there wasn't anything particularly menacing about it.

But give that truck a set of RED-tinted windows like Nemesis Prime has, and there's something about that all-black truck with the creepy red windows that suddenly takes on a rather scary demeanor. There's something just not quite right about that. There's an implied threat in the look of this vehicle, and it's not buried too far beneath the surface. I mean, not even the other Decepticon Alternators have this feature to them.

In robot mode, Nemesis Prime is just as menacing. Now, I experienced much the same thing with Nemesis that I did with Optimus. The transformation is not quite as complicated as it has been with some other Alternators. Granted the complexity has varied a fair bit depending on the model of the car, obviously. But it's probably worth noting here, and may indeed be a factor, that according to some reports I've heard, Japan is not particularly noted for pickup trucks, and bringing Optimus Prime into the Alternators line AS a pickup truck was not entirely Takara's idea (the Alternators line -- or a die-cast version of it -- is available in Japan under the name BinalTech). This does not mean that I believe Takara skimped on Optimus/Nemesis. But I think that maybe there is some small chance that the engineers responsible for the toy were not as familiar with the type of vehicle they were working with, and the result was a somewhat simpler-to- transform Alternator.

Not that this in and of itself is a bad thing, given how incredibly complex most of them are. After almost two dozen Alternators in the past several years, I've found myself almost laughing off the 10th Anniversary Beast Wars and some of the Cybertron Transformers I've brought home.

In robot mode, Nemesis Prime doesn't have a lot of red trim on him. One might think he would, after that windshield glass. But what he does have colorwise is, somehow, just as menacing. While Nemesis Prime is predominantly black, his trim is a fairly bright, and very metallic, silver-blue. This combination gives Nemesis Prime a very cold appearance compared to the far friendlier-looking Optimus Prime, and indeed is the color scheme that at least one previous Nemesis Prime -- from Armada -- had (also had the red windshield). No one is going to be mistaking Nemesis Prime for a good guy.

It's certainly worth noting that the Transformers, including the Alternators, and including Nemesis Prime, have escaped some of the sloppy paint work that has plagued other action figure lines in recent times. I suspect this is largely due to the fact that as complex as they are, Transformers are probably produced and assembled at one of the better factories in China, and that factory isn't going to go to the trouble of assembling something as complex as a Transformer and then do a hack job on the paint. Hopefully this will continue to be the case.

Although the Alternator packages do not provide extensive character backgrounds, they do tend to provide a quote. Nemesis Prime's is, "A warrior finds honor only in the total destruction of his enemies." Surprisingly eloquent, if certainly vicious.

A few additional notes. Alternators are numbered. Not on the toy, but on the package. They have been since the start, regardless of package redesigns. Nemesis Prime's is #24. The last Alternator I found, Optimus Prime, was #21. Sort of makes me wonder who #22 and #23 are. It also makes me wonder, along with the UPC code on the bottom of the package, if Nemesis Prime WAS at some point intended for general release.

The other thing I'd like to mention -- the license plate. Recent Alternators have had actual state license plates, with their name or a contraction thereof spelled out on the plate. A recent exception to this was Optimus Prime, whose license plate was from the wonderful state of
-- Cybertron. Anyway, perhaps appropriately given the exclusivity of this toy to the San Diego ComiCon, Nemesis Prime's license plate is from California, very specifically has a date on it -- something the other license plates don't -- and reads NEMESIS. Between the date and the state, perhaps this toy was always intended as a ComiCon exclusive.

As I said before, Nemesis Prime is not a leader. He's not Megatron. He's probably not even in the hierarchy of Decepticon leadership. But he is doubtless someone that Megatron sees as one of the Decepticons' most powerful weapons -- a powerful warrior with a very personal reason to hate the Autobots, and more to the point, their leader, and who as such is dedicated to their destruction. Sort of makes you wonder how that incident happened that made this Decepticon come out looking like Optimus in the first place.

This will no doubt be a very scarce, and potentially expensive-on-the- secondary-market Alternator to track down. I consider myself fortunate to have secured one, even though it did cost me more than it would've at the ComiCon. I consider it worth it. The Alternators as a toy line are easily the most impressive Transformers around these days, just as the Transformers in general are perhaps the most impressive toy line these days, in a time when toys in general and action figures in particular are suffering for a variety of reasons.

If you're a Transformers fan, and/or an Alternators fan, and you have any opportunity to obtain NEMESIS PRIME, he definitely has my highest recommendation!