REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE 25th ANNIVERSARY RATCHET
It came as no great surprise to me that when the character of IRONHIDE was introduced to the Classics-style Transformers Universe 25th Anniversary collection, that there was a very good chance that RATCHET would follow. Although officially called AUTOBOT RATCHET to keep the legal department happy, he has indeed appeared in the line.
Ironhide and Ratchet, despite their differing natures -- Ironhide is a grizzled warrior, Ratchet the Autobot's main medic -- the two have generally been based on similar molds more then once, much like Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, or Prowl and Smokescreen.
The original Ironhide and Ratchet toys were so peculiar, transforming into a robot mode that hardly even qualified as humanoid, that different robot designs were developed for them for the animated series that were transitioned into the comic books in fairly short order. These became the standard looks for both Ironhide and Ratchet even though their toys did not reflect this. Later toys, including a couple of Official Transformers Collectors' Convention exclusives, would.
With the Universe/Classics line, we have an interesting development -- two toys that look humanoid enough in their robot modes, and decent enough in their vehicle molds, but their vehicle looks take a bit of a beating because of some rather strange aspects to their transformations. Since both Ironhide and Ratchet use the same molds, it's obviously reflected on both of them.
Nevertheless, Ratchet is a classic Generation One Transformer, and I certainly wanted to add him to my collection. Let's learn about the character:
Ratchet made his first appearance in issue #1 of the Marvel Comics Transformers comic book series. Originally this was intended to be a 4-issue series, but became a monthly series that ultimately lasted 80 issues.
Ratchet is well-remembered by fans of the original comic series, in which he played a major role. Ratchet would transform into an ambulance (cargo van type) and was colored white with red stripes and emergency lights.
Ratchet had two robot modes, though only one was usually seen in the comic run and the television cartoon. The Ratchet toy transformed into the second form. Ratchet was one of the original and the longest-lived of all Transformers in the Marvel Transformers comic series. Often a fan favorite, he was a healer first, but a soldier nonetheless. His courage and loyalty are demonstrated time and again.
In issue number 4, he transported Sparkplug Witwicky to the hospital after Witwicky had a heart attack aboard the Autobot base, the Ark. Because of this, he was not at the final battle between the few remaining Autobots (having transferred their low fuel resources into a selected group of 5 Autobots) and the fully-powered Decepticons. At that battle, the Autobots were losing when their foes suddenly began falling from fuel that had been tainted by Witwicky. Before the Autobots could celebrate their victory, the Decepticon Shockwave appeared (his first appearance in the comic series) and destroyed the remaining Autobots.
As the sole surviving Autobot, Ratchet sought some way to resurrect his comrades to defeat the Decepticons. An initial foray revealed that Megatron had been humiliatingly defeated by Shockwave and relegated to second-in-command status. Megatron made a deal - Ratchet would destroy Shockwave, and Megatron would free his comrades.
Knowing Megatron would betray him, Ratchet searched for some way to get out of it. To this end, he came across information from The Ark's initial search for "life" on the planet when the craft first crashed, millions of years prior. While in the "present" (1984), the probes read moving metallic objects as life (as it would expect, being from a mechanical-life based world), accounting for the recreation of the Transformers as vehicles, aircraft, etc.), in a prehistoric attempt it had found none and instead determined the only moving, seemingly-sentient objects of similar size to the Transformers, dinosaurs, to be life. The Ark thus created the Dinobots based on these beings. Finding information on the Dinobots, Ratchet sought out their location, finding them and fixing them back up.
When he had completed this task, he confronted Megatron and ambushed the enemy robot with the five Dinobots. Megatron quickly dispatched them and laughed at the weak medic. As a final resort, Ratchet flung himself into Megatron, hoping to throw them both off the tall cliff, destroying them both, but instead bounced off. Megatron laughed at him again, though commending him for his courage. While laughing, the cliff edge Megatron was standing on collapsed and he fell to his deactivation. To this end Ratchet was a hero, though he didn't feel particularly victorious. He later returned to the Ark with the Dinobots and repaired his fellow Autobots.
His workload increased drastically as the Autobots suffered casualties brought on by Circuit Breaker (a woman with electromagnetic powers and a searing hatred of all robots), the Constructicons (as Devastator), a Shockwave-controlled Jetfire, and even a Decepticon doppelganger of Optimus Prime.
Ratchet later ran afoul of the presumed-dead Megatron once again. Megatron abducted him via the Space Bridge and set him to work on a top secret project - resurrecting Starscream as a Pretender and sending him to attack both Prime's forces and the Decepticons under Scorponok, who he considered a usurper. Ratchet double-crossed him, as he reprogrammed Starscream's mind so that his original personality re-emerged, and the traitor ended up begging for mercy from Scorponok. Ratchet also restored Grimlock, Jazz, and Bumblebee, as Megatron tasked him to create Decepticon Pretenders. Ratchet chose these three Autobots of the many deactivated ones based on his experience and loyalty to them; he only had three Pretender shells that he could use. The three battled Megatron's troops, although he defeated them all. Ratchet then revealed the base had been set to self-destruct. Megatron tried to escape through the Space Bridge, but Ratchet sacrificed himself to keep him from escaping -- something that affected Optimus Prime deeply.
Near the end of the original comic run, it was revealed the explosion had knocked both of them into the Space Bridge, fusing them into a nightmarish hybrid. Located by the Autobot detective Nightbeat, the hybrid rampaged around the Autobot ship before Prime stopped it. Against the wishes of Prime's crew, who knew that saving Ratchet meant saving Megatron, the two were surgically separated and put in stasis to keep him alive. Later he was infused with Nucleon along with other Autobots. His final action in the series was causing The Ark to crash-land on Earth to prevent its Decepticon stowaways - Megatron, Galvatron, Shockwave and Starscream - from landing and plundering Earth, presumably being killed in the process. Many times over, Ratchet was a hero, but he never gained nor sought such recognition.
In the animated series, Ratchet was the Autobot medic, and therefore he seldom was ever seen in battle. He usually spent time at the Autobot base with Wheeljack creating and repairing other Autobots, Wheeljack being one of the most mechanically inclined and inventive of the Autobots. The two of them were credited for creating the Dinobots in an attempt to bolster their ranks versus the Decepticons.
Ratchet was eventually killed in The Transformers: The Movie in an attack by the Decepticons on an Autobot shuttle.
In later comics, within the Dreamwave series, Ratchet appeared in much the same capacity as he did in the TV series, acting as the Autobots' chief medic. Joining the Autobot faction at the outbreak of the civil war, Ratchet accompanied Optimus Prime to search for survivors in part of Iacon city after Megatron had activated the planetary engines. He later remained with the Autobots under Prowl after Optimus Prime's disappearance in a Space Bridge accident.
Prime returned, and four million years ago, Ratchet was one of the Autobots aboard the Ark when it crashed on Earth, entombing all aboard in stasis until they were reawakened in 1984. Subsequently, after nearly twenty years of war on Earth, the Autobots defeated the Decepticons and headed back to Cybertron aboard the new spaceship, the Ark II, only for it to explode as it left Earth's atmosphere in 2001.
Later, Ratchet and many of the other Transformers presumed lost in the explosion were recovered by the terrorist Lazarus, a former U.S. Army officer who had developed a means of controlling the Transformers. When Megatron and the Decepticons predictably broke free, they hooked Ratchet and many of the other Autobots up to a machine that drained their energy to power Megatron's technorganic virus. He was later rescued by Prime.
After battling the Decepticons in the Arctic over a mysterious pod (unbeknownst to all containing Scourge), Ratchet and all the other Transformers were taken prisoner when Shockwave arrived to brand them all as war criminals. Ratchet was one of the few Autobots under Jazz that managed to escape to the original Ark. They subsequently battled Soundwave and the Seekers, capturing most except Starscream. The giant Combiner Bruticus was another matter, however, and all the Autobots save Ratchet and Brawn, who were forced to self-destruct the Ark to stop the giant Decepticon. Later, after the arrival of Sunstorm, Ratchet was forced to save Starscream to help stop the rampaging clone. Later, after Sunstorm's defeat, Ratchet was one of the Autobots who helped Prowl to begin building Autobot City on Earth.
Ratchet plays a significant role in IDW's new G1 continuity. His updated form is an ambulance that bears a close resemblance to a Ford Transit Van. In The Transformers: Infiltration, he picks up three humans who have evidence of their presence on Earth, protecting them from Thundercracker and the Battlechargers. He clashes with Prowl over the issue of the humans and calling in Optimus Prime. Disobeying orders alongside Bumblebee, he is wounded in battle with Skywarp and Blitzwing (at one point being run over by the Triple Changer's tank mode), but recovers before the end of the limited series.
As to the toy -- in vehicular mode, Ratchet is designed to look like an Ambulance for the most part, although when this toy was released as Ironhide it was called an SUV, and probably leans more in that direction that an Ambulance. If this is an Ambulance, it's a pretty rugged one. He's mostly white in color, which is appropriate to the character, with red stripes on his sides and hood, and a blue siren light on top. The side stripes have a little jagged area in them, much as other incarnations of Ratchet have shown. He is about 5-1/4" in length.
However... The dividing lines which are needed to enable the toy to transform into a humanoid robot are many, and they are not very well in keeping with the lines of the vehicle itself. They are mostly diagonal, slash across the doors and windows, and the end result, unfortunately, is that in vehicle mode, Ratchet looks a bit like an Ambulance/SUV that's been in an accident and was reassembled by someone whose main expertise was in jigsaw puzzles. It's pretty strange. Usually, one might expect to open the doors fairly cleanly, swing down the hood, rotate a fender, whatever. Those normal "car parts" don't have a thing to do with the transformation separation points on Ratchet.
In fairness, Ratchet does have some cool features in vehicle mode. His headlight and taillights are separately molded and installed pieces, made in transparent plastic. He has a nicely detailed front grill and an extra protective grill in front of that. Even so, if I saw an SUV like this driving down the street, I'd wonder what was holding it together.
Let's get Ratchet into robot form, shall we? As usual, the first thing it says to do is remove the weapon, which has already been done since it's packaged separately. But at least you know where to stash it on the toy in vehicle form.
Next, slide up the front of the roof and windshield. This will also bring part of the hood and the front grill with it. Then tuck the grill underneath, and raise the other two hood segments until they're straight up.
The next thing you need to do is to rotate the entire front of the car around. This is also the point at which you will likely snap the vehicle clean in half. Don't worry, it's attached by three pegs. Honestly, your best bet here is to simply leave it detached, rotate the parts around, and then plug it back into the rest of the body along the red center post.
What you're concentrating now on is the legs. Fold out the feet and fold in the lower legs. At this point, I'm finding it helpful to keep the package card with me, since the back of the card has a photograph of Ratchet in his robot form. From this you can determine if you're reasonably close to what he's supposed to look like.
Now, open the sides of the vehicle. This starts the creation of the arms. The remaining procedures, which involve folding up the wheels, bringing the torso down a bit, packing a fair assortment of "vehicular parts" into a folded section on Ratchet's back, and getting the Autobot emblem to show in what is now the chest window, is -- well -- beyond verbal description. And frankly, the illustrated instructions weren't that much help either, except as basic reference points. So was keeping the previously purchased Ironhide handy by which to make comparisons.
I finally got Ratchet into his proper robot mode.
Now, he looks fine in his robot mode, although I think the upper torso should join with the lower torso a little better. However, as for the transformation process itself -- I think one of the more charitable comments on it that I've read online, initially in reference to Ironhide, called it "over-engineered", and that's pretty accurate as astounding understatements go. The comments about Ratchet have tended to be "Not again...!" Come on people, you're surprised this time around?
In robot mode, Ratchet stands just shy of 6 inches in height. He looks a little short next to characters like Sideswipe or Prowl, in part because his head is just a little recessed. His head does have the cool feature that turns up fairly often, where the back of his head is molded from transparent plastic and reflects light through his eyes. Unfortunately, since he has this plastic shield over the back of his head, it's not all that effective here.
In robot mode, Ratchet is a capable, updated, but recognizable likeness of the classic Ratchet as he appeared in the animated series and, eventually, the comic book. No complaints about that whatsoever. He has a different headsculpt than Ironhide, which is to be expected. Ratchet has a sort of broad red "V-shape" across his forehead that Ironhide lacks, and the face is somewhat different.
Since technically the back of Ratchet becomes his chest, his rear license plate is visible. On Ironhide, this simply read "OREGON", with an appropriately scenic background. But with Ratchet, they decided to have a little more fun that I caught, but I'm not sure everyone will. Ratchet features a yellow license plate with black lettering that reads "H3L PU2" which is a reference to the "HELP US" sign which he holds up on the cover of issue #70 of the U.S. Marvel Transformers comic, when he reappeared merged with Megatron.
Ratchet comes with the same accessory piece as Ironhide. In this instance, it is described as a "medical dispenser", which converts into a combat blade! And you thought the usual sort of injections were unpleasant...!
Ratchet's personality profile on the back of his package card describes him thusly: Back on Cybertron, Autobot Ratchet was the best mechanic around. The only thing that kept him from true greatness was his constant partying. Years of war and a series of tragic encounters with Megatron have tempered his good nature, leaving him with a melancholy edge and a sour bedside manner. He's still the finest medic the Autobots have at their disposal, but these days he's more distracted by his bad memories than his late nights.
Offhand, I don't recall Ratchet being that much of a party hound, but it's been a while since I've seen the series. Clearly the "tragic encounters with Megatron" are indicative of his comic book mishaps. His power rankings are as follows. He gets a 10 in Skill -- good thing for a medic to have -- an 8 in Intelligence and Courage, 7 in Rank, 5 in Endurance, 4 in Strength and Speed, and 3 in Fireblast.
So, what's my final word here? Okay, in vehicle mode, this is one weird Transformer. The basic shape of the vehicle is fine, but the division lines are exceptionally strange. In robot mode, he's fine. He's got quite a bit of himself hanging off his back, but he's hardly the only Classics/Universe Transformer to have this attribute. He certainly looks like Ratchet, and as such is a valuable addition to the collection.
I do have strong reason to believe that the Universe line will be disappearing, much as the Classics unfortunately did, with the arrival of the sequel live-action movie. While I wish that movie well, it is also my hope that once it and its toys have run their course, that we'll see the Universe Classics return once again. There's still plenty of Generation One to cover, as well as other characters from throughout the history of Transformers.
Meanwhile, try to look up Ratchet. He's cool, and an impressive addition to the line, and certainly a well-established character in the world of Transformers. The TRANSFORMERS UNIVERSE 25th ANNIVERSARY AUTOBOT RATCHET definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!