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By Thomas Wheeler

Finally, some new Transformers ALTERNATORS started turning up in early September, but they still remain in pretty short supply. Generally speaking, as one might expect, the newcomers tend to pop up and evaporate almost as soon as they hit the shelves, leaving behind whatever specimens of the two initial releases, Smokescreen and Side Swipe, might remain.

That's not to put down Smokescreen and Side Swipe. They're excellent Transformers. It's just that those who want them the most already have them at this point.

So let's turn to one of the three newcomers. His name is DEAD END, and he's the first Decepticon to enter into the ALTERNATORS world.

This is understandable, in a way, that the line predominantly features Autobots. After all, the Alternators like is based on real-life licensed cars, and uses character names that tend to go back to the earliest days of the Generation One Transformers, which remain the most popular Transformers concept of all.

And in Generation One, the bulk of the earliest Autobots were automotive vehicles of one sort or another. By contrast, the Decepticons were a little more diverse, tending to be weapons or aircraft (and a certain well-known tape player named Soundwave).

While it might be cool to see Hasbro and Takara issue a 1:24 scale fighter jet so we could get Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker (and maybe Sunstorm?) into the line, such a plane would be massively larger (and massively more expensive) than the car-based Alternators -- so I don't look for it to happen.

Fortunately, as the Generation One Transformers proceeded into subsequent years, both sides found it useful to incorporate new members that could meet their enemies on their own turf. For the Decepticons, that meant automobiles.

The first automotive Decepticons were a "Combiner" team called the Stunticons, a group of high performance vehicles (and one large truck) that for a time, did a pretty good job running rings around the Autobots and generally making the highways unsafe for anyone in a fifty mile radius. They could also combine into one form, a huge robot known as MENASOR.

DEAD END was one of these Stunticons. Of course, within the Alternators line, he's on his own.

Dead End is a Dodge Viper, and largely comes from the same set of molds as Side Swipe. There is reason to believe that this second Viper car was originally going to be an Autobot named SUNSTREAKER, another name from the early days of Transformers, and technically Sideswipe's "brother", so really, it would have been a more appropriate use of the Viper molds. However, some portion of the licensing agreement between the toy companies and the car companies allowed Dodge to say that they weren't too crazy about a yellow Viper, which Sunstreaker would have been.

Some of those dispute points have more recently been ironed out. Hence, a forthcoming Alternator named TRACKS, based on a Corvette, will in fact be blue, rather than the initial yellow, even though the original Tracks character was blue. Whether this will mean that we'll eventually see a yellow Viper named Sunstreaker, I don't know. I certainly hope so.

Meanwhile, we have a black Viper named DEAD END. There are, however, some distinct differences between Dead End and Side Swipe.

Most notable is the fact that in car mode, Side Swipe is a convertible, with the top down. Dead End is not. Interestingly, this doesn't seem to have had a significant impact on the overall transformation.

Of course, there's also a different head sculpt. I've heard several people comment that the head sculpt looks a lot like what one might expect Sunstreaker to look like, and they're right. One of the few G1 Transformers I still own is of Sunstreaker, and comparing his head to the Alternators' Dead End -- it's a dead on match except for the colors. About the only difference is that the "vents" or whatever they are on the side of the head are wider on the original than on the Alternator. Other than that, there's no question about it. This was meant to be Sunstreaker.

The colors were changed for Dead End, but otherwise, the design is precisely the same. Of course this means that if Hasbro ever does decide to do an Alternators Sunstreaker, they'd have to use the same head sculpt. I suspect this may diminish the likelihood of it happening, but I hope I'm wrong.

Transformation-wise, the Alternators are not that easy, but I think after Smokescreen and Side Swipe I'm starting to get used to them a bit. These Transformers come packaged in their car forms, and I prefer to display them in their robot form. Also, as far as I'm concerned, once they're in their robot forms, they're staying that way. Dead End took me about twenty minutes, based on a rough estimate. I wasn't timing myself.

About the only negative comment I would have about the figure's appearance is the somewhat narrow lower legs and feet. Given that the Transformers have their roots in Japanese animé, not to mention the appearance of their original versions, one tends to expect rather large and thick lower legs. But neither Dead End nor, obviously, Side Swipe have these. The end result is -- a little odd-looking.

That's not really a complaint. I don't even want to think about what sort of imaginative engineering it took to take a real-life car, turn it into an effective 1:24 scale toy, in which most of the parts (doors, hood, trunk, seats) all move, and then on top of that incorporate into it the ability to transform into a humanoid robot, that is very well detailed and also highly articulated, generally far more articulated than the originals. If a little bit of "traditional animé appearance" has to take a back seat (no pun intended) in order to pull that off, I'll live with it.

There's a wide range of Transformers-brand toys available these days. Energon, Universe, G1-remakes at Toys "R" Us. But for me, I think the Alternators are the top of the heap. They're cool cars, they're cool robots. I hope it's a line that continues for a long time to come. And I certainly recommend DEAD END!