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By Thomas Wheeler

Let's talk about irony. Twelve years ago, Hasbro introduced the TRANSFORMERS ACTION MASTERS line. These were 3¾" action figures of popular Transformers characters, as well as a number of new faces. Established characters such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Starscream, Jazz, and Shockwave joined up with new characters like Rad, Axer, Kick-Off, Banzai-Tron, and others. I very much liked the figures. Many collectors at the time hated them, the big argument being that they didn't transform. That their accessories and vehicles did, and that the figures often bore a much closer resemblance to their animated counterparts than some of the toys (Megatron especially), seemed to escape the complainers.

Ultimately, the line has gained a fair measure of long-overdue respect. Part of this could be the massive conceptual overhauls Transformers has undergone in recent years -- from Beast Wars to Beast Machines to Robots in Disguise to Armada. People miss the chassic characters. And that may go a long way to explaining the popularity of the new Heroes of Cybertron line.

Introduced in Japan by Takara, original home of the Transformers, this line features PVC's -- small, limited-poseability figures of popular Transformers from what is called "Generation 1", the earliest years of the Transformers (and arguably the most popular). They were brought to the United States by Hasbro this year. Curiously, the toys are even less articulated than the old Action Masters line, and yet they're flying off the shelves whenever they're encountered.

The oddest quirk about these toys is their availability. You won't find them at Toys "R" Us, although rumor has it they may turn up there eventually. Nor do Wal-Mart or Target carry them. For whatever strange reason, the Heroes of Cybertron have been marketed to a select group of exclusive department stores and pharmacies. In Tucson, the only place you can find Heroes of Cybertron is in the limited but sometimes interesting toy section at Walgreens.

This isn't as much of a hardship as it seems. There are so many Walgreens in Tucson that their idea of home delivery is to toss your prescription out the window. If it's not already coming from the Walgreens nearest to you, then it'll surely hit the Walgreens next closest to the one where it originated, and continue to be passed along until it's on your doorstep. I can think of at least eight Walgreens in my immediate area just offhand, and I'm probably forgetting a few.

There are nine Heroes of Cybertron figures presently available. And although it took visiting every Walgreens on my side of Tucson, I was able to round up the whole lot. They include Optimus Prime, Megatron, Ultra Magnus, Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp, Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor, Powermaster Optimus Prime Spark Attack, and most interestingly, Arcee, a very popular female Autobot who has never had a figure derived precisely from her original design. There is also a character called Paradron Medic that is derived from Arcee.

How are the toys? Not bad. The likenesses are superb. But there's a few flaws. Sometimes it's difficult to find one with a really well-done paint job. I've got two sloppy Ultra Magnus figures here and I'm not entirely content with either one. They also tried to mold the heads in transparent plastic so that in the proper light it would like like their eyes glowed. Unfortunately, on most of the figures, the heads are so small that this just doesn't work, and only adds to the pant job problem. And a lot of parts get reused. Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker are all the same mold. This isn't too surprising, since they were the same mold in their original forms, but it's still noticable. The Apex Armor and Spark Attack Optimus Primes are the same mold, but the Spark Attack one is molded in a very cool transparent gold from head to toe, so I'm a little more inclined to excuse that one. And as I said, Arcee and the Paradron Medic are the same mold.

Articulation is very limited on these. They're more display pieces than toys. But if you accept that going in, then you can still get some very nice, and inexpensive representations of some very popular Transformers.

A second assortment is in the works, and should be available very soon. It is expected to include Rodimus Prime, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Soundwave, Ironhide, and Grimlock, interestingly in his dinosaur form rather than his robotic form. Granted, Grimlock is probably better known in the dinosaur form. And this assortment will also mean a lot less mold repetition.

But the news gets even more interesting. Hasbro is giving serious consideration to bringing over a line developed by Takara called "Mega PVC" Transformers. Standing a full five inches tall, these figures have outstanding articulation, as well as superb likenesses to the characters. I see these as essentially the return of Action Masters, only better. Or, if you prefer, picture some of the most popular Transformers characters, in their classic robotic forms, with the articulation and detail level of Gundams. Provided they don't try something stupid like battle-damaging or paint-wiping the figures, and assuming they're not pre-posed in any way, there's just no way to go wrong with a concept like that, and I anxiously look forward to them.

For those with even less patience than myself, you can get some of them already in their original Japanese packaging on online. Do a search under the phrase "Mega PVC" and see what turns up.

Overall, the Heroes of Cybertron line is not a bad collectible at all, and is a cool way to get some very nice small display pieces of popular characters from the early years of Transformers. And if they serve as a lead-in to what sounds like a very promising line with these "Mega PVC" figures, then so much the better. But even on their own, they're very cool, and any longtime Transformers fan will want them. I highly recommend them.