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By Thomas Wheeler

The Playmates toy company has had, it's fair to say, three major action figure hits since the late 1980's. First off would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which have become for Playmates what G.I. Joe and Transformers are for Hasbro. The Turtles have spent close to 20 years as part of the action figure world to one degree or another. Next would be Star Trek. Throughout the 1990's, Playmates presented figures in 5", 9", and even 12" scale, of the best of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager. Unfortunately, they didn't get Star Trek: Enterprise. Playmates' third major action figure hit would likely be Exo-Squad, an amazing action figure line based on an equally amazing animated series from the mid-1990's -- that I wish MCA would get around to releasing on DVD...

It's not easy to launch a new action figure line these days. Action figures in general are not as popular as they once were. And unless you've got some serious media attention backing you up -- animated series, movie, decades of history, whatever -- you probably don't stand much of a chance.

I'm really hoping that Playmates' newest action figure line, R.E.V.s, which turned up near here literally the day after Christmas, is an exception to that. Because it deserves to succeed, and succeed well.

I can certainly see the appeal. Playmates has carried out a stroke of genius here. Hopefully it will pay off in sales of these toys. What you have here with R.E.V.s is a not overly-complicated concept, but then this toy line doesn't really need one, because it has aspects to it that have every reason to appeal to fans of G.I .Joe, Transformers, Bionicle, and even M.A.S.K. I'd even go so far as to throw in Star Wars. Heck, these things are "droids" after a fashion, and there's a vague resemblance to the Trade Federation's Battle Droids here. That's a pretty danged impressive cross-section of the toy world to manage to appeal to!

So what's the background concept to R.E.V.s? Well, first of all, that abbreviation stands for "Radically Engineered Vehicles". It's a bit of a misnomer, since really, the figure included is a robot, not a vehicle. But it does make some sense from the standpoint of the overall toy concept, which I will get around to explaining. The description on the back of the package reads as follows:

Determined to stop R.E.V. project director Lucien Malik and his evil R.E.V. squad - The Syndicate, the noble Mavwrecks fight for their (and
our) very survival! Built for covert urban combat, these 'bots don't stop until the other is scrap. Join the Mavwreck Global Revolution, and make evil wish it had never fought on four wheels!

Granted, the description doesn't go into any great detail about who Lucien Malik is, what he really wants or where these robots came from in the first place, or for that matter who constructed the good guys. In fairness, a lot of these questions might be answered on the CD-Rom "Comic Book" that is included with the toy.

Playmates has designed a toy line that I think is a sheer stroke of genius with regard to one aspect in particular here -- the varying scales of the robots themselves. They're not all the same size. Now, honestly, there's not a lot of lines that can get away with this. In fact the only other one I can think of that can is another robot line -- Transformers. All other action figure lines have to stick within their given scales. G.I. Joe has to keep its figures around 3-3/4" in height -- or 8" in the case of Sigma Six. There's some variance there in Sigma Six, but let's face it, Heavy Duty is a big guy and Tunnel Rat is a bit of a runt anyway. And Destro's always been taller than most. Power Rangers tends to stay in the 5-6" range. Street Fighter might seem a little variable, but let's face it, Sakura's not exactly a powerhouse, and characters like Blanka and T.Hawk are. And you're still going to get figures that are at least within a few inches of each other.

R.E.V.s has created four very specific scales of figures, interestingly fairly closely based on prominent existing scales of other action figure lines, so there's really something here for everybody. This also allows for a wide range of price points, so that if you're on a budget, you can at least probably get the smallest ones, and if you have a bit more disposable income, you can bring the big guys home, or save up for them.

The smallest figures are classified in the category ROARING THUNDER, and it is one of these that I'll specifically review momentarily. These figures stand about 4" in height. Next are the MARAUDERS, which are about 5-1/2". They're followed by the STREET STRIKERS, which look to be around 7-8" (I haven't actually taken a ruler to them in the store). Finally there are the two big ones, listed as ARSENAL ATTACK, and they look to be in the 10-12" height range. And yet for all the size variance, there appears to be a fairly consistent design to all of the robots.

And arguably here, if you want to use R.E.V.s with some other action figure line you're collecting, there's a good chance of finding a robot that'll look good doing so.

I saw these figures and thought the design was cool, and so was the packaging. But I really didn't want to start in on another toy line. Then I started reading all of these rave reviews online. So, I decided to pick one up. Okay -- I'm hooked. I'm seriously going to have to do something about my income situation, because I definitely want more of these toys.

And I don't impress easily. I can walk an action figure aisle and pretty easily overlook most of the merchandise. I may enjoy watching professional wrestling, but, as well-made as they are, I've never felt a need to bring any of Jakks Pacific's WWE toys into my collection. I've never watched Naruto, Avatar, or most of the other animated series that seem to have a lot of space dedicated to them in the action figure aisle, so those won't be coming home with me, either. The toys look well made, but I just have no interest.

But R.E.V.s? I think Playmates is seriously on to something here, and I really hope it does well. Interestingly, they're stocking them in the same section as Hot Wheels and other vehicular toys. That's a little odd, but it's not entirely inappropriate.

As I said, R.E.V.s stands for Radically Engineered Vehicles. And each robot comes with a vehicle. I picked up one of the smallest ones, named STEELRAIN. Let's consider him, shall we?

Steelrain is a robot standing about 4" in height. The robots in this line, regardless of size, seem to have a similar design, and obviously in the same size range even tend to use the same parts, except for a few head variances. Okay, that's not a big deal to me. In a way, it makes sense, and they're all painted different colors. It's not like there aren't other popular toy lines out there that don't swap parts (Power Rangers) a lot.

To me, these robots look like a cross between something from Bionicle, and the Trade Federation's Battle Droids from Star Wars. They have almost ridiculously small heads, fairly bulky torsos that taper to very narrow waists, slender limbs that get a little bulkier towards the hands and feet, and there's quite a bit of mechanized detail sculpted into the figure.

Articulation on Steelrain is excellent. This robot moves at the head, neck, arms (forward, backward, and outward), elbows, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. The arms are sculpted in such a way that the elbows don't even need to be double-jointed for the figure to be able to bring his lower arms much further up than the approximate 90-degree angle that most single elbow joints are capable of. One of the advantages of being a robot that doesn't have to precisely conform to human proportions.

Steelrain is almost entirely a medium blue in color. Let's say he's slightly darker than a classic Cobra Commander figure, but in that same color type. Steelrain is one of the bad guys, and has the Syndicate symbol on his chest. Curiously, it's turned sideways from how that symbol is presented on the package and in the catalog info. But, in fairness, it's a weird sort of symbol that could easily go sideways without anyone noticing, and maybe that's just how he likes it. Even the prototype toy pictured on the back of the package has it like this.

Now we get to the main gimmick of the R.E.V.s. As I said, each one comes with a vehicle. In Steelrain's case, this is a small aircraft. But it's too small for him to ride in. But that's all right, because that's not what it's there for. While the aircraft is in itself a complete vehicle, it's really designed to be taken apart and used by Steelrain as armor! Here is where I really see the "Bionicle" connection.

On its own, the aircraft is about 5-1/4" in length, and looks a lot like a stealth fighter with some extra tail work. It's mostly grey, with a transparent blue canopy, and yellow and red trim. It's landing gear wheels all actually roll, and overall, it's an extremely well-made little aircraft. There's also a spring-loaded weapon included, that fires a missile. This can either be attached to the aircraft or used by Steelrain himself.

This toy is designed to be pretty versatile. There are holes molded (or drilled, I think, in a few places) into Steelrain, where the various components of the plane can be attached. While the illustrations on the back of his package show several fairly typical recommendations, including wearing the entire plane as a sort of backpack, or breaking it down to be worn as armor and using the underside with its wheeled landing gear as something like a skateboard, the consistent size of the holes and pegs would indicate that you could probably do just about anything you wanted to as long as it fit the figure.

I can appreciate this. If given to a child, this toy has a lot of potential for imagination and creativity behind it. It's one more reason I hope this line succeeds.

On a larger scale, it's also apparent that all of the toys in this line, regardless of robot size, are designed to be used and combined with each other. We're not exactly talking Devastator from Transformers here, though. A couple of the combinations shown in other pictures here look more like Robot Fright Night.

One other nice aspect of these toys. Like many action figure lines these days, Steelrain has a file card outlining his personality. G.I. Joe started this in 1982, and I've always appreciated it. So here's Steelrain's:


Slithery, after-burnin' amateur!

Roaring Thunder: Series One

Known for the chip on his shoulder, Steelrain is one Syndicate-minded 'bot that redefines "flying the friendly skies". A relatively new model, this jet-engine rookie often tries to prove himself by taking unnecessary risks, putting himself and his teammates in danger. Being a bit of a loose cannon, Anarkist knows to keep this hothead away from the others and in the skies where he belongs.

Anarkist, by the way, is the name of the Syndicate leader robot. He's one of the really BIG ones, and as of this writing, I haven't even seen him in the stores.

A friend of mine told me that these toys were actually shown at the 2006 Toy Fair, but are just now hitting the stores. I have to question the reason for the delay, but it wouldn't surprise me if it amounted to nothing more than the fact that this toy line doesn't have a cartoon show, movie, or video game backing it up. And that's a shame, because if nothing else, I think you could get a very decent animated series out of this.

But it's also a little worrisome, because without a major media tie-in, the recognition factor isn't going to be there, and unfortunately, the kids are more likely to go for something they've seen elsewhere. And that's a shame, because R.E.V.s is an extremely cool toy line that deserves to succeed in its introductory year, and have a nice, long, healthy run on the toy shelves.

I look forward to reviewing more of the R.E.V.s as I am able to add them to my collection, and any of them, including STEELRAIN, most certainly have my highest recommendation! If you've seen these in a store near you and are wondering if they're worth it, trust me, they are. Buy one. Buy several. You won't be sorry.