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By Thomas Wheeler

One of the cool and most impressive aspects of the TRANSFORMERS CYBERTRON line is its scope and variety. It's a huge toy line, with an amazing variety of characters and toys within it.

The Transformers Cybertron line isn't shy about using beasts, as well as the more traditional vehicles and weapons, as the non-robot mode for their characters. Although generally not quite as animalistic in appearance as the original Beast Wars (which itself got more robotic with the development of TransMetals and the like), the "robo-animal" forms of some of these characters are often really quite impressive.

And it makes sense within the concept, since there are a number of planets involved within the Cybertron storyline, including some in which an animal form is simply more practical and appropriate. Hardly surprisingly, the Decepticon Undermine is assigned to the Jungle Planet.

Undermine is a fairly small Transformer, but he doesn't look like one you'd want to be on the wrong side of. Given that he's a Decepticon, it's unlikely that he HAS much of a right side, and that probably only adds to his viciousness. In animal form, which is how he comes packaged, Undermine is a small dinosaur. The species is rather indeterminate, nor is it specifically stated on his packaging. However, one would have to say that he looks like a velociraptor with the jawline of a tyrannosaurus, and the clubbing tail of an ankylosaurus. The huge fin on his back is a little inexplicable, although in his animal mode it snaps out as a "ramming blade" with the use of the figure's Cyber Planet Key, a neat little feature with Transformers in the Cybertron line.

The articulation of Undermine in his animal form is really very impressive. The head moves and the jaw opens, his arms move at the elbow, but it is his legs and tail that are especially impressive. The legs each have four distinct points of articulation -- the tail has three.

Curiously, in robot mode, Undermine doesn't really look all that impressive. It's as though Takara or Hasbro designed a really cool robotic dinosaur, and then had trouble figuring out how to turn it into a humanoid robot. His lower legs straighten, his dino head becomes a pair of arms with pincer-like claws, his dino arms remain active as, essentially, a second pair of smaller arms, and the fin on his back effectively becomes his head. The end result honestly looks like a barely humanoid robot wearing part of a robotic angelfish on its head. Very weird. Really, Undermine looks a lot better in dinosaur mode.

Which, one sort of gets the impression, he probably prefers, given his file card, which reads as follows: UNDERMINE - Cruel and predatory, Undermine serves as a scout and spy for Scourge, unquestioned ruler of the Jungle Planet. He enjoys hunting, and will often toy with his prey before moving in to rip out its power source with his powerful fangs. Silent, cunning, and all but impossible to sneak up on, Undermine is possibly the greatest hunter the universe has ever seen. The only reason you haven't heard about him before now is that none of his prey have lived long enough to talk about it.

Oddball robot form notwithstanding. Undermine is a very cool Transformer, and I definitely recommend him as such. And it's interesting to note that given his size in beast form, about 6" from nose to extended tail. he's about the same size as some actual special of predatory raptor-like dinosaurs, if you put him in with 3-3/4" - 4" scale action figures. So if you wanted to, Undermine could probably have some fun with your G.I. Joes.

One of the more extensive branches of toys within the line these days is the Mini-Con Class. Although they do bear the logo of the Mini-Cons, they also have either the Autobot or Decepticon logos, and they are somewhat larger and a bit more complex. These toys are generally sold in two-packs, and usually include one Autobot and one Decepticon that have a grudge against each other. And one particular set caught my eye recently.

It was a two pack with an Autobot named TANKOR and a Decepticon called SHOCKWAVE. Now the name Tankor does have some history in the world of Transformers. It was a name first introduced and applied to one of the Vehicons, the bad guys, in Transformers Beast Machines. It was also more recently used for one of the K*B Exclusive Railbots in the Transformers Universe lines. But it was Shockwave that really caught my attention.

And it caught my attention with, "When did they get THIS name back to use as a trademarked character?"

You may recall a certain Transformer in the Alternators line called SHOCKBLAST. Hasbro wasn't kidding anybody with this. Between that distinctive cyclopean head, the replacement of one hand with a transparent barrel to a laser gun, and the fact that the toy's license plate read "SHKWAV", this wasn't fooling anybody. This was the Alternator version of Shockwave, one of the more legendary Decepticons, even if in his original form he was a massive space gun in his non-robotic mode, not a Mazda RX-8.

Not that the name Shockblast hadn't turned up before. It had, in the main Transformers line that year, but really, even that toy wasn't fooling anyone. It had the same Shockwave head, and even a largely purple color scheme -- although mixed with the weird green they shouldn't've bothered to call him Shockblast. But any longtime fan of Transformers knew perfectly well who either of these robots named "Shockblast" was really supposed to be. It was just that Hasbro couldn't "legally" use it.

Somewhere in the past year or so, apparently Hasbro regained the legal use of the name "Shockwave" for the Transformers line. And here is where it has been put to use. Now, I'll admit that there's little resemblance between this Shockwave and any of his predecessors, "Wave" or "Blast". But he's still a cool Transformer. What we have here is a tiny SR-71 Blackbird, admittedly slightly modified to accommodate the robot structure, which isn't easy when you're an SR-71 Blackbird that's all of three inches in length. These things earn their name "Mini-Con", believe me. There's a tiny little Decepticon logo on one of his tail fins.

Shockwave's file card on the back of the package reads as follows: "With the departure from Earth of the Autobots and Decepticons, Shockwave and the Sky Attack Team found themselves free to pursue their own interests. Shockwave has spent the last decade hiding among the armed forces of dictators and tyrants around the world, signging on with whoever is likely to give him the most opportunity to rain fire down on helpless soldiers and civilians. There's nothing Shockwave loves more than to see a huge column of oily black smoke rising from the center of a populated area, and know that it was his bombs that lit the fires."

Nice guy...

Then we have TANKOR. He lives up to his name, in that he's a missile carrier tank. His main body is a sort of dark orange with black camouflage markings on them. He just barely misses out on qualifying for the G.I. Joe Tiger Force with this design. Tankor has free-rolling wheels underneath his treads, and the missile racks on top of the tank are of the type that snap into place and then fire when pressed from behind. Tankor has a small Autobot logo on his rear fender.

Tanjor's file card reads as follows: "After the Unicron Battles, many Mini-Con robots chose to remain on Earth, in hiding and separate from the ongoing conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons. Tankor, with his teammates on the Air Defense Team, his among the armed forces of Earth so that they could protect the humans from Shockwave and the Sky Attack Team. The desire to protect human life is nearly an obsession for Tankor; he exists solely to prevent the damage inflicted by Shockwave and his aerial companions. The return of the Transformers to Earth has forced them once again to take sides in a larger conflict."

I have to say I'm truly pleased to see this sort of attention being paid to character profiles once again, even on these smallest of Transformers.

Which brings me to one other point about the packaging. Although the front card on the inside of the plastic "bubble" clearly shows the Autobot and Decepticon logos, the logo on the main card behind the packaged characters is that of the Mini-Cons. They still exist sort of as a separate entity, but also with more clearly delineated allegiances than before.

These toys are small, but extremely well-made. In a time when "quality control" is becoming increasingly elusive, paint jobs are getting sloppier, and it seems that hardly anyone in charge even cares, I'm truly pleased to see that Transformers is still maintaining a good level of quality. These toys are well-designed, well-assembled, properly and neatly painted, and often amazingly detailed, especially ones like these, as small as they are. Both Shockwave and Tankor have a tiny Mini-Con logo embossed on them in robot mode, and Shockwave, notable, has two different colors of paint SPRAYED THROUGH A PROPER STENCIL onto his head, which is about half the size of my smallest fingernail. THAT'S how toys should be treated!

There's a very wide range of Mini-Cons to choose from. This particular set caught my eye because I've always liked the SR-71 Blackbird as a real-world aircraft, and because of the return of the name "Shockwave". That's not in any way to put down Tankor. He's cool, too, and this particular set of Mini-Cons gets my definite recommendation, along with the entire TRANSFORMERS CYBERTRON line, really. You can't go wrong with any of these.