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By Thomas Wheeler

A new two-pack has been issued as a Target exclusive, featuring ULTRA MAGNUS and SKYWARP! Here's a review of the two characters in this special set:

ULTRA MAGNUS - First introduced in the animated Transformers movie, Ultra Magnus was clearly a longtime friend of Optimus Prime. More comfortable in the role of soldier than leader, Ultra Magnus was a stalwart warrior, a courageous and noble individual, and sincerely committed to the Autobot cause. And yet he was not destined to be leader. He could not open the Autobot Matrix, and leadership eventually passed to Hot Rod, subsequently known as Rodimus Prime. Ultra Magnus stuck by Rodimus' side, wanting to advise the young leader and share the wisdom that came with his experience as much as possible. Sometimes Rodimus was open to this, sometimes he wasn't.

Ultra Magnus, like Optimus, transformed into a large truck. In Magnus' case, this took on the form of a large car carrier. What neither the animated series nor the comic book made any real mention of at the time, and which one must assume only the toy owners knew, even if it went unexplained, was that toy-wise, Ultra Magnus WAS Optimus Prime. The basic Ultra Magnus toy was a recoloration of Optimus Prime, done predominantly in white. What altered Ultra Magnus' appearance in his robot form was additional armor that snapped onto him, which included a distinctly different chestplate and head. Since this was pretty much considered Magnus' "normal" form, and as such was used as his form for the animated series and his appearances in the comic book, the fact that Ultra Magnus, in unarmored toy form, was a dead ringer for Optimus Prime, was left unaddressed for years.

More recent Transformers comics HAVE made note of the resemblance, and have drawn an almost brotherly relationship between Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus as a result. Magnus has been clearly portrayed as being identical to Optimus Prime except in his coloration, until he adds the additional armor to his frame.

Hasbro has clearly decided to take advantage of this more widespread knowledge of the "true form" of Ultra Magnus in this Classics toy set, as the Ultra Magnus included as part of it is -- you guessed it -- a recolored Optimus Prime -- sans additional armor this time.

But, to be honest -- who cares? As Optimus or Magnus, this is an impressive toy, period. And frankly, if you happen to look that much like one of the most revered leaders in the history of Cybertron, I say go with the look (Nemesis Prime may disagree with me on that...)

Ultra Magnus is packaged in robot form -- thank goodness -- and stands about 6-3/4" in height -- a good size. As one would expect, the bulk of the toy is white, with blue "boots". The head is molded from a dark transparent blue plastic, and then painted, but the eyes are left exposed so that when light hits the figure from behind, it makes his eyes look like they're glowing. A lot of Transformers have this feature these days, and I think it's a nice touch.

Articulation is superb. As I have said in the past, my one gripe with the original Transformers is that in robot mode, they weren't very poseable. That problem has long been remedied, and Ultra Magnus is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, waist, legs, knees, and ankles -- with a fair amount of swivels along the way.

Paint work, while not extensive, is excellent. Most of the paintwork is on the two halves of the cab of the truck form, which were molded in dark transparent blue, for the sake of the windows, and were then painted white with some blue and silver trim. Superbly well done.

The temperature sensitive stickers that showed whether a character was an Autobot or Decepticon have returned with this Classics line, and of course Magnus has one of these on his truck cab. However, he also has standard imprinted Autobot logos, which are on his shoulders in robot form.

Transforming Magnus into truck mode isn't terribly difficult. The most amusing part of it in my opinion is that his weapon becomes the smokestacks of the truck. The truck mode of Magnus is a little fancy compared to the original Magnus or Optimus, but it's nothing all that implausible, either.

On the whole, I am extremely impressed with Ultra Magnus. Now let's consider...

SKYWARP - You know, once the molds were made to create Starscream for this newest line of Transformers, turning out Skywarp was pretty much a no-brainer. So are quite a few other Decepticons if they want to get around to them. So far, the only other one that's made it is Ramjet.

For those who don't know, when the Transformers were first introduced, there were three largely identical aircraft produced for the line. All Decepticons, they differed only in their color schemes, and were named Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp.

Of the three, Starscream became the best known, thanks largely to the animated series. Voiced by the shrieking tones of Chris "Cobra Commander" Latta, Starscream was an overly-ambitious, backstabbing reprobate who thought he had what it took to replace Megatron and one day lead the Decepticons.

He also had a more distinctive color scheme than the other two planes. Starscream was mostly white with significant red and some blue trim. Thundercracker and Skywarp were, respectively, blue and black, and purple and black.

The following year, three more planes joined the Decepticons, named Ramjet, Thrust, and Dirge. Toy-wise, they used the same basic plane body, but had differently-styled wings, and their heads were portrayed as being more cone-shaped. They never quite got the same air time as the first three.

A seventh robot, Sunstorm, has turned up in recent years, thanks largely to an extensive storyline in the comic book, and a special Japanese toy that was a remake using the original molds, this time colored bright yellow-orange.

Skywarp and Thundercracker were generally portrayed as little more than bullies and thugs, generally answering to either Megatron or Starscream. Their voices were rough, as were their attitudes. They had no apparent great ambitions other than to be given the opportunity to smash Autobots in battle.

So, Skywarp doesn't have a whole lot of personality. At least nothing terribly pleasant. That doesn't mean he isn't a cool toy.

Hasbro and Takara have come up with an excellent design that works well in both plane and robot mode. The figure looks like he should in both modes. The robot is highly articulated, poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, and knees. The overall design superbly reflects the appearance of Skywarp as he is familiar to longtime Transformers fans. In robot mode, he stands about 5-1/2" in height, which is fairly typical for most of the Classics Transformers.

The figure is mostly black, with a fair amount of purple trim, and some silver. The missile launchers attached to his arms are spring-loaded, and come equipped with two missiles, and can be detached.

Transformation isn't overly difficult, although as I learned with Starscream, spotting the rear landing gear is a little tricky. You have to fold out the circular areas on the upper chest.

It would be my sincere hope that Hasbro would use this set of molds to give us Skywarp, as well as Dirge, Thrust, and even Sunstorm. I don't know at this time if there are any such plans. Obviously all Transformers efforts are directed towards the forthcoming movie, which is to be expected. But beyond that, once the movie toys have run their course, I wouldn't mind at all if this "Classics" line returned, and we got some more Decepticon jets out of it. It's just too cool (and too obvious) NOT to do.

The characters do not have individual profiles on the back of the package, but there is some text to explain their basic duties, and rivalry. It reads as follows: "As commander of Autobot City on Earth, Ultra Magnus commands the most powerful forces ever assembled, of which he is among the greatest. He was given the honor of City Command by Optimus Prime because of his superior intelligence, and incredible might as a warrior. Since taking command he has defended the city against dozens of attacks by Decepticons led by the crafty Skywarp. For his part, Skywarp is determined to breach the city's defenses and destroy Ultra Magnus in order to prove himself to Megatron."

Let me add this about both Ultra Magnus and Skywarp, and the line in general. The overall workmanship is amazing. I honestly have trouble imagining what goes into creating one of these toys and making it work, but it's incredible. And in a day when I find myself wondering about the quality standards of quite a few toy lines, I've never had any significant cause for concern about this when it comes to Transformers. It is to Hasbro's and Tomy/Takara's credit that they maintain such high standards, and I pray they continue to do so.

On the whole, this is an immensely cool two-pack of Transformers. It's also a Target exclusive which I have heard is getting to be in short supply, and by the time this article sees print, it might well be gone. However, it shouldn't be impossible to track down through other sources if necessary. Transformers are always collectible. And this ULTRA MAGNUS & SKYWARP set definitely has my highest recommendation! These are two cool Transformers that you will certainly want in your collection!