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REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS WHEELJACK
By Thomas Wheeler

Take a race of sentient, transforming robots. Start a war between two factions, the Autobots and Decepticons. Let's face it -- these guys are going to get hurt. Now, what are they going to need -- a doctor or a mechanic?

Well, how about both? In the early days of the Transformers, I've always tended to feel that the Autobots, at least, had the services of both a medic -- albeit a mechanical one -- and a full mechanic with more than a flair for the inventive.

The former -- the medic -- was Ratchet. He certainly looked the part. He transformed into an ambulance, for one thing.

The latter -- the mechanic, the one that could not only patch together wounded Autobots, but keep all of the various equipment functioning throughout the Autobots' headquarters, and come up with new and interesting machines to try to help win the war -- was WHEELJACK. Granted, he didn't really look the part. He transformed into a sports car. But if you needed some serious repair -- or better -- some serious upgrading, here was the Autobot you wanted.

Now, I have all the respect in the world for the classic Transformers, known as "Generation One". The characters are superb, I loved the cartoon, enjoyed the comic book and I firmly believe that these are the best Transformers of all time -- and the best concept within Transformers (with Beast Wars a close second). However, the original toys had one major fallacy in my opinion. In their robot modes, they weren't especially well articulated. Most of them could do little more than stand around. They could move their arms, maybe their heads, fire a spring-loaded missile -- that was about it. Honestly, to me, it was a distinct disappointment, after seeing these characters in their action-based stories in the comics and animated series.

Over the years, largely starting with the aforementioned Beast Wars, the Transformers started picking up greater levels of articulation. I was pleased, but I really wished that there was a way that the original, Generation One Transformers could benefit from this enhanced design. Obviously I wasn't the only person thought this, because several years ago, the Transformers world was introduced to TRANSFORMERS CLASSICS. These were Generation One characters, in new and modern modes, looking as much as possible like their classic incarnations, but now, their robot modes had a full range of motion!

It was precisely what I wanted, precisely what I thought was needed, and I very happily collected them and brought them into my home. The line has continued to endure, changing its name a couple of times, wending its way around the live-action movies and at least one animated series, and has given nods to a couple of other Transformers concepts, working in a few faces from Beast Wars and one more recent series, but it has, thankfully, endured, and I hope it continues to do so. And one of the most recent editions in what is now known as TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS is one of the most classic, earliest Autobots -- WHEELJACK!

Let's consider the background of this character, before we get into the toy:

Some online research describes Wheeljack as the mechanical engineer and scientist of the Autobots. Wheeljack is viewed as the mad scientist of the Autobot forces as he is always inventing new weapons and gadgets. These weapons and gadgets, while derived from the desire to benefit the Autobot cause, often bring great danger and introduce unpredictable elements into critical situations. He is the most accomplished driver -- while in car mode -- among the Autobots and enjoys displaying his skill level through various road stunts. Wheeljack possesses the ability to fly for relatively short distances (800 miles) using solid-fuel rockets in his arms. From his shoulder mounted cannons, Wheeljack can shoot magnetic inducer, shrapnel-needle, and gyro-inhibitor shells which can disrupt a target's sense of balance. He is often his own worst enemy due to the explosive and potentially damaging nature of his experiments.

In the original comics series, Wheeljack was one of the original Autobot Transformers, making his first appearance in issue 1 of the original Marvel Comics Transformers series. In the initial four issue limited series produced by Marvel, Wheeljack was part of Prime's elite crew that crash landed on Earth. Wheeljack existed as more of a background character through much of the series, with an early co-starring role in issue #9 when he & Jazz went to negotiate with G. B. Blackrock and battled Starscream, Frenzy and Circuit Breaker.

In issue #32, titled "Used Autobots", Wheeljack completed work on his Geothermal Generator, which used the heat from the volcano the Ark had crashed in to generate energon cubes. Although Wheeljack thought this would impress Grimlock by reducing their dependence on human help, Grimlock seemed to think the Autobots should just take what they need from the humans.

In issue #36, Wheeljack called his old friend Sky Lynx for help in order to save a group of human kids from Grimlock. Grimlock attempted to use the children as blackmail against Blaster, who was defecting from the Autobots. Shortly after, Wheeljack was severely injured in a Decepticon attack in issue 41. He and many other Autobots were later revived by Grimlock using "Nucleon" in issue 75 and hesitant to advise battling against Unicron in their recently revived state.

(Nucleon was the substance that gave the Transformers greater energy, but also froze them in robot forms, which was the explanation for the Action Masters segment of the original toy line. Wheeljack was a part of this.)

Wheeljack met another end at the hands of the Decepticons in issue 80, but was restored by the "Last Autobot". He appeared sporadically as part of the Autobot forces in the Generation 2 comic.

In the original animated series, Wheeljack, who was voiced by Chris Latta (but he didn't sound a thing like Cobra Commander or Starscream, which is certainly testament to Mr. Latta's talents), was the first Transformer ever shown in the Generation 1 cartoon series. Also, his is one of the few Cybertronian vehicle forms shown - in his case, a boxy van-like vehicle. His robot form is distinguished by large panels on either side of his head that light up when he speaks. In most episodes, he was seldom seen at the front lines in battle - but he was often fundamental to the plot. He, and the Autobot medic Ratchet (occasionally in cooperation with the human Sparkplug Witwicky), were often shown working together creating various devices, weaponry, and even additional Autobots. Often, these devices were sought and sometimes obtained by the Decepticons and used against the Autobots. In the episode "The Immobilizer", he created a device capable of "immobilizing" anything and Decepticon forces were able to capture and use the device against the Autobots.

Wheeljack was the primary architect of the Dinobots, although they rarely seemed to have any particular affinity for him. Along with Ratchet and others he also helped to create the Aerialbots out of old Cybertronian shuttles. As the series progressed, Wheeljack's responsibilities were increasingly taken on by the Autobot scientist Perceptor.

In The Transformers: The Movie, set in the year 2005, Wheeljack was assigned to Autobot City on Earth. Wheeljack was presumed killed in the invasion of Autobot City by Megatron's forces, and his injured or possibly deceased body is dragged to cover by Arcee. According to storyboards of un-made scenes he tried to help Mirage but was blasted several times by Thundercracker and Megatron along with Windcharger. In the same storyboards, it is Smokescreen, not Wheeljack, who lies dead, and Wheeljack himself can be seen alive during Devastator's attack.

In the Dreamwave Comics continuity, Wheeljack was a scientist turned soldier on Cybertron at the dawn of the Autobot and Decepticon civil war. He was under Grimlock's command during the disastrous battle of Altihex and once again in a mission to rescue Optimus Prime in Cybertron's depths. When Megatron and Optimus disappeared in an accident with a space bridge, the Autobot and Decepticon forces splintered into smaller factions, and Wheeljack joined Grimlock's command once more in the Lightning Strike Coalition.

Wheeljack was among the Autobots commanded by Optimus Prime in the Ark mission, crashing deactivated on Earth and reawakening in Earth forms in 1984. Following initial Decepticon defeat and the explosion of the Ark II, the Autobots were deactivated and lost in the ocean. Wheeljack was among those reactivated by Optimus in 2002 and was part of a small task force led by Jazz assigned to stop the spread of Megatron's deadly metal virus in the Canadian Northwest territories. Wheeljack was temporarily deactivated once more, using all his power to neutralise the virus.

When a Cybertronian task force came to arrest the Earth-bound Transformers in 2003, Wheeljack was once more placed under Jazz's command was one of the few Autobots left on Earth to guard the Ark. Later in the year, Starscream and the Combaticons launched a vicious assault that left Wheeljack deactivated. He was retrieved and repaired by the Earth Defense Command, and later rejoined the other Autobots to be shown the site of construction for the new Autobot City.

In IDW Publishing's Transformers series, Wheeljack started out as part of an infiltration unit consisting of Ratchet, Ironhide, Jazz, Bumblebee and Sunstreaker, led by Prowl. He has not played a major role thus far, other than to accompany the other Autobots to the Decepticon base to watch the duel between Megatron and a super-powered Starscream.

Wheeljack also had a very prominent role in the first Devil's Due G.I. Joe vs. Transformers mini-series. Along with Bumblebee, he was one of few Autobots not taken captive by Cobra Commander, and was the first to make contact with the G.I. Joe team.

So, how's the toy? Excellent. In large part, it's recolored and somewhat reworked from another fairly recent addition to the Classics/Generations line, Tracks, who is also a well-known Autobot (see separate review). However, if nothing else, there's enough color differences between the two to make the similarities almost negligible, and they certainly have entirely different heads. Additionally, in car mode, Wheeljack has a spoiler in the back that Tracks does not, and Wheeljack also has a more extended and angular front end.

Tracks is mostly dark blue. Wheeljack is mostly white. In his car mode, which is how he comes packaged, he is a fancy-looking sports car, about 5-3/4" in length, mostly white, with some green striping on his sides, and green and red striping on his hood, and over the top of the car. This is entirely in keeping with Wheeljack's original color scheme.

To me, there's something about the color scheme that makes Wheeljack look like he was based on a foreign sports car of some sort, which wouldn't be at all surprising. White, red, and green aren't exactly an American combo. He's still very sleek and stylish, and has the Autobot emblem on the roof of his car mode.

Most of his windows are a dark clear in color, although some in the back have been painted a dark very metallic gray, and he has some dark metallic gray on his front grill, and another area of trim on the back. His headlights are painted a bright silver, and his taillights are red.

Let's consider Wheeljack's transformation. I always try to provide a written explanation of a Transformers transformation when reviewing one of these, because I tend to feel that the strictly illustrated instructions don't always provide quite enough information. I'm not faulting anybody for this, really -- I just think that it's not the easiest thing in the world at time to decipher a two-dimensional illustration into a three-dimensional robot.

The first thing one needs to do is to remove the exhaust pipes or whatever they're supposed to be from the side of Wheeljack. This is easy enough right out of the package, since they're not initially attached. They clip on and are removed readily enough.

Next, flip back the rear of the car. Make sure the arms go with it to a point, but then flip the rear of the car, without the arms, all the way underneath the car, and flip out the dark gray panel that you will see once you have done so.

Now, extend the arms at the elbows, and remove the little missile launcher that's in the underside of the roof of the car.

Next, slide the front of the car forward just a bit, rotate the doors outward to the sides, and rotate the wheels that are attached to the arms so that they are facing the underside of the vehicle. Be sure to rotate the wheels only! Not any part of the arms they're attached to. Then, rotate the arms at the upper arm swivel so that the elbow articulation is faced inwards.

After this, fold the arms outwards and down, and then push up on what was the roof of the car, and is now becoming the chest of the robot. This will also automatically bring the head up, and extend the arms the rest of the way out. Then rotate the tires around so they're facing front, and bring the car doors up so they look a little like wings behind the robot, and rotate the wing panels around.

Finally, separate the legs, lower the feet, and clip the rear of the car to the back of the robot using the tabs on the gray panel. There are also tabs on this gray panel where you can attach the removable missile launcher -- in fact a blaster -- or either of the other two devices which were removed earlier. And Wheeljack is complete!

So -- how's the robot? Extremely cool. A comparison with Tracks is inevitable, and what's surprising is the differences in robot mode, besides the obvious color scheme and head. Tracks' transformation required that the legs have their "car parts" rotated to the side. This isn't something that you do with Wheeljack. This also explains why his far front is more extended than Tracks. Unlike Tracks, the very front of Wheeljack's car mode becomes his feet! Wheeljack from the knees down is very different from Tracks, and I, for one, am impressed that the designers were able to accommodate this. These Transformers are complex enough as it is.

Additionally, the tips of Wheeljack's wings are different from Tracks. This was simply a matter of swapping in a different part, that fit, of course, but it's still interesting that they went to the trouble.

There's something about the different leg transformation that makes Wheeljack slightly shorter than Tracks, as well. That struck me as really strange. Tracks is slightly over 5" in height in his robot mode -- to the top of his head. Wheeljack is slightly under 5" in height, and overall, standing the two side to side, they look quite different. I'm impressed.

On his own, Wheeljack is a very capable modern rendition of the character. Wheeljack always had one of the more unusual head designs of the early Autobots. He had this ridged carapace over his mouth, and these panels on the sides of his head that looked like large ears as much as anything. They also tended, in the animated series, to glow blue when he spoke, which was certainly an unusual feature.

The back of Wheeljack's head has been molded in clear plastic. This is a feature given to quite a few of these Transformers, in order to make them look like their eyes are glowing when their heads are struck by a light source from behind. In Wheeljack's case, it works reasonably well. However, his "ears" are also molded in clear plastic, but poking out to the sides of his head the way they do, they don't really reflect the might quite as well.

In robot mode, Wheeljack has a mostly white upper body, although his head is black and silver, and his lower arms are black. His upper legs are dark gray, and his lower legs, comprised of the former front of the car, are white with green and red trim. The backs of his legs are black and dark gray. The interiors of his "wings" are bright silver.

Of course, Wheeljack is superbly articulated -- one of the things I really like about this line. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, knees (including a swivel), and ankles -- sort of, although that's more part of the transformation.

The character profile on his package card reads as follows: Wheeljack is a brilliant risk taker, both in his lab and on the road. His inventions are both the cause of and solution to many problems as he pushes the boundaries of science and engineering for the next big thing. Due to the daring nature of his experiments, his lab needs to remain isolated, mostly because it blows up on a regular basis.

Wheeljack's various power rankings give him a "10" in Skill, "9" in Intelligence and Courage, "8" in Rank and Speed, "6" in Endurance, "5" in Fireblast, and "4" in Strength. I'd expect his Endurance to be higher, but maybe his Speed can get him out of his lab before it goes blows up.

So, what's my final word here? I'm sincerely pleased to see a prominent character like Wheeljack finally take his place among the Classics. He's well done and certainly looks like the character. It is also my hope that once the most recent movie line has run its course, that the Classics-Generations line will return. There's still plenty of classic Autobots and Decepticons out there that could use a modern edition like this.

In the meantime, WHEELJACK from the TRANSFORMERS GENERATIONS line definitely has my highest recommendation!