Last year, in the Donatello Christmas Tradition article, I noted my surprise at seeing children excited about receiving toys from the dollar store for Christmas. I was pretty welcoming of cheap toys as a kid -- I regularly made my own from newspaper and tape, and one of my favorite toys was a fake rubber Spider-Man that I got at a local fair -- but even I would've been disappointed if I found a dollar store item wrapped with my name on it under the tree on December 25th. Back in 1988, when dollar stores had real Madballs and licensed tiny Freddy Krueger dolls, $1 toys were bloody awesome, but the quality of these inexpensive toys has definitely gone downhill over the years. So while it's kind of neat that these kids were happy to receive even $1 figures for Christmas, I sort of wonder about the kids who don't mind the cheap things and accept them graciously, but who also appreciate the more detailed figures and want to have something a little neater in their collections as well.
Unfortunately, you won't find any legitimate Transformers figures in the aisles of Dollar Tree. You will, however, find Transformatrix toys, which are fairly obvious knockoffs of the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime. A pal of mine who happens to be a diehard Transformers fan saw these and described them as the worst-looking bootleg Primes he'd ever seen, but, personally, I think they look rather good. While his statement may be true -- most of the bootleg Transformers I've ever seen have obviously been based on existing molds of official TF figures -- this guy is still clearly identifiable as Optimus Prime even in his alternate color scheme, which is about all one can hope for in a bootleg toy. Also, there are two varieties of the figure: one that transforms into flat nose truck, whereas the other sports a conventional cab. The latter version (not pictured above, so use your imagination!) is decidedly less attractive, as Prime looks like he's sporting a noticeable beer gut when viewed from the side in robot mode. It certainly contributes to Prime's image as a rough-and-tumble trucker dude, especially since he turns into a truck, but it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his abilities as a wise and fearless commander!
Anyway, see the above image for a look at the color schemes on two of the flat nose versions. The most obvious color changes appear on the torso and head, but the limbs are also different shades of grey, silver, and black. And don't let the slight difference in scale fool you -- that's a function of the angle at which I took the images. The figures are the same size. In addition to the "light up action" feature advertised on the card, each figure also comes equipped with two weapons: a grenade launcher and a battle axe. The latter weapon seems kind of superfluous given the heat that Bootleg Prime is packing with the other, but I guess the axe would come in handy for chopping firewood in winter or hacking one's parents to death on a hot summer day. It's a multiseasonal tool.
For comparative purposes, here's an uncarded Transformatrix Prime next to a Cybertron Planet Deluxe Class Optimus Prime from the official Hasbro TF line. At 5.75", Bootleg Prime stands noticeably taller than his 5" counterpart -- and although the latter does admittedly look much cooler, it's important to note that, with a price tag of $8, he also cost eight times as much. Moreover, whereas Bootleg Prime came with two weapons, the only thing packaged with Deluxe Prime was a Cybertron planet key that, when plugged into his back and moved up and down, makes him wiggle his arms in the worst excuse for a "double punch attack" that I've ever seen on an action figure. Compare that to the Transformatrix figure's similarly useless but still somehow much cooler ability to light up at the press of a button on its torso, and you've got a figure that isn't an entirely unworthy substitute for the real thing, even if it is a cheap dollar store knockoff with a 15-cent red LED light embedded in its chest. (For those of you who recall the paper Daleks article, it's the same thing I used for their dome lights.) Hell, you can even change the batteries, which is virtually unheard of among dollar store toys, and he's got 13 points of articulation -- more than the vast majority of action figures on the market. Even the Cybertron Prime only has 12 (or 14, depending upon how you count them) articulation points in robot mode, though admittedly his range of motion makes him far more poseable than his knockoff counterpart. Nevertheless, Bootleg Prime is a winner.
This isn't to say that Bootleg Prime is without shortcomings, though. Some of these, like the fact that he's -- and the most drastic of them has to do with the figure's vehicle mode. While he looks trucklike enough, the problem lies in that whereas legitimate TF toys can change into cars and airplanes without needing to drop any parts, Bootleg Prime requires you to actually remove his head and arms in order to complete his truck transformation. This means that if a kid tries to store Bootleg Prime in vehicle mode, as I tend to do with my legitimate Prime, he could end up losing the robot's head -- and he'll be forced to rename the toy "Headless Prime" and have him chase his other action figures around while firing imaginary pumpkin-shaped grenades and hacking at their necks. Suddenly, I'm thinking that the toy's makers included the axe weapon for precisely this scenario.
Of course, the problem of storing the figure isn't the only difficulty that results from this design flaw. Suppose that Bootleg Prime or Optimus Prime are driving down the interstate when they happen upon Bootleg Godzilla about to seduce a rising young teen idol. Now, being a visitor from Japan, Bootleg Godzilla may not know that the age of consent in the United States is 18 years old -- a full five years older than the Japanese AoC. Whereas the legitimate Optimus Prime can transform right away and set Bootleg Godzilla straight on this matter, Bootleg Prime has to go back to the depot to pick up his head and arms before he can intervene -- and by the time he does that, poor Linda will already be knocked up (because bootleg or not, Godzilla never fires blanks) and nine months or less away from having her vagina torn apart as she gives birth to Bootleg Minya in a scene too horrific and gruesome to warrant further description in this article. ALL BECAUSE BOOTLEG PRIME'S VEHICLE MODE REQUIRES HIM TO LEAVE HIS ARMS AND HEAD ON THE SHELF.
All joking aside, though, I genuinely like the Transformatrix Optimus Prime knockoff. It may not be as attractive as the latest Hasbro TF releases or the other action figures in the Toys 'R' Us holiday catalogue, but with 13 points of articulation, two weapons, and the ability to transform into a truck (even if his mode of doing so does pale in comparison to his legitimate cousins' powers) -- and, for the easily amused, a light up feature -- this guy is definitely a great deal for a dollar. Snotty kids and purists who just have to have the real thing may not be too happy with Bootleg Prime, but other Transformers fans and robot lovers will find him to be a welcome and inexpensive addition to their collections. Now all the dollar store toy aisle needs is a Transformatrix Megatron! Even if one needs to remove certain parts to complete the transformation, a bootleg gun Megatron with a light up barrel would be freaking awesome. :D
By the way, from Scary-Crayon to you...