And now, Scary-Crayon presents...
Street Blazers: 7'' DANTE Tractor Trailer
by: Wes

If the subject of today's review looks exceedingly familiar to you, do not be alarmed: folks who frequent the Dollar Tree toy aisles will recognize the Street Blazers vehicles almost immediately. Not because the line was released previously (as far as I know) or because all cars and trucks of a specific model look more or less alike, but rather because the Golden Wheel Die Casting Factory has been releasing these same vehicle molds for at least the past several years. Previous versions have sported everything from oil company logos to soft drink emblems, but aside from various paint, plastic, and sticker differences these are the exact same die-cast vehicles that have been available at the local Dollar Tree since I started shopping there. The size and shape of the packaging also gives away these vehicles' shared origins -- if you're lucky enough to visit a Dollar Tree when any of the various Golden Wheel lines overlap (just a few weeks ago the 7-Up trucks and trailers were still in stock), you'll notice that everything about the cards and bubbles is identical except for the artwork and logos unique to the respective series from which the vehicles hail.

CHOOSE YOUR RIDE. CHOOSE YOUR SIDE.

Yet while these tractor trailers have been around since time immemorial, I've never been drawn to them before. Sure, I've got a handful of trucks in my toy collection, but almost all of them -- okay, maybe just over half, but still -- transform into giant robots locked in an epic battle to determine the fate of Cybertron... and the universe at large. And it was actually that connection that moved me to pick up the above Street Blazers set, since I was able to find a Spy Changer Optimus Prime at Family Dollar a couple of weeks ago. Now, I'm not sure I've talked about it very much here on Scary-Crayon, but Prime without a trailer bothers me. A lot. I wrote above that almost half of the trucks in my collection do not transform -- that's because I've purchased at least four truck and trailer combos (the latest of which I acquired on the same day as mini-Prime) in vain attempts to hitch generic trailers to my Classics 2-pack Optimus Prime. In any case, the addition of another Prime to my collection necessitated that I find a trailer to go with him. Since I'd just missed the latest run of soda-themed trucks and trailers (and how cool would it have been if I'd grabbed a Pepsi one when I had the chance?!), I had to settle for one of the Street Blazers versions.

This isn't to say, however, that I wasn't intrigued by the Street Blazers products in spite of my general unwillingness to buy non-transforming vehicles without ulterior motives. In fact, I was particularly glad to come across mini-Prime, as I knew that he would give me a viable excuse to pick up one of these bad boys. Like I said, these molds have been all over Dollar Tree for the last few years -- so what really makes the Street Blazers so darned appealing is the new packaging. The description of them being "hot ridez" is kinda groan-inducing, but the text at the bottom -- CHOOSE YOUR RIDE. CHOOSE YOUR SIDE. -- suggests that, by purchasing one of these vehicles, you will in fact be making an ethical commitment to one of two opposing sides. It's totally interactive, and folks with an interest in philosophy could no doubt spend hours debating the merits of each competing ideology. But then again, considering that the choice here is apparently between a fire-spewing Satan and a blue-tinted Skeletor, perhaps the sides really aren't so different. I don't mind when toys involve battles between good and evil, but I find this ethical dilemma -- and the fact that it invites kids to actively ally themselves with the forces of darkness -- to be somewhat disturbing. What is Golden Wheel trying to pull here? The choice between evil and eviler is one that no child should ever have to make. Even among adults, it should be reserved exclusively for the voting booth.

Pirates vs Ninjas!

Mulling over the dodgy moral dilemma presented by the Street Blazers line got me thinking about the stories behind dollar store toys in general. Unless they're from a standard-priced retail line that got relegated to discount stores for whatever reason (a la O'Ryan and her Bombastic Bed), dollar store figures don't tend to supply much information about their characters' origins or reasons for being. Figures with action features or replaceable batteries (or both!) may provide consumers with something in the way of instructions, but even these instances tend to be pretty rare -- one almost always flips the cards over to find blank space except for a barcode and an address at the bottom. And reflecting upon these realities led me to wonder if that has the effect of increasing, decreasing, or simply altering the play value of these dollar store toys.

Consider the toys pictured above. (Not the Foot Soldiers on the left and right of the image -- they're simply there for comparison purposes.) Clearly, the actual hands-on play value of the toys remains unaffected by what's on the boxes, but the presence of an established story can arguably alter how children use them in their make-believe adventures. The Raptor Storm guys are obvious Power Rangers wannabes, and their complete lack of any information about their teams on the back of the box makes it pretty easy for a kid to just pull them out and have them represent the actual Power Rangers during play. But would kids be so inclined if the cardback established the Raptor Storm team as a separate, unique superhero group?

In my case, the purple Raptor Storm warrior struck me as being more like a member of the Foot Clan than any of the various dollar store ninjas I've seen in the past, so I bought one with the primary intention of adding the nameless character to the Shredder's ranks. But supposing that he'd had a given name and background, would I have ignored it and still inducted him into the Foot? Or would I have devised a story to explain why a Power Ranger-esque hero was suddenly serving the evil Shredder? Or would I have ignored the resemblance altogether and displayed him flanked by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead? Similarly, whereas it would be easy to take the pirate captain (also seen in this SWAFT review; Tresob would be glad to know that Chap Mei wares is, in fact, back in Dollar Tree stores) and designate him Captain Hook, suppose that the packaging had given him another name and placed him in a context outside of Neverland. Would kids refer to him as Captain Hook anyway, or would they stick to the story on his card? The answers to these questions probably differ for each kid in accordance with his/her creative faculties and individual quirks, but perhaps -- given that so many dollar store toys clearly strive to emulate more established, popular characters -- the lack of stories or character names facilitates their ability to serve as stand-ins for the more expensive official versions.

...THE FATE OF THE WORLD HANGS IN THE BALANCE.

Not that any of this actually matters with the Street Blazers line, though, since it is the only dollar store toyline I have ever seen that divulged an actual background story on the cardback. It's even weirder since the line consists solely of toy cars and trucks -- which don't exactly inspire tales of good and evil to begin with -- though I guess Golden Wheel felt the need to provide some justification for kids to buy two different sets of the same vehicles that even appear to have duplicates within their separate factions (to say nothing of the vehicles the kids might already have from previous lines) when the only differences among them are their decorative stickers. Clicking the image above (or here) will give you a better look at this truly unique cardback, but in the event that the text is still too difficult for you to read I've transcribed the Street Racers tale below:

JOIN GABRIEL, LEADER OF THE GRAVE DIGGERS
AS HE DEFENDS HIS RACING TITLE FROM DIABLO EVIL LEADER
OF THE STREET DEMONS.
DIABLO WANTS TO WIN THE TITLE TO TRUELY [SIC] CREATE HELL ON EARTH.
...THE FATE OF THE WORLD HANGS IN THE BALANCE.

Well, alrighty then. Don't get me wrong -- I'm positively thrilled to finally see a dollar store toy with a bona fide background story -- but this one potentially raises more questions than it provides answers. For instance, what the heck kind of racing title allows its holder to create Hell on Earth?!?! Did God and Satan get together and, rather than having the battle for humanity fought within the hearts and minds of each indivudal, simply decide to choose their best racers and settle things NASCAR style? Could Goro Diablo and his Street Demons be actual demons, with Dan Gabriel and the Grave Diggers representing the side of the angels? And if that's the case, isn't that a rather morbid group name for the forces of Heaven? Gabriel may be the angel of vengeance and death (among other things), but that's still pretty fucked up. Even the writer of the story seems to recognize the potentially problematic moral nature of the sides, as he/she explicitly identifies Diablo as evil but fails to similarly attribute goodness to Gabriel. Is the difference between them related to their respective commitments to bringing about Hell on Earth? Perhaps "truely" was purposely misspelled in order to draw our attention to it -- whereas Diablo is totally amped about seeing fire and brimstone evelope the planet in a truly outrageous kinda way, maybe Gabriel has no beef with suffering but is opposed to extremes.

Heck, one can even question the naming of the vehicles in the line -- do the names refer to the drivers of the vehicles or the vehicles themselves? The presence of a "Diablo" race car suggests the former, but the lack of a corresponding "Gabriel" vehicle is in keeping with the latter theory (unless, of course, Gabriel is using "Soul Taker" or "Reaper" as an alias). In any case, the names of the toys underscore the moral ambiguity that we've been discussing all along. "Wraith," "Inferno," and "Scorch" definitely don't sound like nice guys, but I'd be pretty wary about hanging out with "Body Snatcher," "Bone Breaker," and "the Fallen" as well.

Dante is a bad mothertrucker.

Anyway, whether the name "Dante" refers to the truck, its invisible demonic driver, or both, here's the toy out of the package. It does indeed live up to the promise of die-cast parts with a tractor unit comprised almost entirely of metal, and at exactly 8" in length -- not 7" -- the combined tractor trailer manages to exceed the claims on the packaging. The axles on the hind wheels of the tractor and on the trailer seem a bit wonky in that they stick out a bit too far and can loosely slide back and forth (that could be intentional; I'm not sure whether it's supposed to help with turning or not), but otherwise the toy seems fine to me. Sculpting looks like a truck should look, there are silver smokestacks on the back of the tractor, and the trailer even opens (albeit by removing the lid from the top) so that one can store tiny cars inside. From what I've seen, all of the other Street Blazers cars are far too large to fit -- I haven't handled any out of package, but they look longer and wider than the tractor itself -- but it'd be an ideal place to keep those penny-sized racers one finds in vending machines or dollar store multipacks. I'm no toy truck expert, but this looks like a pretty good one for a buck.

Reach out and touch someone.

Of course, that's to be expected -- Golden Wheel has been putting out the same tractor trailer for years, so one would expect any significant problems to have been addressed by this point. Again, as far as I can tell, the only really noteworthy difference here is the sticker that marks this car as a member of the Street Blazers line, so let's talk about that a bit. I'd originally chosen Dante of the Street Demons rather than Cerberus of the Grave Diggers because, at a glance, I thought that the design consisted of flames. Given Optimus's movie deco and the look of various incarnations of Rodimus Prime, I figured that flames on an Autobot vehicle were acceptable. The mountain of skulls that adorned the Cerberus trailer, however, was almost certainly not in keeping with the deco of a hero. Yet upon getting home and taking a closer look at the toy, I realized that flames aren't the only things behind Dante's name. Those other things? They're hands. Outstretched hands, illuminated by the fires of Hell, reaching out to touch the living in very icky ways before tearing the flesh from their bones. I think having the vehicle/driver's name displayed on the side of the trailer might be a bit much (though admittedly even Optimus Prime himself has been guilty of this offense), but otherwise it's a fairly cool design. Not terribly heroic, mind you, but Dante is one of the guys trying to "truely" create Hell on Earth.

Transform and truely create Hell on Earth!

So judging the toy purely on its own merits, I've got to give the Street Blazers 7" Dante tractor trailer high marks. Even if Dante here is essentially a repaint of the standard Golden Wheel toy truck, it only costs $1, has real die-cast parts and an opening trailer, does everything a generic toy truck should do, and even manages to seem less generic by being part of what may be the only dollar store toy line ever Perhaps this would look better with Scourge?to actually have a backstory. I'm not sure I'd recommend getting it solely for the purpose of fitting it to a Spy Changer Optimus Prime, though -- in addition to the uncharacteristic deco and Prime's lack of a trailer hitch, his feet stick up enough in the back to leave the trailer slightly elevated. It still displays fine for non-perfectionists, and admittedly a more dedicated kitbasher could probably sand down Prime's heels and make some custom stickers for the trailer (or even give it a grey paint job) to better match it to Prime's classic colors, but one could just as easily wait until the soda-themed trucks resurface and hook mini-Prime up with some Pepsi love. With the way Golden Wheel wares makes the rounds at Dollar Tree, it's only a matter of time before that happens.

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