Time to crack out the Raid.

It’s been about thirty years now since Hasbro rolled the Insecticons out into stores, a group of Evil Decepticons grouped together based on the fact that they all turn into bugs. It does seem a bit of a rip-off that the Autobots got a team of rampaging dinosaurs and the Decepticons got guys who buzz around and ruin crops and such, but then again the ‘cons also had Devastator on their side, so I guess that evened things out.

While seven creepy-crawly Decepticons saw release in 1985, only three turned up in comics and on the TV: BombshellKickback, and Shrapnel. (The other four were based on toys licensed from Bandai, as opposed to Hasbro’s usual partner Takara; both Hasbro & Takara used the Transformers cartoon to promote their wares, so Bandai toys got no love there.) Today we’re taking a look at modern takes on two of those three — sorry, Kickback, but Hasbro & Takara-Tomy haven’t gotten around to giving you the proper love yet.

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Sometimes Hasbro loses names for Transformers characters. They don’t use the trademark for a while, the registration expires, and someone else picks it up and runs with it. They lost Bumblebee for over a decade, until somehow they managed to secure the name in time to use the li’l guy in the big budget live action franchise. Here we see the sort of thing that happens when they lose a name and just can’t get it back for whatever reason: you get a funny, slightly askew different name. For a while, Hasbro was calling ol’ Shrapnel Sharpshot, which doesn’t quite work. I think that’s the name that turned up in the PS3/Xbox 360-era games. This, however, works for me: Skrapnel is just one letter off and just feels like a proper Decepticon name.

You’ll notice he comes with a little buddy. All of the pre-Combiner Wars figures at this size class came with a little friend. Skrapnel’s pal here is Reflector, the Decepticon who turns into a camera. Traditionally, Reflector is three guys who turn into a camera, but that wasn’t going to happen here. It’s fine. It makes more sense this way anyway.

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Skrapnel is a pretty cool-looking dude. His head is kind of puny compared to the 1985 version, and the purple is far more vivid — a little too vivid, I think — but this one does more than just wave his arms around. Ball joints in the hips, elbows, and shoulders, and you can even turn his head if you can squeeze your fingers in there. Good stuff.

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Sadly, all you can do with his little pal Reflector is … well, wave his arms around. Also, his robot mode is basically printed on the bottom of his camera mode. Not much of a Transformer. Pretty sure there were some awful me-too figures back in the 1980s that did just this thing. C’mon, Hasbro & Takara-Tomy, you can do better than this.

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Bombshell is a brand new figure, one I still haven’t seen at retail. (I got mine from Amazon.) He’s got Combiner Wars branding on his package even though he doesn’t seem to actually interact with any other figures in that fashion — though some have said those knobs on his knees can act as handles for a futzed-together gun mode. Instead of a wee friend, he comes with a thick cardstock “collector’s card” that has a cool pic on the front and nothing on the back. Kind of a rip-off given that he’s still the same price as Skrapnel & Reflector up there. Maybe the extra cost went into re-securing the Bombshell name: he was called Hardshell on new toy product for a good six years or so.

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Bombshell has always been one of my favorite 1980s Transformers designs. The head with the sort of knight helmet grating, the cowl overtop with the trident antenna, the boxy chest (which, on the original, had an opening cockpit) … honestly, that’s about all that’s interesting about the design, but I dug it, and I still dig it. He’s a good looking robot. I like it.

I wish Skrapnel had also been in these exact colors. The purple is richer and the yellow is more of a golden color, evoking the color of the little cockpit doors that were on the original ’85 toys’ chests. Bombshell’s head is also a wee bit larger, closer to that of his ’85 counterpart than Skrapnel’s is. Basically, everything I thought was a deficiency on Skrapnel is fixed on Bombshell. Even something I wouldn’t have necessarily cited as a “problem” is fixed; usually Transformers who turn into bugs wind up with bug legs on their arms, and those bug legs usually get in the way. But after twenty years of this (Beast Wars was full of bug guys, and the legs always got in the way of poses), it kind of turns into the sort of thing you just shrug off. Bombshell features an elegant solution to that problem: the bug legs on his arms are on a sort of armband mechanism and just rotate to the back. It helps that they aren’t very long, either, but Skrapnel could definitely have used an extra bit of engineering like that.

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Both transform into beetles: Bombshell a rhinoceros beetle and Skrapnel a stag beetle.

Skrapnel has, by far, the more involved transformation, with panels rotating across his legs to form the back of the bug, and his entire chest folding upwards to cover his head. It’s not totally intuitive, but it’s not totally difficult. It is a bit over-elaborate for what you get, though. This is actually my second Skrapnel; the first had a (relatively common, I hear) problem where one of his pincers wasn’t properly secured by its pin and thus was uneven, droopy even, in beetle mode. I tried to bend the plastic a bit to make them even, but that created a giant stress mark in the middle of the pincer. So I bought another one.

Bombshell transforms about how you’d expect. Rotate the waist, fold the legs up so his feet touch his chest, fold his arms back, and cover his head. Aside from a couple modern twists (one of them quite literal), basically the same as the ’85 toy. I really like how this shows off some extra red highlights, specifically the ones at the bottom of his feet. Pretty cool touch.

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You’ll notice there’s a giant hole in the middle of Skrapnel. You can turn Reflector into a gun and plug him in there. It doesn’t look as dumb as it sounds; there’s other figures in his wave where it doesn’t work so hot, but he’s already some sort of weird mechanical bug, so another thing sticking off of him that also has giant silver pincers on it actually works not-badly.

Also, I realize that Skrapnel has a spot specifically molded in to put his Decepticon symbol into, but looking at him and Bombshell side-by-side I also wish that Skrapnel’s insignia was nice and big and matched.

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So, as for that gun transformation for Reflector — when you take the camera lens and fold it down, he springs apart and extends out. Then you swing his arms forward and he winds up looking like a ludicrous late 1980s Action Master partner gun mode; those were all notorious for being about as long as the figures were tall, and that’s kind of the case here. He is, however, also kind of styled to look like Shrapnel’s old gun from ’85, which I admit is a neat touch. But he still looks like an accessory at least one size too big for Skrapnel. As you can see, Bombshell doesn’t trust Skrapnel waving that ludicrous thing around. (As you can also see, Bombshell can balance on one foot with no extra support.)

This is a size class of figure, at about the $10 price point, that Hasbro’s been doing a largely bang-up job with for the few years. These guys are no exception. The fact that they’re also lovely updates of characters that guys my age grew up with is both the reason I bought them and almost feels like mere icing on the cake. It is a bit irritating that Hasbro seems to have leveled up in the gap between the two figures’ release, but it means we’re getting even better figures, so that bittersweet taste is a bit sweeter. Bravo, team.

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