Friday, 31 October 2008

An Ode to Carnivac

I set out to write an article about the Pretender Beasts. There was a great chance that it would have turned into me wittering about Carnivac for 20,000 words. Then I woke up and read the old TF UK comics with Carnivac in. That chance then rose. Then I started fiddling with the Carnivac I recently got off ebay. That chance then broke the probability of '1' and started rising... somehow.

So yeah. Carnivac

There is a good chance you remember the Pretenders. They were amongst the last lines of 'gimmicky' Transformers that were about when the line finally died, from 1988-1989. The idea was simple - you'd have your transforming robot still, but they would also have a suit of armour, the Decepticon's being shaped like a monster, the Autobot's like a human, giving you literally two toys in one. Unfortunately the technology of the late eighties wasn't up to it, giving us immobile shells and robots which all looked identical and transformed by bending over, looking like a robot bent over rather than a car or a plane.

Of course, then there were the Pretender Beasts.

Released in 1988, there were four of these guys, two Autobots and two Decepticons. Rather than humans, they were disguised as animals. They have a rather fond place in my cold, cold heart for several reasons. Firstly the only Pretender I ever owned as a kid was one of these (Catilla in case you're wondering). Secondly when I was little, being a Brit, I used to get the Transformers UK comic. This was a comic better than the US version, so much better in fact that the Americans eventually nicked the British team to write theirs! One of the back-up tales in it featured three of the Pretender Beasts - Carnivac, Catilla and Snarler. I'll explain more in a bit.

I'm going to give the majority of this article to Carnivac, since I recently bought him complete (including instructions) and boxed off ebay for £25 shipped. That's $50 to you yanks. Yes I may be crazy but I'm still employed for a good 2 1/2 months still!

Carnivac's outer shell is a wolf with a vest on. There's something a bit off about it... probably the giant eyes he has, bless him. But still, the box art at least is very very nice and gives the little guy a lot of personality

I would actually rate his and Catilla's shells the best of the Pretender Beasts. They both possess a very very nice sense of dynamism and movement which the other humanoid pretenders, forever locked to attention, do not possess. Of course the downside is literally no articulation. When I was small, playing with one consisted of holding the tail and using it to hit things. I was such a scamp!

Of course, the Pretender hides the robot inside! I always liked how the shells split open down the middle letting the robot spill out in a folded up foetal position. To my small mind, it was quite cool. Of course, you can start to see Carnivac's beast mode here...

Now, this robotic beast is described as a wolf. I don't know what I'd describe it as. It has got very thin gimpy legs, a silly mouth, and... that is about it. A mouth on legs. The silver visor-like head is quite cool and menacing though, and despite the lovely brown plastic, he doesn't look that bad. Of course, he doesn't look that great either.

Robot mode is... an aquired taste. The instructions attempt to claim that the head can turn, and indeed it can a little bit but it is set too far back into his hood to actually try turning it! Carnvac also has a big-ass gun, which is cool. I'm trying to think of some positive things to say, but seeing the robot almost paralysed, able to wiggle his arms up and down in vain, well... Hasbro have a lot to answer for. He can point at things, and you can smash him against other toys whilst shouting 'DAH DAH DAH!' without smashing, so I guess if Carnivac was aimed at the 3-5 age bracket he's perfect.

Now, looking at the box, we see the original colours for this guy are far more attractive. But thats not to say I don't dearly love Carnivac as he is. For a start the brown is replaced by gold and he has turquoise hands instead of purple. I have no clue why they changed that, unless Hasbro thought it made him look too interesting...

Of course, the big reason I love this guy stems from the comics. When I was little they were my lifeblood (and the UK got much better stories than the US). One such tale was that of Carnivac. He and Catilla, his best buddy had defected to the Autobots and were being hunted by the Decepticon's Mayhem attack squad, led by fellow Pretender Beast Snarler. Carnivac is caught by the Mayhems when he is alone having deserted his new-found comrades and is caught in a battle to the death as he measures his own life against saving the small Mexican village he inadvertantly drew the Decepticons to. Of course Catilla and his Autobot buddies eventually rescue Carnivac, but not before Catilla is killed as a parting shot
Its really very very good. However my mother read the first issue of the sequel to that arc, where Carnivac goes on a murderous revenge spree against the people who killed his best friend, and decided that it was unsuitable for me to read. I was then set on the Beano and only found out how the story ended a few years ago. Well, every story has its happy ending I suppose...

Snarler is a big fat pig. He turns into some kind of... drill thing. Needless to say he's my least favourite of these guys. He spends the entirity of the comic run trotting about in pig mode, and only once do we see him outside his shell (and in robot mode no less) in the UK comics: when he is playing cards with Spinister.

That's Carnivac at the window. Bless him.

Catilla was the guy I had as a kid, and was a saber-toothed tiger. He also bore a striking resemblence to Battle-Cat, especially since he had a helmet too, but I suppose all sabre tooth tigers look the same

Catilla's main role in the comic was to get himself killed, letting Carnivac flip out. When I was small I would re-enact Catilla's death with his Pretender shell and a Ninja Turtle sword. I was a... special child...

Chainclaw is a bear with a very... odd facial expression. Like he is constantly constipated or had a lipstick accident or something. He is probably the most obscure Pretender Beast, having only appeared in two comics ever (and obviously no television appearances since these guys were too late to be in the cartoon).

In US 67 Chainclaw gets around four frames of action before being killed by Galvatron like the cannon fodder he is! He gets even less when he is punched to death by Starscream in Fallen Star! Poor guy.
So there you have it, Pretender Beast goodness. There is a small part of me which wants to actually find Snarler and Chainclaw so I can have the complete set. Of course, there is a part of me who wants to flip out and murder people, I just ignore all those small parts...

1 comment:

  1. I've had one of these since I was a very young child, bought from a market, and you've educated me. It turns out my saber-tooth tiger transformer is actually Catilla, but the inner robot seems to come from Chainclaw! I'm not sure if I should feel hoodwinked or not.