The Titans have indeed returned. And by that I mean Headmasters, generally. Hasbro and TakaraTomy have moved from battling 3rd parties on the combiners front to challenging them on the 1987/88 Headmasters front, with even traditionally non-HM characters getting the ”Titan Master” treatment. Wave 1 consists of deluxe class Hardhead, Blurr, Scourge and Skullsmasher (Skullcruncher), leader class Blaster and Powermaster Optimus Prime, voyager class Galvatron and Sentinel Prime, titan class Fortress Maximus, legends class Rewind, Stripes and Wheelie as well as Titan Masters Crashbash (Squeezeplay head), Terri-Bull (Horri-Bull head), Loudmouth (Siren head) and Nightbeat’s head. I’ll be focusing on my purchases from wave 1, how my initial excitement turned to disappointment and instant sales, which then became seller’s remorse and a change of heart.
Headmasters were always memorable and we covered the vintage Autobot Headmasters and Decepticon Headmasters figures here on this blog. Today’s collector has a good deal to choose from if they love this era and gimmick; vintage G1 or 3rd party Masterpiece/classics scale figures are easily accessible. That does not mean they are easily affordable, though. Enter mainstream Transformers 2016 and the rebirth (heh) of the line-wide gimmick. Sure, we had Generations Brainstorm previously, but Titans Return goes even further, making Headmasters out of former non-Master figures. If you can get past that departure from accepted vintage tradition, the proposed play pattern of Titan Masters populating base modes, hanging off pegged surfaces across the figures, piloting mini-vehicles which double up as weapons or swapping bodies should bring welcome appeal.
Certainly the appeal for me was based around having a relatively affordable range of modern mainline Headmasters (and former Targetmasters & Powermasters) to display alongside my beloved vintage 1987/88 ‘Masters toys and the (eventual, one hopes) Masterpiece-scale high end versions, which I could pick up en masse from a local toy store. Hasbro have also gone for a very G1-style look with the recognisable ‘Masters figures from the line. With Hasbro opting for toy and Sunbow cartoon accuracy over TakaraTomy’s Japanese Headmasters cartoon bent and more elaborate paint jobs, there’s a dash of variety for allowing one to collect to their particular preference. I skipped Combiner Wars but Titans Return looked like something I could really get on board with, and I loved Robots In Disguise so I wasn’t averse to picking up modern day mainline figures for my collection at all. I’m no Masterpiece or vintage snob.
In the case of a number of Titans Return figures, I had chosen to go with the TakaraTomy Transformers Legends figures for cartoon accuracy or better paint jobs, or the inclusion of the small Titan Master vehicles with the deluxes. As it happened though, as soon as Eisner Award nominated London comic shop Orbital Comics had stock of wave 1 on shelves, I bought Hardhead, Skullsmasher, Crashbash, Loudmouth, Nightbeat and Terr-Bull. I will admit to being caught up in the pre-release and launch hysteria, swept up in the wave of excitement exhibited by my friends’ purchases on the first day of release at the same store.
My initial reaction to the deluxe Headmasters – even though I have extremely recent experience of the Robots In Disguise Warrior Class of the same size class – was that they were tiny. I was obviously having difficulty letting go of the traditionally tall nature of Hardhead. The very light feel, hollow sections and seemingly flimsy nature of the main body was below my expectations too. Even the RiD stuff seemed to be more sturdy and my expectations for that line were that I’d need some adjustment time. Accepting and enjoying RiD for being the modern mainline animal that it has to be did not help me give Titans Return the same pass.
Both Hardhead and Skullsmasher had issues with inherent looseness, the latter being a much more serious offender, especially at the hips. I also could not help but be disappointed with the rubber flap on Skullsmasher’s back for storing Grax, his Titan Master. The recommended retail price of these is almost £20 in the UK now, and the drop in material and build quality is becoming harder to stomach. The two halves of the croc tail didn’t clip together very securely either, not unlike Hardhead and his front tank treads. Transformation on both was as simple as you would imagine, but somehow less complex and interesting than even a RID Warrior Class Drift or Bumblebee in my opinion. Am I annoyed that the chest flaps don’t open to reveal stats? Of course I am. Am I annoyed that the Titan Masters are not backwards compatible with G1 bodies? Of course I am. Am I annoyed that Hardhead doesn’t come with 2 guns? Of course I am. Are these reasonable gripes? Probably not. They’re probably remnants of my arguably close-minded expectations that this would be nothing less than G1 Headmasters revisited, which it isn’t, but the very strong resemblance to the original toys did fuel those expectations.
Where it all sings is with the Titan Masters, or Headmasters, whatever. The head sculpts are beautiful for the most part, and while my personal preference remains with the original vintage sculpts, I think in the case of Grax, Furos (formerly Duros), Crashbash (formerly Lokos), Terri-Bull (formerly Kreb) and Loudmouth (formerly Quig) Hasbro demonstrate their continued mastery of the head sculpt. Nightbeat is ok, but the facial expression portrays a most uncharacteristic shouty face.
With the traditional Nebulan partners like Furos/Duros and Grax who come with bodies as they did originally, the Titan Master robot mode is accurate to past incarnations. With Crashbash, Terri-Bull, Nightbeat and Loudmouth who are packed on their own with a transforming vehicle they interact with, their robot modes are more akin to their original large body forms. To demonstrate, here are Nightbeat and Loudmouth with Muzzle and Quig, the junior Headmaster partners that Nightbeat and Siren came with originally.
Not all that similar, really. The Titan Masters look more like Nightbeat and Siren themselves than the old Nebulan partners. As I said previously, the new Titan masters are not backwards compatible with vintage Headmaster figures. They manage to sit in the slot but there’s virtually no friction, they wobble about in there and look a shade too small to pull off the complete look. A crying shame, but to have made them bigger, and the bodies bigger etc, would have added untold cost to the line as a whole.
Even connected to the intended Titans Return toys, there’s still a bit of wobble in the connections, especially Hardhead. As for the mini vehicles, sure they are enjoyable enough. They create good interaction opportunities for the teensy Titan masters with pegs they attach to. The vehicles can rock two modes as a standalone thing, and then they become a weapon to be held by larger Titans Return toys. I was not at all sold on the concept of Hardhead wielding a boat in one hand and a drill in the other. It has to be said that Crashbash jumping head first down his beast partner’s throat, allowing his arms to be the beast arms and his rear legs the lower jaw, is pure mental genius.
At this point I had decided Titans Return was a disappointment and not for me. I sold the toys – or rather took payment and agreed delivery details with understanding buyers – and expressed my decision online. This response from Jon Strong summarised my feelings beautifully:
“I’m only one toy into the line but it hasn’t done anything for me outside of a quirky and fun crocodile mode. Now, you know me. I’m kind of a grab it and try it sort of guy. Scattergun. Always trying to find a focus but never quite getting there because of all the distractions along the way. So the ‘MP first’ thing couldn’t apply here, but I’ll try and explain where I sit.
“My main issue is thus; I was looking at Thunderhoof and Quillfire the same night I picked up Skullsmasher, and I was never getting them in spite of how unique and daft they looked because they seemed so compromised in other areas. Outside of the connection to my childhood, Skullsmasher still has exactly the same failings that kept those two on the shelf but he won out because of nostalgia. Unfortunately nostalgia isn’t enough in hand, it would appear. He feels flimsy, his croc back legs could do with folding in and filling out the robot legs and he looks like a dweeb. It ain’t all bad. The front legs of his croc mode are pretty inspired in the anatomically correct the way they emulate the real animal, his ball jointed head and sculpted tongue add great character and the Titan Master is a lovely little thing full stop. But… for close to twenty quid, those comebacks don’t negate the flaws enough for me personally.
“It’s not a ‘lost cause’ for me, I’ve already got my eye on Prime and Blaster looks sweet as well, so I don’t doubt that I’ll pick up more from the line and rave about it, but my first experience hasn’t been great and has certainly soured my taste for the Deluxe range”.
It took a day of discussing it with friends, constantly going back to the toys and looking at upcoming releases for me to grant the TR figures a stay of execution. I refunded one collector and cancelled payment for the rest, I was going to try and explore Titans Return from a new angle which was free of expectation and nostalgic burden. I also couldn’t give up based on the quality of wave 1, what if Weirdwolf, Highbrow and Brainstorm were tremendous? I’d regret bailing on it so early. I simply could not forget how amazing the renders for Triggerhappy and Doublecross looked, either. I decided to completely separate my mind from even the G1 Headmaster play pattern and embrace the utterly ridiculous combination of small bot, big bot, base mode, vehicle mode and everything in between – with a complete lack of respect for faction, history and instructions – as I had with Diaclone Dia-Battles V2.
If we look at Hardhead alone, all the tank tread elements have pegs to attach a Titan Master, the canopy holds the driver, the top of the signature grey cannon can accommodate the attachment of one of the Titan master vehicles (itself piloted) and the back of the grey cannon opens up to reveal a weapon platform able to house two more Titan Masters. This midget of a deluxe tank can potentially field eight Titan Masters alone! Nine if you feel like attaching one in head mode.
Having posted some silly combinations online, I was of course egged on to try and connect Skullsmasher to Hardhead, and all the Titan vehicles too. The creation of the above Titan abomination gave quite a few people a good laugh and was shared about enough for me to see the proper appeal of this play pattern. Often for me the play pattern cannot be the sole draw, there has to be the solidity, the aesthetics, the polish and the gloss. Dia-Battles V2 is about twice the price of all you see attached precariously above but it ticks all the boxes while still maintaining the aforementioned play pattern and fun factor. Titans Return does that with hollow sections, flimsy materials, a lack of much polish or paint but with a gigantic dose of Transformers, nostalgia and relative affordability. I cannot deny the fun I had setting up the above photograph.
I think the greatest strength of Titans Return remains its tiny and beautifully sculpted Titan Master figures, whether they are attached to their traditional bodies or boasting a completely new mode for a previously non-binary bonded character. Collectors may struggle to get their head around Scourge, Galvatron, Brawn and Blaster as Headmasters/Titan Masters, but here we are. Toys like Fortress Maximus with its Sunbow cartoon accurate Cerebros, voyager class Astrotrain and various TakaraTomy Transformers Legends versions will continue to create an enormous buzz around the line and I suspect in the long run I’ll come to appreciate holding onto my wave 1 Titans in the context of a much wider collection of releases. This is all from the standpoint of not yet experiencing the leaders (apart from PMOP’s woeful weapon grip) or Scourge and Blurr. A modern top quality rendition of Headmasters, Targetmasters and Powermasters to display alongside my vintage figures they may not be, but they evoke the soul of the characters they are meant to represent perfectly, they rock the Headmaster gimmick well (and it remains the core of the play) and I can still walk into Toys ‘R’ Us and pick up a Highbrow, Weirdwolf, Chromedome, Mindwipe and Brainstorm. Presumably.
After the initial shock of dashed expectations, I’m giving them a chance.
All the best