From 1984 through 1985, most of the Transformers characters were given specific roles that in some way defined their character and gave you a skeleton of a personality to flesh out within your own imagination and toy adventures. Optimus Prime was the leader, Wheeljack does machines (that’s a fact, Jack), Ratchet a medic and Red Alert security, for example. From 1986, with the arrival of the original Transformers Animated Movie, these functions slowly started to be less important and become increasingly vague. Take the subject of today’s article, Ultra Magnus. His role was listed only as “City Commander” and I mean, what is that? Is he the Lord Mayor of Metroplex? When Optimus Prime is dishing out missions, sending Mirage off on clandestine espionage assignments and ordering Huffer to fix the Ark’s vending machines, does he also send Magnus down to the local park to open a new leisure centre and eat a slice of quiche?
Maybe there’s something in it, because Ultra Magnus has always struck me as a spiritual relation to Mayor Mike Haggar from Final Fight. Even if his role is to run a city, putting up “NO BUSES” signs, in the cartoon he spends most of his time in space, and then in the comics he’s sent back in time where he ultimately takes a nap in a volcano because nobody knows who he is. The only time you see him attempting to command in a city, is when the Decepticons blow it up – and half the Autobots hit the snooze button.
In spite of this, or maybe because of it, Ultra Magnus has gone on to become one of the most popular characters of the Transformers mythos, and with Siege hitting stores (or if you are me, the pre-order page over at Kapow Toys) he was due a shiny new toy, and as it transpires it’s one that resurrects one of the characters most iconic features which has not really been seen for 32 years. Want to know more? Then let’s talk about Transformers Siege Ultra Magnus.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Siege is the attempt to meld highly detailed, yet accurate G1 robot modes with new vehicular modes. Still trying to fit the familiar Earth elements of the character in question, but also gunning to deliver more futuristic and Cybertronian alternate forms. As has long been discussed, it is an attempt to reconcile the original cartoon shows Earth based robot forms appearing on Cybertron before anyone had even dug out the travel Connect 4 or filled the Ark up with petrol.
Siege Optimus Prime took his classic Generation One Earth lorry vehicle form, added a pair of clear plastic eyebrows and called it a day, but Ultra Magnus arrival in the toy line heralds a different turn with the designers giving a loving nod to the most underappreciated Transformers series of all – Robots in Disguise 2001 (Car Robots in Japan). This is a vehicle mode I fell brutally in love with in the year 2000 as its toy first made its way into import shops after launching in Japan. Caroline at Another World (the best import shop Nottingham ever had, too many stairs though), in between conversations on comics, Nu Metal and whether the colour of my fringe was blue or green (Aqua Marine), casually pulled it out from under the counter with a “You like Transformers right? I put this aside for you. Interested?”…as I stood there gasping and dropping issues of DC Two Thousand comics all over the floor.
With so many elements of the original being paid homage to, the identity of the character was never in doubt. Even though it was a totally different look it was still clearly recognisable as a form of Ultra Magnus. Fitting the bill as a car hauling truck with futuristic, techie leanings, it is clear why it’s the ideal choice for Siege’s requirement to combine G1 robots with futuristic vehicles. Everything about this Siege toy from its red, blue and white colours, to its accessories and details all manage to capture the intangibles of Ultra Magnus personality as well as it does the physical elements of the character. Things bespoke to RID 2001 Mags are repurposed for the G1 character in a seamless fashion. Powerful and brutal but technological and anime rather than the curvy, Games Workup aesthetic that Combiner Wars Ultra Magnus possessed. CW Magnus was a very rounded, barbaric looking vehicle that wouldnt’t look out of place on a death metal album cover. He is the King Conan, toe Siege’s T-800. Contrast between the two is so stark considering they are the same character. Siege Ultra Magnus is blocky, covered in detail, with straight lines and sharp angles that you could use to do your maths homework. What you see is something far more anime in its leanings, that wouldn;t look out of place rrumbling through futuristic Neo Tokyo motor tunnels in Akira or Bubblegum Crisis.
Rocking the look of a sci-fi snowplow, the cab is securely held in place by the suited and booted robot’s shoulder armour, which is confusingly complex approach to a trailer hitch. Should you wish, you can disconnect the cab, but no longer covered by the trailer it leads to visible hand syndrome with Magnus fist scrunched up behind him ready punch anyone who dares tail gate him. As everything at the moment is so bent on screen accuracy, it’s refreshing to see a toy with a different twist rather than the real world style vehicles we get in almost every Transformers line now. Sometimes you just need a mini break and Siege is proving to be that. Also, as this is neither the alt mode of G1 Ultra Magnus, nor is it the RID 2001 Ultra Magnus character – the spectre of accuracy doesn’t hang over it. This freedom allows it to deviate and claim its own identity. With so much of Transformers determined to ground itself in reality, it’s a welcome change and neat way to freshen up an older design without incurring the wrath of the fandom.
One of the best tricks it manages to pull is overlapping details plucked from RID Magnus with his G1 counterpart, such as the trailer displaying the shapes and details of the RID 2001 design, but switched from grey to blue in order to tie it back to G1 Ultra Magnus. Things like that I really appreciate because it celebrates nostalgia without doing a Harold Bishop and falling over itself down a cliff by desperately trying to be screen accurate like the Bayverse toys or Masterpieces do.
Despite the praise I’ve dished out, there is still room for a couple of unfortunate “quirks” where Hasbro should have done better. First, the standard Siege indecision over weathering paint is literally front and centre in this mode. The problem is not the paint itself, it’s that it is limited exclusively to the front bumper – whilst the rest of the toy is almost pristine. Either have the confidence to go all in (hey, The Young Bucks – don’t sue me for trademark infringement), or if you don’t then perhaps leave it off altogether. A compromised approach serves nobody well and it’s a shame because I actually like the weathered paint as something distinctive and it’s done really well on the bumper. Applying it in such a narrow manner only makes it look out of place though.
The second problem arises from the gaping hole behind the front wheel, which is particularly egregious given how much of Siege is built on port compatibility. Peg holes are prevalent all over the trailer, it’s a system that has defined much of Siege right down to bots being designed to be ripped to bits to be reused as weapons – yet there are no ports on the sides of the cab. Two large rifles for the retool of Galaxy Force Optimus Prime are included and a simple solution would have been to design them with the ability to be incorporated and fill that gap but no – instead it looks inspired by Albert Steptoe’s bad dental habits.
Siege Ultra Magnus might be a car carrier in looks but it’s far from being a particularly functional one. Whilst the lower legs live up to the time honoured tradition of being the rear end of the truck, they no longer flip down to act as ramps which in turns means there is no entrance for the cars to pile on to either level. Opening the side panels of the trailer does offer a small amount of space for you to squeeze a toy in there, but it’s only big enough for a Micromaster due to how the armour pieces all lay claim to the space. One in, the space is so confined that it gives off the air as a mobile prison more than a method of transporting vehicles down to the local Kwik Fit. His rifle’s official place is a peg hole on the roof which would also prevent any vehicles from being carried. So he’s not exactly car friendly if you just pile cars on top either.
If you fiddle about with the armour placement in the trailer, you can make room for the gun so that is definitely a thing – not that the instructions would like you to know this.
For the first time since 1986, Ultra Magnus returns to his roots as a smaller “white Optimus Prime” core robot with armour to bulk him out. For years, in the darker times, the only Ultra Magnus figures we got were lazy white Optimus Prime repaints and it is incredible to think that despite being such an iconic feature of the original toy, with its Diaclone origins that Maz would be only too happy to tell you about (love you, Maz), the smaller bot into armour is a concept that has never significantly been touched upon in official toy form since. Fiction fares a little better, with a brief appearance of the idea in the pages of the Dreamwave comics and of course James Roberts spun the notion into something far grander with a neurotic space Robocop and his secret moustache. This toy tries to be something fundamentally different to that by focusing on the Generation One version for the character. Though clearly if you are an IDW fan then you could attribute this to being one of the earlier Ultra Magnus fill ins and we’ve all got our own imaginations. Sunbows cartoon, and Marvel Comics “all in one” transformation has been the predominant go to for Ultra Magnus for the last three decades so it is nice to see the original concept return if you want something more akin to the vintage G1 toy, rather than the cartoon style which seems to have become the defacto Magnus. If that is your desire, then Hans, bubby – he’s your white knight.
Hasbro could have taken the easy route and reused the excellent voyager class Optimus Prime seen previously in Siege (and reviewed on this very site, here: Siege OP) , but as a further sign of just how much thought and effort the current design team continues to put into the toy line, Magnus gets a brand new mold all of his own that goes hard at making sure all the features us oldies remember as kids are in place. Remember when we used to have to be satisfied with a simple repaint, and a new head was seen as the great gods smiling upon us? Times have changed, right.
As an amalgam of two different versions of Ultra Magnus, the welcome thing here is it doesn’t have to be slavish to any. Not only is every single detail different between Magnus and Optimus, allowing him to step out of Prime’s long shadow, but he also has one of the loveliest head sculpts you’ll see right down to the Lenor coloured face plate. Magnus tackles the conversion from cab to robot in a totally different manner that is less intricate, but no less interesting. The core seems to revolve around a “spine”, as his chest moves forward to allow the car bumper to slide up onto his upper back as if he’s taken on a job as a Deliveroo delivery person. Public funding cuts must have hit Cybertron too. Wonder if their bin men are being fussy about taking their recycling bins as well, if the lid isn’t practically bolted shut.
Despite sharing no parts in common, the figure still manages to hew close to the standard Optimus Prime template, but dresses it up in a white suit that Boyz 2 Men have enquired about renting. Although now we’ve come to the end of the road, when it comes to discussing his vanity, there’s still time for me to mention that the articulation is decent, but is hindered somewhat by the blocky shapes and width of his body. Arms are great going forwards or outwards, but limited coming inwards by the chonky chest and there is only so much that the wrist and bicep swivels can do to try to counter that. Bringing back ankle tilts has been one of the big improvements in Siege, but if you are looking for something that’s equal to OP, then this does not quite reach the incredibly high bar that toy set, however this robot mode isn’t the main selling point of this toy – it isn’t even his final form.
Should you happen to be wondering what the trailer does in this mode, the short answer is nothing and the long answer is also nothing. Often you find Hasbro have cobbled together some vague job for the trailers, with some gimmick or other taking centre stage, but here it’s left to your imagination as the gimmick is that it turns into armour. Nothing more, nothing less. Officially there’s no base mode, no repair bay, no flying surf board, no Kanye West pop up clothing store – just a collection of parts that simply fallllllll at his feeeeeet. Fortunately for those discarded truck parts, the only way is up….BABY!
Has anyone else, ever in history managed to seamless blend mentions to both Crowded House and Yazz, hot on the heels of a Boys 2 Men reference? What was it again that my school and college teachers used to put on my reports about wasted potential…
Combining Magnus scratches a 32 year itch I never knew I had. Glance at my shelves, or Instagram/Twitter feeds and you will note that do I happen to have the vintage toy (oh those lovely rubber tyres), but being as it’s not much more than a red onesie which the inner bot hangs onto the back of, with arms that flap about like a flustered Kryten – there’s not much room for dynamism. I do think people have a tendency to remember G1 Ultra Magnus transformation as being far more involved that it actually was, but Siege Ultra Magnus combination plays that great trick of using modern engineering to stir nostalgia in a completely new and different way.
Replacing the aforementioned armoured PJ’s, Siege UM’s trailer crumbles into lots of little parts that clip on and wrap around the core robots body. If that sounds familiar, it is because Fansproject did the very same thing with their City Commander (should have called it Justice Mayor, IMO) armour upgrade for the old Hasbro Classics ’06 Ultra Magnus. Lots of similarities are evident but then how much of that is influence, and how much of it is just being the only real way to achieve the same result? Many years have passed since those days and Siege UM produces something more elegant (40% of it not just a gun, for example) and more robust. Only a small thing, but his waist opens, flips and spins around to reveal the combined forms crotch panel so the core robot technically does more than just disappear into the armour as if he’s Wizbit. Instead of being simple solid pieces, the backs of the trailer slide over Magnus legs, clamping tightly, allowing the sides to fold in and wrap around the back like robot UGG boots. A small touch, granted but one that does enough to make the experience more involved than you are might expect. His trailer roof folds back into itself to clean up any potential kibble and then snaps over the top of Magnus cab very securely to finish what is truly his finally final form.
Ever the Womack and Womack of Iacon, Magnus is a double act in one. White Radio Rentals Washing Machine core robot waxed lyrical about above, and the iconic, the signature, the magical – armoured up ULTRA Magnus. To paraphrase Johnny Bravo – “man he’s pretty”. Every inch of him summons the image of a war machine. Just pure chunk everywhere. Stand him up straight, stick some Russian music on and he could be the physical embodiment of Tetris. Each new iteration of Ultra Magnus Magnus leans on the G1 character, more than almost any other character and even though IDW updated him with more curves (physically and personality wise) to cap off a stunning redesign, there’s something so powerful about the G1 blueprint that makes it definitive. Iconic is a word thrown around a lot when people often actually mean a signature element, but in Ultra Magnus case iconic is totally apt.
The straight lines offer a simplicity that fits with the stoic, straight-laced character that is Ultra Magnus at his very foundation. The over the top shapes, size and weaponry of the IDW version work perfectly because they scale with the character inside (Minimus Ambus, if you aren’t familiar with the comics) as he grows and his personality changes with experiences- the design plays to the over the top nature of that take on the character. He is a character he feels so very small, so wraps himself in armour that is outlandishly massive. G1 Magnus was a very duty driven bot, whose only overriding characteristic was that he was a soldier who put everyone and everything else before himself. He was a hero, but he wasn’t the type who considered himself one. There wasn’t enough time spent on delving into his personality, so the more scaled back, tighter, more traditional design fits this version, where the more exaggerated nature of the Combiner Wars toy was a near perfect summation of the IDW character. Still, the toys are yours to decide who they are and which personality traits are most relevant to you.
As far as head sculpts go, Hasbro continue to prove to be the best in the game and UM’s noggin is a near flawless rendition. They’ve gone for a neutral expression, that from different angles does have a habit of looking slightly different. Or perhaps that’s the booze and listening to Purple Rain on repeat.
Hasbro have not skipped on the detailing either. What you get is G1 inspired with very cartoon, dark blue and reds, flanked by lots of white that accentuates the vibe of a core skeleton that the armour has bolted on to. Clear windows draw your attention to his chest armour and allow you to see through to the inner cab. No Matrix chamber is housed here, but that’s probably a good thing as it avoids having to work another gimmick in. As is par for the course with Siege, there is a lot of tech detailing added that people often refer to as “greebles”, but in Magnus case it’s on point to push his whole shtick that he’s made of lots of parts that all fold and contort to break down and reassemble around him as his dream coat, Adding such a wealth of detail, in an era where screen accuracy floats above us like the Death Star, really gives the Siege toys the updated G1 look that Generations has promised since its inception, but often wavered on actually delivering.
Disappointing though, are the hollowed out gaps on the sides of the shoulder panels which they could have at least put on the back. Otherwise he is mostly solid and the hollowing out of figures appears largely confined to the past, but one other particularly odd kink does crop up – there is no Autobot badge anywhere to be found on the robot mode. Movie Studio Series 38 Optimus Prime also has this peculiar issue, so it isn’t exclusive to Mayor Magnus, but in this case it’s more understandable given that its nominal placement of the right shoulder is covered in lots of sculpted detailing. Nothing a Toyhax label can’t fix if you can find a spot for one, somewhere, out there, but it still strikes me as a very odd omission.
Currently the largest Siege size class on the market is the Leader Class(soon to be dwarfed by imminent Commander and Titan classes) and Ultra Magnus is a decent chunk of toy within that bracket. One of the things you instantly notice, even before the smaller size vs the CW toy, is that this is one of the most solid Ultra Magnus toys we’ve ever had. Nothing falls off, every joint is tight and you don’t pick him up and accidentally half transform him, because everything pegs in securely. Nothing is left dangling by friction, if it fits – it clicks. Paint is nicely applied where it’s used, this mainly takes the form of divisive weathering effects but it’s also used to pick out details in a style that seemed largely forgotten by Hasbro until Siege. On the robot mode the weathered paint apps make more sense than the Mayoral vehicle mode, as they are not isolated to just one area of the toy – they show up on parts that were hidden mainly within the trailer. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but I appreciate that it gives the Siege figures something distinct to them. Also after years of those horrific foil stickers, I am not going to moan about them switching to paint. No, I’ve seen enough Candyman movies to know if you something enough times, you end up with a ghost using Trypticon’s foil stickers to peel off your body hair.
Articulation is good for a figure of this blockiness, though the issue of the chest impeding crossing arm movement on the core robot does carry over, even if it is the most minor of grumbles. Other than that though, to say he is pretty much a Rubik’s Cube on legs, he can be surprisingly dynamic when he wants to and Hasbro have fixed the most annoying thing with Combiner Wars Magnus – the lack of ankle tilts. Here, the lad has a decent range and with the shins still managing to sink into the feet as you pull them outwards, it looks pretty natural too.
As a walking artillery platform, Ultra Magnus does come packed with a reasonable array of weapon accessories. Two large black rifles that are intended for the toys retool of Galaxy Quest (Force) Optimus Prime are included, though owing to the shape of the guns they stick up weirdly in his hands and so end up being rather useless. Still, they bulk out the legs a bit, perhaps they are death dealing leg warmers?
Shoulder mounted rocket launchers are a staple of any good Ultra Magnus silhouette, and so it is that he has to have his authentic G1 style launchers. A peg that is molded underneath the launchers means their default position has them positioned awkwardly high, so if you are wondering why they are upside down in each picture of the robot mode in this article – that is why. Yes, amazingly it is entirely intentional as I am just that fussy and old. Having them upside doesn’t really restrict articulation either, unless you plan to have you Magnus perform star jumps. One day I’d love Hasbro to release a tell all book of “tales from the designers cubicle” and feature in a brief chapter the reason for why they put the plug below the launcher rather than in the side of it which has been pretty much the standard since the last time Halley’s Comet stopped by for a cuppa.
Ultra Magnus wouldn’t be complete without his laser rifle, which I believe is mainly based on the original 1986 toys rifle. Something bonkers is in the air at Hasbro though as the guns has been amusingly renamed as a – “Stethoscopic detector”. What does that even mean? It detects stethoscopes? Whose needing to detect stethoscopes? They are tied round the doctors neck. Can Doctors not find them in the morning, when rummaging through their desk draw amidst a pile of prescription pads and packets of Fruit Pastilles?
We are only a single wave in, but thus far Siege has managed hit each figure out of the proverbial park. Ultra Magnus is no exception and is a early highlight in a line that already has several. Conclusions will be drawn by the smaller size of the Siege toy vs his Combiner Wars brethren, but equally this figure features more intricate parts, better quality feeling plastic, as well as paint and significantly improved articulation. Me, I’d take all of what’s in column B, over wishing he was a little taller, or a baller. It’s a reasonable trade off on a toy that reads almost as a check list of fixed problems from prior toy lines. Ultra Magnus has a strong looking, blocky G1 robot form, reasonable paint, articulation is strong, the toy is solid as a rock, he has extra detail that avoids the being overly slavish to the cartoon and he not only brings back one of the characters most infamous features, that hasn’t really been seen since 1986 – but vehicle mode is a great homage to a long forgotten toy line. On top of that he is peppered with pegs and ports to make him compatible with all of Sieges key features, but most of them are subtle and blend in.
There will always be flaws for us to pick out and lament, or things we can say they should have done better, but for the most part this manages to not only be a great realisation of a beloved character, but lost amongst all the noise from us as collectors – it is also a fantastic toy. The play value is sky high which is to be applauded considering how much of it is built to as a loving nod to something from 32 years ago.
If anything, it all suggests that Ultra Magnus has finally dealt with it.