For a certain kind of collector, there's no better catnip than the comic-book-only character. Me. The kind of collector is me. I swooned for Generations Straxus, pounced on MMC Spartan, and am still hunting for a loose Combiner Wars Scrounge. MMC, if you're reading this, I will sell my first born for a G2-accurate Jhiaxus.
Despite that, I skipped MMC's first two releases in its Decepticon Justice Division series. I've played with them, and they're great toys, but Vos and Kaon just didn't seem like significant enough characters to pay third party price tags for. Besides, what would the point be if they couldn't do Tarn?
And surely they couldn't do Tarn, right? Third party companies are pretty brazen these days, but they still avoid using the trademarked faction symbols, and Tarn uses one of those for his freaking face. So how were they ever going to do Tarn?
Apparently the answer is, "fuck it, that's how."
Yep, Kultur basically has a Decepticon symbol for a face. I guess the legal fig leaf here is that the mask is stretched at the bottom relative to a normal Decepticon badge -- which is accurate to the comic book depiction. But I have a feeling the real thinking here is, "If these guys were going to sue us, they would have done it a long time ago."
The gloriously trademark-flaunting head sculpt isn't the only thing that's page-accurate about Tarn. This whole robot mode is incredibly on-point. Pretty much every major cue from the Alex Milne design is replicated here perfectly, from the double-tank-tread shoulders to the pointy gold knee caps. MMC even went so far as to make sure that each barrel of his double fusion cannon has comic-accurate individual sculpting and paint -- something you know for damn sure would have been sacrificed somewhere along the line if Hasbro were tackling this design.
Speaking of painted detail, there's a ton of it. Tarn is positively bursting with fuchsia accents and silver detailing, along with a couple choice bits of painted gold. You know how many figures have bits of detail that are sculpted, but not brought out with paint? Yeah, Tarn has none of those.
Tarn's big chunky design doesn't exactly inspire parkour-like poses, but to his credit, his posability is very strong anyway. Most of his joints are ratcheted, particularly at his knees and thighs. Those big shoulders have both a soft ratchet and a ball joint to give them as much range as possible. And he's rocking great ankle tilt and some killer ab crunch. The only real annoyance is that his double fusion cannon combines with his shoulder to hinder his elbow movement, so you'll often have to remove it, pose the arm, then re-attach it.
There is one feature we might as well cover here: Kultur's face mask can be removed to reveal -- Roller's face! You gotta love MMC going out on a limb here and trusting a fan theory, even if by the time the figure came out, we all knew Tarn wasn't Roller. If you get MMC's Tyrantron, it comes with an accurate replacement head, but I've got to warn you: This is the most irritating head swap I've ever performed, and one of the most frustrating moments I've ever had with a transformer. Kultur's head is on a ball joint, which is on a freely rotating spar, which means that while you can just pop off his old head, you don't have enough leverage to just pop the new one on. And if you try to unscrew it, you'll see that the new head has two separate tiny ear pieces that aren't otherwise secured, and kept falling out as I tried to screw the damn thing back together on its perch. The new head also doesn't seem to fit as well in his chest cavity during transformation. Honestly, I'm not sure it's worth the bother.
But it feels wrong to hold any of that against Kultur. All in all, this is a great robot mode. I can't really think of a salient complaint.
"Simple, fun, and repeatable." Those are definitely the words MMC is hoping people will use to describe Kultur's transformation. And it's certainly simple and repeatable. All the movements are big and satisfying, and there aren't too many of them. Nothing feels remotely like it's going to break, and nothing's within a country mile of fiddly.
(Is a country mile longer or shorter than the normal kind? Shouldn't a mile be a mile, regardless of local urban development level? Ah, whatever.)
But there's also nothing that's within a suburban mile of inspired. "Remove cannon, fold up robot, stick cannon on top, look it's a tank" is one of the older cliches in Transformer design, and that's basically what you get here. There's no cool puzzle play, no moment of discovery. It's a pretty cut and dried process.
And hey, maybe that's okay. Maybe it's fine that this transformation just does what it has to do, and can be easily and satisfyingly accomplished. It certainly feels like a breath of fresh air compared to some intensive third party conversions.
Apart from the philosophical issues: I would have liked the tank treads that fold onto the back of his legs to have an extra hinge so they could really nestle in there -- that portion of the transformation feels a little lazy and unfinished. But obviously that's a pretty minor complaint.
Like his transformation, Kultur's vehicle mode does exactly what it has to, with no extra frills. It's a pretty satisfying boxy tank thing, and that's all it has to be. The legs do a fine job forming the main upper body of the vehicle, the silver accents on the treads look good, and all the detail on the double fusion cannon really gets to shine here.
Maybe the biggest achievement is that despite the transformation being so simple, this really doesn't just look like the robot mode folded up. It looks like a plausible, distinct mode.
On the downside, turret rotation is limited, and there are no actual wheels to allow it to roll. The most playability probably comes from the little guns in the front, which have a very wide range of movement.
In terms of accuracy, Kultur takes some very minor liberties from the Alex Milne design, the most notable being that in Milne's design, the shorter tank tread is in the front, and the longer one is in the back. But Tarn spends so little time in this mode in the comic that I highly doubt this detail is going to bother 99% of fans.
Build, Quality, and Intangibles
Kulur feels incredibly solid. The plastic is at least on part with an official release, and honestly probably superior to most (he said while fiddling with a Titans Returns voyager). Nothing feels the least bit loose or delicate. This is a heavy-duty figure that can be messed with happily.
The only possible issue is paint scraping -- on my copy, there's a blemish on the gold of one of his knee caps. But the paint doesn't feel especially prone to flaking, so I don't expect this to be a widespread issue.
This is the only representation of Tarn on the market at this scale, and given the quality of this release, that may just always be true -- certainly, I can't imagine why another third party manufacturer would try to compete with this, or how they could meaningfully improve on it if they did. There is a legends scale version coming out that looks pretty great, but of course will have to make concessions for its size. I could imagine Hasbro putting out an official version someday, but I can't imagine it competing with MMC's take for quality.
All of which adds up to easily make Kultur the Best Imaginable take on Tarn.
Kultur is a figure that doesn't do a single thing wrong. He's got one great mode and one good one, perfectly captures his intended character, has a simple and frustration-free transformation, and hits a very high level of overall quality.
There are definitely bots with higher "wow" factor. Bots that pull off exciting and memorable transformations, or somehow blow you away your expectations aesthetically. Kultur isn't like that. He's a straightforward bot, and what you see is what you get. But what you see is pretty dang excellent.