Monday, 1 December 2014

Dino Crisis

As I've previously mentioned, in addition to my stewardship of Gimme LEGO I also write for Blocks Magazine. I'm pleased to report that Blocks editor Mark Guest has generously granted me permission to post some of my Blocks reviews and other articles on Gimme LEGO after an appropriate delay so that folks without access to Blocks can read them. I'll aim to publish content pretty much as it originally appeared in Blocks, with the exception that I'll add hyperlinks as appropriate. First up is my review of Set 5975 T-Rex Transport which was published in Blocks Issue 1 - enjoy!

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Given the recent flurry of internet rumours regarding the possible release of LEGO sets based on ‘that’ popular dinosaur movie franchise (I’m sure you can figure it out !) I thought I’d go back in time and dig up a long-retired LEGO dinosaur set from the archives to see how it measures up by modern standards.



LEGO have been producing sets featuring dinosaurs for decades now, both in standard LEGO and DUPLO form; the set I’m focusing on here, Set 5975 T-Rex Transport, was released in 2000 as part of the Dino Island subtheme of the Adventurers theme and contains 321 pieces.

Minifigures

For some LEGO fans minifigures are the main reason to buy a set, and this set contains five of them which you can see in the accompanying photo. None are unique to the set, although slightly scary-looking lone female Alexis Sanister (second from the right in the picture) only ever appeared in one other set. According to Brickipedia, Alexis is the sister of theme villain Baron Von Barron (far left) who has a hook in place of his left hand. Fellow pith-helmeted Dr. Charles Lightning (far right) is a scientist and sports a bowtie and braces. Front and centre is theme hero and intrepid adventurer Johnny Thunder. He’s an ‘Adventurers’ theme regular – this ‘desert’ version of the minifigure appears in 21 sets, and alternative versions can be found in a host of other sets. Finally we have Mike, longtime companion to Johnny Thunder and Charles Lightning. He appears in a total of 5 sets. None of the minifigures have backprinted heads or torsos.



Elements

This set was released in the days before LEGO moved to its current colour palette of browns and greys and therefore contains ‘old’ brown, light grey and dark grey elements. Apart from the dinosaurs themselves which we’ll get to in a moment, the set doesn’t contain many rare or unusual elements, although there are a few of interest. The front of the ship is made up of large, specialised 8 x 10 x 1 bow bricks in light grey and white; the light grey bow bricks are unique to this set, and the white ones only appear in this set and one other. Further notable elements include a couple of red 8 x 16 bricks (this element hasn’t appeared in any colour since 2009) and a 26-stud long light grey trailer base.

Dinosaurs !

For me the most interesting aspect of this set is the three dinosaurs it contains. The dark grey triceratops is unique to the set, while the large T-Rex appears in this set and two others; both of these bad boys are made up of 5 separate elements and feature moveable fore- and hind limbs and tail plus a hinged upper jaw. The cute green baby T-Rex has appeared in a total of 9 sets, the last of which was released in 2006; the baby T-Rex has also appeared as recently as 2009 in metallic gold as part of the Agents theme. While undoubtedly far less realistic and detailed than the dinosaurs which grace LEGO’s later Dino 2010 and Dino themes, they still have a rough charm.


The Build

The set comprises three main components, the first of which is a ship. This is, to be honest, pretty basic but at 48 studs in length it’s certainly sizeable and more than capable of accommodating the triceratops with ease. Despite the lack of detail, the ship at least comes equipped with accessories for the minifigures to use – tools such as a spade and a pickaxe, and also weapons including rifles and a pistol. The ship’s wheel turns and the ladders hanging from the sides of the bridge can be raised and lowered but that’s about it so far as moving parts are concerned.



Next to be built is an articulated vehicle which is designed to carry the big T-Rex. I hesitate to call this quirky vehicle a truck since the tractor unit looks more like a vintage car, and it certainly doesn’t look capable of hauling a fully-grown T-Rex, but let’s not get too hung up about such details…. With the restraining bar at the top removed the sides of the trailer can be easily popped out of their clips to provide easy access to the flatbed, and the trailer pivots where it attaches to the tractor unit.   



Last up is a small car which it appears is used by the baddies to get about. It has the same odd vintage aesthetic as the truck and comes complete with a side-mounted rifle and a crate containing dynamite (or at least a 1 x 2 tile printed with a dynamite design….)



The Verdict

Collectively, while the various components of the set come together to make a decent play experience, it’s not really a set that you’d build and display. If like me you’re a fan of LEGO’s dinosaur sets, however, it’s a worthwhile purchase for the dinosaurs alone if nothing else, particularly the triceratops which is unique to the set.


I bought my used, boxed and complete copy of the set on eBay around five years ago for a little under £30 including shipping; at time of writing there aren’t any examples for sale on eBay, but you can pick up a boxed example on Bricklink for just under £50 plus shipping.

You can see all my T-Rex Transport set pictures here, including some not included in the review.

Friday, 21 November 2014

And the winners are....

Well done to those of you who entered the recent Gimme LEGO competition to win a copy of the Guardians of the Galaxy Milano Spaceship Rescue set and correctly identified Vin Diesel as the actor who voiced Groot in the movie.


The names of all those who answered correctly were placed into a bowl and I asked my glamorous assistant (i.e. the missus) to close her eyes and draw out two winners, each of whom receives a copy of the set.

The winners are Danny Mills from Swindon and Bolly Olufon from Birmingham - congratulations! I'll be in touch to get your postal addresses and send the sets out to you.

Thanks to everybody who took the time to enter, and thanks once again to Argos for providing me with a copy of this LEGO Super Heroes set to review plus a couple of extra copies to give away as competition prizes; you can encourage them to provide Gimme LEGO with more sets for you to win by checking out their full LEGO selection here....

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Redemption?

I've given the LEGO Super Heroes theme a bit of a kicking over the past year, truth be told. After starting 2013 so well with the excellent Arkham Asylum remake things rapidly went downhill, to the extent that come the end of 2013, LEGO Super Heroes scored an ignominious double, picking up my gongs for "Most disappointing theme" and "Most disappointing set" at the 2013 Gimme LEGO awards. While not terrible, the LEGO DC and Marvel Super Heroes offerings at the start of 2014 had also failed to excite me, so it's fair to say that I'm not exactly the theme's greatest advocate at the moment.


It was against this unsympathetic backdrop that I was recently asked whether I'd be interested in doing a LEGO Super Heroes set review on Gimme LEGO. Having established that the offer was genuine, my immediate reaction was to say "no thanks" but after a quick look through the Super Heroes offerings for the second half of the year my eye was drawn to Set 76021 The Milano Spaceship Rescue and I decided to take the plunge and request a review copy of the set. I'd not seen the related Guardians of the Galaxy movie at that point so I quickly arranged a visit to my local cinema to check it out before the set arrived; having reviewed a couple of LEGO Movie sets at the end of 2013 prior to seeing the actual movie itself, and having been confused as hell as a result, I vowed not to fall into the same trap again if possible....


The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) is colourful and eye-catching, featuring the eponymous Milano superimposed on an indigo starfield. The Milano's crew, not all of whom appear in this set, peer out from the top right of the box, while the minifigures which are contained within the set can be seen in the bottom left corner. The back of the box (below - click to enlarge) highlights play features of the set and showcases a battle between the forces of good and evil, or at least their minifigure incarnations.


The box is secured by way of a couple of tape seals on each end flap; cutting the seals reveals six numbered bags of elements, two instruction booklets, a comic book and a sticker sheet. Harking back to the bad old days, the instruction booklets and sticker sheet aren't sealed inside a cardboard-backed bag as is customary nowadays for sets of this size; as a consequence, the sticker sheet (below) was creased. The are 12 stickers in total, helpfully numbered to make sure you attach them in the right places.


You can see the cover of the first instruction booklet below. The cover art is pretty much identical to the front of the box apart from the removal of the set name and age rating and the addition of an icon denoting the booklet number. It's 62 pages from cover to cover and consists entirely of building instructions, apart from advertising for a product survey on the back cover.


The second instruction booklet is slightly longer than the first at 68 pages; in addition to building instructions it contains an overview of some of the set's play features, a 2-page inventory of parts, and advertising for the LEGO Club, the LEGO Marvel Superheroes game and the three Guardians of the Galaxy sets released to date (picture below).


In addition to the two instruction booklets the box contains a comic book. This is much smaller than the instruction booklets, both in terms of footprint and length, weighing in at 12 pages in total. The first 7 pages contain a Guardians of the Galaxy comic strip featuring the full Milano crew and a cast of baddies (below).


Flip the comic book over and you'll find a 5-page X-Men story featuring Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Magneto and The Sentinel (cover below). My assumption is that this back-to-back Guardians of the Galaxy/X-Men comic book also appears in Set 76022 X-Men vs. The Sentinel.


Those with an interest in less common elements will have a ball with this set - it's overflowing with them. When I give a rundown of uncommon parts appearing in a set I generally focus in on elements appearing in ten sets or less, but in this case there were so many meeting that criterion that I had to lower my cut-off to 5 sets or less so I could fit them all into the photograph below (click to enlarge). The blue 8 x 8 plate with cut corner is unique to the set as are a number of the flat silver elements including the 1 x 12 hinge plate with angled side extensions and all four fairings (Technic panels). The trans-light blue curved 10 x 6 x 2 windscreen is also a new arrival. The bright light orange webbed 6 x 6 dish, 1 x 1 tile and 4 x 9 wedge plate have only appeared in this set and one other, as has the small pearl dark gray blaster, while a number of elements including the blue 2 x 2 wedge slope, dark bley 4 x 4 fractured wedge, medium dark flesh 2 x 1 slope, metallic silver Technic ball joint, black 7L hose and large pearl dark gray blaster can be found in just two sets in addition to this one. All other elements in the photograph have appeared in either 4 or 5 sets in total. Both types of pearl dark gray blasters in the picture below are exclusive to the Guardians of the Galaxy sets at present.


The set contains 5 minifigures. My immediate reaction on seeing Star-Lord (below) a.k.a. Peter Quill was that he almost has an Iron Man thing going on by virtue of his mask, colour scheme and jet boots, although he obviously doesn't wear a metal all-body suit. This version is unique to the set, although it shares the mask and head with the other Star-Lord variant found in Set 76019 Starblaster Showdown.


You can see Star-Lord below without his mask. In addition to the mask he's supplied with the medium dark flesh hair you can see below; this is so far exclusive to the two versions of the Star-Lord minifigure, which is also the case for his stubbly head print. His dark red torso, which features silver side buttons and a gold badge print, is unique to this minifigure, while his printed legs are the same as those found in two other minifigures appearing in this set as we'll see shortly.


Star-Lord's torso features a detailed back-print which you can see below, along with his alternate expression, described as "Angry Clenched Teeth Pattern" by Bricklink.


Green-skinned Gamora (below), who according to Wikipedia is the adopted daughter of the supervillain Thanos and the last of her species, is exclusive to this set. Her torso, head and hair are exclusive to this minifigure although she has the same printed legs as Star-Lord. The minifigure design incorporates Gamora's facial scarring and purple hair extensions from the movie, although I must say that the minifigure version looks rather more affable than her on-screen persona....


Her alternate expression, which you can see in the picture below, is I think much more representative of her fierce on-screen demeanour. Her torso is backprinted with a variation of the design which adorns the back of Star-Lord's torso.


The final member of Star-Lord's crew to feature in this set is Drax, otherwise known as Arthur Douglas. A cursory look on the internet for more information about this guy revealed one of the more bizarre character backstories that I've encountered - attacked and killed by Thanos while driving with his family, Arthur's spirit was apparently captured and placed in a powerful new body, and Drax the Destroyer was born....


Drax is exclusive to the set, and his tattooed, back-printed torso and head are predictably unique to this minifigure. Interestingly, his arms are also printed with a tattoo pattern complementary to that on his torso and head. Drax has the same printed legs as Star-Lord and Gamora.


Kree fanatic and bad guy Ronan the Accuser (below) is exclusive to this set. His hood, which comes complete with shoulder pads, is a new mould and hasn't appeared elsewhere to date, and his torso, head and printed legs are similarly unique to this minifigure, although his plain black cape is of a standard design and is widely available elsewhere.


Ronan's alternate expression and torso back-print can be seen below; Bricklink describes the dark red slashes on the front and back of his torso as wounds, but the slashes appear to be on top of his armour rather than cut through it so I suspect it's someone else's blood rather than Ronan's....


The final minifigure in the set is a Sakaaran (below). In the Guardians of the Galaxy movie the Sakaarans are Ronan's foot soldiers, and their first appearance is right at the start of the film. This minifigure can be found in all three Guardians of the Galaxy sets. The Sakaaran's legs and hood are unremarkable and appear as a constituent part of many other minifigures, but the torso and head are unique to this figure. Bricklink describes the detailed torso print as "Silver Exoskeleton and Dark Red Claw Scratch Marks Pattern", while the sinister head features a skull-like print with silver eyes and insectoid mandibles.


The intricate printing on the back of the torso and head can be seen in the picture below. I'm not entirely clear what the reverse head-print is supposed to represent; depending on which internet source you choose to believe it's either a mask made of shell-like material or or an exoskeleton with eye pattern, so take your pick.


Once the minifigures have been assembled it's time to build Ronan's Necrocraft. This somewhat bizarre-looking conveyance has a 2x2-stud platform at the front (below) which is occupied by Ronan in many of the publicity shots. The Necrocraft features an opening cockpit large enough to accommodate Ronan if he gets tired of standing at the front and a pair of adjustable wings. There's also a trans-red spring-loaded missile on either side of the cockpit.


You can see the back of the Necrocraft below. You're unfortunately supposed to attach stickers either side of the cockpit windscreen. I say "unfortunately" as I always struggle to neatly apply stickers to curved surfaces and this was no exception; the stakes are even higher here as the curved surface in question is transparent, so if you don't nail it first time and need to peel the sticker off and reapply it you run the risk of leaving an unsightly residue on the windscreen.


Finally it's time to build the Milano itself. Stage 1 (below - click to enlarge) involves construction of the interior of the Milano's cockpit and fuselage, complete with instrument panel and passenger seating; notably, there's more seating than there are crew members in this set, so if you decide to buy the other Guardians of the Galaxy sets then the Milano is ready to accommodate Rocket Raccoon at least. A pair of moveable stud shooters are attached either side of the cockpit, with a couple of fixed weapons below.


During Stage 2 of the build (below) additional interior detail is added such as a fire extinguisher and the pilot's chair complete with headrest. Also, a Technic frame is constructed around the cockpit and fuselage to which body panels and wings will shortly be attached, while at the back a central main engine is constructed, flanked by what appear to be a couple of thrusters; these can be rotated by up to 180 degrees if desired so the thrusters point upwards.


Not visible in the picture above is Star-Lord's cassette tape deck (below). This is attached to one of the interior walls of the fuselage via a couple of Technic pins. Those of you who are yet to catch the movie may be wondering why on earth this archaic piece of technology is specifically called out in the build, but trust me - it plays a memorable role in proceedings.


Stage 3 of the Milano build (picture below - click to enlarge) involves construction of one of the front body panels and one of the wings. The wings are large and complex, featuring an array of flat silver wing extensions most of which can be angled and repositioned to some extent; these are adorned by some fairly large stickers which should be attached with particular care as they're very prominent and have the potential to be a real eyesore if they're not positioned straight.


The penultimate stage of the Milano build is basically a mirror of Stage 3, involving construction of the remaining front body panel and wing. With both front body panels in place the bird-like appearance of the front of the ship becomes evident, complete with a 'beak' made up of bright light orange 3 x 2 wedge plates, and flat silver 3 x 3 inverted dish 'eyes'.


We're on the home straight now. The cockpit windscreen is attached, the fuselage roof is constructed, additional detail is added to the wing tips, and we're done (picture below - click to enlarge). The cockpit windscreen doesn't open as such; instead, the whole roof section complete with windscreen lifts off in one piece. It's a slightly clunky arrangement, although understandable given that the inside of the ship with its seating and interior detail is one of the set's play-features. The roof section features the light bley 5 x 6 hexagonal flag, which gains a sticker along the way, and flat silver 1 x 12 hinge plates with angled side extensions that I highlighted earlier when discussing parts of interest. These can be angled upwards if desired in the manner of flaps or air brakes.


The finished build is a reasonable approximation of the Milano (Guardians of the Galaxy screengrab below); the designer has done a fair job of capturing the overall shape, colour scheme and key features such as the complex wings. At around 45 cm from wing-tip to wing-tip the model is actually wider than it is long. From the perspective of 'realism' the fuselage is perhaps bulkier than it should be, a consequence of LEGO's desire to provide the ship with a useable interior.

From http://marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com
You can get a better look at the rear of the ship below (click to enlarge), notably the main engine, moveable thrusters and complex wing-tip arrangement. Bare black Technic beams are exposed at the back of the wings which is a bit untidy, but otherwise the back looks OK.


If you look at the model from above (picture below - click to enlarge) you can better inspect the efforts made to reproduce the Milano's colour scheme, principally the bright light orange pattern; you'll also see the lime green roundel if you look closely at the screengrab above. There's a little hint of Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit from above, although obviously not with respect to the colour scheme....


There's an unexpected level of detail on the underside of the model (below - click to enlarge). LEGO often neglects this aspect of their models, so the attention to detail here is particularly welcome. Details include a number of trans orange-tipped missiles, of which the two missiles flanking the fuselage halfway back are of the flick-fire variety. I assume that the two large circular structures, each of which has a bright light orange webbed 6 x 6 dish at its base, are large vertical thrusters. The rounded lower aspect of the fuselage provides something to grab hold of if you decide to swoosh the model; having done this more than a few times since I built it I can vouch for the model's stability - it's surprisingly robust.


You can see all the different elements of the set below (click to enlarge) including the five minifigures with their respective weapons and accessories. Of particular note, Ronan carries the silver orb - a powerful ancient artifact containing an infinity stone - in his right hand and his Cosmi-Rod in his left, while Star-Lord is holding his Hadron Enforcer space blaster.


Set 76021 Milano Spaceship Rescue contains 665 pieces and retails for £69.99/US$74.99. I don't generally get too excited about minifigs but I'm quite impressed with the quality, attention to detail and selection here. Some will no doubt complain about the absence of Rocket Raccoon and Groot but it's understandable that LEGO wouldn't want to include all the key characters in just one set. The build was enjoyable, with the obvious caveat that there's some repetition due to the ship's symmetry. Overall, from an AFOL perspective I don't think the end result is too bad given that it's primarily intended to be a play-set, although to be honest I probably won't keep it built and on display for long. Even so, I reckon that this set, along with the likes of the stunning Ultimate Collector Series Tumbler, marks a welcome improvement in LEGO's Super Heroes offerings; it's a safe bet that the theme won't be winning my "Most disappointing theme" award again this year.


Many thanks to Argos for providing this LEGO Super Heroes set for me to review; you can browse the full range of LEGO at Argos here, and in case you weren't aware there's a 3-for-2 promotion on toys starting at Argos tomorrow (Wednesday 5th November) so get in there quick and reserve some sets.... In addition to the review set, Argos have also generously provided Gimme LEGO with two additional copies of this set to give away to readers - a rather nice prize considering that the set retails for seventy quid. To be in with a chance of winning a set, please e-mail the answer to the question below plus your contact details and location to me at gimmelego@virginmedia.com; I'll draw two names out of a hat, and they'll get the sets. The question is as follows:

Who played Groot in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie?

Entry is limited to UK-based folks only on this occasion due to the size of the set and the cost of sending overseas. Only one entry per person, and the decision of the judge (that's me) is final. Entrants must agree to their names being announced on Gimme LEGO if they win. Closing date is midnight GMT on Tuesday 18th of November. Good luck!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Double Agent

LEGO's recent reboot of the Agents theme in the form of Ultra Agents, and my subsequent review of one of the new offerings - Set 70162 Infearno Interception - reminded me that I've been meaning to revisit my collection of original Agents sets for a while now and review one of the sets on here. Consisting of 13 sets released in 2008 and 2009, the original Agents line-up contains some excellent offerings, so much so that I found it hard to decide which one to go for. I eventually plumped for Set 8971 Aerial Defence Unit and enthusiastically dived in.


One of the things I like about the Agents theme is the consistency of presentation. This is most evident in the use of an agreeable overarching colour scheme applied across all of the sets and which, in the case of the Agents 2.0 second wave of sets released in 2009, also extends to the branding of the packaging and instructions. All the vehicles at the disposal of the eponymous agents are predominantly, or at least partially, dark blue in colour with variable amounts of metallic silver on show, and the agents themselves sport dark blue torsos and legs embellished with lime green and silver printing. Dark blue and lime green also dominate the branding of the Agents 2.0 boxes as you can see above and below. It's not just the agents either; the villains, together with their vehicles and bases, also conform to a consistent colour scheme, in this case orange, silver and black in varying proportions. The back of the box (below - click to enlarge) showcases a number of the set's play features, and a series of small panels highlight other second wave Agents releases. I wish the previous owner of my pre-owned copy of the set had been a bit more careful opening the box, but other than the damage caused by removal of the original seals the box is thankfully in reasonable shape.


I believe that the set's 733 elements were originally packed into 4 bags when the set was new. In addition to the elements, the set contains a sticker sheet and two instruction booklets. You can see the sticker sheet below, which unusually for a pre-owned set is largely intact and unused. It won't be unused for long, however.... The sheet contains 16 stickers, and dark blue, silver and lime green are once again the order of the day.


The instruction booklets are both close to A4 in size and have covers which are the same except for the booklet number in the bottom left corner. The cover of booklet 1 can be seen below; the cover art is almost identical to the imagery on the front of the box, with only the age recommendation lacking. Both booklets are 76 pages long; booklet 1 consists almost entirely of building instructions, covering the minifigures, base and the first half of the helicopter build, while booklet 2 contains a 2-page inventory of parts and seven pages of advertising for Agents sets, the LEGO Club and a product survey as well as wrapping up the helicopter build.


The back cover of the first instruction booklet (below) contains advertising for the second wave of Agents sets released in 2009; a silhouette of the mech from Set 8970 Robo Attack looms large in the background, while in the foreground you can see the 4 x 4 from Set 8969 4-Wheeling Pursuit bottom right and the Agents vehicle from Set 8967 Gold Tooth's Getaway bottom left.


You can see a few of the less common parts contained in the set below (click to enlarge). As previously stated, the Agents theme is notable for its use of dark blue elements and that's reflected in the selection of elements on show here. The dark blue 1 x 2 - 2 x 2 bracket and curved 8 x 8 x 2 double slope are both unique to the set, while the trans-black 8 x 6 x 4 windscreen is exclusive to the Agents theme, having only appeared in this set and one other, Set 8634 Turbocar Chase. The dark blue 2 x 2 curved slope with recessed side ports has only ever featured in this set and two others, and that's also the case for the dark blue 8 x 6 x 2 curved windscreen. The black cylindrical element is a Basilisk body segment and has appeared in a total of 4 sets including this one, as has the bley 10 x 10 inverted dish, the orange telescope and the pearl light gray 7mm diameter 11L ribbed hose.  All other elements in the picture have also appeared in ten sets or less to date.



The set contains seven minifigures - three Agents, a villain and his three drones. The version of Agent Chase that appears in this set (below) also appears in two others - Set 8634 Turbocar Chase and Set 8635 Mobile Command Center. His torso is the same as that used for Agent Charge, the other male agent in this set, and indeed the same as that used for all male agents appearing across the various sets making up the Agents theme. His legs, which are common to all three agents in this set, are printed with an I.D. card and a continuation of the lime and silver pattern adorning his torso, while his head print features dark blue shades and a head-mike.


Agent Chase doesn't have a back-printed torso, but he does have a alternate expression as you can see in the picture below. Bricklink describes his alternate expression as "Angry Eyebrows and Scowl"; maybe he's on a downer because he's lost his shades.... This double-sided head is actually a "Chase exclusive" appearing only in the five different Agent Chase variants that you can see here.


Agent Swift (below) is unique to this set. Her torso print, which is obscured by her body armour in the picture below, is similar but not identical to that of the male agents and can only otherwise be found adorning the torso of Agent Trace, her fellow female agent. The body amour is predictably exclusive to the Agents theme and has graced a total of five minifigures, while as previously stated her printed legs are the same as those of the other agents.


There's no back-printing on Agent Swift's torso, not that it really matters as it'd be hidden by her body armour anyway. She does however have a back-printed head featuring a scared alternate expression for all those occasions when you want to place her in peril.... As was the case with her torso, her head print is only shared with the Agent Trace minifigure.


Rugged, mean-looking Agent Charge (below) is unique to this set. His torso and legs are identical to those of Agent Chase, but unlike Chase he comes complete with body armour. His snarling, stubbled face print and flat top hairstyle can be found in a variety of other minifigures outside of the Agents theme.


Similar to the other agents there's no back-printing on his torso, although like Swift the body armour would have obscured any printing anyway so no great loss. Unlike the other agents, however, he doesn't have an alternate expression, so basically you have the choice between 'mean' and 'mean....


Each of the Agents sets features at least one distinctive villain, and on this occasion the bad guy is Magma Commander (below). He's unique to the set, as are his torso and printed trans-neon orange head, although his metallic silver helmet can also be found being worn by Break Jaw, another Agents villain. Magma Commander sports a metallic silver mechnical claw in place of his right hand.


I've removed Magma Commander's helmet in the picture below so that you can get a better look at his groovy printed trans-neon orange head. The head doesn't feature any back-printing. Although his legs aren't printed front or back, they're nonetheless rare by virtue of the orange hips and this is the only set that they appear in.


You can get a closer look at Magma Commander's torso backprint and the detailing on the rear of his helmet in the picture below.


Rather than a posse of regulation goons or evil henchmen the Magma Commander is supported by three Magma Drones. These have identical legs and torsos to those of their master, although in place of his metallic silver claw on the right hand they have a trans-orange cone which is presumably meant to be some sort of weapon.


Each drone has an antenna consisting of a small black lever base with a black lever in place of a head; according to Brickipedia the drones are controlled via the large satellite dish mounted on top of Magma Commander's base which we'll come to shortly....


You can see the Magma Commander with his drones in the picture below (click to enlarge) - an imposing sight for our heroes. I have to say that I'm a big fan of the metallic silver, bley and orange colour scheme.


With the minifigures assembled it was time to get started on the various models. Differentiating between black, dark bley and light bley in the instruction booklets was frustratingly difficult initially and it took me a while to get oriented. First to be built was a small boat consisting of just 10 parts and a sticker; it's little more than a glorified jet ski and eventually fits into the back of the helicopter as you'll see later. Next up is Magma Commander's base (picture below - click to enlarge) which is formed from three distinct sections joined together by brick hinges. A couple of features dominate the central section of the base. At ground level there's a striking tiled black panel fringed with pearl light grey modified 1 x 1 plates with tooth. This is actually a doorway and by lifting the orange cone to the left of the panel you can raise the panel somewhat, although not enough to actually get the minifigures in or out.... Above the doorway is a huge dish which can be rotated by turning a knob at the back of the base. Bookending the doorway are a couple of smaller sections, each of which is predominantly made up of a reddish brown LURP; there's a narrow observation platform and stickered screen atop the right-hand section.


The rear aspect of the base is shown below (click to enlarge). To the right as you look there's a small control panel and to the left is a rudimentary reclining structure with a red base which can accommodate one drone at a time, perhaps for recharging. There's no doubt that the Magma Commander's HQ is small and insubstantial, but even so it does have the faintest whiff of 'Bond villain' about it and I was minded to go and build Set 8637 Volcano Base to sit alongside it and give the Agents a sterner test....


With the base completed it's time to get stuck in to the helicopter. My complaints about colour discrimination issues in the instruction booklets took an unexpected twist at this point with the realisation that black Technic pins do actually look black in the booklet and have white edges to highlight them; this means that if you insert a black Technic pin into a black element then they look like they're different colours in the booklet - really bizarre. First steps in the helicopter build involve the construction of a solid, sturdy Technic floor, after which you attach a pair of yellow winch reels and start to install structures in what will eventually be the fuselage. Next the two-seater cockpit is constructed and enclosed by the large trans-black canopy which is hinged at the back to enable easy cockpit access; you can see what the model looks like at this point in the picture below (click to enlarge).


You can just about see one of the two yellow winch reels peeking out from the back of the cockpit in the picture below (click to enlarge); the two winches operate independently from each other, their string being raised and lowered by turning the bley wheel on the corresponding side of the cockpit. The small structure consisting of a yellow 1 x 1 cone mounted on a Technic axle and pin connector acts as a stop to prevent the string from unravelling when you pull on it; in order to release the string you need to rotate the yellow cone upwards.


The next stage of the build (below - click to enlarge) involves construction of a lengthy tail boom and attachment of the rear rotor. The boom is largely studless, and at the point where it joins the fuselage of the helicopter it's flanked by a couple of jet engines which are fashioned from black Basilisk body segments described earlier. The cockpit and boom are then connected by black Technic bricks which form the beginnings of a roof over the fuselage.


You can get a closer look at the tail boom, tail and jet engines in the picture below (click to enlarge). Attachment of the boom leaves a small space in the area beneath the point where it attaches to the fuselage; this space will be used to store the small boat described earlier.


With instruction booklet one now finished it's time to move on to booklet two. The build continues with completion of the Technic frame to which the fuselage doors will be bolted, and construction of the mechanism for spinning the rotors; if you look closely at the roof of the fuselage in the picture below (click to enlarge) you can see a bley gear rack and red elastic band which form part of the mechanism. The string from the winches is no longer trailing out to the sides of the helicopter, having now been attached to a pair of what appear to be harnesses; the idea is that you attach Agent Chase and his colleagues to these harnesses after which you can lower them out of the fuselage or lift them up using the winches when the helicopter is in flight.


The mechanism for spinning the rotors can be seen a little more clearly in the picture below, and I'll describe it in more detail when I get on to talking about the set's play features. As well as the Technic-heavy work going on at this stage of the build there's also some tidying up to be done where the fuselage meets the cockpit and the boom.


The final stage of the build begins with the construction and fitting of the four fuselage doors; if you want the finished helicopter to look as LEGO intended then there are a fair few stickers to attach at this point including a couple of larger ones which attach to the curved surface of two of the doors. I don't like stickers at the best of times, and I particularly hate trying to neatly apply big stickers to curved surfaces, so I spent the next few minutes cursing while I applied and reapplied the stickers until I finally had what I considered to be an acceptable result. With the doors fitted the helicopter then gets some rudimentary non-retractable landing gear, after which it's a case of fitting a couple of large curved roof sections, building and attaching the pair of large main rotors, doing a bit of tidying up, and then we're done as you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge).

I love the dark blue and yellow colour scheme, although I wish that there was more metallic silver which is a feature of many of the Agents sets but which only appears here thanks to the stickers. The design is surprisingly studless, with tiles and curved panels covering most surfaces and liberal use of SNOT techniques; I'm aware that some prefer a more studded design, but I personally think that the helicopter looks polished and impressive.


As well as looking good, the helicopter is packed with play features, some of which you can see demonstrated in the pictures below (click to enlarge). As well as the previously-described opening cockpit canopy, we get four independently opening doors on either side of the body of the helicopter; you'd generally expect the side doors to open via simple hinges, but in this case a more complex mechanism is employed which offers increased access by allowing each door to be pulled laterally away from the helicopter body as well as offering the ability to open outwards. Not visible in the picture below are the pair of winches behind the cockpit which can be used to lower or airlift the Agents through the open doors while the helicopter is in flight.


The twin rotors rotate thanks to the inclusion of a Technic mechanism; the yellow and black section on top of the boom can slide backwards and forwards which makes the rotors spin, and because the rotors are tilted and their motion is syncronised their blades never touch - clever! The recoil from the red elastic band that you can see in the picture below (click to enlarge) returns the mechanism to its starting position so you're ready to go again and keep the rotors spinning. The small rear rotor can also spin, although it isn't attached to the mechanism for the main rotors.


As mentioned previously, at the back of the fuselage beneath the tail boom there's a compartment which accommodates the small boat. The picture below (click to enlarge) shows the boat pushed halfway into its compartment. When the boat is pushed in as far as it'll go it can be secured for flight by lifting up the dark bley modified tile with handle that you can see in the picture below; having thoroughly enjoyed swooshing the finished model around the room I can confirm that the boat stays put!


In summary I think this is a superb set, and it offers a welcome reminder of what an excellent job LEGO did with the original Agents theme. The helicopter in particular looks great and it's packed with play features. For once I think that LEGO's 8-14 age recommendation is if anything slightly optimistic as the build was surprisingly challenging, featuring more Technic elements and mechanisms than I'd expected; it certainly look me longer to build than I thought it would, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it.


Reacquainting myself with the original Agents sets has been a joy, but the downside is that it's lessened my affection for the current Ultra Agents theme. Don't get me wrong - I was quite impressed with the Ultra Agents Infearno Interception set that I recently reviewed, and a couple of the other Ultra Agents sets such as the Mission HQ look pretty good - but I can't get away from the feeling that some of the original Agents sets such as this one, the Mobile Command Center and the Volcano base are at a different level and put the newer offerings in the shade. Let's just hope that LEGO builds upon the competent first wave of Ultra Agents sets and gives us a few spectacular second wave offerings in 2015 that'll mean I no longer have to reminisce about how good the original sets were....


Set 8971 Aerial Defence Unit was released in 2009 and is long retired. It contains 733 pieces and according to Brickset it originally retailed for £41.09/US$79.99. I purchased my pre-owned boxed copy of the set from eBay for £30 plus shipping last year, although I did need to replace a few missing parts; you'll probably end up paying a little more than that now for a boxed example, although there are currently a few new sealed examples available on Bricklink for between £60 and £70 plus shipping which seems surprisingly reasonable to me, so you hopefully won't need to break the bank if you're after a copy.