Dungeon Reviews: Pretender Skullgrin (1988)

Decepticon Siege Warrior

“Those who stand against me shall soon fall before me!”

Skullgrin was released as part of the first wave of humanoid Pretenders in 1988. He’s pretty well known among the Decepticon B-tier thanks to showing up in plenty of Marvel Comics as well as the Masterforce TV show. In 2022, along with fellow Pretenders Iguanus and Bomb Burst, he received a new toy in Transformers Legacy. Today we’ll look at the 1988 original.

Pretender Shell

Front/Back

Skullgrin’s outer shell represents a suit of biomechanical armor for the Decepticon which he can either don or control telepathically. The shell’s body is molded in a cool medium gray and painted in a violent fuchsia. Along with the light gray of the belt, head, and fists/shoulders, this is my favorite color scheme in all of Transformers.

There’s plenty to love in the sculpted details of this toy. I like the muddled shapes of the armor. It’s hard to tell what’s meant to be the monster’s body or something it’s wearing. There’s a bit of asymmetrical mechanical detail poking out of the back, suggesting a haphazard construction. I also adore the little row of skulls along the side of the belt.

Straight on

The shell’s arms, head, and belt are made of a softer PVC material that tends to degrade over time. Sometimes it exudes sticky plasticizer or develops a brownish spotting. Mine is in pretty good shape.

The belt, by the way, is removable, and has several loops, as if Skullgrin might gain or lose weight over the years. As far as I know, none of the other Pretenders have a belt design like this.

Head Closeup

The eyes are painted fuchsia. The head is on a swivel joint, but it can only barely rotate to the left and right. Most of the Pretenders don’t even have a separate head piece. The asymmetrical shapes of the skull make it feel like it was designed by a computer that didn’t quite understand how skulls work.

One detail that’s often missed on this figure is Skullgrin’s lower jaw. It’s sculpted right onto the shell’s chest – you can even see a big fat tongue – but it’s unpainted, causing it to blend in with the chest armor.

The comic artists interpreted Skullgrin’s head as more of a longhorn bull skull, but the version seen in the Masterforce cartoon (as “Dauros”) looks more like the toy.

Accessories

Skullgrin comes with twin “slagmaker carbines” and a “metal-rending vibro sword.”

The sword is made of that softer PVC material, and you can see mine is starting to develop the brown spotting.

Geared Up

The carbines plug together to make a double-barreled gun. Either weapon can be held in Skullgrin’s fists via 5mm ports. The carbines also have their own individual 5mm posts, so Skullgrin can dual wield them if that’s your taste.

Articulation

Besides the shallow turn at the neck, Skullgrin is only articulated at the arms. That’s about the best you’re gonna get from a Pretender shell. It is what it is.

Comparison

Shown: 2022 Transformers Legacy deluxe-class Skullgrin; 2018 Transformers Power of the Primes Prime Master Liege Maximo (In Skullgrin decoy armor).

Skullgrin is tall and imposing in his shell, towering over most other Transformers. Both the 2018 and 2022 homages to the character are pretty faithful to the overall attitude of the G1 figure, but feature more defined sculpted details. I wish the Legacy toy kept the fuchsia, but instead it adopted the darker purple of the inner robot – about which more in a moment.

Opening Shell

Shell open

You have to remove the belt before the shell can open up. Most of the humanoid Pretenders have removable belts, and some have to be removed to separate the shell, but the design of Skullgrin’s belt seems to be unique among the series.

Robot in shell

Skullgrin’s arms rotate back and his toes point to allow him to sit inside the shell. There’s no mechanism to hold him inside, he just rests in there.

Vehicle Mode

Vehicle mode front view
Vehicle mode rear view

Skullgrin transforms into a crab-like “assault tank.” As with most Pretenders, it’s vague, but some evocative details include the twin cannons, the molded tank treads on the rear, and a purple canopy on top. Some translucent stickers provide extra mechanical detail.

The slagmaker carbines attach to the sides of the tank via 5mm posts.

Underside

The tank rolls on three wheels – two mounted under the treads, and a large one in front.

Comparison

The 2022 Legacy toy transforms into a similarly vague tank mode evocative of the original, including the side-mounted rifles, turret on top, and treads at the back.

Robot Mode

Robot mode front/back

Skullgrin’s transformation involves flipping out his legs, twisting the arms forward, and folding out the hands and feet. You can flip out the alt mode cannons to give him gun hands if you wish.

He’s molded in dark gray and maroon plastic, and has two paint applications – one for his face and one for his canopy – in slightly brighter purple.

Head close-up

The head sculpt doesn’t evoke much beyond “robot guy,” which does seem to reflect Skullgrin’s personality well. He is “cold and logical” until he climbs into his shell, which turns him into a battle-crazed freak.

Armed up

For armament, Skullgrin can equip the slagmaker carbines in each hand by way of 3mm posts. You could combine them, but the dual carbine handle is 5mm, so he’d have to hold the gun sideways. The sword can’t be held by the inner robot at all.

Articulation is limited to the arms and legs. Since the front “spines” of the tank mode are the tops of the hips, posing the legs tends to look rather awkward.

Comparison

Shown: 2022 Transformers Legacy deluxe-class Skullgrin; 2018 Power of the Primes Prime Master Liege Maximo (inner robot).

The Legacy toy takes a number of cues from the original inner robot, including the ridges on the ankles, the chest shape, and the maroon colors. The 2018 minifigure also has a surprising number of details similar to the original, down to tiny sets of tank treads on the legs.

Conclusion

Pretenders to the throne

The Pretenders are some of my favorite toys of the whole G1 line, and Skullgrin is a huge reason why. I adore the blend of fanciful creature and mechanical detail. I could dream up dozens of scenarios where Skullgrin uses his shell to tactical advantage against the surprised Autobots.

As a kid I never had Skullgrin or any complete Pretender, but I knew about them from the Marvel comics. If I’d owned him, he absolutely would have been a mid-to-upper tier foe in many of my stories, clashing with the Autobots again and again until some bigger, worse foe forced him to cooperate with them. He seems like the type.

Hopefully someday we’ll have a toy that adequately updates the whole G1 package without compromise – lower jaw and all.

How do you like this skull fella? Did you own one as a kid? Drop a comment below!

– Video Dracula

4 thoughts on “Dungeon Reviews: Pretender Skullgrin (1988)”

    1. Honestly, Transformers fiction could really play up the horror of Pretenders. Biomechanical grafting tech is just inherently disturbing.

      Like

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