Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Christmas Thought

As we get closer to the Christmas season, I will taking a bit of a vacation to see family and friends. As such, I will not be posting for the next couple of weeks, but wanted to leave this parody as a parting thought for now. Members of the Transformers message boards I often frequent will be able to attest just how much the sentiments of this post apply to me just as much as to anyone else. I'll be back in January!

(With apologies to Clement C. Moore)
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the boards
Lots of people were stirring in gathering hoards
Their messages slung on the boards without care
with insults and bitterness strewn everywhere

The children were nestled all snug by their screens
To nitpick and pull apart old movie scenes
“Why was Daniel so whiny,” and “who became Scourge?”
Or “Would Arcee kiss Hot Rod if she had the urge?”

When all through the boards there arose such a clatter
I looked through the thread to see what was the matter
Through pages and pages I read like a flash
To learn how some fans had been treated like trash

When one person said to the other “Not TRUKK”
A flame war had started with curse words like “F**k”!
When, what to my wearying eyes should appear
But a quick Christmas message to bring us good cheer.

At first we ignored it, we read it so quick
But later we realized it must be St. Nick!
He posted to tell us the toys that we craved
Were just pieces of plastic with markings engraved

Like Huffer, like Skywarp, like Bluestreak and Buzzsaw
Like Soundwave and Frenzy, like Blaster and Steeljaw!
They were meant to give people a good bit of fun
But by this bad behavior, that all came undone!

But it wasn’t too late, to reverse this ill trend
and to learn to accept our opponents as friends
He taught us of tolerance, something we knew
that as hard as it was, was the right thing to do

Now this didn’t mean we could change overnight
Our opinions are strong, and our passions burn bright.
We couldn’t just lose them, for that would be wrong
And some of our statements would need to be strong

But simply by giving each other some space
We’d help make the boards a much happier place
And granting each other’s opinions respect
Our happy environment we would protect

The holiday spirit came over us all
A friendlier board, I just couldn’t recall
The flame wars were ended, a new age begun
And I guess that St. Nick saw that his work was done

For we never did see such a post come again
But we’ve gotten much happier than we were then.
So to Transformer fans, this message I write
Merry Christmas! Now everyone, please be polite!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Game Show Alert: Deal or No Deal

I'm always on the lookout for new game shows, which are increasingly few and far between these days. That makes this week a special opportunity, as NBC will presenting a new game show called "Deal or No Deal" every night this week at 8 PM.

This is a show that has had some success overseas, but this week is the first time American audiences have seen it. From what I can tell, the show is a bit of a hybrid between the old shows "Treasure Hunt" (where a contestant picks one box out of a set of many, and is awarded whatever prize is associated with that box) and "Let's Make a Deal" (where the host would offer to trade whatever prize the constestant has for an unknown prize). To get an idea of how the game is played, click on the game link on the site. It's quite addictive!

The host is Howie Mandel, who I'll always remember as "Bobbie Generic" (pronounced GEN-er-ick) in the old cartoon "Bobbie's World." This is his first game show, and it should be noted that stand-up comedians are not known for being able to host game shows well (there have been quite a few high profile failures of this type). But the promos give me the impression that Mandel will treat the game seriously, and I hope that he will be successful. If "Deal or No Deal" does well this week, it could mean well for the future of other game shows, as well. I encourage everyone to tune in.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Transformers Club updates

The Club Forums have been online for about a week now (depending on what exact level of access one uses as a definition for "online") and discussion has, for the most part, remained civil and productive. Here are some highlights.

We learn that the club store is unlikely to carry foreign Transformers toys in the immediate future. This is at least partly because it turns out that only Hasbro has the legal right to import Transformers toys into the US. Other sites do, in fact, carry imported items, and Hasbro has been kind enough to turn a blind eye to this practice, but for the official club to carry such items would need to be done directly through Hasbro. They're looking into options, though, so this situation may change given time.

The Master Collector magazine will continue to be sent to club members every month. A group of folks (myself included) suggested the possibility of "opting out" of every other month of Master Collector (when the Transformers magazine is not included), arguing that this would save Fun Productions ("FP") shipping costs. Brian Savage has argued that even this option would create for FP the problem of creating separate shipping lists, and that it is easier just to send Master Collector every month to all club members. As mentioned before, just sending only the Transformers magazine is not an option, as Master Collector serves as a "wrapper" that enables to post office to send the magazine.

A few folks have mentioned the possibility of using G.I. Joe figure molds to create figures for some of the human characters in the Transformers saga, such as Spike Witwicky and G.B. Blackrock. Brian Savage seems to be considering this, and has asked for suggestions as to what Joe figures could be used for what Transformers humans. Other member suggestions for exclusives have involved possible tie-ins to the movie scheduled to be released in 2007. Although many members have expressed a desire to see exclusives originally planned for the old 3H club come out, FP has restated their position that they prefer to work on original projects. This also applies to a popular suggestion that FP could release toys originally planned, but never released by Hasbro, such as several unused G2 designs.

Although international postage is prohibitive for club members outside of the U.S., current international postage regulations make changes unlikely. FP charges what they are charged for overseas shipping. Also, for several reasons, it is unlikely that FP will sponsor a Transformers convention outside of the U.S. in the foreseeable future.

There should be an announcement regarding club exclusive toys in the near future. Probably not before Christmas, but possibly before the New Year. In any event, it is hoped that even club members who joined at the very beginning (whose memberships expire in early January) will have some chance to get these exclusives. But they'll have to be on the lookout, and order quick! :)

The possibility of collecting the comics from the club magazine into a single volume has been discussed by FP, but at best, it will probably be another couple of years before this can happen. Brian Savage did make an off-the-cuff statement in response to this that indicates that the current story arc is expected to last for 5 years, which is consistent with the current promise that the "freebie" exclusives that all members get each year will be parts of a combiner to be completed after the 5th year the club has been running.

Many club members have expressed a desire to have Hasbro representative Aaron Archer give the club behind-the-scenes updates, similar to those he used to provide for the 2005 boards a few years ago.

As always, options for where BotCon should be held are being heavily debated. There is also a lot of discussion on what opportunities the convention should feature. Despite a widespread desire to see the convention return to a summer schedule, it seems likely that BotCon will continue to be held in September for the foreseeable future. FP hopes to have an announcement on the location and dates for the 2006 convention soon, and they are already hard at work on the convention exclusive toys.

Finally, many folks at FP have expressed interest in having club members submit articles for publication in the Transformers club magazine. As more members submit articles, FP will better be able to use the best for the magazine. Not only will this make the magazine more member-based, but the end result promises to be of better quality, so I definitely encourage everyone to send in their ideas!

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Transformer Club Forums are now open!

Although I've been rather pessimistic about the club lately, they deserve recognition for finally getting the club forums open. If you're a club member, you can go to this link to check them out.

There's not a lot to talk about there, yet, and I do feel that the user interface needs some work. I also don't want to give the folks at Fun Publications too much credit for finally opening a service that's been promised since this past February. However, all the important FP leaders are there, and they're starting off with a fair level of interaction with member questions. Let's give them a chance to see what they can do.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Ultimate Transformers Costume

My friend over at Ekballō suggested I check out this link at Boing Boing. It describes (and links to) a site selling Transformers costumes that actually transform while you wear them!

Be warned. They're not cheap....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Responses from Brian Savage

Yesterday, I sent Brian Savage of Fun Publications (henceforth referred to as "FP") my "Open Letter." He responded to my e-mail at about noon, and I sent a response, including much of the Action Master suggestion I posted yesterday. He has since responded to that as well. Although he asked that I not quote him verbatim, for fear that his comments be taken out of context, he did give me permission to paraphrase his responses in public.

When I commented that Mr. Savage is perceived as being indifferent or contemptuous of "legitimate concerns," he responded that he has not seen very many concerns he considered legitimate. No doubt he sees many more "illegitimate" comments than I do, and I will grant that I may look at the comments I read on message boards through rose-colored glasses. So I attempted to give him the example of international postage rates, which many international club fans have considered unreasonable. Savage believes that those making such statements have no basis for making them and do not have enough information to know what they are taking about. He also insists that FP has indeed checked on different options. I offered Savage several options, including SAL and EMS, while asking if First Class mail (as opposed to Priority) for USPS shipping was a possibility. Savage specifically responded to my comment regarding First Class mail, but not the international options. As to why FP uses the USPS shipping options they use, which resulted in such oddities as paying over $6 for Priority Mail shipping of a comic book (which actually happened to me), he says that to include coding for the web site that handles all of the myriad of possible shipping options (and includes options for shipping such small items) would cost over $1000, and is simply not viable for the very few such items that are currently sold at the store. Members wishing to explore other shipping options can call a customer service representative (the number is provided at the club store), but automated options are simply not considered a possibility at this time, and while phoning in an order may not be an attractive alternative, at least it is offered.

When asked about the high non-member prices, Savage explained that these were intended to persuade parents shopping for their children to buy the child a club membership. While I had expected the high non-member prices were intended to steer people toward buying a membership, I suggested to Savage that parents would respond to such marketing by going to other stores, rather than by buying the club membership. While Savage concedes that this may or may not be true, he still seems to believe that this strategy is his best option.

He brought up the issue of selling toys in bundles, something I did not even mention, but which has been an issue of concern among many fans. His basic assertion was basically that anything in a bundle was below retail for the same items. He added in the fact that we don't have to pay gas and tax to make this sound like a good deal. Gas and tax are non-issues to me (not that they're totally negligible, but the amount of gas I use and tax I pay just to get toys can't add up to much more than a dollar), and I hadn't really even intended to get into the bundle thing, but since he brought it up, I pointed out that the way that most bundled packages are put together requires that fans buy an older item with a newer one, and that this actually discourages sales. On top of that, most newer toys sold in bundles are not available separately from the club store. I pointed out that if the toys were available in bundles AND separately (say, $25 each or $45 for both), then buyers would clearly see the savings and be more likely to buy. Savage's response amounted to suggesting again that it would be easier if people phoned in their orders, and bringing up the $1000 coding cost for making the web store more versatile again. I'm not sure why that was relevant here, but there you go....

Savage once again pulled out the argument (seen often on the message boards) of listing all the things that club membership provides: 6 club newsletters in full color, 12 issues of Master Collector, up to 12 monthly 30-word ads in Master Collector for free, 6 shipping schedules with pre-order forms (found as an insert in Master Collector), the store discount compared to non-member prices, the discount on BotCon packages, the online forum (coming soon), the additional Club exclusives (also coming soon) and the "freebie" Transformers figure given to members annually.

My responses when he suggested that he thought all that was a lot for $40 (I feel safe in quoting my own side of the conversation):
I don't. The Master Collectors are (as I've already said) totally worthless to me. Transformers fans simply don't use classifieds in that way. We use online message boards. There simply aren't that many Transformers fans who don't have some form of online access. The average age of the Transformers fan is in their 20s. If we don't have computers of our own (which we usually do), we tend to be in college and can access library computers. By extension, the ads (which I have attempted to use on a couple of occasions) are worthless. I have not yet gotten any responses to an ad placed in Master Collector. The shipping schedules don't mean much, because we've already had that information from our other online sources. The discount on store items only brings the cost of the toys back down to about the same (or only slightly lower at best) as other online stores. Those of us who don't/can't go to BotCon (and by almost any definition this has to be a large number of the club membership) can't use the convention discount.

That leaves the 6 full color newsletters (which I do appreciate), the online forum, the club exclusives, and the annual freebie. 2 of these 4 don't yet exist. That said, I think the opportunity to buy club exclusives will, in and of itself, make an enormous difference.
Savage insisted that there are fans who do not have online access who like the ads. I can't outright accuse him of being wrong here, as I don't have contact with fans who aren't online, but I simply don't believe it. The consensus of the online fandom is pretty much universal that Master Collector is a waste of paper (I mean, seriously, I haven't found one fan who has mentioned finding this useful!). And given the average age of the Transformers fan (usually under 30), we're pretty much all able to get online, save for an unfortunate few, who probably can't afford the club in the first place! Savage also notes, however, that Master Collector is the "packaging" by which the postal service can send the TF club magazine, and insists that it would cost FP more to remove it. Whatever. I'll chalk that up to another suggestion he won't consider.

In a comment unrelated to anything I consciously brought up, Savage also talked about the concerns regarding the change in art categories at BotCon. Anything in 3D is considered to them to be in the "diorama" category. While this is simply not how Transformers fans look at these things (and I attempted to clarify by specifying the lack of a background), this basically boils down to a difference in how we define our terms.

Savage also suggested in his first letter that complaints aren't very specific, and that there's not much he can glean from them to improve matters. I've seen this argument before, and think that a lot of fans have been plenty specific, but somehow he doesn't see it. So I took that opportunity to toss out my idea for Action Master exclusives. His response was that one member of the council (a group of well-respected Transformers fans, most with prior convention experience, who serve as advisors to FP) suggested something similar to this already, and another rejected it (Savage's words were far more emphatic, but I agreed not to quote him verbatim....). He commented that what a customizer can do is very different than what FP could economically do (which indicates to me that he didn't really understand my proposal. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned www.custommasters.com at all). Basically, the idea was summarily dismissed as "too expensive," which I think is patently ridiculous compared to the exclusives they actually do produce.

Throughout the whole letter, especially in regard to the lack of club exclusives this year, Savage kept repeating how much FP had to do in such a short time this year, implying that we fans couldn't possibly understand what they've been through (he never did respond to my suggestion that FP could have made an extra recolor of one of the BotCon toys while they were having those made). Perhaps, but having worked on publishing a literary magazine once upon a time, and having a fair bit of responsibility for event planning in the past and in my current job, I expect I understand more than he thinks I do. Another phrase repeated several times (both in the replies and often in message board responses, which I feel enables me to use quotes just this once) was "we can't do everything everyone wants," which I'm starting to take as code for "we won't even try to do things that people want if we didn't think of it first," but that may just be me getting bitter.

So there you have it. I've tried to be fair, but yet again, all the suggestions were rejected and I'm left with several indications that I wasn't even heard properly. Ah, well. I'm done with this for now. Time to think about more positive things, like the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I won't be blogging for a few days in order to visit family and enjoy my time off from work. See you on Monday!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In Defense of Action Masters

I admit it. I like Action Masters.

This statement puts me in the minority of long-time Transformers fans (newer ones won't even know what I'm talking about). Those with really long memories will know that I've already "come out" on this subject, and that I used to host a web page featuring this often maligned segment of Transformers history.

I can understand why some fans dislike Action Masters so much. They are, after all, "Transformers that don't transform." And while I concede that the gimmick of transformation was originally what "Transformers" were all about, I would suggest that the reason that the toy line has continued to exist (and even thrive) for so long is because the characters are so interesting. Even non-Transformers fans have some idea who Optimus Prime is. Most will remember Bumblebee as "the one that hung around with Spike" (the main human character) even if they can't remember the character's name, because his character was so heavily featured in the 1980's cartoon.

Action Masters are, at their core, representations of the Transformer characters in action figure form. Since the designers did not have to worry about engineering transformation schemes into these figures, they were able to create figures that actually more closely resembled the characters as they appeared in the cartoon and the comics. Also, being just a figure and small transformable weapon, most were much more affordable than many of the other Transformers toys available up to that time. (Of course, that didn't help the line sell well. In fact, much of my current Action Master collection was picked up from the clearance aisle at Kay-Bee toys [nowadays, they tend to go by "K-B"] for about 99 cents each.)

Although I don't expect that this idea is likely to be picked up by Fun Productions (and therefore don't intend to include it in the letter I'll be sending owner Brian Savage), I would go so far as to suggest that Action Masters would make excellent club exclusives. Mr. Savage has often commented that, compared to the G.I. Joe exclusives he does for their club, Transformers are much more expensive and limited. While one can create a "new" character by mixing and matching different parts of G.I. Joe figure molds (i.e., the head from one character, with the torso of another, on top of legs from yet another), you really can't do that with Transformers. All you can really do with Transformers is recolor the figure, and maybe attach a new head (which usually has to be molded from scratch, increasing the costs). The Action Masters, on the other hand, have more or less interchangable parts. This has been ably demonstrated by the Custom Masters web site, which features new characters made out of the parts of many different Action Master toys. And since we already know that Joe Toscano (the Custom Masters creator) has done work for some of the folks currently involved in the club (see the G2 Breakdown featured on the site), it seems like it wouldn't be too difficult to hire his creative talent to work on something new and special for a club exclusive.

One potential obstacle to this would be the question of whether or not the original Action Masters molds even still exist. However, we do know that the Optimus Prime mold was used as recently as 2002 by Takara. This would imply that the others may well be out there yet.

I don't think that anyone at Hasbro or Takara thinks that there's much money to be made on the Action Masters in your average toy store. But they would be ideal as club exclusives, intended specifically for collectors. And they would be far less costly to produce than any of the transformable exclusives the club is likely to be planning. If the molds are out there, it seems to make sense to make use of them in the market most likely to appreciate them.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Open Letter to Fun Productions re: The Official Transformers Club

In recent times, I've failed to post pretty much anything related to Transformers. I have been remiss. Hopefully, this will go toward rectifying that error. For some background to this open letter (which I intend to actually send to Fun Productions after it has sat public for a little bit, so as to generate comments that will enable me to add/edit/delete comments and make the letter as effective as it can be), I encourage folks to read my other comments on the subject. However, I should emphasize that my comments here will be dedicated to the club, and not the convention, as those comments were.
To: Brian Savage, owner of Fun Publications
Re: Suggestions for The Official Transformers Collectors' Club

It has been almost a year since the announcement that Fun Publications would be the new licensee of the Transformers collectors' club. In that time, we have gotten a club that has largely met its deadlines, and delivered on most of its promises. This is in stark contrast to the previous owners of the club who, while having grand dreams, made a lot promises that they were not able to keep. As I'm sure you're aware, this has caused a fair bit of frustration in the Transformers fan community. I recognize that you have already gotten a fair amount of mail from fans who would like to see things done differently, and can speak from personal experience that, when I myself have sent such mail, you have been diligent to respond to each letter personally. This is greatly appreciated. Likewise, the efforts of Pete Sinclair to respond to threads on some of the more popular message boards is appreciated.

Nonetheless, there persists a sentiment in the Transformers fan community that, when legitimate concerns have been articulated, the response received has been one of indifference at best or outright contempt at worst. I'm confident that this has not been your intention. But the point remains that fans seem to feel that concerns are being dismissed without adequate attention or reflection. It is my hope that this perception may be overcome as positive changes are seen in the coming year.

I recognize that some of the things fans would like to see are simply not economically feasible. We are all very aware of the economic failings of the previous license holder, and no one wants to see a return to that situation. Nevertheless, I feel that there are a few aspects of the club that can be improved without detriment to Fun Publications. I should also make clear that I will keep my comments confined to the collectors' club, and not the convention, which I see as a separate entity.

With regard to potential improvements to the club, I would like to address the following issues:
  1. Shipping for items from the club store;
  2. Cost of merchandise at the club store;
  3. The Master Collector magazine; and
  4. Club exclusives.
1. Shipping for items from the club store: When I recently ordered the 2005 Botcon program from the club store, I paid over $6 for Priority Mail postage. This is an item that could have safely been shipped in a "Flat Rate" Priority Mail envelope for only $3.85. An option for First Class shipping would have been even cheaper. Since that time, I note that you have changed the option on your web site to encourage buyers to telephone a customer service representative to get a more reasonable shipping rate. But this is something that should be encoded into the web site itself, rather than causing potential buyers the inconvenience of having to telephone a representative after having already visited the web site. I am under the impression that other members have found shipping prices to be unreasonable, as well. I cannot speak personally with regard to international shipping, but have read several posts on the message boards that international rates are well above what it actually costs to ship the items being sent. It seems to me that, if Fun Publications actually is having to pay these higher shipping costs, then it is incumbent upon Fun Publications to explore other shipping options. If lower-cost shipping options risk lower quality shipping, Fun Publications can make these risks clear to the consumer. However, the consumer should be given the option of taking such risks.

2. Cost of merchandise at the club store: I do not expect Fun Publications to "take a loss" in selling merchandise on their site. It is to be expected that prices for toys purchased from the club store will be, at best, only slightly less than purchasing from another online source, even for club members. But the non-member prices are simply absurd. Rather than pay the membership fee or the exhorbitant non-member prices, non-members will simply spend their money at another online site, and that means lost revenue for Fun Publications. I'm curious as to whether any items have ever been sold from the club store at non-member prices, the prices are so high! To at least some extent, purchasing merchandise at a reasonable price should be one of the benefits of club membership, but when members are almost as well off to buy from another store, and non-members are definitely better off to do so, there is little incentive to become a club member or to shop at the club store.

3. The Master Collector magazine: This is highlighted as one of the benefits of club membership. But the magazine is basically just a collection of classified ads, and I don't know of any fans that find it valuable. In fact, I have read many comments on message boards that consider it a waste of paper. If Transformers fans wish to sell something, we tend to find we are better off using the message boards, or even eBay (despite the costs involved in using that particular service). Although Master Collector is the featured publication of Fun Publications, I would suggest that fans would be served just as well if they were only sent the bi-monthly Transformers Club magazine. This would result in saved shipping costs to club members (only having to send every other month) and presumably lowered printing costs (as you wouldn't have to print so many Master Collector magazines), thereby freeing up funds for other club benefits without damaging Fun Publications financially.

4. Club exclusives: I have saved this for last because I feel that it is the most easily dealt with, and in fact might be taken care of anyway now that Fun Publications has dealt with the struggles of the first year of running the club. However, I have been extremely disappointed not to be given the opportunity to purchase any club exclusives this year (besides the "freebie" exclusive I got for joining, which I am very happy with). While I am aware that creating an exclusive is a costly endeavor, it seems to me that Fun Publications could have made one more recolor out of one of the molds already being used for the Botcon exclusives and set that recolor aside as a club exclusive. This would have satisfied my own desire to see at least one exclusive this year, while costing Fun Publications far less than if the exclusive had been made out of a mold not already being used. Ideally, I would hope to see two or three exclusives per year (again, not counting the annual "freebie"), but I would be satisfied with one annually.

I trust that you will find these comments to be reasonable as well as to represent the kind of changes that may be implemented without damaging Fun Publications' bottom line. I truly do wish the club to be a success. However, if changes are not implemented, it is difficult to state that I am getting $40 worth of value out of the club in a year's time, and I would therefore be reticent to renew my membership in the future. I'm quite confident that I am not alone in my opinion.

Thank you for your time.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

RIP Michael Piller

Unless you're a fairly avid follower of Star Trek, you've probably never heard of Michael Piller, nor have heard that he lost his struggle with cancer yesterday. Piller is credited with breathing new life into the Trek franchise after the first couple of years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and co-created both of the Trek's that followed (Deep Space Nine and Voyager). Oddly enough, my reason for remembering him on my blog here has little to do with Star Trek, but rather because of another show Piller was involved in, which provided the venue for my very first foray into web page design.

If you read the obituary carefully, you'll see a quick mention of a show called Legend that Piller co-created with a man named Bill Dial (although the obituary doesn't mention Dial). Legend was a short-lived series that aired on UPN back in 1995 (UPN's first year of existence, a time when very few parts of the country even had UPN programs on a dedicated UPN station). Legend was a Western drama with a Sci-Fi edge, starring Richard Dean Anderson (formerly of MacGyver, more recently known for Stargate SG-1) and John DeLancie (best known as "Q" from the modern versions of Star Trek).

The series told the tale of Ernest Pratt (played by Anderson), a dime novelist who often has to portray his novel character, Nicodemus Legend, in real life to appease the publicity needs of his publisher. This is often a struggle, as Legend is the stereotypical hero: doesn't drink, gamble, or have illicit relations with women, while the very human Pratt enjoys all these things. When the character of Legend is accused of illegally changing the course of a river, denying water rights to a wealthy landowner in Colorado, Pratt must go to clear his name. He soon learns that Hungarian scientist Janos Bartok (DeLancie) has achieved this feat by scientific means, in order to help some poor farmers who were being denied rights by this landowner. Bartok has used the identity of the fictional hero Legend in order to protect his own identity so that he might continue his scientific research undisturbed. Faced with the reality that his actions may cause Pratt to face legal difficulty, Bartok agrees to help Pratt to clear his name. But faced with the prospect of denying the poor farmers their livelihood, Pratt decides to accept the responsibility for changing the course of the river, and he and Bartok start to work together against the landowner, who has been trying to drive farmers away from the nearby land they legally own so that she might profit from illegal contracts that would bring a railroad into town, leading to huge profits to those in on the deal. To this end, Pratt accepts the identity of his fictional hero, Nicodemus Legend, for real. After the landowner is brought to justice, Bartok convinces Pratt to stay in town and be a hero on a more permanent basis. As the series progresses, Pratt continues to struggle to maintain his bohemian lifestyle while being called to the higher ideals of the hero he is forced to portray, partly by his publisher, but also by the fact that, deep down, he really does want to help people.

Faced with low ratings (caused by the fact that, at the time, few people knew the difference between UPN and UPS, a paraphrase from DeLancie) and a corporate shake-up at UPN, Legend was cancelled after only 12 episodes (along with all of UPN's first year of programming, with the exception of Star Trek: Voyager, which had been guaranteed a two-year commitment.). About a year later, I opened "The Unofficial Nicodemus Legend Page," which I ran for over five years, and am pleased to be able to say was regarded as the foremost Legend page in existence at the time. I stopped working on the page as I took on other commitments, but if you go to the Wayback Machine and search for "http://NicodemusLegend.web.com," you should still be able to find some of what I had done a few years ago.

I invite you to have a look, and see Michael Piller's other legacy.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Introducing G.B. Blackrock

When talking with a friend of mine (who has seen my blog) the other day, I was asked about the little head that appears as my icon on Blogger. Clearly, this isn't my face! (Actually, the current picture is, but it wasn't so at the time) It occurred to me that I've never explained on the blog itself what that is, and that now is a good time to do so.

The head is part of a customized action figure I kitbashed some months ago to resemble G.B. Blackrock. Long-time Transformers fans will know that Blackrock was an important character in the early Marvel Transformers comics. Blackrock was an oil tycoon who, after having several of his energy plants attacked by the evil Decepticons, formed an alliance with the heroic Autobots. In exchange for their protection from future attacks, he provided them with a source of fuel. Toward the end of the Marvel series, Blackrock reappeared to form an "X-Men"-like group of heroic mutants, dubbed the "Neo-Knights," to assist in protecting Earth from the Decepticons.

The idea for my figure came from a similar figure created by long-time Transformers fan Zobovor, using a J. Jonah Jameson figure from the Spider Force line of toys of quite a few years ago. For my figure, I used the more recent J. Jonah Jameson figure that came out with the first Sony Spider-Man movie. The picture to the right representing this figure came from www.toymania.com. I picked up my figure from Target on clearance for under $2.

As with Zobovor's figure, I was glad to find that the vest was a separate piece from the rest Jameson's shirt. Or at least, it was in part. Only the front proved to be removable, leaving the back of the vest, which was molded into the rest of the figure. This needed to be smoothed over with modeling putty.

Another aspect of the figure that needed major reconstruction was the huge lever sticking out of the back. The idea was that you could move this lever up and down to make the figure smash it's fist on top of a desk that was included with it, making lots of "cups" and "papers" on the desk wiggle about. I had no need of the desk, nor of the lever, and it had to go. I cut as much of it away as I could with pruning shears (which I don't recommend if you want to keep the shears in good shape!) and filled in the rest with putty.

There were three other areas of the figure that needed noticable, if minor, structural change. One was the head, as Blackrock's haircut is not at all similar to Jameson's. Again, I followed Zobovor's lead and used putty. Another area was the tie. The folks who made the Jameson toy cheated a bit on the tie, only making just enough of it to be visible above the vest. Once the vest was removed, it was obvious that the tie was WAY too short! I used putty to lengthen the tie to a more realistic size. The final thing was glasses. For these, I cut a piece of plastic out of the remnants of a small Transformer package, used a black paint marker to create "rims," and glued the resulting glasses to the head after the whole thing was repainted.

Unlike Zobovor's figure, which he claims only took a couple of hours, I painted my figure over the course of several weeks, often adding a new coat once one had dried to make sure that none of the pin-stripes of Jameson's shirt showed through the white. I use acrylics, both in paint markers and in jars using a brush. I find that they dry more thoroughly on plastics than enamels, and acrylics hide brush errors more forgivingly.

The end result now sits on top of my bookshelf, and I've used an image of the head as my avatar not only here, but on several of the Transformers message boards I frequent, where I often go by the alias of G.B. Blackrock. As with this board, I usually only give my real name in personal e-mails, rather than on the public boards. It's not that I don't want people to know who I am, so much as I choose to avoid spam in this way. For similar reasons, I tend to avoid using the name of the seminary I work for, even though most of my friends (who also go to the same school) obviously know it already!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BotCon Aftermath

BotCon, the official Transformers convention, has come and gone. As I indicated earlier, I did not go. Both the cost and the timing made it impossible. However, I have been able to keep up with most of the news via several Transformers news and message boards. For the most part, it seems that the convention was fairly well run, but the general feeling I get from many of the fans who attended is "they really don't get us."

By way of background, Fun Productions (henceforth referred to as "FP"), the current organizers of BotCon, have been running the GI Joe convention for nearly a decade. This is the first year that FP has organized the Transformers convention, and so they largely adapted the model for toy conventions that they know: that of the Joe convention. It was largely understood by everybody that this was the best way to do the convention in a short span of time (9 months after getting the license), and that while not everything would work as well for Transformers as they did for Joes, it was better do it this way than the reinvent the wheel with untried (or previously tried and failed) methods. Even though FP often took a "trust us, we know what we're doing" attitude that largely alienated Transformers fans with legitimate criticisms, many of us decided that it was best to wait until after this convention was over and allow FP the benefit of the doubt.

So, did they know what they were doing? In large part, yes. However, the dealer room was quite a bit smaller than usual. The art room was decimated to the point where all the entries fit on a small table, and the expensive exclusive toys were produced in such small numbers that no one who wasn't there will ever be able to afford any on the secondhand market unless they have tons of disposable income. Perhaps this web comic explains some of the feelings the best.

But probably the most telling sign that FP doesn't understand Transformers fans was the dinner. I found this statement at the Allspark forums:
The dinner was a perfectly good beef meal. For everyone. There was no spot on our prereg forms to specify if we wanted a different meal. Can't eat beef due to religious or medical reasons? Allergic to one of the other items on your plate? You're gonna have to send it back, and you're gonna have to wait up to half an hour for something else. Real American Heroes don't have such pissant concerns.
Mr. Savage made absolutely no effort to cater to vegetarians, or anybody who might not want to eat beef. This might work fine for Joe fans (who, as a commenter has observed, are a more "Republican" group. Not suprising for fans of a military toy line), but Transformers fans are a more diverse bunch, and people might not want a "red-blooded-American meal" for a variety of reasons: personal, health, religious, etc. While non-beef eaters were eventually given other options, it was only after they sent back their steak and complained, and then they had to wait half an hour. Even worse was this story, which tells of a person who can't eat mushrooms, who turned in his steak with mushrooms only to recieve chicken with mushrooms!

But even more disturbing was the fact the Mr. Savage interrupted the meal for a prayer. I first learned about this through a throwaway comment on Walky's blog, but this paragraph after what I just quoted from Allspark says it much better:
About 10 minutes into dinner, Savage came over the PA to lead us in saying grace. Maybe this goes over okay with the Joe fans. We're not the Joe fans. Everyone with an interest in saying a Christian prayer over their meal had already done so, with their own families around their own table, well before Savage chimed in. Everyone else was embarrassed or offended. But it's okay, because Jews and other undesirables aren't Real American Heroes.
Mr. Savage not only alienated a lot of non-Christian Transformers fans (which, I'm sad to say, is probably the majority of Transformers fans), but he embarrased most of the Christians, who (as was already noted) had already said grace if they were so inclined.

I have to admit to being rather torn on this one. As an evangelical Christian, I'm not unsympathetic to the argument that Christians should not be afraid to demonstrate their faith, even in secular, public forums. But this crosses a line for me. Mr. Savage wasn't just demonstrating his faith, he was forcing everyone else to participate in it. While I do believe that Christianity is the "one, true, way" (even though I'm not willing to be any more specific as regards any Christian denomination), I do not believe that one should force someone to participate in a Christian act of worship. A person comes to Christ themselves (or more properly, through an act of God), if at all. They cannot be forced into it. The prayer at the BotCon dinner was totally bad form.

So, the end verdict? Lots of style, but the substance leaves a lot to be desired. Time will tell if FP has learned from the experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Transformers Reviews for Non-Transformers People: Bumblebee

While most of my friends tend not to be Transformers fans themselves, they're generally kind enough to show a general interest, if only because they care about me and know that I'm a Transformers fan. They don't really understand my own interest, but they'd like to understand a "little bit," in order to better understand me. I'm grateful that they care enough to try.

In that vein, I'll try here to give a little bit of background on one of the main characters. The Autobot known as Bumblebee.

Now, the first thing you need to know, when I use the term "Autobot," I'm referring to the "good guy" faction of Transformers. There are a few others, most notably the "Decepticons," who are the usual "bad guys." Now that we're clear on that, on to Bumblebee himself....

In the Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee is most familiar as the Transformer who spent all his spare time running around with the main human character, Spike. Because of Bumblebee's comparative small size, he was able to interact more easily with humans, and he had a very warm and likeable personality.

Bumblebee was able to transform into a small, yellow, Volkswagen Beetle. While not quite as ubiquitous as "Herbie" back in the early '80s, this made him instantly recognizable.

The original toy version of Bumblebee was one of the less expensive Transformers available back when the line first came out, which no doubt added to his popularity. His transformation was very simple: push the arms in, fold the feet down and push the legs up, fold the head over, and you're done!

This character was so popular, in fact, that three other toy versions of Bumblebee were made available by the time the original line ended in 1990, representing six of those seven years (1988 seems to be the odd year out) making Bumblebee the most readily-available character of the original Transformers toy line!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Exclusivity

If there's one thing that Transformers fans can agree on, it's that we like to argue a lot. Is Rumble red and Frenzy blue (as the toys had it), or is it the other way around (closer to the cartoon's interpretation)? Could (giant-planet eating Transformer) Unicron destroy the Death Star? Was the former "Official Transformers Collector's Convention" owner a crooked businessman, or was he just in over his head?

Now that the convention (and the official fan club) has passed on to a "more legitimate" business, fans have been disecting the offerings of the convention to see if they come up to snuff. There has been a lot of debate about whether or not exclusives are even a good idea. Some fans think it's little more than an excuse for some fans to say "Look! I'm better than you! I have the exclusive!" But most debate has centered on how these exclusives measure up to exclusives of the past. Today, the folks behind the convention just announced the full set of 7 boxed exclusives available for pre-order. While I haven't seen the comments now that the last two of these have been officially revealed. I've seen enough of the previous comments (and predictions on these two which have turned out to be correct) to guess the verdict: they don't measure up well at all.

Now, to be fair, I've had my own criticisms on this set. And I still stand by many of them. $265 is far too much for me to be spending on Transformers toys. Especially now that we know that 5 of the 7 are "basics" (generally accepted as the smallest size, although this isn't technically true), and 1 is a repaint of another one within this set, and that another is misnamed for the character it's intended to represent. But, also to be fair, the $265 price tag isn't really intended to be the price of these toys. It's intended to be the price of the convention and the toys. The toys are intended to make up (roughly) about $120 of that cost. The fact that the toys are offered for pre-order to people who can't or won't attend the convention is actually something of a bonus.

But the sheer amount of vitriol expended on these things is really ridiculous. Okay, so they're all repaints of toys that have been available before. That's nothing new, and in fact it's likely to always be that way. So they're repaints of less than impressive molds, some of which are actually still warming shelves in stores right now. I grant that. So being forced to pay for all 7 of the toys, rather than picking one or two we like, is a burden we've not had to deal with before. I agree. So the recolors, especially for Ironhide, seem less than inspired. Yes, perhaps they could have done more. Some fans have even gone so far as to complain that Ironhide was too obvious and "fanwanky" a choice. Well, duh! The mold has always looked like a good fit for this classic character, and if you can't do "fanwanky" at the offical fan convention, then where can you do it?

The fact is that, because of the former convention runner's bankruptcy and loss of the convention (and club) license, this new group had to be brought on board fairly late in the game, and it's understandable that they would use the business model (including selling all 7 of the exclusives as a set, rather than allowing fans to buy just the ones they want) that has worked for them for nearly a decade (for the GI Joe convention), since the only other model that's been tried before for this kind of a convention clearly didn't work. I'm certainly not happy with all of the choices, and I've felt free to say so. But I hope that I've kept my criticisms of the convention constructive. And they'll certainly have the opportunity to make changes next year.

But face it, Transfans. The exclusives for this year are set. They're not going to change. If you don't want to buy them, don't. If you're still going to the convention, but don't want the toys, it's only $9 per day to get in at the door, and you can still buy whatever loose toys the vendors wish to sell. If you're not going to the convention, but have paid for the non-attendee package, ask for your money back! Surely the $25 (so I hear) non-refundable part pales in comparison to the extra $240 you could be spending on toys you actually like. For those who haven't already paid yet, but you only like one or two, you can almost certainly get that one or two off of eBay for less than the cost of the whole package, even at eBay's generally inflated prices. Even better for those who did pay for the whole set, but like only one or two: you can sell the ones you don't like, and possibly end up making more money than you spent!

But could we have an end to the cursing, name-calling, and general hate that's going on out there? Constructive criticism is one thing, but what I've been seeing lately is something rather different altogether.

P.S. I actually think the box is quite nice-looking....

Thursday, August 4, 2005

The Transformers Creation Debate

People who have not followed the various forms of Transformers fiction over the past 20+ years will no doubt be surprised to learn that there's been a long-standing debate within the fandom over how the Transformers were created, often with religious implications. This has arisen because the various forms of fiction (cartoon, comic book, toy packaging, and others) were often created independently of each other, and so often came up with conflicting accounts of parallel events.

For example, the 1980's comic book version of The Transformers followed up on threads from Transformers: The Movie by making the movie's giant planet-eating Transformer, Unicron, into a "dark god," necessitating the creation of a counterpart to fight him. This counterpart was called "Primus," and the comic says that Primus created the Transformers (and their planet, Cybertron) to fight Unicron.

The 1980's cartoon ignored Primus completely, but said instead that the Transformers were created by a race of aliens called the "Quintessons," semi-robotic creatures with five faces that rotated around their single head to depict various emotional states. According to the cartoon, the Transformers were created as robotic tools that eventually developed sentience and rebelled against their creators. Unicron had nothing to do with this origin, but it is established in the cartoon that he was similarly created by a kind of "mad scientist" named "Primacron" for reasons of his own, but that Unicron also got out of control.

Fans of the Quintesson origin decry the establishment of "religion" in the Transformers fiction, often arguing that their version is more "believable" than the "god origin" and often suggest that the Primus/Unicron story goes too far toward the hyperbole of making the Transformers "the absolute most important beings in the entire universe." Primus fans, on the other hand, not only don't have a problem with religious elements in the story, but exhalt the depth that such a religion brings to the characterization of the Transformers, often noting that not all Transformers are "followers of Primus," and in fact multiple religions and interpretations have nonetheless surfaced.

As is often the case with long-standing fictional universes with apparent contradictions, there have been attempts to meld the two origin stories together in recent years. Primus, in one version, created the Transformers, but the Quintessons occupied the planet Cybertron and used the not-yet-sapient Transformers for their own purposes, aiding in their creation. But these are almost all (with one possible exception) merely fan attempts to weave a coherent continuity, and are not generally considered "official."

But what really intrigues me is the question of why science fiction fans (of which Transformers fans have a right to consider themselves a part) seem to find it so much more believable to suggest that Transformers (or humans, depending on the genre) might have been "created" by some alien visitors from outer space than by any kind divine being. While this tendency is by no means universal (as has already been demonstrated), it seems to me that the idea that humans were "planted" by an alien race (see Stargate SG-1, an excellent program, for an example of this) requires at least as much suspension of disbelief as the idea that God created us. Especially when one considers the question of where the aliens originally came from! This, of course, does not enter into the "creation vs. evolution" debate, which is also touched upon in great detail in science fiction, but which is beyond my purposes here. Here I'm merely talking about creation (be it evolutionary or otherwise) as "engineered" by some other entity, be that entity alien or god.

I've probably already made my own bias for the "Primus origin" clear. I've really never cared much for the Quintessons as characters. I found them far too ineffectual to be viable "Transformer progenitors." Probably my own belief in the existence of a God (big "G") makes the fictional version of a Transformers god (small "g") more plausible.

The debate continues....

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Returning to the Final Frontier

This morning, I was able to experience something I haven't felt for over fifteen years. While driving to work, I was able to hear, live on the radio, the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

As is well-known by now, this is the first launch of a US space shuttle since the destruction of the Columbia about 2 and a half years ago. The wait between launches compares to the extended delay following the destruction of Challenger in 1986 which, coincidentally, also ended with a Discovery launch. While the launch of the space shuttle in the early '80s was always a major event, accessible via substantial news coverage, shuttle launches quickly became more "routine" and less of an "event" not long after the recovery from the Challenger disaster.

It may be that shuttle launches fall back into this "routine" pattern again within a few months, provided, of course, that this mission is a success and there are no further catastrophes in the near future. However, given the current administration's push toward a return to the moon, with the intension of eventually traveling to Mars, it may be the era of "routine" orbital flights is tapering off, and future launches from NASA will, again, become major events.

Time will tell.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Other Voices

The Transformers message board I most often visit practically exploded after the interview with one of the producers of the upcoming Transformers movie in which, asked about whether the voice actors from the 20-year-old Transformers cartoon would reprise their roles, had this to say:
"No, I don't believe that is going to happen, I don't know why you would want the original voice over actors."
Many Transformers fans took this remark as an insult, and have begun a bitter debate on the message board (no doubt echoed elsewhere on the web) about how, if Peter Cullen and Frank Welker (Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively) aren't doing their character voices, these fans won't go see the movie. Moreover, they insist that, as fans who have (in some cases) supported the Transformers franchise over the entirety of its 20+ year history, they are entitled to have the actors they remember from their childhood play these parts again in the upcoming movie. These are, they insist, the definitive voices, and to use anyone else would fail to capture the characters they've grown to love.

To borrow a response from William Shatner's famous SNL sketch: "Get a life!"

To paraphrase a response from another Transformers fan, nearly a year ago (when the first news of a proposed Transformers movie came out): "It's not being made for you."

Seriously. It's not. While long-time fans of the Transformers are, at least in part, responsible for keeping the franchise alive for so many years, the producers of this movie would be idiots to listen to half of what the fan base wants. If they did so, they'd possibly create a movie that Transformers fans would love, but they'd alienate the vast majority of people out there who may remember Transformers from when they were kids, but haven't followed up on the franchise much since then.

And to be fair, the producers of the new movie have been extremely open to listening to fan comments. Transformers fans will not be forgotten when this movie is made. But movie producers generally have a better idea of what will make a good movie than Transformers fans do, and they're generally smart enough to know when to go with what will work, and drop the ideas that simply aren't practical.

That's not to say that I expect the producers to make all the "right" decisions. However, I am reminded of when Tim Burton directed his first Batman movie so many years ago. A lot of fans were furious that Adam West (Batman from the 60's TV series) wasn't even being considered for the role. (West himself declined to do a cameo, he was so upset.) The casting of Michael Keaton, previously known best for such comedies as Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom, did little to assuage fan fears. As it turned out, Keaton was perfectly capable of taking the role into the darker realms that had already started to become (to some fans, admittedly not the same ones rooting for West, I expect) the expected norm for all Batman franchises to follow.

Let's give the producers a chance to explore their vision of what the Transformers should become. If they hold open auditions, who's to say whether Cullen and Welker might even prove able to do exactly what they're looking for? But there's no reason we should expect this. For all the support we've given the Transformers franchise over the past 20 years, we have no right to dictate to movie professionals how they should make movies.

Friday, July 22, 2005

If you cut Optimus Prime off in traffic, would he honk at you?

During a sermon preached in the church in which I grew up, the pastor mused about the nature of time. Among other things, he noted that "the shortest interval is between the time the light changes green and when the car behind you honks at you."

I often feel that I am an oddity in Southern California, in that I don't use my horn very much. Certainly, I'm glad it's there. It is an important safety feature of a car. If someone in front of me appears to not be paying attention to the task of driving, I think it's perfectly appropriate to use the horn to "wake them up," for example.

But most of the time, it seems to me that people use their horn to express anger or impatience, and I don't think this is so appropriate. For example, when driving down a heavily trafficked lane, a car clearly wanted to turn left from the opposing lane into the restaurant immediately to my right. Traffic was backed up enough that, if I had driven to the back of the car in front of me, I would have effectively blocked the turning car from being able to get into the restaurant. So I slowed down and stopped so that the car could complete it's turn. While the car was still in front of me, the car behind me honked. How rude! Does this person expect me to plow straight through the turning vehicle? I find the same thing happens often at turns where pedestrians are trying to cross. Any car who is patient enough not to cut the pedestrian off is rewarded with angry horns from other drivers.

And it's usually not a simple "honk," either, but a long, loud, sitting-on-the-horn kind of sound that, so far as I can tell, serves no practical purpose whatsoever except to serve as a vent for the driver's anger and frustration. This is not the purpose for which the car horn was invented.

I don't claim perfection in my driving, nor in my ability to remain patient when other people are walking/driving/etc too slowly for my convenience. I'd rather be spending my time at whatever destination I'm driving to, rather than doing the task of driving itself. All I really can do is try to be polite myself (and it is an effort sometimes!), and hope that other drivers will pass the favor on to others. I know that people appreciate it when I make the effort to be polite, often because I see a grateful wave "thank you" in response. I have no idea if they remember when a situation might call for them to respond in kind to another driver or pedestrian, but I like to think that, maybe, the culture of anger that seems to permeate Southern California drivers can be turned around.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

RIP: James Doohan

I just learned that James Doohan, who played "Scotty" on the original Star Trek has passed away. He will be missed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

More Fast Food Fun

Some better pictures of the upcoming Burger King Transformers items showed up today. I've picked up such items when McDonalds did similar "Happy Meal" promotions in the past several years, but these toys look... decidedly sub-par, even for "Kids Meal" items.

And it's not like Burger King can't do good toys. They recently did a Star Wars promotion that's insanely popular, only a month after its completion, as demonstrated by sites like this. (Incidentally, this promotion seems to have created some controversy, as well. Apparently, an advocacy group wanted BK to pull the toys because they amounted to promotion of a PG-13 movie to younger kids.)

Ah, well. I may try to do some custom packages again, like the ones I've done for some of the McDonalds items. But the toys really aren't something I can recommend on their own.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Just Lucky

The following is an excerpt from a parody of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I am currently working on:
The Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary defines “luck” as “that which happens by chance; fortune or lot.” It says that to “try one’s luck” is to “try to do something without certainty of success.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide also mentions luck. It notes that many Christians define luck as “the notion that the world is random and left to chance at best, and an evil force at worst. Either way being antithetical to the notion of God’s all-controlling providence and blessing.” This requires them to come up with new terms for otherwise everyday phrases. “Good luck” becomes “God bless,” a “Pot-luck” dinner becomes a “pot bless” dinner, and so on. The Hitchhiker’s Guide further notes that other Christians see this an unnecessary infringement upon contemporary language, suggesting that “everybody knows we don’t really mean that the world is left to chance” and further arguing that the first group of Christians shouldn’t be such nosy busybodies. This, naturally, gets the first group of Christians upset at the second set, leading to many heated arguments and fights over how best to use language in a way that consistently describes God’s loving kindness, the end result of which is that nearly all Christians involved more fervently desire that God would simply take them away to heaven all the sooner, so they might leave this crazy, messed-up, chaotic world behind.


Friday, July 15, 2005

That was it?

Last week, I announced that Hasbro was looking to unveil some big mystery at the Comic-Con in San Diego. The forum was apparently delayed from yesterday (as was reported at the time) to today. This is what we hear:
- 4 Alternator redecos scheduled, 5 new molds scheduled/planned
- No World's Smallest Transformers Coming
- No plans for a G.I. Joe/Transformers toyline crossover
- No plans for War Within figures
- Hasbro is looking at the possibility of putting older, harder to find Alternators (Tracks, Meister, Shockblast) online at the Hasbro Toy Shop
- Hasbro is planning an Alternators Mirage
- Soundwave is going to be a helicopter in the movie
- Universe is finished, save for store exclusive releases
- Seacons, "Green" Landfill, Jetfire Decepticon repaints may become Hasbro Toy Shop exclusives
- Mini-Con Battle Packs will be repaints for the first wave, and all new molds from that point on
- Hasbro will begin introducing larger Alternators at a higher price point
Now, some of this is halfway decent news (I really would love to get those Seacons!), but there's nothing really "special" here. A lot of folks were up in arms over "leaked" info that a "Primus" toy would be released, with CGI pictures included. To bring the uninitiated up-to-date, Primus is the name of the entity that created that Transformers, and is said to be the essence of the Transformers home planet of Cybertron itself. This would, presumably be a big toy (that I would likely wait until put on clearance to buy, admittedly, as I won't buy TFs that cost $50, as a rule), and Hasbro would want to push it. But nothing in this news release comes close to that level of hype.

Heck, the fully-tarped truck that's meant to represent the movie Optimus Prime at Comic-Con comes closer, and it was out well before the "appointed time." Ah, well....

Friday, July 1, 2005

Transformers Universe: Skyfall

From time to time, I intend to post a custom Transformers Universe entry here. These will be done in the style of the 1986 Marvel comics version, as opposed to the more recent "More than Meets the Eye" miniseries done by Dreamwave. The first entry is for Skyfall, the 2005 Official Transformers Collectors' Club member exclusive. (EDIT: The thumbnail remains, but I've removed the larger image, as the Club eventually did their own, official, bio page in the Club magazine.)

Future entries are also likely to center around Collectors' Club exclusives or otherwise obscure characters that nonetheless have official characterizations. Although some of the text in the entry is due to my efforts to make the entry fit the Universe format, I'd like it to be more "official-like" than "fan fiction" if at all possible.

One final note. You'll see that the plane mode is depicted using an actual picture of the toy, rather than a drawing. This is because 1) I can't, myself, draw; and 2) apparently no one else has yet made a drawing of this mode of this character, either.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

For as long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed that moment when I can see new Transformers on the shelf for the first time. Although some of the surprise has admittedly been blunted by the knowledge gained on the Internet, almost ensuring that very few new arrivals come as a complete surprise, there's still a feeling of sheer joy that washes over me when I finally see firsthand a toy shelf filled with new Transformers. I then spend several minutes going over the new packaging, looking at each of the new characters, reading the profiles (which have finally been returned to the packaging itself, rather than being available only on the Hasbro website, I'm very pleased to say), and deciding which toys I will want to save up my money for (ironically, a necessity that seems little different now than it did when I was a child).

Yesterday, I was arriving home later than usual from what seemed to be an unusually long day at work (for no good reason, as it wasn't that difficult of a day, and I actually left the office at my usual time). After stopping by Target and Wal-Mart and seeing nothing new, I arrived at the Toys R Us just a few blocks away from my home. And there they were! A large assortment of the new Transformers: Cybertron toys! While I could not find any of the cheapest toys (which usually retail at about $7), I think the entirety of what was intended for the first wave was otherwise totally intact on the shelf, including the impressive Supreme (read: $50 or so) Starscream toy, which I must admit looks a lot better in person than I expected it to, although $50 is more than I'm generally willing to spend on a Transformer. (To give some perspective, I waited to get Unicron, arguably the most long-awaited Transformer of all time at that point, until the price had dropped from $50 to about $20. And I didn't buy the $75 "20th Anniversary Prime" at all, but finally got it as a free gift for joining some music clubs. I'm a bit of a cheapskate, I admit.) My favorite toy in this first wave of new Transformers is Vector Prime (who looks to retail at about $20), although I can start to see why so many of the message board folks were complaining about the lack of paint applications when compared to the Japanese version (if you see one in stores, just look at the picture on the back of the package and compare it to the actual toy inside). I expect that I will still pick this one up, but I may wait to see if the rumored Vector Prime/Starscream 2-pack (including Starscream in a smaller, more manageable size) actually comes out. There are hopes that such a pack might restore the missing paint applications, but I wouldn't hold my breath. However, the price per Transformer in such a 2-pack would definitely be better.

In parting, a word about paint applications. This kind of thing tends to spark heated debate about how Hasbro doesn't care about its fans, and that Takara does everything much better (or occasionally vice-versa, but not usually). I expect Hasbro has very good reasons for their actions, but I really would like to hear what they are. The amount of money saved by not using paint applications would most likely be negligible, so I'm not convinced that economics were the reason in this case. But if not money, what?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Would You Like Fries with That?

I've been hearing wind of this for a few days now, but finally have a date to share. August 1-21. Burger King will be doing a Transformers promotion. So, if you like grabbing extra Happy Meal-style toys (What can I say? McDonalds' version has the collective consciousness better than the generic-sounding "Kid's Meal.") based on the Transformers, make sure to go to Burger King in August.

Here's a link with such information as I myself have.

Update - 6/30/05: Found an actual advertising picture. Unfortunately, they don't look too good. Time will tell.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Quickie Transformer thought

Why is it that, whenever a Transformers fan talks about "Generation One," they seem to REALLY mean "the first two or three years, and only those, that Hasbro made Transformers"? There's at least four more years worth of toys before the original line was discontinued, and before "Generation Two" hit the stores in the early '90s to give fans a need to call the original line "Generation One."

Should I start calling the later four (or five) years of the original line "Generation One-and-a-half"? And what should I call the "new" "Generation One" toys that Takara puts out? "Neo Generation One"?

And what should I call Ricochet, recently available in Toys R Us stores with "Generation One" explicitly on the box, despite the fact that it was never available domestically in the United States during the original run, and was called something entirely different when it was originally available in Japan?

Enquiring minds want to know....

Friday, June 10, 2005

The cost of being a fan

When I started this blog, I intended it to be about Transformers once in a while, as well as my musings on Christianity and my perspective on subjects that matter to me as a Christian. The latter has obviously gotten more attention than the former. This is at least in part because the Transformers world has been moving slow lately. Finally I have something new to talk about in this regard....

About a week ago, I was pleased to finally receive my Transformers Club exclusive, a little plane called Skyfall. You can follow this link for pictures, although I should be clear that these pictures are not of "my" toy, but a gallery put up by another Transformers fan (and that Skyfall's the clear blue one). Skyfall was a free toy that came with the cost of a year's membership in the official club. So far, the only other benefits have been a monthly magazine, which only has actual Transformers content every other month; access to the club store, which has members prices which are lower than anywhere else online, but still higher than going to the local toy store (not even including shipping); and about a $50 discount (which is, admittedly, more than the cost of the membership itself) to attend BotCon, the Transformers convention, in September. And this is where the discontent begins....

Since BotCon is to be in Texas, and at a time of the year when my job is starting pick up full steam after the summer lull, I'd already decided that I could not go this year. After seeing the prices for attendance ($120 just to go to the convention for members, assuming you don't want any exclusive toys), I am even more convinced that it is best for me to stay home this year.

But I did hope to be able to get some of the exclusive toys through a non-attendee package. The club does indeed offer such a package, although it is the same price as an attendee would pay if they want to get the toys: $265 for the seven exclusive figures. Now, when you do the math, this comes out to less than $40 per figure, which isn't that much higher than most convention exclusive figures in the past (and some were even higher, though this is very uncommon). And to be fair, the exclusives really are intended to get people to come to the convention, so we can safely say that the club intends the "street value" of these exclusives to be about $140, which translates to about $20 per exclusive, roughly the same as for previous exclusives any larger than the "basic" (read: smallest) size.

But the problem is, you have to get all 7. You can't just get one or two! This puts the exclusive set well out of the price range of most Transformers fans, who've been used to getting only a few exclusives at a convention (I think 4 is the all time previous high, and you could definitely get those sepearately, or at most 2 in a box).

I therefore find myself torn on this convention: not on whether I'll go or whether I'll buy any of the toys. I won't. Simply can't afford it. But I do want to see the current club owners succeed, so that the club can continue to thrive and improve in years to come. But I'm concerned that by pricing so many of the members they obstensively wish to serve out of the market, they won't make the sales they need to continue to make the club succeed.

It should be noted that we've gotten used to lower (if not "low") prices under previous management, which clearly wasn't able to make enough money to survive. The previous owner went bankrupt and left many club promises unfilled. It is unclear whether this was because he didn't price his product and services high enough, or if (as is often assumed) he simply didn't know how to manage funds properly. Clearly, by charging higher prices, the current club seeks to make a profit and avoid bankruptcy due to underpriced services. I only hope that they don't fail because they priced on the other unwise extreme.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Reality? TV

I admit it. I've gotten into watching "The Apprentice" this past couple of years. Last night was the season finale, where Kendra Todd was hired to work for Donald Trump. Although I'm not really a fan of Trump himself, and definitely take issue with some of his decisions in the course of this (and previous) season(s), I absolutely think Kendra was the right choice.

What bothers me at this point is how pathetically they tried to build up the suspense at season end as to whether Trump would hire Kendra or Tana (the remaining possibility). Besides the fact that Kendra displayed strong competence throughout the season (especially displayed during an episode where she almost single-handedly completed a promotional flyer for the Pontiac Solstice when her teammates, including Tana, had abandoned her), her performance on her Final Task outstripped Tana's in nearly every way. Where Tana was critical of her teammates from the beginning and spoke poorly about them (even asking if there was any chance for a trade almost the moment after her teammates were revealed), Kendra took the opportunity to mend fences (all the teammates on both sides were people who'd been "fired" previously) and saw her teammates as valuable contributors to the final task. Where Tana's task had several large-scale mistakes (including the publication of sensitive personal data as promotional material, the loss of an American flag to be used in an Olympic-style processional, and brushing off the Governor of New York), Kendra's potential disasters (including a mishandled meeting hijacked by one of her teammates, and the need to relegate one of her sponsors to a basement display area) were deftly handled and the situation resolved before they could get out of hand.

Do the producers of "The Apprentice" really expect us to believe that there was any question as to which of the two candidates was to be hired? The live finale consisted mostly of Trump and his lackeys saying things that attempted to portray an equal amount of good and bad about each candidate. Yet while there were serious problems to talk about regarding Tana, all the "bad things" they could pull up for Kendra were serious stretches of the imagination. Not untrue, to be sure, but definitely nothing of the same scale. (And to be fair, Tana did have some good points.) When George says to Trump "I'm glad I don't have to make your decision," are we really expected to believe him?

Of course, the fact that "reality" TV isn't all that "real" shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. But I still wish they wouldn't insult my intelligence by suggesting that the obvious is anything less than obvious.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Wait is Over (or just starting, depending on your point of view....)

The first real Transformers news in quite a few weeks finally broke today: the Transformers comic license has been given to IDW Publishing. While this is definitely good to those of us who've been waiting anxiously for new comic news ever since former publisher Dreamwave folded (in what can only be described as the most acrimonious of circumstances), it really did come out of left field. Many fans were hoping that the license would be picked up by a company called Devil's Due, who publish the G.I. Joe comics. (G.I. Joe and Transformers were considered something of siblings back in the 1980's) Some had speculated that Hasbro would rather give the TF license to a company that was better known, such as DC, the publishers of Batman and Superman.

I'm not at all familiar with IDW.

The press release indicates that IDW has done comics based on several well-known television shows, and I confess to hearing something about such comics in the back of my mind. However, I'm not really a fan of any of those shows (no offense to those who are), and don't know what that means for the TF comic.

There seems little chance that IDW will attempt to pick up the TF storyline where Dreamwave left off. Why should they? I just hope that they don't end up folding, leaving yet another storyline in limbo just as it's getting good.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Having is not so great a thing as wanting. I know it isn't logical, but it is very often true.

Mr. Spock's quote seemed appropriate to some "news" that arrived on the Transformer message boards today, informing us that the first "collector's club exclusive" toy should arrive sometime at the end of the spring/early summer. This actually isn't anything we didn't already know: anyone who signed up to become a member of the new club (if you're interested, here's a link) by the middle of March was told that it would be sent at pretty much exactly that time. What is perhaps notable is the fact that 3H, the former owners of the club, had a reputation for setting back such dates ad infinitum, and so the fact that this news actually does have the same dates is considered a very good thing. I'm also reminded on Hobbes' (as in "Calvin and...") comment about lowering expectations to the point where they're already met....

But back to Spock's quote, I'm still deciding what I want to do with this thing when I get it. It's supposed to be the first part of a combiner that will take five years to complete. Each year, a new part is released. This, of course, not only assumes that I remain a member each year for that long, but that the club will still continue to exist at that time (call me a cynic). Since I don't have the other parts, and won't for so long, I'm toying with the idea of creating packaging for it. Of course, if the club actually puts this toy in a box or on a card, there's no point in my creating one. But usually these come in either an unmarked white box, or in a plastic baggie; neither of which would be suitable for display. Cards are easier to create and print at the size needed, but I wouldn't have a plastic bubble suitable for it unless I buy the "mass-market" version of this mold (oh, I forgot to mention, nearly all "club exclusives" are nothing more than recolors, or at best slight remolds, of existing toys). That wouldn't be a problem with a box (a flat sheet of plastic is easy to grab from practically anywhere), but I don't have a printer capable of printing to paper large enough to contain this size of figure when folded (the Happy Meal toys are pretty much the limit. I can't even do all of them....). I suppose Kinko's (I'll never get used to calling them "FedEx Kinko's," but that's another rant.) could do it, but that would cost a fair bit of change....

But as long as the toy is still something I'm waiting on, rather than something I have in my hands, I can continue to plan and to dream of possibilities. Which isn't such a bad thing....

Monday, April 25, 2005

Working inside the box

Been trying to think of something creative to do with some old Happy Meal Transformers from a few years back. Finally decided that creating custom boxes for them was the way to go. Here's a picture (click on the thumbnail for a larger view).

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Creative concepts

This has been the week of the Arts Festival at the seminary in which I work. I have some pretty close friends on the Arts Concerns Committee, and used to be the chair of the committee myself a few years ago, so I generally try make myself available to help out.

These events often give me some cause to ponder the nature of art. Not so much "what is art?" but "what is 'good' art?" Clearly, just because something is popular doesn't make it "good." On the other hand, I often find myself biting my tongue (or not) when so many artists around me seem to criticize art that happens to be popular for being "bad" or "cheesy." Often, I agree with the assessment, but other times, I wonder if the art is being criticized simply because it's popular. I don't claim to have any answers here. Besides the fact that what constitutes "good" art is subjective, I myself still struggle with this question.

For example, some of my friends would suggest that "good" art must cause the viewer to wrestle with the world in which we live. I certainly don't dispute that this is one valuable function that art fulfills, but is art that is simply nice to look at not good art simply because it does not challenge anyone's expectations, but is merely pretty?

Another question: is there a difference between being "creative" and creating "art?" I like to "create" things all the time. For example, I made this custom Transformers package recently for my brother's birthday (see picture at right). The figure inside, I hasten to add, was not created by me. Only the packaging, which I designed to look as if Hasbro (the toy company that produces the Transformers in America) had created it back when this kind of figure would have been created in 1990. Clearly, very few of the ideas here are mine. The aspect of my "creativity" was in bringing it all together in this way. Some might argue that this is the very definition of art. But is it? There's no deep meaning here. Just a gift I created for my brother with the hopes of it being a bit different and special. What if I created such a package (as I'm actually looking to do for other customs) with the intent of selling the custom on eBay (which I may or may not do)? Does that affect it's status as "art?" And if it is "art," is it "good," beyond being technically proficient?

Or, to look at the question of "good art" from a different angle, what makes certain art "cheesy?" This is an assessment I myself have made on occasion. For me, I'd probably call something "cheesy" that "takes the easy way out." That is to say, not just that it is "popular," but specifically that it caters to popular culture (or in the case of "Christian" art, the popular Christian sub-culture) in such a way as to be "safe" and "easy" and to not have any real meaning for the people who look at it. Especially in the case of "Christian" art, I see so much that Christians use to escape from the secular world. If anything, Christians more than most people need to be challenged. We need to know how to engage the secular world, rather than run from it by developing our own sub-set of "art" that allows us to avoid the aspects of the rest of the world we would just as soon not deal with. But for all of that, am I not still engaging in some form of "artistic snobbery?" Where is the line between something that is merely technically proficient and good art? Should I even make such a distinction? Or am I failing to be properly engaged in the world (artistic or otherwise) if I don't seek to make such a distinction?

And so the pondering continues....
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