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....
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