Monday, July 31, 2006

The Final Hartman Transformers Auction: ATB Megatron

The last of the Hartman Transformers actions has started... and it's something of a disappointment.

While ATB Megatron, like all of the other G2 Transformers auctioned over the past few months, represents a Transformer that Hasbro stopped production on after having already made several toys, ATB Megatron has a somewhat different story than the others.

Of the auctions covered here recently, ATB Megatron's story is most like that of Laser Cycle Jazz, in that it is a repaint of a then-recently released G2 toy, now using the name of a classic G1 character. In this case, ATB Megatron is a repaint of G2 Dreadwing, which is widely regarded as one of the best toys to come out of the G2 era.

So why is an ATB Megatron auction a disappointment? For all of the other G2 auctions we've seen, the toys have been nearly impossible to find in these colors anywhere else. They are all extremely rare (as I indicated when all this began, they are arguably the rarest Transformers of all time). However, in 1998, Takara released BB as part of the "Beast Wars Second" line. Other than a few sticker changes, this figure is identical to ATB Megatron. Of course, since all of these auctions have been of the variety that no sane collector would ever take the toy out of its package, perhaps this doesn't matter much.

ATB Megatron is interesting for at least one other reason, though. A few years after G2 ended, Megatron was released as part of the short-lived "Machine Wars" line. The Tech Specs for this version of Megatron said that "Megatron once again 'takes to the skies in disguise' in his latest aerial-attack configuration." The problem is, no previous wide-release version of Megatron had ever had an "aerial-attack configuration." Only the unreleased ATB Megatron fits this category. Indeed, ATB Megatron's proposed Tech Specs, which you can read for yourself should you win this auction, also uses the line "takes to the skies in the disguise." Apparently, whoever writes these bios for Hasbro's toys had forgotten that one of the toys he'd worked on never actually made it to the stores....

Because this toy isn't nearly as rare as the others, the price is so far remaining low, with a bid currently at $51. I'll report its final value next week.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Rare Transformers Auction Update: G2 Wildrider

The final Stunticon auction is over. G2 Wildrider was sold yesterday with a winning bid of $2950 by kayeskollection (who has won 2 of the other 3 G2 Stunticons put up so far).

As has been the case for most (if not all) or the Hartman auctions thus far, this bid came in by sniping toward the very end of the auction. Within the final 60 seconds of this auction, no fewer than 5 bids (by three different culprits, of whom the winning bidder was by no means the worst) were placed. Although I know I'll get criticism for saying this, I find this to be a cowardly and reprehensible practice that goes against the spirit of what an auction is all about. It is perfectly legal according to the rules of eBay, but is purposely done in a way to get an item before someone else realizes that they have been outbid.

Now, it should be noted here that the eBay system encourages you to put in the highest bid you're willing to pay, and if everyone did this, the impact of snipers would be minimized. At the very least, you wouldn't see all these multiple bids by last-minute snipers trying again to win the auction upon realizing that their attempt didn't work the first time. In fact, the final attempt made on G2 Wildrider came in only 9 seconds before the auction closed, and it's entirely possible that the person who made it failed in snatching the item out from under the actual winner only because he didn't have another second or two to make another attempt.

It has often been said, when I've brought this up on other forums, that although this is, at best, a sad commentary on the human condition, it is also a fact of life of bidding on eBay if you want to win an item. That answer is unsatisfactory to me. This situation continues to exist because not enough people have taken a stand against it. If people did, we'd see two things happen. 1) People would actually bid the highest amount they were really willing to pay in the first place, and sniping would lose its effect, and 2) eBay would be encouraged to change its practices to something more in keeping with the intent of the auction format.

I have not forgotten one other legitimate argument in favor of sniping, which was demonstrated back when G2 Blades was auctioned off. Some one (or perhaps more than one) tried to place bids they had no intention of winning with, simply for the purpose of inflating the amount of money the eventual winner (presumed at that point to be Delphan Rane, who did in fact win the auction in the end) would have to pay.

But this situation only demonstrates a similar lack of integrity to that which sniping itself does. Yes, these behaviors exist within some members of the Transformers community. Everyone knows it. I maintain that we do not defeat such practices by lowering ourselves to their level. Rather, we must continue to fight for what is right (in this case, honesty and integrity in our auction practices) in order to achieve change.

Of course, one alternative many people advocate is avoiding eBay altogether. If looking for non-eBay Transformers sales with a clearly stated price appeals to you, then check out my own TF sales page. However, I must confess that I still shop and sell on eBay, too, so I'd be a hypocrite if I argued for such "eBay avoidance" myself.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Transformers Club and Convention News

Sometimes you just can't win. At one time, it seemed like I couldn't say anything nice about Fun Publications, and so I resolved to try harder to give them a chance and be fair. Now, I'm accused of constantly "carrying [their] banner" as if I can say nothing bad about them. Ahhh, well. As I say to my detractor on the Allspark, my record will have to speak for itself. I'm done continuing that argument.

However, there IS a fair bit of news to report, since Fun Publications owner Brian Savage came on the club message boards last night for the first time in many weeks (since taking care of obligations for the recent GI Joe convention in New Orleans). He answered a great deal of questions about the running of the club and the upcoming convention, and since it's been a while since the last time I posted such reports from the board, now seems like a good time:
  • In the topic, "Logistics Question for Club Exclusives?" Brian told us that there is no particular number of toys that must be sold in order for an exclusive to become profitable. It depends on the piece being considered, and (of course) the price charged for it.
  • There were some recent issues at the club store, largely centered around the attempt to sell a few specimens of the San Diego Comic-Con "exclusive" (apparently available through several other outlets) Nemesis Prime. In the thread titled "Store Problems! Issues with my cart etc." Brian detailed some of the issues that came up in yesterday's frenzy to get the toy, and also detailed some of the problems store often has in keeping stock current with new items in general. Long story short on that one: Hasbro sends retailers toys in mixed cases of several different toys, and usually newer toys are packed alongside older ones. This means that, in order for a retailer to get the newer toys to sell to customers, they must also buy the older toys in that case. Often, retailers are reluctant to pick up too many such cases, lest they be stuck with a bunch of toys that customers already have, and so the newer toys are harder to find. This problem is exacerbated with online retailers, but happens in brick-and-mortar stores, too.
  • In the thread: "Question on Battle Of The Boards: which day?" Brian established that the "Family Feud" style event (for which I like to think I was partly responsible for convincing the folks at FP was viable) will likely take place over a few days, depending on how many teams participate. Also, the way I read it (it seems subject to interpretation), the administrators of the various message boards will be responsible for sending in the names of people to be on their boards' teams, so if you're interested, talk to your friendly board administrator!
  • In "Casino night and dinner...", Brian establishes that the dinner this year will be a buffet. There should be no longer be a problem because people can't eat certain items due to dietary restrictions.
  • In regard to "Autographs" at the convention, people who sign up for the Primus or Protoform packages to attend the convention do not have to pay for celebrity autographs (although they are asked to bring no more than 2 items to sign per turn in line). For General Admission folks, there will be a $5 charge to allow you to go through the line once with 2 items.
  • Back to something more club specific, people are always asking if there will be "New Head Molds for the Free Club Figures?" Brian suggested that for such remolded heads to be economically viable, there will need to be around 4,000+ people in the club. We're apparently a few thousand short of that at present.
  • And, finally, in a thread titled (appropriately enough) "Contests," Brian announces that forms and rules for entering the customs contest will be up at Botcon.com within the next 10 days. Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Season Ending Epics

A couple of weeks ago, the last episode of the new Doctor Who's second season aired. While I won't spoil anything here for those who may still have a chance to catch it later in America, I will say that it pulls out all the stops.

This fact, observed by a reviewer at Outpost Gallifrey, prompted me to echo his basic question: just when did season finales have to be bigger and more "epic" than other episodes in the season?

In American television, this has indeed been the pattern for quite some time, especially in the "cliffhanger" phenomenon, which I have comments on, but will leave those for another time. In Doctor Who, it's not quite as common. Looking back at the old series, I'd say the following seasons ended with "special events" (admitting that the term is being rather loosely and unscientifically defined at the moment, and acknowledging that classic-era Doctor Who is best understood in terms of story arcs, rather than as individual episodes):
  • Season One: "The Reign of Terror" (first example of the Doctor playing a double role, this time as one of the antagonists)
  • Season Two: "The Time Meddler" (the first appearance of another member of the Doctor's own race)
  • Season Four: "The Evil of the Daleks" (intended to write the Daleks, the main villains of the franchise, out of Doctor Who entirely. In fact, they appeared again just over four years later)
  • Season Six: "The War Games" (a 10-part story designed to write Patrick Troughton out of the role of the Doctor. Featured the first appearance of the Doctor's still-unnamed home planet)
  • Season Eleven: "Planet of the Spiders" (designed to write Jon Pertwee out of the role of the Doctor, and showing the regeneration into Tom Baker. Other Pertwee-era season enders did feature the final appearance of certain companions, but I couldn't otherwise justify including them in this list)
  • Season Twelve: "Revenge of the Cybermen" (the first appearance of the Cybermen [not including a cameo in "Carnival of Monsters"] in six years)
  • Season Fifteen: "The Invasion of Time" (takes place on the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey. However, it should be noted that "The Deadly Assassin," which was the first ever story to be fully set on Gallifrey, was not a season ender.)
  • Season Sixteen: "The Armageddon Factor" (as the final part of a year-long story arc, of course it was special!)
  • Season Eighteen: "Logopolis" (the departure of Tom Baker as the longest-serving Doctor to date)
  • Season Twenty-One: "The Twin Dilemma" (the first story featuring Colin Brown as the Doctor. This is the first time that the final story for an actor as the Doctor did not take place at the end of a season since William Hartnell, the First Doctor)
  • Season Twenty-Three: "The Ultimate Foe" (also known as the final segment of the year-long "Trial of a Time Lord" story. See Season Sixteen for justification. This also happened to be the last story to feature Colin Brown as the Doctor, but since this was not intentional, his last appearance hardly counts as justification for calling the season finale as an "event.")
  • Season Twenty-Four: "Dragonfire" (the appearance of Season Twenty-Three character Sabolom Glitz, the first appearance of companion Ace, and the departure of companion Mel, taken together, seem justification for calling this an event, but any one of these in isolation probably wouldn't)
That's 12 out of 26 seasons. Almost half. That would appear to make ending a season "with a bang" not uncommon, but not necessarily to be expected. However, I should also note (as I did in regard to the story "The Deadly Assassin") that quite a few "events" happened at other times in season. For example, all the "multiple Doctors" stories don't follow the above pattern:
  • "The Three Doctors" was the first story of Season Ten (almost a full year before the actual 10th anniversary of the program).
  • "The Five Doctors" didn't take place within a conventional season at all, but aired around the 20th anniversary of the program, between seasons Twenty and Twenty-One.
  • "The Two Doctors" was smack-dab in the middle of Season Twenty-Two.
This would lead one to wonder how much the producers of Doctor Who intended their season finales to be "events." Anyway, the topic is open for debate.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Wildrider

The last of the G2 Stunticons is now up: G2 Wildrider. As of this writing, the bid is already at $355, but expect it to go much higher before the auction closes on Sunday.

As with so many other G2 items, Wildrider continues the trend of advertising "realistic styling" that is questionable at best. How many cars have you seen that have a large "G2 Decepticon" insignia on their hood? (Even fans that do put Transformers insignias on their cars tend only to put rather small ones on their windows, and leave it at that.)

That leaves one auction to go, for some unknown item. A couple of weeks ago, I predicted that it would be Laser Cycle Soundwave, but a couple of posters on the Allspark have suggested that a "reliable source" has told them that it won't be Soundwave, but something else. I guess we'll find out in two weeks.

It has been noted before that these auctions are being held, at least in part, so that the Hartmans can pay off some outstanding bills leftover from BotCon 2004 in Pasadena. I trust that they've taken care of those bills by now (although I confess that I have little idea of what costs were incurred). I'm trying to do my own BotCon-related fundraising, as well, although on a much smaller scale. You can check out this link for a small web page I've put up to sell some Transformers-related items that I don't need, hoping to get a bit of cash to spend on stuff when I go to BotCon in a couple of months. (I also have some G.I. Joe and Star Wars stuff to get rid of, as well!) Contact information on these sales can be found at the web site. Please don't use the "comments" feature of the blog for sales-related questions.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

BotCon: The Die is Cast*

Well, I've finally done it. I've sent in my pre-registration for this year's BotCon, in Lexington, KY (as well as that for my brother, who lives in Louisville, and will be joining me there).

In the weeks and months to come, I'll no doubt have more to report on what exclusives and features will actually be offered at the convention. Likewise, I'll no doubt have specifics to talk about during and after the convention itself. This entry is not about any of those things.

Rather, I'm feeling reflective on having finished making the commitment to go to what will be my third Transformers convention (the other two being BotCon '98 in Anaheim and BotCon '04 in Pasadena). Of course, my mind was made up long ago, and having already made the plane reservations for a trip to KY (this will be the first time I've actually had to fly to get to a BotCon!), one could definitely argue that I was already committed to this trip. Still, sending in the registration (and the check for nearly $350!) was the last step.

On the Official Club message boards (I'd give a link, but unless you're a member, it won't let you in, anyway), I've recently been arguing that BotCon is not for everybody. To read the responses there, one would think that to make such a statement is sacrilegious. Everyone who loves Transformers should go, they say! And, I would certainly agree (and have done) that anyone who is able to go should at least give it a shot. You really can't know if you'll like it until you've tried it.

But, the thing is, I have given this a shot twice now. And it's okay. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be bothering to go again. But, to be honest, I'm really not interested in what some people call "the whole convention experience." If other people like that, I'm certainly not intending to begrudge them. Go. Have fun. And I've certainly had occasion to recall (as recently as yesterday) some of the really cool people I've met at previous conventions. Getting to meet face-to-face fellow Transfans is definitely one of the reasons to go to a convention.

But, speaking purely for myself, those kinds of experiences, as valuable and important as they are, have never been (to me) worth spending the kinds of money necessary to attend a convention. As has been well established in the fandom (to the point of insanity, often times), the location will always be an inconvience to the majority of those who want to go. There's no way around that. I've been extremely fortunate to have two previous conventions available close enough to drive to (in fact, the 2004 convention was only a couple of blocks from where I work!). Most fans never get that chance.

I should stop briefly to emphasize that I am not here complaining about the price of the convention. Although it is admittedly higher under Fun Publications that it was for the other conventions I attended, I was perfectly willing to spend extra money for the exclusives at both conventions. There are simply more exclusives available now than there were then (granted, my brother is paying more just to get in the door on Friday than I ever had to pay, sans exclusives).

But the fact remains that, as impressive as this year's set of exclusives are, I wouldn't be going if my family didn't live within driving distance of the convention, allowing me to visit and stay with them (I might pay for the non-attendee exclusive set, but the price is rather high for that...). And I really probably won't go beyond the Friday that I'll be going with my brother to pick up my toys. I'm going to try to keep an open mind on that one. I'll be in the area through Sunday (the convention actually starts on Thursday, but I won't arrive until Thursday night in Louisville, so I'll miss that anyway).

I actually expect that I'm kind of an oddball among Transformers fans (one could well argue that being a Transformers fan makes me something of an oddball to begin with, so I'm kind of doomed). Although there are a few people I've met that I've truly enjoyed getting to know (and hopefully you know who you are), whenever I go to the convention, I just can't shake the supreme sense of alienation I feel at seeing so many people around who strike me as simply.... freaky (and hopefully you don't know who you are!). While I know that this is an extremely unfair assessment on the basis of no more than a few seconds of distant observation of people I've never met, it's tough to shake.

To judge from the responses of folks on the Club message boards, they would say that I'm not trying hard enough. After all, I haven't given these "freaky" folks a chance, and that's my problem. Perhaps I can (and should) try harder. However, I am different than most fans (and most people in general), and I'm actually fairly comfortable with myself for all that. People are different. What works for one person won't work for everybody. A convention that's worth the cost of admission for one won't be worth it for all. And I strongly resist being told that, if someone doesn't enjoy it, that's their own fault. That's just not fair. Why not just accept that the convention can't, and shouldn't, please everybody?

*By now, I've probably disappointed a lot of readers who read "die-cast" in the subject, and thought I was about to report that the BotCon exclusive toys will be made out of die-cast metal. Sorry. Not going to happen (I happen to be one of those "freaks" who prefers plastic to die-cast, anyway...).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A History of the Marvel Transformers Comics

Although BotCon is the "official" Transformers Convention (sponsored by Hasbro and featuring exclusive toys and so forth), there are a number of "unofficial" Transformers conventions out there. Iacon One took place in Indiana last weekend, and although I was unable to attend myself, I have been reading about some of the events there with interest.

One of the guests at Iacon One was Bob Budiansky, who was responsible for much of the earliest work in developing the Transformers, back when it was simply a new line of toys that Hasbro was creating, based on a couple of little-known lines of changeable robot toys in Japan. Budiansky would go on to be the regular writer for the Transformers comic book series put out by Marvel Comic books for a little over four years.

I was especially thrilled to find a transcript of an interview with Bob Budiansky (and current comic artist Don Figueroa) at the alt.toys.transformers newsgroup (one of the original and longest-standing venues for Transformers communication on the Internet) compiled by "crazysteve," who I met at BotCon 2004 a couple of years ago and from whom I'd received this custom figure of a character named "Scrounge" only a couple of months previously for writing a silly little poem about the character to win a contest "crazysteve" was having. "Scrounge" was a character created by Budiansky who appeared in a particularly pivotal story in the comic book. You'll have to read the interview to learn more about him. ;)

Anyway, the interview details some of the history behind how the Transformers came to be, from the memories of one of the people most involved in that early process. I encourage you to check it out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Update: G2 Drag Strip auction

Last week's eBay auction for G2 Drag Strip ended with a final bid of $3000, well above the average price for these auctions, but still considerably less than the final bid for G2 Blades back in May. For the second time, not only did Delphan Rane not win, but apparently did not even bid. The winner this time was the same guy who won the G2 Dead End auction last month. The odds are pretty good that next week's auction (which will almost certainly be for G2 Wildrider), will put the total for these auctions over $20,000. This seems to put the total just a little bit behind the expected $23-24,000 total (after eBay and PayPal fees) I'd predicted over a month ago.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Latest Rare Transformers Auction: G2 Drag Strip

The Hartman auctions are hitting the home stretch. This week's auction, for G2 Drag Strip, is the third of the four G2 Stunticons they'll be offering. G2 Drag Strip is an early example of an almost straight black repaint, a color scheme that has become much more common in recent years, usually used for the purposes of taking a mold associated with a heroic toy (often a leader), and creating an evil counterpart for that character. In this case, of course, "black" Drag Strip is intended to be the same character as G1 Drag Strip (who was already evil to begin with). It should be noted, of course, that G2 Streetwise was also a straight black repaint, and his toy was also the same character as his G1 counterpart.

We're getting close enough to the end now that I'm going to make predictions for the final toys the Hartmans will be auctioning.

July 3 (today): Drag Strip
July 17: Wildrider (this one's virtually assured, as it's the only "limb" Stunticon not to be seen yet)
July 31: Laser Cycle Soundwave (this one is more speculative, but would be the appropriate counterpart to Laser Cycle Jazz, which was auctioned last month)

The current bid for G2 Drag Strip stands at $610.00.
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