Friday, December 21, 2007

Primus the Planet

It's time for the annual Christmas parody, as I prepare to take an extended break to celebrate the holidays. This year, I have a not-especially Christmasy tale set to a not-truly-Christmasy song, that nevertheless still always seems to be sung only for Christmas. Previous holiday parodies may be found here and here. Merry Christmas to all, and I'll be back after the New Year!
(to the tune of "Frosty the Snowman")

Primus the Planet
Is an old eternal soul
He's the god of light, and he's sleeping tight
So the universe stays whole

Primus the Planet
Fought with Unicron all day
Who could not be slain in the astral plane
So he tried another way

There must have been some problem
With those asteroids he found
For when he moved his spirit in
He and Unicron were bound

Oh! Primus the Planet
Caused the Transformers to be
And his children say he will find a way
To bring them to unity

Friday, December 14, 2007

Now's a Good Time to Be in the Transformers Club

You've really got to love that the Transformers Club has some amazingly talented people in it. Here's a trailer for an exclusive story that will be posted soon on the members-only portion of the club site. Kudos to Trent Troop and the others behind this project (especially for getting David Kaye to do the voice honors for Megatron!).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Rare Moment of Unity

While I don't really suspect that the Transformers fandom is any different than any other in this respect, it's become something of an in-joke among those of us who are Transformers fans online that we seldom agree on anything. We can be regularly expected to get into arguments about any of a number of different aspects of our increasingly diverse (after more than 20 years, what do you expect?) hobby.

But, yesterday, a thread at TFW2005 proved a rare instance of almost-universal agreement on a subject. It seems that HasbroToyShop.com had started selling AFA-graded specimens of a particularly hard to get toy. Now, I've commented on this practice in the past, so it should come as no surprise when I say that I'm not a fan of AFA grading, but I was still somewhat surprised at the outrage that followed. Given that Hasbro has distributed a survey about AFA grading some months ago (the survey itself is gone, but it was apparently done in April), it would seem that they were making their intentions clear enough some time ago.

One of the things that made this practice especially galling was the fact that, for HTS to have specimens (I'm not clear on how many, but they definitely had at least two) to sell in an AFA-graded edition, they must have had them when they were selling these toys a few months ago, when folks were practically melting the HTS server trying to buy them while they were still in stock. This would mean that HTS purposely held a few back in order to grade them in hopes of selling them at an even higher price!

Of course, there's nothing illegal (that I'm aware of) about such a practice. The market should determine the price, and if an item is in high enough demand, and Hasbro can find a way to get people to pay more for the item, it obviously makes economic sense to sell the item at that higher price. But for Hasbro's own online venue to participate in an AFA sale seems to be a conflict of interest. AFA doesn't produce toys. They grade them (taking a fee for their trouble) so that collectors can say that their particular specimen of a toy is in particularly good condition, driving up its value (as I've said before, this only works if the collector agrees never to so much as touch the toy again, leaving it in its graded plastic box!). For Hasbro to hold back toys so that they never even reach the public so that AFA can grade it, get it back to Hasbro, and then for Hasbro to sell it, would artificially drive up that toy's value. That's not cool.

And, so, yesterday saw the creation of a thread that ran for nearly 15 straight pages in less than half a day. The thread's still ongoing, but I expect that some of the furor will die down now that the items no longer appear to be on HasbroToyStore.com's site. Some folks in the thread say that the items have been canceled, which may be true. The original link certainly no longer points to the items. But the fact that the page has been taken down may mean that the toys were sold very quickly, and assuming HasbroToyStore.com has no plans to put more on the site, why keep the page live? So we may have an example of Hasbro's responsiveness to fan outcry, but we can't be sure.

In the interests of full disclosure, I do own a few shares of Hasbro stock. Even still, I have no interests in letting Hasbro make a profit if it's at the expense of the goodwill of Transformers fans. Usually, when Hasbro-bashing occurs online, there will be a number of people come on to speak in the company's defense. Most fans have little idea what goes into the production of the toys they love so much, and can sometimes make unreasonable demands. If anyone came up in Hasbro's defense on this matter, I still haven't found it.


EDIT - 12/20/07: HasbroToyStore.com has since put the AFA-graded toys back on their site. So much for "listening to the fans."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The New "Brigadier"

While perusing the Doctor Who news, I came upon this article that tells us that the character of Captain Jack Harkness, introduced in Season One and returning for the last few episodes of Season Three (not to mention the spin-off series Torchwood, which I've never seen, and don't especially expect to) will be back for some episodes of Season Four next year.

That got me thinking about Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who had the distinction of showing up in Doctor Who as a supporting character (pretty much never the main "companion") off-and-on throughout the span of the original series, beginning in the era of the Second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton) and continuing all the way through to an appearance in the very last season of the original series (Season Twenty-Six) alongside the Seventh Doctor (played by Sylvester McCoy). In fact, if you add in non-televised and other-character appearances, actor Nicholas Courtney (who played the Brigadier) has appeared alongside every Doctor from the First through the Eighth, the only actor with this distinction!

While it would be tons of fun to see the Brigadier to show up alongside David Tennant (the current Doctor: the Tenth) in the new series (and Nicholas Courtney's still around, making such theoretically possible), it's clear that the actor can't keep going on forever, and so it makes sense for the producers behind the new show to introduce their own elements. It seems to me that Captain Jack is being set-up to fill the Brigadier's role: a military-trained friend of the Doctor's able to deal with alien threats on Earth when the Doctor may not himself be available. Where the Brigadier had UNIT (short for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, which itself has shown up a couple of times on the new series), Captain Jack has Torchwood (and indeed, Torchwood appears destined to fill in the "UNIT" role in the new series, since apparently the real United Nations isn't too keen on it's nominal involvement. At least, that's the rumor I heard some time back). Where the Brigadier's character took a back seat to more explicit "companions" such as Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith, Captain Jack has played second-fiddle to Rose Tyler and Martha Jones.

But like the Brigadier, who kept showing up again and again for years after the departure of other companions (and other Doctors!), Captain Jack (who himself has already outlived one Doctor, and is getting to know his second) seems poised to outlast the companions he was introduced alongside. Will fans of Doctor Who ten years from now be talking about Captain Jack the same way as current long-time fans talk about the Brigadier? Only time will tell.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Secret to Masterpiece Megatron's Scale Revealed!

A lot of fans were really excited about the prospect of a "Masterpiece" Megatron toy to correspond to the "Masterpiece Optimus Prime" of a few years ago. More specifically, they were thrilled that there would be a Megatron "in scale" to Prime (at least in terms of robot mode). Now, I've already commented on the ultimate futility of "scale" arguments, but the reality is that this makes a big difference to a lot of fans.

But let's face it, how many adult fans (those most likely to be able to afford these particular toys) are actually likely to physically engage their robots in battle? After paying all that money to import the toy from Japan (which will never be made available domestically, because of the realistic, if admittedly oversized, gun mode. This gun mode is a reason I will never have this toy in my home, either. I'm not a fan of realistic guns.), owners of Masterpiece Megatron would never risk chipping the paint or denting the plastic (even assuming they don't have the childish impulses they once almost certainly had when the Transformers started out in the '80s)!

But, fear not, Transformers fan! For I have discovered the real scale to which Masterpiece Megatron was constructed, thanks to a picture from my brother (who doesn't have the hang-ups I do about this toy). This picture clearly shows that Megatron was intended not for battles with the demonstrably heftier Masterpiece Prime, but for display with the original G1 Laserbeak toy, which was often traditionally shown in precisely this position atop Megatron's arm. Here they are, together again as they were always meant to be!

Friday, October 19, 2007

So, How's Drew Doing?

As I type this, it is Friday morning. I have been able to watch all four of Drew Carey's episodes of The Price is Right aired so far, either by videotape or through the online episodes available at the CBS web site. It's probably safe to say that the replacement of Bob Barker has been one of the most talked-about issues in the game show world since the scandals of the 1950s. So, how's Drew doing?

It should probably be noted that CBS appears to be airing these episodes out-of-order, compared to when Carey taped them. There are three reasons for this assumption:
  1. Out of four episodes aired, two of them have been what are commonly called "perfect" shows. That is to say, every one of the six pricing games played that day was won. One of the "perfect" shows was aired as Carey's premiere on Monday. Perfect games are quite rare. Carey himself noted on Monday that there had been only 76 previous perfect games in the previous 35 years on the show.
  2. On Monday's show, during the Showcase, one the prizes was a television set. As is common when such prizes are given away, a clip of the show was displayed on the screen. This clip did not appear to be from the same episode, and thus must have been from an earlier taping. It is possible that this clip was from a rehearsal, but this seems unlikely.
  3. If you go to watch the episodes on the CBS web site, you'll notice that each episode (other than Monday's, anyway) has been assigned an episode number. I'm not sure what to make of these. They're all in the 4000's, and supposedly the 5000th show was aired almost 10 years ago! Anyway, the three numbers shown are not only not consecutive, but out of order. It's possible that they're using an oddball episode numbering scheme, and episode numbers are not assigned in numerical order. This would certainly explain the low numbers. But it's still pretty odd.
I mention the possibility of out-of-order tapings, because this fact (if true) means that we cannot determine the degree to which Carey gets more comfortable in his role as he gains more experience. I personally thought that Carey seemed more comfortable on the Thursday episode than he had on the previous three, but if he in fact taped that one before all or most of the previously aired shows, this means little.

Anyway, enough with the disclaimers. Here's what I think:
  • At the beginning of the show, Carey not only asks the first four contestants for their bid, but he also asks a quick "how're you doing?" While I appreciate Carey's friendliness, it seems to confuse the contestants, who were all prepared to give a bid, but (in some cases) are caught off guard as they feel the need to change gears and answer the personal question first. I'm sure Carey will find a way to ease such personal touches in more organically as he gains more experience.
  • Carey seems to have less control over the contestants on the stage. This is a very important thing for a game show host to be on top of. Contestants, naturally, are excited and enthusiastic about being on television and possibly winning huge prizes. The host has to find a balance between allowing the contestants to express this (after all, seeing such excitement is part of what keeps the show interesting!) and moving the game along so that everything fits into the alloted time. However, as has been noted elsewhere, the contestants seem a bit more... crazy... than they have in the past, and may therefore be harder to control than even Bob Barker could have handled (and there have indeed been a number of cases in which he had trouble). This may be a chicken-and-egg problem, though.
  • Carey talks rather too fast for my tastes. Perhaps this is just early nervousness, and he'll slow down as he gets more comfortable. Or maybe he's been instructed to do this to get more into less time (hour-long shows have to give more time to commercials now than they did just a few years ago).
  • Carey seems to know the games pretty well. He comes off as a bit stiff, but I don't see where he's made any major mistakes yet. Of course, they could have edited such out (I've actually seen where they've had to make small edits, reshooting a portion of the show for production reasons, when I've attended tapings in the past), but in his later years, Bob had trouble with certain bits all the time, and was corrected on-screen, so I'm guessing we're seeing the "real Carey" here.
  • Carey seems genuinely interested in contestants winning. This should not be underestimated.
  • Carey has kept the Barker-instituted tradition of reminding viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered at the end of each show. (Similarly, the producers have opted to retain Barker's name on the pricing games that have it. Carey's joke regarding "Barkers Bargain Bar" that it was named after the founder of The Price is Right, "Ezekiel Barker," was quite clever; homaging Bob in the obvious way, but failing to fall into the trap of coming right out and saying that Bob was the original host, which isn't true. Bill Cullen was.)
All told, Carey has the potential to do well. He's not Bob Barker, and could never hope to be, but neither does he need to be. Carey is already demonstrating an effort to make the show his own, and elements of his own personality are already beginning to shine through. He just needs to get a little more comfortable in the role, and that can only happen over time. Whether or not he will rise to the challenge remains to be seen.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's the Day

If you're fortunate enough to be at home at 10:00 am (or 11:00, depending on where you live. Check your local listings), today's the first episode of The Price is Right with Drew Carey as the host. I've seen some of the new sets (don't worry, nothing too major) on the CBS site, but will have to wait to see an actual episode until I can watch the tape being recorded while I'm at work. No doubt I'll have more to say then.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Attending a Jeopardy! Taping

Feeling the need to take a break from my normal pattern, but not really being in a position to take a large block of time off from work right now, I took what I called a "mini-vacation" on Wednesday and took a half-day off of work so that I could attend a taping of Jeopardy! But I wasn't just at any Jeopardy! taping. I was able to watch both parts of the 2-part Tournament of Champions finale. I won't spoil the ending here, except to say that it was a very good game, and will be worth seeing when it airs on November 15th and 16th.

This was my first time to see a taping of Jeopardy!, and the first game show taping I've been to in quite a few years, having been to see The Price is Right a number of times before I started working full-time. The atmosphere between the two shows was very different, reflecting the very different natures of these two shows.

Whereas Price is fairly enthusiastic show, with hundreds of people in the audience clapping and yelling nearly the whole time, Jeopardy! is fairly sedate. People certainly do applaud during parts of the game, but it's definitely more "polite appreciation" than "Woo, hoo! I'm on TV!" And I was surprised to notice that during this, arguably the most important single episodes of the year, there were actually several vacancies in the audience. That never happened for any of the half-dozen or so tapings of Price I was at. Of course, the fact that every audience member at Price is a potential contestant probably has something to do with that.

There were similarities, of course. Tapings for both shows started by having the announcer (the late Rod Roddy for the Price tapings I was at, and Johnny Gilbert for Jeopardy!) come out, but even there the natures of the shows were obvious. Roddy's introduction (pretty much the same at every taping I attended) was a humorous account of his career to that point, designed to get the audience in a festive mood. Gilbert's introduction was mostly to ensure that we clapped at all the right places, but kept quiet at the times when contestants might hear our responses (an event which would theoretically cause taping to stop, and the contaminated question to be replaced, but this didn't happen for the games I watched). Both hosts also took time during breaks in taping to answer audience questions.

I don't mean to make it sound as though Jeopardy! was less enjoyable to watch personally than Price. The shows are just very different. While both are game shows of a fairly "traditional" kind (as opposed to either "reality" shows such as Survivor, or the current run of one-player games since Deal or No Deal*), Jeopardy! is undeniably a more "serious" game than Price, consisting of answers and questions (in that order) that often stump people with college degrees. In fact, Johnny Gilbert made a specific comment to the effect that, while so many shows on television deal with the stupidity of people, Jeopardy! celebrates the intelligence of people. Of course, Price can certainly be said to require a different (arguably more practical) kind of intelligence, but it relies on the fun and variety of the pricing games to keep an audience's attention.

Now that I've been to one Jeopardy! taping, I'm eager to go back for another, or maybe to catch Jeopardy!'s sister show, Wheel of Fortune. Unfortunately, taking time off is a bit of an ordeal. It's not that I don't have the potential vacation time saved up, but that it's hard to make room for the people I work for (and with) to do without me. Just maintaining my boundaries and telling folks (again and again) that I wouldn't be available after noon on Wednesday was a bit tiring. But still, I do need to do this again sometime. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

*Yes, I know Deal or No Deal wasn't the first one-player show, or even the first such show of the modern era, since Who Wants to be a Millionaire came a few years earlier. However, Millionaire is a traditional quiz show. Deal and its successors rely on a rather different kind of game.

Monday, October 8, 2007

REPOST: The Hitchhiker's Guide to Christianity

I originally posted this over a year and a half ago, but I've never been especially happy with the "last part first" set-up I get from that link, and haven't figured out how to set it up so that the story reads from beginning to end as it should. I finally decided that I just need to repost the whole thing in it's proper order as a single (if long) post. Here goes:

(with apologies to Douglas Adams)

NARRATOR (always voice only): This is the story of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity, a wholly remarkable book. Probably the most remarkable book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Augustine/Calvin. It is more popular than The Complete Exegetical Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-Three More Ways to Convert a Non-Believer, and more controversial than Winston Stapleton’s trilogy of theological-political blockbusters, Where Bush Went Wrong, Some More of Bush’s Greatest Mistakes, and Who Is This Bush Person Anyway?

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Western Coast of the United States, the
Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Biblaica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal (though, ironically, nothing about the Apocrypha itself), it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words SINNERS WELCOME inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover.

To tell the story of the book, it's best to tell the story of some of the minds behind it. Artie Kent, a student from Evergreen Theological Seminary, is one of them. Though, as our story opens, he no more knows his destiny than a Southern Baptist knows the history of the XXX Multiplex in West LA.

(scene: ARTIE KENT walks in from stage right. A group of students comes in from the opposite side. At least one is holding a sign saying “The End of the World is Nigh!” Others should have signs protesting a construction project. Artie sees the group and approaches.)

ARTIE KENT: Excuse me, what’s going on here?

PROTESTER ONE: We’re protesting the construction of the new 410 bypass. Since they couldn’t build it through the wealthy town south of here, they’ve decided to take it straight through the seminary.

ARTIE KENT: But why?

PROTESTER TWO: Well, it’s a bypass. Apparently you’ve got to build bypasses.

ARTIE KENT: Well, I’m afraid I can’t stay and help, I’m late for class. Good luck! (Artie runs out stage left. Protesters shout and wave their signs while walking off stage right)

NARRATOR: 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.

(Artie returns from stage left. He stumbles upon a pile of clothes and picket signs in the middle of the stage.)

ARTIE KENT: What in the world? Don’t tell me that LaHaye and Jenkins were right after all!

FORD: (Walks in from off stage. Dressed somewhat eccentrically.) They weren’t.

ARTIE KENT: Really? Then how do you explain the piles of clothes laying here? Clothes I know that my friends were wearing just a couple of hours ago! And who
are you anyway?

FORD: Oh! Excuse me. I’m Ford Prophet. Well, I’d say LaHaye and Jenkins weren’t
entirely right, at any rate. Yes, some Christians have indeed been raptured. But didn’t you think it odd that your class continued right through it all, and that your professor kept on lecturing as though nothing had happened?

ARTIE KENT: Now that you mention it, that does seem a bit odd….

FORD: Now work with me, here. According to the book, the people that got left behind got a second chance to know Jesus, right?

ARTIE KENT: But of course. Buck Williams’ conversion scene from the movie has been played in our evangelism seminars for years!

FORD: But how did
you come to know about Christ?

ARTIE KENT: Oh, that’s easy. My second grade Sunday School teacher!

FORD: Exactly! Someone told you about him! Now, do you really think that giving people a second chance would do the least bit of good if all the Christians were already gone? Who would tell them about Jesus?

ARTIE KENT: Hmmm…. You have a point. But shouldn’t there be plenty of nominal Christians left behind? They would realize that they were wrong after seeing what happened.

FORD: Yes, yes, well, I think you credit humanity with a bit too much intelligence. Anyway, I figure that’s why some of us are still here. We’re here to set folks straight. And that’s why I’m here. I’m here to ask you help me write the most important book ever to be written.

ARTIE KENT: (a bit put off) The Bible’s already been written! It’s totally sufficient for our salvation….

FORD: yes,yes,yes. Well, the second-most important, then. Here (hands Artie a copy). Just read the first paragraph.

ARTIE KENT: (takes book a bit warily) Ooookay. Whatever you say. (Looks at book, while voice-over gives next passage.)

NARRATOR: God is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big God is. I mean, you may have trouble wrapping your mind around the concept of transubstantiation, but that's just peanuts to God.

ARTIE KENT: Interesting.

FORD: So, will you join me?

ARTIE KENT: Well, I don’t know…. (loud noise offstage. The noise of a bulldozer engine.)

FORD: Well, it looks like you’d better make up your mind now. With all the protestors raptured, there’s nothing stopping that bulldozer from tearing down the seminary! (noise gets louder. Sound of buildings being torn down. Lights flicker and debris thrown on from offstage left. Artie and Ford run off stage right.)

NARRATOR: Have our heroes really been “left behind”? Will they escape the destruction of the seminary? Will they be able to find meaningful employment? What does all this mean for the rest of the seminary population? Does anything have any meaning anyway? At least
some of these questions might be answered in our next installment.

LIGHTS OUT: END PART ONE


PART TWO

NARRATOR: The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very happy and been widely regarded as a good move.

Many cultures believe that it was created by some sort of god, although the Christian concept of a single supreme being is by no means shared by all of them.

As multitudinous as the explanations for the Universe’s creation are the theories of how the Universe will end. Even among Christians, there is widespread disagreement on this. Many Christians, for example, believe in a concept known as “the Rapture,” whereby the faithful are taken away from Earth to join God in heaven before the final end comes to the poor saps left behind on the planet below. While some Christians scoff at this interpretation of the end, this is exactly what seems to have occurred to a group of student protestors with whom Artie Kent had a conversation only a few hours ago. Despite that fact that they are Christians themselves, Artie and his friend Ford Prophet have reasoned that God must have left some believers behind to tell the remaining non-Christian population that the end is coming soon, and so have started writing The Hitchhikers’ Guide to Christianity, with which they hope to reach the masses.

Having recently escaped the destruction of Evergreen Theological Seminary to make way for the new 410 bypass, Artie and Ford come upon the former seminary bookstore, which is beginning to make changes in light of recent events.

(Artie and Ford enter from stage right. They arrive to meet a worker standing behind a cash register on stage left.)

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Welcome to Evergreen Family Booksellers. How may I help you today?

FORD: I’m not sure. I’m surprised to see that the bookstore is still here. I’d have thought it would be demolished with the rest of the seminary.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: The benefit of being on the other side of the street, I guess. Of course, since we won’t have so many students coming by, anymore, we have to become a more conventional Christian bookstore.

ARTIE: I see you have the complete set of “Left Behind” books on your shelves.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Well, as the number one selling series of Christian literature on the market, we’d be pretty foolish not to carry them. We’re also looking to carry the complete set of “Left Behind” videos, compact discs, computer software, children’s literature and study guides.

FORD: And where are all the textbooks?

BOOKSTORE WORKER: They’ve been moved to the clearance section. Pretty much no one buys the academic books these days. Most Christian book-buyers prefer to have all that intellectual stuff done for them, and so we’re just looking to carry “Left Behind” books and Thomas Kinkade posters. Our new motto is: “Don’t worry, you won’t have to think about a thing!”

ARTIE: How about your Evangelism section?

BOOKSTORE WORKER: That’s mostly filled with extra copies of the “Left Behind” books. But we have a few other items as well. As a matter of fact… (Ducks under register to get Bumper fish) Would you like a Bumper fish?

NARRATOR: The Bumper fish is probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It is a small plastic outline of a fish affixed with adhesive on one side, intended to be sold in Christian bookstores and placed on the bumper of the buyer’s automobile. The practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Bumper fish on your car you can instantly tell anyone that you are a Christian in any language.

This led to the creation of the Darwin fish, a similar outline of a fish with legs added, intended to make fun of the fundamentalist Christian rejection of the theory of evolution. The Darwin fish led, in turn, to the creation of the “Truth Fish”: a Bumper fish emblazoned with the word TRUTH in large capital letters, depicted as eating a Darwin fish. This led to the Reality Bites fish, (a Darwin fish eating a standard Bumper fish).

Other fish have been created following this pattern, in what has commonly been called the “Fish Wars,” giving us the Cat fish, the Tuna fish, the Yoda fish, the Science fish, the Alien fish, and the “Fish N Chips” fish, among many, many others.

Most leading theologians lament this misuse of one of the most ancient symbols of Christianity, but that hasn’t stopped Christian bookstores from making a fortune on Bumper fish magnets, Bumper fish shirts, and other Bumper fish merchandise.

Meanwhile, the standard Bumper Fish, having effectively removed all barriers to communication between Christians and non-Christians, has caused more and fiercer arguments than any other item in all of Christianity, not including, of course, the Bible itself.

ARTIE (holding fish, puts it back down on the counter): I think I’ll pass for now, thanks.

FORD: But maybe we can help you guys out.

BOOKSTORE WORKER: (suspicious) How?

FORD: My friend and I are writing a new book to help all the regular folks out there know more about Christianity. It will make Christianity look “with it” and “hip.” You’ll sell millions of copies!

BOOKSTORE WORKER: I don’t think anyone uses the terms “with it” and “hip” anymore.

FORD: Whatever. Look (pulls out a copy of the Guide, and hands it to the worker). Here’s a copy of the current draft. You look it over, and if you like it, we can have the final version ready for your shelves within a month!

BOOKSTORE WORKER: Well, I don’t know….

FORD: Wonderful! (shakes worker’s hand) Artie! We’re off to do more research! (Artie puts down the copy of “Left Behind” he’s been holding, gives worker a look that says “yeah, he’s weird, but it’s best just to humor him,” then leaves with Ford.)

NARRATOR: Will Artie and Ford be successful in getting the Hitchhiker’s Guide published? Will the Evergreen Family Booksellers become multimillionaires? Will Artie ever tell Ford that he’s three fries short of a Happy Meal? Join us for the next reasonably illuminating installment.

LIGHTS OUT: END PART TWO.


PART THREE

NARRATOR: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Coast of United States lies a small, unregarded little church.

If one traveled from this church at a distance of roughly seven miles, one would find an utterly insignificant little green-colored seminary whose denizens are so amazingly primitive that they still think that double predestination is a pretty neat idea.

This seminary has, or rather had, a problem, which was this: most of the people that went there were unhappy pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because it was the utter absence of these small green pieces of paper which tended to cause the unhappiness in the first place.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones who considered themselves predestined.

Eventually, God apparently raptured a significant portion of the seminary’s student population to heaven, effectively ending their concern over the small bits of paper forever. This left no viable opposition to the building of the new 410 bypass right through the center of the seminary property, causing the seminary to be shut down, and forcing those who remained to take their problems elsewhere.

Two of those who remained, students Artie Kent and Ford Prophet, have since embarked on a journey to write The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity, which they hope to better enable the remaining unsaved population to come to know Jesus Christ, whereby they, too, would have their problems solved.

Artie and Ford now find themselves at the relocated offices of Evergreen Seminary's School of Psychology, where they find former students attempting to solve some problems of their own.

STUDENT 1: Now tell me, are you experiencing feelings of loss and betrayal?

STUDENT 2: (surprised) Why, yes!

STUDENT 1: Do you feel as though something has been taken away from you?

STUDENT 2: (even more amazed) Yes! That’s it exactly!

FORD (to Artie, but loud enough for others to hear): Well, of course she does. Her school is buried under a pile of rubble!

STUDENT 1: (a bit annoyed) Can we help you?

FORD: Yes, I think you can! You see, my friend and I are doing research for this book, you see, and….

STUDENT 1: (excited) Oh! Research! Oh, I’m sure we’d love to help!

FORD: … and we’re trying to work out how best to communicate Christianity to the average person.

STUDENT 1: What do you mean by “average?” We would need to have the term carefully quantified in order to ascertain reliable results.

FORD: (obviously not expecting this)…. Well, you know, “average,” just like… Artie, help me out here.

ARTIE: Well, you know, “normal.” Just like everybody else.

STUDENT 1: (laughs) Oh, I’m afraid I’ll still have to ask you to be more specific. Obviously, we’re not all a bunch of clones walking around.

ARTIE: Oh, I see your point…. Well, how about “not unusually different.”

STUDENT 1: Surely, you’ve been at Evergreen long enough to know that we value our differences.

(egg timer sound goes off.)

STUDENT 2: Oh! Time’s up! My turn! (Students 1 and 2 switch places)

STUDENT 2 (to Student 1): Now tell me about this dream you had about the walls crashing down all around you.

FORD: What a minute! Who’s treating who?

STUDENT 2: Oh, we’re treating each other. We’ve all had to deal with the loss of the seminary, and so we’re working through each other’s trauma over the experience.

STUDENT 1: We’re wounded healers.

NARRATOR: The Hitchhiker’s Guide says that a “wounded healer” is any person in any healing profession that has had to struggle with many of the very same problems that the person being healed has come to the professional for help in dealing with. The term is most often used for professionals in the mental heath disciplines, due to the high number of such professionals that appear to come from broken homes or have otherwise painful backgrounds. The Hitchhiker’s Guide hastens to add that this phenomenon is only in apparent disproportion to the rest of society due to the fact that mental health professionals are aware of their issues, while the large majority of humanity simply stumbles along in total ignorance of the monstrous problems that practically everybody, in fact, possesses.

(PROTESTER ONE comes onstage, dressed now in business attire, and walks up to the two Psych students. Artie and Ford are visibly stunned.)

PROTESTER ONE: Excuse me, I’m here for my 4:30 appointment.

ARTIE: But, but, you’re the protester I talked to before the Rapture!

PROTESTER ONE: Rapture? What are you talking about?

ARTIE: Are you, or are you not, the same student protester I spoke to before the construction crews demolished the seminary?

PROTESTER ONE: Yes….

ARTIE (turns to Ford): And did I, or did I not, find protest signs and a bunch of clothes in a pile on the ground, EMPTY, when you and I met?

FORD: Well, of course.

PROTESTER ONE: And you think that I was raptured? (laughs) Wow, you need to read your dispensational theology a bit more! No, I was simply hired by the developers to handle public relations!

ARTIE: Say what?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, they were impressed at how well we were doing, and asked us if we’d rather work for them instead of against them. Paid considerably better than a seminarian’s salary, let me tell you!

ARTIE: (flabbergasted) But why did you leave your signs, and ALL YOUR CLOTHES, right there, in the middle of the road?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, we wouldn’t been very good public relations consultants in t-shirts and slacks, would we? And if we were carrying around signs that accused the developers of working against the will of God, that would be rather counter-productive to good PR work, wouldn’t it?

FORD: (interrupting) So, you mean to tell me, that your values, your convictions, your dedication to the work of Evergreen Seminary, all meant nothing compared to a big paycheck? You simply abandoned everything to work for the big corporations?

PROTESTER ONE: Well, actually, I’m rather conflicted about it. That’s why I’m here. (turns to Psych student) I’d like to speak to someone about my deep-seated feelings of guilt.

STUDENT 1: Of course, if you would just join us this way…. (Both Psych students and protestor head off stage, leaving Artie and Ford alone.)

ARTIE: I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it. Does no one have any personal integrity anymore?

FORD: Well, look at it this way. Perhaps the Rapture hasn’t happened yet. But there’s still a need to tell people about God. And clearly the old methods haven’t worked. What do you say? Wanna join me in writing the most important book ever written?

ARTIE: After the Bible!

FORD: (starts walking off stage) Yes, yes, of course. The Bible will always be the most important book ever written. But have you ever looked at that thing? Someone’s still got to interpret it. I mean, all that stuff about prophecy, commands against cutting your hair, exhortations to stone children.... It’s no wonder we’ve got so many competing denominations out there! Now, what I think we need…. (fades as Ford and Artie head off stage)

NARRATOR: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Christianity was written by Mark Baker-Wright of Transforming Seminarian, and features whatever actors you wish to imagine in the roles, with the provision that the voice of the Narrator must be understood to be read with a British accent at all times. If you have failed to imagine such a voice in your reading of the script thus far, you are therefore required to go back to the beginning, and start again.

You may now return your seats to their full and upright position, and the remainder of your journey through life will proceed without interruption.


END

Monday, September 24, 2007

Clearly Different

I've noticed a trend in my toy collecting in recent times. More and more of the figures I'm picking up use clear plastic. Some of this has certainly been done without conscious thought, as the official Transformers collectors Club has been giving its members clear exclusives as membership incentives each year (and will continue to do so for at least two more years). Now, I know that clear plastic isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I actually think it's pretty cool. There are things you can do with clear plastic that you just can't do with normal plastic.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are those three figures again (What? You didn't click on the links above already?), this time photographed with a light source directly behind them.

Of course, this type of picture is no substitute for the regular pictures to actually see what the toy looks like, but it's still something you can't do with a regular, opaque figure.

My latest purchase from the guy at Custom Masters was the "ghost Starscream" figure, which works especially well in front of the light. For those unfamiliar with the original Transformers cartoon, Starscream was killed off in the 1986 animated movie, but returned for a couple of guest appearances in the television cartoon as a "ghost" who could possess other Transformers. This character remains one of the most iconic villains in the entire Transformers franchise.

At about the same time (but from a different dealer), I also picked up a couple of imitation Transformers in clear plastic, recreating two classic cassette Transformers, Rumble and Buzzsaw. Like the custom Starscream above, these were not actually made by Hasbro, but still look pretty cool. Sadly, the backlighting effect is somewhat diminished by the stickers (which are still opaque) on parts of the body, so the effect is most pronounced at the extremities.

I actually have quite a few figures in clear plastic. In fact, some are several years old by now. And my collection of clear figures hasn't been limited to Transformers, either, but I think this is more than enough for one post. Perhaps I'll post pictures of some of the others next week.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

My (?) Story: Split Second

Folks who know me well, or who have read my posts on the subject, know that I'm a fan of game shows. What's less well known is that I have family history behind it. You see, my grandmother was a contestant on the Tom Kennedy version of Split Second back in the mid-70s. In fact, my aunt, who was only 16 at the time, sent in the application on my grandmother's behalf, and informed my grandmother that she had been invited to Southern California to try out for the show on the day that I was born (August 8, 1974, better known as the day President Nixon announced his resignation from office, effective the next day).

Although most people today don't remember Split Second, it was one of the most popular shows of its time. And since I had just been born just prior to Grandma's being on the show, she got to brag about becoming a grandmother by mentioning me on the show. Grandma eventually left the show as a five-time undefeated champion, but to tell the story properly, I need to back up a bit.

I've already mentioned that my then-high-schoool-aged aunt sent in the application for my grandmother. This was done without Grandma's knowledge, so she actually had no idea that she'd be on the show until that important day early in August. Grandma arrived in Southern California for her rehearsal and taping in September for shows to air a couple of weeks later in early October. Unfortunately, the rehearsal didn't go all that well, and the contestant coordinator was faced with the possibilty of having to send Grandma home without actually putting her on the show. After a few conversations with the contestant coordinator and the producer, it was decided to give my grandmother a second chance, which went much better, and she was allowed to play in the last of six shows being taped that day. Having won that game, Grandma (and the members of our family that had come down to support her) went back home (to Placerville, about a day's drive away) for another week, coming back a week later to start the next taping block of shows. Before they returned, however, Grandma got a bit of a cold, and was concerned that it would affect her performance. In fact, she actually lost on her second appearance!

However, it was discovered that several errors were made by the folks at the show on that second appearance, and after a number of discussions with various staff members (one of whom was apparently Markie Post, later to gain fame as Christine Sullivan on the '80s sitcom Night Court and, more relevant to Transformers fans, the voice of June Darby on Transformers: Prime), my grandma was asked to come back in late-January for a return appearance (standard procedure on game shows when an error on the part of the show has been verified). The shows aired sometime around Valentine's Day, 1975, and my grandma continued on to become an undefeated five-time champion!

Some observers have noted similarities between the Split Second end game and the end game of the '80s version of Hollywood Squares, both of which gave their champion a chance at winning a car by seeing if the chosen car would start when the key was turned. But Grandma tells me that, unlike in Hollywood Squares, where the champion would choose a key on his/her first day as champion, the cars in Split Second already had their keys in them, and that the champion merely selected a car. If the champion had just won for the first time, only one of the cars would start. If they had won two games, two of the cars (all five still being available, unlike in Hollywood Squares) would start. If they'd won three games, three of the cars would start, etc. So, by the time Grandma finally won her fifth game, she'd missed out on winning the car every chance thus far, but was now given her choice of which of the five cars she could take home.* To help make the choice, Tom Kennedy asked my aunt to come up on stage, telling viewers how she'd sent in the application and worked to help pay for Grandma's trip (the only time, to the best of Grandma's recollection, that a family member came up on stage to help in the selection of the car). So my aunt and Grandma chose a blue 1975 Camaro to take home. Ironically, Grandma's gone her whole life without a driver's license, but I'm sure Grandpa and my aunts and uncles (most of whom were still living at home at the time) enjoyed it.

I've talked to a few people who have been on game shows in the past (some of whom I met while trying out for shows myself), and I've been of the impression that, although the games are competitive, there is nonetheless a sense of comraderie that builds between fellow players, and that they often wish that they could all win the big prize. In Grandma's case, this actually worked out, in a way, as the person who won that game Grandma would have lost if not for the producer's errors, a woman named Jacqueline, won her own car on that very show!

Unfortunately for me, I have no memory of ever seeing my grandma's episodes, because most game shows of that era were erased by the network to make space for new stuff (nowadays, electronic storage makes such purges a thing of the past). Only a handful of episodes of Split Second are known to exist. I'm fairly confident that Grandma's episodes are on some reel-to-reel audio tapes in storage somewhere (I used to listen to them when I was young, but that was many years ago now), but attempts to locate the tapes in recent years have yet to produce results.

Split Second actually only lasted a few more months after Grandma's last appearance, the final episode having aired on June 27, 1975. This is a show that I'd love to see brought back some day, as I think that it would fare well in the current game show climate. But I haven't heard so much as a rumor that anyone's considering it. Still, my Grandma's story is something I like to think about, even if I never do get on a show myself.

*UPDATE: October 16, 2010 - I have finally gotten audio recordings from Grandma, including the full first episode she played and highlights of her other games, as well as a couple of other full episodes in which she did not participate. Through listening to these, I have discovered that my original information about the end game is not quite correct. While it IS true that the end game differed from the '80s version of Hollywood Squares in that you could choose any one of the five cars if you won five times, the end game for any other games won was pretty similar, if without the "keys" element. On the first day, a car was chosen at random by the producers prior to the start of the show. Only that car would work if chosen by the winner at the end of the game. If that person won again, a car would be chosen (again at random) by the producers to be eliminated from the optional cars, (with another car chosen at random to be the car that would work). This meant that only one car would work each time a contestant reached the end game, but your chances were improved by the smaller number of cars to choose from (a 1-in-4 chance on the second win, a 1-in-3 chance on the third, and a 1-in-2 chance on the fourth). My apologies for the confusion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Dub Thee, "Podwave"

About a week ago, my "Music Label" Soundwave arrived. Basically, it's a new item from Japan that's an update of the original G1 Soundwave that actually plays MP3s. It's not quite the first Soundwave that actually plays music—if you count a non-transforming (but still in robot mode!) Soundwave cassette player released by Hasbro in 1985—but it's still made quite the impression on the Transformers fandom.

That's not to say that it's much of an MP3 player. You can't fast-forward or rewind within tracks, and tracks always play in the same order (the order in which you put the MP3 files on the miniSD card). You can, thankfully, pause, skip forwards or backwards to other tracks, and raise or lower the volume as desired. And, of course, you can transform the player into a robot!

Although there is a "Music Label" Soundwave available in Soundwave's traditional blue color scheme, you'll notice that mine is mostly white. This is intended to homage the original white color scheme of the iPod (although this is not a licensed iPod product, and iPod itself is now available in a rainbow of colors). My brother got a special deal by ordering both variations of "Music Label" Soundwave at the same time. He got the blue one, and I got the white one. Sadly, he tells me that his Soundwave no longer plays! It worked a couple of times, and then just stopped for no known reason. Has anyone else had this problem? I'm wondering if he's blown the small fuse inside, but can't imagine what he's done to blow it so quickly.

Anyway, if you're really into MP3 players, then I expect that this one wouldn't be for you. It's just too limited in its functionality, and you can get something else to do the same job for much cheaper. But since I haven't had an MP3 player of my own (my wife does have an iPod nano, but she uses it all the time, so that doesn't do much for me), I'm pretty glad to have it. It's given me a chance to listen to some speeches on youth work and a few TF Movie parodies (Yeah, yeah, these don't sound much like music, do they? What can I say? I'm just weird.) while driving to and from work, rather than settling for whatever NPR is playing. Also, I've ordered an MP3 CD of the TNIV, which I hope to use with this player to help in my devotional time. All in all, a pretty cool item for Transformers fans, but consider yourself warned. It's not for everyone.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Remember, If Knowing is Half the Battle, the Other Half is Usually Violence

Most people who grew up in the 1980's (especially boys, I expect) probably know the phrase "knowing is half the battle," not as a saying in its own right, but as the tag line for the Public Service Announcements that would finish off the end of every episode of the old GI Joe cartoon.

For those unfamiliar with the cartoon, each episode would end with a short piece (usually unrelated to the main story itself), in which a kid (or group of kids) is about to do something unsafe or unwise. Just then, a member of the GI Joe team shows up out of nowhere to tell the kid(s) what he/she/they should do. Invariably, the piece would end with a kid saying "Now I (we) know," after which the Joe member would say "And knowing is half the battle" which would immediately cut to the "GI Joe" name being sung in a title wipe.

These PSAs are so iconic that they have been parodied many times over the years. Just check out what comes up when you do a YouTube search for "GI Joe PSA." Good luck finding one that's not a parody! But I was still surprised to find these two advertisements in a recent edition of Master Collector, advertising the new 25th anniversary figures. They're real advertisements, yet obviously parodies all at the same time. Check out the background pictures in the final frames!

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Now You See It, Now You... Still See It, Actually

Well, my BotCon 2007 collection is now as complete as I intend to make it. Mirage arrived yesterday (of course, Mirage is supposed to be an attendee exclusive, but eBay transcends barriers like that!). This toy is intended to represent Mirage while using his ability to turn invisible.... But he's not exactly invisible, is he?

Even months before Mirage was officially revealed, there was a fair amount of discussion about the possibility that one of the exclusives would be some kind of "invisible Mirage," and when word more-or-less slipped a few weeks before the convention itself, much of that discussion turned surprisingly negative. Many Transformers fans felt (and, no doubt, still feel) that an "invisible Mirage" would be a boring choice. At least one reason (although I expect that there are others) that many of the fans on the message boards gave was that they didn't care for transparent plastic.

Well, this is an area in which I proudly must differ from many of my colleagues. In fact, besides the box set, there were really only two other BotCon exclusives (out of five others available) that I had any interest in getting: Alpha Trion and this one. An "invisible" Mirage has always seemed (at least to me) like an obvious choice for an exclusive. Mirage's signature ability (admittedly, more in the cartoon than in the comic universe the BotCon fiction is supposed to take place in) has been to turn himself invisible, and it's a fairly simple thing to do to illustrate this by means of a toy made of transparent plastic.

That's not to say that the toy doesn't have its faults. For one thing, they chose not to do the toy in colorless transparent plastic, but instead chose blue. And the pictures don't really do the intensity of the blue justice. This toy is actually a fairly dark blue! Not at all "invisible!" In fact, it's debatable how much it's even transparent! I definitely consider this a wasted opportunity.


However, the blue plastic is quite an attractive color, and it does allow for some fun. Courtesy of my Sonic Screwdriver toy, which emits UV light, I can take some pretty cool pictures of this toy in the dark. Perhaps instead of considering it "invisible" Mirage, we should think of this toy as representing "night attack" Mirage?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Alternators Rodimus

It's actually not as rare as any of the BotCon exclusives that have come out over the past decade, but to hear the current complaining from folks unable to get one, you might not realize it.

The toy I'm talking about, Alternators Rodimus (or, to go by an apparent misprint in the instructions, "Alternators Rodimus Prime"), was an exclusive at last weekend's San Diego Comic-Con. By all accounts, this convention was huge, with thousands upon thousands of people attending to catch the latest comic and toy-related news, meet up with celebrities, and yes, to pick up exclusive merchandise.

With the success of the theatrical Transformers movie this past month, it could probably be predicted that a Transformers exclusive would be popular. And Alternators have tended to be especially popular with adult fans for their realism and complexity. So, it was no surprise to read news reports of long lines waiting outside the Hasbro booth trying to get the Alternators Rodimus toy. Nor was it a surprise to hear cries of frustration and shouts of Hasbro's supposed incompetence when the lines moved too slowly, or people found themselves unable to get their desired toys for whatever reason.

A friend of mine, who as I type this is beginning a move to North Carolina to start work on her PhD at Duke this fall, was at Comic-Con this past weekend, and offered to pick up for me any exclusives I might want, whereby I would pay her for her expenses later. Having heard the reports of difficulties and frustration as early as Thursday, I gave her the list of exclusives I was interested in, but made it clear that I did not expect her to fight too hard to get these items on my behalf.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to find that she was successful in picking up Rodimus during her trip. Knowing that the toy would soon be in high demand, I confess that I was tempted to leave the toy in its (very attractive) box and re-sell it on eBay. I could certainly use the money. But such would be small gratitude to my friend, who got this toy for me as one of her last acts while living in Southern California! No, this item is going on display!

But first, a comment or two about the toy itself. Rodimus is a repaint/remold of Alternators Mirage (It definitely has a new head, but there may well be other remolded details I haven't noticed. I don't have a Mirage of my own, having traded the one I won at BotCon 2006 with my brother, who didn't care for the prize he won, an Energon Downshift, so much. Having been frustrated with Alternators in the past, I felt generous). The flame patterns on the hood/chest are clearly meant to evoke Hot Rod, a classic Generation 1 character, for whom the name "Rodimus" has been applied in more recent homages to the character, since the name "Hot Rod" is trademarked by another company, meaning that Hasbro can't use it anymore.

Now Rodimus occupies a position of prominence among the Alternators I have on display at work. I was surprised to discover that my other Alternators are so predominately blue (I also have the almost-entirely-black Alternators Ravage from a couple of years back, but that one's displayed elsewhere), so the bright red Rodimus simply had to go in the center to create a sense of balance!

Incidentally, Rodimus wasn't the only exclusive offered by Hasbro at the San Diego Comic-Con, or even the only Transformer exclusive. In addition to My Little Pony, Star Wars, GI Joe, and (I expect) other exclusives, there was also a Menasor figure from the Titanium line, which is (ironically) a Rodimus Prime repaint intended to homage yet another Generation One character. All of these "exclusives" were actually made available at HasbroToyShop.com online on Monday, although Alternators Rodimus sold out within a couple of hours. At the time of this writing, there were over 1000 Menasor figures still available, so hurry and head over to the site if you want one!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Breakaway and More: Finally Arrived

Well, my third-class shipping started to show this time around, as lots of folks have been talking about getting Breakaway for a few weeks now, and mine just arrived on Monday. But at last it's here, and the club combiner is now only two robots away from completion. Here's a shot of Breakaway with his buddies.

I've also been privileged in the past week to get my Alpha Trion figure. Blog readers already know that I've been wanting this one since it was first announced. I was pleased to be able to get it directly from the club store, a feat made possible only because there were actually a few left over at the end of this year's BotCon, something that hasn't happened since Fun Publications took over the production of BotCon a few years ago. Alpha Trion is pictured here on the right, alongside Vector Prime, on whose mold the figure is obviously based. (Note: that weapon in Alpha Trion's right hand is an "Energon Spear" from a previous BotCon. I thought the purple was a pretty good fit, and it seemed like the kind of thing Alpha Trion might hold)

Alpha Trion sports a newly molded head, completing the impression that the toy is the classic cartoon character. I had to sell off my BotCon 2006 Megatron (featured here) to afford this toy, but so far, I've no regrets whatsoever!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Seeker Set is Now Complete

My non-attendee set of BotCon exclusives arrived a couple of days ago. I'm not sure I have too much to say that hasn't been shared already, but here's the obligatory picture of all 6 G1 Seekers (no, I don't count Sunstorm as G1. The character wasn't even created until 2003!) together, with Dreadwind thrown in for good measure. (I got Bug Bite, too, but he's on the next shelf up.)


Actually, I do have a bit to say about the exclusive comic that came with this set. But I think that may be something of greater interest to the Transformers community as a whole than to the readers of this blog, so I've posted it on alt.toys.transformers, where more Transformers fans are likely to see it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pepsi is the Right of All Sentient Beings: Pepsi Optimus Prime

Although I still haven't heard of anyone having won it from the Transform Your Summer promotion, I'm happy to say that I received Pepsi Prime in the mail yesterday, having ordered it via the Hasbro Toy Shop (and having taken advantage of a 15% reduction offered by my local AAA! Membership does have its privileges!).

Of course, this is basically just a redecorated version of the original Optimus Prime from the 1980's. But having (oddly enough) never picked up the original back in the day, nor having ever gotten either the G2 version nor the 2002 TRU reissue (Of course, from the G1 era alone, I do have the Powermaster, the Action Master, and a smaller Japanese-exclusive "junior" version, but those are all different molds), it seemed worth picking up.

The trailer, of course, is new (or at least, it was when this concept was created for the Japanese market a few years ago. It's really only "new" in the sense that it hasn't been available in the US until now). It didn't come with that Pepsi bottle I have on top, but as you can see, it was designed to be able to carry one. It's also designed to fit 3 12-ounce cans on it, should you wish to place them there. Should make for an interesting conversation piece at parties!

One of the "problems" that plagued nearly all of the original G1 Transformers was that you couldn't always find a place to put all the parts when the toy was transformed into one mode or the other. In the case of Optimus Prime, there was no place to properly store his weapon when in vehicle mode. Sure, you could stash his gun in the trailer, but it would still rattle around loose. Likewise, you were intended to place Prime's fists in the chest compartment while in vehicle mode, but again, they'd just rattle around in there. But, fear not, Pepsi Prime owner! This new trailer has places underneath where you can store your spare parts, as indicated in the picture below.


In robot mode, Prime is a walking Pepsi billboard. This guy's got Pepsi decorations in places I didn't expect. They even went to the trouble to put little Pepsi logos on the sides of Prime's head! But that's not to say that the deco doesn't work. It's really only a minor modification from the original Optimus Prime red and blue color scheme. In fact, now that technology has advanced to the point of being able to use tampographs for most details rather than stickers (they do still give you two stickers to put on Prime's forearms), the overall effect is much cleaner than the original.

I'd definitely recommend this toy to anyone who's a Transformers collector.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Custom Action Master Power Plans: Road Rage, Shadowjack, and Twincast

After writing about Gutcrucher last week, I realized that it's been a while since I shared some of my custom Power Plans. Here are a few more. Road Rage was a custom created through www.custommasters.com, and is based on an eHobby exclusive. Twincast was a custom done by a site that called itself "Scramble City" a number of years ago. Unfortunately, that site no longer exists, curtailing plans to create even more Action Masters based on characters used in the Japanese Headmaster cartoon, as Twincast was.


The middle character, Shadowjack, was my own creation. Basically, I had an extra Jackpot figure lying around, and decided to do something with it. Even before characters like RiD Scourge and Nemesis Prime came upon the Transformers scene, the idea of an "evil clone" has long been a staple of science-fiction. Perhaps the most obvious example is "Bizarro" among Superman's enemies. When creating "Shadowjack," I most specifically had in mind an obscure character created near the end of the 80/90's run of Firestorm called "Shadowstorm" (this guy's so obscure that he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia entry, although he is mentioned here.) Here's the Tech Spec I put together for Shadowjack:

Monday, July 9, 2007

Kill The Wabbit!

If I had realized this on Friday, I'd have posted about this then, but since I only found out about it myself this past weekend, today will have to do....

The greatest cartoon of all time (as determined by the 1994 book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals), "What's Opera, Doc?", celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first screening on July 6, 2007.

But like so many of the greatest achievements in culture, it was an achievement that could never have been accomplished under today's corporate-driven reality. Here is an excerpt from the opening words to an article celebrating "What's Opera, Doc?" that appeared on Sunday:
Imagine the pitch: "Let's steal time and funding from our other projects so we can go way over budget making a cartoon with no jokes, and no real gags. The score will be a German opera. Kids won't get it. Most adults won't get it, but I don't care because I think it's funny."
And it is funny, if totally atypical. In a sense, this isn't such an oddity: Warner Brothers cartoons have utilized classical music throughout most of their long history. Imagine the following scene: It's morning. You look out upon a grassy countryside, and the sun is slowly rising. You hear this music. Without realizing it, kids (and adults) the world over have been hearing a fragment of "William Tell" (yes, the same piece which also gives us this popular fragment). But "What's Opera, Doc?" took this element so much further than anyone had ever done it before. It created a whole cartoon comprised entirely of elements of these classic works (actually taken from several of Wagner's operas). And whereas Disney's Fantasia took classical and operatic pieces and set them to animation, "What's Opera, Doc?" actually created something new out of such works, using only the most immediately recognizable bits edited together to create a whole story within the 7-minute time frame a Bugs Bunny cartoon required.

Does it work? Answer whether or not the following quote (which comes at the end of the article I linked to earlier) applies to you:
No one who knows and loves "What's Opera, Doc?" will ever hear Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" without hearing, in their own minds, "Kill da wabbit ... kill da wabbit."
"The Wabbit" is dead. Long live the wabbit! Happy 50th Anniversary, "What's Opera, Doc?"!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Completing the Set: My US Action Masters Collection is Now Complete!

Despite collecting Transformers for pretty much as long as Transformers have existed, there are very few parts of my collection that I consider "complete." However, with the recent acquisition of the Action Master Gutcruncher (pictured to the left), I can now say that I have all of the American-released Action Masters in my collection!

Of course, the main reason I was able to even aspire to completing the section of my Transformers collection is the fact that Action Masters were so unpopular back when they were first released. I've already spelled out why I like them ages ago, but it's worth noting here that they were so unpopular when they first came out that I was able to find them on clearance at Kay-Bee toys (as KB toys was then spelled) for less than a dollar each! Of course, this only covered the carded toys. Not the boxed ones. And even then, I only bothered to get all the Action Masters that were representations of existing characters from early in the original line.

Naturally, this left several holes in my collection that I started trying to fill once I was out of college. I started with the boxed toys representing popular characters, although I turned to getting the carded new characters before I was able to finally achieve my goal of getting all of the Action Master versions of established characters when I won Action Master Optimus Prime in an eBay auction. Optimus Prime cost me a fair bit back then, and I figured that would be as far as I went.

But when I eventually started cataloging (and later creating) the Power Plans that came with the Action Masters, I soon realized that there weren't too many gaps left to fill. So I slowly worked towards getting the remaining boxed toys representing new Action Master characters, until I eventually had them all... except Gutcruncher.

Gutcruncher remained the sole gap in my American Action Master collection for a rather long time. I can't really explain why. Part of the reason was no doubt that, as the largest "new" Action Master character in the line (same price point as Megatron, but less than Optimus Prime), Gutcruncher was fairly rare, and quite expensive. But I could have probably picked Gutcrucher up a long time ago if I'd really bothered. Long story short, I finally found an auction for the toy at a reasonable price on eBay recently, and the toy arrived this past week. Now my collection is complete! (Well, I could always work toward getting all of the European Action Masters, but that will take quite a while yet, not to mention more money than I care to think about at the moment.)

I do have a request, though. Although my Gutcruncher is in wonderful condition, and came complete with all of the parts for the vehicle it was originally packaged with, it did not come without any stickers whatsoever. I have already contacted the folks at Reprolabels about getting replacement stickers, and they've indicated that they would be very happy to create a Gutcruncher set, but they lack scans of the original stickers (or access to a clean Gutcruncher with factory stickers applied) from which to create the set. If anyone has access to such, please send them a line via the Reprolabels site. I'm sure the Transformers fan community would be most grateful. I know I would!

Monday, July 2, 2007

BotCon 2007: A Non-Attendee Perspective

It might seem a bit odd to be talking about BotCon given that I wasn't able to go to the convention this year, but I expect that I'm like most Transformers fans, keeping in touch with the latest data online as much as possible. My abilities to do this were somewhat limited by my vacation in KY over the past week, but I was still able to participate in a number of online discussions about what was going on. Here are my thoughts.
  • Exclusives: Perhaps it's a bit mercenary of me, but the toys have always been the major reason for me to go to BotCon, and so it's always the first thing I want to find out about when I look up what was going on. I've already talked about the five toys from the boxed set revealed several months ago, and will focus here only on the toys revealed at the convention itself. I've also updated my exclusives data sheet with such information as I currently have available, although there seems to have been some confusion about the Alpha Trion/Weirdwolf 2-pack. I'll post more reliable information once we get the expected e-mail from Brian Savage detailing post-convention news.
    1. Clear Mirage: This was the attendee-only freebie. A clear blue version of the Classics Mirage mold, intended to represent Mirage as he turns invisible. Apparently a lot of fans didn't like this one. Oddly enough, it's one of few that I really liked, and I've already got a couple of requests in for people looking to get rid of the one they got at the convention. If no one ends up contacting me, I'll look for it on eBay.
    2. Alpha Trion/Weirdwolf 2-pack. The first of these has been known for a couple of months already, and is a remold (new head) of Vector Prime from the Cybertron line. This is the definite "must buy" for me, and I'll be looking on eBay if it turns out that FP doesn't have any leftover to sell to club members via the online club store (they never have before, but like I said, there seems to be some confusion on this one). Weirdwolf was one of a number of characters revealed in an online teaser of the convention comic, but we didn't know for sure which of the teased characters would actually be at the convention. It's a recolor of Snarl from the Cybertron line. If I end up getting this as part of a 2-pack deal to get Alpha Trion, I'm turning right back around and selling Weirdwolf. A lot of folks really like this one, but it's just not for me.
    3. Springer/Huffer 2-pack. Springer is a repaint of Cybertron Defense Hot Shot, and Huffer is a repaint of Armorhide, both toys from the Cybertron line (and, no, in the case of CD Hot Shot, that's not redundant). Again, it seems that my tastes run counter to those of the rest of the fandom here, as I've heard lots of good things about them, and there seems to be little question that they've sold out (although, again, I hope to get more positive confirmation of this when Brian Savage sends the expected e-mail), but they just don't interest me.

  • News:
    1. It was disappointing (but not wholly unexpected) to learn that both the Alternators and Titanium lines are being canceled. The latter was even more disturbing because of the revelation of several molds which will, apparently, never see the light of day. The Cosmos figure is especially interesting, and I can only hope that something happens to give that design another chance elsewhere.
    2. We also learned that the "Classics" line will see more molds (although not under that name. Apparently these will be released under a new "Universe" line), which is great news, but unfortunately fuels the anger of those who were angry at FP for doing exclusive repaints of several of the Seeker jets, thereby making it unlikely that these characters (and certainly not replicas of the same designs) will ever be made available at retail. I have to repeat what I've said elsewhere many times over: FP wanted to make cool exclusives, and the Seeker jets were obviously popular choices that Hasbro hadn't yet done. They STILL had to get permission from Hasbro to use them, and Hasbro had, at the time, no plans on using those concepts. The fact that Hasbro made a decision later to do something whereby they probably would have used (at least some of) these ideas does not negate this. FP ensured that (all of) these designs would get made. If FP didn't make the exclusives, there was a strong chance that the toys would never exist at all. And even with this latest turn of events, we probably would never have seen all of those Seeker designs used (Thurst, with it's peculiar wing-design, would have been especially unlikely). In any event, it happened. Deal with it.
    3. It has already been known that a new cartoon will be showing up on Cartoon Network (dubbed "Transformers Animated") next year. Attendees got to see the first actual animated clips (as opposed to just still pictures) to be seen, and apparently these, coupled with the news of classically-inspired characters scheduled to appear, have converted many fans from being fearful about what this new cartoon will bring to being excited about the possibilities.
We don't yet know where next year's convention will be, or even what the dates are, although it's been more or less confirmed that it will be in the Fall again, with hopes for getting a convention in the Summer again in two years, and basically flip-flopping Fall and Summer with the Joe convention also run by FP thereafter. Once those announcements are made, I'll have to go through the whole process of deciding whether or not I can go all over again!
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