Friday, December 26, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cryotek

CryotekI enjoy using the Transformers Wiki as a resource, and contribute to it from time to time. One of the tasks that falls to those who work on such projects is how to categorize certain characters. More often than not, this is a fairly simple situation. If it says "Armada" on the package, then you group it with the "Armada" characters, and there usually isn't something from another line that would actively contradict that classification.

But, every once in a while, it gets difficult. Cryotek, for example, is classified on the Wiki with the Robots in Disguise line, because Cryotek's only toy (so far?) was labeled as being a part of that line. But although Cryotek has appeared in a handful of official stories, none of them are Robots in Disguise stories. Indeed, all of them are compatible with the Beast Wars era, especially as seen in 3H's Universe comics. So, if the classification of Cryotek was on the basis of his character, he'd be grouped with the Beast Era.

Although Cryotek's toy was a Target exclusive, pretty much all of the character's official fiction has been through the various incarnations of the Transformers convention and/or club over the years. This makes it appealing to think of Cryotek as a club (or convention) exclusive, even though this isn't actually true. As with pretty much all exclusives, Cryotek is a repaint of a previously existing toy: in this case, Transmetal 2 Megatron. In fact, Cryotek's official bio suggests that he copied Megatron's powerful Transmetal 2 body to create this form.

The original "Transmetals" were Beast Wars toys with chromed parts in beast mode. The idea was that whereas the original Beast Wars characters were robots with actual fleshy beast modes with skin and muscles and such, Transmetals were "inside-out," with robot modes showing such organic animal characteristics and beast modes that appeared entirely mechanical. Transmetals 2, in turn, retained chromed parts, but did more of a mix-and-match of what organic characteristics showed up where. Most Transmetals 2 are rather monstrous in appearance. This mold is, by contrast, rather elegant. Still, the original Megatron version of this mold was marketed as a Transmetal 2, so Cryotek is generally considered a Transmetal 2, as well.

Although a bright blue dragon may not be the most "realistic" alternative mode, it is nonetheless very striking. There is a lever on back on the toy that allows you to open and close the dragon's wings for flight, and a missile fits inside the dragon's jaws that can be fired when it opens its mouth. Add in the head-mounted missile launcher in Cryotek's robot mode, and the toy evokes a very powerful character. This is especially appropriate given Cryotek's rather unique bio, which characterizes him as a Cybertronian "criminal overlord." Even if, like any good mob boss, Cryotek prefers to let underlings do his dirty work, he has to be able to enforce his will through sheer force when necessary.

Cryotek DragsterThis toy has another alternative mode which appears as more of an afterthought than a real mode. It's officially called a "transportation mode," but it's often referred to by fans as a "dragster," no doubt taking advantage of the pun. Although most Transmetals 2 toys weren't designed with "third" modes like this, they were common in the original Transmetals toys, and I wonder if some of that reasoning carried over when the TM2 Megatron mold was being created. Or, it might be nothing more than that Hasbro thought such a large toy should have an extra bit of play value tossed in. Who am I to argue?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BotCon 2009 to be in Pasadena, CA

Just found out less than half an hour ago. Although the exact venue hasn't been announced, I'm guessing it's the same venue as BotCon 2004 was at, which is literally walking distance from Fuller.

The dates will be May 28-31.

I guess I'll be going this year! Woo, hoo!

EDIT: Sometime after New Year's, I'll try to compile a list of "things to do" in and around the Pasadena area (especially close to the convention center). If you have particular questions/needs/suggestions, feel free to leave a comment, and I'll try to make sure to address them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Silverstreak: A Christmas Parody

It's Christmas parody time again! This year's entry involves a matter that Transfans are increasingly concerned about: the loss of beloved names due to trademark reasons.
(to the tune of "Silver Bells")

Silverstreak! Silverstreak!
He’s lost his name, what a pity!
Marketing... Silly thing
Bluestreak could no longer stay....

Market trademarks, silly trademarks
Losing them all the while
So the name wasn’t open to Hasbro
Try a new one, something someone
might find in the toy aisle
and remember the name we held dear

Silverstreak! Silverstreak!
He’s lost his name, what a pity!
Marketing... silly thing...
His former name’s gone away!
Previous Christmas parodies may be found below:
Traditionally, the Christmas parody post has been my last for the year, as I have taken a vacation from blogging (often accompanied by a real vacation) between Christmas and New Year's. I intend to keep posting this year, at least as much as the usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, if not more (I already have something planned for tomorrow, in fact!). So please keep checking in!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon Downshift

'Tis the Friday before Christmas, so what should I do
To whip up a fitting Transformer review?

OK, enough with the rhyming. Seriously, coming up with an appropriate Transformer to do for the "Christmas" entry was hard. Like most Transformers fans, I've gotten more than a few Transformers as Christmas gifts. How would I choose one over another? And despite a few UK Transformers comics that had Christmas themes, I couldn't really think of any toys that were inherently more "Christmasy" than others. Ultimately, I chose Energon Downshift primarily because he has predominately red and green highlights to his color scheme.

Having not featured too many toys from the Energon line, I should mention some of the features that made this line unique. If you look closely at Downshift's rear hubcap, you'll see a purple Energon star. This didn't come with Downshift. Energon stars came only with the small "Basic" figures in the line (that is, the roughly $7 price-point), but could be used on pretty much all other Energon figures. The idea was that these were supposed to supply the characters with a power-up (Incidentally, that particular Energon star didn't actually come with an "Energon" figure, per se. It came with BotCon Laserbeak, which I used in this comic way back when, and which I sold shortly afterward. But I actually got two purple Energon stars with Laserbeak for some reason, so I kept one...).

Long-time fans immediately notice upon looking at Downshift (and that color scheme) that it looks a lot like Generation One Wheeljack. When one looks at Downshift's head, this homage is clearly shown to be intentional. Oddly enough, this doesn't appear to be a case where Hasbro didn't have the rights to use the name "Wheeljack," as there had been a "Wheeljack" in the Armada line just the previous year, and a clearly G1-inspired Spychanger Wheeljack was released the same year as Downshift. The rumor is that Hasbro felt that the name "Wheeljack" sounded "evil," and so they used it on the Autobot-turned-Decepticon in the Armada line. Since Energon was supposed to be a sequel to Armada, they presumably thought they should consider this toy to represent a different character (although Armada Wheeljack did seem to have come back to the Autobot side at the end of Armada). Unfortunately, they chose a name that had already been established to belong to yet another character in Armada. Confusion abounds!

In addition to those Energon stars, nearly all figures in the Energon line came with weapons made out of clear plastic (intended to imply that they were created out of pure Energon). Often these weapons could "combine" into some "super" weapon. In the case of Downshift, this was accomplished through the assistance of a connector piece: the spoiler from Downshift's vehicle mode.

But, first and foremost, the Energon line was characterized by the fact that most of the Deluxe or "Mega"-sized Autobots could combine with just about any other Autobot within its size class to make a larger robot, with one toy becoming the top half and the other toy being the lower half. This is actually a fairly old idea, having first been used with the Japanese-exclusive Landcross way back in 1989. I've already shown how Downshift could form the lower part of one of these combined robots when I reviewed the club exclusive Nightbeat a few weeks back. I could just as easily have shown those same two toys in the opposite arrangement here, but decided to show how Downshift can form the top of one of these combinations by showing how he combines with Energon Tow-Line who, although that toy is unlike any other Energon Deluxe figure, is in fact the toy Downshift's instructions show him combining with. This monstrosity was hard to get a good picture of, so here's a shot of the same configuration from another angle.

Part of the reason I don't have all that many Energon toys, despite their relatively recent availability, is that I really just don't care for that many of the toys. A lot of fans seem to feel the same. It is argued that running the combination gimmick through practically the entire line made each of the individual robot designs suffer as a result. I'd say that this was a brave experiment that perhaps didn't work out as well as hoped. Combiners are actually a fun gimmick. They just shouldn't dominate the line quite so much.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Camshaft

When I was visiting family for Thanksgiving a couple of weeks back, my parents brought me a few Transformers and parts that my brother thought I should have. This is how I was able to show Mirage with his rifle last week, but it also enables me to feature a more obscure character from the earliest part of Transformers history.

Camshaft is a member of the "Omnibots," the group which also features Overdrive, and like Overdrive, Camshaft was a pre-Transformers-era "Diaclone" toy that was brought over to the Transformers line as one of the very first mail-order exclusives. Camshaft's vehicle mode is a Mazda Savannah RX-7. Ironically, the RX-7 (having a rotary engine) doesn't actually have a camshaft, perhaps demonstrating the dangers of naming so many characters after automotive terms. They were bound to get something wrong sooner or later!

But more seriously, as a member of the Omnibots, Camshaft also has as an "armored car mode," a feature which sets these small cars apart from most other Transformer toys of its era. The official transformation is pictured here, but because of the absurdly-visible fists, I tend to just flip the missile launcher up and call it "done," if I play with this mode at all.

Oddly enough, I've had Camshaft's hand weapon floating around my collection for quite some time, even though the toy itself was with my brother until a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure how that happened, but all the bits we have are properly together again. That "bits we have" part is important. Having gotten Camshaft at a flea market way back when, I'm pretty sure we've never had missiles. Maybe someday I'll have to do something about that.

Being mail-order exclusives, the Omnibots were never given Tech Specs in America, but they were given Tech Specs in Japan (despite also being mail-order exclusives there). As I did with Overdrive, I was able to create a mock-up of what an American Camshaft Tech Spec would have looked like, using a translated version of the Japanese bio. Enjoy!Camshaft Tech Specs

Thursday, December 11, 2008

KB Toys is Going Out of Business

I just found out that KB Toys has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time this decade. This time, it looks like the end, and they've announced "going-out-of-business sales at [their] hundreds of stores."

In one sense, I'm not at all surprised. KB has routinely had much higher prices on their toys than what I could find at pretty much any other national chain (I'm thinking Toys R Us, in addition to places like Target and Wal-Mart), and when they have a 25% sale, it's even then not usually enough to get me to pick up an item, because that 25% often only brings the price back down to the same level it was at in those other chains (before the toy was known to be a shelfwarmer!).

But, even so, the news saddens me a bit. I used to work for a KB Toys in Anderson, SC about 12 years ago, during what was otherwise one of the most difficult times of my life. This was the period of time when the chain was changing their name from "Kay Bee" (which is how I knew it as a child) and we still had both names visible in various parts of the store. Although I had to drive about 45 minutes each way to get to my job, which paid a measly $5 an hour (if that, but I think that's right), I found that working in that small toy store, even though it was in the midst of the crazy holiday season, was one of the few highlights of my time living in South Carolina for those few months. Just out of college, I was already one of the oldest people there (with the exception of the managers), but I was able to relate fairly well to the other co-workers, and was even asked to stay on after the holiday season ended, which if I wasn't already planning to move back up to Kentucky, I probably would have done.

The job was a nice mix of social interaction and "time alone" for me (a decidedly strong introvert). When in the back room putting price tags on items, I remember seeing the G2 Dreadwing (already a couple of years old at the time) waiting for the right opportunity to be taken out to the floor again. This was also the time when Beast Wars toys were just coming out, and I enjoyed seeing new Transformers on the shelves again (although at this time I was still a little skeptical about this new direction). "Tickle Me Elmo" was the craze of the season, and we had to turn a lot of disappointed customers away asking if we had the toy, which we could never keep on shelves for long. But most of all, I think I enjoyed working the cash register, something I had never done during my tenures (yes, plural) working at Toys R Us in previous years. Often, when I had to give a customer just one penny of change, I'd tell them, "Don't spend it all in one place!" At least a few of them humored me by appearing to think I was funny!

Anyway, I find I'm actually sorry to see the chain go, although I definitely didn't do much (after working there) to keep them afloat. They simply couldn't compete with the lower prices other chains were able to offer. But I'll always remember them fondly.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Mirage

Mirage is one of those Generation One toys I picked up from some flea market or another well after the Generation One era had passed. I'm glad that I did, especially given that it remains one of few Generation One toys to have never been reissued by Hasbro or Takara (there are some decent quality replicas out there, but between the high price tag and the fact that they're of questionable-at-best legality, I don't recommend them).

You wouldn't notice it to look at it, but my specimen of Mirage has been broken and repaired. Unfortunately, G1 Mirage is particularly susceptible to breaking right at the middle, where you have to rotate the body for transformation. The pivot point is a very thin piece of plastic, and especially as plastic gets more brittle over the years, if this toy is going to break, that's exactly where it's going to break at. Thankfully, this problem can be solved. I didn't figure this out on my own, but from a fellow fan (NOTE: The original link is now dead. I'm including an Archive.org link, but it sadly doesn't include the original images).

Mirage turns into an Indy-style race car. This type of vehicle has been a popular one in Transformers toys over the years. Incidentally, in just about any Transformers toyline over the past decade or so, if there's an Indy-style racer made for the line, you can almost be certain that they're going to call it "Mirage." It seems that Mirage is one of those names that Hasbro is really keen on protecting. There are a few "Mirages" that aren't Indy-racers, and some aren't even Autobots, but Hasbro puts the name on it, anyway. The toy featured here is the original. I'll have more to say in a few weeks about the importance of name reuse if Hasbro wants to keep a name available for a future homages, but for now, I'll just say that Hasbro has reason to keep using the name so much, even on toys that don't exactly homage this one all that well.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Transformers Club News Today!

According to the latest issue of the Official Transformers Club magazine, the final part of the club combiner will be named Heatwave, and a picture will go up on the site TODAY (December 1st, 2008).

So, what are you still reading this page for? Head over the club site and see if they've put it up yet!

UPDATE: It's up as of about 5:00 pm.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cybertron Primus (Black Friday edition)

In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as "Black Friday." The idea is that the day after Thanksgiving is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year (this usually isn't technically correct--that honor going to one of the weekends just before Christmas--but it's certainly near the top of the list every year). Merchants often try to take advantage of the high volume of potential customers by doing special promotions. In 2006, Wal-Mart did one such "Black Friday" promotion by releasing the then-current Cybertron Primus toy with four previously unreleased Mini-Cons as a bonus. Since I didn't yet have the Primus figure, I took advantage of the offer.

Like Unicron, this is a figure that homages Transformers history going back all the way to Generation One. As the story went back then (in the Marvel comics), Unicron is a "god" of chaos from whose existence predates our own universe, and whose only function is destruction. When our current universe was created, it sought to defend itself by creating a corresponding "god" of light, called Primus. They battled for ages, never able to destroy the other. Eventually, Primus tricked Unicron by fleeing into an asteroid. Unicron did likewise, believeing that Primus had found some advantage in this celestial body. But what really happened was that both were now trapped in their respective asteroid prisons. Over time, both found themselves able to shape the worlds in which they had become embedded. Unicron became a giant planet capable of consuming other worlds and of transforming into a gargantuan robot form. Primus, on the other hand, became the planet Cybertron, homeworld of the Transformers.

This origin was modified a few times over by the time the Unicron toy was created for the Armada line, and again by the time Primus was actually created as a toy for the Cybertron line a few years later. For one thing, the Marvel comics never gave any indication that Cyberton/Primus (or "Cybertron Primus," as the toy was called, although that gives the impression that the two-word phrase is the character's name) was able, itself, to transform into a robot. Rather, the origin at the time suggested that Primus' creations (the Autobots and Decepticons) were given abilities that mimicked Unicron's ability to transform, implying that Primus himself was unable to do so. But this toy transforms, and in order to do that, you need this device, called the Omega Lock. You don't really need to have the Cyber Planet Keys shown here in order to make it work, and in fact, I don't have the specific keys you're "supposed" to have if one goes by the storyline (I never got any "Giant Planet" toys, and therefore don't have the key for the Giant Planet).

Basically, the Omega Lock serves as a key to unlock certain parts of Primus' transformation to robot mode. It does a few other things, too. For example, here you can see how the Omega Lock lights up when you stick in the hole at the top of Primus' planet form (although, technically, this is still supposed to be the planet Cybertron, it's still hard for me to reconcile this ball with the planet I always knew in Generation One, and it's easier for me just to refer to this as the "planet mode" instead of calling it "Cybertron." Just bear with me...).

If you move the key forward, parts of the planet slide away and two massive cannons flip out. With a couple of slight modifications, this may be considered an "attack planet" mode (The instructions don't actually give it a name). I shudder to think of what all these transformations must do to any Transformers unfortunate enough to still be on the planet's surface!

But I'm nowhere close to done yet! When preparing this entry, the instructions reminded me of yet another mode that I'd completely forgotten about, and will likely never, ever use again. This is Primus' "battle station mode." I'm not at all sure what viable function a planetary body needs with a "station" mode, nor can figure out how this mode is supposed to be demonstrably more "battle ready" than the "attack planet" mode earlier. Indeed, it seems to me that the Death Star did just fine without constantly reconfiguring. Or, at least, it used to....

All this finally gets us to Primus' robot mode. As planetary Transformers go, I actually like this transformation better than either Unicron or the Darth Vader/Death Star. It's an actually spherical planet that turns into a robot with a minimum of shell-forming. Not that a robot mode at such a scale makes much sense, of course. I mean, with Unicron, whose purpose was destruction, you could at least get iconic images like this one of Unicron about to rip into the surface of Cybertron (Note: at the time of the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, Primus as a character wasn't even established, much less the idea that the planet Cybertron was Primus!). But what's a "good guy" planet-sized robot supposed to do?

As is typical of Transformers toys of this size, Primus has gimmicks besides the actual transformations. Here, for example, we that Primus has robotic arms embedded within the giant robot's feet, perhaps intended to interact with Transformers at something somewhat more closely resembling their actual scale (although still way too large to be useful, realistically speaking).

If you plug a Cyber Planet Key into Primus' arms, they each can release a double-barreled weapon that, presumably, can be used to attack planetary-scale threats.

So, that's Primus. So far, we've covered the basic toy, which any non-Black Friday-shopping fan would have been able to pick up. The "Black Friday extra" was this set of four Mini-Cons. From left to right, these are Strongarm, Offshoot, Knockdown, and Nightscream.

These four Mini-Cons were released with the "Black Friday" Primus set for the first time, but were made more widely available when the "Classics" line came out more properly a few months later. However, when the Classics versions of these Mini-Cons came out, some of the names were changed. Offshoot became Dirt Rocket, and Nightscream became Thunderwing. Nightscream can be especially confusing, because an entirely different toy, sold with the now-named-Thunderwing toy, was called Nightscream.

No one ever said that keeping Transformers toys straight was easy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Doctor Who at 45

Yesterday was Doctor Who's 45th Anniversary. There's not a whole lot to say that a lot of other folks won't be saying more of, and better, but I couldn't just let this kind of an anniversary go by without so much as a mention.

But while I'm at it, I should include a link to the web comic "The Ten Doctors." Yes, it's got pretty much every fanboy dream crammed into the story, but it's surprisingly well done for fan fiction, and is worth a look. Be warned, it's already made it up to 145 parts, so you have a fair bit of catching up to do if you want to go back to the beginning.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: World's Smallest Transformers Thrust

In 2003, Takara developed a new line of Transformers designed to take advantage of the ever-present popularity of the Generation One characters. This line is referred to by fans as "World's Smallest Transformers" (the TFWiki indicates that this name is erroneous, preferring "Smallest Transforming Transformers," but I have to admit that I've never heard that phrase, and since we're talking about a translation from the Japanese anyway, I'm going to defer to widespread use over strict accuracy just this once. However, instead of writing out "World's Smallest Transformers" each time, I'll just use "WST" hereafter). These figures were sold blindpacked, meaning that you actually didn't know what toy you were getting until you actually opened the box. This is a strange concept to most Americans, but is actually fairly common on such small items in Japan. Still, if one thinks of these figures as being sold similar to how trading cards are sold, and how people will buy up multiple packs hoping to get a particularly rare card, you've got the concept pretty well.

WST Thrust Vehicle ModeWST Thrust is not one of the rare figures, but rather is a figure you're likely to get lots and lots of copies of if you buy boxes of WSTs hoping to find a less common one (say, Jazz or Bluestreak, for example). This toy is, basically, a scaled-down version of the Generation One original (as, indeed, are all WSTs). Thrust's modified F-15 fighter jet mode is shown here alongside a quarter to give you an idea of just how small this toy is. I should note, for the sake of accuracy, that the square "heat sticker" seen on the figure isn't something that the toy came with originally, but rather is something I bought from Reprolabels to evoke the idea of a "small version of the G1 toy" even more.

WST Thrust Robot modeThrust transforms almost exactly the same as his larger-scale counterpart, although the WST toys tend to rely on pegs rather than screws and such, so parts are a bit more likely to just pop off. No real harm, though. Just plug the part back in and you're good to go. Cartoon-purists often like to flip the plane's nosecone up on top of the head to give Thrust the "conehead" appearance he had back in the original cartoon, but I've never cared for that look at all. It looks pretty dippy on the cartoon, and even worse on the toys, which were simply not designed with this transformation in mind.

WST Thrust Custom BoxSince these toys were sold blindpacked, the box they originally came is pretty generic, and doesn't really make for a good display item. For this reason, I decided to make my own. I've shown this box before, but here's a shot of just my custom WST Thrust box on its own. I still have the Photoshop files in case anyone would like to try their own skills, but be warned that the files are quite large, so if you have a specific character in mind, let me know when you try to contact me by e-mail, so I can send you just the most appropriate files, rather than clog your e-mail server more than necessary.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: God Ginrai/Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor (Reissue)

I confess that I was a little bit surprised to see that more than 50% of those who responded to my poll last week asked to have the God Ginrai reissue featured, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. As my brother pointed out, it was the only Generation One option available. This toy was originally made available in the United States in 1988 as Powermaster Optimus Prime. The Japanese version of the toy, for some reason, doesn't even represent the same character, despite the toy's obvious resemblance to Optimus Prime. Their version of the fiction has a convoluted explanation for the resemblance, but I'll leave that for the Wiki article. Despite the fact that the toy pictured here is the 2002 Japanese reissue, I'll for the most part refer to this toy as "Optimus Prime," using the 1988 American version as default.

God Ginrai Vehicle ModeThe basic vehicle mode is a tractor trailer, similar to the original Optimus Prime, with a bit more weaponry added on. The 1988 American version of Powermaster Optimus Prime does, however, have several differences from the Japanese God Ginrai. Most obvious here is the addition of a second trailer behind the first one. I'll say more about that later. Less obvious is the fact that the Japanese versions of this toy have shorter smokestacks than the 1988 American version (a reversal from what normally happens: American toys getting shorter smokestacks due to safety regulations).

Ginrai Robot ModeThe cab transforms into the basic Optimus Prime robot, but this is where the "Powermaster" gimmick comes in. Like Headmasters and Targetmasters, Powermasters come with a small Nebulan figure. For Powermasters, the Nebulan turns into the engine (you can see it attached at the front of the vehicle mode above), and is necessary to unlock the transformation of the vehicle to robot form. In the 1988 American version, the Nebulan was named "Hi-Q." The Japanese "-Masters" followed a different storyline entirely, and these small robots weren't called Nebulans, and indeed weren't independent entities. Rather, the small robot was the "real" character, and controlled the larger Transformer body. The Japanese character's name was Ginrai. (And, just to make matters even more confusing, they weren't called "Powermasters" in Japan, either, but rather "Godmasters." I'm not sure if there's supposed to be some religious element to these characters, but I didn't come up with the name.)

God Ginrai Base ModeThe main trailer transforms into a battle station, which can be used with other figures. Hi-Q fits rather nicely in the "seat" of one of the weapons in this mode, but due to the distinctive transformation Powermaster Nebulans have, definitely looks as those he's doing splits! Perhaps Hi-Q was a cheerleader in another life? ;)

Super GinraiThis trailer and the cab can combine to form a "Super" Optimus Prime (called "Super Ginrai" in Japan). The "Super Prime" head is just a separate part added on, apparently due to a late decision made in the planning process, whereby Prime was also going to be a Headmaster, in addition to being a Powermaster. I'm sorry that this intention was never fully developed. This mode provides an example of another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions, as the cab was made with die cast metal in Japan and had real "windows," whereas the 1988 American version used plastic and stickers.

Super Ginrai Powermaster Prime armsYet another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions was that the Japanese versions have these nice slide-out fists in this mode. Here's a picture alongside an old 1988 American version to see what I'm talking about. The fact that the American version had those non-sliding fists meant that the fists were obviously visible in battle station mode. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many fans are convinced that Japan always gets the better toys (Transformers fans are always complaining about this. Especially when a given Optimus Prime toy in America gets shorter smokestacks. This is why it's worth emphasizing that the original American toy actually got the longer smokestacks in this instance!).

GodbomberAnyway, that was entirety of this toy in America for many, many years, until this reissue was also made available in the States as "Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor" in 2003. The 2003 American reissue is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the Japanese reissue pictured here. However, even back in 1988, the Japanese version had an addition to this set called "Godbomber." Godbomber is that extra trailer I mentioned at the beginning. Basically, you can take that trailer apart, then reconfigure the parts to form this robot. It's not really a "Transformer" in the conventional sense, since there's no folding up of still-connected parts involved. Rather, it's a disassemble-and-reassemble process, as was the case with Metroplex's "Sixgun" robot. The American reissue called this robot "Apex Bomber."

God Ginrai Super RobotIf you take Godbomber apart yet again, you can reassemble the parts on top of Optimus Prime's "Super" mode to make an even more powerful (presumably) robot. This is the "Apex Armor" mentioned in the American reissue, which was called "God Ginrai" in Japan. Now fully armored up, Optimus Prime stands ready to take on all threats!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Art of Derek Yaniger

Transformers fans know Derek Yaniger as one of the artists behind the Transformers: Generation Two comic. BoingBoing highlights this book of Yaniger's artwork. I thought Transformers fans might be interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teenage Mutant Jedi Turtle

My brother's been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) for many years. One of the many (many, many) TMNT figures he got as a kid was a 1990 Giant Donatello figure, standing about 13 inches tall! He got the toy second-hand from a flea market, and so it didn't come with the plastic "bō" that was originally packaged with it. Never one to just leave things be, he actually had our Dad make and stain a wooden rod of the appropriate diameter to fit in the toy's hands, thus creating a more accurate version of Donatello's signature weapon.

More recently, my brother picked up a "mini" lightsaber from Master Replicas. The lightsaber is just the hilt--no blade attached, but my brother found out that it fit quite nicely in the Giant Donatello's hands. Thus, with a little Photoshop wizardry, the following pictures were created:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: San Diego Comic-Con 2005 Skywarp

For Transformers fans, BotCon has been the "big thing" in terms of conventions for over a decade, but for fans of science fiction franchises in general, the annual San Diego Comic-Con is much, much bigger. Well over 100,000 people attend over the course of a given year's festivities, whereas BotCon only regularly started breaking the 1,000 attendee point fairly recently.

Comic-Con Skywarp Robot ModeAs with BotCon, one can find a lot of exclusive merchandise at Comic-Con, but Transformers exclusives through Comic-Con are a fairly recent development. This version of Skywarp is the first, to the best of my knowledge. Standing at just over 3 inches tall, it was actually given away for free to attendees who stopped by the Hasbro booth. Skywarp is a redeco of the "Legends" version of Cybertron Starscream.

Comic-Con Skywarp Vehicle ModeSkywarp turns into a Cybertronian aircraft, based on the "War Within" design for Starscream, which itself was based on the "tetrajet" type of aircraft that Starcream-type robots used while on the planet Cybertron in the original G1 cartoon series.

Cyber Planet KeyAs part of the Comic-Con promotion, Skywarp also came with a unique "Cyber Planet Key," which didn't actually do anything for the toy itself (it's nearly half as large as the whole robot!), but has a code on back that unlocked a "sneak peak" of one of the posters that would eventually be packed in with the toys (no, I don't know why they gave us a key with an Autobot symbol on it, given that Skywarp is a Decepticon).

Comic-Con Skywarp WeaponsDespite the toy's small size, it has a couple of flip out weapons patterned off of the much larger "Supreme" Starscream toy. These can be deployed in either vehicle or robot mode. I don't tend to use these much, myself, but they do add an extra layer of play value to the mold.

This version of Skywarp is fairly rare, but I don't know how many copies were made, and I would certainly assume it was made in greater numbers than most current BotCon exclusives. Given it's small size, I really wouldn't recommend paying more than about $15-20 for it if you can find it on eBay.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Ruckus

Last week, I mentioned that the club version of Nightbeat comes with a comic book. It's really great to have some official fiction to go with these toys. It's a major area that the club's been working on in the past year or so, and while I still think they have a ways to go, I want to give credit for the clear improvement that's taken place in this area. In fact, I enjoyed the story so much that it inspired me to pick up a G1 toy from eBay pretty much just because of the character's role in it.

That toy is Ruckus. Ruckus is a Triggercon. For most of the Generation One era, there were lots of assorted teams that went by names that were contractions of "Autobot" or "Decepticon" and some other term, usually connected to the team's main gimmick. "Dinobot" for example, is an obvious contraction of "dinosaur" and "Autobot." This happened all the time in Generation One, but is done very rarely, if at all, in the modern era (and most of the more modern examples are homages to Generation One itself).

In the case of the Triggercons, the main gimmick was that each robot had weapons that would flip up when a button--a trigger--was pressed. There were "Triggerbots" on the other side that used the exact same gimmick. In fact, I'm unaware of any gimmick that co-existed on both sides so precisely, so that "bots" and "cons" was the only difference between the two faction names.

Anyway, I got my specimen of Ruckus fairly cheaply because it's weapons don't actually hold in place very well, and the trigger button doesn't seem to do anything at all. I wasn't too worried about that, though. I'll play with Ruckus a bit, and then he'll go on display in robot mode, where I'll have the weapons deployed anyway.

FYI, this is my 600th post! Yay! Also, in case you're interested in the comic that came with Nightbeat, but don't want to buy Nightbeat itself, the comic is available by itself at the club store, and costs the same regardless of whether you're a member or not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's Official: David Tennant's Days as the Doctor are Numbered

A lot of us saw this coming, but it's now official: David Tennant will be stepping down as the Doctor in Doctor Who after the series of "specials" in 2009.

Here's the interview in which I found out, myself.

Naturally, this will start up the speculation once again: who will be the new Doctor? How will Tennant's incarnation (the tenth) meet his end? Will fans of Tennant's interpretation give the new person a chance?

After Christmas, those questions take on a new dimension: The special scheduled for airing on Christmas Day is called "The Next Doctor" and features David Morrissey as another Doctor. But is Morrissey's Doctor really the next one? Even if he is, will the events of that very special (let alone events in the four specials still to come before Tennant's departure) negate Morrissey's timeline?

Another big question: Will the remaining specials ever get around to showing us the future hinted at this past year, in which it is revealed that Professor River Song is destined to become very important to Tennant's Doctor in the future?

I eagerly await the answers....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Club Exclusive Nightbeat

Transformers fans younger than the Generation One era probably scratch their heads a bit at why the character of Nightbeat is so popular. The original toy is fairly unremarkable even by Generation One standards, he never showed up in the cartoon, and the fact that he was a Headmaster was utterly ignored in his few US comic appearances (unless you count his "Transformers Universe" profile page). The UK comic did use Nightbeat's Headmaster partner, Muzzle, on one occasion, but that's pretty much it.

But those few appearances Nightbeat made in the comic books left an indelible impression on fans old enough to remember reading them back in the late 80's. Nightbeat was the Autobots' resident gumshoe. A detective along the lines of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, Nightbeat's first stories in the UK and US comic lines, "The Big Shutdown!" (UK) and "Bird of Prey!" (US) are themselves homages to The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, respectively. Nightbeat has been fondly remembered ever since, and is a natural choice for a fan club exclusive.

Nightbeat Robot ModeThe club version of Nightbeat was created using the mold of Energon Hot Shot, giving it a new head. This new head is, itself, the victim of a bit of an unfortunate misunderstanding. The original Nightbeat wore a helmet with fairly distinctive "ears" created by attaching the vehicle-mode guns on either side (a feature Nightbeat held in common with all three Autobot Headmasters released in 1988). The new Nightbeat head was sculpted to include these "ears," as well, but when the toy was being created in the factory, someone there decided that the "ears" wouldn't allow the figure to transform properly, and so the decision was unilaterally made to remove them from the mold, and the club owners had little say in the matter (it is debatable whether or not the ears would have actually been such a problem as the factory decided, but there was nothing to be done about it).

Nightbeat Vehicle ModeThe club version of Nightbeat is unique among club exclusives released so far in that the toy was shipped with a comic book featuring the character. Entitled "Cheap Shots," we see Nightbeat and a few other Autobots (and several Nebulans, noteworthy for getting more characterization here than they ever did in the original Marvel comic despite most not actually being attached to their respective partners as Headmasters anymore) embroiled in yet another mystery.

Nightbeat combined with DownshiftUsing the same mold as Energon Hot Shot, Nightbeat has the ability to combine with other Energon Autobot molds, although this feature is not mentioned on any of Nightbeat's instructions. Here is an image of Nightbeat combined with Energon Downshift. I had to try out the feature just once "because I could," but to be honest, I'll probably never transform Nightbeat this way again. I'll just leave him in one of his canonical forms.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Club Exclusive Seacon Set

Exactly a week ago, I got my 2008 Official Transformers Collectors' Club exclusives in the mail. I'll deal with Nightbeat next week, since there's more than enough to talk about in regard to the Seacons alone. Indeed, I was tempted to break up this entry into multiple parts, but ultimately couldn't justify an organic way to do so without doing six separate listings, which would get more than a little monotonous over time. But first things first. A year ago this past March, when the first club exclusives arrived, I snapped a shot of the toys in their boxes modeled by my cat, Turtle. Such traditions must be maintained, so here's the ceremonial cat-shot.

The Seacons are exclusives that started out (as with Astrotrain last year) as proposed exclusives for a retail chain, but when the retail chain decided that they didn't want to bother with the idea anymore, the proposal was left in limbo. Fans were told at a convention in 2004 that these toys would be coming out as part of the then-current Energon toy line, and fans have been clamoring for a club release ever since that promise fell through. Although this version of the Seacon team was expected in 2004, the molds date back to 1988, and so a history lesson on the nature of most Generation One combiners is in order. Back then, most combiners were designed in what has come to be called "Scramble City" style (so-named after the Japanese cartoon that featured this form of combiner). Each team consisted of one larger "leader" figure, which would invariably form the core of the combined robot, and several interchangeable "limb" figures. In the case of the Seacons, Snaptrap (pictured at the left) is the "larger 'leader' figure."

Snaptrap transforms from a robot to a robotic sea turtle. A particular feature of Snaptrap is the "pom-pom cannon." Basically, you can move that tab on top of Snaptrap's back to make the cannons move in-and-out repeatedly. A simplistic feature by modern standards, but pretty cool if you're a kid in the 1980's.

Most "Scramble City"-style combiner teams had five members: one leader and four "limbs." This makes sense. Humanoid creatures have two arms and two legs. Four limbs. So four is pretty much the right number of smaller "limb" robots. The Seacons were (and are) different. This team has six members. One leader and five smaller "limb" robots! From left to right, this is Overbite, Seawing, Skalor, Nautilator, and Tentakil.

There were a couple of non-"Scramble City" combiner teams that also had six members, but in these cases, there was no particular team member larger than the others, and so more than one robot was used to form the "core" of the combined form. That's not the case here. In true "Scramble City" fashion, Snaptrap clearly forms the core of the combined form, and the others each can turn into a limb, and limbs remain interchangeable (They also have an "attack mode" with weapons attached, as is also common for most "Scramble City" limb robots). So what's going on here? Does the combined form somehow have three arms or something?

It should come as no surprise, even to non-Transformers fans, that the answer to that question is "no." Instead, the designers of the Seacons decided to tap into then-current "Targetmaster" gimmick, and worked it out so each of the "limb" Seacons also turned into a weapon. (Obviously, the toys aren't in the same order this time. This is because I took this picture at a different time than I took the others, and didn't think to make sure the order remained the same. Sorry!) One of these weapons--whichever robot wasn't forming an arm or a leg--could now be held by the combined robot.

The combined form, Piranacon, is formed by combining Snaptrap with any four of the smaller figures and adding on a few extra parts (such as fists and footplates). It may be worth noting that, although the instructions do suggest a particular "default" for which smaller robots should form which limbs, all the images on the box the Seacons came in and the box artwork itself display a different variation (Skalor and Nautilator are swapped). I also found that I couldn't get the sword to point straight if I used it on the Seawing limb, so I further swapped the sword and Overbite-as-weapon around from what those images consider "correct." There are several other ways you can use the weapons, too (and these images don't even begin to do any limb-swapping!).

I do have a few small quibbles (I wish that the set included instructions for all of the individual components, instead of just instructions for Piranacon, but it's easy enough to find instruction scans at Botch's site), but I still recommend this figure quite strongly. The club just announced yesterday that there are less than 100 of the Seacon sets still available at the Official Transformers Collectors' Club Shop (of 1500 made available), so if you're on the fence about getting these, you'd do well not to wait any longer. If you're not a club member, you'll notice a "non-member" price, but don't let that fool you. It's just adding the cost of membership on to the cost of the figure, meaning that you not only would get this set, but all the other stuff that membership offers. If you live in the US (prices are demonstrably higher for folks who live overseas), I suggest considering it. If becoming a member doesn't interest you, you're also welcome to place a bid on the extra one I got (from a combination of over-caution on my part and generosity on the part of someone else), which I've put for sale on eBay. I'm offering free shipping, and will donate 10% of the auction total to Kiva, which I've discussed here in the past.

UPDATE: 8:56 pm. They seem to be sold out from the club store now.
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