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.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Poll Results: Inconclusive

Last week, I tried an experiment. Victorysabre, a stalwart member of the Transformers Club, tried to do a poll asking about what type of toy/character the club ought to do for their next exclusive. Unfortunately, the poll only allowed people one, and only one, choice among eleven different options. With so many choices available, so many of which seemed very similar to each other, this could hardly hope to yield a meaningful result. Having admitted this inadequacy in the first attempt, I thought I might try the same poll over here, where I would be able to allow members to choose more than one choice if they wanted to. I left a link to this new version in the thread containing the original poll, hoping that interested members would give it a look.

Unfortunately, my results are no more meaningful than the original version.

There are several possible reasons for this. One is that the thread containing the poll was moved from the forum in which it was originally created to the "Feedback" forum on the club site. This is actually where such a thread should go, but it doesn't get quite as many members to visit it (at least, anecdotally speaking). The thread was also "stickied," which is to say that it was given a mark to ensure that it would remain at the top of that forum. This is actually intended to ensure that the thread isn't lost, but it's my feeling that it has the exact opposite effect. I know that I tend to ignore stickied threads, mostly because they stay at the top long after any new information has been added which would make them relevant. It may also be that the original thread had simply run its course, and no one cared about my continued attempt.

In any event, there are only 4 responses (hardly a representative sampling), and all but four of the elevent choices got exactly one click. Of those four, two got two clicks, and two got no clicks.

There's simply not much I can report on the basis of such information, except perhaps that polls are perhaps not a productive endeavor for this blog at the moment. If anyone has any thoughts or ideas on what might be more useful, please feel free to share them by clicking the "comments" link.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Darth Vader/Death Star

I've mentioned before that Hasbro decided a few years ago to release Transformers based on Star Wars vehicles and characters. The Star Wars universe has many readily identifiable spaceships, but perhaps none is more quickly recognized than the Death Star. In fact, Mimas, a moon circling the planet Saturn, so closely resembles the characteristic appearance of this legendary fictitious battle station that it is more often referred to (at least in non-scientific circles) as the "Death Star moon" than it is by its real name. (Note: the first close-up photographs of Mimas weren't taken until 1980, three years after the release of Star Wars to theaters, proving that the Death Star was not created with this resemblance in mind. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction!)

Generally speaking, Star Wars Transformers vehicles transform into a robot resembling the character most strongly associated with the vehicle. I have to assume that Hasbro didn't think enough kids cared about Grand Moff Tarkin (which didn't even see a regular action figure release in the original toy line of the '70s and '80s) to use him, since Darth Vader is used instead. Of course, being the largest toy made for this line, this should be no surprise. Hasbro would want to use the most important character they could, and Darth Vader arguably is the most important character in the whole Star Wars saga. Vader is definitely something of a "shellformer." That is to say, the robot is almost entirely concealed within panels that surround it in vehicle mode, these panels forming a "shell" that is pretty much the entirety of the vehicle itself. That said, at least this "planet-sized" Transformer is actually round!

The Death Star/Darth Vader toy comes with Darth Vader's signature weapon, a lightsaber, which is made of transparent plastic so that when you put it in Vader's hand and press a button will be illuminated by a light from inside the hand. This light is accompanied by the unmistakable lightsaber sound effect. Less characteristic of Vader is the blaster he holds in his other hand, but since this weapon is essential to the presence of the planet-destroying superlaser (really a missile on the toy) in Death Star mode, this incongruity can perhaps be forgiven. The toy also has other light and sound effects, including several clips of Darth Vader's voice and the "breathing" sound he is known for.

It was standard for Star Wars Transformers released prior to this year to include tiny "pilot" figures representing the actual humans of the franchise (in fact, this practice has really only been dropped within the past few months). In the case of the Death Star, the set comes with three Stormtrooper figures and one Darth Vader figure. These figures fit nicely in compartments at the large robot's shoulders and shins, but are almost certainly too large to be properly in scale with a station the movies clearly tell us is the size of a "small moon."

The Death Star/Darth Vader set also comes with three TIE Fighters that can either be assembled or taken apart and stored within another compartment in the back of the Death Star. Unfortunately, these tiny ships were designed with hexagonal pegs that don't quite line up like they're supposed to, making it impossible to assemble the TIE Fighters in their proper "tall" configuration. Plus, these ships are definitely too small to be in scale with the human figures mentioned above. Ahh, well, since when did scale mean anything in Transformers?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

So, What Do Club Members Really Want?

Credit where it's due. The poll you see on the right (you may have to scroll down just a little) is pretty much entirely the work of Transformers Club forum moderator Victorysabre. The only things I've changed are 1) I've edited the main question to be more Transformers club member specific, and 2) this version of the poll allows for multiple choices. Don't feel like you have to choose one, and only one, answer. If you feel that several options reflect you desires equally well, go ahead and select any or all of them!

The poll will last for one week. If the results prove interesting, I may discuss them further when it's done.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Stepper/Ricochet (reissue)

Although it is generally the case that the American and Japanese Transformers lines are roughly similar to each other, every now and again either we come out with a toy that they don't get, or they come out with a toy that we don't get. Following the human compulsion to want those things that we can't have, those of us on the "wrong" side of that equation will occasionally bend over backwards to get the toy available only to kids on the other side of the world.

In 1987, Takara released a couple of Targetmaster figures that weren't made available in the United States. One of these was called "Stepper." Stepper was a redeco of Jazz, with a little bit of retooling to accommodate a Targetmaster weapon. Stepper was considered so rare that prices for the figure on eBay would regularly go up well above $100 whenever a specimen showed up, which as late as the early 2000's wasn't very often.

Ricochet Robot ModeAll that changed when the toy was rereleased in 2003 (some sources say 2004, but I do think 2003 is right). Not only did the new version ensure that the toy could once again be found comparatively easily via import outlets, but Hasbro also released a version in the United States. The Hasbro version was called "Ricochet," perhaps because Hasbro agreed with the ever-increasing number of fans who thought that "Stepper" was a pretty stupid name. My specimen is the Japanese reissue, which differs in a couple of significant ways from the 1987 original. Both differences are readily apparent in the picture to the right. At least, apparent to people that know about the original toy.

Ricochet Shoulder WeaponThe first major difference is that the Targetmaster weapon (originally named Nebulon, but called Nightstick in the American release) was given a slight remold. The original version wouldn't actually fit in the larger figure's hands (which were, being originally designed for Jazz, never intended to hold a Targetmaster-type figure in the first place). Instead, Stepper was given an attachment which could be attached to the figure's back, where you see the missile launcher above. This enabled the Targetmaster weapon to be used as a shoulder-mounted weapon. However, this attachment came at the expense of the missile launcher, which wasn't included with the original Stepper (and, thus, is the second major difference between the original and the reissue). Since the reissue includes both attachments, you can choose where to place the Targetmaster weapon for display.

Nightstick TargetmasterAs with all Targetmasters, Nebulon/Nightstick can change from a weapon to a robot. As with Stepper/Ricochet himself, the weapon was given a name change for the American release. Part of the reason this was necessary for the weapon figure can be a bit awkward to describe, but here goes.... In America, Targetmasters (and Headmasters and Powermasters, too) have their origins on a planet called Nebulos. This world is occasionally called Nebulon in some continuities, but the name Nebulon is more commonly associated with a native of the planet Nebulos. At least, that's the way it is in the American cartoon (the American comic called the natives "Nebulans"). In any event, the Japanese continuity didn't use Nebulos at all, and so there was really no reason (so it would seem) for them not to use the name for the Targetmaster figure itself.

Ricochet Vehicle ModeBut the confusion doesn't stop with the American renaming of this figure as "Nightstick" in 2003. Nightstick was the name of Targetmaster Cyclonus' weapon, of which the Stepper/Ricochet weapon component is an exact copy. (NOTE: The www.tfu.info link above says that Cyclonus' Nightstick was recolored into Stepper's Nebulon. I'm just not seeing the difference, and don't think that the faction symbols seen in the photos there count.) My guess is that Hasbro probably won't do anything about this confusion when an all new Targetmaster Cyclonus is released next year.

To make matters even more confusing, Takara gave the name "Nightstick" to the other Targetmaster exclusive to Japan: Artfire, who still has never been reissued, probably because the reissue of Stepper/Ricochet didn't sell very well. All the hype that Stepper got when it was a "rare Japanese exclusive" died away when it became readily available (I still blame this at least in part on the high prices Toys R Us charged for Generaton One reissues. Why pay $30 or so for a toy when you could get better-engineered modern Transformers for a third of that price? By the time TRU started clearancing the figures to something reasonable, it was apparent that they were unpopular, having been on the shelves for so long, which further discouraged purchases). Artfire thus remains hard to find.

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