Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Power Core Combiner Leadfoot with Pinpoint

It's not really my habit to feature Transformers toys that are still available on retail shelves.  Part of the reason for this is because there are so many other Transformers blogs and sites out there that do this already, and I would just as soon focus my attentions elsewhere, but some of it really is due to the fact that I've got such a backlog of older toys that have kept my interest over time, there's really very little need for me to go out looking for more just so that I can blog about them.  Even so, when I saw this toy at the store recently, it caught my eye immediately for a very personal reason.  Perhaps you can tell what that reason is already in the official art to the left.

But, before I get to that, let's talk about the Power Core Combiners line.  This is a new line for 2010, and seeks to release toys with a unique twist on the ever-popular combiners concept.  Power Core Combiners toys are sold in either two-packs or five-packs, although perhaps that numerical designation is a bit misleading.  In both cases, there is one "main" figure, called a "Commander"—in this case, Leadfoot.  All other items in the "pack" can legitimately be said to be accessories to the "Commander" figure.

In the case of two-packs like Leadfoot, the single accessory is a Mini-Con (Pinpoint, in this example.  I wonder if they were trying to get to the old Targetmaster name "Pinpointer," and couldn't for some reason... or if anyone at Hasbro even noticed the similarity).  Power Core Combiner Mini-Cons are all molded in translucent plastic, presumably to convey the idea of them glowing with energy.  These Mini-Cons can transform in a number of ways to connect to the larger figure as weapons or tools.

Pinpoint, in particular, seems to borrow heavily from the Generation One Targetmaster and Powermaster concepts.  A Targetmaster, you may recall, is a small robot that turns into a weapon for the larger robot, as seen here, whereas a Powermaster is a small robot that turns into an engine for the larger robot.  For an image of how Pinpoint does the Powermaster thing, click here.

The accessories that come with the Power Core Combiner five-packs aren't Mini-Cons.  Instead, you get four drone vehicles with the main figure.  These four drones can then attach to the main "Commander" figure as limbs of a larger "combiner" robot.  It is important to recognize that the drones do not turn into robots, themselves.  This is part of why I suggest that to call these sets five-packs is misleading.  You get one full-fledged Transformer, and four limb drones.  However, these limb drones are compatible with any Power Core Combiner Commander.  Thus, Leadfoot is shown here in combiner mode, using the drones from the Double Clutch/"Rallybots" set.

Although Power Core Combiners clearly have a lot of versatility and play value, it seems that Transformers fans haven't warmed up to them especially well.  Perhaps it's because of the drones.  Perhaps some of the features seem to work better on paper than in practice.  I'll leave that to the individual to decide.  I certainly don't feel as though I've wasted my money (admittedly, I got these on sale and with a $5 coupon, to boot!).  What really prompted me to get this toy and do this review, however, is the single word written on the vehicle-mode spoiler (click the thumbnail for a closer look).  "Blackrock" is a reference to G.B. Blackrock, human ally of the Autobots from the Marvel Transformers comic, who I have over the past decade adopted as one of my online avatars.  I believe that this spoiler represents the first time Hasbro has explicitly referenced the character on a Transformer toy (they got really close with "Blockrock"—note the "o" where an "a" would be—a few years ago).  As such, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to add this toy to my collection!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 G2 Breakdown

The Generation Two franchise ran from 1993-1995 (depending on what you choose to include), and thus is old enough now that the children that are the intended target audience for Transformers figures all hadn't yet been born when the line gave way to the "Beast Wars" concept.  But for those of us old enough to remember, this was the line that brought Transformers back from the abyss (at least, here in America).  For that fact alone, many of us remember it fondly.  When the folks behind BotCon 2010 announced that the theme for the convention would be "G2: Redux," my interest was piqued, despite the fact that I knew that attending the convention would be impossible for me this year.  When one of the exclusive toys for that convention would be a new G2 Breakdown, I knew immediately that I would need to get the non-attendee set.

The original Breakdown, released in 1986, was part of a merge team called the Stunticons.  Like most merge teams that year, often referred to collectively as "Scramble City" teams, the Stunticons consisted of five members: four smaller figures and one larger "leader" figure.  A large robot could be formed by connecting the four smaller figures to the larger figure as limbs, usually via connector pegs that made up their squarish heads.  These limb figures were interchangeable, allowing one to not only connect the team members in any configuration you liked, but also to be able to swap out team members with figures from other teams should one so choose.  The Seacons were another example of this kind of merge team, which was very popular in the mid-to-late 1980's.

Long-time readers may remember my review of the 2004 G2 Breakdown Action Master from the unofficial BotCon of that year.  In that entry, I referenced the very first BotCon exclusive, from 1994, which was a repaint of the original Breakdown intended for the Generation Two line.  Like the 2004 Action Master, BotCon 2010 Breakdown is a repaint of a Sideswipe figure (in this case, Universe Sideswipe from 2008) with a new head.  Naturally, this means that Breakdown is no longer part of a merge team, but it seems that most of the old '80s "Scramble City" characters have been reissued as non-combining toys in recent years, so this is just par for the course.

One of the features often associated with Generation Two is a preponderance of garish color schemes, and BotCon 2010 Breakdown more or less faithfully reproduces the outlandish scheme of the original Generation Two Breakdown here.  However, it should be noted that there was never any intentionality that Generation Two, as a line, would use bright colors of this kind.  This was simply the trend of the early 1990's, and many Transformers of the late Generation One era were colored this way, as well (and not all Generation Two figures were so outlandish).

In the entry for Action Master G2 Breakdown, I suggested that I would need to put that figure and this one together side by side, given that they actually bear a greater resemblance to each other than they do to the original G2 Breakdown (being repaints of Sideswipe figures, and thus having a car hood for a chest and all).  Such an opportunity could not be ignored.  Here is that picture of the two figures!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #41 - The Battle on the Moon

I entered this image into a contest for the official Transformers Club.  We were asked to "Shoot the Ultimate Battle" using actual toys. As I thought through scenes I could do with the toys I had on hand, I remembered the classic battle in issue #41 of the Marvel Transformers comic: "Totaled!" In this issue, Grimlock (then-current leader of the Earthbound Autobots since the death of Optimus Prime) and Fortress Maximus (leader of a faction that came to Earth more recently) meet for the first time, and it doesn't go well. Grimlock challenges Maximus to a duel for leadership. Maximus knows that he is unlikely to win such a duel, having been injured in a previous issue, but Blaster (having his own reasons to want Grimlock defeated) steps up to accept the challenge in Maximus' place. While they fight, the Decepticons take the opportunity to launch a sneak attack on the rest of the Autobots, which brings us to the scene depicted here.

As is probably obvious, this is a Photoshopped image. I used actual NASA photography (NASA images are in the Public Domain) for the moon background, and each toy was individually photographed and layered on to the image to create this composite battle scene. I went into this project with a couple of "ground rules":
  • All characters depicted had to have been "available" at the time of this battle. They need not have actually appeared in the issue, but they had to have been introduced into comic continuity by issue #41, and could not be known to be either deactivated or elsewhere when the battle was taking place.
  • All toys depicted had to either be released or re-released within the last five years. That is to say, all toys shown here could have been purchased since 2005. Naturally, this means that many characters do not show up in the forms they originally had back when the comic was released in the 1980's, but rather in updated forms.
I also wanted to include some clear "call-outs" to events in that story:
  • Grimlock and Blaster are off battling each other in the far right corner, totally apart from the other Autobots, and unaware at this point of the Decepticon presence.
  • Long Haul is in the background carrying a box with the name "Rumble" on it, referencing a scene in which the Constructicons retrieve a number of such boxes containing deactivated Decepticons from the Ark.
Sadly, my image was not selected as the winner of that contest. Not even close. The winner was an image that was similar in "space battle" concept, but was not an explicit reference to any specific story I'm aware of. That image was, however, very nicely executed with a combination of Photoshopped effects and "real-world" placement of images on a physical background. I suppose my own entry might have done better if I explained beforehand what the homage was about, as I expect that many people wouldn't "get it" just by looking at it (indeed, many are probably too young to remember when the scene played out in the comic way back when), but since it was important to me to keep my entries anonymous until voting was completed (as I've said on the board, these entries should stand or fall or on their own merits), it is what it is. Congratulations to the winning entry!

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Transformers Comic Recreation - Marvel #17 - Straxus Holds Court

    Issue #17 of the original Marvel Transformers comic was something of a milestone. It marked the first story set on Cybertron since the beginning of the series more than a year-and-a-half previously. This gave writer Bob Budiansky the opportunity to feature quite a few new characters (as he was always being pressured to do by Hasbro, who had this annoying habit of continuing to make more toys that they wanted to see featured in the comic) and do so all at once.

    Perhaps surprisingly, Budiansky also went ahead and created a couple of new characters for which no toy existed at the time. Notable among these were Autobot spy Scrounge and Decepticon stronghold governor Straxus. The reason for creating new non-toy characters was so that Budiansky could kill the characters off without fear of toy-buyers (and perhaps the toy-makers as well!) who might complain that they just wasted money on a toy for a character that had already been eliminated from the story. Scrounge was killed off in that very issue, and Straxus was knocked off in the next (That didn't stop UK writer Simon Furman from using Straxus — shown to have somehow survived...or his head did, anyway — in subsequent UK-only issues).

    Modern Transformers fans were thus overjoyed to discover that Hasbro was finally making a Straxus figure (although it is being sold under the name "Darkmount" for trademark reasons) in 2010. This gave me an opportunity to try something a little creative. The comic image above mostly features characters that been given new or reissued toys all within the past few years.  I decided to try to recreate this group shot with actual toys. I had to fudge a bit on the couple of exceptions to this "new toy" rule. No Scrounge toy has ever been created, but I still have the figure I got from "Crazy Steve" a few years ago, and I used a single generic MiniMate to represent the generic Transformers about to be killed by Straxus. I'm pretty pleased with how it finally turned out. I hope you agree. As with most images on this blog, you can click the image to get a larger version.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Transformers: The Movie - The Version You've Never Seen

    About a month ago, Ron Friedman, one of the writers behind the original 1980's Transformers cartoon, put a bunch of items up for auction.  Animation sheets, scripts, notes, etc., were all available to fans, much of it for the first time ever.  Needless to say, Transformers fans with money to spare (that doesn't include me, I'm afraid) happily bid on these previously unknown relics.  The Allspark, following a pattern set earlier in the year, organized a donation drive, any excess from which would go to charity.  As a result of these efforts, many of these items were obtained for the express purpose of making them available online so that fans everywhere could have access to the new bits of historical data that could be obtained.

    Perhaps one of the most exciting finds from this group of auctions was an early draft of the script to the 1986 Transformers: The Movie.  Jim Sorenson, author of some pretty cool books and blogger at Disciples of Boltax, was the recipient of the physical copy of this script and has now scanned it and placed the link on his blog.  Rather than steal his thunder, I'd rather send you to his blog so you can see what he's been up to.  This version of the movie really is significantly different than what we ended up seeing on screen, and is worth taking some time to look through (full disclaimer: I've only had a chance to skim parts of it all, myself, but hope to spend more time with it this weekend, when I'm not trying to juggle job concerns, as well).

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Special Transformers Feature: Chromedome

    Chromedome is one of those toys that I actually got a little bit at a time (and, as evidenced by the Kaboodle wish list request for the two laser cannons, I never did actually complete it!).  Oddly enough, I got the Nebulan, called Stylor, first, having found the tiny figure at a yard sale roughly twenty years ago.  I paid 10 cents for it, feeling like I'd gotten a rather good deal even at the time.  Seeing that Nebulans--the head components to the Headmaster figures--vary pretty wildly in price today (but 10 dollars seems to be a low-end price on eBay, and that's before shipping), I feel that my assessment back then has been vindicated several times over.

    Some time later, I don't recall how long for certain, I picked up a "headless" body for about $5, and my Chromdome was more or less complete (if you don't count the fact that it's still weaponless).

    In America, Chromedome was no more or less important than any of the other Headmasters, which means that he showed up a few times in the comic books, and in the "Rebirth" three-parter that closed out the original animated series, and otherwise wasn't seen all that much.  In Japan, Chromedome was the nominal Headmasters leader (under Fortress Maximus, true, but Maximus was HUGE, and therefore didn't really go out on missions much), and thus got a LOT more screen time.

    Chromedome's transformation to vehicle mode is fairly standard for the time.  Flip the arms back, fold the robot in half (but take the head off first!), rotate the feet a bit, and you're pretty much done.  Like other 1987 Headmasters' Nebulan figures, Stylor can fit into a compartment in vehicle mode to "drive" the vehicle.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Transformer Teaser: Universe Sideswipe

    I've been taking a lot of pictures lately.  Mostly (but not intentionally) of toys I've not featured on this blog before!  It's all part of a special project I'm working on.  I'm not ready to say more just yet, but here's a teaser image of Universe Sideswipe!

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Gorillaz Picking on Gleeks

    I admit it.  I'm a Gleek.

    Full disclosure.  I'm still working my way through the first season of Glee (with the help of Netflix).  I've still got one more disc left to go to finish out the year, and then I'll be able to catch up with Season Two via Hulu.  My wife and I may be latecomers to the fad, but once we finally saw an episode, we were hooked.  I expect that anyone who's ever struggled with issues of identify and acceptance (and I expect that's anyone) can find something to identify with in this show.

    One aspect (of many) that we enjoy about Glee is the variety of music used for the show.  It's not all show tunes, but neither is it all pop music (although these are certainly the two most common genres used), and the music has spanned the past several decades, so it's not just stuff that teens and college students enjoy, but includes music for us "older folks," as well.

    As with any show that uses music originally created by other people (which means, for Glee, practically all of it), Glee has to get permission from the rights-holders of the original music to use it.  The producers have expressed surprise that so many artists have granted such permission (in fact, Madonna granted them the rights to her entire catalog for the Madonna-based episode they did last year!), but it shouldn't surprise anyone that a few artists have refused to grant it.

    One of those holdouts, apparently, is the "virtual band," Gorillaz.  Lead singer Damon Albarn has apparently gone public about this position despite the fact that the folks at Glee haven't even asked for such permission yet:
    [N]ot that they've asked us because they haven't, and now they definitely won't.
    I'm not sure I understand the point of this "pre-emptive strike."  If you don't want the show to do your stuff, then don't let them, but no need to bother the rest of the world (which predominately likes the show) about it.

    And the Glee-griping doesn't stop there.  Albarn also throws in his two cents at the news that Glee covers have now hit the record for the most appearances on Billboard's Top 100 chart for non-solo acts (a record previously held by the Beatles):
    "Those songs won't last like the Beatles by any stretch of their imagination," he says. "They'll be forgotten in a few years' time."
    I'm sure he's correct, but so what?  Glee has been created for an entirely different purpose than a pop group.  They don't exist to create music.  Rather, they use existing music as a vehicle to tell a story.  If the music wasn't already known, or already popular, Glee's use of it would be meaningless.  Glee couldn't exist without "real" musicians doing their thing, and I think that pretty much everyone involved is fully aware of that fact.

    It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life that stirring up controversy is better publicity than just doing what you do, and doing it well.  Glee knows this fact, and I don't think I'm surprising anyone who's watched it when I acknowledge that the show's not for everyone.  I'm sure the "Religious Right" (for example) is furious that it's doing so well.

    Gorillaz has obviously figured this out, as well.  I know I'd never heard of them before reading this article.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Special Transformers Feature: Freeway (and the Throttlebots)

    From 1984 to 1986, the Mini Vehicles line of Transformers served the Transformers line well, offering children fully transformable toys at a low price range.  But by 1987, Hasbro had run through the molds they had inherited from the Japanese Micro Change line, having already retooled many of those molds for the 1986 line.  It was time to try something new, attempting to meet the demand for toys at (about) the same price while recognizing the added expense of paying for new designs and rising prices for raw materials.  The Throttlebots were the first attempt at such new toys for this price point.

    Like the Mini Vehicles before them, the Throttlebots were all Autobots (perhaps the team name "Throttlebots" was a clue).  Besides their comparatively small size, the Throttlebots also shared a gimmick: pull-back motors that (like the Mini-Spies that came a couple of years before) allowed them to race for a short distance across a table or the floor.  No doubt the added action feature was an attraction to many children.

    The play feature probably also served, at least for a while, to make up for the comparably limited robot modes.  All Throttlebots had exactly the same transformation.  Pull the shell of the car up, push the wheels forward, pull the back of the car down to reveal the head, and swing the side panels out for the arms.  Even for toys of this era, this was sub-par for articulation (that is, there was none!).  But at least the pull-back motor still worked, even in this mode (the Mini-Spies couldn't do that!).

    Ultimately, the simplistic (and similar) toys made most of the Throttlebot characters (including Freeway, who's managed to go unnamed through this entire blog entry up until now) pretty forgettable as distinct entities.  In fact, the artists had a tendency to forget who was who pretty often, and seeing panels of miscolored and/or misnamed Throttlebots was not uncommon.  One notable exception to this was Goldbug, who was created to be a new version of the popular character, Bumblebee.  Since Mini Vehicles were no longer being made, Bumblebee's original toy could no longer be sold.  Someone at Hasbro must have really liked him, because the effort to keep the character around in this way was unprecedented for the Transformers line (some wise-aleck's going to tell me that Rodimus Prime/Hot Rod did this first, but I see that as an entirely different phenomenon, so there!).

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Remebering the Quantum Leap Comic Book

    Fans of Science Fiction over a certain age will remember a television show called Quantum LeapQuantum Leap was a time travel adventure featuring Scott Bakula (later to star as the captain on Star Trek: Enterprise) and Dean Stockwell (a veteran actor who has been in the business since he was a child in the 1940's, but probably most well-known today for the updated Battlestar Galactica).  Bakula played Sam Becket (not the poet!), a super-genius who invented a means of time travel within the span of one's own lifetime (in Becket's case, that meant that periods from 1953 to the then-present were considered fair game), while Stockwell played Al, who remained in Sam's original time but could communicate with Sam through holographic brainwave transmissions. The basic idea was that Sam would trade bodies with someone in the past, living their life for a while.  Sam would "leap" out of that time (and trade places with yet another person) after having changed history for the better.

    The show lasted for five seasons on NBC, and a handful of episodes are available for viewing on Hulu.  I invite readers to go check it out, but I'm not looking to talk about the television series itself.  Like many popular television shows, original Quantum Leap stories were also created for other media.  There was a series of paperback books, for example, that ran for several years.  For right now, however, I want to talk about the Quantum Leap comic book.

    Published by the now-defunct Innovation Corporation, Quantum Leap was fairly ambitious for a comic book of its time (the early 1990s).  Nearly all of the covers featured fully-painted artwork, a laborious feat that even today tends to be reserved only for special issues.  The stories attempted to play with the fact that Al (being a hologram) couldn't directly interact with (most of) his surroundings in the past, and considered some fairly deep social and philosophical issues that rivaled those posed by the show itself.

    Following a convention set by the television show, each story would end with Sam leaping out of one person and directly into the next, creating a teaser for the next story.  While this admittedly made it difficult to reconcile the continuity of the comic with that set by the show, it preserved the feel of the show quite nicely, to say nothing of giving readers a reason to want to pick up the next issue!

    That's not to say that that comic was without its faults.  Like many television tie-in media, the tie-in sometimes did things with their story that simply didn't jive with the way the world worked on the original.  For example, the comic book authors were inconsistent about following the rules of time travel as established by the television series.  Put simply, Sam was put in a particular time and place "to put right what once went wrong."  That means that when Al would tell Sam about how history unfolded, Sam was always there to change something.  Yet, in several instances in the comic book, Sam was there to ensure that something would stay the same.  For example, in issue four, Sam becomes a game show contestant during the time of the 1950's quiz show scandals.  Sam is there to make sure that the right contestant wins the show, so that an important $25,000 would be donated to MIT, enabling research to take place that would mean that the hologram portion of the Quantum Leap Project would exist.  If history doesn't unfold correctly, Al can't help Sam through his missions.  But, according to the way time travel works on the show, Sam shouldn't have been there in the first place!  Sam never changes anything to unfold differently than it did without him (or, if the guy who Sam took the place of never won, Quantum Leap as we know it could never have existed).

    One noteworthy exception to this takes place in issue 12.  Sam leaps into an old hermit who runs a gas station in the middle of the desert, presumably because it allowed the hermit to avoid dealing with people most of the time.  When an unknown actress drives by, Sam gives her directions (with the help of Al) and gas, and she goes on her way.  It turns out, the guy that Sam leaped into wasn't just a hermit who avoided talking to people, but he couldn't even read, and didn't have any maps.  He could never have given the directions the actress needed to avoid dying lost and alone out in the desert.  Just before Sam leaps out, he learns the actress's name: Norma Jean Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe).

    Unfortunately, this high point was immediately followed by a sign of the comic's imminent demise.  The teaser at the end of this issue promised to have Sam leap into person dying of a heart attack (we are told in the letter column that Sam is to assume the role of "Ziggy," the computer that Al uses to tell Sam how history worked out the first time, and to extrapolate what Sam is most likely supposed to change).  This story was never told.  There was one more new story to come out, but this one featured Sam switching places with a telepathic alien!  While this was indeed an interesting story, and certainly beyond the scope of the television show's budget, it just wasn't the same.  That story, also, promised a future for the series, as Sam is seen to leap into a toddler at the zoo.  But then Innovation folded, and the Quantum Leap comic was no more.

    Back-issues can be found with a bit of digging.  There were 13 "regular" issues and one "Special Edition" (which just reprinted the first issue with some new--and some corrected--art).  Given the going rate of back-issue comics these days, you'll probably pay as much or more for shipping as for the issues themselves, so I would certainly encourage you to pick them up if you get the chance.  Happy Hunting!

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    The Updated 2011 BotCon Pasadena Survival Guide

    I'm really pretty fortunate.  Most Transformers fans have to travel far and wide to get to BotCon, yet I've had the privilege of having it take place just a few blocks away from where I work three times now!  I can certainly understand why some folks feel like it's "always" here (despite the fact that, with one other exception--in another nearby city in California--these three times are the only times BotCon has been west of Texas!).  So, I try to do my bit to "give back."  The "Survival Guide" I did in 2009 was pretty well received, so it's worth doing that again, updating as necessary and providing new information as I can. 

    As I said last time, I can't predict every need. But I do know the Pasadena area pretty well now (having lived in and around it for about 13 years now), and hope that this list will be helpful. Of course, the greater Los Angeles area has lots of stuff to see. For the most part, I'm only listing places that I've actually been to and would recommend. You can find other attractions just by using your Google-Fu, of course!

    Travel and Hotels:
    • The Sheraton, Hilton, and Courtyard by Marriott are, of course, the official hotels, and the Sheraton's actually connected to the Convention Center. But even with the BotCon room rate, those are really nice hotels with price tags to match.  I'm told that the Sheraton has in-room refrigerators, which may help you with food planning (perhaps the other hotels do, too.  It's not uncommon for hotels to supply that kind of thing).  But perhaps want to stay at a cheaper hotel. For this, I suggest that you consult the Pasadena Convention Center Hotel Guide, and I would definitely recommend signing up for a Big Crumbs account before booking for either hotels or air travel.  They link to all sorts of services like Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire in their "Travel" section (If you don't see the link, look under the "Shop" tab and click "Online Retailers"--after signing up, of course!) and if you visit those sites through Big Crumbs, you can earn a percentage of your purchases back!  Look for deals, as you might even be able to get a lower overall price by booking the room at the same time as your flight and/or rental car.  (Complete aside: I'd love to know how these negotiations work.  The Westin isn't one of the official hotels, but is a lot closer to the convention center than the Courtyard!)
    Airports:
    • I won't weigh in on which airlines you should use, but I do have some comments on which airports you might use to get here.  There are several airports in the Pasadena area.  Los Angeles International, commonly called "LAX," is generally the cheapest, but it's a zoo, and if you don't mind spending a little bit more to connect elsewhere, I really do recommend it.  Burbank (BUR) is the closest to Pasadena, and is generally a very pleasant experience.  A bit further away is the Ontario airport (ONT, and yes, I'm talking about California and not Canada!), but that's also a nice airport, as is John Wayne airport (SNA, in Santa Ana), which might work especially well if you plan on working a trip to either Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm (see below) into your arrival or departure plans.
    Transportation:
    • This list is written mostly with the assumption that people will either walk wherever they want to go, or will rent a car. There are buses and trains in the Pasadena/Los Angeles area, though. You can map out trips to and from wherever you'd want to go using this link. That said, if you use this option very much, I'd recommend either getting a weekly pass, or reconsider the car rental (which, again, can be done through the Big Crumbs Travel section!).
    • If you just need to get to/from an LA-area airport, the folks behind BotCon have provided a code to get you a discount on SuperShuttle service.  Just enter code "RB3FY" when you make your reservation.
    • If you're coming from LAX, there's a newer alternative option called "Shuttle2LAX" which offers a flat rate of $20 (plus $11 per additional person) regardless of destination.  A little less guesswork, perhaps, but I always suggest checking your options.
    Food:
    • Directly across the street from the Convention Center is an open-air mall called the Paseo Colorado. This will be the most obvious place to look for food. You can search through all the Paseo merchants here. Most of the restaurants there have their own links, so you can get an idea of costs. Personally, I'd go to Rubio's for some comparatively cheap food. If you don't mind spending a little more, Islands is good for hamburgers, and P.F. Chang's is great for Chinese food.
    • If you're willing to walk a few blocks east (turn right if you're exiting the convention center on Green, facing the Paseo), Lake Avenue is also a major shopping district with lots of restaurants, both upscale and less expensive. Again, if just going inexpensive is your goal, I'd suggest Del Taco, which is a bit cheaper than Rubio's. For the healthier mind-set, Souplantation is quite good.
    • If Italian's your thing, try Buca Di Beppo, which is excellent food, close to the convention, but kind of pricey.
    • McCormick & Schmicks is the only local bar that I (being a teetotaler) have any real familiarity with. I recommend going during Happy Hour (around 5-6 pm), when you can get really cheap food if you buy a beverage (doesn't even have to be alcoholic, or at least didn't when I lived about a block away a few years ago). If you want some excellent seafood, you can go to the main restaurant portion, but be warned that the prices are fairly high.
    • If you've got a friend to dine with, love Mexican food, and don't mind the roughly 1/2-hour drive to go about 8 miles east during rush hour, I also highly recommend Los G├╝eros in Monrovia (now with two locations!  The original, on Huntington, and now one on Myrtle in Old Town Monrovia). If you're bringing a group, I really recommend you get a coupon from Restaurant.com (which works with the above-mentioned Big Crumbs account.  You really should get one!) or through Entertainment.com if you have one of their coupon books (and remember, you really need to order the fresh guacamole!).
    • Obviously, if you're willing to drive, much more can be found than I can list conveniently. However, the Pasadena Convention and Visitors Bureau has a very helpful website that can fill in the blanks (this link goes directly to the dining section).
    • Because a few folks have mentioned it, and because it really is pretty good food, I've done a special write-up for In-N-Out Burger in Alhambra (there is one in Pasadena, but you can't sit down there, and so I've never bothered with it myself. It's too far to walk, and if you have to drive, you want to be able to sit down to eat, right?).  There's also a very nice In-N-Out at the Glendale Galleria, where you can get some extra shopping in if you get tired of Transformers.
    • If you're thinking more on the order of groceries (who cooks for themselves at BotCon?), Gelson's is just across the street from the convention center, but is a bit overpriced. If you don't mind walking a few blocks east, I recommend Ralph's instead.
    Mail and Shipping:
    • If you need to send a package, I'm sure that BotCon will provide certain shipping services, but you should be aware that the main Pasadena Post Office is just across the street from the Paseo (which, as I said, is itself just across the street from the Convention Center). You might find this to be a viable option for your shipping needs. There is also a FedEx Office (the establishment formerly known as Kinko's) on Los Robles a bit to the Northeast at the Westin (which may as well be one of the "other" official hotels, given its location and comparatively high price). Finally, there is a UPS Store a short distance to the Southwest, but it's rather far for walking (indeed, this one's an exception to my "don't post if I haven't used it" rule. I've used both of the others.).
    Local Attractions:
    • The Pasadena Playhouse is a historic theater that has given more than a few big-name celebrities their start. It's just a few blocks east of the Convention Center. Easy walking distance. I can't yet tell what play will be playing there during the BotCon season, but this is usually top-notch entertainment with well-known celebrities. Tickets can be fairly expensive, but they do have a few options (especially for those who are students) that are less expensive if you're willing to take your chances on a seat.
    • Huntington Library and the Huntington Gardens are at the estate of Henry E. Huntington: railroad magnate (and nephew of "Big Four" member C. P. Huntington), business leader, and all-around-rich-guy. The Library has a wonderful collection of art, including both year-round and rotating displays. It also has a collection including original writings of Abraham Lincoln, a Gutenberg Bible, and other bits of Americana and European fare. If the Library doesn't appeal, just go for the Gardens, which are both expansive and exotic. You can easily spend an afternoon just walking along the beautiful paths alone. There is a nominal fee to enter, but especially if you're bringing kids, I definitely recommend spending some time there.
    • I've never actually been inside the Gamble House, but have driven by it often enough that I need to include it. If you have a car, I recommend doing at least that much, just so you can say you've driven by Doc Brown's place! (Of course, this house has been used in lots of other films, too.)
    • The Pacific Asia Museum is even closer to where I work than the Convention Center is, and is thus an easy walk for those who manage to avoid renting a car. Admission is quite reasonable.
    • And, while you're there, you may as well head next door (Even closer to the seminary! Right across the street!) and visit the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Admission is essentially the same price as the Pacific Asia Museum.
    • And, at the risk of sounding anti-climactic, there's a movie theater at the Paseo Colorado.
    Outside of Pasadena Itself:
    • By the way, if you do want to go to Hollywood, do not do so at nighttime unless you've got a fairly large group with you. It's really pretty run-down outside of the immediate attractions.
    • That said, if you want to take a break from BotCon stuff, or otherwise stay an extra day, there are lots of show tapings that you might enjoy. Most of these will take several hours to complete, so plan accordingly. There are tons of sites that offer tickets. Here's just a sample. (Some shows may not be taping in June, of course.)
    • If you're into astronomy, you might want to check out the Griffith Observatory, recently reopened after an extensive renovation. (And, hey, Transformers fans will be interested in the fact that parts of the first live-action movie were filmed here.)
    • The Museum of Tolerance is not a place I'd recommend for young children, but is definitely worth going to for those mature enough to handle it. The main topic of the museum is the World War II Holocaust, educating people about those atrocities in hopes that nothing like that ever happens again. There are other historical periods featured, as well.
    • And, of course, there are always amusement parks. I'm sure you knew about Disneyland without my mentioning it, but Knott's Berry Farm is a cheaper amusement park in the same area (Buena Park, very near Anaheim, actually), and there's also the Universal Studios park in the LA area, and Magic Mountain if you don't mind about an hour's drive north and really enjoy roller coasters.
    If there's some other dimension of your BotCon experience you think I should address on this list, but feel that I've missed, just leave a comment, and I'll update as necessary. Even so, you should read the comments left by others here, as they offer some ideas that are worth investigating, even if I don't have direct experience with them myself.

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    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Transformers Then and Now: Overkill

    After more than 25 years of the Transformers franchise, it's really no surprise that many Transformers released today are homages to Transformers of earlier years.  Even granting this fact, some homages are more surprising than others.  It sometimes seems like the official channels don't know that the original Transformers line kept putting out new characters after 1984 and 1985.  The original Overkill was released in 1987, appeared for all of two seconds in the original cartoon, and faded into obscurity for the next 20 years.

    The original Overkill (seen here on the right, sadly without the missile batteries he originally came with) was paired with fellow dinosaur Decepticon Slugfest, who had just as much (?) screen time as Overkill.  Although Slugfest's original toy was reissued before Overkill (in 2009.  Actually, Overkill's original toy has still never been reissued), only Overkill has been homaged with a new toy (seen here on the left), a repaint of Classics Grimlock.

    Although both Overkills are most notable for their Tyrannosaurus rex modes, their alternate modes couldn't be more different.  The original Overkill transforms into a cassette, whereas the new Overkill transforms into a robot.  The idea to use such an utterly dissimilar toy as Grimlock to be Overkill may seem a bit odd, but this is actually an idea that fans came up with before Hasbro.  At BotCon 2007, customizer Shawn Tessmann, who runs the annual customizing class, chose to use Classics Grimlock as the basis for a new version of Overkill.  The idea was very popular, and Hasbro did a similar (but official!) version of the same concept just a year later.  Unfortunately for most US fans, Hasbro's Overkill was not originally released in stores, but was a "Special Edition" exclusive to Hasbro's online webstore.  The branch of Hasbro in Asia and Australia apparently commissioned the toy (along with new versions of Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Drag Strip), and HasbroToyShop.com took advantage of the production.  After a few months, a few fans reported seeing some of these "Special Edition" figures at discount department stores like Marshall's, and for considerably cheaper than HTS's $15 asking price.  Unfortunately, these sightings were rather scarce, and so not a reliable source for most fans.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Game Show Board Games: The $25,000 Pyramid

    On the comparatively rare occasions when I am with a group of friends playing board games at their house, it seems that Taboo is almost always requested.  I usually am pretty happy to join in, because I know the truth: Taboo is pretty much the same game as one of my favorite game shows, which in the 1980's I knew as The $25,000 Pyramid!

    Yes, Taboo adds the wrinkle of not being able to say certain obvious words, rendering it a bit more difficult, but Pyramid was popularizing the idea of trying to get your teammate to say the correct word or phrase based on definitions you give them for a good decade-and-a-half by the time Taboo (and the later, similar game, Catch Phrase) had begun to be marketed to the public.

    Pyramid captures the gameplay of the game show quite nicely (although it's rather difficult to have teammates trade off in the middle of a round, given the fact that all clues for that round are visible on the side of board available to the players giving them), if perhaps it doesn't capture the snazzy feel of the set with the rotating trilons anything near as well.  Instead of a digital timer, you are given an hourglass with bright pink sand in it (a fairly common element in board games with a timed element).  The hourglass is remarkably well-calibrated to the expected 30-second time limit required for the regular game.  Unfortunately, only one hourglass is provided, requiring someone to flip it over in the middle of the 60-second "Winner's Circle," which is more than a little unfortunate.  As anyone who's watched the show can attest, this round can be quite intense, and one really can't expect the players to be paying attention to the clock when they're trying to win the round!

    The producers of the game were wise enough to realize that gameplay for the daytime $25,000 Pyramid and the nighttime $100,000 Pyramid is more or less identical, and thus advertise that you can play either version you want on the sides of the box and in the rules.  Unfortunately, they also decided to cram both numbers at the top of the paper pyramid board provided, which further detracts from the visual feel of the game, with the top prize proudly (and singularly!) on display at the top.

    Still, these are minor quibbles.  The game plays like a Pyramid game should, and that's what really matters.  If you're able to pick up a version of this game, I highly recommend it, and would especially suggest pulling it out for your next party (perhaps using a stopwatch rather than that hourglass, though)!

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    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Special Transformers Feature: Micromaster Overload

    The 1989 Micromaster Transports aren't especially well-remembered today.  Like other, larger, Micromaster sets such as Airwave, the Transports came with a small figure that turned from a robot into an alternate mode, as well as a transforming accessory.   The Transports were sold at a lower price-point than Airwave and those like him.  Airwave came in a small box, while the Transports came on cards.

    I don't know if anyone else ever thought this way (I wrote this while the TFWiki was down.  It seems that I'm not), but I always saw Overload as a kind of "Micromaster Optimus Prime."  This is admittedly for no reason greater than the cab and trailer alternate mode and very loosely Prime-like colors (Overload is blue where Prime would be red, and vice-versa)....

     ...well, the fact that Overload has a similar "truck windows on chest" torso (kind of an Optimus Prime trademark) also helps.  But even if the colors were reversed to Prime-proper, the proportions and lack of face plate would be a dead giveaway.  At least, it would have been in 1989, before Primes were released having mouths!  (Of course, those linked Primes were just recolors of molds that were created to represent non-Prime characters, so maybe that doesn't really mean anything...)

    Overload's trailer transforms into a kind of fighter jet.  "Kind of" a jet, that is, if you ignore the laws of aerodynamics, and "kind of" a fighter if one imagines that the ends of the wings are supposed to be weapon-tips.  This is one of those instances where you can tell that the package art took some liberties and added details that the toy does not possess (of course, the art may reflect design elements that the toy was intended to possess at one point in time, but I don't know this for certain).

    One element of the design of Overload's trailer that I don't think gets enough attention is that the back of the trailer opens up to allow for other Micromaster vehicles to ride inside.  This part doesn't need to move for transformation.  It pretty much only serves the play factor of the toy's trailer mode.  I always appreciate it when toys have these extra elements, especially in the original Generation One era.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Special Transformers Teaser: Two Bombshells

    The Insecticons are among the more memorable characters from Generation One. I'll need to do a feature on the whole set before long, but some unexpected events of the past week dictate that I don't have time to do a full review right now. In the meantime, here are some pictures of the two existing toys created of the Insecticon Bombshell. First, the original Bombshell in insect mode.

    Next, the Action Master version, which was never available in the United States, alongside the robot mode of the original Bombshell.  For whatever reason, Bombshell is the only Insecticon character to be given an Action Master.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    International Left-Handers Day: The Forgotten Holiday

    President Obama is left-handed
    It sometimes seems that there's a holiday for every occasion, even if very few people are aware that it exists.  Such is the case with "International Left-Handers Day," which has existed (if perhaps "celebrated" is to say too much) on August 13th every year since 1976.  Such is the lack of attention given to this day that, according to this 2006 piece from Washington Post writer Bill O'Brian, "the organization that started the movement is defunct."

    Even though I myself am one of the 7-10% of the human population that is left-handed, I was unaware of the observance until just a few weeks ago.  Such a day deserves not to be forgotten!  People need to be aware that we're out there.  Although it's no longer as common as it was in my Dad's generation to force a child to use his or her right hand (we're actually pretty sure that my Dad is left-handed, but because he was pushed into right-handedness at such an age, we'll never be completely sure), the world still imposes right-handedness onto those of us who simply aren't all too often.  Many devices, for example, are constructed so as to be difficult for left-handed people to use with their naturally-dominant hands.  I remember being in elementary school, looking through the crafts box in vain, trying to locate one of the few "Lefty" scissors still in there, only to have to force my way through using the regular scissors to complete my project with less-than-stellar results.

    Even today, when I go out to eat with a large group, I often make an effort to get one of the left-hand corner spaces at the table, so as to not bump elbows with a person eating right-handed to my left while I attempt to eat (my wife, happily, is left-handed as well, so we can still safely sit next to each other, provided that one of us has the necessary corner!).

    I certainly don't want to make the case that left-handed people are oppressed in the same way that other minorities are oppressed (although O'Brian's somewhat tongue-in-cheek observations to this effect are quite interesting), but since we do have to make a not-insignificant number of sacrifices to live in a predominately right-handed world, I don't think it's asking too much to have the fact of left-handed accommodation recognized.

    So, left-handed people of the world, unite!  This is your day!  More information (and a few links) can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Lefthanders_Day.

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Transformers Then and Now: Brawn

    The Legends class of figures has often been neglected by retailers.  This is more than a little unfortunate, since it has been a venue for reimagining some of the more obscure characters from the early days of Transformers history.  Cosmos and Warpath were both characters originally used in the 1985, but Brawn goes back to the very first series of Transformers toys from 1984, and the recent 2008 Legends version was the first new-mold use of that character since then (although the name can be argued to have been used in the interim--for what it's worth, I also consider the recent 2010 movie toy to be a different character).

    Pictured on the left is the original 1984 toy, while the 2008 version is on the right.  As has been common with many of the "updated" versions of old characters in recent years, the 2008 version transforms into a somewhat different type of vehicle than the 1984 version--more Hummer-like than Jeep/Land Cruiser-fusion.  Even so, the color scheme helps create the basic feel that this indeed the same character (well, mostly.  It is a rather different kind of green).

    One can easily see the effort that went into homaging various aspects of Brawn's 1984 toy in the 2008 version.  Not just in the coloration, but also in various molded details.  One significant difference between the toys is the design of the head.  Brawn's 1984 toy was, of course, originally created for the non-Transformers Microman line, and his Transformers character model was heavily modified for the cartoon and comic (as was the case with nearly all of those first couple of years' worth of toys).  Thus, the 1984 toy's head looks much less expressive than the version we came to know as Brawn in most of the fiction.  The 2008 toy attempts to capture the basic look of the character model, yet for some reason gave him a black face and white helmet, where the character model would have been more faithfully represented had they done the reverse.  Oh, well....

    One other clear homage in the figure is in the vehicle mode, but it can't really be appreciated in the front-on shots above.  If you turn the 2008 version around, however, you can see that it was given a spare tire, much as the 1984 version has on top of the vehicle.  It's a small touch, to be sure, but I really do appreciate the effort that went into creating these updates.  I just wish that more stores carried them when they were being made.  Despite traveling to every Rite Aid (the only chain that was carrying Legends at this point in time) I could find in the area (I haven't kept count, but this is well over a dozen different stores), I never did find this toy on the shelves, and ultimately got it from eBay using some eBay Bucks I'd saved up.  I'd love it if Hasbro would just straight-out reissue this wave (as they've done for similar figures in the past.  Perhaps through Big Lots?), but I'm not holding my breath.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Remembering Calvin and Hobbes

    One of the unwritten benefits of working at Fuller is that I have easy access to a post office just downstairs from my office.  When I was there the other day to mail a package, I found this set of stamps featuring "Sunday Funnies" (as the title at the top of the sheet says) available, and picked up a sheet immediately.

    Although I haven't really been active in maintaining it for many years now, I still have my stamp collection from back when I was in fifth grade.  Besides that, I'm a fan of comics enough that I probably would have picked these up anyway.  But what really clinched the deal for me was that second stamp from the left.

    For those who don't know, Calvin and Hobbes was a comic about a six-year old boy named Calvin, who (among other traits) had an overactive imagination.  The signature example of this imaginative streak was the fact that, to him, his stuffed tiger (named Hobbes) was a walking, talking, living being--and Calvin's best friend.  Calvin and Hobbes provided a window into the world of the child, and along the way provided some intelligent commentary and humor that made reading comic strips a "must-see" activity.  During some of my grade-school years, when I would wait in the school library for the hallways to open and the day to begin, I would pull out that morning's newspaper specifically so I could enjoy the daily adventures of the boy and his tiger.

    I've enjoyed the other four comics featured on these stamps (Beetle Bailey, Archie, Garfield, and Dennis the Menace) to varying degrees and at various times throughout my life, but Calvin and Hobbes was special.  To get an idea of just how special this particular comic strip was, it should be noted that Calvin and Hobbes is the most recent out of the five comics being featured (having started in 1985.  Garfield started in 1978, while the other three are from 1951 or earlier), yet is the only one of this group that is no longer being created with new adventures.  Calvin and Hobbes ended at the end of 1995, having lasted for barely more than a decade.  Calvin and Hobbes did not end due to any lack of popularity.  Indeed, the comic was arguably more popular than ever.  Rather, creator Bill Watterson was a true artist, and the integrity of his artistic vision meant (and means, I assume) everything to him.  He had made as many concessions to the needs of marketing as he was willing to make, and decided that he would rather quit than have Calvin and Hobbes ever be diluted by interests that were unrelated to those of creating the comic strips that he wanted to create.

    One could easily complain that such a luminescent comic ended so abruptly, denying fans any more access to these whimsical adventures.  I'm sure that I myself did complain quite a bit at the time the strip ended (now nearly 15 years ago!).  But if Watterson hadn't been so adamant about maintaining the artistic integrity of Calvin and Hobbes, those ten years worth of adventures we did get to see would hardly have been as memorable.  While some fans argue that other comic strips (including some of the other comics featured on these stamps) may have lasted too long, becoming stale and repetitive rather than fresh, I think I'm safe in saying that there are very few in the world who would ever say that about Calvin and Hobbes.  I'm so glad that the strip is still so well remembered as to get this honor of being featured on a postage stamp!

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Special Transformers Feature: Shattered Glass Cyclonus

    I had originally planned to do this entry immediately after the one for the club version of Punch/Counterpunch. After all, Punch/Counterpunch (henceforth referred to as "P/CP") and Shattered Glass Cyclonus were the two 2010 Transformers Club exclusives, and I had gotten both at the same time.  I had even started the process of taking pictures of the toy before I realized that something was very, very wrong.  Something that required that I postpone this entry for few weeks.

    It's kind of a pity, because in most respects, this toy is a better toy than P/CP.  At least, it lacks P/CP's obvious issues.  At least one commenter has suggested that this is because Shattered Glass Cyclonus is less ambitious than P/CP.  No remolded parts, no attempt to engineer a transformation the original mold never intended (Punch's legs).  Just a straight repaint from one color scheme to another.

    Shattered Glass Cyclonus borrows his color scheme from Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime, suggesting that the two characters (or, at least, the "regular" universe versions of these two) are somehow counterparts to each other.  I'm sure that more than a few Transformers fans would dispute that comparison (I agree with those who've suggested that Cyclonus is more analogous to Ultra Magnus), but even so, the color scheme translates pretty well.

    Since Shattered Glass Cyclonus reuses the mold created for Universe Cyclonus, which featured an updated version of Nightstick, the Nebulan that came with the the 1987 Targetmaster version of Cyclonus, Shattered Glass Cyclonus has a Targetmaster, as well.  Rather than consider this "Shattered Glass Nightstick," however--the name was already taken, anyway--the folks at Fun Publications did something really clever.  Taking advantage of a name created by the UK editors to cover up an error in the old Headmasters comic book, Shattered Glass Cyclonus' Targetmaster weapon is called "Krunix."

    So, what tragedy befell my efforts to feature this toy last month?  While taking pictures for the blog, I discovered that my specimen of Shattered Glass Cyclonus was misassembled!  The arm assembly was such that Cyclonus' elbow would only ever bend the wrong way.  Although I was able to take the toy apart and flip the arm around, I then discovered that the toy would no longer transform into "jet" mode properly!  Unable to fix the problem on my own, I took Fun Publications up on their offer (conveyed to me by FP resident art guy Lanny Latham via Facebook) to send the toy back for a replacement.  Although I was a bit annoyed to have to pay out of my own pocket to have Cyclonus shipped back to FP, I can at least say that they gave me a new (and correctly assembled!) toy without any difficulty.  (You can see a picture of this arm assembled correctly here.  Note how the black part is underneath the orange part, rather than on top of it.)

    Shattered Glass Cyclonus really is a pretty neat toy, and exactly the kind of thing that the club does well.  I'm sorry to say that the toy already seems to be sold out from the club store.  If you want one, you're pretty much stuck with eBay.
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