Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CrazyDevy in Action!

Of all of the unofficial products (and it seems that there are more and more all the time) being made for Transformers, some of the more interesting to come around in recent times come from the appropriately-named CrazyDevy.com.  Basically, these guys have created parts that can be fitted to the Generation One Constructicons to not only potentially replace easily lost combiner parts, but to even give added articulation to what used to be a fairly static combined mode.  For example, check out this pose where Devastator is attacked from all sides by the (also unofficial) WST Dinorobots.  You can't do that with Devastator's original parts (by the way, images in this entry were all taken by my brother, Nick Wright, who is the one who shelled out the money for these parts)!

Devastator was, of course, the very first combiner robot released as part of the Transformers franchise, and it still remains one of the most popular (which is part of why this character itself has been revisited so many times).  But one of the most common complaints about combined robots (and especially the early ones) is that they simply don't have very good articulation.  Now, thanks to the combination of advances in toy technology and the more widespread availability of that tech to fans, it is now possible to rectify that failing.

Now, there are actually a lot of different parts one can buy (and for other combiners, too!), although at around $30 for each, I doubt that even the CrazyDevy folks really expect very many fans to get all of them.  My brother has just invested in the movable thighs and articulated hands.  He liked the idea of the ball joint neck, but didn't care for the appearance of the actual head it came with.  If only CrazyDevy did the ball joint neck with the regular head, I'm pretty sure they would have made another sale!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Because a Little Pooh Bear Is Needed Once in a While

I took these pictures last summer during a trip to Disneyland (for my birthday, actually).I don't really have much to say about them. I just feel like sharing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Special Transformers Feature: Target Exclusive Animated Shockwave and Bumblebee

Often, when a new Transformers toy comes out--especially if that toy shares a name with a classic Transformers character from the past--it seems inevitable that a recolor of that toy will come out in colors that more closely homage the new character's namesake.  For this reason, when the first toy representing the Transformers Animated incarnation of Shockwave was released in gray, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that a purple version would be forthcoming.  It is also increasingly the case that these "homage redecos" tend to be retail chain exclusives.  As the sticker in the upper right-hand corner indicates, the purple Animated Shockwave came from Target.

Shockwave didn't come alone, of course.  The set also came with the small "Activators" toy of Animated Bumblebee.  Filling the slot once called "Basics" or "Scouts" in previous lines, "Activators" were small toys with button-activated transformations.  See that red button on the top of Bumblebee's vehicle mode?  Push down on that, and the toy pops open to reveal Bumblebee's robot mode.  You may need to adjust the limbs somewhat to reach your desired pose, of course.

But let's be honest.  Bumblebee's just an extra.  People bought this set because of the purple Shockwave.  Shockwave's robot mode, while being a clearly different character than his Generation One namesake, clearly evokes the original version with the "ears" and the single eye in the middle of an otherwise blank face (to say nothing of the purple color!).

Animated Shockwave's alternate mode, on the other hand, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the distinctive "space gun" that Generation One Shockwave turned into.  But this can perhaps be forgiven once it is realized that Animated Shockwave is a character who, like Punch/Counterpunch (full review to come in a few months!), has distinct modes for both a Decepticon and an Autobot identity!

Shockwave's alternate robot mode goes by the Autobot alias of "Longarm" (or "Longarm Prime" in the cartoon itself, although this appears nowhere on the toy packaging).  The engineers really did a pretty remarkable job here, changing the toy's face, shoulders, hands, legs, height, and so on to create a new robot form that really could easily be taken for a totally different character (although this is definitely where the original toy's gray made for perhaps a more believable Autobot form than this toy's purple does.  Seriously, there just haven't been very many purple Autobots--if any--in the 25+ years of the Transformers franchise.  I won't say there have never been any, but I can't think of one off the top of my head).  

Unlike Punch/Counterpunch, who had only one vehicle mode between the two forms (I can only assume that he didn't transform very much while on spy missions, because I'm sure that having the same alternate mode would have made it difficult to maintain the pretense of secrecy for long...), Longarm even has a distinct (and appropriate) alternate mode!  While it's probably fair to say that the toy's alternate modes sacrifice something for the gimmick of having so many distinctive transformations, this really is a pretty impressive achievement!

A discussion of this set would hardly be complete without mentioning an oddity of the set's retail history.  This set was released at the same time as another Target exclusive (Sunstorm and Activators Ratchet).  Each set retailed for about $25.  Not at all a bad price, considering what you were getting.  However, after only being on the shelves for a short while, a glitch in Target's computer system caused these sets to come up as selling for a mere $5 for several days.  This glitch apparently affected all Target's across the country, and thus Transformers fans from all over made a mad scramble to pick up the toys for this dirt-cheap price before Target could fix the error.  Now, to be fair to Transformers fans, this wasn't strictly a bunch of less-than-honest fans being opportunistic.  Target has a long-known tendency to clearance their exclusive toys after a surprisingly short time on the shelves, because the toys are apparently intended to be sold during a fairly limited window of time, after which Target is anxious to clear them off the shelves so that they can sell new product.  Although the $5 price showed up a bit quicker, and with a bit steeper reduction, than had previously been known, that Target would have done such a thing on purpose was by no means beyond the realm of possibility.  Even so, Target no doubt lost a fair bit of money that they would have gotten had the error not happened as it did, and it seems probable that someone lost their job over it.  I hope that's not actually true, but it's that kind of large-scale foul-up that tends to cause heads to roll.

But, what's done is done, and because so many fans did manage to get these toys so cheaply, you can probably find them on eBay for a pretty low price even now.  But do stop by and sign up with Big Crumbs before you zip over to eBay to check, okay? ;)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Remembering UPN's Legend

Fifteen years ago today, on April 18, 1995, Richard Dean Anderson made his first appearance as a lead actor in a television series since the end of MacGyver, playing Ernest Pratt, the lead character in LegendLegend takes its name from Pratt's alter ego, Nicodemus Legend, a dime novel hero created by Pratt, who Pratt is (often unwillingly!) called upon to portray in real life.  Perhaps taking a cue from a couple of "dream episodes" of MacGyver, where Anderson's character imagined himself in the Old West, Legend was a western, but with a twist.

I remember the first time I saw Legend.  It was my Junior year of college. Saturday afternoon. I was visiting a friend, helping her hammer out some grammar and citations for a term paper she was working on. She decided to turn on the TV while I mused over proper sentence structure. The channel happened to be showing a western. No big deal here. A lot of stations show westerns on Saturday afternoons, presumably because no one watches TV at that time. Before she could change the channel, however, I noticed something: "That's Q!" Sure enough, John DeLancie's face was square in the center of the screen, surrounded by two large columns of electricity.  DeLancie was Janos Bartok, an inventor (inspired by the real-life Nikola Tesla) who used his inventions to enhance the reputation of Pratt's "Legendary" hero.  I eventually realized that I had happened upon the first episode of Legend, a show on the then-new broadcast network, UPN (which no longer exists).  Because our college was located in the mountains of North Carolina, we didn't have enough local TV stations for UPN to have its own channel. For us, the local FOX station had agreed to air UPN's programming at whatever time it could be fit into the schedule. For Legend, that meant Saturdays at 3:00 PM. Not a time when I'm generally watching TV. If it hadn't been for that chance encounter, I might never have gotten attached to UPN's far-too-short-lived show.

Unfortunately, when ratings figures didn't immediately show up as highly as had been hoped, Legend was quickly in danger of being canceled. The fact that UPN was still in its first few months of programming didn't seem to matter. The executives were already threatening to kill the show after only its third episode. It's not that Legend did poorly.  It was UPN's second-most highly watched show (after Star Trek: Voyager).  Rather, the UPN executives simply had unrealistic expectations for what ratings on a brand-new network (that wasn't even airing on dedicated stations in a large part of the country) should look like (obviously, that's my own opinion, but I think that this is one that others would agree with.  I remember hearing John DeLancie, at a convention appearance a year or two later, remark that people often confused "UPN" with "UPS").

Valiant efforts were made to save the show, and it is largely due to these efforts that we saw a total of thirteen episodes of Legend (counting the two-hour pilot as two episodes).  I even took it upon myself to do what I could to save the show. I sent in written letters to my local UPN station (this one in Louisville, where my parents live, and where I watched the show that summer) and to the UPN headquarters in California. I also tried my hand at some Legend fan fiction. The result was a story I called "Legend Runs for Mayor."  At the time it was written, Legend was still on the air, running through its last few episodes. Although the show had already been proclaimed "cancelled" by this time, I figured hope was alive as long as it still had an on-air presence. I posted the story to AOL and several BBS's (both of which seem antiquated now, but the Internet was not yet the widely accessible "superhighway" it is today) with a note at the end of the story telling people how to write UPN to voice their feelings. Unfortunately, I was not able to gain anywhere near enough widespread notice for my little story to even make a dent, and on August 8 (my birthday!) of that year, the show aired its final first-run episode.  As it turned out, every one of UPN's first-year programs were scrapped, except for Star Trek: Voyager, the show to which UPN owed its very existence, even though that show itself was a disappointing take on the Star Trek franchise. (Note: Voyager was given a two year guarantee when it was picked up by UPN. Don't even get me started on how bad the first two years' worth of Voyager programming was. If Legend were given a tenth of the chance Voyager was, it would have lived a nice, long life.)

A year later, I started seminary. I lived at the time in a little middle-of-nowhere town in South Carolina. Still struggling to find a job, I had a lot of free time on my hands. My searches for Legend information on the web yielded very little of use. The only site I could find was this site, which even at that time hadn't been updated since the series was canceled.   So I then decided to begin my own site. This was my first effort at doing my own web page.  Perhaps due to the short run of the show, I never had too much competition, so it eventually was widely regarded by many as the premier Legend site on the web.  Unfortunately, I moved on to other things, and the site no longer exists (although parts of it can still be found via the Internet Archive, and I have given many of the images I collected, including a number of behind-the-scenes pictures, a home at Picasa), while the other site remains (still unchanged, apparently) to this day.  I'm told that the show pops up in reruns from time to time, but this always seems to be on cable networks (which I don't get), so I can't say how reliable that information is, let alone how recently or often it happens.  Although there are a few You Tube clips out there, I've yet to see Legend on a service like Hulu, and the show has never been released on DVD, and so I encourage people to tell Paramount that there's an interest from time to time (although even that link is pretty old, dating back to before MacGyver had even been released on DVD!).

I'm sad to note that both co-creators of Legend, Michael Pillar and Bill Dial, have passed away in recent years.  A reminder that the show actually has been gone for quite some time, even though it doesn't really feel like it's been so long....


Note: April 18th is also (coincidentally!) the 5-year anniversary of this blog. Between these two anniversaries, I'm going ahead with a Sunday post to make sure that it actually appears on the correct day.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

BotCon 2010 Brochure is Up

They're cutting it closer than they've ever done before, but the BotCon 2010 brochure is finally up.  Head over to BotCon.com to see what's what.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Offbeat Transformers Collectibles: Bumble Spud

One of the many Transformers message boards I frequent is TFW2005.  A few weeks back, Hasbro donated a couple of toys to them to give away to some lucky board members, and so TFW2005 had a contest, and I was fortunate enough to become the winner of "Bumble Spud," a Mr. Potato Head toy with parts resembling the live-action movie version of Bumblebee.

Basically, we were asked to answer this question: "How would Sam's interaction with Bumblebee been different in the two movies if instead of Sam getting his first car, he got a transforming potato?"

Here's my response, which was apparently judged as "funniest or most creative":
Upon seeing the baked potato Sam's well-meaning (but incredibly stupid) mother had given him for dinner transform into a miniature robot, Sam nearly jumped out of his seat. Although both parents looked up at Sam's cry, both seemed oblivious to the walking piece of food now standing upon the dinner table. Sam asked to be excused, and upon rushing to the next room to get some air, Sam saw that the robot was following him around wherever he went. "You're not crazy" the food-bot said aloud. "I had our chief medical potato give both of your parents a mild sedative earlier so that they would remain unaware of our conversation. I need your help to retrieve an artifact of great importance to my entire race: the Allspud!"

Sam merely stared at the tiny robot in disbelief. "I don't know what you're talking about, and more to the point, I don't care." With that, Sam raised his foot in the air, and with one not-entirely clean motion, squashed the potatobot into mash.

Sam's food never dared to speak to him again.
Anyway, my Bumble Spud arrived in the mail yesterday.  If you're familiar with the Mr. Potato Head concept, you pretty much know what to expect with this toy.  It's got various parts that can be removed and either swapped out with other parts, or perhaps placed on other portions of the toy altogether, so if you want to give your Mr. Potato Head an arm where his ear should be, you're welcome to give that a try.  Me?  I thought it was enough to "transform" Bumble Spud's robotic face into something more closely resembling a "normal" Mr. Potato Head form.

Because you really can't attach all the parts that come with the toy all at once, it's a good thing that they also give you a space to store all those parts, but it's probably best not to think too hard about the implications of this location and how Mr. Potato Head pulls things out of here.... ;)

The packaging of Bumble Spud uses essentially the same design motif used for mainstream Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen toys, although it does parody some of those concepts and have fun with them.  Instead of calling Bumble Spud an "Autobot," for example, he's a "Taterbot," and the package proudly proclaims that Bumble Spud is "More Then (sic) Meets the Fry!"  Bumble Spud is even given Tech Specs on the back of the box, although each statistic is given an additional (seemingly random) potato-themed modifier (I don't actually know how these numbers match up with the "real" Bumblebee).

All in all, this toy will make a fun addition to my office shelf, and I want to thank TFW2005 for sending it to me!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Transformer" Feature: Action Master G2 Breakdown

2004 was a difficult year in the history of Transformers conventions.  Although BotCon had developed a reputation as the largest and best-known convention devoted to the franchise, the name was phased out in the previous year as the convention took on official status with Hasbro and the person then in charge of organizing the convention moved to separate the company from the folks who had started the "BotCon" concept.  Although not all the facts about exactly what happened, and why, are entirely clear even today, it is obvious that this was a very contentious decision that caused a lot of hurt feelings and it is not too uncommon to hear words of blame tossed in one direction or another whenever the topic is brought up, even today.  Without getting into those painful details, it is enough to say that one result was that, in 2004, there were two significant conventions.  One, called the "Official Transformers Collectors Convention" because, well, it was, and another unofficial convention, run by the Hartman brothers, the original BotCon organizers, which retained the "BotCon" name.

Because 2004 was the 10th anniversary of the original BotCon, the organizers wanted to do something special for an exclusive, but no longer having official ties to Hasbro, their options were limited.  Ultimately, the Hartmans teamed up with Joe Toscano (who had been creating custom Action Masters for a few years by that time) and Chip Wallace (who at the time was running a custom stickers site) to create an unofficial Action Master to homage the original BotCon exclusive from 1994, G2 Breakdown.  Using the never-released-in-the-US Action Master Sideswipe as the base from which to create a mold, and creating a new head which more closely resembled Breakdown, this toy nicely captures the feel of the character despite having features that the original Breakdown toy never had (most notably the Lamborghini hood as a chest) .

One of the featured guests at BotCon 2004 was Peter Cullen, who provided the voice of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers cartoon (and who has since come back to provide Prime's voice for the Michael Bay live-action Transformers theatrical movies).  As I understand it, BotCon 2004 was held in Pasadena specifically so that Cullen (who lives in the Los Angeles area) could participate.  Since I work in Pasadena, that naturally worked out great for me, and so I made arrangements to attend.  It was actually announced sometime after the initial registration period that an (as yet unrevealed) exclusive would be provided to those who paid a little bit extra to attend a breakfast on the morning the convention began.  Although I wasn't keen on spending extra money, the promise of an exclusive was too much to turn down, and so I signed up for that, too.  As a result, I was able to get one of the few Action Master G2 Breakdowns made, and I don't regret paying to attend the breakfast one bit.

The folks who created AM G2 Breakdown also went to the trouble of providing packaging for the figure which, like the Headrobot Cobra, had to be careful to avoid using any of the trademarks then in use by Hasbro.  You can find pictures of the package, as well as a detailed "making of the figure" feature, at this site.  The package even included a set of "Tech Specs" that duplicated the style used in Generation Two.  What it didn't include, oddly enough, was a set of the "Power Plans" that were characteristically on all (real) Action Master figures.  Naturally, I couldn't allow this oversight to go unaddressed, so when I went home the evening after I picked up my figure, I put some together.  I even made sure to print out a copy to give to the Hartmans (I assume they got it, but I wasn't able to hand it to them in person, but rather to one of the staff of the convention).

Of course, "BotCon" is once again the name of the official Transformers convention, and the theme for this year's BotCon is "Generation Two: Redux."  It was revealed just this past weekend that one of the figures in the box set is a new Generation Two Breakdown figure!  Because this toy uses the mold created for the "Universe 2.0" Sideswipe figure, it actually looks more like the "unofficial" Action Master than it does the original Generation Two Breakdown, but I, for one, am not complaining.  My only concern right now is scraping up the money to afford the new toy, so it can go next to the Action Master I already have!

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Transformers Easter Egg Decorating Kit

This Easter season, I decided that, since it's been a few years since I've actually colored any Easter Eggs, and since Transformers products really do seem to be everywhere these days, I'd go ahead and get the "Transformers Easter Egg Decorating Kit" recently on the market (since it's now after Easter, if you're able to find this set, I'm willing to bet you can get a really good price on it!).  Here's my assessment.

Most of the contents of the kit are pretty standard for Easter Egg kits these days.  You've got stickers, little tablets of dye, a wire for dipping the eggs into the dye (and for fishing them out again afterward), and paper holders for so few of the eggs you're going to make that I always wonder why they bother.  The Transformers kit also comes with a little mini-poster (what am I supposed to do with this?  I suppose if I were still in grade school, I could stick it in my locker) and a "trading card."  Apparently, there are four of these (what, are people supposed to buy so many kits that they stand a chance of getting all four of these blind-packed things?).  I got Ravage.

Having already hard-boiled 18 eggs (of which only 17 survived to be colored), I started work.  The instructions suggest adding a few teaspoons of vinegar to the water if you want bolder colors on all but one of the colors they give you tablets for.  The exception, the pink tablet, they are very explicit about saying it goes in water only.  I assume there's something about the chemicals in that one that either makes the color not especially strong when put in acid, or it creates some other undesirable effect.  I didn't tempt fate to find out, but since not all of the other tablets look like the colors they'll be once you put them in water (green is especially confusing beforehand), I would have hoped that they'd label which tablet is which if they're going to make such a big deal about treating one differently.  Suffice it to say, I guessed correctly, and pink is the only one I didn't put in a vinegar solution.

Knowing that this was going to take some time, I stuck in a DVD to watch/listen to while I worked (sorry, Transformers fans, I went with Bugs Bunny instead.  Seemed appropriate for Easter).  There's not an exact science to this kind of thing, but I basically left an egg in each color for about 10 minutes (or about 1-and-a-half Bugs Bunny cartoons) before taking them out to dry.

Like most commercially-bought Easter Egg kits, the box was designed to poke out holes in the back to let your eggs sit while they dry (also like most such kits, they suggest using the circles punched out in this process as spinny-disks.  I didn't bother with that).  Basically, I only used up to five of the nine spaces they gave us at any one time.  Thus, I minimized the danger of knocking one egg into another before they were dry.  Eggs stayed on this tray for more-or-less the same 10-minute cycle as the next set of eggs would spend sitting in the dye.

Of course, I had to move those eggs out of way before the ones in the dye could come out, and this is where I put them.  Basically, once an egg was dry to the touch, it would be moved here until I was done dying all of the eggs.  I then watched a few more Bugs Bunny cartoons (I have five volumes of the "Golden Collection" DVDs on hand, but only needed the Bugs Bunny-devoted disk of the first two to get through this whole project) before moving on to the stickers and stands.

Stands like these are increasingly standard fare in Easter Egg kits, but I really think this is where these folks are stingy in the extreme.  There's enough dye here to handle literally dozens of eggs (I almost felt I was doing too little by getting only 18 eggs, but someone's going to have eat all these eventually!), yet they give you only four stands!  Come on, folks!  I'm already paying several dollars to get this stuff, the least you can do is print out a few more pieces of paper!  Anyway, given the Transformers theme, I did my best to match up stickers to the character for each stand (not that you can tell here), and even matching stickers to egg color to some extent, although this is obviously just a matter of personal preference.

I'm not especially thrilled with the stickers, either.  I don't think a single one of them laid flat on the egg.  They've all got little wrinkles like this!  Give me some decals, folks!

All in all, this was fun to do once, but I don't expect I'll be spending money on this again next year (assuming they even release such a Transformers-themed set again next year).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Not-Quite Transformers Feature: Headrobots Cobra

The fan base for Transformers is large enough these days that there are a number of companies out there that, while not officially sanctioned by either Hasbro or TakaraTomy, create products of obvious interest to Transformers fans.  One very recent example of this is the first of what promises to be a new line of "Headrobots" figures.  These small figures are designed to replace the official heads of Headmasters toys made in the 1980's.

The concept takes its origin from a line of extremely rare figures produced by Takara in 1987.  Instead of turning into small robots, these heads turned into various animals, such as a lion or a tiger.  These figures are SO rare that even sites dedicated to cataloging Transformers toys haven't always been able to secure images (this one's supposed to turn into an elephant, but the only image I've ever seen comes from the Takara catalog.  If you happen to have an actual specimen of the toy, the folks the TF Wiki and TFU.info would love to get some pictures from you!).  The concept for a cobra head figure was actually created way back then, but no such figure was ever created.  The Headrobots folks have decided to take these concepts (including a few others that Takara came up with), tweak them just a bit, and create actual figures of them for the first time.

The toy comes in packaging that intentionally homages the original Transformers packaging, but carefully avoids any actual Hasbro- or Takara-owned trademarks.  Even the insignia that looks like a Decepticon symbol, at first glance, is actually a new design.  The packaging is also designed to be able to open and close without damage, so you can take the toy out, play with it, and then put it back in the package for display, and no one should be able to tell that it isn't a "mint, unopened" sample.

The real fun of this little toy comes from being able to put it on the bodies of any 1980's era Headmaster toys you might have lying around.  Here is the Headrobot on my Chromedome toy.  The back of the Headrobot package suggests that these guys are evil characters who have the ability to attach themselves to transtectors (official Takara-speak for the bodies of Headmaster and similar toys) in order to control them.  Not all that dissimilar from the Transformers: Animated character "Headmaster" (who is otherwise largely unrelated to the 1980's Headmaster concept).

The Headrobot guys really paid attention to detail.  They even designed this figure in such a way that, if you open up the stats meter found on the vintage toys, it will display stats unique to the cobra figure.  I really appreciate that they've homaged this concept so fully.  These figures can be found at the usual Transformers-related online shops.  I got mine from TFSource.com.
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