Friday, May 27, 2011

Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 Rapido

Winding down the pre-BotCon 2011 features on last year's exclusives, we have a look at Rapido.  Unlike the toys previously mentioned here, the original version of Rapido was indeed sold in the United States under the Generation Two banner (although like Clench and Pyro, Rapido also originated in Europe in the days before Generation Two started in earnest)

Rapido has been the beneficiary of perhaps one of the oddest glitches in the history of the franchise.  In 1993, the year the original Rapido toy came out, Optimus Prime himself was only given a rank of "9" on the Tech Specs that were released with the toy, yet Rapido, a mere "Platoon Commander," was given a rank of "10!"  Only Grimlock (among American released toys) shared this distinction in 1993.  The BotCon 2010 story paid homage to this quirk by suggesting that Rapido was given authority by Optimus Prime to assume command of any Earth-based unit in an emergency.

For many years, there was some debate about how Rapido's name should be pronounced.  Did the name rhyme with "torpedo" (which would indeed have been in keeping with the names given to numerous other characters), or was the name instead the Spanish-language word for "fast"?  BotCon 2010 put this debate to rest once and for all with Rapido's backstory.  Being one of the first Transformers created on Earth, Rapido was actually created in Spain, and Rapido therefore has a personality in keeping with "growing up" in such a culture.  In fact, according to the "Generation Two: Redux" story, most Transformers created on Earth are actually citizens of the nations from which they originate, just as much as any human would be.  In keeping with this backstory, and because the Fun Publications folks take seriously the "fun" part of their name, the Tech Specs that come with BotCon Rapido are actually written entirely in Spanish.  For those of us who can't read Spanish, an English language version was made available online shortly after the close of the convention.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

10 Years of Towel Day

If you're at all like me, you probably didn't know that Towel Day existed, but having heard about it, can probably guess what's going on, especially if you're a fan of Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy series.  If you don't already know that I'm a fan... well, let me just say you must have missed my tweet this past weekend, or my similar post on Facebook, where I said "There'll never be a better time for me to repost this link (than this past Saturday)"  Despite posting the link again a mere four days later, I still stand by that statement re: Saturday, but it should make the point that I'm a fan of those books.

The date of Towel Day, May 25th, seems to have been selected for no particular reason beyond its being a convenient two weeks after Adams' untimely death on May 11th, 2001.  It was considered a quirky (and therefore appropriate) way of remembering his work, and caught on such that it has since become an annual observance... well, among those who observe such things, anyway.

So, how do you celebrate Towel Day, you ask? Pretty much however you want.  The official website, TowelDay.org, suggests carrying a towel with you all day, but I have to admit that I'm unlikely to do that.  I am, however, celebrating by reading through the recently-written sixth Hitchhiker's Guide story, And Another Thing..., on my Nook.  I'm not done with it yet, but so far it's compared well with the five entries Douglas Adams wrote before his death.  There are definitely a few references to things that couldn't have come from Adams' originals, simply because they relate to technology or cultural events that hadn't existed yet in 2001.  They're not at all out of place in this series, it's just that one notices how much the world has changed in that comparatively short time (well, actually, I guess we should say nearly 20 years rather than 10, since Mostly Harmless came out way back in 1992).

I'm not sure I'd approve of a seventh novel (and for all I know, this book would make a seventh impossible, anyway, but I thought that Mostly Harmless was impossible to follow up from), but it's been good to spend some time with these characters again.  However you choose to celebrate Towel Day, may it be a froody one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 Autobot Spark (Pyro)

If Harold Camping is to be believed, this weekend marks the beginning of the end of the world. Naturally, I'll have to say something about that, but I want to time my response to the date itself (5/21/11, in case you hadn't heard). That means that this week's feature on a BotCon 2010 exclusive toy — which I've been doing at the end of the week recently — will have to be moved ahead of its time by a little bit, and I can't think of any character it would be more appropriate to show off "ahead of its time" than Autobot Spark.

To explain why Spark is so well suited, I perhaps need to do a bit more unpacking of BotCon 2010's particular take on the Generation Two concept, which is actually rather unique. The BotCon version of Generation Two involves a group of Transformers actually created on Earth. Most of these Earth-born Transformers (and a few old-timers who happened to be with them at the crucial moment) were exposed to a special gas that endowed them with special powers. For example, Breakdown can now create concussive sonic blasts, while Clench can create localized fields of intense gravity. Spark was given the special ability to perpetually see just a couple of seconds ahead in time, and to respond to that foreknowledge.

Like Clench, Spark is based off of a toy that was originally exclusive to the European market, and — also like Clench — which was actually released under two different names. Pyro came first, in that unusual period at the end of Generation One where European Transformers toys (there were none in America at the time) sported the Generation Two faction symbols. That same toy was released without change the following year as the Generation Two "Spark," from which the BotCon name "Autobot Spark" is only a slight modification.

The fans who wrote the BotCon 2010 comic (who have also written a number of other well-received stories for the Transformers club, not to mention other works) have a penchant for weaving homages to other pop-culture staples into their stories. One such reference regards Spark (actually, he's called "Pyro" most of the time in the story. Autobot Spark is simply the name that the BotCon folks could legally put on the toy). Spark's time-related powers and personality were apparently written with David Tennant's portrayal of "The Doctor" (from Doctor Who) in mind. Doubly-appropriate given the original toy's European origins.

(No one has suggested this, but I have to admit. If I were told that Spark was an homage to one of the Doctors, I'd have suggested the Colin Baker version. I mean, just look at those colors!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reflections on Survivor - Why I Still Watch After a Decade

I don't watch Survivor as much as I used to. Back during the second season (I didn't see any of the first), Survivor was appointment television, and I joined a group of my friends around the television set every week to watch, and to talk about what we all thought would happen next week.

(Spoiler alert for the final episode of the season follows! You have been warned!)

The twenty-second season ended last night, and although I was pretty deliberate about watching the last half of the season finale, whereby Rob Mariano won the game, and the million dollars, after three previous failed attempts on the show (Well, I say "failed," but he did finish second-place on his second attempt—and then married the winner!), my viewing this whole season has been pretty sporadic. It's been that way for several years now.

I've always found these shows (that is, "reality" shows with non-celebrity players—although it's obvious that players hope to reach celebrity status by coming on, and Rob's certainly not the only player who can legitimately say that they've succeeded in this attempt) to be simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. Fascinating because the ways that human nature is played out in the relationships developed on the show, and disturbing for much the same reason.

That's not because Survivor displays only "secular" people—self-professed Christians have played, too, visibly wearing their faith on their sleeve, for as long as I've watched. I'd be lying if I suggested that wasn't uncomfortable with the faith that such Christians have demonstrated, but more charitably, I can definitely concede that Christians remain human beings, with all the failings that being human implies. And Survivor seems to be designed to draw those failings out into the open.

It has been said that the true test of a person's character is how that person acts when all comforts have been stripped away. Placed in such harsh conditions for nearly a full month, it's worth noting that it's not like all the contestants on Survivor throughout the years have been disagreeable. The fact that the producers were able to put together a season of "Heroes vs. Villains" (season twenty) is testimony enough to the fact that at least a significant number of players have demonstrated positive traits. It is how these traits come out, even in the midst of messy, fallen human beings, that keeps me coming back after more than a decade of this show. I don't think that one can truly find a nice, clear dividing line between "Heroes" and "Villains" (the producer-chosen tribal designations not withstanding). Most of us have aspects of both. I think it's good to remember that, and Survivor is a consistent reminder of just how complex human nature can be. That's why I continue to watch... if admittedly not as frequently as I used to.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 Sky-Byte

Predacon Sky-Byte
Exclusively at BotCon
Do you envy me?


I mentioned last week that despite the fact that BotCon 2010 was nominally a Generation Two-themed event, the exclusives were actually a bit of a hodge-podge.  No exclusive that year came more from out of left field than Sky-Byte.

BotCon Sky-Byte is a remold of the 2004 Energon Sharkticon figure (with a new head), but bears a rather remarkable resemblance to the original Robots in Disguise character.  Sky-Byte is easily one of the most memorable characters to have been created in the first part of the 21st century.  The entire Robots in Disguise cartoon has a wacky flavor to it that sets it apart from other iterations of the Transformers franchise, but Sky-Byte’s character, with his penchant for breaking into haiku in moments of self-congratulatory arrogance, is rather unique.

Sky-Byte is evil
Yet has a gentle side, too.
Like his poetry?

Of course, BotCon Sky-Byte isn’t supposed to be the same Sky-Byte as the Robots in Disguise version, but rather his doppelganger from the “Wings” universe (that’s Fun Publications' designation for the cartoon-like continuity in which the BotCon 2010 comic takes place, named for the BotCon 2009 story “Wings of Honor,” which takes place in the same universe).  Although this Sky-Byte is distinctive in having a so-far unexplored connection to the G1 cartoon bad guys known as the Quintessons, and leads a group of Sharkticons (similar but not identical to the better known Sharkticons of old), he otherwise retains many of the characteristics of the Robots in Disguise version that made the Sky-Byte concept popular in the first place.  I hope he shows up again in either BotCon- or Transformers Club-related fiction.  Such a fun character simply shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste!

Looking for Sky-Byte?
Write to Fun Publications
Tell them you want more!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Transformers Feature: BotCon 2010 Clench

It's hard to believe that BotCon 2011 is less than a month away!  This seems like a good time to write about some of last year's exclusives (Shouldn't be too hard, as I've only managed to work in G2 Breakdown so far).  The theme for the 2010 BotCon set was, officially, "Generation 2: Redux," but that's mostly because saying "Late Generation 1/European Exclusives/Generation 2/and-a-smattering-of-Robots-in-Disguise: Redux" really doesn't flow very smoothly.

At least part of the reason for the hodgepodge is represented in Clench, here.  The original Clench was released in the European market before the "Generation 2" name was yet being used on Transformers packaging.  However, the distinctive G2 faction symbols were already in place.  Yet, the original Clench toy is in a very real sense a "true" Generation Two toy.  Or, at least, a toy physically identical to Clench in every way was released the following year under the Generation Two banner, but with the name "Colossus."

Although BotCon Clench is--like all BotCon toys--a repaint of a previously existing toy (Universe Onslaught in this case), the original is homaged in several obvious ways.  The new head is unmistakable, as is the color scheme.  The folks who wrote the Tech Specs that came with the toy really went the extra mile, though, in giving Clench weapons called "Colossus Cannons."

While we're still in the pre-convention speculation period that precedes every BotCon, whereby fans try to figure out what toys will be used for which characters at the next convention, it's worth noting a joke that the people at Fun Publications pulled on the Transformers fanbase shortly before Clench's identity as an Onslaught repaint was officially announced.  Recognizing that some fans had figured out how to guess at the URLs that led directly to the image files for some toys before the links had been officially announced, the Fun Publications team uploaded this image to the URL that would have applied to Onslaught, suggesting that Clench was to be a repaint of the similarly-recent "Tankor" figure (better known as Octane).  It wasn't long before the joke was revealed for what it was, but fans still had plenty of time to throw a fit that the Tankor figure (believed by many to one of the worst figures to come out that year) would be used for this exclusive.
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