Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So, Superman's a Blogger Now?

'Clark Kent glasses' photo (c) 2008, Andrew - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/To be perfectly honest, I stopped reading Superman comics when they rebooted the continuity last year. In fact, the only DC Comics title I've followed at all since then (and that in fits and starts) has been Firestorm, and that has far more to do with long-standing loyalty to that character than with the "New 52" take on the concept (which, frankly, has been awful, and I can't tell you how happy I am about the "back to basics" take starting with Firestorm #13). So I can perhaps be forgiven for having missed the news that came out last week about Clark Kent quitting his job at the Daily Planet, purportedly to begin his own blog.

Indeed, after having found out about the change while listening to this past weekend's episode of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (and even that, I only caught yesterday morning), my reaction was essentially as one of the "millions of people issuing a simultaneous 'meh'" that was described over at Geekosystem. Frankly, I'll believe that the move is permanent when I see it still in place a decade from now.

While the Daily Planet has been a fixture of Superman's history almost since the character's conception (the paper Kent worked for in his actual first appearance was called the Daily Star, with the Planet name apparently being created to avoid conflict with real-life newspapers when Superman became a daily newspaper comic strip), the folks at DC Comics have shown signs of trying to figure out how to move out of the outdated newspaper business for over 40 years, when Kent became the news anchor for a television news broadcast in the early 70s. Actually, that particular change itself lasted more than a decade, but by the John Byrne reboot of the Superman concept after Crisis on Infinite Earths, Clark Kent was working for the "great metropolitan newspaper" once again. Since then, the Daily Planet has seen its iconic building destroyed (several times) and the paper itself has been sold and shut down, only to have the "status quo" eventually restored a fairly short time later.

That said, whether its this time, or some time in the future, the end of the Daily Planet will someday be final. The folks at DC Comics aren't wrong to try to update Superman's day job to something that makes more sense in the modern era. Back when Superman was introduced the to public in 1938, newspapers were incredibly powerful, and were indeed a logical place for Clark Kent to want to set up so that he might have early warning of when a disaster might be taking place for Superman to rush off and provide help. And it even makes sense why the attempted "fix" of the 1970's (Clark Kent on television) didn't survive the Byrne revamp, the fact of television largely having supplanted newspapers notwithstanding. While a newspaper reporter can spend unusual hours away from the office depending on what story has just broken, a television news anchor pretty much has to be there at his desk in front of the camera when it comes time for the broadcast to begin. This would obviously have been a severe liability to Superman. What if Lex Luthor was trying to destroy Metropolis right at 6:00 pm? Clark Kent can't very well do his job telling the citizens of Metropolis to evacuate their homes if Superman is on the scene trying to make it so that they don't have to....

In this vein, perhaps blogging makes sense. Although it's still very much the case that few bloggers can make meaningful money at it, blogging is definitely the kind of the job that would allow Kent to rush off and perform his super-heroic duty whenever and wherever Superman is needed, and as long as he can find access to a computer connected to the Internet, he can still write about it for his audience afterward. Although I can't say this move will do much to get me back into reading the comics as they come out, I will nonetheless be curious to see if Clark Kent can make a go of blogging as a career.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Transformers Universe Extended Bios: The Omnibots

A few years ago, Jim Sorenson, who blogs over at "Disciples of Boltax," released a few previously unseen extended bios for various Transformers. These were apparently written by Bob Budiansky in the style that came to be associated with the Transformers Universe mini-series, but failed to be included in any of those four issues. Several years previously, Sorenson had also released bios of this type for the Omnibots on the Allspark message boards. However, these Omnibot bios were not included among the bios Sorenson posted on his blog.

When these were posted on the Allspark, Sorenson noted that they came from a "comics bible" he had purchased in his quest for model sheets (which he ultimately used to create such works as The Ark), written by Bob Budiansky (who besides being the author of around 50 of the 80 issues of the original US Marvel Transformers comic book, also wrote the vast majority, if indeed not all, of the Tech Specs bios for the Generation One toys, in addition to the Transformers Universe bios). I'm going ahead and posting them now to fill in the gap left by "Disciples of Boltax," but do encourage folks to read that blog to see the entries previously posted.

Omnibot CamshaftCamshaft

Profile: Unlike all others who travel the highways of Earth, Camshaft has no fear of car accidents, and with good reason: his lightning-fast automated reflexes allow him to pulverize any vehicle that approaches within 4 inches of his metal frame. The arrogant confidence he has about his own safety often leads to reckless driving, a fact that Optimus Prime is not too happy about. Camshaft doesn't share his leader's concern about the lives of his adopted planet's native inhabitants. But there's no doubt in Optimus's mind that Camshaft's aggressive nature is a boon in battle against the Decepticons, and Optimus is reluctant to say anything to Camshaft that might change that.

Abilities: In car mode, Camshaft's rear fenders can convert to powerful fists, each capable of 30 punches per minute, each punch having a force of 80,000 psi. His trunk rotates into a high-energy plasma beam projector with a range of 2 miles. The same weaponry is available to him in his robot mode.

Weaknesses: Converting to an offensive mode while in the act of driving sometimes causes Camshaft to lose control of his driving. As it is unlikely that he will back off from any confrontation, he often finds himself overmatched by an opponent.

Downshift

Profile: Nothing pleases Downshift...or so he thought. Back on Cybertron this battle-weary soldier had fought for so many millennia that he began to wonder whether it was worth it for him to continue. But once he came to Earth he found everything around him fresh and new and he delighted in all his optical sensors saw. He particularly enjoys the company of human children, or, as he likes to call them, mini-men and mini-women (although he has as much trouble telling them apart as his fellow Autobots). His sullenness about the Autobots' mission is often of concern to Optimus Prime, but he generally follows orders, however grudgingly, because deep down he knows this truth: the unending Autobot resistance is preferable to a rapid Decepticon victory.

Abilities: In robot mode, Downshift carries twin ground-to-air rocket launchers on his shoulders. The rockets use magnetism to guide their path, limiting them to mostly iron and steel targets, such as Decepticons. The launchers can also be used while he's in his car mode, making Downshift a very effective covert warrier. In either mode, the rockets can travel up to 30 miles and pack the explosive equivalent of a half ton of TNT. He also wields a "rust rifle" which shoots a stream of powerful liquid oxidizing agents. A blast of this can seriously harm and debilitate a metallic foe.

Weaknesses: Downshift' s weapons are mostly ineffective against non-ferrous materials, a fact that can be used to his disadvantage by an opponent. His soldierly instincts are often hampered by his sullen moods.

Overdrive

Profile: Road-racing is Overdrive's passion: he considers it Earth's primary cultural advantage over his native Cybertron. But the thrill of merely racing is not enough for Overdrive — if necessary he’ll lift off from the ground and fly in order to win! Good sportsmanship isn't his strong suit. And that carries over to his battle tactics too. He has no interest in a fair fight with a Decepticon; he only wants to win. And he’ll do whatever he must to make sure he does.

Abilities: Besides being able to travel up to 190 mph while in car mode. Overdrive can also sprout wings from his doors and fly. His flying range is 700 miles and he can reach speeds of up to 300 mph. He can convert a section of the front of his hood into twin high-powered machine guns that shoot 60 rounds per minute. In robot mode he also has use of his wings and machine guns, although he's considerably less adept at flying.

Weaknesses: Although his ability to fly while in car mode can often be used to surprising advantage, Overdrive's overall maneuverability in the air is often inferior to other airborne opponents.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Not Easy Being Brawl

In a recent thread about the upcoming "Fall of Cybertron" versions of the Combaticons, it was observed that Brawl somehow manages to remain green through various recolors that leave the rest of the team with strikingly different appearances. Someone suggested a parody of a certain song sung by a famous Muppet frog. I took that as a challenge! ;)

(inspired by 'Bein Green as sung by Kermit the Frog, written by Joe Raposo)

It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the earth
When I think it could be nicer being red, and yellow, and bright
Or something much more violent like that

It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many boring nature-loving things
And robots tend to pass you over
'Cause you're not standing out
Like laser battles on a comet
Or bombs from the sky

But green's the color of envy
And green can be dark and scary-like
And green can be big like a dragon
Or exploding from a cannon
While it kills Bumblebee

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder, why wonder
I am green, and it'll do fine
It's militant, and I think it's what I want to be

Monday, October 22, 2012

Video Game 30th Anniversary of the Month - Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

I have to confess to a bit of uncertainty about whether this month's entry really fits as a 30th anniversary. The Wikipedia article suggests that Sega didn't release this game until 1983, and for all I know, their sources may well be right. However, I'm going by the copyright date Sega included on the game itself, which places this game in 1982, and therefore as worthy of inclusion. For those who are sticklers for accuracy, and who believe that the 1983 date is indeed more accurate, I can only hope that my placing this entry toward the end of the year helps (although I have my own reasons for not featuring this game in November or December).

Although I will simply refer to this game as Star Trek for the sake of simplicity, the full name on the marquee is Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator. In case that subtitle is insufficiently clear, this game is a combat simulator, placing you in command of the Enterprise as you seek to defend a series of Starbases from the evil Klingons (yes, we know from Star Trek: The Next Generation that the Klingons aren't so much evil as they are a proud warrior race that the Federation simply found themselves on the opposite side of once upon a time. This game not only comes before these revelations, but the game makes the Klingons about as faceless an enemy as one could possibly devise. The better to shoot them to smithereens without feeling any guilt about doing so!). The three-part screen provides the player with an overhead view in the upper-right, a first-person perspective (unusual in video games of the time) at the bottom, and the upper-left showed the viewer how much of certain limited supplies or powers remained available.

Controls and graphics for this game were both somewhat different than other games featured so far. The graphics were all vector-based, rather than using pixels to create the objects seen on the screen. Although this admittedly resulted in hollow, largely single-color images (although each distinct image could be a different color, as could separately-generated elements designed to coordinate together to form an image), this technique held the advantage of being able to create more detailed images than the more conventional bitmap displays of the time. Also, vector-based objects could be scaled much more easily, as is demonstrated in Star Trek in the opening sequence that introduces each game element. As to controls, there was no joystick in Star Trek, but rather a dial was used to spin the ship to face the appropriate direction, and a series of buttons controlled impulse power for movement, warp speed (for much faster movement, but only a limited supply), phasers with which to attack, and photon torpedoes (again a limited supply, but which could destroy all ships within the radius of a torpedo's explosion).

Although Star Trek could be found in the standard upright arcade cabinet form, truly lucky gamers had access to an arcade that had the cockpit version, designed to emulate the captain's chair on the bridge, from which you could control all of the game's functions via the dial and buttons placed in the armrests. If that wasn't enough, Star Trek features an early attempt at synthesized speech in a video game (I'm told that actual voice sampling was too memory-intensive to be viable at the time, but that sure sounds like Leonard Nimoy's voice saying "Welcome aboard, Captain!"), further helping the player to feel like he's stepped into the 23rd century, if only for a moment (and assuming that computer viewscreens of that far-flung future only had vector graphics...).

Friday, October 19, 2012

BotCon 2012 Exclusive Shattered Glass Treadshot

Love it or hate it, the "Shattered Glass" continuity has been a mainstay of BotCon and the official Transformers club for several years now. For those who don't already know, Shattered Glass is essentially a mirror-universe take on the Transformers concept. The Autobots are evil and the Decepticons are good, instead of the other way around, as it is in every other Transformers toyline yet seen.

Most of the characters in the Shattered Glass universe are counterparts to specific Generation One characters. That is to say, Shattered Glass Cyclonus is a counterpart to Generation One Cyclonus, and not, say, to the Armada character with the same name. There are, however, a couple of exceptions. One of these is Shattered Glass Treadshot, who is not, apparently, a counterpart to the Generation One Action Master of that name, but rather draws its inspiration from a rather obscure "Battle in a Box" toy that was packaged alongside a white repaint of Armada Optimus Prime designated as "Ultra Magnus" (to make matters more confusing, the "Battle in a Box" set was packaged as part of the original Universe line, which was explicitly a multi-continuity-spanning line, and so we still have no official designation for which universe the characters represented by these original toys are supposed to come from!).

Shattered Glass Treadshot is a redeco of the Reveal the Shield Jazz toy with a new head, but I hesitate to call it a "remold" in the usual sense. At about the time Jazz was released, the folks who design Transformers toys had started to create molds with redecos already in mind, and would include a second head as a part of that process. This information became known to the public through the fact that many of the instructions for the toys would feature the other head, rather than the one actually on the toy that was released. Although Treadshot does use the head that was thus prematurely revealed, it is highly doubtful that it was actually created with Treadshot in mind (Fun Publications' design process is largely distinct from Hasbro's influence, except to the degree that Hasbro must give final approval). However, neither Hasbro nor TakaraTomy have yet to release this head on any toy other than Treadshot (despite the fact that the mold has now been used for no fewer than five distinct characters, two of which have had new heads created for them). The TFWiki has taken to calling this phenomenon a "pretool," which seems as good a term as any, although since I don't tend to use the term "retool" (however much more accurate it might be than "remold"), I might consider coining the term "premold." What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Transformers in 3-D comic issue #1

Most of the time, when I'm talking about Transformers comics of the 1980's, I'm talking about the Marvel series. However, there was another Transformers comic series that came out during that era, which is now all-but forgotten. A company called Blackthorne Publishing, most known for publishing 3-D comic books, was able to get a license from Hasbro to do such 3-D comics at the same time as Marvel had the Transformers comic book license. Apparently, the 3-D gimmick was enough of a difference to convince Hasbro (and Marvel? I have no idea if there were ever any lawsuits) that Blackthorne's work would not infringe on the existing agreement.

Blackthrone eventually produced three of these 3-D issues, but I'm just going to focus on the first one here. This issue's story, called "The Test," focuses on a combination of characters introduced to the toyline in 1986 and 1987 (which is when the comic was published). It's mostly a light-hearted chase story, as the Transformers investigate a pair of strange alien creatures that may provide a possible new source of Energon (their favored fuel source). Unknown to the Transformers, these creatures are actually intelligent, and have in fact been tasked with investigating the Transformers themselves!

Although the Headmaster leaders, Fortress Maximus and Scorponok, feature fairly prominently, a reference to "making some progress on the 'Headmaster' technology" seems to place this issue some time before the characters have actually become Headmasters. This oddity, all by itself, knocks this story out of contention for the cartoon continuity, and the existence of Galvatron alongside the not-yet-Headmaster characters eliminates the Marvel comic continuity from contention. This story stands on its own. In fact, both the "technology" reference and a surprise appearance by the Quintessons at the end would seem to suggest that the story was dropping hints for future adventures in this series, but these threads were never revisited in either of the two other issues that Blackthorne eventually released (indeed, no two Blackthorne issues seem to fit into any coherent continuity with each other, let alone with anything done by anyone else).

Like many 3-D comic books, these stories use a red/blue printing process that one reads through color-filtered glasses. This process essentially requires that the images themselves remain monochromatic, but even granting that limitation, the art here is quite crude. Many characters bear only the most passing resemblance to more well-known renderings, and if it weren't for the fact that they're usually named on-panel, the reader would often have no idea which character was being depicted. Between this and the fairly goofy story, I can't really recommend this issue as anything beyond the unique oddity that it represents in Transformers history. But in that respect, the 3-D comic represents a take on Transformers storytelling that hasn't been seen again in nearly 25 years, and it is therefore worthy of attention.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Transformers Groove's Spanish Packaging

I've written before about the fact that Transformers have been sold in countries other than the United States and Japan. In fact, the brand is a world-wide phenomenon. This fact allows for a few interesting blips in the otherwise straightforward history of how certain toys come to be made. Take this Spanish version of Groove, for example. It did not come out at the time of Groove's original release in 1986, but rather several years later, as part of a European "Classics" sub-line that showed up around 1990 (not to be confused with the American "Classics" line of 2006, nor the similarly-themed lines which have come since that technically use different names, but which are often referred to in this way. Also note that "Classics" toys from Spain do not feature the "Classics" title, although most other European countries did feature such language).

The fact that this version of Groove came later than the original means that the packaging offers some unique features besides just the fact that the text is written in another language. For example, the original Groove came on a card with the traditional red and black design and the original Transformers logo. This version features the golden pattern of the later era alongside the now all-but-forgotten version of the logo from the tail end of the original toyline. This also means that the Tech Specs on the back of the card features the bar graph format, rather than the criss-crossing "heart monitor" pattern of the original format, which required a red plastic filter to read easily. The toy itself, so far as I can remember (I no longer have the toy, sadly. Only the packaging), was identical to the American release of the toy, with one exception. American versions still featured rubsigns when the original Groove came out, but the "Classics" toy did not have one (which is perhaps somewhat odd, as the original waves of "Classics" toys did have rubsigns, despite the American line having abandoned them a couple of years previously. However, by the time Groove came out, even this line had stopped using rubsigns).

I didn't pay especially much for this version when I found it several years ago, and imagine that one could be found again without having to break the bank too badly for it, provided you're fortunate enough to stumble across the distinctive packaging in the first place, but expect to spend a bit of time searching if you really want to get a "Classics" version rather than the original, and to pay at least a bit more for doing so.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Transformers Prime Cyberverse Decepticon Flamewar

Because of the engineering expertise and multiple parts necessary to create a Transformers toy, Transformers actually tend to cost a bit more to produce than many people expect on the basis of their size compared to other toys in stores. In order to at least try to keep the actual costs buyers have to pay down, Hasbro relies fairly heavily these days on redecos (also often called repaints). While I've argued in the past that there have always been such redecos in the line (and, in fact, the entire Transformers franchise owes its existence to the concept, as the original line was actually nothing more than reuse and redecos of toys created for entirely different lines in Japan), they have not always been as common in the past as they are now. These days, it is rare to see a mold that does not get reused at least once, if not more, by changing the color scheme around and possibly remolding a part or two.

Many redecos are original concepts in and of themselves, while others draw inspiration from a variety of sources. Once in a blue moon, a toy comes along that clearly draws its inspiration from something originally done for one of the Transformers conventions, such as the Universe Skywarp toy from nearly a decade ago. The recent Decepticon Flamewar figure, part of the "Cyberverse" sub-line of smaller Transformers figures, is another such example. The original Flamewar toy was a part of BotCon 2005, the very first convention run by Fun Publications, and was the free incentive figure given only to those who attended the convention and also purchased the box set of exclusive toys that year. It is very hard to find these days (an eBay search yielded no relevant results), and can go for a pretty high price if and when one is found (easily upwards of $150, which is pretty high for a mold that would have gone for around $7 if the toy had been produced for retail). Like that convention exclusive, this version of Flamewar is a redeco of an Arcee figure. But unlike that one, which was never intended for a mass audience, this Flamewar is readily available at most toy stores today!

Admittedly, there has been some obvious inflation in prices since 2005. Although, being a "Legion" class Cyberverse toy, this Flamewar is considerably smaller than the Scout-class toy from the Energon line that inspired it, $7 is perhaps a low price to pay for it (some toy stores are starting to charge as much as $10 for it, but this is thankfully not yet the norm). However, I would still recommend it. Not only does this provide a cheap alternative when compared to the $150+ BotCon exclusive, but this Cyberverse toy has a remarkably detailed transformation given its size. In fact, I'm starting to shift my new Transformer buying somewhat, buying fewer and fewer of the once-standard "Deluxe" size, and more and more of the smaller toys from the Cyberverse sub-line. Larger toys, these days, tend to be exclusives or otherwise special, especially in an era where the shelves are so clogged with Bumblebees that it can be hard to find something distinctive. But I'll have more to say about that kind of thing at another time....
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