Wednesday, July 6, 2016

BotCon 1996 Onyx Primal

With the recent revelation that now-former BotCon organizer Fun Publications will retain the license to run the official G.I. Joe convention (but not BotCon) for at least two more years, discussion has reignited as to whether Fun Publications' tenure with BotCon has been a net positive or a net negative. While I have tended to come down on the "net positive" side, I have always acknowledged that their tenure with the convention has long been marked by controversy. It is perhaps important to note that, whatever Fun Publications' faults, the end of their time with BotCon marks the end of an unprecedented tenure of stability for the convention, lasting 12 years. The early years of BotCon had their share of controversy, as well, without any guarantees of stability. Indeed, the first three BotCons were each organized by different people, and the difficulties surrounding BotCon 1996 were arguably the worst of them all....

Perhaps the most positive aspect of BotCon 1996 was the exclusive toy that year, a repaint of the first Beast Wars Optimus Primal toy named Onyx Primal. But even Onyx's story is far from serene.

First of all, there were 1700 units of Onyx Primal produced, in an era when only a few hundred people attended the convention. Possibly, this stems from the fact that Onyx Primal was the first BotCon exclusive to be cast in new plastic colors, necessitating a larger order at the factory. Anyway, 170 of these Onyx Primals were designated "Dealer exclusive" and besides being given to the dealers, had a different box and "BotCon '96 Dealer Exclusive" tampographed on the back. Apparently, 40 of the "regular" toys had yet another packaging variant, being designated for VIPs. I don't know how many toys were left over after the end of the convention, but it must have been a lot. Assuming all of the attendees picked one up, plus the dealers and special guests, I can easily imagine roughly a thousand units still unclaimed by the end of BotCon 1996. The same toy was offered at an unofficial convention run by the same folks the following year.

Then, there's the matter of just who and what Onyx Primal is. The original bio card that came with the toy at BotCon 1996 branded him a Predacon assassin, with the bizarre (and never otherwise used) nickname of "Blackie," and text that gave very little actual information on the character, consisting entirely of an edited quote from Pulp Fiction (there were a number of such references at that convention. No one's quite sure why), which itself was essentially an edited Bible reference (try not to think too hard about that...).* The character then showed up again at BotCon 1998, as a Maximal character during the script reading, and the pre-Fun Publications BotCon archives gave him a more complete bio, attempting to explain the retconned faction-switch while taking a few fairly obvious swipes at the BotCon 1996 convention organizers.

There's not a whole lot more to be said about Onyx Primal, who is largely forgotten today, but for those who remember those early BotCons, he represents the chaos and turmoil that marked his convention itself. Even with all of Fun Publications' problems, I still prefer having had them to the likelihood of not getting a dedicated official convention at all. We have come to take having BotCon for granted, and with Hasbro still playing coy about their future plans, it's clear that we can no longer assume that what was true in the past will remain true in the future.

*To be fair, the bio quote that came with the retail Optimus Primal that used this same mold only had a less-than-informative quote, as well. But since the intention at the time was still that Primal was the same entity as G1 Optimus Prime, we already knew who he was, anyway....

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