Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Wishes

Well, it's time for my annual Christmas break. This will be my last entry until the New Year. I hope you enjoy this Christmas parody (and, if you're so inclined, you can re-live last year's, too!). I'll be back on January 3rd. In the meantime, you might want to check out the "Stocking Stuffer" offer over at a WST G2 Blue "Santa" Grimlock! I'm getting mine!
(To the tune of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas
May your toys be Prime.
Next year, may your shopping all be done on time.

Have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas
Be he gun or tank
Either way, I hope it doesn't break the bank.

As you shop for the latest toys
All the greatest toys, in-store
Just remember to leave a few,
one or two will do, not more

Someday, all your favorite toys will gather
If the shelves allow
Until then, you'll have to muddle through somehow.

But have yourself a Megatron-y Christmas now.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cliffjumper's Identity Crisis

Back when I was a kid, I would often hear someone claim that there was no difference between Cliffjumper and Bumblebee other than their color. Although the molds are indeed very similar, any serious examination of the two figures reveals that the molds are by no means identical. Different head, different chest, different feet.

However, the myth persisted. Ironically, this problem seemed to be made more difficult (rather than improved) by the fact that Hasbro also released a yellow version of Cliffjumper and a red version of Bumblebee. I've never quite figured this out. If one couldn't tell that the original Cliffjumper and Bumblebee weren't the same (other than their color) before, then surely looking at a yellow Cliffjumper next to a yellow Bumblebee would clear up all doubt! But, no....

Sadly, this problem has only gotten worse over the years. When Joe Toscano of decided to create a Cliffjumper Action Master, he naturally used Bumblebee as the basis, since no official Action Master Cliffjumper has ever existed. And, as the cartoon image on that link demonstrates, the final result is indeed fairly accurate, at least in regard to the head-shot we can see. Part of the problem here is that, although the original Bumblebee toy had a shield for a face, the cartoon always depicted him with a mouth, and the Action Master Bumblebee figure followed the cartoon's lead. So when AM Bumblebee was painted red, there wasn't too much different between the faces anymore. In fact, the only thing left (so far as I can tell) is that Bumblebee's head still follows a roughly round shape, while Cliffjumper's head is more triangular. But this difference is admittedly subtle, especially in the animation. The figure's feet are still Bumblebee's, but who's looking at them? This kind of thing is not only completely acceptable for a custom, but is in fact a pretty amazing job.

Recent versions continue this trend less excusably. Although Cliffjumper's name has been used a couple of times in recent years (in Armada and Energon), neither of these represents the classic character, so we can safely ignore them. But when Palisades put out a Cliffjumper statue, it was just a straight-up repaint of their Bumblebee statue: roundish head and VW Beetle feet. Unmistakably a "red Bumblebee." And this was no production mistake or custom figure. This was an official product, licensed by Hasbro! And now, there are a couple of new "Cliffjumper" toys on the horizon: one small figure in the Titaniums line, and one in the "Classics" line. These are also just red repaints of Bumblebee figures.

Although it seems that the original versions of both Cliffjumper and Bumblebee will be re-released as keychains (for the second time!) in the near future, given the trend toward saving money by doing repaints, I doubt we'll see a new version of the "classic" Cliffjumper character that's not a straight repaint of Bumblebee ever again. It seems that my old classmates were right. Just 20 years too early!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Knock-off 2-packs at Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Morning is one of those "gift stores" that specializes in selling stuff that other stores don't want anymore, and sells those items at massive discounts. Usually, there's a reason why the other stores didn't want the stuff in the first place, but one can occasionally find good deals there. Last year, quite a few Transformers Energon figures and G1 reissues were able to found really cheap. But that kind of find is unfortunately rather rare.

While there don't seem to be any authentic Transformers to be found at Tuesday Morning these days, there are a number of knock-offs that are showing up. None of the knock-offs are, in and of themselves, all that unique. This kind of thing has been showing up at Big Lots and in other bargain outlets for quite some time now. But the fact that these are showing up in two-packs is a bit different.

Last week, I discovered this pair of knock-off Cyberjets. Knock-off Cyberjets are a relatively new phenomenon. I don't think I saw any prior to this past year. The figures in this box use the molds originally used for G2 Skyjack and G2 Space Case (left to right). I was more intrigued, however, by the images of Star Saber and Victory Leo on this box. Sadly, I couldn't find any knock-offs of them around (either knock-offs of the originals or of the more recent "RobotMasters" versions. I don't claim to be familiar enough with those particular Japanese exclusives to be able to tell which version is depicted on the box, although I'd guess the "RobotMasters" versions are more likely).

I found these two items while at a different Tuesday Morning yesterday. Each of these two-packs features a "Micromaster" combiner (Sixbuilder on the left of the picture on the left, and Sixliner on the right of the picture on the right) packaged with a downsized version of a "Scramble City"-style combiner (Defensor on the right of the first picture, and Bruticus on the left of the second picture, although in keeping with the pattern of most knock-offs, the color scheme of "Bruticus" more closely matches "Baldigus" from the Japanese "Car Robots" line).

As might be expected, the plastic quality of these knock-offs looks to be pretty low. But if you're looking for cheap Transformers, or are looking for fodder for a custom creation, these might be worth checking out.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Sales Savvy

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Have you found all the toys you want (to give to other people, of course!)?

Because I was vacationing in Placerville during the Thanksgiving holiday, I was unable to take advantage of the Target sale on the Transformers Millenium Falcon set (regularly about $35, they were selling them for $15), but I noticed today that Toys R Us is selling the set for $27. Do I get it now? Do I wait? Do I really need to get it anyway?

After all, I might need that money to get Generation 1 Soundwave, which is coming out soon, although there is some uncertainty as to whether that December 5th release date is accurate. I guess we'll find out by the time I can post on Wednesday.

And, of course, I still have my eyes on Primus, although I've been unwilling to shell out $50 (or even the $43 it's currently on sale for at TRU, although Target's current sale for about $40 is starting to look tempting), even for a toy of that size. I did try to take advantage of a Thanksgiving deal Wal-Mart had for Primus, which would have included bonus Mini-Cons, but the one Wal-Mart I was able to get to while on vacation didn't have any, and I haven't been able to find any at the Wal-Mart near home, either.

Apparently, the fact that I'm paying attention to the sales isn't at all uncommon. I was listening to a story on NPR that was talking about how consumers have been trained to wait for sales, especially during this time of year. People having limited funds look for sales, and tend not to pay retail if they think they can do better just by waiting.

Of course, an item such as Soundwave (which will only be sold at Toys R Us), will probably do a bit better, since it hasn't been on shelves for a while already. And since there's only one place to get it, people have no real expectation that they can find a better price by looking elsewhere. Of course, if it doesn't do as well as expected, we might start seeing massive reductions like finally happened to the G1 reissues from the last two years (starting from $20-30, they were finally practically given away at massive clearance prices). But that wouldn't happen for months, even in a worst case scenario. If you want to get this toy by Christmastime, the price you see now is the price you'll be paying.

Of course, I may not end up buying any of these toys right now. After all, it's Christmastime, and I have a number of other folks I need to buy for, too. (There's really no fooling anyone in my family. I'm the one who likes Transformers!)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Classic Transformers Review: Reflector

I originally wrote this review intending for it to be a part of the official Transformers club, either as part of the magazine or on the web site (I've been arguing for a long time now that the club members-only web page needs better content and more updating). Many months have passed now, and there's no indication that the club intends to use this material. Updating the review a bit with appropriate web linkage, hopefully it will provide some better-than-average content here.

Most fans who remember watching the original Transformers cartoon when it originally aired remember a character named Reflector. Reflector was a camera that split apart into three identical (or nearly so) robots. Yet this fondly remembered character never appeared in toy stores due to what was apparently a late decision by Hasbro not to offer the 3-robots-in-1-camera toy (which they had licensed from the Japanese company Takara, and which had been part of their “Microman” line) for regular distribution. The TF cartoon bible (excerpts of which can be found here) lists Reflector as one of the original Decepticons, but has notes that the toy was discontinued, with instructions not to use the character in future episodes. This no doubt explains why most of Reflector’s cartoon appearances were in very early episodes.

Having already secured the rights to the Reflector toy from Takara, Hasbro needed to find a way to distribute such merchandise as they had available, and so they made Reflector available as a mail-order exclusive, much as had been previously done for the Powerdashers and Omnibots. Reflector was notable for being the only Decepticon to be made available only through mail-order in over 20 years of Transformers history, a distinction held until club exclusive Landquake appeared this past year.

While the toy version of Reflector consists of three robots that combine into one camera, as in the cartoon, the three toy robots are not identical, as the cartoon Reflector robots were (notwithstanding the camera lens on one robot of the trio). Hasbro also took the step of giving each of the individual robots names: Spectro (the red robot), Viewfinder (the middle robot), and Spyglass (the blue robot on the right of the camera). One imagines that if Hasbro had colored Spectro blue like the other two robots, the illusion of three nearly identical robots would have been more closely maintained, but Hasbro colored their version of Reflector pretty much the same as the Takara Microman version, which was created without the need for such considerations.

This isn’t to say that Hasbro didn’t bother creating anything new to make their version distinct from previous versions. In addition to creating a new sticker set with “Reflector” (instead of “Microx”) along the top and adding Decepticon faction symbols, Hasbro created full bio and tech specs to be included with Reflector’s instruction booklet. This is especially notable since Hasbro did not create tech specs for the previous mail-order exclusives. However, only tech specs for Reflector as a unit were created, as opposed to separate bios for Spectro, Viewfinder, and Spyglass. In fact, the tech specs for Reflector make absolutely no mention of the fact that the camera can split into three separate robots!

Each of the robots is roughly the same height, just under 4 inches tall. This makes them just barely taller than the average Action Master. Spectro and Spyglass both have die-cast metal chests, while Viewfinder has a die-cast metal core to which plastic features are attached on both front and back. All three robots have arm articulation at the shoulders, and both Spectro and Viewfinder have normal knee articulation (Spyglass has reverse-knee articulation, necessary for transformation.). All three robots have some form of hip articulation, as well (Viewfinder and Spyglass’s legs can bend either forward or backward, but Spectro’s legs only bend backward). In addition, all of the robots have chromed thighs, although most of this has flaked away in my specimen after roughly 20 years of wear and tear. Finally, it is worth noting that all three robots have distinct legs that can move independently of each other, a feature not to be taken for granted in Transformers of this era.

Transformation to camera mode is fairly simple. Each robot folds in half (Spectro and Viewfinder’s legs fold up behind the torso, while Spyglass’s legs fold up in front), and the Spectro and Spyglass are attached to either side of Viewfinder by aligning several pegs. Separate attachments for the lens and flashcube are then attached to the camera.

The resulting camera is about 2 1/4 inches tall (2 1/2” if measured to the top of the flashcube), too small to be considered a “life-sized” camera. The flashcube is chromed but, as with the robot thighs, this has mostly be worn away on my specimen. Camera features include a lens-and-mirror assembly inside Viewfinder that allows you to look through the back of the camera and see objects on the other side (though not very clearly), and a shutter at the top of Spectro’s head that allows you to push down with a reassuring “click” and “take a picture.” It should also be noted that the flashcube has a hole in the middle to insert a missile to be launched (theoretically, as Hasbro took the spring out) by pushing down at the top of the flashcube. The flashcube may also be used in Spyglass’ robot mode.

Reflector makes a wonderful display item, both for its rarity and for its place in Transformers history as a seldom-seen cartoon character.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Long-Awaited Day Has Finally Arrived

For nearly two years now, Transformers fans have complained about the lack of any club exclusive toys (not counting the "freebie" exclusive you get just for joining, nor the BotCon convention exclusive toys, which are generally made available to club members if any remain after the convention). As of yesterday, this has finally changed. Club exclusives Astrotrain (with 4 Mini-Cons) and Airazor are finally available for pre-order. Each is being limited to 2000 figures, making these toys quite rare.

Here is the pertinent information from the e-mail sent to club members:
Astrotrain is $87 +shipping, Airazor is $42 +shipping. Shipping is $7 domestic for the first item and $1 for each additional item. Foreign shipping will vary by country. If you are placing a foreign order, we will calculate the airmail cost and add it to your order.

Example order: if you are domestic and order one Astrotrain and one Airazor the total cost will be $137.
Orders may be made via e-mail (if your credit card is already on file with the club) or by telephone (special arrangements are being made for non-US members to have Fun Publications call them if needed, so as to avoid prohibitive telephone costs).

Fun Publications is very clear that these will only be available to members of the official Transformers Club. Membership costs $40 (for people living in the US who don't choose the more expensive shipping option). That's expensive enough to be worth thinking over seriously, but that membership does include an additional "freebie" toy (probably will ship in the spring) and a 6-issue subscription to the bi-monthly Transformers club magazine (yeah, there's also 12 issues of Master Collector included, but that's just a bunch of classified ads which are pretty much worthless).

The Transformers club is finally getting up to speed. If you've been on the fence about joining up to now, this should at least give you something to add to that decision-making process.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Number 300

Keeping track of blog posts is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary practice. What makes the number "300" special? Why is the round number "300" any more special than say, "299"? These are fair questions, and I offer no particular answer than to say, "because I say so!" ;)

Looking for an appropriate way to celebrate my 300th Transforming Seminarian post, I'll post a few pictures I've got lying around that are worth sharing, but for which I really don't have enough to say about to dedicate full posts to.

This picture by no means represents my entire Transformer collection. It is, however, the single most prominent cluster of them in my home work space. Many of my Transformers sit on a shelf inside of a closet. Others are scattered on the tops of bookshelves and desk spaces around the room. Still others are stored in boxes. But this group, which changes fairly regularly as I gather new toys, or want to give old ones new prominence, sits on top of a filing cabinet in the middle of the wall area. Anyone who walks into the room can't help but see that huge Brave Maximus surrounded by various minions.

About a half a year ago, I did an article on repaints that featured two of these three figures. About a month ago, I was able to locate and purchase the bright yellow and orange one (Sunstorm). Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a good way to mention it on the blog, so I'll take the opportunity to use the picture now. Here it is!

And, finally, a quick picture from my recent vacation in Placerville for Thankgiving. Placerville is where my parents grew up, and most of my rather large extended family still lives there. One of my family's defining characteristics is that we like to play board games. "Family Feud" is always a favorite.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Custom Boxes

Over a year and a half ago, I put up some pictures of custom boxes I had created for Happy Meal Transformers. Since that time, I have made a few more boxes. None of these are of the quality or "G1-accuracy" as Mirage's Boxes, but I think they're pretty nice, and worth showing off once in a while.

One limitation I've always been under is that my printer can only handle regular 8-and-a-half-inch width paper, so I'll never be able to do these boxes for figures larger than the World's Smallest Thrust you see at the top. I also don't have access to facilities that would allow me to custom-mold clear plastic inserts (of course, neither does any other custom box maker that I'm aware of), which is why I've taken to using styrofoam. If you'll look at those Happy Meal boxes I made in 2005, you'll see that I tried to twisty-tie them to a colored paper backing. This is fine for display purposes, but does have the unfortunate effect of allowing the toys to slide around inside the box, which can be problematic for transport. Styrofoam has the advantage of being more stable, and is reasonably easy to shape, but it is rather messy. (You might even be able to see some lose bits of styrofoam trapped in that Thrust box.) Also it doesn't work as well for certain TFs (I have a couple more Happy Meal TFs I needed to stick with the twisty ties for).

Still, displaying some of these smaller TFs in this way does give the toys some visual character that they might not have if they were displayed loose. By placing small versions of the original Tech Specs on the back (or a custom, as in the case of toys like Tap-Out, which weren't originally created when Tech Specs were done this way. I've done a few custom Tech Specs myself, but the Tap-Out Tech Spec was done by James Byun), the feeling that these smaller toys could have been originally sold in boxes like this is reinforced.

I created the template for these boxes using Adobe Photoshop. The files are fairly large, but I'm willing to share them if anyone's interested, and can work with Photoshop files. Just send me an e-mail, and I'll send you an example. Feel free to ask for a specific character, although the odds are I won't have it. I can definitely give you something from the right faction, though. Just remember that this kind of template will only work for fairly small figures.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Created to Scale

To the best of my knowledge, there are only two classes of Transformers, in the entire history of the franchise, that have been explicitly created to be a specific scale when compared to the "real" vehicles the toys represent.

The first of these, the Alternators, are still fairly widely available in stores. These transform into 1:24 replicas of actual automobiles you might see on the street today (1:24 being a fairly common scale for model cars). In fact, Hasbro licenses the rights to these vehicle designs from the automobile manufacturers, so in the case of Alternators Wheeljack (center), who turns into a Ford Mustang, you'll see the Ford logo proudly displayed on the packaging.

For many fans, the Alternators represent the pinnacle of Transformers design. Not only are they realistic vehicles (truly "Robots in Disguise"), but their transformations are often intricate and complex. For me, this is the line's major downfall: they're too complex. And the instructions, simple line art drawings with few or no words, are often no help at all. I was reminded of this fact when trying to transform these toys for this photo. I actually tried to do Smokescreen (on the left) first, but couldn't get all the vehicle parts to line up properly when I was all done. I finally gave up on that one, put the toy back in robot mode, and tried my hands at Wheeljack. Wheeljack is also ridiculously complicated, and I actually had to pop several parts off of the toy to finish the transformation, although when all the parts were replaced, I at least had a vehicle that looked right. Although the roughly $20 price tag you'll find on these toys isn't too unrealistic for what you get, it's high enough that when coupled with the frustration factor I have on these things, I tend not to buy Alternators on my own. In fact, I think all but one of the four I have (including one that isn't pictured here) were gifts. This isn't to say that I'm upset to have been given these toys. It's just that the frustration gives me pause when it comes to buying them on my own. If you have the patience to deal with the transformations, though, these are still very worthwhile toys.

The other class of Transformers designed to a specific scale were originally released as the G2 Go-Bots. These toys have been repainted and reissued quite a few times over the years, and are more commonly referred to these days as "Spychangers" (a name they picked up in the "Robots in Disguise" line of 2001-2002). These toys are 1:64 scale, specifically designed to be compatible with "Hot Wheels"-style racing sets. (One of these days, I'm going to splurge for one of those loop-the-loop tracks and put these guys on it!)

In contrast with the Alternators, transformation for these toys is simplicity itself. Nearly every one transforms in the same way: pull the back of the car out, flip the hood down, and pull the arms out to the sides. A few other toys were released in the class as part of the "Robots in Disguise" line that have slightly different transformations, but these also weren't specifically designed to be in the 1:64 scale of the original vehicles on which they're based (although they still have the free-wheeling axles, so they'll still work on the race tracks).

It may be worth noting that both of these lines used scales that were chosen specifically because of some competitor's product. It may also be worth noting that there are one or two actual Transformers toys (in isolation, and not really as part of a classification of TFs) that transform into a play version of some actual item (1-to-1 scale, if you will), but that's really not the same thing. Even still, for all of the clamor out there in the Transformers fandom for toys that are "to scale," such toys really the exception, and not the rule.

Monday, November 13, 2006

An Unexpected Find

Last week, I commented on the difficulty of locating the Micromaster Superion set, having traveled all over Southern California to CVS Pharmacies in the area.

So, imagine my suprise when I found this at Big Lots yesterday!
This is the only Aerialbot I found, and a trip to another Big Lots yielded nothing, so this may be just a fluke. I left this one on the shelf, although I definitely left wishing I'd found this a week ago. Silverbolt was the last Aerialbot I needed, and this is less than half the price I ended up paying per Aerialbot at CVS!

A side note: I've just switched over to the new version of Blogger. There may be a few glitches while I get used to the new system.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Tracking Down Micromaster Superion

For the past few years, Hasbro has been reissuing collections of "Micromaster combiners" that were originally released in Japan way back in the early '90s. The basic pattern for these sets is that there are six Transformers who follow a common theme (trains, construction vehicles, airplanes, etc.) who can be configured together into a larger robot with the help of some accessory parts (unlike most other combiners from over the years, none of the Micromaster combiner members actually connect directly with any other members. They only connect via the extra parts).

All four of the teams Hasbro has reissued have been released as exclusives through KB toys, which has made some of these teams increasingly difficult to find, as KB is, at best, a struggling sales chain. Rumors had surfaced about the latest set, the Micromaster Aerialbots, as far back as a year ago, but they were not actually released until rather recently. In fact, European Transformers fans actually were able to find these toys before fans in the US, an occurrence which is very rare indeed!

And when word finally started coming out that the Aerialbots had finally reached American stores, I still was unable to find any in KB which, it must be said, is terrible about restocking their shelves. Presumably, they want to clear out product they already have, but given that their prices average out to about 25% higher than most other chains, KB doesn't tend to sell things very quickly.

I finally heard that the Aerialbots were showing up in CVS pharmacies, which I thought was odd. I had already known that the Railbots (the previous Micromaster exclusives) were showing up in CVS, but since those toys had already been at KB for several months by that time, I just assumed that KB had given up on selling the Railbots, and were getting rid of their overstock, and that CVS has opted to give the toys a try.

I later learned that CVS and KB were owned by the same company, although it appears that this is no longer the case (although KB was once owned by the company that currently goes by the name CVS, KB is currently privately owned). I do not know to what extent this former relationship plays into CVS's acquisition of what was originally understood to be KB exclusive merchandise, however.

To this day, I have still not found any of these toys at KB, although I have been assured that some KBs out there are carrying them. I did manage to track the toys down at CVS after an extensive search. I must have traveled to just under a dozen different CVS stores in Southern California over the past week, picking up the 6 toys at 5 different stores. (Drug stores are notorious for only having one or two of a particular type of toy on hand!)

Anyway, I was finally able to track down the complete set. Here is the combined Micromaster "Superion" for your viewing pleasure.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

It Couldn't Last Forever

If you follow game shows at all, then you've probably already heard by now that Bob Barker has announced that he will retire as the host of The Price is Right at the end of the current season.

This doesn't come as too much of a surprise. There's been speculation each year for several years now that each season would be Barker's last. Yesterday's announcement merely happened to be when he finally said, "now's the time."

I've had the honor of being in the audience for several Price is Right tapings in the years following my arrival in Southern California almost a decade ago, and I actually did get to speak with Bob during one of the taping breaks (not that he'd remember it at all; he's had literally thousands of such encounters in his 50-year career on television). As I recall, I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he had received during the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1999 (this must have been within a few months of that honor). Nothing hugely original or profound, I know, but it was my chance to interact with one of the last remaining "greats" of the game show world in person.

All indications are that The Price is Right will continue after Barker's retirement, although for how long depends entirely on how well the host chosen to be Barker's successor can fill the enormous shoes Barker will leave behind. But don't count the as-yet-unnamed new host out too quickly. Barker himself had to fill some rather large shoes when he first became host of what was then called The New Price is Right back in 1972: Bill Cullen had hosted the original version of the show from 1956-65 to great acclaim and popularity. At the time, few could see anyone replacing Bill Cullen. The fact that few people today are even aware that an earlier version of The Price is Right ever existed is a testimony to Barker's hosting ability.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wheeling But No Dealing

Although I enjoy collecting Transformers, I live under a significant financial crunch. It would be wiser not to buy any new Transformers at all, but under the often proven dieting philosophy that cutting things off "cold turkey" is a strategy doomed to failure, I have maintained a discipline of budgeting only $25 a month on Transformers toys. This is occasionally supplemented when I do an "odd job" outside of my normal 40-hours-a-week job, but even then I only put up to half of any money earned in such endeavors toward new Transformers, the rest going to ease financial burdens. However, any and all money earned by selling Transformers is fair game to getting new TFs! It sounds like a complicated system, but it really isn't. Suffice it to say, I've thought a lot about how to discipline my spending habits in a realistic way.

Since I'm trying to be wise about how I spend my Transformers dollars, I'm always rather keen on keeping an eye open for any sales or clearances that might be happening. This is especially the case right now, as the current "Cybertron" line is starting to die out, being replaced by the "Classics" line that will fill the gap between now and when the toys dedicated to the upcoming Transformers movie come out. When a rumor surfaced that Target was starting to clearance "Cybertron" toys in this way, it seemed as though the right time had come.

I had a (mostly) free day yesterday, so I drove around Southern California to the various stores that might sell Transformers, paying specific attention to Targets. I must have visited at least 5 different Target stores in my area. None of them are starting to clearance any Transformers yet! In fact, very few of them have even started stocking the new "Classics" toys in any significant numbers. I'm sure that "Cybertron" won't start hitting clearance until these stores have something to take their place.

But what was even more annoying was what I found at a couple of Toys R Us stores I visited. They're starting to repackage some of the "deluxe" toys (i.e., the size sold for $9.99 at Toys R Us) in 3-packs. I found two versions available, both filled mostly with toys that have no appeal to me anyway, but what was really surprising was the discovery that the 3-packs (with the label "Super Value" on them) are being sold at $29.99.

$29.99 for three toys that are already pegwarmers (i.e., no one wanted them the first time they were on the shelves. That's why they're getting repackaged.), that were originally sold for $9.99 apiece. Do the math. That means I'd be paying $29.99 for toys I could have already bought for $29.97. Far from being a "super value," I'd actually be paying 2 cents more to get the 3-pack! Someone needs to have their head examined.

Long story short, there were no "deals" to be found yesterday. For all the driving around I did, I bought no Transformers at all. (We won't talk about how much gas I used up in this endeavor) Still, it beats staying around the house all day....

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Collector's Items"

This past weekend, I participated in a flea market sponsored by the international students office here at the seminary. I brought a bunch of toys and comics that I'm trying to clear out. Nothing too special, mostly Happy Meal toys and similar small items, but I did have a few Star Wars figures that I never got around to taking out of their packages that I got before I realized how badly Hasbro was flooding the market for Episode One figures.

I tried to keep my prices low. Happy Meal toys were a dollar. Happy Meal toys with custom boxes were two dollars. Some Transformer PVCs were on sale for fifty cents. Comics were a dollar apiece, with discounts available if the purchaser took sets.

More than once, people came by, saw what I was selling, and proclaimed how these items were collector's items, and a few expressed amazment that I could part with them. I explained (honestly) that the stuff I had for sale was stuff I didn't care too much about, and that I had plenty of stuff that I was keeping at home, but that I needed to clear out some space.

Overall, the experience was a bit of a disappointment. Although many people had respect for the items I had, it seemed that few had any interest in getting such "collector's items" for themselves. While I sold enough to make back the money I paid to get the table in the first place, I didn't make much extra. Of course, the money I paid the get the table from which to sell my items was donated to charity, so even that wasn't really a "loss." But I really did hope to get a bit more extra cash with which to ease current financial burdens, and that really didn't happen. No one even looked at my custom boxes, which was particularly disappointing.

But that's been my experience with "collector's items" my whole life. Once in a blue moon, I can sell something that gets more money than I paid for it, but usually, the value of these items is only in what I place on having it myself. Other people almost never place the same value on them that I do, and if they do, the odds are I'm not looking to part with it in the first place.

This even seems to be the case on the recent BotCon exclusives I got a couple of weeks ago. I sold three of the ten that I got, but the only one I made any money on (as opposed to what I paid for them in the first place) was the "Attendee-only" exclusive. While people may wish they had these items, they generally don't want to pay what they're worth. And I'm really no different. I almost never buy even Transformers for the regular retail price, almost always waiting for sales, taking the risk that they may no longer be available when the sales finally come around. "Collector's items" are just that: they're for collecting. Trying to make any money off of them really misses the point.

Having said all that, if you're interested, a few of the items I was selling are back up for sale on a web site I set up for the purpose (including several items that weren't available at the flea market. If you're interested in GI Joe or Star Wars stuff, be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the page).

Friday, October 6, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 4

I've written a lot about some of the specific events, but I really haven't said much about the convention overall, and here it is, the end of the week. Well, now's the time to get everything out, no matter how long this entry gets!

First, the Dealer Room was pretty good. It didn't strike me as quite as large as Anaheim in 1998, or Pasadena in 2004, but there definitely was a lot of unused space in Pasadena, so I expect that the Pasadena Dealer Room may actually have had fewer sellers. I can't be sure. Either way, it definitely had a good variety of folks there, although I was surprised that no one seemed to have the Classics figures (which had been reported as just now beginning to show up in some stores) available. Maybe they just sold out before we saw them. We were also surprised not to see a booth from the Reprolabels folks, who were (to the best of my recollection) at both of the other conventions I was at.

While there wasn't a separate art room at this convention, as there had been at the other BotCons I attended, there were definitely a fair number of pieces on display. My favorite was this huge Devastator, with lots of "easter eggs" scattered across its massive form. You'll probably want to click on the picture for a larger image from which to search for all the Transformers toys on this guy. No one was surprised to hear this piece announced as one of the big winners in the art contest.

Also worth noting was the Menasor created using Alternators vehicles that someone else had done. I think this one also won a prize, although I'm not sure. While I was present for the announcement of who won the art contests at the dinner/casino night on Saturday, I couldn't remember many of the names the pieces were given, and I don't recall anything specifically "Menasory" about the names I heard announced as winners. Anyway, if this one didn't win, it should have!

One of the dealers had a whole bunch of original G1 art on display that you could buy, if you had enough money on hand. The cheapest stuff was listed at being $650! Needless to say, I had to settle for taking pictures like this one. The same guy had a bunch of boxed figures with their original toy store stickers on them, but no updated price tag, leading my brother to joke "yeah, I'll buy that one for 10 bucks!" If only!

One of the highlights of the Dealer Room was the large booth from which the Hartman brothers were selling off their legendary Transformers collection. As promised, they kept prices manageable, and I expect that most fans who wanted to get something from this booth were able to find something in their price range. My brother picked up a loose Ratchet from the Hartman booth, which he is now proud to call his own. I was tempted to pick up a loose Seacon with its card for about $25 (a fair price for such an item, especially given the minor bragging rights of saying "I have a piece of the Hartman collection"), but couldn't quite make myself do it. (If I had, I'd no doubt be looking to get the rest of the set! Best not to get started on the Seacons until I'm financially able to deal with getting all of them together.)

As is typical for many fan conventions, there were a few folks who came in costume. These two, dressed up as Soundwave and Starscream, were especially good.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no "script reading" this year. This has been something of a tradition over the years BotCon has been around, whereby the various voice actors get together and read a sktech especially prepared for the convention in the roles they made famous in the cartoon. It's always rather tongue-in-cheek, and often hilarious, but we were told at the dinner/casino that the venue just wasn't appropriate for it this year. Well, I agree that they couldn't do it at the dinner/casino, but they could have had a forum specifically for the purpose, like they did in 2004 (all other "script readings" were indeed during a dinner, but there was no dinner at BotCon 2004).

Not being the most social of people in person, I nevertheless did get to talk to a couple of online friends during my time there (you know who you are!). Also, I'm glad to finally have a face to put on Brian Savage's name, despite the fact that I did not speak with him personally. I do still think that there are a number of problems that Savage's organization (Fun Publications) needs to work on that other convention organizers were better at, but it definitely does seem clear that the convention is in solid hands nonetheless. Although Savage has, historically, not responded as well as might be hoped to criticism in his immediate comments to fans, it is clear that he does actually listen despite the appearance that had been created a year ago.

In that vein, it's worth noting that the news that next year's convention in Rhode Island will be in the summer may be more related to the fact of the movie's July 4th release date than in response to the fans requesting a summer date, but you can be sure that Brian will be looking very carefully at the numbers of fans that show up at the 2007 convention. If you're one of those who want to see conventions in the summertime in the future, BotCon 2007 will the time to put up or shut up. The numbers that came to the convention this year were quite high. If we can't beat that next year, we have no reason to expect Brian to see any purpose in holding BotCon in the summertime ever again.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 3

They say brevity is the soul of wit. Unfortunately, I've found that I simply cannot be as brief as I would like in my reflections on BotCon this past weekend. I had originally planned just to do one entry on this matter, and now I find that I can't even fit it all into a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday week of posts! Ah, well. It's my blog, I can break my own rules if I want to!

Saturday night was the combined Casino night/dinner. Since the doors to this event didn't open until 7 pm, yet everything else was closed at 5 pm, my brother and I found ourselves with time on our hands. I expect that this gap was intended a) to allow Brian and the Fun Publications staff to finish getting all the preparations ready while not spreading themselves too thin, b) to allow convention attendees a chance to go up to their hotel rooms and change into dinner clothes (the dinner had a dress code forbidding t-shirts and shorts, although I did see a few people wearing such in line, and don't know if anyone was turned away). But my brother and I were commuting from Louisville, a little over an hour away, so we couldn't go back home during the break. We just had to stick around.

Perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing. By a little after 6 pm, we'd realized that a line was already starting to form outside the ballroom where the dinner was to be held, and decided that we had nothing to lose by taking our places in line. As it got closer to 7, the line was stretching all the way around the rather large mall area outside the ballroom. There were LOTS of people at this event. It's a little hard to imagine that FP wasn't prepared for so many, since anybody attending the dinner had to be pre-registered, but there were clearly more people coming than they had expected.

By the time we got inside, it was clear that there were tons of people trying to get to the food, although the buffets were set up so that there could be multiple lines (rather than just one or two for all items), which helped a bit. My brother and I just went to the very last buffet tables (those featuring salad and California rolls, which apparently few people wanted) and got some food there, expecting to come back later when the lines had died down. Brian had specifically said that the food would be replenished throughout the event.

After getting our food, we quickly found that there weren't anything remotely close to enough tables to sit at and eat, but we found a couple of chairs on the sides and ate there without tables. I was a bit confused when it came to the matter of drinks, as well. I didn't see the table on one end of the room for tea and water, seeing only a couple of tables on each end for bar drinks. I've never gotten into the habit of drinking alcohol, myself, but thinking this was the only option, I went up to one of the bars and asked for some grapefruit juice. I was given a very small glass and charged $2.00! Although I thought the price outrageous, I coughed it up, but didn't leave a tip in the glass jar set aside for that purpose. But not seeing the "free" beverages may be my own fault as much as anything....

We finished our salads pretty quickly, and so decided to start playing games. Since most of the hordes had not yet gotten their food, there were very few people playing the games at that point, so we sat down at one of the blackjack tables and played a few hands by ourselves. Starting with 100 credits, we left with 110 credits, but no one had yet started awarding prizes at these tables.

Getting up to see what else was available (it was at this point that I finally discovered the water), we quickly found out that the bingo games were free! So we joined in and stayed there pretty much the rest of the evening. I got up one more time to try to spend some of my credits, but didn't win anything in the effort, and quickly rejoined my brother at bingo. I also tried to get some more food during one of the breaks between bingo games, but found that the buffet tables were mostly depleted. I got a little bit of fatty roast beef, but that was about it. My brother didn't find anything at all when he did a similar search a bit later. So much for "replenished throughout the event."

Bingo was pretty fun, although I felt that the person calling the numbers needed a sedative. I really hate it when they try to force enthusiasm by making everyone scream real loud between every game. Just call the numbers. If I win, I'll scream then. ;) (My brother did, in fact, win a Transformer by winning a bingo game) Having played the free bingo games for most of the evening, we ended up giving our now-practically-worthless credits to a couple of folks at the card tables with about 5 minutes left to spend them. If it did them any good, I'll be surprised, but glad to have been of service.

All in all, we were glad we went to the event, despite the obvious problems. Between my brother and I (I won a prize by having my number called during the raffle they called numbers for every half-hour), we won about $30 worth of free Transformers! We also got to be there for the live announcement that next year's BotCon would be in Providence, Rhode Island, the week before the new Transformers movie comes out (i.e., the either the end of June or the beginning of July, but definitely in the summer!). Happy, but exhausted, we left for home, and I caught a plane for Southern California the following day, my 2006 convention experience at an end.

I actually still have some overall comments on the convention, particularly in regard to the Dealer Room, but this is more than enough for readers to slog through in one sitting, so I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 2

I pretty much only got to talk about the game show at BotCon on Monday, and even that took a fair bit of space. Let's see if I can cover the other aspects of the convention with a bit more brevity....

The other main event my brother and I attended on Friday was the TCC Newsletter and Convention Comic panel, where we got a couple of insights into how the club is being run. Of particular interest to me was the fact that, although Fun Publications has been pressuring Takara to complete the production of Astrotrain (the promised first club exclusive), the folks at Takara tend to shuffle their feet for small runs, hoping that the group seeking such runs will eventually give up (note: this doesn't seem to be a problem for Japanese companies like eHobby, or for the "Lucky Draw" exclusives, of which very few are ever made. One can only assume that the fact that Fun Publications is an American company is a factor.). FP hasn't given up, but this attitude has contributed to the delay in getting Astrotrain to club members. FP currently expects pre-orders to be available in November, with the toy shipping around February or March.

Since we were commuting from Louisville, and since most of the events we wanted to see were on Saturday, my brother and I actually left the convention by dinnertime, although we did spend some time in the Dealer Room (which I'll talk about more on Friday's blog entry). On Saturday, we arrived around 10 am or so to see the line of walk-in hopefuls waiting to get in. It was very long, and we were glad we had pre-registered. I was also glad I had made the extra trip on Friday to pick up my exclusives, as they were already sold out by the time we'd arrived on Saturday.

After a short time in the Dealer Room, we went to the Hasbro product unveiling. Although there were a few new revelations, including the expected repaint of Classics Bumblebee into Cliffjumper (but apparently without bothering to remold the head), but most of the stuff they talked about had already been revealed online. They also showed a brief video clip designed to hype the upcoming movie, but it really wasn't anything special, and didn't show any Transformers (at least, not as robots) at all. It could have a been pretty much any summer movie. Lots of explosions and cars flipping, but nothing much else. Still, the crowd seemed to be pleased, and asked for a second viewing. Since this was the end of the forum, my brother and I skipped out of the second viewing to get in the line for Peter Cullen autographs.

I've already shown off a picture demonstrating that I had gotten to the end of that line, but here's one with my brother, who had Cullen sign his re-issue Optimus Prime, followed by a close-up of the signed box.

Unfortunately, the autograph line was very long, and so we were unable to attend the Transformers Club Roundtable, which wasn't too big a deal to my brother, who's not a club member, but I really wanted to be there. Ahh, well. I guess that's what we get for choosing not to go to the first Cullen signing, which would have required that we arrive by 9:30 that morning.

Part of the reason we chose not to do that is because we knew that Saturday would be our long day, culminating with the Casino Night and Dinner that evening. I've got plenty of comments on that, too, but it seems that I've already written for quite a long stretch, and I've got quite a bit to say about this, so I'll just close with this picture of the line waiting to get in to the dinner, and promise to continue my BotCon reflections with a bonus entry tomorrow, finishing with more general reflections on Friday.

Monday, October 2, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 1

Well, this year's BotCon has come and gone. While I was not able to spend the entire weekend at the convention, I spend a good part of Friday and most of Saturday there. Lots of stuff to talk about, but here are a few highlights for right now.

After collecting my box set of toys and securing the extra souvenirs (at a whopping $150 more for those four figures!) on Friday, the first thing my brother and I got to see was the "Faction Feud" game (or, at least, the first rounds of it. We didn't get to see the ones they played on Sunday). While these first games were plagued by a bit of technical difficulties, and some confusion that is perfectly natural for the first time doing a particular kind of attraction, the basic format of the game worked well, and I think was a lot of fun for all concerned. I like to think that I had a hand in getting that idea off the ground when I first suggested doing a "game show" event at the top of the year on the club message boards, and although the game that was played was not quite as I had envisioned it at the time, I think that it was very successful, and has tremendous potential for future conventions as they work out the kinks. One suggestion: Don't make the third round worth so much that it invalidates the previous rounds put together (in this case, it was 1000 points per question in Rounds 1 and 2, and 10000 points per question in Round 3). Rather, I would suggest 1000 points each in Round 1, 2000 points in Round 2, and 3000 points in Round 3. It's perfectly fine for later Rounds to be worth more, to make it possible for a team behind to catch up if they rally. But the point system used here was excessive.

I'm spending much of today catching up at work, making up for the days I took off to attend the convention. I'll have lots more to say on Wednesday when I've got more time to devote to typing it all out. In the meantime, I will close by adding that it was a privilege to meet Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime), who was kind enough to stay beyond his previously-agreed autograph time to make sure that everyone that made it in line got a chance to see him. While I'd gotten an autograph of Cullen in 2004, that was part of the pre-registration package, and I did not actually meet him at that time. This year, I corrected that oversight. Here's a picture my brother took while I was getting my program signed (click the picture for a larger version).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

When Teddy Bears Attack

Because some things are so bizarre that they simply must be blogged about, here's a recent news article:

Teddy Bear Slaughters 2,500 Trout

I'll be back after BotCon!

Friday, September 22, 2006

BotCon Cometh

In less than a week now, I will in KY to attend this year's BotCon. There will be no blog update for Friday, September 29th, as I will be at the convention. I do expect to post highlights on Monday after I return.

In the meantime, my brother (who will attend with me) and I are coordinating our schedules so that we can catch all the parts of the convention that are important to us, while leaving some time to visit with the rest of my family in Louisville that weekend.

Without question, my wife is taking the more "spiritual" route. She and my mom will the visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani, where noted author and Catholic thinker Thomas Merton spent so many years.

I am already reading on the message boards that some fans are already packing. I'm not quite there yet, but I do need to spend this weekend getting things in order. We have our plane tickets, but we need to make plans to get us to the airport, to have our cat taken care of, and financial arrangements to put in order so we have ready cash for when we're out of town without easy access to an ATM we won't have to pay stiff fees on using (needless to say, we expect to buy a few things at the convention). I need to make sure that the situation at my day-job is set up for my two-day absence next week. Also, I need to work ahead a bit to make sure that my weekly podcast does not get interrupted by the fact that I will be out of town next weekend. So much to do, so little time!

But, as short as that time is, BotCon is not here yet. I'll have my regular blog updates next week on Monday and Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Game Show Theory

I was speaking with a friend the other day, who happens to be involved in an inter-religious dialogue group. She told me that the theme for this year's gathering would discuss pluralism, and that (among other things) one of the participants was looking to write a sketch based on the game show Let's Make a Deal. That got me thinking....

Now, I don't pretend to understand "game theory," and I expect I'm taking the concept behind Let's Make a Deal in a wholly different direction than is intended by the participant in the inter-religious dialogue, but thinking through the mechanics behind the show, I'm working on a concept that I'm going to call "game show theory."

Using Let's Make a Deal to illustrate the concept of pluralism, the subject ("contestant" just doesn't sound right, even considering the whimsical nature of this enterprise) begins with a certain belief system. We'll call this "Religion Number 1." Monty Hall now gives the subject the option of keeping the belief system he/she already has, or trading it in for another belief system, which we'll call "Religion Number 2." The subject does not know the intricacies of this belief system until he/she has decided to choose it, at which point the subject may decide whether or not the new system (assuming it was chosen) is right for him/her. The subject may choose to "walk away" and keep his/her present belief system at any time, or the subject may hope that Monty Hall will make an offer for a "Religion Number 3." This process may repeat for as many times as the subject wishes, so long as Monty Hall keeps making new offers. However, at some point the subject dies, at which point no new offers can be made.

Alternatively, pluralism might be likened to Deal or No Deal. There are many religions to choose from, and the subject chooses one. That religion is the subject's to keep, unless he/she decides to make a deal for another offer. The subject then learns about some of the religions that were not chosen. As these religions are eliminated, the "banker" proposes a deal for a new religion, using the information learned about the eliminated religions in an attempt to make the deal more appealing to the subject. The subject may then accept the deal, or continue to eliminate other religions in an attempt to get the best possible final result. However, the subject may come to regret his/her choice, as the options-not-chosen are revealed and eliminated.

Of course, there are a number of flaws to both of these analogies (not least of which being that these games don't enable a person to go back to a religion he/she once abandoned, which of course happens in real life all the time), and I don't really think that matters of religion are as simplistic as "just choose one." These matters are tied up in cultural backgrounds, life experiences, and (dare I say it?) the calling of God. But the fact that there are all these competing belief systems out there is a fact of life that believers of all stripes must deal with.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Woo, hoo! Soundwave!

There have been rumors for a little while now, but finally we have the support of actual pictures. Despite the fact that Hasbro told fans not that long ago that there were "no plans" for any further Generation One reissues (which wasn't surprising given how badly many of them warmed the shelves at Toys R Us last year), we'll be getting at least one more highly sought after "reissue" in the near future: Soundwave. Check out the pics at

These pictures confirm a few details about the reissue.
  1. The toy will indeed be using the "Soundblaster" version of the mold, which features room to hold not just one, but two cassettes.
  2. The two cassettes to be included will be Laserbeak and Ravage, arguably the most popular of the cassette figures.
  3. The reissue will be in the original "Soundwave" colors (despite using the "Soundblaster" mold variant).
I haven't found a firm release date for this toy, although it is suspected to be available in time for Christmas at Toys R Us (the toy may or may not be exclusive to TRU, as the other reissues have been) for about $30 (which is a far fairer price for this toy than it was for most of the other reissues we've seen previously!).

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Green with Envy

It was recently reported that the Hartmans (the same brothers who were selling the G2 Protectobots and Stunticons on eBay recently) are going to be selling off their entire collection of Transformers (long understood to be one of the most complete in existence) at Botcon at the end of the month.

They just released these pictures of parts of their collection.

It's a Transformers fan's fantasy come true. Wall-to-wall Transformers on display. Like going to Toys R Us, but instead of being cluttered up with all those other toy lines, it's just Transformers everywhere.

Sadly, I doubt I'll have the funds to purchase so much as one of the toys from this particular collection. Still, one can drool over the pictures....

Friday, September 1, 2006

Star Trek: The Special Edition

Surprisingly, it seems that the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek has not gone unnoticed by the folks at Paramount. Starting on September 16th, the Original Series (that is, the one with Kirk and Spock from the 60's) will be returning to broadcast syndication. For the first time in 16 years, those who do not have cable or episodes on DVD will be able to enjoy these episodes.

But there's a twist. It turns out that these episodes have been given the "Special Edition" treatment (to use the term used for George Lucas' re-working of the original Star Wars trilogy before the prequels were completed). All 76 Original Series episodes have been re-worked with new special effects and CGI work, and will be broadcast out-of-sequence one episode a week. We'll see if the new effects are enough to bring viewers back to the franchise, which has been laying low since the demise of the often-ridiculed Star Trek: Enterprise and the lower-than-desirable box office figures for Star Trek: Nemesis, the 10th and latest theatrical feature.

In totally unconnected TV news, it appears that the best thing about The Apprentice has, herself, been fired. I'm actually pretty upset about this turn of events....

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pictures for upcoming Transformers movie robots revealed

OK. This one definitely falls into the "do I really want to talk about this?" category. The pictures seem to be unofficial, but confirmed by the producers of the upcoming Transformers movie as legitimate. They can be found on TFW2005, which I'm told is now requiring browsers to register with their site. If you're up for it, it's free.

I don't really want to get into a huge bitch-fest over these. I'm fully aware that the characters here are not, and should not be, the same as the ones I knew from 20 years ago. I'm perfectly cool with that. Still, I hate these designs. They look overdone to me, and more than a little "skeletal." Perhaps the powers-that-be wanted to highlight the robotic nature of these characters.

It should also be noted that these all represent, to some degree or another, works in progress. Still, I don't expect significant changes to be made at this point. What we see here is a clear indication of the basic design intention the movie producers are using. I just wish I could say that I agreed with them more.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Great Tigatron Debate

A couple of days ago, this thread appeared at TFW2005, showing a picture of what is assumed to be an exclusive toy available at BotCon next month: Tigatron. This has reignited a surprisingly large amount of debate.

For the uninitiated, here's a brief primer: Tigatron was one of the first characters introduced after the beginning of the Beast Wars cartoon about a decade ago. It is strongly implied in the cartoon that "new" characters (with one or two explicit exceptions) were actually born during the events of the series, and therefore did not exist prior to it. Since the toys at BotCon this year are meant to establish "pre-Beast Wars" versions of Beast Wars characters, a BotCon Tigatron would appear to contradict established continuity.

The "real world" reasons why Fun Publications would want to produce a Tigatron toy are obvious. Cheetor is already established as a toy in the exclusive box set, and FP has spent a considerable amount of money giving this toy a new head (as opposed to the one molded into the Clocker toy that Cheetor is based on). Since the original Tigatron is a straight repaint of the original Cheetor toy, it makes economical sense for FP to get another recolor out of their new Cheetor head by making a Tigatron exclusive, as well.

Now, I'm already on record on several of the message boards as saying that it's not a big deal to establish a "pre-Beast Wars" form for Tigatron, and an explanation could easily be written that would not violate the established continuity of the cartoon. This has not placated many fans, some of whom contend that an essential part of Tigatron's character (indeed, the essential part, to hear some tell it) is his origins on Earth, and that Tigatron therefore feels more comfortable in natural surroundings than among the technology in his friends' home base. But surely there are many people who grew up in the "big city" who today feel more comfortable in "natural" surroundings, even here on Earth, where I expect we can safely assume that we share a common planet of birth. Even more to the point, although it is well-established that Tigatron has no memory of the Transformers' home planet, this could simply be the result of amnesia (it is also established that there were problems with Tigatron's "datatracks" during his "birth"), which would of course make it natural for Tigatron to prefer whatever settings he finds familiar, which in this case would be the natural environment that is the first thing he remembers.

It is certainly the case that Pete Sinclair, one of the most respected Transformers fans behind BotCon, has assured fans that many of the writers behind the series have given their okay to the story we'll be getting, and that nothing in the BotCon toys and story will contradict the cartoon. But whether or not an explanation can be made is, perhaps, beside the point. I would certainly agree that the intention of the writers 10 years ago was that Tigatron (and most other "new" characters established during the course of the series) be considered "newborns," despite some of the logistical and moral implications of such a position (for example, is it ethical to populate an exploratory vessel with innocent lives, before they've had any opportunity to choose for themselves what kind of life they desire?). If the people behind BotCon care as much about the established Transformers myth as they claim to (and I've no doubt they do), then arguably they should have respected the apparent intention of the original stories, even if it is possible to "explain" a "pre-Beast Wars" Tigatron.

I expect that this argument will continue for quite some time. For me, I have no problem with "pre-Beast Tigatron." The toy looks cool, it makes good economic sense for FP to make it, and I look forward to adding it to my collection and seeing what explanation the writers of the convention comic will provide for the character's existence.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Final value: ATB Megatron on eBay. PLUS: The Reflectionary

Yesterday, the ATB Megatron auction ended with a final value of $1525, won by a bidder who had not won any of the previous auctions. This was the final of the expected Hartman rare TF auctions (although a few more have since appeared, so it's anybody's guess if the auctions are really done now). The grand total for all 10 auctions done over the past several months is $22,739.33.

Also, the first episode of my new podcast, The Reflectionary, is now up. Although I hope to improve my broadcasting and editing abilities in future weeks, this one should at least give an idea for what I intend to do with the concept. The RSS feed is available on the link, as well as a link to the MP3 file itself.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Well, This was Unexpected

It appears that the Hartmans have at least a couple more auctions up their sleeves, and they're not waiting a few more weeks to share them.

Auction 1
Auction 2

Both of these auctions are for prototypes of what they called "Go-Bots" in Generation Two. These are "Hot Wheels"-style cars, complete with free-rolling wheels and compatible with Hot Wheels race tracks, that turn into robots. Unlike all the auctions we've seen up to this point, these toys were never produced in packaging, even in small quantities. Had these prototypes made it to that stage of production, the colors would have been different.

In each of these auctions, two of the three molds available were eventually released as part of the "Robots in Disguise" line, but the third mold has never seen wide production, possibly because of a mold problem that makes the robot unable to hold the weapon that accompanies it.

Both auctions represent one-of-a-kind opportunities to own a piece of Transformers history. Expect the bids to go quite high. They're each at $34.33 right now.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Transformers Club and Convention News

Sometimes you just can't win. At one time, it seemed like I couldn't say anything nice about Fun Publications, and so I resolved to try harder to give them a chance and be fair. Now, I'm accused of constantly "carrying [their] banner" as if I can say nothing bad about them. Ahhh, well. As I say to my detractor on the Allspark, my record will have to speak for itself. I'm done continuing that argument.

However, there IS a fair bit of news to report, since Fun Publications owner Brian Savage came on the club message boards last night for the first time in many weeks (since taking care of obligations for the recent GI Joe convention in New Orleans). He answered a great deal of questions about the running of the club and the upcoming convention, and since it's been a while since the last time I posted such reports from the board, now seems like a good time:
  • In the topic, "Logistics Question for Club Exclusives?" Brian told us that there is no particular number of toys that must be sold in order for an exclusive to become profitable. It depends on the piece being considered, and (of course) the price charged for it.
  • There were some recent issues at the club store, largely centered around the attempt to sell a few specimens of the San Diego Comic-Con "exclusive" (apparently available through several other outlets) Nemesis Prime. In the thread titled "Store Problems! Issues with my cart etc." Brian detailed some of the issues that came up in yesterday's frenzy to get the toy, and also detailed some of the problems store often has in keeping stock current with new items in general. Long story short on that one: Hasbro sends retailers toys in mixed cases of several different toys, and usually newer toys are packed alongside older ones. This means that, in order for a retailer to get the newer toys to sell to customers, they must also buy the older toys in that case. Often, retailers are reluctant to pick up too many such cases, lest they be stuck with a bunch of toys that customers already have, and so the newer toys are harder to find. This problem is exacerbated with online retailers, but happens in brick-and-mortar stores, too.
  • In the thread: "Question on Battle Of The Boards: which day?" Brian established that the "Family Feud" style event (for which I like to think I was partly responsible for convincing the folks at FP was viable) will likely take place over a few days, depending on how many teams participate. Also, the way I read it (it seems subject to interpretation), the administrators of the various message boards will be responsible for sending in the names of people to be on their boards' teams, so if you're interested, talk to your friendly board administrator!
  • In "Casino night and dinner...", Brian establishes that the dinner this year will be a buffet. There should be no longer be a problem because people can't eat certain items due to dietary restrictions.
  • In regard to "Autographs" at the convention, people who sign up for the Primus or Protoform packages to attend the convention do not have to pay for celebrity autographs (although they are asked to bring no more than 2 items to sign per turn in line). For General Admission folks, there will be a $5 charge to allow you to go through the line once with 2 items.
  • Back to something more club specific, people are always asking if there will be "New Head Molds for the Free Club Figures?" Brian suggested that for such remolded heads to be economically viable, there will need to be around 4,000+ people in the club. We're apparently a few thousand short of that at present.
  • And, finally, in a thread titled (appropriately enough) "Contests," Brian announces that forms and rules for entering the customs contest will be up at within the next 10 days. Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Season Ending Epics

A couple of weeks ago, the last episode of the new Doctor Who's second season aired. While I won't spoil anything here for those who may still have a chance to catch it later in America, I will say that it pulls out all the stops.

This fact, observed by a reviewer at Outpost Gallifrey, prompted me to echo his basic question: just when did season finales have to be bigger and more "epic" than other episodes in the season?

In American television, this has indeed been the pattern for quite some time, especially in the "cliffhanger" phenomenon, which I have comments on, but will leave those for another time. In Doctor Who, it's not quite as common. Looking back at the old series, I'd say the following seasons ended with "special events" (admitting that the term is being rather loosely and unscientifically defined at the moment, and acknowledging that classic-era Doctor Who is best understood in terms of story arcs, rather than as individual episodes):
  • Season One: "The Reign of Terror" (first example of the Doctor playing a double role, this time as one of the antagonists)
  • Season Two: "The Time Meddler" (the first appearance of another member of the Doctor's own race)
  • Season Four: "The Evil of the Daleks" (intended to write the Daleks, the main villains of the franchise, out of Doctor Who entirely. In fact, they appeared again just over four years later)
  • Season Six: "The War Games" (a 10-part story designed to write Patrick Troughton out of the role of the Doctor. Featured the first appearance of the Doctor's still-unnamed home planet)
  • Season Eleven: "Planet of the Spiders" (designed to write Jon Pertwee out of the role of the Doctor, and showing the regeneration into Tom Baker. Other Pertwee-era season enders did feature the final appearance of certain companions, but I couldn't otherwise justify including them in this list)
  • Season Twelve: "Revenge of the Cybermen" (the first appearance of the Cybermen [not including a cameo in "Carnival of Monsters"] in six years)
  • Season Fifteen: "The Invasion of Time" (takes place on the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey. However, it should be noted that "The Deadly Assassin," which was the first ever story to be fully set on Gallifrey, was not a season ender.)
  • Season Sixteen: "The Armageddon Factor" (as the final part of a year-long story arc, of course it was special!)
  • Season Eighteen: "Logopolis" (the departure of Tom Baker as the longest-serving Doctor to date)
  • Season Twenty-One: "The Twin Dilemma" (the first story featuring Colin Brown as the Doctor. This is the first time that the final story for an actor as the Doctor did not take place at the end of a season since William Hartnell, the First Doctor)
  • Season Twenty-Three: "The Ultimate Foe" (also known as the final segment of the year-long "Trial of a Time Lord" story. See Season Sixteen for justification. This also happened to be the last story to feature Colin Brown as the Doctor, but since this was not intentional, his last appearance hardly counts as justification for calling the season finale as an "event.")
  • Season Twenty-Four: "Dragonfire" (the appearance of Season Twenty-Three character Sabolom Glitz, the first appearance of companion Ace, and the departure of companion Mel, taken together, seem justification for calling this an event, but any one of these in isolation probably wouldn't)
That's 12 out of 26 seasons. Almost half. That would appear to make ending a season "with a bang" not uncommon, but not necessarily to be expected. However, I should also note (as I did in regard to the story "The Deadly Assassin") that quite a few "events" happened at other times in season. For example, all the "multiple Doctors" stories don't follow the above pattern:
  • "The Three Doctors" was the first story of Season Ten (almost a full year before the actual 10th anniversary of the program).
  • "The Five Doctors" didn't take place within a conventional season at all, but aired around the 20th anniversary of the program, between seasons Twenty and Twenty-One.
  • "The Two Doctors" was smack-dab in the middle of Season Twenty-Two.
This would lead one to wonder how much the producers of Doctor Who intended their season finales to be "events." Anyway, the topic is open for debate.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

BotCon: The Die is Cast*

Well, I've finally done it. I've sent in my pre-registration for this year's BotCon, in Lexington, KY (as well as that for my brother, who lives in Louisville, and will be joining me there).

In the weeks and months to come, I'll no doubt have more to report on what exclusives and features will actually be offered at the convention. Likewise, I'll no doubt have specifics to talk about during and after the convention itself. This entry is not about any of those things.

Rather, I'm feeling reflective on having finished making the commitment to go to what will be my third Transformers convention (the other two being BotCon '98 in Anaheim and BotCon '04 in Pasadena). Of course, my mind was made up long ago, and having already made the plane reservations for a trip to KY (this will be the first time I've actually had to fly to get to a BotCon!), one could definitely argue that I was already committed to this trip. Still, sending in the registration (and the check for nearly $350!) was the last step.

On the Official Club message boards (I'd give a link, but unless you're a member, it won't let you in, anyway), I've recently been arguing that BotCon is not for everybody. To read the responses there, one would think that to make such a statement is sacrilegious. Everyone who loves Transformers should go, they say! And, I would certainly agree (and have done) that anyone who is able to go should at least give it a shot. You really can't know if you'll like it until you've tried it.

But, the thing is, I have given this a shot twice now. And it's okay. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be bothering to go again. But, to be honest, I'm really not interested in what some people call "the whole convention experience." If other people like that, I'm certainly not intending to begrudge them. Go. Have fun. And I've certainly had occasion to recall (as recently as yesterday) some of the really cool people I've met at previous conventions. Getting to meet face-to-face fellow Transfans is definitely one of the reasons to go to a convention.

But, speaking purely for myself, those kinds of experiences, as valuable and important as they are, have never been (to me) worth spending the kinds of money necessary to attend a convention. As has been well established in the fandom (to the point of insanity, often times), the location will always be an inconvience to the majority of those who want to go. There's no way around that. I've been extremely fortunate to have two previous conventions available close enough to drive to (in fact, the 2004 convention was only a couple of blocks from where I work!). Most fans never get that chance.

I should stop briefly to emphasize that I am not here complaining about the price of the convention. Although it is admittedly higher under Fun Publications that it was for the other conventions I attended, I was perfectly willing to spend extra money for the exclusives at both conventions. There are simply more exclusives available now than there were then (granted, my brother is paying more just to get in the door on Friday than I ever had to pay, sans exclusives).

But the fact remains that, as impressive as this year's set of exclusives are, I wouldn't be going if my family didn't live within driving distance of the convention, allowing me to visit and stay with them (I might pay for the non-attendee exclusive set, but the price is rather high for that...). And I really probably won't go beyond the Friday that I'll be going with my brother to pick up my toys. I'm going to try to keep an open mind on that one. I'll be in the area through Sunday (the convention actually starts on Thursday, but I won't arrive until Thursday night in Louisville, so I'll miss that anyway).

I actually expect that I'm kind of an oddball among Transformers fans (one could well argue that being a Transformers fan makes me something of an oddball to begin with, so I'm kind of doomed). Although there are a few people I've met that I've truly enjoyed getting to know (and hopefully you know who you are), whenever I go to the convention, I just can't shake the supreme sense of alienation I feel at seeing so many people around who strike me as simply.... freaky (and hopefully you don't know who you are!). While I know that this is an extremely unfair assessment on the basis of no more than a few seconds of distant observation of people I've never met, it's tough to shake.

To judge from the responses of folks on the Club message boards, they would say that I'm not trying hard enough. After all, I haven't given these "freaky" folks a chance, and that's my problem. Perhaps I can (and should) try harder. However, I am different than most fans (and most people in general), and I'm actually fairly comfortable with myself for all that. People are different. What works for one person won't work for everybody. A convention that's worth the cost of admission for one won't be worth it for all. And I strongly resist being told that, if someone doesn't enjoy it, that's their own fault. That's just not fair. Why not just accept that the convention can't, and shouldn't, please everybody?

*By now, I've probably disappointed a lot of readers who read "die-cast" in the subject, and thought I was about to report that the BotCon exclusive toys will be made out of die-cast metal. Sorry. Not going to happen (I happen to be one of those "freaks" who prefers plastic to die-cast, anyway...).

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