Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Duel: Part Two

For my 500th post, I'm pulling out a piece that I've been sitting on for quite a few weeks now. Having mentioned quite some time ago that I'd tried out for the game show Duel, some of my friends were naturally expecting some follow-up. I didn't feel free to write more at the time for fear of jeopardizing my chance at being a contestant, having signed a non-disclosure agreement since my first post. Now that most of the second season of the show has actually aired, I feel that I can safely tell the rest of the story.

Let me take you back to early this past March, about a week after my earlier post. I got a call from one of the contestant coordinators from Duel at about 5:30 pm that evening, and was informed that I had been selected to return to the studio to have a second audition. They suggested a time of 2:30 pm the next day. I agreed rather quickly, knowing that I had not yet had a chance to actually get the time off of work, but fearing that if I asked for time to make up my mind, I'd lose my chance to audition. Thankfully, my coworkers were gracious, and I was able to make sure that someone covered my obligations for the day, so I once again braved the LA traffic (which I absolutely hate!) to head to the studio.

The second audition was a bit more game-focused than the first, and I was able to actually play a mock-up against a fellow would-be contestant. For those who haven't seen the game, here's the idea: two players are each given a total of 10 chips. They are then asked a series of trivia questions, each with four potential answers. The idea is to make sure that the correct answer is covered by a chip, but you can actually cover up to all four possible answers if you're not sure. If both contestants have covered the correct answer, the game continues, but any chips played on incorrect answers are lost, leaving fewer chips to play on future questions. The contestant that has a correct answer covered when his/her opponent fails to do so wins the game, and a cash prize corresponding to however many questions were asked in that duel (this is a change since the first season).

There were eight of us auditioning to be on the show at this particular session, and we played a total of six mock-up games between us. I only had a chance to play the last game, and I played it against a person who had won the previous four games. My game was one of the longer matches of the afternoon, and I was down to my last chip for a couple of questions running, but I nevertheless managed to eke out a victory. Having proven my ability to beat an obviously intelligent opponent in a fairly long game, I left the audition satisfied that I had done as good as I could possibly have hoped to do, and hoped to get another call back so that I could actually be a contestant on the real show and play for actual money.

It should be obvious to everyone by now that this call never came.

By the first five minutes of watching the first new show at the beginning of this past month, I was pretty sure I knew why I hadn't been chosen to play. Like many other game shows, the contestant coordinators were looking for "characters" to play the show. Players danced around, acted goofy, engaged in trash-talk, etc. Although I consider myself fairly... unique, this just isn't me, and I actually felt embarrassed to watch. Moreover, I was able to answer most of the questions with fewer "chips" than the contestants on the show most of the time, so I felt a bit insulted that these folks had gotten on and I hadn't. I fully admit that this is, at least in part, "sour grapes" (there were undeniably a few contestants this past couple of weeks that probably would have beaten me), but I still was bothered that the show had changed in this way.

I knew from my audition that a few changes were being made to the game play between the first season and this one. I knew about the infamous (among certain game show fans, anyway) "money tree," for example, and I knew about the "MAX question" would could double a contestant's winnings for the round. But we were told a couple of things that have apparently changed since my audition before the show got on the air. First and foremost, we were told that the prize for winning five games would be a million dollars, not the half-a-million that was eventually available. Also, if a contestant won a game and was given the choice of whether or not to challenge another contestant to continue, they would be only risking half of their winnings to that point, instead of the whole thing. Now, to be fair, neither of these might be actual changes, but may simply be the result of a misinformed contestant coordinator, but I really wish that they'd kept the rule about risking only half of a person's winnings. Anybody who's won a 5-digit sum of money in a single duel would, frankly, be insane to risk the whole wad on a second (of course, there were nonetheless a few folks who did so, and at least one I can think of off the top of my head that lost that huge amount). At least by guaranteeing the contestant half, the show would give much more incentive to actually take the risk.

Actually, on that note, that's been another trend in game shows in the past decade, whereby a contestant who's actually gotten on the show, no mean feat itself, often leaves with nothing. It used to be the case that even "losers" got "lovely parting gifts." Nothing special, of course: perhaps a toaster or some laundry detergent. But they got something (no doubt paid for by the advertisers) for their efforts. That's not the case these days, as often as not. As much as I wish I'd gotten on the show myself, I kind of feel sorry for these folks who got on, but still didn't win anything.

UPDATE: On the last episode aired to date as of May 15th (the episode aired on May 2nd), it was revealed that a player who had won three or more duels and chose to continue playing would only risk half their money, instead of the whole thing. That, at least, makes a bit more sense. You've gotta give someone an incentive to keep playing. The risk should be real, but not stupid....

Monday, April 28, 2008

BotCon 2008 Roundup

As I mentioned on Wendesday, the annual Transformers convention, BotCon, was this weekend. Fans got to see plans for new toys, Transformers-related fiction, interviews with voice actors, and more over the course of just a few days. Although I wasn't able to attend this year (I almost never do unless it's local), much of the experience can be shared vicariously through the Internet. Here are some highlights, hopefully translated into forms that non-Transformers fans can appreciate.

For most fans who grew up with the Transformers in the 80's, the big talk has been about what new "Classics" toys will come out. Hasbro led a Q&A session detailing many of their upcoming plans, and were nice enough to put up a link to pictures on their own page pretty much as soon as the session ended. Already, some folks are concerned about the possibility that the "Ironhide" toy will be not be repainted into Ratchet (the link is for his original G1 form, which was a repaint of the G1 Ironhide toy) for mass retail, leaving Fun Publications to do Ratchet as an exclusive for next year's (or a future) BotCon. I'd be perfectly fine with whatever needs to be done to see a decent Ratchet toy released, but many fans are still up in arms about the release of several of last year's exclusives, insisting that those toys could have been sold at retail had Hasbro not given BotCon the rights to them as exclusives. That's a debate that will apparently continue on into perpetuity. In any event, Hasbro has already indicated the probability of a Ratchet repaint of this Ironhide mold, which I expect means that they'd do it for mass retail.

Newer fans are probably more interested in the toys related to the Animated series currently on Cartoon Network. I'm still on the fence about these. They're pretty nice, but with a limited budget for Transformers, I expect that there are enough "Classics" toys to get priority.

There were also several voice actors from the current Animated series there, although the fact that most fans haven't had access to the toys that go with that series yet might have made it difficult to get autographs. Hasbro did their part, though: Cincinnati (where BotCon was held) was a test market for the figures, so if anyone was able to get away from the convention itself (and if the dealers themselves hadn't cleaned out all the stores!), they might have been able to pick up some of the Animated toys for this purpose.

Also in the vein of "Classics" characters, but a bit of a side-step, apparently Hasbro has announced that the "Titanium" figures (made by a separate branch of the company which include die-cast parts) War Within Prowl and Grimlock ("War Within" refers to a comic series of a few years ago. Transformers on their home world of Cybertron before they came to Earth) will come out as Toys R Us exclusives in September. These particular figures were planned well over a year ago, but the Titaniums line really didn't sell all that well. Despite having die-cast parts (which many fans love, but which I think tend to result in inferior--not to mention more expensive--toys), the line didn't do all that well, and was announced as "canceled" at last year's convention. Apparently, these two figures were far enough in the production process that Hasbro was willing to complete the process as a store exclusive.

The Transformers news sites, of course, have far more detailed lists of the toys scheduled to come out in the next few months, but folks who follow Transformers enough to care probably saw those lists before coming here, so these are just highlights. And you can click the BotCon link at the top of the page to see some pictures and highlights that Fun Publications are putting out themselves.

Of course, a major (some would argue the major) draw for any BotCon are the exclusive toys released at the convention. Over the past few years, I've been keeping a data sheet here on the blog, detailing what exclusives there were, and whether or not they sold out before the convention was over. In maintaining the list this year, I found that the tables were getting too wide for the blog to display properly, so I've updated the data sheet on its own web site, where I hope to continue to reference it for quite some time to come.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Brave Maximus

Robots in Disguise Brave MaximusBy the year 2000, the Transformers franchise in America had been doing Beasts of some kind or another for several years straight, and although the cartoon was enjoyable, I had started to get a bit tired of them. So tired, in fact, that when I was strapped for cash midway into my seminary degree, I made a decision to sell off all Beast-era Transformers from my collection on eBay, and focus my limited funds and space on the earlier toys.

Brave Maximus Robot ModeThen Takara made a decision to do something different than what the American market was doing, and return to mechanical forms in what they called the "Car Robots" line. Like Generation Two, a good number of the toys in this line were simply repaints of earlier toys (including some Beast-era toys!), with a few new designs thrown in. Brave Maximus was one of the repaints: specifically, a repaint of Fortress Maximus, the leader of the 1987-era Headmasters and still the record-holder for the largest Transformer ever made, standing about two feet tall. Obviously, since this toy is a repaint of that one, Brave Maximus shares the record, and literally towers over most other Transformers. Anyway, I took advantage of the opportunity to get the repaint by importing it from a Japanese company.

Cerebros/BraveAs is the case with other Headmasters, Brave Maximus has a head that can come off and transform into another robot. The original Fortress Maximus' head turned into a robot called "Cerebros," who was only a tiny bit smaller than the regular Headmasters toys. The Japanese release of Brave Maximus doesn't call the Cerebros equivalent "Cerebros," but uses the derivative name "Brave." This actually should come as a surprise to no one, since their version of the original Fortress Maximus didn't use the name "Cerebros," either, but called this robot "Fortress." In fact, fans of the Japanese Headmasters cartoon were more likely to see this robot mode than they were the giant robot that constitutes the full "Fortress Maximus" form.

Spike/Plasma/EmissaryThis toy's Headmaster action continues with the Brave robot, as its head also comes off and forms a tiny robot, this one equal in size to the Nebulans that came with the other Headmasters, and interchangeable with them. That's right, this toy is a double-Headmaster! The original American version of this figure was called "Spike," intending the toy to represent the long-time friend of the Autobots from the cartoon. Again, the Japanese didn't use this name for their version of Fortress Maximus, because their entire concept of the Headmasters was different. As readers may remember from the Brainstorm review, in America the Headmasters were a fusion of two beings: one Transformer and one human(oid), whereas the Japanese Headmasters were just tiny robots who created larger bodies for themselves. Hence, no need for a separate name for the tiny robot, since it just represented a smaller part of the same character. However, when the "Brave Maximus" version of the toy was created, this toy was unique among others in its line. There were no other Headmasters around. Perhaps this explains why the the Japanese went the additional step of calling this tiny robot "Plasma," rather than just going with "Brave" again.

Brave Maximus City ModeLike Metroplex before him, this toy was created to turn into a small city, and incorporated a number of features in which smaller Transformers toys could interact. In the case of the "Car Robots" Brave Maximus release, the back of the instruction sheet doubles as a play mat with street designs on it, and spaces marked out that (roughly) correspond to parts of Brave Maximus' city mode. This was done so that Brave Maximus could interact with the "Spychanger" toys that were also released with this line. Although Fortress Maximus was not designed with this scale in mind, these toys do work fairly well. If you look really closely, you might be able to make out the "Brave" unit (the intermediary body, that is) in the center-right of the city, transformed into some unidentifiable form that pretty much only serves to give that chunk of plastic a place to go in this mode. The two ramps on each side are equipped with little sliding "launchers" which could be used to propel Spychangers (or similarly sized vehicles) along and down the ramps.

Brave Maximus Jail CellAmong the features of Brave Maximus' city mode is a small jail cell on one side. Basically, you play with a smaller toy and march it up that little staircase, then flip the door down from the top "locking" it inside. This perhaps made more sense in the original Fortress Maximus version, since there were actually Decepticon toys small enough to use this feature back in 1987. The toys in "Car Robots" small enough to actually fit in this compartment were all Autobots!

Brave Maximus CompartmentOn the opposite side of the city was another set of "stairs" leading to a compartment too small for any but the smallest of Transformers toy to interact with. Also, just immediately to the left, you can just barely see a small ramp leading into the center of the city. If you have a toy small enough to fit in there, you can turn on a small crank just above to raise and lower an elevator inside. However, there are so few Transformers toys small enough (the tiny "Plasma" figure is small enough, though) to take advantage of this, I pretty much never use it. This toy's too big and unwieldy for me to "play" with all that much, anyway. Bringing the toy out for this photoshoot was the most interaction I've had with this toy in years! It's pretty much a display piece.

Brave Maximus Battle ModeJust like Metroplex changes from city to a seldom-used battle station mode, this toy also has a third mode. I've heard this mode variously referred to as a battle station or a spaceship, depending on continuity. It's not like it really resembles a spaceship all that well, but this was the mode you pretty much always would see this toy in when it was seen in the Japanese Headmasters cartoon, so who am I to judge? I don't think this mode was ever used by Brave Maximus in the Car Robots cartoon, though. (It was used by this character in a later continuity, but the less said about that one, the better!)

Brave Maximus TowerIf you want to, you can take the tiny "Plasma" robot and put it in that little green tower (available in both alternate modes, actually, although it was facing backwards in city mode), where it fits rather comfortably. I'm sure that the Nebulan components of other Headmasters would also fit in here, just as well. Imagine that the small robot is controlling everything from this watchful position, if you like.

Brave Maximus Repro WeaponsA quick disclaimer: the two hand-held weapons (also seen in the various modes above in the positions suggested by G1 Fortress Maximus' instructions) did not actually come with my Brave Maximus toy. In fact, Brave Maximus is a somewhat gutted repaint. The only way you could get official "Brave Maximus versions" of these weapons, as well as the equivalent to Fortress Maximus' "Cog," was to win a "Lucky Draw" contest held in Japan. This makes these parts very expensive. I got the hand-held weapons you see here from a guy who used to make wonderfully high-quality reproduction parts before he suffered a series of strokes a number of years ago. This was a true loss to the fandom, as his work really was top-notch. In fact, he really wasn't very happy with how these particular pieces turned out at all (you probably can't tell from the pictures, but you can see a number of air holes if you look at the weapons closely enough) and so he sold them to me a dirt-cheap prices! I've kept the web site on my radar in case the guy behind it recovers enough to begin work once again someday, but I really don't expect anything at this point, and there are in fact rumors that the site has been sold.

Actually, most Americans think of this character as "Fortress Maximus," fully recognizing the difference between this toy and the original. They are not wrong to do so. When the "Car Robots" line was eventually imported into America as the "Robots in Disguise" line, along with the corresponding cartoon (dubbed into English), this character was called "Fortress Maximus," and was a fairly important part of the Robots in Disguise cartoon. The name "Cerebros" was also carried over into the American cartoon, although Spike was not (in fact, Cerebros was the name of the smallest robot in Robots in Disguise, with the intermediate robot being called "the Emissary"). However, although Hasbro had every intention of bringing this toy to American shores, child safety laws had changed a fair bit since 1987, and the gargantuan toy could no longer pass what is often referred to as the "drop test." The idea is that a toy, if dropped from a certain height, either doesn't break or, if it does, any broken parts cannot be considered unsafe for children. For example, if a large plastic piece breaks off into shards that can cut a child, it is considered unsafe. I do not know the specifics of this toy's failure to pass the "drop test." Only that this is the test it failed to pass, and it was considered either impossible or not cost-effective (again, I don't know which) to fix the problem. I was unaware of these issues when I bought this toy. In fact, I imported it from Japan not aware at the time that Hasbro would ever bring the "Car Robots" toys to America at all. To this day, there remain a number of toys that were available in the Japanese market that have never come to the States, and I had every reason to believe that this toy would be one of them, even though I had no reason to suspect that the ultimate reason would be one of safety regulations.

Brave Maximus with Spychanger ScourgeAlthough this has already shaped up to be one of the longest (if not the longest) reviews I've yet done, I have to point out just one more feature that's more serendipity than planned. You've probably noticed the bright green on the toy's right shoulder (as you're looking at it). This is a door that opens up to reveal yet another compartment. A major plot point of the cartoon involved a Decepticon named "Scourge" (in the US version) taking control of Fortress Maximus, and positioning himself in that compartment while he attempted to destroy all of his enemies. The small toy you see in this picture, however, did not exist in the Japanese line, but was created by Hasbro to boost the US line while they were trying to figure out how to release the larger toy as a retail exclusive. So what you see here is a toy only available in the US inside of a toy only available from Japan: a meeting of two cultures!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It Has Begun: BotCon 2008

Once again, I find myself having to enjoy the annual Transformers convention from the window of Internet access. I'll have a more complete update on Monday, after the dust has settled a bit, and I can provide links to pictures from the official site. I'm sure a few folks wonder why I bother. After all, this isn't really a TF news site. There are other sites out there with far better direct access to news, and who can post that news in a far more timely fashion.

But I never really set out to be a TF news source. In fact, I don't consider Transformers fans to be my primary audience. My primary audience is the group of my friends and acquaintances (both real-life and "virtual") who know me and think well enough of me to check out this blog and see what I'm thinking about. And, as often as not, I'm thinking about what goes on in the world of Transformers. I'd like to think that there are reasons for this beyond some deep-seated oddity in my psyche. For example, I've actually developed a couple of connections in the past year or two whereby I'm actually making significant contributions to the fandom at large, and so have good reason to be spending my time on those endeavors (of course, those connections have only happened because I was interested in that stuff anyway, so the deep-seated psyche stuff remains...). In any event, it is my hope that I can communicate some of that interest in ways that people who may not necessarily share it can nonetheless understand.

For the sake of these friends who won't already know, I should be clear that the only part of the convention that's already started as of today is one of the customizing classes. These classes are a popular event each year, but only a small handful of people are able to attend. These lucky few are given access to a toy (often unpainted and occasionally still on the sprues on which they were originally molded), and access to tools and paints under the guidance of an experienced customizer (this past few years, that's been Shawn Tessmann, a pretty all-around-decent guy). Members of the class are given instructions on how to turn these elements into an all-new character, but are given freedom to deviate from these instructions and do something all their own, should they so choose.

In the past, the identity of the mold to be customized has been announced in advance, but Shawn chose to keep that a secret this time around. Now that the class has begun, the secret is out: class members are customizing an early release of Nightbeat, the upcoming club exclusive, in order to make an "evil" version in keeping with the exclusive toys coming out this weekend at BotCon.

Truth be told, I really should have figured this out already. As part of the "connections" I've made, I was given some information related to this custom that no one else knew about, but I didn't put the pieces together properly. It's just as well that I didn't, though. I'm under a non-disclosure agreement not to divulge information that's not yet been made public, and so I couldn't have shared the information early, anyway. I only hope that my confession that I still didn't figure out the implications of that information ahead of time offsets any bragging that saying "I had information other people didn't get" indicates.

More to come....

Monday, April 21, 2008

He, Grimlock!

Members of the Official Transformers Club have been having a bit of fun over the past year. We've taken a Classics Grimlock figure, and have been sending it around to club members all over the world so they can take pictures of him in various surroundings. If you've seen the movie Amelie, this might be compared to what Amelie did with her father's garden gnome.

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to be granted access to this figure last week. I had to package it right back up again and send it on to someone else in order to be sure that Grimlock made it to BotCon for this weekend, but I was still able to take a few shots in my apartment and at work while I had the figure. Most of these pictures are only available to club members via the club forums. However, I did save one picture for this blog, featuring the seldom-seen G.B. Blackrock custom figure. Enjoy! (As always, you can click on the image for a larger view)
Transformers Club members can go to the "Me, Grimlock" forum and click on the thread entitled "Grimlock Visit Log: G.B. Blackrock", and you'll see the rest of the pictures I took with Grimlock in the short time I had him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: G2 Dreadwing and Smokescreen

Although the first toys to come out of the Generation Two line were merely repaints of older Transformers, there were a number of unique gems, as well. Among these was Dreadwing, one of the largest Transformers in the entire Generation Two line, with only Optimus Prime and Megatron even being comparable. Stealth bombers were apparently rather popular in the early 90s, and this was one of several Transformers to adopt this particular alternate mode.

Part of what makes this particular toy special was the fact that the bomber is actually comprised of two separate Transformers. If you pull out the back portion of the toy, you actually get another jet that had been riding in a pocket at Dreadwing's back. This smaller jet is called Smokescreen. Smokescreen is a full-fledged Transformer in his own right; much more so than the little extras that came with Metroplex. Yet it seems to me that the official works of fiction have paid considerably less attention to this nifty extra toy than they have to, say, Scamper.

In addition, the Dreadwing portion of the toy has a second alternative mode, a kind of a tank. The tank probably isn't realistic enough to consider Dreadwing a true triple-changer, but it's worth noting, and takes good advantage of the toy's distinctive Gatling gun weapon. The idea is that, if you turn the back part of the Gatling gun like a doorknob, each missile fires one by one in sequence. If you have the whole thing pointed right, it actually works quite well. However, the missiles don't "lock" into place especially well, so if the gun is pointed down at all, the missiles just fall out on their own, which rather spoils the effect.

Both characters in this set have names that were used in G1, although neither was intended to be the same character as the namesake. In the case of Smokescreen, this is reasonably obvious, as the original Smokescreen was an Autobot that turned into a sports car. The only similarity between this Smokescreen (a Decepticon) and that one is the name. Dreadwing is another story. Although this Dreadwing is not intended to represent the Dreadwing that was the combined form of Powermasters Darkwing and Dreadwind, the name is so confusingly similar that when the character based on this toy appeared in the Generation Two comic, writer Simon Furman actually went to some lengths to demonstrate how Darkwing was damaged and rebuilt into this form. If only he'd gotten the name right!

Generation Two brought the concept of Transformers back from American toy store oblivion, but although sales were at least somewhat respectable, they weren't considered good enough to keep the line going. However, rather than kill off the Transformers concept again, Hasbro decided to take the line in a totally new direction. This new direction was "Beast Wars," which was a huge success, and Transformers have been released continuously ever since. Although I did collect some "Beast Wars" figures when they originally came out, I sold all of my post-G2 toys in a major purge nearly a decade ago (before the "Beast era" was over) when I was desperate for some cash (although I've reacquired a few "Beast" toys since). For this reason, this week will be the last entry in the weekly Transformers feature to specifically focus on the oldest parts of my collection. Starting next week, this feature will move to more of a random "Transformer of the Week" concept. I still have lots of Transformers left to cover, so hopefully I can share a few surprises!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Generation Two Megatron

For two full years, there were no Transformers in the United States. The comic had been canceled. No new toys were appearing on the toy store shelves. Despite the words of Simon Furman in the final letter column of the Marvel Comic: "It never ends!", it seemed that the line was dead forever. (Note: The line never actually stopped production in the UK and elsewhere, but in those days before widespread Internet communication, those of us in the US didn't realize that.)

Then, at Christmastime, the seemingly impossible happened. Transformers were back! In what was being called "Generation Two," Transformers were coming back to the toy stores. It wasn't much. Just recolors of then-decade-old molds at first. Truly new designs didn't come around for several months. But this was still more than I had dared imagine possible at that point in time. I pretty much accused my brother of lying when he first told me about it. (Sorry, Nick!)

Most of the first new designs were tiny cars and planes, which I didn't get at the time (and even those, I later learned, had been made for the UK line in those years when there was nothing in the US). The first new mold-design of note was the new version of Decepticon leader Megatron. Megatron had been notably absent from the first ("old mold") G2 Transformers. This was because toy safety laws and sentiments had changed in America since 1984, making it either illegal or business suicide (depending on exact location) to sell a toy that resembled a realistic weapon. This meant that a Walther P-38 Megatron toy was no longer an option for Hasbro. If the character was to make an appearance in "Generation Two," it would have to be in a new form.

That new form was a large green tank. The change was explained in a few issues of the Marvel G.I. Joe comic released prior to an all-new "Generation Two" Transformers comic. Megatron, having survived a crash-landing on Earth at the end of the original comic series, sought the help of Cobra, the enemies of the G.I. Joe team. In exchange for alien technology, Cobra gave Megatron a systems upgrade and repaired body.

Although the toy has a fairly simplistic transformation by modern standards, it also has a few extra gimmicks. The tank turret actually fires projectiles, and there is a sound chip in the toy that makes several appropriate noises if you do certain actions. Most notably, if you push down on Megatron's head in robot mode, a voice cries out "Megatron attack!" which, actually, is a pretty nonsensical thing for a character to say. Most people don't refer to themselves in the third-person! Also, the voice sounds absolutely nothing like the voice of Megatron we had come to recognize from the 80's cartoon. Still, it's a nifty enough gimmick. There have been a few similar sound/voice chips in Transformers toys in the years since, and they've pretty much never actually gotten the proper voice actor, unless you count the Optimus Prime helmet that came out with last year's movie, and even then you had the buy the right version of the helmet!*

But I digress. This toy is one of the highlights of the short "Generation Two" period. Next week, I'll show off one of the others.

*No, I don't count BotCon 2001 Arcee. That voice chip wasn't even a part of the figure itself, but only it's box!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Even Rarer Than the Rarest

A couple of years ago, I devoted some blog attention to a series of eBay auctions being held for the G2 Stunticons and Protectobots, proclaiming them "The Rarest Transformers of All Time." I've just found one that proves that title not entirely accurate.

Currently on auction is the almost never seen leader of the Stunticons, Motormaster, in his G2 form. You may remember that the leaders weren't part of that auction series in 2006. Naturally, the price for this one has already skyrocketed, and I fully expect it go much higher before it's all over. Even if you can't place a bid (as most of us can't), grab the images while you can, because this is an opportunity that almost never comes.

G2 Protectobot Blades is also available from the same seller. As I indicated last time, this one's rare enough to cause enough of a fuss on it's own whenever it surfaces. The fact that it's clearly the "second fiddle" in this case should mean something.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Action Master Megatron

The year was 1990. Now in its seventh year of existence, the Transformers toy line was on life support. Without an animated cartoon to help advertise the toys, sales were in decline, and gimmicks such as the Pretenders failed to reignite interest in the line. Hasbro needed to come up with a new gimmick that might interest toy buyers, but had to keep production costs low. What came out may have seemed like an act of desperation: non-transforming action figures that (in many cases) represented classic characters from the beginning of the line. These were the Action Masters.

Action Master MegatronI've defended Action Masters before, at least in part because I know how controversial the idea of "Transformers that don't transform" is among fans. Still, I grabbed a good number of these figures when they were originally out, and have accumulated most of the others in the years since (indeed, I now have all of the Action Masters released in America). If you can get past the idea of "non-transforming Transformers," these are pretty neat toys. I'll try to demonstrate by reviewing Action Master Megatron (Disclaimer: The fusion cannon on Megatron's arm was not an original part of the toy. I added that on, using the fusion cannon from a PVC Megatron a few years ago).

Action Master Megatron with Neutro-Fusion TankAlthough the action figures themselves didn't transform, all Action Masters had either transforming weapons or, taking a cue from the Micromasters (the only other Transformers gimmick still available in 1990), transforming vehicles or bases. In Megatron's case, the transforming element was the "Neutro-Fusion Tank." This was one of the larger vehicles available in the Action Masters line, appropriate given that Megatron is the Decepticon leader.

Neutro-Fusion Tank Base ModeThe Neutro-Fusion Tank transforms into a base with lots of cool features. The seat in the tank comes off to form a jet throne for Megatron, and the rest of the tank opens up to provide spaces for many other Action Masters figures to interact (the other figures shown here were not available with the Megatron set, but had to be purchased separately). It's easy to imagine the Decepticons launching an all-out attack from this location!

Some fans argue that Action Masters are what caused the death of the Transformers line. It's true that 1990 was the last year to see new Transformers toys on the shelves in America for a while, but it's too simple to say that Action Masters were the cause. The line had already been on the decline for years, and competition from other lines (such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) also contributed to lower Transformers sales. Thankfully, Hasbro gave Transformers another chance in just a few years.

Although I have quite a few other Action Masters which I purchased in 1990, it will get boring pretty quickly reviewing another non-transforming figure each week for the next couple of months, so I'm going to skip ahead for now. Coming next week: Generation Two!

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