Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cybertron Primus (Black Friday edition)

PrimusIn the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as "Black Friday." The idea is that the day after Thanksgiving is supposed to be the busiest shopping day of the year (this usually isn't technically correct--that honor going to one of the weekends just before Christmas--but it's certainly near the top of the list every year). Merchants often try to take advantage of the high volume of potential customers by doing special promotions. In 2006, Wal-Mart did one such "Black Friday" promotion by releasing the then-current Cybertron Primus toy with four previously unreleased Mini-Cons as a bonus. Since I didn't yet have the Primus figure, I took advantage of the offer.

Like Unicron, this is a figure that homages Transformers history going back all the way to Generation One. As the story went back then (in the Marvel comics), Unicron is a "god" of chaos from whose existence predates our own universe, and whose only function is destruction. When our current universe was created, it sought to defend itself by creating a corresponding "god" of light, called Primus. They battled for ages, never able to destroy the other. Eventually, Primus tricked Unicron by fleeing into an asteroid. Unicron did likewise, believeing that Primus had found some advantage in this celestial body. But what really happened was that both were now trapped in their respective asteroid prisons. Over time, both found themselves able to shape the worlds in which they had become embedded. Unicron became a giant planet capable of consuming other worlds and of transforming into a gargantuan robot form. Primus, on the other hand, became the planet Cybertron, homeworld of the Transformers.

This origin was modified a few times over by the time the Unicron toy was created for the Armada line, and again by the time Primus was actually created as a toy for the Cybertron line a few years later. For one thing, the Marvel comics never gave any indication that Cyberton/Primus (or "Cybertron Primus," as the toy was called, although that gives the impression that the two-word phrase is the character's name) was able, itself, to transform into a robot. Rather, the origin at the time suggested that Primus' creations (the Autobots and Decepticons) were given abilities that mimicked Unicron's ability to transform, implying that Primus himself was unable to do so. But this toy transforms, and in order to do that, you need this device, called the Omega Lock. You don't really need to have the Cyber Planet Keys shown here in order to make it work, and in fact, I don't have the specific keys you're "supposed" to have if one goes by the storyline (I never got any "Giant Planet" toys, and therefore don't have the key for the Giant Planet).

Basically, the Omega Lock serves as a key to unlock certain parts of Primus' transformation to robot mode. It does a few other things, too. For example, here you can see how the Omega Lock lights up when you stick in the hole at the top of Primus' planet form (although, technically, this is still supposed to be the planet Cybertron, it's still hard for me to reconcile this ball with the planet I always knew in Generation One, and it's easier for me just to refer to this as the "planet mode" instead of calling it "Cybertron." Just bear with me...).

If you move the key forward, parts of the planet slide away and two massive cannons flip out. With a couple of slight modifications, this may be considered an "attack planet" mode (The instructions don't actually give it a name). I shudder to think of what all these transformations must do to any Transformers unfortunate enough to still be on the planet's surface!

But I'm nowhere close to done yet! When preparing this entry, the instructions reminded me of yet another mode that I'd completely forgotten about, and will likely never, ever use again. This is Primus' "battle station mode." I'm not at all sure what viable function a planetary body needs with a "station" mode, nor can figure out how this mode is supposed to be demonstrably more "battle ready" than the "attack planet" mode earlier. Indeed, it seems to me that the Death Star did just fine without constantly reconfiguring. Or, at least, it used to....

All this finally gets us to Primus' robot mode. As planetary Transformers go, I actually like this transformation better than either Unicron or the Darth Vader/Death Star. It's an actually spherical planet that turns into a robot with a minimum of shell-forming. Not that a robot mode at such a scale makes much sense, of course. I mean, with Unicron, whose purpose was destruction, you could at least get iconic images like this one of Unicron about to rip into the surface of Cybertron (Note: at the time of the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, Primus as a character wasn't even established, much less the idea that the planet Cybertron was Primus!). But what's a "good guy" planet-sized robot supposed to do?

As is typical of Transformers toys of this size, Primus has gimmicks besides the actual transformations. Here, for example, we that Primus has robotic arms embedded within the giant robot's feet, perhaps intended to interact with Transformers at something somewhat more closely resembling their actual scale (although still way too large to be useful, realistically speaking).

If you plug a Cyber Planet Key into Primus' arms, they each can release a double-barreled weapon that, presumably, can be used to attack planetary-scale threats.

So, that's Primus. So far, we've covered the basic toy, which any non-Black Friday-shopping fan would have been able to pick up. The "Black Friday extra" was this set of four Mini-Cons. From left to right, these are Strongarm, Offshoot, Knockdown, and Nightscream.

These four Mini-Cons were released with the "Black Friday" Primus set for the first time, but were made more widely available when the "Classics" line came out more properly a few months later. However, when the Classics versions of these Mini-Cons came out, some of the names were changed. Offshoot became Dirt Rocket, and Nightscream became Thunderwing. Nightscream can be especially confusing, because an entirely different toy, sold with the now-named-Thunderwing toy, was called Nightscream.

No one ever said that keeping Transformers toys straight was easy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Doctor Who at 45

Yesterday was Doctor Who's 45th Anniversary. There's not a whole lot to say that a lot of other folks won't be saying more of, and better, but I couldn't just let this kind of an anniversary go by without so much as a mention.

But while I'm at it, I should include a link to the web comic "The Ten Doctors." Yes, it's got pretty much every fanboy dream crammed into the story, but it's surprisingly well done for fan fiction, and is worth a look. Be warned, it's already made it up to 145 parts, so you have a fair bit of catching up to do if you want to go back to the beginning.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: World's Smallest Transformers Thrust

In 2003, Takara developed a new line of Transformers designed to take advantage of the ever-present popularity of the Generation One characters. This line is referred to by fans as "World's Smallest Transformers" (the TFWiki indicates that this name is erroneous, preferring "Smallest Transforming Transformers," but I have to admit that I've never heard that phrase, and since we're talking about a translation from the Japanese anyway, I'm going to defer to widespread use over strict accuracy just this once. However, instead of writing out "World's Smallest Transformers" each time, I'll just use "WST" hereafter). These figures were sold blindpacked, meaning that you actually didn't know what toy you were getting until you actually opened the box. This is a strange concept to most Americans, but is actually fairly common on such small items in Japan. Still, if one thinks of these figures as being sold similar to how trading cards are sold, and how people will buy up multiple packs hoping to get a particularly rare card, you've got the concept pretty well.

WST Thrust Vehicle ModeWST Thrust is not one of the rare figures, but rather is a figure you're likely to get lots and lots of copies of if you buy boxes of WSTs hoping to find a less common one (say, Jazz or Bluestreak, for example). This toy is, basically, a scaled-down version of the Generation One original (as, indeed, are all WSTs). Thrust's modified F-15 fighter jet mode is shown here alongside a quarter to give you an idea of just how small this toy is. I should note, for the sake of accuracy, that the square "heat sticker" seen on the figure isn't something that the toy came with originally, but rather is something I bought from Reprolabels to evoke the idea of a "small version of the G1 toy" even more.

WST Thrust Robot modeThrust transforms almost exactly the same as his larger-scale counterpart, although the WST toys tend to rely on pegs rather than screws and such, so parts are a bit more likely to just pop off. No real harm, though. Just plug the part back in and you're good to go. Cartoon-purists often like to flip the plane's nosecone up on top of the head to give Thrust the "conehead" appearance he had back in the original cartoon, but I've never cared for that look at all. It looks pretty dippy on the cartoon, and even worse on the toys, which were simply not designed with this transformation in mind.

WST Thrust Custom BoxSince these toys were sold blindpacked, the box they originally came in is pretty generic, and doesn't really make for a good display item. For this reason, I decided to make my own. I've shown this box before, but here's a shot of just my custom WST Thrust box on its own. I still have the Photoshop files in case anyone would like to try their own skills, but be warned that the files are quite large, so if you have a specific character in mind, let me know when you try to contact me by e-mail, so I can send you just the most appropriate files, rather than clog your e-mail server more than necessary.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: God Ginrai/Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor (Reissue)

I confess that I was a little bit surprised to see that more than 50% of those who responded to my poll last week asked to have the God Ginrai reissue featured, but I suppose I shouldn't have been. As my brother pointed out, it was the only Generation One option available. This toy was originally made available in the United States in 1988 as Powermaster Optimus Prime. The Japanese version of the toy, for some reason, doesn't even represent the same character, despite the toy's obvious resemblance to Optimus Prime. Their version of the fiction has a convoluted explanation for the resemblance, but I'll leave that for the Wiki article. Despite the fact that the toy pictured here is the 2002 Japanese reissue, I'll for the most part refer to this toy as "Optimus Prime," using the 1988 American version as default.

God Ginrai Vehicle ModeThe basic vehicle mode is a tractor trailer, similar to the original Optimus Prime, with a bit more weaponry added on. The 1988 American version of Powermaster Optimus Prime does, however, have several differences from the Japanese God Ginrai. Most obvious here is the Japanese-exclusive (at the time) second trailer behind the first one. I'll say more about that later. Less obvious is the fact that the Japanese versions of this toy have shorter smokestacks than the 1988 American version (a reversal from what normally happens: American toys getting shorter smokestacks due to safety regulations).

Ginrai Robot ModeThe cab transforms into the basic Optimus Prime robot, but this is where the "Powermaster" gimmick comes in. Like Headmasters and Targetmasters, Powermasters come with a small Nebulan figure. For Powermasters, the Nebulan turns into the engine (you can see it attached at the front of the vehicle mode above), and is necessary to unlock the transformation of the vehicle to robot form. In the 1988 American version, the Nebulan was named "Hi-Q." The Japanese "-Masters" followed a different storyline entirely, and these small robots weren't called Nebulans, and indeed weren't independent entities. Rather, the small robot was the "real" character, and controlled the larger Transformer body. The Japanese character's name was Ginrai. (And, just to make matters even more confusing, they weren't called "Powermasters" in Japan, either, but rather "Godmasters." I'm not sure if there's supposed to be some religious element to these characters, but I didn't come up with the name.)

God Ginrai Base ModeThe main trailer transforms into a battle station, which can be used with other figures. Hi-Q fits rather nicely in the "seat" of one of the weapons in this mode, but due to the distinctive transformation Powermaster Nebulans have, definitely looks as though he's doing splits! Perhaps Hi-Q was a cheerleader in another life? ;)

Super GinraiThis trailer and the cab can combine to form a "Super" Optimus Prime (called "Super Ginrai" in Japan). The "Super Prime" head is just a separate part added on, apparently due to a late decision made in the planning process, whereby Prime was also going to be a Headmaster, in addition to being a Powermaster. I'm sorry that this intention was never fully developed. This mode provides an example of another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions, as the cab was made with die cast metal in Japan and had real "windows," whereas the 1988 American version used plastic and stickers.

Super Ginrai Powermaster Prime armsYet another difference between the 1988 American version and the Japanese versions was that the Japanese versions have these nice slide-out fists in this mode. Here's a picture alongside an old 1988 American version to see what I'm talking about. The fact that the American version had those non-sliding fists meant that the fists were obviously visible in battle station mode. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many fans are convinced that Japan always gets the better toys (Transformers fans are always complaining about this. Especially when a given Optimus Prime toy in America gets shorter smokestacks. This is why it's worth emphasizing that the original American toy actually got the longer smokestacks in this instance!).

GodbomberAnyway, that was entirety of this toy in America for many, many years, until this reissue was also made available in the States as "Powermaster Optimus Prime with Apex Armor" in 2003. The 2003 American reissue is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the Japanese reissue pictured here. However, even back in 1988, the Japanese version had an addition to this set called "Godbomber." Godbomber is that extra trailer I mentioned at the beginning. Basically, you can take that trailer apart, then reconfigure the parts to form this robot. It's not really a "Transformer" in the conventional sense, since there's no folding up of still-connected parts involved. Rather, it's a disassemble-and-reassemble process, as was the case with Metroplex's "Sixgun" robot. The American reissue called this robot "Apex Bomber."

God Ginrai Super RobotIf you take Godbomber apart yet again, you can reassemble the parts on top of Optimus Prime's "Super" mode to make an even more powerful (presumably) robot. This is the "Apex Armor" mentioned in the American reissue, which was called "God Ginrai" in Japan. Now fully armored up, Optimus Prime stands ready to take on all threats!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Art of Derek Yaniger

Transformers fans know Derek Yaniger as one of the artists behind the Transformers: Generation Two comic. BoingBoing highlights this book of Yaniger's artwork. I thought Transformers fans might be interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Teenage Mutant Jedi Turtle

My brother's been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) for many years. One of the many (many, many) TMNT figures he got as a kid was a 1990 Giant Donatello figure, standing about 13 inches tall! He got the toy second-hand from a flea market, and so it didn't come with the plastic "bō" that was originally packaged with it. Never one to just leave things be, he actually had our Dad make and stain a wooden rod of the appropriate diameter to fit in the toy's hands, thus creating a more accurate version of Donatello's signature weapon.

More recently, my brother picked up a "mini" lightsaber from Master Replicas. The lightsaber is just the hilt--no blade attached, but my brother found out that it fit quite nicely in the Giant Donatello's hands. Thus, with a little Photoshop wizardry, the following pictures were created:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: San Diego Comic-Con 2005 Skywarp

For Transformers fans, BotCon has been the "big thing" in terms of conventions for over a decade, but for fans of science fiction franchises in general, the annual San Diego Comic-Con is much, much bigger. Well over 100,000 people attend over the course of a given year's festivities, whereas BotCon only regularly started breaking the 1,000 attendee point fairly recently.

Comic-Con Skywarp Robot ModeAs with BotCon, one can find a lot of exclusive merchandise at Comic-Con, but Transformers exclusives through Comic-Con are a fairly recent development. This version of Skywarp is the first, to the best of my knowledge. Standing at just over 3 inches tall, it was actually given away for free to attendees who stopped by the Hasbro booth. Skywarp is a redeco of the "Legends" version of Cybertron Starscream.

Comic-Con Skywarp Vehicle ModeSkywarp turns into a Cybertronian aircraft, based on the "War Within" design for Starscream, which itself was based on the "tetrajet" type of aircraft that Starcream-type robots used while on the planet Cybertron in the original G1 cartoon series.

Cyber Planet KeyAs part of the Comic-Con promotion, Skywarp also came with a unique "Cyber Planet Key," which didn't actually do anything for the toy itself (it's nearly half as large as the whole robot!), but has a code on back that unlocked a "sneak peak" of one of the posters that would eventually be packed in with the toys (no, I don't know why they gave us a key with an Autobot symbol on it, given that Skywarp is a Decepticon).

Comic-Con Skywarp WeaponsDespite the toy's small size, it has a couple of flip out weapons patterned off of the much larger "Supreme" Starscream toy. These can be deployed in either vehicle or robot mode. I don't tend to use these much, myself, but they do add an extra layer of play value to the mold.

This version of Skywarp is fairly rare, but I don't know how many copies were made, and I would certainly assume it was made in greater numbers than most current BotCon exclusives. Given it's small size, I really wouldn't recommend paying more than about $15-20 for it if you can find it on eBay.

Transformers Wiki