Friday, December 26, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cryotek

CryotekI enjoy using the Transformers Wiki as a resource, and contribute to it from time to time. One of the tasks that falls to those who work on such projects is how to categorize certain characters. More often than not, this is a fairly simple situation. If it says "Armada" on the package, then you group it with the "Armada" characters, and there usually isn't something from another line that would actively contradict that classification.

But, every once in a while, it gets difficult. Cryotek, for example, is classified on the Wiki with the Robots in Disguise line, because Cryotek's only toy (so far?) was labeled as being a part of that line. But although Cryotek has appeared in a handful of official stories, none of them are Robots in Disguise stories. Indeed, all of them are compatible with the Beast Wars era, especially as seen in 3H's Universe comics. So, if the classification of Cryotek was on the basis of his character, he'd be grouped with the Beast Era.

Although Cryotek's toy was a Target exclusive, pretty much all of the character's official fiction has been through the various incarnations of the Transformers convention and/or club over the years. This makes it appealing to think of Cryotek as a club (or convention) exclusive, even though this isn't actually true. As with pretty much all exclusives, Cryotek is a repaint of a previously existing toy: in this case, Transmetal 2 Megatron. In fact, Cryotek's official bio suggests that he copied Megatron's powerful Transmetal 2 body to create this form.

The original "Transmetals" were Beast Wars toys with chromed parts in beast mode. The idea was that whereas the original Beast Wars characters were robots with actual fleshy beast modes with skin and muscles and such, Transmetals were "inside-out," with robot modes showing such organic animal characteristics and beast modes that appeared entirely mechanical. Transmetals 2, in turn, retained chromed parts, but did more of a mix-and-match of what organic characteristics showed up where. Most Transmetals 2 are rather monstrous in appearance. This mold is, by contrast, rather elegant. Still, the original Megatron version of this mold was marketed as a Transmetal 2, so Cryotek is generally considered a Transmetal 2, as well.

Although a bright blue dragon may not be the most "realistic" alternative mode, it is nonetheless very striking. There is a lever on back on the toy that allows you to open and close the dragon's wings for flight, and a missile fits inside the dragon's jaws that can be fired when it opens its mouth. Add in the head-mounted missile launcher in Cryotek's robot mode, and the toy evokes a very powerful character. This is especially appropriate given Cryotek's rather unique bio, which characterizes him as a Cybertronian "criminal overlord." Even if, like any good mob boss, Cryotek prefers to let underlings do his dirty work, he has to be able to enforce his will through sheer force when necessary.

Cryotek DragsterThis toy has another alternative mode which appears as more of an afterthought than a real mode. It's officially called a "transportation mode," but it's often referred to by fans as a "dragster," no doubt taking advantage of the pun. Although most Transmetals 2 toys weren't designed with "third" modes like this, they were common in the original Transmetals toys, and I wonder if some of that reasoning carried over when the TM2 Megatron mold was being created. Or, it might be nothing more than that Hasbro thought such a large toy should have an extra bit of play value tossed in. Who am I to argue?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BotCon 2009 to be in Pasadena, CA

Just found out less than half an hour ago. Although the exact venue hasn't been announced, I'm guessing it's the same venue as BotCon 2004 was at, which is literally walking distance from Fuller.

The dates will be May 28-31.

I guess I'll be going this year! Woo, hoo!

EDIT: Sometime after New Year's, I'll try to compile a list of "things to do" in and around the Pasadena area (especially close to the convention center). If you have particular questions/needs/suggestions, feel free to leave a comment, and I'll try to make sure to address them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Silverstreak: A Christmas Parody

It's Christmas parody time again! This year's entry involves a matter that Transfans are increasingly concerned about: the loss of beloved names due to trademark reasons.
(to the tune of "Silver Bells")

Silverstreak! Silverstreak!
He’s lost his name, what a pity!
Marketing... Silly thing
Bluestreak could no longer stay....

Market trademarks, silly trademarks
Losing them all the while
So the name wasn’t open to Hasbro
Try a new one, something someone
might find in the toy aisle
and remember the name we held dear

Silverstreak! Silverstreak!
He’s lost his name, what a pity!
Marketing... silly thing...
His former name’s gone away!
Previous Christmas parodies may be found below:
Traditionally, the Christmas parody post has been my last for the year, as I have taken a vacation from blogging (often accompanied by a real vacation) between Christmas and New Year's. I intend to keep posting this year, at least as much as the usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, if not more (I already have something planned for tomorrow, in fact!). So please keep checking in!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Energon Downshift

'Tis the Friday before Christmas, so what should I do
To whip up a fitting Transformer review?

OK, enough with the rhyming. Seriously, coming up with an appropriate Transformer to do for the "Christmas" entry was hard. Like most Transformers fans, I've gotten more than a few Transformers as Christmas gifts. How would I choose one over another? And despite a few UK Transformers comics that had Christmas themes, I couldn't really think of any toys that were inherently more "Christmasy" than others. Ultimately, I chose Energon Downshift primarily because he has predominately red and green highlights to his color scheme.

Having not featured too many toys from the Energon line, I should mention some of the features that made this line unique. If you look closely at Downshift's rear hubcap, you'll see a purple Energon star. This didn't come with Downshift. Energon stars came only with the small "Basic" figures in the line (that is, the roughly $7 price-point), but could be used on pretty much all other Energon figures. The idea was that these were supposed to supply the characters with a power-up (Incidentally, that particular Energon star didn't actually come with an "Energon" figure, per se. It came with BotCon Laserbeak, which I used in this comic way back when, and which I sold shortly afterward. But I actually got two purple Energon stars with Laserbeak for some reason, so I kept one...).

Long-time fans immediately notice upon looking at Downshift (and that color scheme) that it looks a lot like Generation One Wheeljack. When one looks at Downshift's head, this homage is clearly shown to be intentional. Oddly enough, this doesn't appear to be a case where Hasbro didn't have the rights to use the name "Wheeljack," as there had been a "Wheeljack" in the Armada line just the previous year, and a clearly G1-inspired Spychanger Wheeljack was released the same year as Downshift. The rumor is that Hasbro felt that the name "Wheeljack" sounded "evil," and so they used it on the Autobot-turned-Decepticon in the Armada line. Since Energon was supposed to be a sequel to Armada, they presumably thought they should consider this toy to represent a different character (although Armada Wheeljack did seem to have come back to the Autobot side at the end of Armada). Unfortunately, they chose a name that had already been established to belong to yet another character in Armada. Confusion abounds!

In addition to those Energon stars, nearly all figures in the Energon line came with weapons made out of clear plastic (intended to imply that they were created out of pure Energon). Often these weapons could "combine" into some "super" weapon. In the case of Downshift, this was accomplished through the assistance of a connector piece: the spoiler from Downshift's vehicle mode.

But, first and foremost, the Energon line was characterized by the fact that most of the Deluxe or "Mega"-sized Autobots could combine with just about any other Autobot within its size class to make a larger robot, with one toy becoming the top half and the other toy being the lower half. This is actually a fairly old idea, having first been used with the Japanese-exclusive Landcross way back in 1989. I've already shown how Downshift could form the lower part of one of these combined robots when I reviewed the club exclusive Nightbeat a few weeks back. I could just as easily have shown those same two toys in the opposite arrangement here, but decided to show how Downshift can form the top of one of these combinations by showing how he combines with Energon Tow-Line who, although that toy is unlike any other Energon Deluxe figure, is in fact the toy Downshift's instructions show him combining with. This monstrosity was hard to get a good picture of, so here's a shot of the same configuration from another angle.

Part of the reason I don't have all that many Energon toys, despite their relatively recent availability, is that I really just don't care for that many of the toys. A lot of fans seem to feel the same. It is argued that running the combination gimmick through practically the entire line made each of the individual robot designs suffer as a result. I'd say that this was a brave experiment that perhaps didn't work out as well as hoped. Combiners are actually a fun gimmick. They just shouldn't dominate the line quite so much.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Camshaft

When I was visiting family for Thanksgiving a couple of weeks back, my parents brought me a few Transformers and parts that my brother thought I should have. This is how I was able to show Mirage with his rifle last week, but it also enables me to feature a more obscure character from the earliest part of Transformers history.

Camshaft is a member of the "Omnibots," the group which also features Overdrive, and like Overdrive, Camshaft was a pre-Transformers-era "Diaclone" toy that was brought over to the Transformers line as one of the very first mail-order exclusives. Camshaft's vehicle mode is a Mazda Savannah RX-7. Ironically, the RX-7 (having a rotary engine) doesn't actually have a camshaft, perhaps demonstrating the dangers of naming so many characters after automotive terms. They were bound to get something wrong sooner or later!

But more seriously, as a member of the Omnibots, Camshaft also has as an "armored car mode," a feature which sets these small cars apart from most other Transformer toys of the era. The official transformation is pictured here, but because of the absurdly-visible fists, I tend to just flip the missile launcher up and call it "done," if I play with this mode at all.

Oddly enough, I've had Camshaft's hand weapon floating around my collection for quite some time, even though the toy itself was with my brother until a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure how that happened, but all the bits we have are properly together again. That "bits we have" part is important. Having gotten Camshaft at a flea market way back when, I'm pretty sure we've never had missiles. Maybe someday I'll have to do something about that.

Being mail-order exclusives, the Omnibots were never given Tech Specs in America, but they were given Tech Specs in Japan (despite also being mail-order exclusives there). As I did with Overdrive, I was able to create a mock-up of what an American Camshaft Tech Spec would have looked like, using a translated version of the Japanese bio. Enjoy!Camshaft Tech Specs

Thursday, December 11, 2008

KB Toys is Going Out of Business

I just found out that KB Toys has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time this decade. This time, it looks like the end, and they've announced "going-out-of-business sales at [their] hundreds of stores."

In one sense, I'm not at all surprised. KB has routinely had much higher prices on their toys than what I could find at pretty much any other national chain (I'm thinking Toys R Us, in addition to places like Target and Wal-Mart), and when they have a 25% sale, it's even then not usually enough to get me to pick up an item, because that 25% often only brings the price back down to the same level it was at in those other chains (before the toy was known to be a shelfwarmer!).

But, even so, the news saddens me a bit. I used to work for a KB Toys in Anderson, SC about 12 years ago, during what was otherwise one of the most difficult times of my life. This was the period of time when the chain was changing their name from "Kay Bee" (which is how I knew it as a child) and we still had both names visible in various parts of the store. Although I had to drive about 45 minutes each way to get to my job, which paid a measly $5 an hour (if that, but I think that's right), I found that working in that small toy store, even though it was in the midst of the crazy holiday season, was one of the few highlights of my time living in South Carolina for those few months. Just out of college, I was already one of the oldest people there (with the exception of the managers), but I was able to relate fairly well to the other co-workers, and was even asked to stay on after the holiday season ended, which if I wasn't already planning to move back up to Kentucky, I probably would have done.

The job was a nice mix of social interaction and "time alone" for me (a decidedly strong introvert). When in the back room putting price tags on items, I remember seeing the G2 Dreadwing (already a couple of years old at the time) waiting for the right opportunity to be taken out to the floor again. This was also the time when Beast Wars toys were just coming out, and I enjoyed seeing new Transformers on the shelves again (although at this time I was still a little skeptical about this new direction). "Tickle Me Elmo" was the craze of the season, and we had to turn a lot of disappointed customers away asking if we had the toy, which we could never keep on shelves for long. But most of all, I think I enjoyed working the cash register, something I had never done during my tenures (yes, plural) working at Toys R Us in previous years. Often, when I had to give a customer just one penny of change, I'd tell them, "Don't spend it all in one place!" At least a few of them humored me by appearing to think I was funny!

Anyway, I find I'm actually sorry to see the chain go, although I definitely didn't do much (after working there) to keep them afloat. They simply couldn't compete with the lower prices other chains were able to offer. But I'll always remember them fondly.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Mirage

Mirage is one of those Generation One toys I picked up from some flea market or another well after the Generation One era had passed. I'm glad that I did, especially given that it remains one of few Generation One toys to have never been reissued by Hasbro or Takara (there are some decent quality replicas out there, but between the high price tag and the fact that they're of questionable-at-best legality, I don't recommend them).

You wouldn't notice it to look at it, but my specimen of Mirage has been broken and repaired. Unfortunately, G1 Mirage is particularly susceptible to breaking right at the middle, where you have to rotate the body for transformation. The pivot point is a very thin piece of plastic, and especially as plastic gets more brittle over the years, if this toy is going to break, that's exactly where it's going to break at. Thankfully, this problem can be solved. I didn't figure this out on my own, but from a fellow fan (NOTE: The original link is now dead. I'm including an link, but it sadly doesn't include the original images).

Mirage turns into an Indy-style race car. This type of vehicle has been a popular one in Transformers toys over the years. Incidentally, in just about any Transformers toyline over the past decade or so, if there's an Indy-style racer made for the line, you can almost be certain that they're going to call it "Mirage." It seems that Mirage is one of those names that Hasbro is really keen on protecting. There are a few "Mirages" that aren't Indy-racers, and some aren't even Autobots, but Hasbro puts the name on it, anyway. The toy featured here is the original. I'll have more to say in a few weeks about the importance of name reuse if Hasbro wants to keep a name available for a future homages, but for now, I'll just say that Hasbro has reason to keep using the name so much, even on toys that don't exactly homage this one all that well.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Big Transformers Club News Today!

According to the latest issue of the Official Transformers Club magazine, the final part of the club combiner will be named Heatwave, and a picture will go up on the site TODAY (December 1st, 2008).

So, what are you still reading this page for? Head over the club site and see if they've put it up yet!

UPDATE: It's up as of about 5:00 pm.

Transformers Wiki