Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Universe Skywarp

Skywarp - Wreckers #1After the Armada line of 2002-2003 was an unexpected commercial success, Hasbro needed a way to meet the increased demand for Transformers toys. However, designing and producing new transforming toys is a time-intensive process. Hasbro's solution? Starting in 2003, Hasbro released "Universe," a "side line" of toys that ran concurrently with, but separate from, the then-current line. The Universe line consisted entirely of redecos and remolds of toys they'd created previously.

Working with the people who (at the time) ran the official convention, Hasbro worked up a storyline for Universe that allowed characters from all over the Transformers "multiverse" to be brought together to fight against the ultimate of Transformers bad guys: Unicron. In addition, the folks behind the convention were allowed to use "Universe" characters in their own exclusive toys and comic stories. One such comic line: The Wreckers, which was originally released during BotCon 2001, was taken in under the "Universe" banner.

Universe Skywarp Robot ModeIn the first issue of The Wreckers, a reborn version of the Generation One character Skywarp was introduced alongside Cyclonus, who was to be featured as an exclusive toy at BotCon 2002. But there was still no Skywarp toy of this kind. That wouldn't come until the retail release of the Universe Skywarp toy in 2004. Universe Skywarp is somewhat unique in that it is pretty much the only character to have been depicted in (more or less) the same form in a convention exclusive comic before showing up as a non-convention-exclusive retail toy (The other convention exclusive that comes to mind in a similar context is Packrat, which was introduced as a BotCon 1997 exclusive and featured in a convention comic at the same time. The blue "Transmetal" Rattrap toy, which came out as a Wal-Mart retail exclusive in 1999, was quickly understood to more closely resemble Packrat than Rattrap, but this understanding came too late for Hasbro actually put "Packrat" on the packaging, and Packrat didn't appear in this form in the fiction until the aforementioned The Wreckers #1 in 2001).

Universe Skywarp Jet ModeThis version of Skywarp is a redeco of the Beast Machines Jetstorm toy, which was used for five separate toys, making this mold competitive in a top-twenty list of "most used TF molds ever." Skywarp was the last time that this mold was used, and as such a late-generation use of the mold, people with sharper eyes than mine will probably notice signs of the mold's age. However, I haven't kept any of the other toys made with this mold, so I really can't say.

Universe Skywarp Hover ModeI'm not aware of any mold changes from Jetstorm to make Skywarp. The toy retains all the features and gimmicks of Jetstorm, including the nosecone that can pull out and turn from side to side, and legs that can fuse together to create a "hover mode" rather than making him walk everywhere in robot mode. The toy also features a spark crystal (the plastic of which wasn't part of the Jetstorm mold itself, and indeed seems to have come from a Beast Machines era Dinobot), which is simply given a Decepticon faction symbol stamped right over it.

Skywarp's appearance in The Wreckers alongside Cyclonus is the subject of a continuity disagreement that has plagued fans for years. In the original Transformers: The Movie, Unicron takes a group of dead Decepticons and turns them into new creations. Skywarp was one of those dead Decepticons, and Cyclonus was one of the new creations. In fact, many fans have long argued that the dead carcass of Skywarp was what became Cyclonus, despite the fact that the animation frame of Cyclonus' creation depicts Bombshell in the foreground, with Skywarp further back (also turning into a Cyclonus-type robot, but that's a story in itself). Fans of the "Skywarp as Cyclonus" theory felt that Skywarp, as a "prominent" Decepticon Seeker, was a better candidate for becoming Cyclonus than the "lowly" Insecticon Bombshell (who actually featured as an individual in the cartoon at least as much as Skywarp did, but this is the stuff of very heated arguments...). Unfortunately for such fans, the "former identity" of Cyclonus was explicitly spelled out as Bombshell in the prose story that tied up the Wreckers saga, released a year and a half ago by the official Transformers club (as if the side-by-side Skywarp and Cyclonus already wasn't enough... and it definitely wasn't for some folks).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BotCon 2009 News and Rumors

After Friday's release of the BotCon 2009 brochure, the Transformers boards have been buzzing about what to expect out of the toys this year. The leak from G1 comic artist Andrew Wildman on Monday (it was apparently posted on Saturday the 21st, but Monday seems to be the first anyone was aware of it) of what appeared to be the Energon Starscream mold as Skyquake opened up yet another stream of possibilities. Unsurprisingly, the link to the image was taken down less than 24 hours later. Then, yesterday, was updated with preview pictures of the first toy in the box set, Kup! To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that official preview pictures of any of the toys have gone up before the pre-registration forms themselves were made available (which could happen at any time now). UPDATE: They went up publicly in the early afternoon.

Anyway, the reactions thus far to all this have been usual mixture of excitement, anger, frustration, indignation, and glee (even occasionally all mixed up in the same individuals!). I'm sure that will only magnify once pre-registration begins. Amid all that confusion, there's usually a bit of disinformation that gets spread, too. That's where I try to step in. I'm a stickler for accuracy, and have updated my "Unofficial Club and Convention Datasheet" so that everything that used to be on one of two pages is now just on one (some credit for this simply must be given to club member xZAOx, who gave a few suggestions as to how this might be achieved), utilizing a new notation system: what used to be footnotes are now hidden until you mouse over an asterisk. Basically, I try to back up all of my assertions on that sheet with sources. But if you have information that contradicts mine, nd

There are still gaps in my information that I need filling. Generally, wherever you see a question mark. I do have a possible source of some old registration forms, which may fill some of those gaps in short order, but anything you have, feel free to send on. Just click on one of the e-mail links. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Optimus Prime for President?

Change Into a Truck - Optimus PrimeThis image is making the rounds quite a bit right now. I don't usually show images that aren't my own (it seems to come from here, where the creator is apparently selling prints), but this has become enough of a meme that I don't think I'm damaging the rights of the owner by passing it on with the link to his site.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Non-Generation One Transformer Art: Part Five

With February coming to a close, I also close out this series of posts of non-Generation One official Transformers artwork. I should note that the first item up this week: Camshaft, is in many ways the very definition of Generation One artwork, but since Botch doesn't have Camshaft up on his site, I figure it's fair game here (The difficulty arises at least partially from the nature of Camshaft as a mail-away exclusive that never had a regular box for the artwork to be on. To be fair, he's made an attempt to get this artwork, but his standards require a bit higher resolution than what I was able to get).
Omnibot CamshaftEnergon Downshift



Friday, February 20, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Decoys

Ratchet/First Aid with an Ultra Magnus DecoyFrom time to time, Hasbro used to do promotions to encourage folks to buy certain Transformers toys. I've mentioned mail-order promotions before, but on a few occasions, the promotion was some extra "something" packed in with the toy you were actually buying. In 1987, this extra "something" was a decoy. A decoy was a small piece of rubber molded into the shape of some Transformers character. Decoys were originally made available in Japan for use with board games, and also sold in sets by themselves. In America, they were only included with the carded Transformers toys, as opposed to toys sold in boxes, which were generally larger and more expensive. In 1987, this meant the Throttlebots and nearly all of the then-available combiner team limbs, but only those toys, could be found packaged with a decoy.

Jazz and Wheeljack decoysFor the most part, Autobots were molded in red, and Decepticons were molded in purple, in keeping with the usual color of their faction symbols. However, there are a few examples of red-colored Decepticon decoys out there. Sadly, I don't have any of those (and, if I did, I likely would have sold them a while ago, as they're apparently worth quite a lot of money).

Scrapper and Bonecrusher decoysGenerally speaking, Autobot decoys were packaged with Autobots, and Decepticon decoys were sold with Decepticons. The exceptions to this rule were the Throttlebots, who occasionally came with Decepticon decoys (and, apparently, the red Decepticon decoys only came with Throttlebots). Someday I need to feature one of the Throttlebots, if only to demonstrate that, when packed with the decoys, one could easily make a case that the decoy was more desirable than the "main toy" itself!

The decoys also came with a small comic strip, giving a very basic story. Oddly enough, although this comic (and the list on the other side) said that "each Transformer has his own decoy," pretty much all of the decoys were of characters that were no longer being sold as full toys (and Ultra Magnus, explicitly seen as a decoy in the comic, wasn't an available decoy in the US at all!).

decoy group shotGiven that there were more than 50 decoys available, I have to imagine that just about anyone who has collected a complete set has done so off of the secondary market, since there were only about 30 different toys that decoys might be found packaged with, and although the decoys weren't blind-packed (that is, you could clearly see what decoy you were getting before you bought the toy), some were rather difficult to find, and that's not even accounting for the red Decepticons!

For those who care, the decoys featured in the images here are Scrapper, Bonecrusher, Wheeljack and Jazz.

BONUS NEWS! - 8:14am - The BotCon 2009 brochure is up! Pre-registration forms will go up next week!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The Single Most Cataclysmically Important Transformers Story, Ever"

Issue #61 (in the US) of the original Marvel Comics Transformers series is referred to in the Transformers Wiki as "the single most..." (well, you read the title) because of an incident in the story where Primus, the creator of the Transformers, is awakened after untold ages of self-imposed unconsciousness, which in turn alerts the evil Unicron to his (and Cybertron's) whereabouts, not only in the era of the Marvel comic, but--as it turns out in later retellings--all over the Transformers multiverse. I consider this issue rather important, too, but for a far more mundane, and more personal, reason.

For me, Marvel US issue #61 is important because it was the first time I had ever gotten a letter published in an official Transformers publication. Now, this is hardly a unique situation. Quite a few of us "old timer" Transformers fans can say the same in regard to the Marvel comic alone (indeed, there's at least one other name on this very letter column that I came to recognize as another "well-known" Transformers fan once upon a time). But I did have the honor of being the first letter printed in this particular column. That, I suppose, puts me in an elite group of less than 80 people. At the age of 15, I considered this a "pretty big deal."

The incident also served as my introduction to the world of editorial adjustment to such letters. The essence of the letter is more or less what I wrote--having noticed that the Hasbro toyline was by that point being limited to only Micromasters and Pretenders, I was encouraging the writers not to tie themselves only to what Hasbro was producing--but the letter took out lines that I'd written, and even added words ("Powermasters and the like!") that I didn't write (an addition that made me wonder at the time if I they understood that I was trying to say "...this is all Hasbro's doing right now! They're not doing those other gimmicks anymore! Just Micromasters and Pretenders!"). They also got my ZIP code wrong (as anyone from KY will immediately recognize)!

What the editorial staff at Marvel understood (or didn't understand) at the time, I'll never know for sure. I certainly didn't understand then, as I do now, that Marvel was actually under orders from Hasbro to keep adding characters consistent with the toys being released at the time, and likewise to stop featuring characters that were no longer available.

Letter columns, although not yet entirely extinct, are less common in comics today. Most fans today are able to interact with creators through e-mail and the Internet. I certainly do more of my interaction with Transformers fans (and the occasional creator) in this way, and I'm still not shy about expressing my opinion on what direction the fiction should take (I'll leave it to others to decide whether I've gotten any wiser about what limitations such creators are under). I even still have the honor of seeing my name in print from time to time. I'll never be one of the Transformers "legends" like Simon Furman or Bob Budiansky, but I'm proud to be able to say that I'm making a contribution, however small.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Non-Generation One Transformer Art: Part Four

Here are a few more pieces of character art for toys I've already featured. I won't have gotten quite everybody, but after I post the batch next Monday, I'll have more or less caught up with the bunch of art I've got in storage.
BotCon 2007 ThundercrackerStepper/Ricochet Reissue

Darth Vader/Death StarTransformers Club Nightbeat


Friday, February 13, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Skram

Skram package artAfter the original Transformers toy line ended (in America) in the early 90's, it seemed like the Transformers franchise was dead forever. Not only didn't I know at the time that the franchise would resurface only a couple of years later in the form of Generation Two, but I didn't know that in some parts of the world, such as Europe, the Transformers line never stopped at all. When Hasbro in the US started the Generation Two line, this enabled them to relaunch the line with a minimum of domestic risk: the first year's worth of toys (except for Megatron) were either repaints of toys previously released in America in the 1980's, or toys that had previously only been released in Europe (and Australia) as part of the ongoing Transformers line. Skram was one of these "European" toys.

Skram vehicle modeReleased in the European/Australian line in 1993 as an "Axelerator" (with slightly different coloring), Skram's US release later that same year was labeled simply as an "Autobot Car" (or the even less impressive "Small Autobot Car," depending on who you talk to). The toy is smaller than most "basic" toys released in recent years, but a little larger than "Legends"-sized toys. Its most distinctive feature (shared by other "Axelerators") is that the engine block exposed in vehicle mode becomes the weapon in robot mode.

Skram robot modeSkram really didn't appear in any fiction in the US during the original Generation Two line, even though the Marvel G2 comic did (eventually) showcase some of the all-new G2 characters. He did get a couple of cameo appearances in the UK comic of the time, but it was left to the current Transformers comic publisher, IDW, to actually use Skram to any degree. Even there, he's mostly been a background character, but I'm definitely glad to see that such obscure G2 characters aren't being ignored entirely.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Non-Generation One Transformer Art: Part Three

Although I've been calling these "Non-Generation One" pieces, I suppose that's not entirely true. Obviously, a couple of the characters featured here (not to mention in previous weeks) are very much G1 characters. But these aren't the examples of box art you'll find on Botch's Transformers box art site. These are from reissues, or other lines entirely. Hopefully, by including these pieces here, fans will be able to locate box art in times to come, even for all the non-G1 lines out that that didn't get quite the nostalgia push that G1 got.

OTFCC 2004 MegazarakCaliburn

Reissue Skids TransformerAlternators Shockblast Shockwave

Animated Transformers Prowl

Friday, February 6, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Beetle (1996 Happy Meal Toy)

Beast Wars Happy Meal Beetle art1996 was a year of important change, both for me personally as well as for the Transformers franchise. 1996 was the year I graduated from college and started what would become a long (and depending on how one defines one's terms, not yet completed even today) career as a seminarian. It was also the year that the Beast Wars brand was born.

There were several reasons for this major shift in focus within the Transformers concept. One of these was that Hasbro had assimilated one-time rival Kenner a few years previously. At about the time that Hasbro decided that the Generation Two line was not performing as well as they had hoped, Hasbro also decided to move all of their "boys" toy lines to Kenner, which was then a still separately run sub-division owned by Hasbro. Kenner was given instructions to revitalize the Transformers franchise, and so they decided to rework the concept rather dramatically. Instead of robots that turned into vehicles and other mechanical forms, the new Transformers would be robots that turned into "realistic" animal forms. Instead of the Autobots and the Decepticons, the factions were renamed as the Maximals and the Predacons.

In an effort to advertise the new line, Kenner arranged to have the Beast Wars line featured as a Happy Meal promotion at McDonald's. Although this wasn't the first time that Transformers had been featured in fast-food kid's meals (or even at McDonald's), it was the first time that such a promotion actually featured transforming toys (it has been pointed out that there were earlier Happy Meals and other fast-food promotions with transforming toys such as food items that turned into robots, but these weren't Transformers). The 1996 line of Beast Wars Happy Meal toys is also fairly unique in that it's the only line to date to feature characters that weren't featured elsewhere in the franchise (at least, not at the time. The 2007 Beast Wars Sourcebook did finally create bios for these obscure guys). Perhaps that explains the less-than-creative names for the toys, which are all pretty much just the names of the animals they turn into, such as Beetle here.

Anyone expecting a difficult or complicated transformation really has no business looking for it in a Happy Meal toy, but I think Beetle is one of the better of the four toys that came out of this promotion (the others being Panther, Rhino, and Manta Ray). The chest is a bit hollow-looking, especially where the legs come up to meet it, but I still think it works pretty well, all things considered. And the legs actually have articulation (required for transformation), which is again better than one should expect out of a Happy Meal toy.

Beetle and the other toys of this promotion each came with a standard (more so at the time than now) Happy Meal box. There were two possible boxes: one for the Maximals and one for the Predacons (Here are some images of the Maximal Happy Meal box, and this blog has some pretty good pictures of one side of the Predacon Happy Meal box). These boxes had a few tell-tale signs that this promotion was put together in a transition time between the end of Generation Two and the beginning of Beast Wars proper. For example, the Generation Two logo is still present in several places, complete with G2 Autobot symbol (which wasn't used in Beast Wars at all). Also, Optimus Primal and Megatron are featured in their bat and crocodile forms, as they appeared in the two-pack which was the first Beast Wars item to be released at retail. These forms were all-but-forgotten by the time the Beast Wars cartoon started featuring them in their gorilla and T-Rex forms. All in all, these toys are an interesting glimpse into a important time in the franchise's history.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Non-Generation One Transformer Art: Part Two

Here are another six examples of official Transformer art for non-Generation One toys covered last year as part of the Friday "Counting the Collection" series.

Robot Masters Rebirth MegatronRobot Masters Reverse Convoy

Transformers Millennium Falcon Han SoloTransformers Millennium Falcon Chewbacca

Titanium ScourgeArmada Street Action Mini-Con Team

Transformers Wiki