Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Grand Slam and Raindance

It may seem odd to newer fans, now that we live in an age where cassettes are pretty much obsolete, but Transformers that turned into cassettes were pretty much always popular back in the days of G1. For less than the price of an Autobot Car (those tended to cost around $10), you could get two cassettes (which I remember as costing about $7)! The pack containing Grand Slam and Raindance was no exception.

Although there were a few cassettes that turned into robots, as most Transformers do, cassette Transformers tended to have a higher proportion of characters that turned into other things. During the first year of the line, there were cassettes that turned into condors (well, birds, anyway) and a jaguar. Later years gave us a lion, a rhino, a bat, dinosaurs, another kind of bird, an ape, and these two. For the most part, these cassettes didn't have an anthropomorphic "robot" mode at all. They were cassettes, their non-cassette alternate-mode, and that was it (The "other bird" and ape were an exception, as will be seen in a moment).

Out of all these non-conventional modes, Grand Slam and Raindance were the only cassette transformers to have vehicular alternate modes. Grand Slam is the tank, and Raindance is the jet. Although it was considered normal to have extra weapons or parts that needed to be added on to a Transformer's form to complete one mode or the other back in the days of G1, Grand Slam was fairly unique in that, if you didn't have the weapon parts, the vehicle mode pretty much didn't work at all. You'd be stuck with just a flat box with treads on the side (You probably can't see them in this not-quite-focused shot, but they're there.). [Incidentally, I know that I have Raindance's weapons on wrong, at least in regard to how the instructions tell you to place them. I just think they look better on top rather than below the wings.]

Because combiners had always proven popular in the Transformers line thus far (indeed, the concept's come up a lot in the years since), Hasbro gave the cassettes of this year (1988: Year 5 of the line) an additional feature: the two cassettes in the pack could combine into a robotic form. (The other cassettes released this year were Squawktalk and Beastbox, the aforementioned bird and ape duo.) As has been the case before, the folks who come up with the names didn't spend too much time worrying about what to call the combined form: they just smashed the individual components' names together to come up with (in this case) Slamdance. [Again, the way I have the weapons situated is at variance with the official art for Slamdance, but I think it looks better centered than off to the side. In this case, the instructions don't say one way or the other.]

There really isn't too much to say about these guys in terms of the official fiction. The cartoon had ceased production about a year earlier, and the comic only ever showed the pair as a couple of deactivated cassettes sent to Earth from Cybertron to warn the Autobots of an impending threat. (But get this, the comic had previously established that no one on Cybertron even knew Optimus Prime and his crew was on Earth, let alone functional, until the very recent past at that time. Yet when it came to using these two cassettes as couriers, the comic suggests that they were sent to Earth about a century earlier, deactivated in an accident, recovered by pirates, and only discovered by the Transformers just in time to be relevant. So many continuity issues with that one, it's best not to think too hard about it. Of course, I've kind of made it my job to know this kind of insanity-wreaking stuff!) Once the cassettes were recovered and the information gathered, they were promptly forgotten about and never heard from again. In all probability, they were probably still in deactivated cassette mode when, only two issues later, Starscream destroyed the spacecraft they'd last been seen on. Although I imagine that the tiny cassettes probably weren't damaged any further than they already were, they're probably still floating along out there, infinitesimal specks amidst the vast infinitude of space. Good luck finding them....

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Auditioning for Duel

Almost a year ago, I commented on my long-standing desire to be a contestant on a game show, and related some of what contestant coordinators look for in would-be contestants. Earlier this week, I took some time off to audition for Duel. Given that the show was said to have less-than-stellar ratings when it aired this past December, and that the usual site I go to for game show news was fairly critical of the show (although I don't think the problems were as bad as he seems to), I was surprised to learn from Buzzerblog that the show was auditioning contestants for a second season.

Having watched Duel, I thought it was a good quiz-show-type game that would play well to my strengths, so I sent in an e-mail with the requested information. I was surprised to get a call back the next day, inviting me to attend an "Open Casting Call" on Monday (I commented before that they call these try-outs "auditions." "Casting" is another word that signals just how much these game shows are treated as dramatic entertainment.).

So, having made arrangements to take a half-day off of work, I braved the LA traffic to head the to studio. Upon arriving, I found a line of chairs outside the studio with a desk set up at the door. The person at the desk asked me to sign in, and gave me a 50-question multiple-choice trivia quiz to take while waiting in the provided chairs. If I did well enough, I was told, I'd be asked to do an interview.

Although I'm sure I got a few questions wrong, I clearly didn't do so poorly as to lose the chance at the interview, as my name was indeed called, and I went inside to interview, along with a group of about a half-dozen other people. We mostly discussed strategies for playing the game, and were each asked to name our own areas of expertise. We also engaged in a mild form of one-upmanship as we were asked to quiz each other (I asked people to name the two lead actors from the '80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, and the call number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. One of the would-be contestants answered the first question correctly, but no one got the second.*). At the end we were asked which among us each of us would most want not to have to face, as well as who we would want to pair up against. I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but I clearly left an impression on my co-auditioners, as they indicated that I would be one of the people they weren't sure they could beat.

At that point, we were asked to step outside, but told not to leave just yet. A few moments later, the contestant coordinator came out, and pulled me aside to make sure that he had correct contact information. He reminded me that they were going to process a lot of people that day, but that if they wanted to continue with me as a potential contestant, I would get a call in a couple of days. I don't know if I'll get such a call or not, but it was a fun experience regardless. It's been too long since I've been to one of these auditions. If this one doesn't work out, I hope to try another one again sooner rather than later.

-----
*The lead actors in Perfect Strangers were Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker. The call number of the USS Enterprise is NCC-1701.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Unofficial BotCon 2008 FAQ

Although I don't normally post on Tuesdays, the news that the boxed sets for BotCon 2008 have sold out make this a good time to bump the FAQ to the top, as well as the data sheet of convention exclusives that I maintain. If, for some reason, you'd like to see last year's convention FAQ, just follow the link.

As I'm always careful to assert, I'm not especially connected to Fun Publications in any official way (although I suppose I'm a tiny bit more official now than I was last year. I've done some editing of profiles for the magazine since issue #17. But I'm certainly not authorized by the club or the convention to do this FAQ. Hence, "Unofficial."), and I encourage people to check out the official FAQ at BotCon.com, which may answer some of your questions not covered here, and certainly does so with greater authority. If you have suggestions for improvements, it might be best to make them by sending me an e-mail (the link is on the right) rather than by clicking "comments." However, either way will work.

  • General Information:

    1. When will BotCon 2008 be held? UPDATED: 1/28/08
    2. A: The convention will be held from April 24th-27th (although note that the Cincinnati "Fun Tour" is on the 23rd, for those of you who look to be attending that event, and one of the customizing classes is also on the 23rd.)

    3. Where will BotCon 2008 be held?
    4. A: The convention will be at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

    5. What airport should I use? UPDATED: 1/26/08
    6. A: The Cincinnati/Covington Airport (CVG) is the closest airport (despite actually being in Kentucky, and not Ohio!), and is a Delta hub, which means that you can probably get a direct flight there from most locations. Unfortunately, it seems to be an unusually expensive airport to fly to (I've actually heard that it's the most expensive airport to fly to in the entire United States!). I've personally looked up Standiford Field in Louisville, KY (SDF) and Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, KY (LEX), both of which give prices of about $250 cheaper for a round trip from Los Angeles (LAX) than CVG does. Of course, you'll have to allow an extra hour or two to drive, but rental cars are quite a bit cheaper than $250! Some folks have suggested Dayton International Airport (DAY), which is also quite a bit cheaper than CVG, and may be worth the extra drive time.

    7. How much will it cost to preregister? UPDATED: 1/26/08
    8. A: Preregistration for the Primus package (see below) will cost $335 for a non-club-member, and $50 less with a club membership. Since club memberships start at $40 for US members, you might want to consider joining the club if you live in the US and wish to go to BotCon. You'll save $10 (after accounting for the membership), and get the club stuff besides!

    9. How do I volunteer to help out at BotCon? UPDATED: 1/26/08
    10. A: If past years are an indication, there will be an e-mail sent out to all club members in the run up to BotCon asking for volunteers. Those interested can reply and will be sent a list of schedules that they can choose from. Those who reply should list a few in order of preference as they are then allocated on a "first come, first serve" basis. If you like, you can send an e-mail to questions@botcon.com now to make sure they know you're interested.

    11. $335 (or even $285) is an awful lot of money. Are there any cheaper options? UPDATED: 2/28/08
    12. A: Of course. Here's a quick run-down of what kinds of packages are offered at BotCon, including what you get for the money (but see the update at the end).

      • The Primus Package is the most expensive ($335 for non-members), but includes pretty much all the bells and whistles: The Boxed Set of five toys (six, technically, since they appear to not be counting the Mini-Con Razorclaw in that five. The set also comes with a convention pin), a program/comic, a name badge, admission to the Awards Dinner (or whatever similar event they plan this year), admission to all panels (often with priority seating ahead of Walk-ins), and admission to dealer room (including the Friday preview and early bird privileges on Saturday, which non-package holders can purchase separately if they desire). Also included is a "free" extra figure that's only available to Primus Package holders who attend the convention. This figure will never be sold anywhere.
      • A Minicon Package is usually available as an add-on to allow one guest (generally a family member) of a Primus Package holder for the reduced price of $80. Minicons get the same benefits of Primus Package holders, except they do not get the boxed set of toys, convention pin, or the program/comic.
      • The Protoform Package is similar to the Minicon Package, but available to those who aren't connected to a Primus Package holder, and will cost $120 for members and $170 for non-members. This package includes the convention pin, name badge, convention program with comic, admittance to the sales room including the private preview of the sales room on Friday and early bird privileges on Saturday, and admittance to all panels. If you don't care about the toys, you might want to consider this one.
      • The Iacon Package is the non-attendee package. It costs the same as the Primus Package, but includes only the boxed set of toys, the program/comic, and convention pin. This package does not include the special "free bonus" figure that Primus attendees get. These will be shipped after the convention.
      • Walk-in admission is available for $10 each day ($5 for children, and kids 4 and under are free), and this option is generally only available on Saturday and Sunday. While Walk-ins do get access to panels, Primus package holders get first preference, so if the panel is a popular one, a walk-in may be out of luck. Also, not all panels on Friday are repeated during the weekend, so Walk-ins (who can't come in on Friday) will not have access to these. Finally, it's worth repeating that these attendees do not get the boxed set of toys, although they can purchase other exclusives available only at the convention, should these not be sold out to Primus Package holders, who again are given priority. Two years ago, there were no exclusives available to non-Primus Package holders, but last year there were plenty of at-convention souvenirs for everyone who wanted them. Still, it's best not to count on this if you don't buy the Primus Package.
      • UPDATE! An e-mail was circulated to TCC members on February 28th, officially announcing that the exclusive toys for 2008 (both boxed and loose sets) were sold out. In light of this, Brian Savage announced two other possibilities.
      • A reduced-price Protoform package that would include the toys from the 2005 set. Boxed sets are $250 for club members, $300 for non-members. This package is identical to the regular Protoform package with the exception of the substituted toys. Loose sets are available at $130 for members ($165 for non-members) to people who buy this boxed set.
      • The Energon package includes admission to all events, a convention badge, the 2008 pin and the convention program with comic, but no toys. The Energon Package is $180 for Club members, $230 for non-members. This is distinguished from the Protoform package by inclusion of the Casino Night Awards Dinner.

  • Hotel:

    1. Will there be a special convention rate for staying at a "convention hotel"?
    2. A: Yes, although I'll tell you right now that your best bet is to read the official page at BotCon.com rather than this site, since by the time I can make any updates, spaces already tend to be taken. Don't bother asking about this on forums, either. Just go to the site, see what they tell you, and make the phone call. If space is already filled, try another location. There will probably be several "official" hotels announced as the convention gets closer.

    3. Can I room with another fan to save on hotel room costs?
    4. A: Almost certainly. Most hotels charge by the room, not by the person. However, it's not unheard of for a hotel to charge more if there are too many people in one room. Check the individual hotel to find out their policies.

    5. Will I need to get local transportation or will I be able to find everything I need from the hotel on foot? UPDATED: 2/1/08
    6. A: Usually, if you use the "official" hotel, you can theoretically get by without additional transportation, but keep in mind that you'll still need to find a way to the hotel/convention center from the airport, if you fly. This earlier led me to recommend renting a car, reasoning that it's not that much more than a taxi both ways, and you'll have greater freedom. However, it sounds like the Hyatt (the main hotel) charges $20 a day for parking, so you may want to consider this option carefully, since that adds up pretty heavily.


  • Convention activities:

    1. What special events will be held at BotCon? UPDATED: 1/28/08
    2. A: These haven't been fully detailed yet, but there will be an art contest, seminars featuring special guests (to be announced), a casino night awards dinner, and the "Faction Feud" game show is starting to become an annual tradition, being held for the third straight year (get your teams together if you're connected to a TF-related web page!), among other events. And, of course, there are special tours before the convention properly starts, but those cost extra. Check the brochure and BotCon.com for more information.

    3. Will there be another customizing class? UPDATED: 1/26/08
    4. A: It has been confirmed that there will be at two customizing classes, one on Wednesday the 23rd and one on Thursday the 24th. You can only sign up for one, and it costs $75 per person. Details may be found on the BotCon.com brochure.

    5. Who will be the special guests? UPDATED: 3/28/08
    6. A: So far, two have been announced: 1) David Kaye, voice of Beast Wars Megatron (and other Megatrons) and Transformers: Animated Optimus Prime. 2) "Bumper" Robinson, voice of Transformers: Animated Bumblebee and Blitzwing. There may be others....


  • Exclusives:

    1. What are the BotCon 2008 toy exclusives? UPDATED: 3/28/08
    2. A: Rumors that the 2008 set will be some kind of "mirror universe" concept have held true. The set will include an evil Optimus Prime, evil Grimlock, evil Jazz, evil Goldbug, heroic Starscream, and the heroic Mini-Con Razorclaw. The mold choices and color-schemes for these have now been officially revealed:

      • Prime will use the Classics Prime mold with paint purple and black
      • Jazz will use the Cybertron Crosswise mold, painted white, with a new remolded head for Jazz (pretty much a Jazz-colored repaint, with "evil" slogans)
      • Goldbug will use the Cybertron Hot Shot mold, painted gold and black, with a new remolded head for goldbug
      • Grimlock will use the Classics Grimlock mold, painted black. Looks rather Trypticony.
      • Starscream will use the Cybertron Starscream mold (the smaller version, previous sold in Thrust-colors in 2-pack with Vector Prime), painted in a Jetfire color-scheme
      • Razorclaw is a yellow repaint of the Classics Mini-Con Overbite.

      In addition, the "free exclusive" that you have to attend the convention to get has been officially revealed: Ricochet is another repaint of Cybertron Crosswise, using the new head created for Jazz.

      But there's more! There will also likely be several figures that must be purchased at the convention itself (probably in two sets of three figures each). Typically, only the box set is officially announced before the convention, but they already revealed the attendee exclusive (which is unusual), and rumors have already begun to surface about the others. If true (the source has proven reliable so far this year, as more samples have been showing up on eBay), expect to see a "heroic" Megatron made from the smaller-size Energon Megatron mold, with a new head, an "evil" Rodimus made from the Classics Rodimus mold (with a new goatee on his head!), an "evil" Blurr made from the Cybertron Blurr mold (with an inexplicably remolded head which at least gives Blurr a cool eye patch. But if they're going to bother with a new head, why use this mold?), and an "evil-turned-good" Sideswipe made from the Armada Wheeljack mold (possibly in the colors of the unreleased "Battle in a Box" Drench toy). The Megatron/Rodimus set is rumored to include an unrevealed Mini-Con (Blurr's Mini-Con may be possible, but since the Cybertron version of the Blurr mold is being used, I wouldn't place any bets), and the Blurr/Sideswipe set would probably have the "Drench" recolor of the Mini-Con that used to be part of the Armada Wheeljack set.

    3. Can I pre-order all of the exclusives to be available at BotCon, and not just the box set? UPDATED: 3/28/08
    4. A: This has always been a popular suggestion, but by the time pre-orders were filled, only the box set was available for pre-order. There's always next year, but for some reason, FP has appeared unwilling to entertain this idea.

    5. I'm all about the toys, and want to order as many sets as possible. What are my options? UPDATED: 2/20/08
    6. A: For one thing, club members (sorry, non-members!) who order either the Primus (attendee) package or the Iacon (non-attendee) package have the option of ordering an extra set of loose figures (the same figures as contained within the box set only). The loose set costs $189 this year, and is being limited to 200 sets. If you're really a big spender, you can order as many Primus sets as you like (I suppose you could order as many Iacon sets as you like, too, but I've never heard of anyone going wild on those), subject to availability. People who buy multiple Primus sets are entitled to multiples of the "attendee-only freebie" in addition to their multiple box sets (that is, if a person buys 5 Primus packages, they'd get 5 of the "freebies"), and can purchase a loose set for each Primus package ordered (again, subject to availability). HOWEVER, the attendee-only souvenir toys you have to pay for are still limited to one per person, until Fun Publications decides that everyone in attendance who wants to buy them has had a chance to. They may later decide to open purchases up so that people who bought them already can get more, but this won't happen until closer to the end of the convention.

      UPDATE: On February 15, 2008, all Iacon sales were put on a waiting list, so that attendees could get first preference for the apparently few sets remaining. At least as early as February 20, 2008 (perhaps as early as the 15th), Primus packages were being limited to one per person.

    7. There's a non-attendee package? You mean I don't have to go to the convention, but can still get the convention stuff? Doesn't that go against the very meaning of the word "exclusive"? UPDATED: 2/28/08
    8. A: Well, yes and no. There has been a non-attendee package in recent years, but it only includes the figures from the box set, usually with a few extras, such as the convention program/comic. Any other figures available for purchase, as well as the "attendee-only freebie" (which is actually given at no extra charge to Primus package attendees) are only available to those who attend the convention.

      The whole nature of what constitutes an "exclusive" has been the subject of considerable debate among fans for many years now. Some are against the very concept of "exclusive" toys that not all fans can get, while others appreciate that those who take the extra time and spend the considerable cost of attending a convention will get something special for their efforts. This formula for a "non-attendee" package seems to be FP's attempt to meet both concerns.

      In any event, non-attendee sales were put on a waiting list starting February 15th, and since remaining sets were official announced as having been sold out on February 28th (although several people had gotten unofficial word directly from FP staff about this fact several days earlier), it seems that any non-attendees who didn't get their orders in before the 15th will not be able to get them except through the secondary market.

The Transformers Convention Exclusive data sheet

The data sheet has been moved to a dedicated site.  It may be found at this location.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's in a Goatee?

Over the past few weeks, Transformers fans have been treated to preview images of the exclusives toys that can be pre-ordered for the upcoming BotCon. As is well-known by now, this year's theme is a "Mirror Universe" concept called "Shattered Glass."

While granting that the "Mirror Universe" concept has its probably most well-known example in the original Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," in which Kirk and crew find themselves in a parallel universe where their own counterparts (as well as those of their friends) are all evil, and also granting that Spock looks really cool in a goatee, I really do have to wonder at the sheer number of requests... no, demands... that Transformer characters be depicted in this set with goatees themselves. (Incidentally, you can watch this classic Trek episode, as well as any of the others, for free at cbs.com)

Of course, even though the idea of facial hair on a robot is pretty silly, it's not at all unheard of among Transformers. Even before Hasbro released Scourge, a character with undeniable "robotic facial hair," the cartoon had featured the elderly (even by Transformer standards) character of Alpha Trion. And of course old guys have beards, right? In any event, there's plenty of precedent for the request.

But even allowing for such a seemingly non-robotic feature as goatees on the Transformers, why should goatees be so closely identified with "evil"? So far as I can tell, "Mirror Spock" is the first example of this connection, and others since then have been conscious homages to "Mirror Spock." Even granting that connection, why is that pretty much every Transformers exclusive character posted so far this year gets at least one comment to the effect of "I wish he had a goatee"? People have even suggested that the Optimus Prime figure in this set should have a goatee! Prime has a face plate! Where would you put a goatee? Besides, with one (extremely obscure) exception, Spock was the only Star Trek character whose Mirror universe counterpart had a goatee not worn by the "regular" version (incidentally, for the exception, you have to go well outside of the original Star Trek, to the Mirror universe episode of Star Trek: Enterprise). It's not like everyone in "evil land" wears one!

But fear not, goatee fans! If the rumors are true, one of the at-convention exclusives, an evil version of Classics Rodimus, will indeed sport a goatee. Of course, we won't know if this rumor is true until the convention (or, at least, until someone shows up on eBay selling a toy stolen from the factory). Until then, speculations will continue to run wild.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Brainstorm

As the Transformers line was entering it's fourth year of existence, the folks who made the toys were trying to come up with new ways of keeping kids interested in the franchise. Ultimately, this led to practically every toy needing to have some "gimmick" beyond the idea of transformation itself. Some gimmicks have been better than others, and there is definitely a line of thought that suggests that the over-reliance on these gimmicks is at least part of what eventually doomed the original line in the early '90s.

Year four, the midway point of the original line, saw the introduction of the Headmasters. These were robots with heads that came off and transformed into tiny figures that could pilot the larger robot's vehicle mode. One of these figures was Brainstorm. As with most of the regular-sized Headmasters figures of this year, the character's name had some kind of "head" reference (the others falling into this punnery were Chromedome, Hardhead, Highbrow, Apeface, and Skullcruncher, with an "honorable mention" for Mindwipe. Most of the Targetmasters, a related gimmick where the robots had weapons that turned into figures, had similarly weapon-related names.).

Brainstorm's head detached and turned into a figure named Arcana. The Tech Specs indicate that both Brainstorm and Arcana were scientists, and together they devised the technology that made the Headmasters possible. It's worth noting that this is at least one area where the American Transformers line and the Japanese one came up with very different stories for the same figures. While, in the American line, the small head figures were humanoid aliens (Nebulans) who bio-engineered their bodies to be able to transform, and the humanoid and the Transformer thereby achieved a kind of symbiosis, the Japanese went with the idea that the smaller robot was the "real" Transformer character (also called, in this case, Brainstorm. The character of Arcana doesn't exist in the Japanese version), and the larger body was simply a kind of mecha that the smaller robot controlled when in the form of the larger robot's head. Many fans prefer the Japanese origin as "more realistic." I actually prefer the American one, but that's just me, I guess.

As the Transformers line moved more solidly into the realm of science fiction, and away from strictly Earth-based stories, the designers made less effort to ensure that each Transformer's alternate mode resembled some kind of Earthen equivalent. In the case of Brainstorm, the alternate mode is a kind of jet fighter that probably bears more similarity to Luke Skywalker's X-Wing fighter than to anything in the skies of the planet Earth (either at the time or since). This loss of emphasis on the "disguise" part of the "robots in disguise" concept is also cited by many fans as a reason for the decline of the Transformers franchise, but since the cartoon of the time (argued by the vast majority as the preferred form of Transformers fiction, although I've always preferred the comics, myself) really never did all that much with the disguise aspect, I think this argument overstates the case.

I actually really like the Headmasters concept, and find it a pity that so many people seem to argue that this was the "beginning of the end" for the Transformers. Perhaps I "doth protest too much" in my defense against these criticisms. In any event, I'm glad that I have been able to enjoy this toy for so long, and was especially glad to revitalize this toy a year or so ago with Reprolabels.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Topspin Pictures Revealed

This one's frankly more for my own archival purposes than to give anyone information they don't already have, but the first "true" pictures of Topspin, the next Transformers club membership incentive figure, went up at www.transformersclub.com on Monday night (here's a more direct link to Topspin itself).

We'd seen some painted mock-ups before, but this is the first we really see of the figure with the transparent parts and all. Members who join by March 16, 2008, will get this figure as part of your paid membership. It will ship sometime the "late spring/early summer" (possibly a little later than usual due to BotCon at the end of April, but that's also part of why I chronicle this stuff: once the figure's out, I can easily look back through the blog entries for those figures for easy date comparison!).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mirror Superion?

Everyone's talking about the upcoming BotCon exclusive set this year, which is featuring a "Mirror Universe" concept where all the good guys are bad and vice-versa. Love it or hate it (and there's plenty of both), it's a hot topic on the boards these days.

It was therefore a bit odd for me to realize that I'd actually done something with pretty much this exact concept a few years ago. Discount stores have been carrying $5 (on average) knock-off sets of the old "Scramble City" combiners for quite some time now. The quality is certainly well below standard for Hasbro/Takara-made Transformers, but they do make for excellent custom fodder.

Having already added the knock-off version of Superion to my collection, and looking for something to do, I bought another to turn into an "evil" version of the Aerialbot team. Painting the leader in (nearly) all black, adding blue and gold in places they didn't previously exist, and even dying one of the white team members red (although it came out pink, instead), I completed my evil Superion.

A bit of Photoshop work even allowed me to create "box art" for the new character, as well as Tech Specs. If you'll read through the Tech Specs I made about two and a half years ago (below), you'll see that this character hails from an alternative universe, and was brought into ours by Unicron. This was intended to tie into the "Universe" plotline (which was where most repaints of this nature were coming from at the time if/when Hasbro released such toys) where many Transformers from alternate universes were being brought together to fight (either for against) Unicron. But now that the "Mirror TF Universe" is becoming canonical, who's to say that this evil Superion isn't from the same universe as the upcoming BotCon exclusives? (Admittedly, I did call him a Decepticon and gave him faction symbols, rather than the "evil Autobot" concept of the convention, but that could be dealt with if need be) Since "Alterion" (as I called the new character on the Tech Specs) is clearly a portmanteau of "alternate" and "Superion," it may be safely assumed that "Alterion" is not this character's name in his own universe, but is simply a name chosen for clarity's sake.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Metroplex

OK. This is going to be tricky. For most of my old Transformers, I can safely show off most of the toy's features in only a few pictures. But then there's Metroplex. Now, if I were doing this weekly project in order from "least interesting" to "most interesting," I'd probably have saved this one for much later (and I certainly wouldn't have done "Cookie Crisp Jazz" first!). But since I'm trying to do this in a roughly chronological order, there's no getting around "it's Metroplex's turn." Part of the problem isn't just putting so many pictures up, but also arranging the text around them in such a way that the blog entry doesn't look like a train wreck on most browsers. I may or may not have succeeded in that area, but I'll just have to let you be the judge.

Metroplex was one of two Transformers to come out during the third year of the original line that turned into a "city." Even ignoring the issues of scale that turning into a "city" obviously implies, Hasbro knew that any "city" Transformer had to be one of the larger toys of the line. Not only that, but they packed all sorts of features into this piece. The picture to the right of the first paragraph just shows the main "Metroplex" robot, with all of his weapons attached. This can be considered the "default" mode. But if you take off most of the guns, and add a couple of parts from Metroplex's city mode that aren't used in Metroplex's robot form, you can reassemble them into another robot, which the name-creating geniuses at Hasbro decided to call Sixgun (go ahead, count 'em! Two guns for the legs, two for the arms, two on his back, and one "hand-held" weapon, that's... wait a minute! And why does he need a "hand-held" weapon if he doesn't even have hands? They're just guns!).

Let's move on to Metroplex's main alternative mode, the aforementioned city mode. In this mode, Metroplex is sprawled out and takes up a lot of desk space, so I don't actually keep Metroplex in this mode very often. However, this mode has lots of compartments and spaces intended to allow smaller Transformers ("Mini-Cars" such as Bumblebee were still available at the time, and the packaging showed several combiner limbs, as well) to interact with the city.

Even if you don't have any other Transformers (hard to imagine, if you're buying this one!), Hasbro made sure that Metroplex included a small car to interact with Metroplex: Scamper. Scamper was a little black car, reminiscent of (but not the same as!) KITT from Knight Rider. In fact, when I was a kid, I had painted a little red "scanner" light on the front of Scamper so that he would resemble KITT even more closely (I have since reversed the effects of that injudicious action!). If you put Scamper inside of the squarish compartment at the top of Metroplex's city ramp, you can push a black lever just above the compartment to cause Scamper to shoot down the ramp. Simple, but tons of fun for both kids and adults!

Scamper, being more of an add-on than a Transformer in his own right, had a transformation even more simplistic than most Mini-cars of the time. Take the guns off of the top, fold down the hood, and put the guns back on as arms. Metroplex also came with a tiny gun that was intended to go in the pegs on the sides of Scamper's fists to give Scamper a weapon, too, but I've since lost that part. However, given the myriad of parts that Metroplex came with, the fact that this itty, bitty gun is the only thing I've lost out of the whole set is something of an achievement! I'm sure I'll have it replaced someday, but it's hardly a priority.

Anyway, we're not done detailing Metroplex's accessories. If you take the tower off of the right side of Metroplex's city mode and add another attachment, you can create a little tank, called Slammer. Unlike Scamper, Slammer doesn't transform into a robot. He pretty much only seems to exist in order to give the designers a way of dealing with one of the city parts Metroplex has without creating an unwieldy piece of kibble in Metroplex's robot mode. Unfortunately, the designers created another problem in creating Slammer: if you don't keep this guy in tank mode, there really isn't any other place to put the turret. Of course, back in the days of G1, the designers didn't seem to mind so much if a part didn't have any purpose outside of one of the Transformer's modes, but this kind of thing almost never happens today, as they find ways of storing pretty much everything in all modes one way or another.

This is how I usually tend to keep Metroplex on display these days, showing off all the members of Metroplex's "crew." I do it this way since it leaves me with the fewest "spare parts" of any configuration I can think of. But even this doesn't use up everything. You may have noticed in the first picture (Who am I kidding? You didn't notice! Go back up and look now!) that the large brown guns in Metroplex's fists have missiles in them. The missiles have to be removed in order to form Sixgun, and they don't really "go" anywhere else. I usually just stash them in Metroplex's ramp compartment; behind that square black box with the Autobot symbol on the robot's torso.

But I'm still not done detailing all of Metroplex's features! In addition to Metroplex's city mode, he has a "battle station" mode, in which Metroplex's guns are put to good use in a fairly compact fashion. The missiles are back in place, but unlike the Japanese version, they don't really fire, as Hasbro removed the springs from the "launchers" in order to follow US safety regulations. Even still, I'd use this mode more, except that I would still have no place to put the spare Sixgun parts (in his torso) that form another tower in Metroplex's city mode. Since they don't fit in that ramp compartment, I default to the robot mode above.

But wait! There's more! As incredible as it may be after detailing so many features, I'm still not done yet. Metroplex's instructions tell you that you can create a "super robot" by adding combiner limbs to various points at Metroplex's shoulders and at his knees (the "kneecaps" remove to reveal connector points). Because most of the combiner limbs I own are cheap knock-offs, I chose to demonstrate this feature with a much later-era figure that uses a G1 combiner mold. It's a pretty random feature. Knowing that the Japanese marketed this toy as part of the "Scramble City" line that most of the combiners from this era were part of really doesn't do much to diminish the randomness of this feature in my mind. Just how is adding robots to Metroplex supposed to make him "super"? I don't really know. Perhaps they had the "Mini-Con" concept of the Armada line in mind, more than 15 years before its time!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Strike is Over (Really, this time)!

Despite some premature celebrations on both the Allspark and the TFW2005 boards earlier this week, the Writer's Strike is actually only over as of late last night (if you go by the vote) or today (if you count when writers are coming back to work). It should be made clear that the writers have so far only voted to return to work. The actual contract which is responsible for this action is going to be voted on by mail between now and February 25th, although it's hard to imagine the contract being rejected at this stage.

Although this means an eventual end to the current boon game shows are having, as networks are able to put more scripted dramas back on the screen soon (although expect another month or so for the new scripts to actually come to us as completed episodes), this is still good news... for most of us. Shows which were on the "bubble" when the strike began may not ever come back, and although some shows such as Pushing Daisies (my favorite new show this year) have been granted renewals for another season, it still remains to be seen how many episodes can be made for the current one, and that number is all-but-certain to be quite a bit lower than it would have been if the strike never happened in the first place.

But at the very least, the end of the strike means that a lot of people can get back to work. And I don't just mean writers. The majority of people who work in the television industry (and more than a few who work on movies) have been out of work and unable to earn their usual paychecks during this strike. And that's an especially significant number of people in Southern California, where quite a few friends and acquaintances (and their families!) have had their lives turned upside-down by this action. This isn't to say that the writers were wrong to strike. People have a right to get paid a fair value for their labor, and with the world of media changing, I think it was entirely reasonable to expect that writers be paid a certain amount of profits made from online media, and although the writers didn't get everything they wanted, they definitely managed to score victories in that key area.

I'm glad that it's over for now, and look forward to seeing the new shows when they come out.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Classic Movie Review: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Thanks to my Peerflix account, I finally got a copy of the Frank Capra 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington this past weekend (I've since found out that this movie is available for free via Google video, although I still haven't successfully downloaded a copy for my iPod, so I don't know how reliable a venue that is, but it appears you can watch it online in any event). I've been curious about this film ever since being re-introduced to Capra's It's a Wonderful Life a little over a year ago, but had never seen it until now. Like the later (1946) It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington stars Jimmy Stewart, who had also worked with Capra for an even earlier film that I still haven't seen, 1938's You Can't Take It with You. I guess that one's next on my list....

Besides sharing the same director and lead actor, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shares a few elements with It's a Wonderful Life. Music is provided by Russian immigrant Dimitri Tomkin. Thomas Mitchell, who played absent-minded Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, has a significant role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as reporter Diz Moore. H.B. Warner shows up in minor roles in both. There are probably other connections, as well; one gets the impression that Capra had a group of actors that he believed in and was loyal to. But perhaps the most obvious similarity between these two classics is the idea (prevalent in many of Capra's films) that "one man can make a difference."

Here's a quick, spoiler-filled synopsis: A senator passes away suddenly, right before an important bill is about to be brought to a vote. This particular bill is important to a wealthy mogul named Jim Taylor, who has a financial interest in seeing this bill passed, and has lined up a group of corrupt senators (including the deceased) to make sure that it does. It's up to the governor to make an appointment, and when the Taylor-chosen candidate meets with massive public opposition, the governor ends up following the advice of his children to appoint local boy scout (or, more correctly in terms of the film, "Boy Ranger") leader Jefferson Smith (Stewart), a naive young man with highly patriotic ideals. The surprise appointment is extremely well-received by the public, and despite Taylor's displeasure at an appointment made without his permission, Smith is sworn in.

Smith's naivete gets him into some early trouble with the press, but he finds a quick ally--or so he believes--in senior senator Joseph Paine, who it turns out was a childhood friend of Smith's father. In the past, Smith's father and Paine were champions of "lost causes," a tendency that eventually led to the father's murder, and presumably was what attracted Paine to public service in the first place. Unfortunately, Paine is firmly in Taylor's pocket, and is simply trying to keep Smith from learning too much about the important bill until it is too late.

Paine tries to distract Smith from the crucial bill by suggesting that Smith write one of his own. Unfortunately, it turns out that Smith's bill involves creating a boy's camp near a creek that is intended to be dammed by Taylor's bill. When it becomes clear that the two bills are mutually exclusive, Smith learns of Taylor's scheme. An honest man despite Taylor's threats to break him, Smith intends to bring Taylor's intentions to public light, but before he can do so, Taylor forces Paine to sabotage Smith's efforts by accusing Smith of seeking to profit from the plan to build a boy's camp near the creek. Mounds of false evidence are presented against Smith, and the senate prepares to vote him out of office on corruption charges. Smith, shocked at the accusations and unable to defend himself, nearly gives up.

Smith is given encouragement to continue fighting by his formerly cynical aide Clarissa Saunders, who has been won over by Smith's integrity and ideals. Saunders encourages Smith to filibuster the senate: holding the floor and continuing to speak for as long as it takes to delay his ouster and get the truth to the public. Although the filibuster makes big news, Taylor is able to ensure that any news made public is hostile to Smith. Even a grassroots effort to distribute papers in Smith's defense, engineered by the Boy Rangers who know Smith best, is thwarted by Taylor's goons, who go so far as to run vehicles carrying the children and their papers off the road. Many children are injured, and Saunders vows to have Smith end his filibuster.

Before she can do so, Paine has a final ploy of his own. In a kind of reverse-Miracle on 34th Street (although that movie was still nearly a decade away!), he has thousands of letters brought in from citizens of the public calling for Smith's ouster. Smith, already exhausted from having spoken for many hours non-stop, is nearly broken by this revelation, but finds strength from the president of the Senate, who gives him a silent smile. Smith then reminds Paine of the man he used to be: the champion of lost causes. Vowing to continue fighting, Smith suddenly collapses.

This is the last straw for Paine, who runs out of the senate chambers and tries to shoot himself. Prevented from doing so by senate guards, Paine runs back into the chambers and tells everyone the truth, that Smith is innocent and that Paine is the one who should be kicked out. The senate chambers erupt in chaos, and the movie ends with Saunders shouting "Yippee!" to crowd while the president of the Senate smiles and leans back in his chair, amused at the outcome of Smith's victory.

I was actually a bit surprised at the ending. Although we are told that Smith has merely fainted, and will be all right, we never see him learn that he's won. Still, we know everything we need to know, and I certainly won't second-guess Capra, who wanted to show us the often-high price of true democracy, even when those most responsible for maintaining it seem to have been corrupted by money and power. This is a movie that I think is as relevant now as it was 70 years ago, and I highly recommend that people watch it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Overdrive

Moving along in the part of my collection I've actually had for 20 years, we come to Overdrive, a member of an obscure subgroup of Autobots known as the Omnibots. The Omnibots were among the first mail-order exclusives. I mentioned them briefly when I discussed Reflector a little over a year ago (Reflector, incidentally, is one the larger sub-set of my collection that, while being G1, I picked up sometime later). I never did pick up the other two members of this team (though I think my brother may have Camshaft somewhere, found at a flea market when we were adults), but I do have Overdrive.

Back in the days of G1, each Transformers toy came with what were called "Robot Points" on the back of the package. Kids could clip these, and send them in to Hasbro with a set amount of cash to buy Transformers that weren't available in stores. It wasn't until I was much older that I began to learn some of the story behind this marketing scheme. The Omnibots hail from the same "Diaclone" line that many of the original Transformers came from, but for whatever reason, Hasbro was unwilling to commit these toys to the main retail line (perhaps because the Omnibots were slightly smaller than the "standard" Autobot vehicles, but far too large to count as Minicars, and Hasbro didn't feel that they could sell such an in-between size alongside the regular offerings). Mail-order exclusives were by no means uncommon back then, although they've largely been supplanted by internet sales now.

While the Omnibots weren't true "Triple Changers," they did have a third mode, which was basically the car mode with added weapons. You can see Overdrive's third mode here. Don't look too closely, though, or you'll see all the places where my child-self put glow-in-the-dark paint on several parts (I thought it was so cool back then!).

In the US, the Omnibots didn't come with bios or Tech Specs. The instructions that came with these toys explained this by saying that, since the Omnibots were "in the early stages of evolution... Tech Specs rating tests have not been completed for [them]." However, the Omnibots had also been available as mail-order exclusives in Japan, where they were given bios and Tech Specs. In fact, the Japanese Tech Specs indicated that Overdrive was the Omnibot commander. Some time ago, I had a web page devoted to custom Tech Specs. Here is the one I created for Overdrive, using a fan-translation of the Japanese original as my basis, but created to the specifications of US Tech Specs of the era.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Misuse

It should come as no surprise that I tend to get a bit annoyed when Scripture is misquoted or misused. When the misuse is by a politician, that's actually par for the course, and so not worthy of comment... even if it is still annoying. But in the case of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former minister, he really should know better.

Now, let me be clear. I'm not talking about the use of Scripture in a transparently self-serving political speech, and calling that misuse. I suppose one could go there if they wanted to, but I don't. I'm talking about taking a passage and using it in a way completely at variance with what the passage means, instead using the well-known words themselves as a kind of "Pavlov's bell" to signal to voters that "hey! I know Scripture!"

Last night, at the end of the "Super Tuesday" primaries, Huckabee gave an example of both "the right way" and "the wrong way" to use Scripture passages politically (assuming that a political use is a "right way." But I actually think this can be perfectly acceptable in the right context, so I'm not going there). Here is an example of "the right way":
Tonight, we are making sure America understands that sometimes one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor.
Here, by comparing himself to David (vs. his opponents' Goliath), Huckabee is using the well-known story to illustrate how he is able to compete despite his apparent disadvantages thus far in the campaign. The passage being alluded to retains its original meaning in the new context.

But then, in the very next line, Huckabee uses a reference "the wrong way":
And we've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world.
"Widow's mite" is a clear allusion to Mark 12:41-44 (or, if you prefer, the same story is found in Luke 21:1-4). But despite Jesus' praise of the widow, telling his disciples that she has put in more than anyone else, this is not a statement of effectiveness. The widow's mite doesn't buy any more--or do any more--than any of the other, larger, amounts of money given. It really doesn't do anything to anyone besides the widow herself. Jesus is praising the widow's sacrificial gift. She gave everything she had to live on! Huckabee is here taking a reference and making it mean something that is a variance with the way the reference is used in Scripture itself. I find this annoying.

Of course, like I said, Huckabee is a politician, and politicians actually do this kind of thing all the time. And, let's be fair, even though Huckabee was also a pastor, it's not like pastor's don't do this kind of thing all the time, too. You probably know what I'm talking about: the pastor is preaching on a certain topic. He (normally in this context, I'd say "he/she," but I can't think of any women pastors, who are relatively few, who've done this in my presence. I'm sure they're out there, though) wants to use Scripture to make his point, and so he finds a passage that, at least on the surface, "sounds" about right, so he tosses it in. The fact that the passage was really about something else becomes only a minor inconvenience. It "sounds" right, so it gets used. If more lay people commented about such sloppy uses of Scripture (or more voters commented against politicians doing the same), perhaps pastors (or candidates) would misuse such passages less often... but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Scorponok: True Leader of the Decepticons

Over on the Allspark, a group of us are debating the merits of joining the Official Transformers Collectors' Club. Rightly or wrongly, there are a lot of folks who complain about not getting the stuff they've paid for. Since I've never had a problem with this whatsoever, I'm probably less than sympathetic, but it's widespread enough that it needs to be taken seriously.

One of the arguments I'm more sympathetic to is the quality of the club fiction, especially the comic. Some of us are trying to be part of the solution to that problem, rather than just complaining about it, but there's only so much we can do. The most specific complaint I've taken part in myself is that the comics featuring "Classics" characters, which are said to take place in the old Marvel comics continuity, haven't actually resembled that continuity very well. I've said in a couple of places that, although there are occasional "easter eggs" that reference the old comics, none of those have been central to any of the stories, and the stories themselves could have taken place in just about any of the myriad G1 continuities already in existence. Pete Sinclair assures us that Classics isn't done with yet, and that tie-ins to the comics will be more clear by the time it's all done. But we're still waiting....

In one of the discussions of this matter on the Allspark, it's been suggested that the portrayal of Megatron is more like his cartoon version than the comic. This is a criticism I can't agree with. For one thing, cartoon Megatron is a bit more of a hot-tempered manic with ludicrous scheme-of-the-week plans to take over the world. The Classics version of Megatron has been made out to be a much more meticulous planner, able to wait things out for the long haul. Of course, this doesn't necessarily resemble the Marvel comics version of Megatron, either, but as Pete himself pointed out, we don't actually get to know who the Marvel comics version of Megatron is all that well.

So I did the math: Megatron is only around for about one-third of the comic's run. In fact, he can only really be said to be in command of the Decepticons for a little over a dozen of the 80 issues of the original Marvel comic. That's really not very much for the "legendary" leader of the Decepticons.

In fact, Headmaster commander Scorponok held the leadership of the Earthbound Decepticons for far longer: About 38 issues from start to finish, before his untimely demise at the hands of Unicron in issue #75, arguably the most well-written death in the entire Transformers saga. During this entire time, Scorponok never had his command of the Decepticons taken away from him (unlike Megatron, who didn't even serve as leader for as many issues as Shockwave did), although two attempts were made (although, to be fair, the fact that nothing much came of these two attempts at coups d'├ętat isn't really because of any strength on Scorponok's part).

So, I hereby dub Scorponok the true leader of the Decepticons!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Shockwave

Although I've collected Transformers since pretty much the beginning of the franchise in 1984, my collection is much more heavily weighted in terms of toys that I've gotten in the past ten years or so. Even a significant part of my "G1" collection is made up of reissues or toys that I got through second-hand sources like eBay. So the figures I've actually had for 20 years or more tend to have special significance for me.

Another of my oldest figures is Shockwave. For those who follow character more than the toys themselves, if all you knew of Shockwave was the character you saw in the cartoon, you couldn't fully appreciate this character. In the comic, Shockwave was something special. Shockwave single-handedly reduced the Earthbound Autobots to near extinction at the point when Marvel decided to continue what was supposed to be only a four-issue mini-series and make it an ongoing comic. The cover of issue #5, the first issue of the comic as an ongoing, says it all. (Thankfully, the rest of the Autobots were eventually restored by their lone survivor, Ratchet, who I'll get around to talking about sooner or later) The next issue, Shockwave challenged Megatron, the leader of the evil Decepticons, to a battle for the right to assume leadership, and Shockwave won! This was not a Decepticon to underestimate!

One of the character traits that made Shockwave unique was an almost Spock-like devotion to logic. Even Shockwave's distinctive head, a faceless hexagonal block with only a single gold eye in the center, speaks to the cold and calculating nature of the character. He didn't want the leadership of the Decepticons purely out of a egomaniacal lust for power (as fellow Decepticon leader-wanna-be Starscream did). He actually thought that logic dictated that he would be better suited to lead the Decepticons to victory.

Shockwave's gun mode was equally distinctive at the time the original toy was released. While all Transformers up to that point were based on some real-world vehicle or mechanical device (whether or not the Dinobots predated Shockwave is a matter of conjecture, but even they were mechanical forms of real-world dinosaurs), Shockwave's "space-gun" mode was pure science fiction.

Sadly, my specimen of Shockwave is showing its age, and is very fragile. The joints inside both shoulders have been broken and repaired many times over, and despite fitting an extra pin in them to give extra support, they both gave away yet again when transforming the toy for the robot-mode picture seen above. Also, the toy can no longer support its own weight in a standing pose, which is why I took the picture of the toy's robot mode lying flat on its back. You might be able to tell from the picture that my toy's gun arm has also been broken and repaired. This is a common problem with old Shockwaves, as is the broken area around Shockwave's pelvis. At least I haven't lost the end of Shockwave's gun arm before I could glue it back on again! The same cannot be said for the "viewfinder" that is supposed to be present in the back of Shockwave's space-gun mode. Still, I think that mine remains more complete than many Shockwaves still in existence, and I'm sure that I'd be able to get a pretty good price for it if I were ever looking to sell it.

But don't hold your breath. As one of the few genuine Transformer links to my childhood, this one's staying right here.

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