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January 7, 2012

Distracted by three year old postings (Botcon 2009, Part 1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 1:15 pm

So I promised in my last post that I would talk about my impressions of the 2012 Botcon set. Which was the plan until I remembered that I’d done this very thing before for a previous set. Having done some work, I thought I’d see if I could keep the flow of the new review consistent with the old.

I am pleased to (re)discover I’d created a value guide to impart my views on the toys. It’s a pretty good one (far simpler than the one I was running earlier last year with my toy of the day efforts) three years on, so I’m going to keep it for the purposes of the Botcon set.

For reference:

  • Scalper Price (5) - “This toy is so insanely good - be it in terms of innovation, nostalgia or just plain coolness - that I will not think twice before being overcharged on a piece of plastic by someone who existence is satisfied by gouging.”
  • Direct Market Price (4) - “This toy is too good to risk not finding on the store shelves of my local Zellers or Target, that I must pay more than traditional retail to a smaller comic/toy shop that carries the item.””
  • Standard Retail Price (3) - “This toy is pretty good and I can’t wait to see it on the toy shelves so I make sure to get the best one going at the most affordable retail outlet.”
  • Advertised Price (2) - “This toy is good enough that owning it will leave a bit of a hole in the collection but missing it won’t overburden me with guilt, so I can really take my chances.”
  • Discount Price (1) - “I see that the toy is on sale but I still wonder whether it is good for my collection.”
  • Occasionally an item will be beyond imagination and will register with an At Any Price (6). Conversely, sometimes an item will be so terrible that it will warrant an (At Any Price) (0).

So there you go. But I also discovered something else funny. I can’t comment on the post in question. And I really want to comment because, three years on, there are things we know now that we couldn’t know then. So our review of new toys is delayed while I wax on about older ones…

So let’s go back in time, to Botcon 2009, and relive the memories…

But It’s Not Animated!

Certainly the box set was hurt right out of the gate when it was discovered not to be new Transformers: Animated toys. My disappointment was palpable at the time (I even went so far as to develop a mold upon which to create the character) and little did I know that almost a full conventions worth of toys for Animated would arrive in 2011.

But I would have to say my assessments were pretty accurate. The 2009 set is possibly the least popular of the seven FunPub Botcon sets to date, as evidenced by how easy it was to get remainders from the “exclusives firesale” underway at Botcon 2011 (although it was a good way to get exclusives for my nephew without breaking the bank…)

Elite Guard Kup - Kup suffers from being the first character out of the gate, and proof positive that the entire set would not serve as a tribute to Animated. As such, he took a fair number of hits that may not have been entirely justified. To the good, he makes use of a terrific Cybertron Mode (Red Alert), a terrific head sculpt and an accurate blue shading for the body. Regardless of what I think of the toy mould, however, it doesn’t seem to suit Kup particularly well, particularly the cab. Failure to substitute a real left hand for the pre-existing laser seems to be a shortcoming.  And the orange striping is distracting. The result is that I’m conflicted and Kup ends up skating between Direct and Retail (3.5).

  • (He would have been so good as a retooled Cybertron Mode Deluxe Optimus Prime.)

Time has both helped and hurt Kup. That mold is still amazing, and any toy that gets to use it as a base (be it Cybertron Red Alert, Cybertron Cannonball, or Classics Crankcase) gets a big thumbs up from me.

But Hasbro actually made a Kup for Classics 3.0. A good one too. And there is something wrong about Kup looking so young. Makes me feel a bit dirty. Only because of my love affair with this mold, I’d upgrade my estimate to a Direct (4.0) grade.

Elite Nemesis Scourge - Besides the fact that I have no idea how they are going to keep a story where Scourge is in the past in current continuity without trickery, Scourge fares better, and worse, than Kup. The negatives first - I pretty much universally hate this mold. It really doesn’t do a lot for me. The only time it worked for me was for Ratbat, and then because it looked so much like the War Within depiction of the character. That said, a decent paint application (including an excellent use of contrasting red) and a terrific head retool makes Scourge the winner in the set. Particularly if the “attendee-only” special is a slightly modified Huntsmen Sweep. A Direct (4) grade for Scourge in the final analysis.

  • (Still, how cool would a modified Cybertron Mode Deluxe Megatron from the Optimus-Megatron two pack be?)

Of course, Scourge was worked into the story by telling the story of young Kup as flashback during the tumultuous escape from the Decepticons in Transformers: The Movie. And the attendee-only special was not, in the end, a Huntsman Sweep, but rather obscure Japanese character, Leozak. But we did get our Sweeps in the end, courtesy of a build-an-army set…

But more on that later. Scourge was and remains a strange one. While I confess to continued indifference to this mode, I might actually like the vehicle mode BETTER than the official Classics 3.0 release. (I’m probably in the minority and coloured by my love of the deluxe Titanium line, but Titanium Scourge is still my favourite rendering of the character.) The situation was not helped by Hasbro’s decision not to include a targetmaster for him, like they had for Cyclonus.

In any case, I’d leave Scourge with a Direct (4) grade.

Elite Guard Landshark - I have terribly conflicted feelings on Landshark. I want to like him but I just can’t bring myself to fall in love with him. While it is nice to see a new character, and a name that gives props to one of the molds predecessors, I’m still not sold on the character name. Why that matters in a world of Lugnut and Sixknight is beyond me, but it distracts me nonetheless. While the mould is first rate, I really hoped they would hold out the big bucks for Thunderclash, rather than spend it on the new guy. The paint application would have been really appealing if (a) he had been Roadbuster, (b) a perfectly acceptable Roadbuster hadn’t already been issued at retail, and (c) they had gone for some visor subtlety and used an orange or grey instead of that distracting blue. But I really like that mould, so he joins Kup in limbo between Direct and Retail (3.5).

  • (I think I’ve have gone with an albino Deluxe Sentinel Prime in this case, or called him what he is (Roadbuster) and, resisting the urge to call for a repainted Voyager Bulkhead, kept the price point consistent for the set, saved cost for Thunderclash and deployed a repainted Deluxe Soundwave accordingly. At least he offers the possibility of treating Laserbeak as a repainted Buzzsaw to join with Scourge…)

Not sure where I was going there with the Animated Buzzsaw comment. I must have grander schemes than I alluded to here.

Anyway, I still like the mold, I’m less concerned about the “Landshark” moniker, and the colours are okay. But I can’t get worked up about him, so he goes down a half notch, to Retail (3.0).

Elite Guard Flak - They should call him Elite Guard Fail. Oh don’t mistake me, the fancy new face is pretty. But I’m not crazy about adding an upsized micromaster to this group, particularly when there are so many other Gen 1.5 Euroformers that could be up to the task (Scorch? Pyro? Where are you, Rotorstorm?). Moreover, like Roadbuster Landshark, we already have a slightly-flawed-but-perfectly-correctable Classics version pegwarming at a store near you in Decepticon Dropshop. Unlike Landshark, we now have a lot of the value of the set invested into an arctic rendering of Autobot Overload, also pegwarming in the next aisle over. Frankly, Flak loses a full retail grade based on the simple fact that two version of the two are currently accessible at retail, pretty face or no, bringing him to an Advertised (2) price point.

  • (Again, not that anybody asked, I’d skip Animated Flak and either (a) bring out Big Shot as a remolded Shockwave (now that’s a tank!), or (b) brake plastic continuity (for Megatron is too simple to work…) and used Cybertron Evac to create an Animated-style version of Whirl with a new head sculpt.)

Of course, we would get Pyro in 2010, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I was little surprised to find so many of the Flak, even with the new pretty head sculpt, littering the Botcon extra tables in 2011. There are those that love him, for sure, but he’s not flak. He’d have done better in his Japanese colours (as Powerbomb!) at least. As albino Flak, he stays at Advertised (2.0).

Elite Guard Thunderclash - I really want to love Thunderclash. I really do! I have a soft spot for a toy that landed on Canadian and not American toy shelves. I genuinely like the Energon Rodimus mould, even if I had hoped that the set would save some of its pricing bang earlier on and seriously upsized him to Cybertron Optimus Prime scale (as unrealistic as that might be to bring a Leader class into the mix) or even used the Energon Landmine mould here instead of with Landshark. I even respect the quality of the paint applications which make the best of what they can of transferring the original’s fluorescent colours onto a completely different body (even if I disagree with moving the Autobot symbol outside the eagle). All this going for him - desire, (compromise) mould, paint application - and in the end he looks like a weird prototype. Because he’s Thunderclash, he skirts the no man’s land between Retail and Advertised (2.5).

  • (Who is Animated Thunderclash? I’m taking my coin I saved with Soundwave-repainted Roadbuster and bringing forward none other than Voyager Class Optimus Prime. Given now the axe looks nothing like the cartoon version but actually looks a bit like a trailer, the mould actually might look better as ‘Clash than as Prime.)

I finally understand the Buzzsaw comment now. Weird.

Thunderclash would also end up as Shattered Glass Thunderclash in the custom class, so some of us ended up with two versions of him. I even scooped up a sale version of him for a future Custom project. But he really is a Advertised (2.0) grade. Sorry.

Wings of Honour (Set) - Despite wanting to refer to the set as “Wings of Steel” (does that mean Scourge is “Screaming for Vengeance”), Wings of Honour comes out with an average of 3.1, and approaching retail land. Based on anticipated quality of the box (I know I know, but I like how they look…), I’m willing to put the whole set between Direct and Retail (3.5), and call it a night.

(And dream of perfecting digibashing so I can bring Animated Kup, Scourge, Thunderclash, Whirl and Roadbuster to a website near you…)

Oh man. When I retire, will I do anything but kitbashes? I love my ideas for the Wings of Honours Animated set. But on this set, the total score fell to Retail 3.0. Which is really where it belongs.

January 1, 2012

Here’s a novel idea - a monthly Transformers figure club

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 3:55 pm

Happy 2012 everyone.

(For regular readers of my irregular musings, I’m still putting together a few posts on Green Lantern. I have no real excuse for not having undertaken my assignment - with the figures staring me in the face as I type. Rest assured, we’ll get back to this 2011 toy line soon.)

Instead, I want to talk about the 2012 Transformers action figure club. “But,” you correctly ask, “there is no such thing.” True enough. And yet, aren’t we agreed there should be one.

The New Golden Age of Toys

It really is a golden age for toy fans and the time to get our favourites has never been better. From the sheer volume of DC figures coming out of DCUC (wave 22 planned and counting) to Mattel’s recent foray into the Mego style figures (online and at retail) to the return of Marvel Legends and their impressive ongoing line of 4″ highly articulate Marvels, to new entries from classic Thundercats, the inclusion of classic Joes in the ongoing GIJoe line, and G1-inspired Reveal the Shield characters, there are just so many cool toys on the market and on our toy shelves.

This plastic proliferation has, over at MattyCollector.com, resulted in specialty toy lines aimed at collectors. There is a monthly Voltron and DCUC club starting in 2012, the ending of Club Ecto-1 devoted to all things Ghostbusters, and the long-running and particularly awesome and inspirational Club Eternity, with new and more wonderful figures (and now vehicles) every month!

In the Land that Hasbro Built, The Toys are Alright

But that’s Mattel. Over in Hasbro land, two of its biggest licenses (GIJoe & Transformers) have, for the purposes of fan clubs, been in the hands of FunPublications. Beginning life in 1997 aimed almost exclusively at the 12″ collector’s market, the GIJoe club modernized itself in 2002 by beginning to offer a second range of exclusives aimed at fans of the three-and-three-quarter scale figures. Having built up good credit with Hasbro and following the implosion of the Official Transformers Collectors’ Club in 2004, FunPublications resurrected the Botcon name and created the Transformers Club in 2005.

The Transformers club of FunPublications has proven itself to be much more successful and lucrative than its sister GIJoe club. While exclusive convention toy lines for both factions of the GIJoe club number in the hundred (500 for the smaller Joes, 400 for the larger Joes), 2011 is the first year where the main offering of figures sold out for the three-and-three-quarter inch Joes (with 2010, 2009 and 2008 sets still available for sale).

Compare this to the appetite of Transformers fan:

  • The only convention boxset that lingered for more than 12 months was the very first offering in 2005; currently there are no Botcon toys across seven conventions that are available for sale at the club store.
  • At FunPublications’ second Botcon in 2006 (and the last time numbers were readily available for the number of boxed toy sets), there were 750 sets of the main exclusives available. That is only 20% less than the numbers generated for GIJoeCon 2011, their most successful year.
  • In 2007, the year of Thundercracker, Dirge and Thrust, FunPublications had to go back and get additional sets made because of demand, and stopped publishing the number of boxsets available (widely estimated to be in the range of 2000 box sets). Of the three convention add-on sets, numbering 1400 for each set, they were all snapped up easily at the Convention itself.
  • At Botcon 2009, there were estimated to be 10,000 fans in attendence!
  • In 2011, there were 1500 sets of add-ons available for each of the two animated-themed sets. For the Shattered Glass add-ons, there were 1800 available.
  • In 2012, the number of loose sets that can be added to an attendees order is 500, the same amount as the packaged exclusives available for fans of the smaller Joes.

That is not to say everything is a big hit with the Transformers club. Animated Cheetor remains available in small numbers, as have the exclusive figure that comes with annual renewals. And it is only recently that the Club was able to get rid of, at great discount, Airrazor and Astrotrain from 2006. But given the exclusives that continue to linger (and in dramatically smaller numbers) from the GIJoe club, economics alone provides a rationale for more support for Transformers collectors.

With between two and four times the number of toys sold to Transformers fans compared to GIJoe collectors, more toys simply equals more revenue. And in challenged economic times, that’s a win for the bottom line.

Me Thinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much

So why go into details about economics and a comparison of the number of exclusives sold? Because Transformers fans still feel like we are the poor cousins to our GIJoe brethren, despite our overwhelming numbers and sales. Despite promises of yearly club only toys, it wasn’t until 2010 that this became a reality. To look at what is offered for GIJoe fans on a regular basis is to be overcome by toy envy, particularly as these exclusives linger.

In spite of the picture painted for GIJoe fans, it was recently announced FunPublications would start a figure-of-the-month club in 2012. 12 figures (two per month for six months) would be available as a group package to members of the Club, with a 13th figure thrown in as an incentive. Prices are not yet available although they are rumoured to be about 10-20% more than the cost of a 6″ He-Man figure.

I’ve railed about the proposed club previously, particularly the need to join the main club first (a blatant cash grab if there ever was one) and the cost. And I’m not sold on all the characters. But the ones that have caught my eye just won’t let me go. Covergirl, TNT, Tan Grunt, Nano B.A.T.s, and particularly Quarrel and Iron KLAW make it really hard to resist despite my significant reservations to the contrary.

Which brings us, almost 1000 words later, to the crux of the argument. Transformers fans deserve a monthly club too.

What a Transformers Monthly Subscription Could Look Like

Transformers would certainly be more expensive to put together, but the numbers that could be generated from such a project would certainly make it worth it to the bottom line and for fan interest. A good indication of the success potential is Punch/Counterpunch. Offered in March 2010, the figure (with a run of 1800 and at a cost of $59 before shipping and handling) SOLD OUT in three days. A second limited run of an additional 300 likewise sold out in hours. That’s 2100 X $59 = $123,900 in gross revenue.

A significant amount of retooling wouldn’t even be required - in most cases a simple repaint would all that would be required.

So imagine a club offering between 1000 and 2000 sets of figures, at between a $50 to $60 per figure price, for 12 figures (with a thirteen thrown in for an incentive). To make calculations easier, let’s presume $55 per figure and 1500 sets, and you have gross revenue of just under one million dollars.

And who would you offer? Well, sticking primarily to repaints and not wanting to run afoul of Hasbro’s store, and keeping things to deluxe scale offerings, there is a lot on offer. South American exclusives. Proposed but never actualized Transformers: Animated. Shattered Glass. Diaclone. New characters.

For the benefit of argument, allow me to put forward 13 figures that offer some real punch:

  1. Diaclone Bluestreak (Generations Silverstreak in Diaclone Bluestreak colours)
  2. G1 Bumber (Reveal the Shield Bumblebee with new head) *
  3. South American Camaro (Reveal the Shield Tracks with new head) *
  4. Transformers: Animated Cliffjumper (recoloured Bumblebee with new head) *
  5. Shattered Glass Hound (with Howlback) (from Generations Hound and Ravage)
  6. Shattered Glass Ironhide (Black Diaclone colours of Generations Ironhide)
  7. Shattered Glass Punch/Counterpunch (recoloured club tooling of Punch/Counterpunch)
  8. Robots in Disguise Scourge (recoloured Reveal the Shield Optimus Prime)
  9. UK Predator Snare (recoloured Terradive)
  10. G1 Sunstorm (recoloured Starscream)
  11. G1 Toxitron (recoloured Reveal the Shield G2 Optimus Prime)
  12. Transformers: Animated Wasp (proposed TF:A unreleased figure with new head) *

Bonus Figure: Shattered Glass Frenzy and Rumble (repainted Generations Frenzy and Rumble)

So there you go. 13 figures, with only four retools that spans different lines. If the cost of retooling were a factor, substituting in an unreleased TF:A Mercenary Swindle or a Robots in Disguise Scourge would work well. And this doesn’t even touch on possible new toy molds that may lend themselves to other characters.

Really the skies the limit, so it most definitely can be done. And it should be done, given the potential appetite. If it can work for the GIJoe collector (and other toy fans) it can definitely work for one of the biggest toy fandoms in the world. The question is can we make this happen in 2012?

November 27, 2011

In blackest night, will it still shine, the Green Lantern’s light?

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 2:43 pm

If you had told me even a half dozen years ago that there would be a live action Green Lantern film, I would not have believed you. Although rumours of another DC franchise had been swirling for some time, most notably in the form of a comedy starring Jack Black of all people as Hal Jordan, the whole thing seemed destined never to get off the ground.

Until it did.

Five plus months later of living in a world where Ryan Reynolds is the Green Lantern of Sector 2814, I can still scarcely believe that 2011 has been the year not only only of the Emerald Knight, but also a son of Odin, and a 1940s patriot, to say nothing of a prequel to a mutant movie and the third installment of the super car lifeform robot franchise. The inner 10 year old in me, who knew only the promise of the Empire Strikes Back and Superman II, is still in shock and awe.

He’s also in shock and awe at what these films bring to the toy shelves. Although somewhat heady times for comic book companies and the sale of individual issues (compared to today’s era of digital downloads and closing comic specialty stores), the early 1980s were not kind to those of us who longed for our favourite heroes to be translated to plastic. Speaking for myself, I was too young for the golden age of Mego’s Super Heroes, and would be too old for the silver age of Kenner’s Super Powers (DC) collection and Mattel’s Secret Wars (Marvel) line. The long march of the modern age of super hero figures, that began with ToyBiz’s Batman movie figures and early Marvel figures and now permeates the toy isles with the likes of Captain America and Thor, the DC Universe Collection and Retro-Action characters, and Marvel Universe, was a long, long way away.

It’s into this arena that Green Lantern and its license merchandise falls. And it’s not an insignificant question given the importance of licensed products to a film’s bottom line. But it’s surely not 1991 anymore. 20 years of steady progress in toy development has had an impact on the toys on the pegs, just as the tastes of toy collectors and aficionados have become refined. No longer is it enough to see simply a familiar costumed hero - that hero must be articulate and durable, peering out from the window of full colour, innovative packaging and at a friendly price point.

So how does Green Lantern stack up? That’s the subject of upcoming posts, as we look at both the Movie Masters and 4″ toy line in the week ahead.

September 15, 2011

Foul Work: The Ill-Conceived Relaunch of Mr. Terrific

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 10:39 pm

The DC Relaunch is everywhere these day, and seemingly working out very well for the company, even if a cohesive universe has yet to emerge from the chaos.

Part of the chaos is a title called Mister Terrific, a first for our favourite hero here at fairplaythings.com. I was already concerned about the title given what I’ve read about the relaunch in general and what little I’ve gleaned about the title in general.

  • The world’s third-smartest man - and one of its most eligible bachelors - uses his brains and fist against science gone mad in this new series from Eric Wallace (TITANS) and Roger Robinson. Michael Holt is the head of a successful high-tech corporation and an institute that recruits and encourages the finest minds of the next generation to excel. As Mister Terrific he inhabits a world of amazement few others know exists, let alone can comprehend.

Not a lot there to really go on. But the emphasis on “bachelor” was not doing the title any favours. Nor was the change in costume, to one that looks like the worst of superhero and wrestling stereotypes put into one bad package. Jacket and boots replaced by wife beater and Nikes, with the motto of fairplay now a tattoo on both biceps and his t-mask a red crimson. Based on the Previews description, I’ve already put it on my own internal comic deathwatch, and expected the title to expire within the next two years.

Having read the book, I doubt it will last to the summer. It’s just that terrible!

Wallace has taken full advantage of the reboot to sutbly transform Michael’s origin. It starts with the most tired death scene for one who is suppose to be his motivation (wife Paula, who gushing blood from multiple wounds) still managing the strength to tell Michael of their unborn son. Visions of Natalie Portman crying out “Luke… Leia…” still ring in my head. This quickly leads to a scene where Michael, instead of contemplating suicide from a bridge, retreats to a lab to lament the failure of his latest project, ” a quantum experiment to open a dimensional rift.”

Yes, that’s right. Even the main character didn’t buy the death of his beloved, and is contemplating his own death because SCIENCE FAILED HIM.

In the original (and, for me, beloved) telling, the Spectre arrives to counsel Michael on the folly of his ways, using the moment to inspire the would-be superhero with the exploits of the original Mr. Terrific. The issue serves to introduce a new character, while finally bringing closure to a 25 year old mystery as to why his fellow JSAers never sought out Terry’s killer following his death high above the Earth. If John Ostrander gave him a decent origin though, it was James Robinson and David S. Goyer who introduced him as a legacy hero to the Justice Society and lay the groundwork for an exciting character who later led Checkmate as the White King.

In the new 52, however, there is no Spectre, and there is no Terry. There is, however, a ghost from the future who reveals himself to be Michael’s unborn or yet-to-be-born child. Apparently this is enough to change Michael’s mind away from suicide and introduce the hero he always knew he could be to a brave new world with lines like “You did the right thing. This is exactly the kind of situation I envisioned when I provided the L.A.P.D. with a way to contact me securely.”

All that’s missing is the Terrific-mobile.

The overall presentation is that Michael is something like a Silver Age Batman without the cowl. The comic even feels like a bad silver age book with its predictability and banal banter. Even the appearance of Karen Starr, lounging on Michael’s couch covered only in a Capitals basketball jersey, and presented as a potential love interest, only serves to undermine whatever characterization could be derived from her throwaway appearance without raising his.

Even more troubling is the absence of any reference to the original Mr. Terrific. In the Ostrander take, Michael places a crude fairplay logo on his jacket as a tribute to the hero from whom he drew inspiration. If Terry has no part to play in Michael’s origin, why bother with the name and the tattoos in the first place? He might as well be Batwing or Black Lightning.

I never thought I’d like Michael in the beginning. While I love the Spectre introduction, it meant more for me to see justice done for poor Terry. I even daydreamed ways to kill off Michael to make way for a new Ms. Terrific who could bring back the familiar red and green. But those early steps were just too good, and I thrilled to every adventure. Michael’s team-ups with Terry, his trials facing the results of the anti-life formula in Final Crisis, and his struggle in an alternate future dominated by Nazis are among my favourites.

So this revamp hurts because it takes away what was good about the old character, and then tries to let a pale imitation carry a title all on his own. DC clearly hoped the title would bring some measure of diversity in its main titles. But this hackney story and origin has only succeeded in ensuring Mr. Terrific won’t have his own title again for a very long time.

And that’s not fair.

September 2, 2011

62% for the win

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 10:51 pm

Well, I still can’t believe it.

MattyCollector, after threatening fans to comply with their timed subscription demands to proceed with DC Club Infinity, and then following up their failure to elicit more than 20% support with two additional extensions and small additional details, has calculated the results. 62% of the undefined total required.

And decided to go ahead.

I guess they really wanted the club or something.

Anyway, their post talks about all the fans who complained how they ran out of time or some such excuse (really, three extensions and a total of a month, and they still ran out of time?) and how non-subscribers who gain access will pay slightly elevated prices to secure their figures. But the club is a go. I for one am a little pissed off that I could have simply held back and waited, and paid the slightly elevated prices for the figures I wanted and left the rest behind (although to be fair, I am certainly buying the first three of Jay Garrick, Atrocius, and Thom Kallor). The only silver lining is that Metron is the exclusive.

Of a terrible selection of exclusives, he’s the best of a poor set of choices. Let’s hope the club does okay and expands like the Masters of the Universe club.

But seriously, Matty, why not do a JL club while you are at it, given what you have up your sleeve for September with Alan Scott, Jay Garrick and Carter Hall, AND Prince Gavyn, Adam Strange and Animal Man?

August 23, 2011

Optimism is better than despair

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 12:59 am

Yeah, I know. I really haven’t been around much. What can I say other than it’s hard to think of positive things to say about toys when you are trying to sell the biggest collectible of all - your house.

But I digress. I wanted to write a little bit about a decision I came to tonight. Actually it was a decision I’d made a few weeks ago while on the road to what was suppose to be a week at the family cottage until fate - subtitled: The House - intervened. And it was my decision regarding Mattel’s Club Infinite Earth.

Prior to the trip, I was completely on the fence with regard to Club Infinite Earths, the Matty Collector exclusive monthly DC line. I liked the concept and the idea that I’d have regular figures coming to my door. But I hate to let companies get away with poorly executed campaigns, and this was a poorly executed campaign. Coming into Comic Con with no lead up, and telling fans we had just two weeks to decide, with limited information is no way to make a pitch to collectors and fans. Even worse, unlike the Masters of the Universe Club or Club Ecto-One or even the Club Voltron, the club going forward was made condition on an completely undefined number of buy-ins (measured by a microscopic membership meter on a front page ad on the website.) Bad enough that the club was contingent on support, but to refuse to even tell us the criteria seemed dubious and wrong-headed.  The final insult of course was to basically threaten fans that they had to buy the collection or the “kittens” (or in this case, Jay Garrick, Atrocious, and the Legion of Super Heroes Star Man) would get it.

Really. Rushing and threatening your fans is not a great publicity move. Or a way to build brand loyalty. So I was resistant, until I read this article on the blackberry, and agreed with the points made. Which can really be distilled to the main point of if we build it, they might come. Which is kind of what happened with Club Eternia, as the first year led into a second and third, and the rise of animals, accessories, vehicles and even Filmation characters! While I still believe that the three “collector” figures will be released on store shelves if the club goes away, and I can really live without any of the four large scale figures offered (Shaggy Man, Metron, Rocket Red and Black Lantern Swamp Thing - although my votes have always been to Metron in case you were curious), really, could I risk getting up on my high horse and fail to subscribe when some real treasures might come our way in a line that I really like (admission: I am four square behind any and all Super Powers and Superfriends related releases!)

Could I risk not helping a club that might even bring me an official Mr. Terrific Terry Sloan? Dare I dream?

So I was in and all ready to go, to sign up before the deadline to try and do my part to save the club (then lingering at the low 20% threshold required to go forward), so at least I could say I tried. And MattyCollector pulls a fast one, and changes the deadline, and rushed the name of a four figure (Poison Ivy, a coveted Bat villain) to sweeten the pot. And I lost my appetite again. Hope replaced by disgust over a cynical move that was, in fact, contradictory to the point of the experiment. The Club was suppose to be for fan favourite characters that wouldn’t sell in stores. But a bat villain would likely do well in stores, at least if packaged right (say with the right accompanying figure). More importantly, Poison Ivy is not a selling point for me. Right now, I have a club that is offering me a rainbow lantern I already have from DC Direct, a quirky Starman that is only complete with a variant head, a bat villain I can live without, an exclusive large scale character I can take or leave, and Jay Garrick who looks oddly bulky. And I’m suppose to pay $255 plus shipping for this?

Knowing my luck, the one character I want will be screwed up in the ordering by Digital River, a la the Mego Style John Stewart order? (I’ve been cherry picking Masters of the Universe figures, picking up DC figures, and buying toys for friends, almost every other month. But the Mego-style Lanterns were at the top of the want list, and the June order came with a Masters’ Faceless One in the place of Mr. Stewart. It’s taken the better part of two months to rectify the situation, and though I have emails indicating that anywhere from one to three replacement John Stewarts may be in the mail to get around my complaints, I still had to buy a scalper version at TFCon to avoid missing out on him altogether because of a bad communications experience with Digital River. But, again I digress.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was falling out of love with the idea of wasting time and energy on Club Infinite Earths. When Matty Collector, looking at numbers still below the undefined 50% and panicking, offered a third extension, it was from frustrating to embarrassing. Really. This club is not going anywhere. We know it. They know it. And all the fake deadlines in the world isn’t going to change it. Why bother at this point.

And then an unexpected thing happened. We got more details about Hasbro/FunPub’s GIJoe figure club.

Now I was on the fence about this club too. Again, I love monthly toys coming in the mail automatically, and I like a lot of what FunPub does with its GIJoe club (of which I’ve been a member in 2007 and 2010) and the Transformersclub, where I’ve been a member pretty much since 2005. But I’m not as big on the new Joe figure molds as I am the traditional 3 3/4″ scale from the 1982-94 era (which the club has effectively discontinued with Big Lob, apparently to their success given the response to the offerings of the most recent JoeCon, so shows how much I know). And with FunPub, price is always going to be an issue. You can pretty much guarantee a doubling over the retail price for their toys, plus expensive shipping and sluggishly slow shipping for us Canadians (MattyCollector has its faults but shipping to Canada is both reasonable AND QUICK!) It was always going to come down to two factors: price and figures.

Well out of the gate, the Joes had a great figure offered in the former Action Force toy Quarrel. Gods, that is a figure I want to OWN. They have so far followed this up most recently with some creation called Nano-B.A.T.S., which, while not a toy I crave, is nice looking and would be fine on my shelf. But then came the pricing effect. $25 per figure plus shipping.

Let me repeat that. Twenty five dollars plus shipping. Oh, and one more thing. You have to be a MEMBER to join. So add another $40 to $80, depending on your residency, to your final price, or about $350 plus shipping for two less Joes than come in a nice box at annual convention time.

Now the club to their credit is not running around with barometers of interest for these toys, and have promised to show their cards ahead of time on all but the bonus 13th mystery figure that is an extra incentive to join. But they are charging an outrageous amount of money for what are even in Canada $10 4″ highly articulate action figures. By comparison, I can purchase an amazingly articulate Masters of the Universe character, articulated beautifully rendered by the Four Horseman and standing at 6″ tall for $20, about five dollars less than the Joe.

Or in the case of Club Infinite Earths, a figure at 6″ that could one day be a Mr. Terrific and, even if it’s not, is still $10 less than a tiny solder with a gun.

____

P.S. Non toy related, it’s been a very sad day in Ottawa with the word of the passing of federal Opposition Leader Jack Layton. Taken just months after taking the post, for the first time in the history of his party and the country, it seems too cruel a fate to contemplate, let alone belief. For comparison sake, imagine if President Obama had passed away shortly after winning the election, at a time when all that seemed ahead was optimism unhindered by the realities of day-to-day political life. It feels  like that.

I was, and remain, an admirer of Mr. Layton. I’d often contemplated an appropriate munny to bring to an event and present to him. That munny never came, the moment never arrive. But I may yet try my hand at it, in memory this time. For now, I’m left with a bobble head and the feeling of regret of what could have been, and what should have been.

July 1, 2011

Generations

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 11:40 am

In 1984, Hasbro released a line of toys where cars and trucks, jets, cassette players and cassettes, and one hand gun converted into robots. These robots in disguise were an amazing success, and for seven years they evolved into merge teams, futuristic vehicles, multi-changers, head-, target- and power- masters, pretenders, and finally Action Masters, before leaving United States’ toy shelves forever.

Forever being the measurement used to describe about two and a half years.

Of course they never truly went away, with new figures and characters continuing in Canada, Australia, Japan and parts of Europe. So when Generation Two was born in 1993, Transformers had never really left the global play market, and they’ve never really left U.S. toy isles since. G2 begat Beast Wars and Machine Wars and Beast Machines, which were followed by Robots in Disguise / Car Robots, Armada, Energon, and Cybertron, Universe (1.0), Classics, Titanium, Universe (2.0), Animated, and Generations, to say nothing of the exclusive toys and three different reiterations of the fan club since 1994.

Throughout the various incarnations of the Transformers line, the battle of opinion has raged. “Truck not monkey.” CGI verses traditional animation. Style versus substance. Toy versus toy. It’s safe to say all fans have their favourite parts of the Transformers mythos, that they will defend strenuously.

In 2007, Michael Bay brought us the first Transformers live action movie. Its success was followed by two sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, in 2009, and Dark of the Moon, in 2011. While the first film was met with mixed reviews, it was mostly embraced by the fan community and opened up a toy line approaching its silver anniversary to brand new fans. The second film was widely seen as a dismal affair, and yet it was very nearly the single highest grossing film of 2009 and remains well regarded and strongly defended by many fans of the franchise. While the latest film has been fairing marginally better with critics and is the highest grossing Wednesday opener of 2011, it is estimated to have drawn less viewers than the first movie’s opener and less money than the second movie’s opener.

Already, the film has its defenders and critiques. Fairplaythings is firmly on the side of the critiques with regard to Dark of the Moon, as evidence by the review posted earlier this week. For the record, while fairplaythings was also a critique of Revenge of the Fallen, the first film was regarded here as a good film, one that I saw many times in the theatre and since.

In the age of social media, opinions fly around faster than ever. One long review here at fairplaythings was followed by a number of quips through facebook, and an ongoing bit of twitter fun called #DotMSpoilers. Honestly, the hash tag adapted from others has been a lot of fun and, from my perspective, meant as such.

Simply put, I have my opinions, I have certainly shared them in person and across the net. The hardest thing about having a strong negative opinion is when you have to share that opinion with a beloved nine year old nephew who is excited beyond belief for Dark of the Moon, in a way that doesn’t diminish his enthusiasm.

Because it’s just my opinion after all. Everyone is entitled to their own on this film. It’s not the film I wanted and it’s not the film I would have signed off on. A lot of you really like it. My comments are intended to show my opinion of the film, not of those of you who enjoyed it. Fairplaythings continue to respect you no less for whatever rationale you have for enjoying Dark of the Moon. As we sometimes say in eastern Canada, “fill your boots.” Enjoy.

June 28, 2011

Dark of the Soul - a fan laments Transformers 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 1:30 am

Thanks to my friends at the Silver Snail in Ottawa, I was graciously given the opportunity to attend the debut of Transformers: Dark of the Moon at a special Monday night preview at Gloucester Coliseum, in Ottawa, Canada.

Against my better judgment and in vain hope against hope, I took it.

What Came Before

It’s an odd way to start a review of a movie based on a beloved touchstone of one’s childhood, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who talks to me about my feelings on the first two live action films. Readers of fairplaythings.com are well familiar with my initial reactions to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and multitude of issues with the film. My reaction was clearly blasphemous in the robot collecting community, which lead to a separate lament on how I could call myself a fan and still want a movie worth my time and attention.

Plot holes, offensive (and generally unfunny, low brow) humour, and mischaracterization of Optimus Prime and Megatron, Revenge of the Fallen was not a movie to be proud of. And yet to my surprise it went on to become the second highest grossing film of 2009 (surpassed only by Avatar).

But a curious thing happened along the way to the bank. Director Michael Bay, who came out so fanatically against his critics, eventually admitted that the second “was crap.” For a guy who has long maintained he never wanted to go near the project at all, and who talked the second movie that had made him so much money, it was a startling admission. And from it, the kernel of hope. If Bay actually thought the second movie was garbage, and pledging to do better with the third, maybe, just maybe, there was the possibility it might live up to or exceed the appeal of the first movie.

Certainly, this was a possibility when 15 minutes were screened at the recent Botcon Transformers Convention. The effects looked really cool. The new characters - Sentinel Prime, Shockwave - looked like they had promise. But a memorable movie tends to have memorable performances, and the only notable human was Rose Huntington Whitely as new love-interest, Carly, and she was only notable for being able to look daft and take me out of the film. But still I hoped.

At 7:03 p.m. the movie began. At 8:20, I left to go to the washroom. I had already given up.

Dark of the Fallen

Honestly, the desire to leave was pretty strong at the 45 minute mark. I sat out the entire two-and-a-half hours to see all the wrinkles, uncover the full story, and make my impressions known. Though I really did give it an honest chance, once I turned against the film, there was no going back.

I am loathed to give away plot points for those who want to measure this rotten fish for itself, so I will try my best to stay away from any significant twists and turns. The basic plot is that the Autobots, realizing they are going to lose the war, commission a ship to flee Cybertron with the means to win the war. The ship is shot down in Cybertron’s atmosphere and falls out of control through the stars, only to crash on the dark of the moon in 1961 starting the space race. In the ensuing 50 years, the Decepticons have infiltrated human society to acquire and use this wonder device. Again, not to give too much away, the film culminates with humanity itself threatened by the full force of an invading Decepticon army, in an epic battle for control staged in downtown Chicago.

There are twists and turns of course, specifically involving the role of Sentinel Prime and the mysterious mcguffin in question. And with them come tremendous plot holes which I unfortunately cannot reveal without giving away the surprises, but suffice to say they are not overlooked. If you read below the full post, I’ve listen at least seven that pop out at me. I will say that it makes no conceivable sense that a ship shot down within Cybertron’s atmosphere would tumble through millions of light years to crash land on the only moon of the third planel in our solar system.

What I can say is to the good, there are some incredible robot visuals, particularly the new Transformers mentioned above. Peter Cullen continues to bring a gravitas to his performance of Optimus Prime, and Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are the best of the human actors, for the most part getting the seriousness of the situation. The plot twists and a few notable surprise guest actors are welcome.

But they cannot overcome the bad. Plot holes you can drive Optimus Prime through. Bay playing to juevenile stereotypes with respect to the new Autobots, notably the Wreckers, Wheelie and newcomer Brains. Though he can certainly make a beautiful fight scene, Bay really is next to useless when it comes to giving a real role to his (few) women actors.

For me, the biggest problem was getting into the film because, somehow, Bay looked at Revenge of the Fallen and somehow decided what was needed was more (of his brand) of funny. So the first hour and a half is filled with the misadventure of Sam looking for a job, visits from the parents, jealous of Carly’s boss, all the while featuring terrible, over-the-top, unconvincing performances by Shia LaBoeuf. Similar situations ensue for John Turturro and John Malkovich. Even during the big fight scenes of the last hour, this form of “hilerity” keeps pulling you out of the film, and preventing me from being carried away for the ride. And kept bringing me back to the same thought.

“Is this really suppose to be funny?”

And I would be remiss without saying that, once again, Optimus Prime and Megatron are badly mischaracterized. Optimus Prime, the great hero, would never say in anger of Decepticons, “We’ll kill them all,” and proceed to do just that, to the point of executing his surrendering foe, or for that matter leave any sentinent life in danger’s way to make a point. Megatron would never be a toady. At least outside of the movie-verse.

A Final Lament

Maybe it is just me. Maybe if I could step away from my love of the Transformers I could be impartial about this film. Maybe the uneven story telling, butt and gay jokes, absence of strong female characters, bad performances, plot holes, and poor characterizations would otherwise be overlooked in favour of a popcorn-heavy evening with friends.

Maybe. Or maybe there are better uses for your $12.

Addendum - Spoiler-heavy Plot Holes as Promised

  • Given the Decepticon cannot know that Optimus will ultimately end up with the Matrix (if they even know of its existence prior to the events of Revenge of the Fallen), how do they leave the collaborating Sentinel Prime, the key to the wondrous spacebridge, on the moon for fifty years without attempting a repair?
  • Wasn’t the Matrix destroyed at least twice in Revenge of the Fallen (by Spike and later by Optimus when he destroyed the harvestor)?
  • Why does Sentinel Prime not take the matrix when he is offered it by Optimus?
  • Wouldn’t drawing Cybertron into Earth’s orbit have shattered our planet, which even the old 1984 cartoon recognized as a possibility?
  • Why is Megatron left physically deformed but given a new alternate form?
  • Why is Sam looking for a job when he has a Presidential Medal of Honour?
  • If all hands are on deck to fight the Decepticons, including Wheelie, where are Mudflap and Skids? Or Jolt?
  • Why are Wheelie and Brains left to hang with Sam?
  • How does Carly know about the Autobots and the Decepticons?


April 22, 2011

New and old Transformers make the world go around

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 4:10 pm

Unleash the Beast!

Even when there are decent finds at a flea market or toy show or whatever you have attended, it is often hard to get past that one amazing piece that totally made the show for you. My first Botcon was like that. Even though the pre-Beast Wars set (plus add-ons!) were absolutely amazing, even though I got two full sets (with two figures each!) from the customizing class of insect drones to turn into a Rumble or Inferno, even though there were so many other amazing finds like South American transformers and other characters, what I remember about the show are the MIB Clench and Pyro that I bought from the Hartmans for $15 a pop.

A thirty dollar purchase stands out when hundreds do not.

Micromasters have the power to surprise.

Micromasters have the power to surprise.

And so it’s the same with last weekends show. Even though it was a really good day for inexpensive Transformers, it’s really hard to focus on anything other than Great Mazinga. Which is a shame because there were some other really good finds that day, and related to my primary collection (Transformers) that really need to be addressed.

There was a miscellaneous box of Transformers that I found during the day for $40 for everything there. It actually caught my eye because Julie is a Dinobot fiend and I thought she’d like the blue G2 Grimlock (that I’ve previously picked up). To facilitate her pick-up, I haggled the box cost down to $30, a price I was willing to spend, figuring that I would recoup half of that back with a fair $15 sale to Julie. Which I did.

But what I got for the other $15 surprised even me. Because I really didn’t look that closely at what was there until I got home, beyond the Grimlock and the G2 Brawl. TM Tarantulas, TM Rattrap, TM Optimus Primal, one of those bird transformers from Energon, a Rocklord, and a few other characters. For $15, they were worth a pick-up on their own. Add in a nice G2 Brawl, and it was a good find. Otherwise a find for the day, but one that pales besides Great Mazinga.

Two action masters, Boba Fett and a mountie walk into a bar...

Two action masters, Boba Fett and a mountie walk into a bar...

But what makes the story EVEN BETTER is that the seller, after accepting my price, then draws my attention ON HER OWN to six little Micromasters sitting on her table. Including Countdown. Who I love. Who I don’t have. And then she says, she’ll let them go for $15.

Sold.

Later on I also grabbed a small bag of McFormers, that happened to come with the Movie Optimus Prime cake topper that comes with a store-bought cake that I’ve been trying to convince anyone who will listen they should buy me so I can get. And now I have it. For cheap. And without bad cake. Woot!

There was more that day. The Octane I picked up for a few bucks from the Microdealer. The vintage $20 Boba Fett, circa 1980. The odd Mountie that is going off to hopefully join a toy museum in Japan I discovered (and which I’ll get around to discussing one of these days). The $2 Action Masters and the $2 (!) Overdrive from the Pony dealer who lost Julie’s Ponies. The Essoformer (part of a series of mid-1980s toys to be featured in the future). A good day

And then we went to Toys ‘r Us.

Pretty pretty boxes.

Pretty pretty boxes.

TRU was having a 25% off sale. These days, as much as possible, I try and hold out for 25% sales, because I only get upset when I buy for full price and what a sale would have saved me. Yes, it can be risky because it means some figures may disappear. But overall it is working. And so it was that I brought home Highbrow, the Overlord-repaint of the Fallen, Payload, and Banzai-Tron. It also allowed me to return two previously purchase full cost figures - Strafe and Lugnut - so I could get a 25% discount on them as well. Overall, I saved $45 on the six, and would have spent saved more if they had had Grappel or Deep Dive, both of whom I still want.

The rest of the picture is filled with purchases from Sunday. A Constructicon green garbage can for the new toy room in the new house, two water bottles, a new lock, and the first two mini-MLP:FiM figures for Kirilaw. She now has five in total. We continue to search for Fluttershy who seems to be shortpacked.

The day ended with a great threeway lunch at Lone Star (texmex) and a return to TRU to delicately go through all the Lego wave 4 figure assortments so Kellie could catch them all (she got 15 of 16 in the end), and from which collection the geisha figure came into my possession.

April 19, 2011

The battle of the O-rings and lunch boxes from long ago

Filed under: Uncategorized — fairplaythings @ 12:12 am

So yesterday, before I was able to pounce on the Transformers train set, I told you I already had a bag of figures in my hand. Time to tell you a bit about them. You see, the same table happened to have a ziplock bag full of both complete and broken GIJoe figures, along with some loose limbs and torsos, and a few accessories. How could I pass up a bag of figures for $15, the perfect donor figures for Frankenjoes?

What was nice about the set was that there were a few figures in the set that were quite welcome. A Barbecue in great condition and with his gun to boot!, as well as most of a Crimson Guard (only missing his crotch piece), and a Star Viper. Always nice to bring home Joes, for sale or for customizing, but particularly when there are interesting ones to add to the collection.

You’ll notice that the picture of the Joes also includes a jet model. The jet is a replica of the infamous Avro Arrow, the legendary pinnacle of Canadian aviation of the late 1950s that was scrapped under mysterious conditions. I’ve been thinking about a kitbashed Avro Arrow transformer - even have a backstory - and saw this model in Ottawa for $50. Finding it for $10 was too good to pass up. We’ll see if the kitbash can get done in time for TFCon…

That was really it for the table. A train set, some Joes, and a model set. But it was while I was reaching for the train that I saw a hint of what would be the downfall for my wallet. But more on those micro issues tomorrow.

In the meantime, let me share with you a few other finds that followed what will be chronicled tomorrow. Julie, Kellie, and I would come upon a toy dealer with old MASK toys, three of them in fact, for $20 a piece and in their original packaging. One of those finds you don’t want to let go of, even if you don’t collect the line. In the end, Julie took them all home for $50.

And then there was Captain Power. The lunchbox that is. The lunchbox that has been at previous sales. The lunchbox that, the last time I inquired on the price, the seller told me it would be $10, and I balked at the price. The lunchbox that, when I asked this time, and got “one dollar”, I immediately pulled out exact change. My lunchbox.

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