September 17, 2011

Sometimes it takes a while for the show to turn itself around

Filed under: Toys, nostalgia — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 11:52 pm

So today was the latest (and rumoured final) of the Landsdown Flea Markets (owing to the unfair takeover of public land by a private consortium that managed to bully and sweet talk the city of Ottawa just right). And I’ll be sad to see the end of what has been a consistently good source of finds over the past number of years.

Today’s adventure started slow though. Following my standard pattern of attack (walk in, turn right, loop left for second row, loop right for third row and circle around to get the other half of the first row missed in the initial assault), I first stopped at the table that brought me a Great Mazinga only last spring. There were a few junior talking Animated Transformers that I passed on at $5, although I was tempted by the Mego-style K-9 unit at $15. Then onto the Lego table which is sometimes good for Transformers or other items, but, other than a $10 Optimal Optimus on which I passed, nothing of note at this point. Second row was a strike-out, as was the third, aside from an Energon Scorponok on whom I passed at $10.

Maybe I’m getting too picky in my old age.

Anyway, I was already writing off the show in my head when I return to where my standard trajectory forced me right, intent on finishing the first row. In this area, there’s always a toy table staffed by a couple who know their toys and whom I speak to at every show. Their prices are reasonable and sometime I find something to repaint or round out a line, but at the same time, it’s not a great table for “oh my god” kind of finds because they know what they are doing. So I’m poking through the Transformers box and opted to buy a Leader class Animated Megatron (for kitbashing purposes, perhaps) at $6 and a white 3″ titanium movie Ratchet repaint TRU exclusive I’d been eying for awhile (but reluctant to buy at full cost) at a buck.

And then lady luck shined on me for the first time.

Some time ago, back in the days of the Alternators, there was an odd little Transformer who hit the market called Swerve (and known in the community as Chevrolet Swerve). He was the oddest of Transformers: an official product produced by Hasbro, never distributed at retail and never repainted or retooled, and only available a giveaway through GM / Chevrolet dealers in Europe around 2008. He could be categorized as a price point below the standard alternator, owing to his size (so a deluxe compared to a voyager), but a real treat owing to his original form and difficult to obtain. At the time, there was a way to order Swerve from one of GM’s european websites, but the cost of shipping made him prohibitively expensive and out of price range at the time. Eventually, the European sighting fell off, the website link went dormant, and Swerve became an eBay only-Buy It Now at the $100 range.

Fast forward to 2009. Somehow, for some unexplained reason, Swerve showed up in Canada, in the Greater Toronto Area at least, at Chevrolet dealers for a limited time. Again, he was a giveaway. And despite my efforts to track him down short of driving to Toronto myself to get him, he eluded my grasp. Now the folks at TFCon were not as unlucky and managed to get a number of the toys, which they used as giveaways and door prizes at their Botcon booths. This is how I ended up getting my very own Swerve, for $40, at Botcon 2011, one of the last of this collection.

So a pretty hard toy to find, and not one you expect to find sitting in a miscellaneous Transformer box with a sticker that say $6…

Yes. Six dollars.

Swerve suffers a bit because, despite his full formed head and unique robot mold, he resembles a certain shelfwarmer Transformers Swindle in vehicle mold. I presume what happens is that these folks, finding him in car mold and having somewhat less than a complete encyclopedic knowledge of the Transformers, presumed he was Swindle and priced him at a fair price for such a toy. And so I scooped him up, none the wiser, a little disappointed that I’d dropped major quid on the one at Botcon, but nonetheless pleased that my toy eye remains as sharp as ever.

So clearly the show was worth attending to this point, and I round the corner to find a new table populated by cheap DVDs and video games (aside: I always wonder, when I’m looking at bargain basement priced DVDs if I am looking at stolen merchandise…) What drew me to this table, the kind of which I usually avoid, were some Real Ghostbuster toys in their sealed boxes. Not a line I collect (and in fact one that I am trying to unload for a friend), but a sign. If there are boxed vintage toys, there might be toys to my interest.

And lo, lady luck shines for the second time.

Under the table are a number of boxes. In the boxes are a lot of Star Wars (both vintage and new) and other toys. Including, I am pleased to report. Transformers. A lot of them. Bagged in assortments at $10 a piece, I found the following bags (all G1 unless noted):

  • Point Blank and Ultra Magnus white cab (with rubber wheels, good chrome and one white fist)
  • Punch/Counterpunch, RiD Mega-Octane, Top Spin, and (blue) Energon Strong-Arm (missing one arm)
  • Micromasters Tailspin, Stormcloud, and the Hot Rod Patrol (Greaser, Hubs, Trip-Up and Big Daddy)
  • Micromasters Tailspin, Powertrain, Barrage, Slide, Blazemaster (no propellor) and Tread Bolt
  • Costco Bendy Prime (cab only at $5)

Total price. $45. Even better? Another collector found a bag of Transformers in the box (likely one of the few bags that I left behind because it either didn’t have Transformers I wanted or ones I thought I could sell) and asked the vendor if he had any more. The vendor, from whom I’d yet to buy the toys, said he did but had seen someone going through the box ahead of him. Which means I outwitted a fellow collector. Sweet!

Satisfied the day had been worthwhile I set about getting ready to go and made one more pass through the show, and returned to the Lego table to find a small box of G1s (Scourge @ $75, Sandstorm @ $25, and Wreck-Gar @ $40). Not bad prices but not steals for sure for toys I had. Anyway, what caught my eye was a decent looking Slag for $10. Chewed at the tail and at least one arm, with broken horns, Slag would have been unremarkable except he was the red faced, white legged variant. I’d never seen him before, and didn’t actually know he existed. In fact I was so certain he was a fake I had to consult TFU.info and search out the Takara-Tomy imprint.

But sure enough, I had a variant in my hand. And still I balked. The teeth marks and broken tips really made me question the purchase. And I still don’t actually know if he is all that valuable (particularly in that condition). But then lady luck appeared for a third and final time, and I got talking to the woman who runs the table, and gave her some advice on the G1s (basically confirming her prices were fine and she should put them on eBay if they didn’t sell, but that she should also be willing to be $10-$20 flexible on price for Scourge, but not $50 flexible). Anyway, she ended up giving Slag to me, which is awesome. I’m still unsure if he is valuable in this condition, and whether or not I should simply get another G1 Slag and do some part swapping. But I know he’s a fun variant for the collection, so valuable or not, he’s going on the shelf.

And that was how I spent the possibly last Landsdown Flea Market. On a high.

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 12, 2011

Five Joe years in the making….

Filed under: GIJoe — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 1:13 am

For the last week, I’ve been thinking about original three-and-three-quarter G.I. Joes. The catalyst came last Sunday when, kicked out of the house this morning to allow for yet another home showing, we went out to hit a flea market in Atrim, Ontario, and later onto  antique store just outside of town that I don’t get to as much as I like, and was able to come out of the trip with at least something for my efforts, including a Real American Hero Wild Weasel.

Wild Weasel got me thinking to the old Hasbro three-packs. At a time when Hasbro has switched to the Valor vs. Venom style of figures that reigned during the early and mid-2000s, these three packs (running from 2004 to 2006) were a rare chance to get original body Joes. But it was more than just a mere retread of old figures. The way Hasbro moved forward was to package three figures with an old Marvel Comic, using the comic story to determine the figures to be released. So original Joes were released in comic-accurate (and frankly more interesting) colours than their original offerings. Frequently, the updates included new outfits, with remolded heads and parts to better make the transition to plastic. Even better, the series offered characters never before released, like Kwinn, General Flagg (the senior), and the October Guard.

A fan wank if there ever was one.

Now the series wasn’t perfect. To keep the line interesting, popular characters like Snake Eyes were reused to the exclusion of other variations. Certain variations that would have made sense (Helmeted Cobra Commander) were not included. And not everyone came out with the best accessories (the case of Zap and his missing bazooka). But the biggest trouble was that the line wasn’t simply not meant to last.

Hasbro initially released three packs of the first nine issues. They then switched to an approach whereby they cherry picked certain notable comics from the ongoing series, like the silent issue #21, rather than find themselves constrained by story lines where key characters dominated the several issues (the whole Kwinn/Venom sub plot that ran through most of the mid teen issues). And then the 25th anniversary line appeared, with new body architecture, and the three packs evolved to match. Three packs became two packs, and the line continued with the new bodied Joes for a few more years.

But this was a line I wanted to see continued, as unlikely as it was ever to be and probably only because of my OCD, right through the entire G.I. Joe run. And in particular I wanted justice done for the two red armour plated soldiers known as Flash and Grand Slam. Flash was part of the issue 8 pack, but packaged in a space suit. I wanted him in his classic garb. And Grand Slam was the sole missing figure from the first 15 figures released in 1982. I wanted him represented too!

So, at the end of the line,  I started dreaming up what I would do with an Issue #10 and #11. And the idea has peculated ever since, until I am forced to write it down. So, aided by a re-reading of the original Marvel trades, I’m creating my list:

  • Issue 1:  Baroness, (Hooded) Cobra Commander, Cobra Soldier
  • Issue 2:  Scarlett (judo uniform), Snake Eyes (arctic), Tracker Kwinn
  • Issue 3:  Stalker (tan and green fatigues), (Double) Clutch, General Abernathy (Hawk)
  • Issue 4:  Zap, Grunt (as mercenary), Snake Eyes
  • Issue 5:  Steeler, General Flagg, Cobra Officer
  • Issue 6:  Daira, Brekhov, Shrage (October Guard)
  • Issue 7:  Horrorshow, Stalker (green and black fatigues), Stormavik
  • Issue 8:  Short Fuze, Flash (in space suit), Rock ‘n Roll
  • Issue 9:  Breaker, Scarlett, Hologram Cobra Commander
  • Issue 10:  Dr. Venom, Zap (as Cobra Soldier), Scarlett (as Cobra Soldier)
  • Vehicle Set:  Issue 6:  October Guard six-wheeler with Flash (with tan armour, unreleased 1997 style)
  • Issue 11:  Snow Job, Rock n’ Roll (in parka), Wild Bill
  • Issue 12:  Gung-Ho, Breaker (undercover - in civies), Stalker (undercover - white suit)
  • Issue 13:  Hawk, Torpedo, Richter (mercenary)
  • Issue 14:  Destro, 2 X Cobra airtroopers
  • Issue 15:  Quinn (in shorts), burned Snake-Eyes (maskless), Dr. Venom
  • Issue 16:  Cover Girl, Tripwire, Baroness
  • Issue 17:  Grand Slam, Ace, Cobra Pilot
  • Issue 18:  Grunt (desert), Airborne, Scarlett (with orange helmet)
  • Issue 19:  Doc, Scarface (with removal helmet), Major Bludd
  • Issue 20:  Clutch (in civies), Cobra Trooper (with Jet Pack), Arbco Security Guard
  • Issue 21:  Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Red Ninja Viper
  • Issue 22: Grunt, Zap (in dress uniform), Flash
  • Issue 23: Baroness (black suit), Major Bludd (Undercover), Storm Shadow (Undercover)
  • Issue 24:  Duke, Destro, Roadblock
  • Vehicle Set:  Issue 16:  Double Pilot HISS Tank (with HISS Driver)
On its own, the list was always going to be a challenge given the story arcs that presented themselves (for reasons listed above). But I managed to conspire against myself to make it even more difficult in a number of ways:
  1. I treated the first nine three-packs as untouchable, as well as #21 and #24, even when some flexibility would have made for a better rounded selection. Moving General Flagg from #5 to #19, and making #5 a Clutch, Steeler and Breaker combo would make for a better set of figures for both issues, just as Duke and Roadblock would have been preferred for Issue #22. But second-guessing Hasbro would have opened a bigger can of worms (mainly whatever happens if I decide to actually make these figures and stick them on cards…)
  2. I have prevented myself from reusing any character, unless I gave them a significant overhaul. Multiple reiterations of the same character is boring to me, and I’m actually disappointed that Stalker ended up in the first batch of nine three packs in very similar uniforms. Thus, the undercover versions of Stalker and Breaker, civilian Clutch, the parka-ed Rock n’ Roll, and the “battle damaged” Snake Eyes. In all five cases, each character lend itself explicitly to the issue in question (although by #15 Snake Eyes had mysteriously gotten a new glove and mask) Admittedly, I cheated a bit here with Hawk and Scarlett, but only just. Hawk is wearing a very cool variation of his original uniform, with a black top, in Issue #13, and Scarlett never seemed to get her orange helmet so it was a good fit for the battle royal in Libya portrayed in Issue #18 (even if the orange helmet was really shown in Issue #13).  Desert Grunt was a nod to his Falcon attire in 1983 as much as an effort to round out a difficult issue for unique figures, and I hope to be able to do similar justice to Grand Slam’s silver variant in the future.

Working in my favour was a willingness to use new Cobra trooper uniforms (see Issue 14) and creating the vehicle packs (and a willingness to bend the figure rules therein.) While it would have been better to put an October Guardsman with their six-wheeled vehicle, there weren’t any that hadn’t already been used. But Flash got decent service in the storyline, and his tan miscolouration in Issue #6 was too good to pass up, as a homage to the unreleased 15th anniversary version originally planned for 1997 (even if I did squeeze a regular Flash into Issue #22). For the HISS tank, while there wasn’t actually an incident in the first 20 issues where he appeared, my desire to ensure that all new molds were represented and the absence of a logical choice for pilot duties allowed me to bring him forward. I would imagine he would be very much in the unreleased Wal-Mart Rip-It vain anyway, to match the colour scheme of Cobra troops at the time (a scheme that goes nicely with the remote control tank drivers in Issue #28.)

Still it was hard. What does one do when character-driven issue like #20, without relying on something like the Arbco Security Guard? My efforts to make sure that Issue #19 had significant weight without repeating characters like General Flagg meant that Scarface (originally scheduled for #13) was replaced by Richter the Mercenary, and Major Bludd (originally scheduled for #17) was replaced with a Cobra Pilot. Anyway, a list of the first 24 issues is complete.

Having skimmed ahead, combined with Hasbro’s later issue releases, makes me think continuing this exercise is going to be even more difficult. So this may be it, we’ll see. But it’s a start for now.

(Thanks to yojoe.com for the use of the Flash picture.)

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?

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