January 20, 2014

TTTB Week Two: Reimaginings Part 2 - back in the game

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 12:27 am

So coming on the beginning of week three and hindered by technical (loss of internet connectivity) and other issues (laziness, photoshop requirements), we launch the second part of week two with Day 9’s Machine Wars Soundwave. The theme for the week is re-imagination and what a better way to show re-imagination than Machine Wars.

Day 9 - Machine Wars Soundwave, 1997

For those who don’t know, Machine Wars was a KBToys-exclusive line launched in 1996 on the heels of the success of Beast Wars and featuring many familiar old friends. The catch? Well, for the most part, they looked nothing like familiar old friends. Hasbro simply took 12 pre-existing transformer molds and turned them into a nod to the glories of G1.

The bulk of the line consisted of four leftover G2 molds, re-purposed twice each to create eight vehicle transformers. The only thing that could really be said here is that there was, in most cases, one or two similarities related to the characters’ name sake. Hupcap and Prowl were the right colour, although the former was never a tow truck and the latter never a race car. Although Mirage had the right form and came closest to resembling his earlier self, albeit in teal, Hoist became the Snake Eyes of tow trucks far removed from his glorious green and orange origins. For the Decepticons, Skywarp and Thundercracker were jet twins of each other, but crazy coloured jets with no mouths and a single eye guard. At the time, no one could believe Megatron could be anything less than a pistol or a tank (or possibly a hot wheels-style racing car), but in hindsight, Hasbro showed accidental clairvoyance by bringing forward his first depiction as a silver jet fighter. Megaplex was a clone of Megatron and the only new character in the line, but was still a new character so he really didn’t have anything to get wrong.

The line was rounded out by four reused molds that formed the first year of the European continuation of the Transformer line between the G1 and G2 years when there were no Transformers on U.S. shelves. Interesting all four molds did make their way to Canada as new characters, somewhat ironic since, without KBToys in Canada, we never had an official release for Machine Wars. The remaining molds included something of an attempt to colour correct a transport truck into Optimus Prime with a mouth, a large black jet in the form of Starscream that towered over everyone in the line particularly his leader, a camouflage helicopter in the form of Sandstorm and a dark coloured missile carrier. The missile carrier is of the focus here, of course, as he became only the fourth version of Soundwave released to that point in time.

Despite the controversy surrounding the line at the time and colouring aside, Soundwave actually holds up with Optimus and Mirage as the closest representation. With a tape player out of fashion, the design actually gave Soundwave something approaching his regular face (with a visor and face plate), and the rocket nicely folds onto his shoulder reminiscent of his shoulder launcher. His chest even looks vaguely tapish. Interestingly enough, this is not even the strangest reiteration of Soundwave we’ve ever seen in the 1990s, given that he previously appeared as another Hot Wheels-styled race car in his third appearance, and later became a weird bat-alligator hybrid without a distinct robot mold at the end of Beast Wars. Nor is this the only time this mold would be used for Soundwave, as the pre-cursor line to Classics and Generations created a deep blue version in 2004. Yet he remains the only Decepticon of the Machine Wars aside from Megatron not reintroduced by the Transformers Collectors Club at Botcon 2013. Given the less-than-spectacular reception to the overall theme of Botcon 2013, this may serve as the only version of the Machine Wars Soundwave we see for a long while.

Day 10 - Remote Control Knockout, 2012

Day 10’s Remote Control Knockout is an odd addition to the list, given that the character is so new to the fandom. But like any new character in the last 10 years, Knockout has already secured a number of appearances. In this case, he was the foil to a remote control Optimus Prime and Bumblebee from the same line, and curiously challenging for me to find (and frustrating too since he was the only one of the three that appealed to me). Although I would have loved a more sophisticated remote that did more than straight ahead and a turning reverse, the auto transformation is very smooth. Even better, the paint styling is better than all but the Legion scale of the toy. And he still looks saucy when he’s terrorizing the cats around the house.

Day 11 - Loyal Subjects Blank Supersize Optimus Prime, 2013

Day 11 features an odd departure from transforming robots in the Loyal Subject’s 8″ Blank Optimus Prime. An upscaled version of their 4″ designer line of vinyl toys, Optimus is meant to be open to one’s creative interpretations and I have a half dozen sitting around the house for myself or various commissions. He’s really the ultimate realization of the re-imagination concept and there are some fun ideas brewing in my head for him(s).

Day 12 - Generations Combat Hero 2 Optimus Prime, 2012

Back in the dying days of Generation 2, Hasbro promoted a number of repaints to vendors at Toyfair 1995 that never saw their way to retail shelves. One of them was a garish repaint of “Hero” Optimus Prime released a year earlier. A vision of dark blues and red, he really could pass as an evil version of Optimus Prime. In an example of how some concepts will never fully die, Day 12’s Generation 2-style Generations Optimus Prime was released with a Generation 2-style Generations Jazz, as well as Legion scale Thundercracker and Motorbreathmaster. As you can see, he’s still looking sinister but is a hit at this house, and leaves hope that someone will produce a similar scale version of Megatron in his grey camouflage colouring of the same era.

Day 13 - Kre-O Windrazor, 2013

Day 13’s Kre-O Windrazor is actually the Kre-O version of Generation One Cuttthroat by another name. He’s really here more because of the magnificent wings he sports than his reminiscent to the classic toy. He also illustrates Hasbro non-consistent naming practice when it loses (or can no longer use) a classic name from their archives.

Often Hasbro simply puts a designation in front of the character and is done with it, as it did most notably with Autobot Jazz starting with the movie. Sometimes though it decides to create a name reminiscent of the original but one that does not raise any issues - the recent Goldfire stand-in for Goldbug is an example of this. But Windrazor is an example of an entirely different practice where a completely different name is used. My feeling is that Hasbro is using it as a means of maintaining control over names they may lose control over, but the practice is jarring and frustrating. Really, would it be so wrong to just call him Terracon Cuttthroat and be done with it? Particularly issuing the character with an entirely different name rather than sticking a designation in front of the original. It would be one thing if Hasbro never did that kind of thing, but they do so all the time and often in the same toy package as those with seemingly randomized name changes.

Day 14 - Pretender Bumblebee, 1989

Rounding out the second week is an example of early re-imagination with Day 14’s Classic Bumblebee. Interestingly that I should note Goldfire in my earlier aside, as this Classics Pretender marks Bumblebee’s return from his brief time as the Throttlebot Goldbug. It’s also the first time he has a face that resembles his cartoon self. Bumblebee is the only Classics Pretender to actually grow rather than shrink as part of the process. Important to me, in those dark days when I tried to limit and repress my collecting tastes, he represents the only Transformer I actively sought out from toy shelves in 1989. As my original toy, he’s kind of special and a favourite, so we’ll leave with a few extra pictures of him for the archives.

January 8, 2014

TTTB Week One: The New Recruits

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 11:31 pm

So with limited adieu, here we begin our new segment, Transformers of the Basement, Week One: The New Recruits.

Day 1 - Construct-Bots Hound, 2013

Day 1’s Construct-Bot Hound arrival on my door step on January 1, 2014, signaled the arrival of a new toy year. When Construct-Bots were unveiled at Botcon 2014, they dominated a Hasbro new product presentation that otherwise looked like the end of Kre-Os and a return to simpler but less articulate Deluxe priced Transformers for the 30th Anniversary. In my mind, they are a fun fusion of our popular robot characters onto Bionicle-style bodies. Given the previous year’s initial push by Hasbro to encroach on Lego’s turf, Construct-Bots seemed to be an effort to keep the momentum going.

Originally I was going to skip this line altogether. Too many toy robots in the basement already to cede precious real estate to, once again, Bionicles by another name. Too lanky in both forms to be of interest. But curiosity killed the cat and I picked up Starscream in the summer, which weakened my resolve. “Oh I’ll only grab the key Decepticons and be done with it” has morphed into catching them all and really it’s all because of two factors - fun construction play and one adorable mug shot.

On the play side of things, I must attest that it is pretty satisfying to open a box of Construct-Bot and put it together in front of the television. All the Construct-Bots acquired so far have had similar assembly so, other than the occasional reference, the nevertheless well constructed instruction manual is just so much paper (that said, Hasbro really could have made a nod to the anal collector in us and run a title of each book down the spine). The robots do transform and, unlike their Kreon brethren, do not require complete dis-assembly to do so. That said, they really don’t turn into anything other than an oddly coloured skeleton car with rolling wheels or jet with crazy weapons. But as robots, they have a certain esthetic charm, and the bright colours really pop - bright, clearly defined character colours are in fact one of the reasons I am a Transformers fan after all (and one of the exceptions I take with the Michael Bay films).

There are a couple of other factors in their favour. First, the price point has come down significantly at some locations following their launch - from $12 to around the $6-$8 range for the basic cardboarded versions and and $18 to $10-$13 for the ones with the fancier reusable plastic casing. The ability to grab a hero and a villain for around $15 for my cousins’ children was a huge incentive to grab a handful for Christmas presents, which in turn encouraged me to grab some for myself as well. But like I said, the terrible tipping point for me was seeing Hound, a not-overly toyified Transformer to begin with, with that loveable smile on his face. One look and I was mush. Apres Hound, as they say, le deluge.

Day 5 - Construct-Bot Wheeljack, 2013

So, in a long winded way, review of the toy line kind of way, that’s the story of how Hound (and Day 5’s Construct-Bot Wheeljack ended up on my doorstep on a day when all the stores were otherwise closed in Ottawa. I don’t want to leave the line with the impression that it is a perfect toy line. The higher-still Triple Changing price point (including one of two Bumblebees for the line) were disappointing in that they could not handle all their various parts for their duel modes all at once. And there really isn’t anything other than differing character that seems to deviate significantly between the basic and deluxe price points other than the generic plastic case, hardly a $4-$6 value. But there is a lot that is right about this line, and I’m interested to see what 2014 holds in store for it.

Day 2 - Botshot Bumblebee with Launcher, 2013

It was sales that led me to Day 2’s Botshot Bumblebee with Launcher. New Year’s Eve saw a number of Botcon purchases afforded by significant sales at Target, including three-piece box sets (possibly mispriced) for $3.49. Launchers price dropped to $6.49 from $12.99 led to my acquiring of Optimus Prime, Cryo-Scourge and the absolute winner of the group, Warpath. It was only on January 2, on an mission to find a new iron, that the final launcher made its way home.

Botshots was an instant favourite for me. Cute little auto-transforming characters based around an updated version of rock-paper-scissors, I love grabbing the little guys the first year they came out. The second year, the folks in Transformersland, Providence decided to retool a number of the characters so they had more action-oriented poses and more complicated transformations. For me, both features seemed to take the lustre off the line to some extend, but they were still cute enough for the most part to come home on a regular basis. Bumblebee with his launcher is quite possibly the sixth or seventh Bumblebee of the line and, while the transformation looks good, I hate that egotistical face. Still, a completist is a completist, and home he came to join his fellow botshotters.

Day 3 - Reissue Razorclaw, 2013

I am over the moon for Day 3’s Razorclaw. With his brothers, he arrived on Christmas Eve from Amazon.com, purchased at the amazing price point of $62.99 plus shipping. The total package came to $82, more than $20 cheaper than Toys ‘R Us Canada’s offering before shipping. This is an impressive figure. Whereas the old 1986 Predacons came in both plastic and die-cast versions, all five figures come with die-cast parts. But rather than the old yellow plastic, the colouring has been updated to a very shiny gold, with additional stickers provided for you to apply. The set also comes with an additional sword, seemingly taken from the Voyager class Beast Hunter Optimus Prime’s Star Sabre, likely in recognition that (a) Razorclaw’s sword alone doesn’t cut it for a gestalt (combined form of a Transformer special team) of the stature of Predaking, (b) they had it lying around so why not throw it into the mix, and (c) folks were willing to hand over $16.99 for a proper sized sword on the third party market. It’s still not really big enough but it’s the thought that counts, right?

What’s truly incredible about this figure is the price point. According to Steve’s incredibly extensive research over at the Vintage Space Toaster Palace, the original Razorclaw retailed at between $13.97 and $17.97 in the United States. That’s compatible to my own more limited research of the time of Canadian retailers as Canadian Tire and Consumers Distributing. That means a lucky so-and-so could have picked up (likely) a plastic version of Predaking for between $70 and $90 in 1986, or between $29.25 and $37.66 in 2012 adjusted dollars. Twenty-eight years later, the same set, albeit die-cast metal construction, with superior colouring, box art and extra sword, would be $149.99 through Toys R’ Us Canada, and $119.99 through Amazon.com in the U.S., or a mere $24 to $30 per figure. On sale, it works out to be about $12.50 per figure, or a third of the adjusted for inflation price.

For fear of using Razorclaw to begin an academic piece about broader economic and societal changes that have afforded so much consumption in North America and elsewhere without corresponding increases in salaries, I’ll just say heck of a deal and leave it at that.

Day 4 - Masterpiece Streak, 2013

Day 4’s Masterpiece Streak was a purchase made back at the Ottawa PopExpo in early December. Unlike his brother Prowl, Streak (formerly Bluestreak and more recently Silverstreak) has somehow managed to not only linger upstairs longer than so many of his fellow bots but acquired a Buzzsaw to keep him company. I don’t know why Streak of the three Datsun brothers (rounded out by the yet-acquired Smokescreen) makes me so happy but he does. He looks fantastic.

Day 6 - Mighty Mugg Prowl, 2010

For Day 6’s Mighty Mugg Prowl, I decided to move away from new acquisitions (pretty much the theme for the week) and feature a figure that has not only been a welcomed addition to my collection but, egad!, actually on proper display.

Mighty Muggs in general was initially a mixed emotional bag for me. I love the cutesy super deformed look for my beloved Transformers, but Hasbro was clearly taking a run against KidRobot’s Munnies in doing so. With Munnies having outlasted the Muggs (so much so that they are now producing Marvelized versions), my conscience is a little clearer for liking them, and I can regret a bit not having more of the Transformers Mighty Muggs for the collection. Despite my initial reservations, I really believe it was an underdeveloped line, and I’m envious of the numbers and variety of figures produced for Star Wars (36 regular and 8 exclusive) and Marvel (25 regular and 9 exclusive). Heck, even Indiana Jones got nine figures, including the three exclusives, which is 50 percent more than G.I.Joe received (a situation made worse knowing that four more figures died on the development vine).

For Transformers, in some regards we were lucky to get ten regular releases. Wave One consisted of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee for the Autobots and Megatron and Soundwave for the Decepticons. Wave Two featured two new characters shipped with existing characters, and featured Grimlock and Starscream. Wave Three was an all new wave consisting of Jazz and Shockwave, as well as Movie Optimus Prime and Movie Bumblebee. And then in 2009, SDCC received as an odd exclusive choice a metallic repaint of the standard Optimus Prime.

But like G.I.Joe, there are two known Muggs that failed to get out the door before the line came to an end. That didn’t stop some industrious person at Hasbro from using SDCC 2010 as a venue to release Prowl. His Wave companion, Ironhide, unfortunately has yet to see the light of day, which may be an indication that Prowl was not a barn burner for SDCC or that Hasbro just didn’t want to waste more time on Muggs (although it would later produce a line of 4″ Muggs for the Avengers for SDCC). Given that the Mugg Joes were so easily forgotten, I should be grateful we ever got Prowl, and I am. Frankly, he’s one of my favourite Muggs, and I’m happy to show him off.

Day 7 - Botshot Inferno, 2013

Which brings us to Day 7 and Botshot Inferno, a curiously coloured version of the character. I say this because Inferno is typically red across the Transformers multiverse, which makes me wonder why yellow? Grappler is orange so it’s not a name screw up. Possibly, someone was thinking of the time Optimus Prime was a fire truck that was repainted as an exclusive. Or maybe they were thinking Movie Mudflap. Or maybe they just decided that making him red would make him too much like the Sentinel Prime Botshot that first used the mold (probably the case but speculation is fun!) Whatever the case, his significance is really that he was a Botshot that had managed to elude me at previous sales, while made me covet him more so than normal. He was one of the NYE finds which makes him ideal to close out week on.

January 5, 2014

Blogging Like It’s 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — fairplaythings @ 6:36 pm

Hello faithful viewers… But wait, what’s that echo I hear? Is that really the sound that a 17+ month absence makes, ricocheting off the walls like so much silence?

Sadly, I fear it is just that.

2012 wasn’t turning in the most poignant or pervasive of blogging years, but when I took up with the League of Heroes at the beginning of the year, I’d hoped it would inspire me to return to the toy blogging world. But after a few efforts, I stumbled again. Who knew that a review of the Dark Knight Rises in July 2012 would be the hill my blogging efforts would linger on for a year a half.

I’ve not been without projects since then. There is a version of fairplaythings now hosting on facebook that gets some updates now and then. There is still a robust twitter presence, and appearance at both of the last two TransformerCons in Toronto, Canada. And I’ve been podcasting on occasion over at the roboplastic podcastalyse. And munny projects continue. But for all my plans for this site, like so many grand schemes sadly, they remain as yet unfulfilled.

Taking a look back at the site the last time I had a real presence on here was in 2009, when I began the Transformer of the Day epic. And it went along quite well too, with only minor bumps in the road until the update of the new computer took away my access to a functional version of photoshop. Even then, the series limped along to the mid-point of December, not a bad effort all things considered. Subsequent efforts to continue such relevance (2010’s Collectible of the Week and 2011’s Collectible of the Day) have not had that scale of success.

It makes me weary to try again.

But a funny thing happened on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2014. When all the stores were meant to be closed, there was an amazon package waiting for me on the front step of the house. Inside was a lone Constructobot, Hound, ordered in an ordering frenzy that brought home the Hasbro reissue of Predaking, among other (yet received) items. Realizing the sheer volume of plastic that comes into this house on a regular basis and ending up in the purgatory of the basement (who’s progress faces a similar fate, sadly, as the website), I thought maybe the best way back was to return with something along the lines of a daily Collectible.

Launching on Wednesday, and partially in celebration of 30 years of transforming robots from the planet Cybertron, will be the first of what I hope will be a weekly installment of Transformers to the Basement (originally “Transformers that Ended up in the Basement” which, while a spiffy title, doesn’t have an easy acronym). Rather than attempting to go forward with a regular daily episode of something fun from my collection, I’ll be putting together a collection of items newly acquired or more recently admired over the previous seven days. I’ll try and keep the theatrics to a minimum - just pics and light comments of life in a robot basement.

Look for the first installment Wednesday. Hopefully it will inspire me to clean up the place a bit and return to what this website is suppose to be.

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