Friday, September 26, 2008
Technology is ever marching forward. Everyone always wants the latest and most up-to-date gadgets and machines. So it’s only natural that when Generation 1 is re-imagined or rebooted, Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker receive alternate modes of the hottest jets in the sky. In the Movie and the IDW comics, this has meant that the Seekers have appeared with the airframes of the United States Air Force’s freshest fighter, the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor. But longtime G1 Transfans will always have a soft spot for the classic look of the Seekers, the familiar forms that come from air modes derived from the venerable McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. While the Seekers look great and fit well into their F-22 bodies, there is a case to be made for keeping them, for now at least, as F-15s.
European Generation 2 Fearswoop
One of the main reasons given for updating the Seekers’ look is the most basic…an update. Transformers is all about technology, and therefore, it only follows that the elite of the Decepticon air corps should have the newest and best 21st century airframes available. However, Transformers based on the F-22 are nothing new or revolutionary. The first F-22 prototype (then designated the YF-22) took flight on September 29, 1990, and it wasn’t long before the first Transformer based on that airframe appeared. Fearswoop was a European Generation 2 toy that was bright yellow and boasted an impressively large cannon attachment. Released in 1993, this toy was actually preceded in 1992 by the Decepticon Predator Skydive, who was based on the YF-23. The YF-23 was Northrop’s competing plane that was placed up against the YF-22 in the USAF’s Advanced Tactical Fighter competition for their next generation of fighter. The YF-22 lost out to the eventual Raptor, and has never appeared as a Transformer again since. Later in 1994, the massive Decepticon B-2 Spirit bomber Dreadwing was released, with a little detachable jet named Smokescreen tucked into his aft end. Smokescreen wasn’t an F-22 per se, but some of his lines and design features are borrowed heavily from the jet, if stretched a little out of proportion.
The F-22 Transformer would return three years later in the Machine Wars series with Megatron and Megaplex, a pair of toys originally planned for G2, but ultimately cancelled. This mold would be used again the next year in
Unfortunately, over that extended span of time, the actual F-22 had not fared so well. The usual budgeting and development hold-ups seemed to just build and build, resulting in the first production F-22 Raptor finally being delivered in 2003, with the first operational squadron coming online in December of 2005 after the delivery of the twelfth fighter. At this point, the design was nearly two decades old, and it wouldn’t be long before it would be applied once again to Starscream in the upcoming Transformers live-action film. Released in 2007, the movie also boasted the first on-screen appearance of actual operational Raptors, finally showing their stuff after years in development.
So, while considerably newer than the F-15 Eagle, which first flew in 1972, the Raptor is hardly right off of the drawing board. But, as far as Transformers are concerned, what advantages does an F-22 form hold over the F-15 exterior?
Not many that I can see. Firstly, if one of the goals is to remain low-key and hidden, the F-15 is a much better choice for a sneaking Decepticon. While no fighter jet is really that inconspicuous, F-15s are considerably more common, with over 1,600 planes having been produced and being operated by four countries worldwide. By contrast, as of July of this year, only 122 Raptors had been built. With plans to keep the F-15s (most notably the 224 F-15E Strike Eagles) flying well past the year 2025, the Eagle will be prowling the skies in force long after the initially planned full production run of 183 Raptors wraps up.
Fighter performance is barely an issue. While the Raptor has many advantages in the arenas of maneuverability and stealth capability, just about every airframe advantage is negated by Cybertronian technology, and even that varies from individual to individual. The same goes for avionics and weapons. Arguably, a Decepticon with the body of a German World War II era Me-262 fighter jet can be just as capable as a Decepticon with the alternate form of an X-Wing fighter. In the IDW Movie sequel comics, Starscream seems to gain some sort of ambiguous advantage from his Earth F-22 mode, but exactly what that is, and why remains unclear. There could be some direct correlation between alternate mode and ability in the Movie Universe, but it has yet to be explored or expanded upon.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of the F-22 Raptor. It was nearly heartbreaking to watch it languish in budgetary development hell for all those years, and when the United States finally began using them as operational fighters it was great to see these high-tech wonders finally in the skies. But I also have deep and lasting respect for the F-15. A lot of that is due to the Seekers. The original G1 toys were fantastic airplane toys, even if the robots were a little stiff and abstract looking. The F-15 just screams DECEPTICON when seen through a Transfan’s eyes. The jets themselves are pretty awesome on their own. If you’ve ever been on the ramp when one of these warbirds takes to the skies, and you’ve felt the rumble of the engines shaking every cell in your body with over 17,000 pounds of take-off thrust, then you know it’s an almost religious experience. At full military power, they flash through the sky, cutting it with a roar that leaves no doubt as to their might. They truly are great vehicles for Decepticon alternate modes.
By the end of IDW’s Devestation story arc, the Seekers were still F-22 Raptors, but by the beginning of All Hail Megatron, which takes place a year after the end of the previous tale, the trio are back in their 1980’s Generation 1 F-15 forms. How and why this has happened has yet to be explained. But hopefully I’ve illustrated several acceptable reasons for why this would have transpired, and it should be interesting to see exactly how the comic writers explain the change. But then again, Transformers are no strangers to change. The F-15 versions were also chosen to represent the Seekers for the Classics toyline, and fans took to them warmly, even if a full line-up of the trio is difficult to obtain at best.
So, be they F-22 Raptors or F-15 Eagles, or any other of a myriad of aircraft, the Seekers will most probably be with us in the Transformers mythos for a long time to come, and here’s to hoping that the classic F-15 modes continue to endure.
Monday, September 22, 2008
They’re tagged as “Robots in Disguise”. And, in most of the different continuities, one of the very first thing the Cybertronians do is take on the form of the local vehicles or life forms to blend into the surroundings and prevent being pegged as the giant alien robots that they are. It seems like a reasonable practice, except for the fact that a lot of the time, most notably in Generation 1 and the Movie Universe, the Autobots and Decepticons tend to take on the exterior forms of the flashiest and most attention grabbing vehicles possible.
The Autobots in the Movie Universe are the best and clearest example here. Optimus Prime is not just a tractor trailer cab, but one with a brilliant fiery paint job that’s sure to turn heads on the highway. Bumblebee is a concept Camaro with racing stripes while Ratchet is a visually stunning Hummer ambulance. Ironhide and Jazz are probably the most low-key Autobots, but still, they are a fully tricked out GMC Topkick and a sleek Pontiac Solstice respectively. Any one of these vehicles surely stands out on any roadway. It seems to me, if the goal is to hide in plain sight, it would probably be better if humans weren’t ogling you for any reason.
Generation 1 is just as bad. The examples there are way too numerous to get into, but really all that needs to be seen are the dual Lamborghinis that are Sideswipe and Sunstreaker’s alternative modes. The Alternators line is pretty bad in this respect as well, but with ubiquitous vehicles like the Subaru Impreza, Jeep Wrangler, and Dodge Ram SRT-10, there is some potential for the Cybertronians to be able to drive around unnoticed.
In other continuities, it’s less flagrant. Robots in Disguise, the Unicron Trilogy, and the Animated universe all create a sort of near-future world where vehicles that we would consider bold and exciting are the norm. And all things considered, Beast Wars is pretty decent, if you discount the gigantic insects and rodents. Then again, after season one of the TV show, the whole thing pretty much goes out of the window with Fuzors and Transmetals.
So, you sort of have to look at the Cybertronians as having alternative combat or transportation modes as part of their racial attributes as opposed to a defense mechanism to camouflage themselves into a situation. Now don’t get me wrong, I completely understand why things are the way they are from a real-world and toy aspect…no kid wants a robot that turns into a Nissan Stanza with a missing hubcap and a fading blue paint job with a beige driver-side door. But in-story, the whole incognito thing doesn’t really work all that well. The Transformers might as well just take any alternative mode they take a liking too, and to hell with being inconspicuous.
Case in point.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Name: Jazz (Meister)
Series: Takara Generation 1 Reissues
Notes: e-hobby exclusive color scheme, entire toy excluding rubber tires is gold, sold as set with anime accurate Blue Streak, generic packaging
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
After 15 years of collecting, and building a collection of literally thousands of toys, I still receive many comments in regards to the fact that all of my toys remain in their packaging. A common criticism is that toys are meant to be played with, much like comic books are meant to be read. So why do I leave everything sealed, forever keeping the toys from fulfilling their purpose of being played with?
I guess part of the answer goes back to when I was a kid. I'd get a new Transformer, open it up and play with it like anyone else. However, probably unlike most other children, I kept the boxes they came in. I'd use them to build fortresses and such, but I felt that the boxes were part of the toy. Especially when the packaging contained the toy's biography and technical stats.
When I purchased my first action figure as a collectible (Batman Returns Catwoman, 1992), I wanted to keep it in the packaging it was sold in. I wanted to preserve this item over time, and to truly do that, it needed to stay in its cardboard prison, that way it can be forever preserved and seen exactly as it was originally sold, box and all.
One of the popular misconceptions of keeping the toys in their box is that it will make them easier for me to sell for profit. I'll debunk that immediately by stating in over 15 years, I have only sold a handful of toys, and that was mostly when I was buying my first home and needed some extra funds for moving. Also, while it is true that sealed toys are more valuable than their loose counterparts, the majority of toys that I have in my collection probably wouldn't even get their original retail value on eBay. Don't believe me? Search online and see what Star Wars Power of the Force figures are selling for. Fact is, a lot of people collected toys as I did, resulting in very little long term demand for toys. That's part of why I've severely cut back on toy collecting (a story for a later blog).
Now, over the years, there have been plenty of toys that I have bought and opened. Usually, those toys are duplicates allowing me to keep one sealed away. But there are some toys that are too awesome to not play with. Hasbro's 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime immediately comes to mind. Lego sets are a common exception to my MISB collecting. Those just have to be opened to be appreciated.
Currently, I display what toys I can mostly in a spare bedroom in my home. It was constructed to resemble a toy store, complete with fixtures purchased from actual retail stores that went out of business. This allows me to showcase hundreds of toys as they were back when they were first available for sale. And to me, there is something very satisfying about seeing a toy, unavailable to the public anymore, hanging off of a peg in my very own toy store.
At this point in time, just about every 80’s toy line has had some sort of modern reemergence. Even properties that haven’t returned in toy form, like Thundercats for example, have DVDs, T-shirts, and other merchandise. But the GoBots are all but forgotten. There are no DVDs or T-shirts. No comics or reissues or collectors busts. The GoBots have seemingly become nothing more than a faded memory, one most Transfans are more than willing to let dissolve into nothingness.
It’s a condition that exists in every fandom; Brand Snobbery. The chosen license is the pinnacle of human achievement, which makes any similar license a pretender to the throne and deserving of contempt. Just bring up GoBots on any Transformers message board and watch the replies pile up.
“I had a bunch of Go-bots, but they weren’t as good as Transformers.”
“The Gobots cartoon was cheesy and goofy, G1 was much better.”
“OMFG! gehy-butts R teh suXX0rz!!111!!!!1111!!!!!!”
But there is a small group among Transfans that really appreciate the GoBots and wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of revival. This, however, is a tricky prospect.
When Hasbro acquired Tonka in 1991, all the rights to the GoBots reverted to the makers of the Transformers. Hasbro has built incredibly strong branding around the Transformers name, and for any real relaunch of GoBots to move forward, it would have to fit firmly within the Transformers brand. Toys like the Marvel Crossovers and the Star Wars Transformers proudly carry the Transformers branding, but are wildly different from the core lines and don’t really cause any sort of confusion to kids or fans. It’s very clear that they are set off to the side from the continuing adventures of the Cybertronians through appearance alone. While the Go-Bot name was used for a subline of Generation 2 minicars and later the Playskool Transformers, to utilize it as a subline of the existing Transformers brand with classic GoBots designs and characters could cause some on-shelf confusion, especially among older buyers who actually remember GoBots. Reissues of the old toys are practically impossible, as the originals were produced by Tonka through a licensing agreement with Bandai, still a direct competitor to Hasbro/Takara. This also begs the question as to how far Bandai’s rights to the toy designs go. Could Hasbro even attempt to update the old figures with the same recognizable forms using updated articulation and detailing techniques?
Leader-1 by Dave Reynolds
In the realm of Comics, Hasbro would have to, essentially, either cede licensing rights as part of the pre established Transformers package, or create a whole separate license. The Transformers comics license itself is very expensive, so would IDW see any financial gain in acquiring a second license from Hasbro to gamble on a Gobots title? And if not them, what other publisher would take that risk? It just seems easier for whoever is making Transformers comics to have GoBots characters show up as Easter Eggs in the backgrounds of crowd scenes or be have their parts strewn around as casualties of some off-panel action. Or, as was the case in the Megatron: Origin story, quickly dispatched by Megatron in gladiatorial combat.
Apparel and other little knick-knacks seem unlikely as well, in that these items would be in direct competition with Transformers merchandise. As for video games, well, we can barely get a decent Transformers game as it is. A DVD release of the old series is probably a whole other barrel of scorpions. Old cartoons like that always seem to be twisted up in a confusing jumble of rights and ownership. It’s probably best that I don’t even try and speculate on that one.
So where does that leave the GoBots?
Well, thankfully Hasbro has not forgotten them entirely. In fact, in the past several years small nods have been given to the mechs from Gobotron that let us know that they’re still a living part of the 1980s transforming robot nostalgia. First was the naming of Megatron’s Minicon in the Armada series as Leader-1. This showed us that the name of the Guardian commander was far from forgotten. And thanks to the horrible dubbing of the series, we never got a chance to forget it since it seemed every Minicon was erroneously called Leader-1 at one point or another.
Next was Takara’s E-Hobby exclusive Minibot repaint set. Originally intended to be named after the GoBot vehicles they most resembled, Bad Boy, Bugbite, Path Finder, Road Ranger, Small Foot, and Treds never had their names on the official packaging, an attempt by Takara to not raise the ire of Bandai. Minibots are always popular with fans and collectors, and these were no exceptions. A quick look on eBay shows that the last listed set sold for almost $300.
Growing from this, the Official Fan Club repainted Classics Bumblebee as Bugbite for its Games of Deception set of exclusive figures for Botcon 2007. The character was also included in the accompanying comic and has made a few other appearances with his repainted comrades in other Timelines stories since. But perhaps the best homage to the Gobots to date is the Fracture figure currently available as a Transformers: the Movie exclusive repaint for Wal-Mart. Actually intended to be the femme Renegade Crasher, trademark issues prevented Hasbro from being so direct. Nevertheless, Fracture shares a color scheme with her 80’s counterpart and the tech specs reveal that she has also retained her trademarked seismic energy stomp.
So, while the GoBots may not be headed for a big comeback anytime soon, there is still some hope for Transfans who enjoyed more than one transforming toyline in their youths. And who knows, a repaint of Classics Starscream in all gray and bearing the same name as a certain Minicon may not be farfetched.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It’s an odd conundrum to say the least. With Transformers, I’ve found myself being more fond of the toys than the shows. Of course a lot of the shows were mostly imported and flawed drivel with a few rare occasional gems that sparkle though. (Beast Wars and Transformers: Animated as prime examples.) Beast Machines, while I’m an enormous fan of it, I’m still the first to admit the show’s drastic shortcomings. (Mainly for me it was too dark for the sake of being dark. A little levity wouldn’t have hurt.) Same with Robots in Disguise, which had the opposite problem. While I also did thoroughly enjoy it… RiD was too light hearted. (Yes, I know it was an imported show from Japan meant for small children younger than our usual demographics here.) But with both of these shows, the toys were exceptional. I was able to look at the toys and I could see a deeper universe to it all. (Especially with the non-show characters.) In Beast Machines, if I didn’t enjoy the adventures of Optimus Primal and the Axalon crew, I could imagine that T-Wrecks and the Dinobots were off having adventures that would be more up my alley. The non-show characters were basically fan fiction inspiration. They’re created exclusively to flesh out a wider and more myriad universe.
It’s always been like that really. Whether it’s people giving stories to obscure background Seekers, or thinking about the Japanese exclusive characters like Lioconvoy and Big Convoy and how they would fit into the continuities we all know and loved. Lord, I’ve lost count of the sheer amounts of names thrown out by the fans for Lioconvoy and Big Convoy. I always preferred Leo Prime and Phalanx Prime. (One man army, you know!) Working the Alternators into a cohesive universe, or trying to follow that nonsensical Binaltech story.
That’s one of the cool things about us Transformers fans. We’ve always been a creative bunch. A lot of times our creativity is somewhat limited, as the sheer amount of “Mary Sue Autobot getting the Matrix and defeating Unicron” but generally, we can see potential in even the smallest of details. (Seriously, how many of us wanted to know the fate of Dispensor from the ‘07 Movie? I know I did!) To us there is a literal universe of stories to be told with just about every single character. There’s a reason there’s so many TF comics out there. And if you don’t like one universe, you can follow another one! You didn’t like the Botcon Classics comics, then follow the IDW comics. Don’t like the IDW comics? Follow the Animated Universe. Don’t like that, wait for the Movie Sequel in ‘09. Still not happy? Well, a lot of the Unicron Trilogy was released on DVD as well as Beast Wars, Beast Machines and Generation One. Don’t like those? Then make up your own story! Don’t want to? Are you sure you sure you wouldn’t be happier with Gundam? I personally believe that the creation of the Transformers: Mosaic series is one of the best concept ever created for this franchise.
I enjoy the characters with no history. It allows for creativity, something that’s sorely lacking in today’s realm of entertainment of linear video games and drawn out stories that lead to nowhere. It’s a wonderful thing for children and adults alike. Is developing an obscure character into your own character a bad thing? Only if you insist to others that yours is the only correct interpretation. Otherwise, it’s perfectly healthy and a wonderful exercise of the imagination. And powerful.
I’m wondering now a little more about the TFU Skyhammer…