Saturday, 19 August 2017

TFNation 2017 Round-up & Haul

I'm not going to split this into two parts, as per last year, simply because TFNation 2017 felt more like one experience split over two days, rather than the one horrendous day and one slightly better day I had last time (for reasons which had little or nothing to do with TFNation itself). It's also far more convenient, as I don't have to remember and write about things in any particular order.

My travel tribulations continued this year, with about a 20 minute delay meaning I arrived after close of registration on the Friday, as well as missing the start of the first live action movie being shown in the main hall. Getting to the hotel was far easier this time, despite it being (marginally) further from the station, but getting out of the station on the Airport side was just as confusing as Google Maps' walking instructions to the Hilton last year. Getting back home on the Monday was far smoother though - rather than using one of the 'big' trains, I'd booked onto the London Midlands service between Euston and Birmingham New Street, which is effectively an extension of the London Underground. The service is slower, but apparently less prone to cancellation, and has a small First Class compartment, which I gladly took advantage of on the way back, having not seen it on the way out. First Class tickets each way cost a mere £16, which was actually cheaper than the 'big' trains standard tickets.

I slept badly throughout the weekend - as much to do with being on my own as it was my usual issues with travelling and being in a hotel, as I haven't yet managed to convince my girlfriend to come along to one of the TF-specific conventions. My room in the Ibis, near the airport, was excellent, with a very well designed and compact shower room and a nice, quiet air conditioning unit... but strange ticks and clicks from about the room seemed to keep waking me up. On Saturday morning, I overslept and got to the Hilton a little after 9am, only to encounter a very long queue. Oddly enough, I wasn't surprised by this. The queue started moving fairly quickly but, when I got to the door, I found that I'd walked right past the - well-labelled - registration booth without making use of it, and so had to join another (smaller) queue to get my wristband before going in. This arrangement was a huge improvement on last year, so well done, team TFNation!

Had I paid a bit more attention to the programme (as I think it's unlikely that it could have been made available online any earlier in the year than it was) I would have been rather annoyed to have missed a bunch of panels put on throughout Friday, though I gather they were problematic, due to the large number of attendees already present on Friday and the tiny room booked for panels. By the time Saturday rolled round, the hotel had relocated them to a somewhat larger room at the opposite end of the building, and certain panels (including Have I Got Thew For You) were repeated for the benefit of those who were turned away on Friday.

Speaking of the programme, the 'souvenir magazine' is another nicely-done little booklet, but I'm puzzled by some of their layout choices (not least the massive first-line indents and inconsistent text sizing!). They also went to the trouble of creating a character, Genericon (or 'Genny'), to be the voice of TFNation, and who appeared in a short, animated intro to the show's opening ceremony. The schedule this year features only panel names - no details of the content, meaning one had to have some insider knowledge (or to ask staff?) to make an informed decision about what to attend and when to have lunch. The TFNation crew really need to consider scheduling in about a half hour/45-minute break somewhere between noon and 2.30pm, as the 10 minutes between panels isn't sufficient for acquiring and consuming a decent amount of food... which is probably why so many folks brought their food back into the main hall... and then left the cartons, etc. underneath the chairs. Bins were provided, both in the main hall and in the areas where the hotel was providing 'street food' (aka. burgers and hot dogs), but an awful lot of litter ended up under the chairs.

Aside from the retail aspect of TFNation, there were two reasons I wanted to attend: Venus Terzo and Bob Budiansky. The former because her portrayal of Blackarachnia in Beast Wars/Beast Machines was far better than the one-dimensional character bio for the toy really warranted, the latter because... well... he basically created what we know as the TransFormers brand, and I got into collecting TransFormers as much because of his excellent character bios as the toys themselves. The Simpsons' Maggie Roswell's presence was a bit of a puzzle - despite TFN saying it was all down to last year's interest in voice acting generally - until she casually mentioned that she's married to the main TF voice actor in attendence, Hal Rayle. Her panel was a lot of fun, but I was surprised by how few audience questions there were given her body of work. Mark Ryan has always been better known to me as Nasir from the old Granada TV series Robin of Sherwood, but I was aware that he'd lent his voice to a few characters during the last ten years of live action movies, not least Lockdown in Age of Extinction and Jetfire in Revenge of the Fallen (amusingly, it seems Ray Winstone - also formerly of Robin of Sherwood - felt that Mr Ryan's voice for the ancient Decepticon was based on his own voice, despite Jetfire sounding more Mancunian than east London). His panel on the Sunday was excellent, covering his vast and varied body of work, from his early days in working men's clubs, through Robin of Sherwood (explaining why his character had no dialogue, and how he ended up doing more dangerous stunts than his stuntman), to his more recent role as the on-set voice of all the CGI robot characters in the Michael Bay movies. Venus Terzo's panel was great, but there weren't as many behind-the-scenes insights as we got from last year's voice actors... Though just about every Beast Wars actor I've seen at these sorts of events clearly has a number of stories they could tell about Scott McNeil, Ms. Terzo remained largely tight-lipped. Even Hal Rayle's panel on the Sunday didn't offer much in the way of behind-the-scenes TransFormers stuff beyond one story involving Wally Burr's directing. The most interesting thing I learned was that Peter Cullen provided vocal effects for the Predator in the eponymous first movie, but Mr Rayle took over for the second.

Bob Budiansky's panel on the Saturday started out with a slideshow including the original approved TF story treatment, signed off by Mr Budiansky as Editor. One interesting snipped from this answered a question I've had knocking around in my head since the early UK comics: why the Ark's AI was named 'Auntie'. Apparently, 'Auntie' was the original name of the Ark/its AI as a single entity... Evidently no-one at Marvel UK got the memo about the name change, or they simply decided to use the name regardless, because she appears in the four-part story 'Raiders of the Last Ark'. Either way, Mr Budiansky didn't know (or remember, at least) why the name 'Auntie' was used. He also went into his process for coming up with characters, etc., mentioning that people often asked if he was from a military background, considering the technical terms he seemed to use for the characters' weapons. One really cool detail from his tenure as Editor for the TransFormers comics was that the story 'Decepticon Grafitti' apparently earned an fan letter from Stan Lee himself. During the Q&A at the end, I managed to babble out a minimally coherent question (having briefly lost my train of thought after speaking a few words), asking if he felt at all personally disappointed that Hasbro no longer bother putting the same sort of effort into the character bios now, as those he created for them (over a Thanksgiving weekend, according to his story) all those years ago. Sadly, he wasn't aware of what Hasbro were doing these days, but said that he has been told several times that they still use his style as a template... Which implies either that whoever told him that was fibbing, or that they do create complete bios for all the characters, but simply choose not to publish them on the packaging. Even if he isn't interested in taking the job himself, I do always wish Hasbro would try to discover the next Bob Budiansky, and bring back proper character bios and tech specs, rather than the neutered, heavily edited rubbish they produce these days.

Mr. Budiansky shared the main stage with Simon Furman on the Sunday, discussing the very early days of the Marvel comics, and it was surprising to learn how little communication there was between the US and UK Editorial teams. I already knew (probably from one of the few AutoAssembly shows I attended) that the UK-specific stories came into being to fill in the gaps between the less-frequently-published US comics, but it was nevertheless interesting to hear Mr Furman talk about how frustrating it was to have to use non-central characters all the time to avoid any lasting impact on the US stories, while Mr Budiansky wasn't even aware of the strife.

Mr Furman also headed the mysteriously-titled Definitive G1 Collection panel on the Saturday, along with John-Paul Bove, regarding the Hachette partworks he's compiling, the most interesting feature of which was that the previously monochrome pages from the old Marvel comics are actually being coloured, and Mr Bove's work was apparently so good that some of the original artists/colourists couldn't tell what was their work and what had been newly coloured for the reprints. This sort of partwork isn't really my scene - they can be frustrating to collect, and end up being rather expensive for what they are.

I missed the very beginning of the panel on MAAS Toys' TFNation exclusive figure, Rune, because I needed to get some food. I took my seat just as the 3D modeller came on stage, for some discussion about the process of designing the figure, and the input provided by the factory. While I'm not hugely impressed with the finished model - the vehicle mode being based on Bumblebee's appearance in the pilot episode of the 80s cartoon, with the robot mode being a decent extrapolation of what he should have looked like - the panel was just as interesting and informative as Boss Fight Studios' appearance at last year's Roll Out Roll Call, and it was clear that a lot of effort and, more importantly, passion had gone into creating it... though, by that point, I had already bought the convention exclusive version, so I didn't need convincing. The Third Party toys panel was very disappointing as it was mainly just a fairly hurried slideshow - featuring some prototype images which have been available online for several weeks, if not months, while others were curiously absent - with a perfunctory Q&A at the end... though it seems that, if it didn't feature in the slideshow, there was simply nothing new to share, and several Third Party companies just aren't keen on sharing details of their work in its early stages.

I only attended a couple of panels at the other end of the Hotel, starting with Sara Pitre-Durocher's panel on the Saturday, from which I came away wanting to get a bit more into the comics... Not sure that'll last, but I'm now at least a little more inclined to pick up some of the collected versions of IDW's output. Later that day, I came in on the end of a podcast panel, and was rather disappointed to find that what was billed on the schedule as a "TransFormers YouTube Community Panel" was actually a remarkably short and silly quiz, which then gave way to a live re-run of the Have I Got Thew For You panel, put on for the folks who couldn't get in to the Friday version. Neither were especially thrilling, though Mr Adams always manages to entertain. The panel about the TFNation exclusive 'TFAnimated Season 4/Finale movie' graphic novel Trial & Error featured the three artists who each tackled one chapter, along with the writers. Having missed out on the comic on the Saturday, I took the opportunity to snap it up quite early on Sunday, even after the announcement that a second, on-demand print run would be made available after the event, due to the unexpectedly high demand. The art is understandably inconsistent (Ed Pirrie is most accurate to the TV show, Gavin Spence is rather more angular in his style, while Herzspalter is probably my favourite because her style is a development of the TV show style, which I feel is better suited to print) it's all excellent and, while unofficial, it ties off the series neatly and even pays (brief) homage to the Botcon comic from 2011.

I didn't bother with the Saturday evening's entertainment this year - I'd considered going back to the Hilton for the script reading, but having failed to get a seat for dinner anywhere in Resorts World (due to every single restaurant I tried not accepting any patrons who hadn't made a reservation - I'll know better for next year), I was tired, hungry, and just a little bit grumpy, so I decided to try to get an early night. Similarly, on Sunday, I decided to leave before the closing ceremony... Though, in retrospect, I do regret that a little - the TFNation crew deserve a lot of praise for pulling off such a good event in what they themselves described as their "difficult second year". The schedule wasn't as packed as the inaugural event and, while Maggie Roswell - a non-TF voice actor - was arguably the biggest name on the guest list, getting Bob Budiansky was a major coup for the team and, having missed Sumalee Montano at the final AutoAssembly, I was pleased to be able to see Venus Terzo this year.

Overall, I think the retail angle was much better this year, and I went 33% over my self-imposed budget a little too gleefully, but I could easily have spent more if only I had the space to display more in my flat. What's interesting is that the usual bricks-and-mortar retail outlets are so far behind what's actually available online and what was available at TFNation, but the show certainly made it easily to get myself up-to-date with what I actually wanted to acquire, so I no longer have to worry about missing things in the shops, or only realising what's available online after it's sold out. I still have some reservations about the scheduling and the show guide, but I know from the events put on by my own employer that it's a learning process and can take several years to perfect.

I'm very much looking forward to attending again next year, having had a vastly more positive experience this year than last... Though if I'm still working in my current job, I'd really prefer the event to be at the end of August, because the first three weeks of the month are my employer's busiest time of the year!

The Haul:
I did virtually all of my buying on day one, and most of that probably within the first ten minutes of being in the main hall. It filled up pretty rapidly, making it quite difficult to browse, but it felt as though there were fewer retail stands - In Demand Toys, Kapow Toys and The Space-Bridge taking up the most square-footage of the hall between them, with a few smaller stands wedged in between. Curiously, most of my purchases were from In Demand, as they seemed to have the greatest range of current Hasbro/Takara Tomy merchandise, while Kapow brought more Third Party stuff. I actually took two or three turns around the floor, snapping up (I think) Legends Godbomber and The Last Knight Nitro on my first visit to IDToys, Titans Return Octane, Broadside, Krok and Windblade on the second, then the TransFormers Adventure Drift/Jazz 2-pack on the last, because they'd cut the price by a tenner. My only other acquisition on Saturday was the TFNation exclusive 'Rune' version of MAAS Toys' G1-Cartoon/Cybertronian-style Bumblebee figure, Skiff. Skiff and the Goldbug repaint, Gold, were also available at the show but don't like the mold so much that I want more than one iteration... buying Rune was more an expression of support for the idea of convention exclusive toys (on a similar note to last year's Kapow exclusive, Feral Queen and Nero Queen), and to encourage more in future. That said, it's a nice coincidence that it's a Femme-Bot, and the price was exceptionally reasonable for an exclusive - a mere £35.

Sunday being the quieter day, I was better able to scrutinise some of the tables, and so found The Nottingham Robot Company's Overlord upgrade set, which converts two Titan Master figures into Power Masters that can plug into Overlord's chest sockets. That led me to decide to pick up Overlord - something I'd been on the fence about since seeing video reviews, and had all but decided against buying once I'd seen the Takara Tomy version. Neither version is perfect but I think Hasbro's just about has the edge with the upgrade kit... once I pick up one or two 'spare' Titan Master figures to apply the engines to. At £60, he cost a lot more than I would have preferred to pay, and the upgrade kit was an additional £19 for a handful of 3D printed parts, but I'm happy with all my new toy acquisitions.

I was also able to pick up a copy of the exclusive first edition of the TF Animated finale movie-in-graphic-novel-form, 'Trial & Error' on the Sunday, so I don't even have to worry about waiting for the reprint. Not pictured are a couple of posters I bought in the Forge, from NatePhoenix - a fellow DeviantArtist on my watch list - because I'm aiming to get them framed, having had to roll them up to get them home.

If I'd had a shopping list, the two Perfect Effect upgrade sets for Legends Super Ginrai would have been on it and, while I'm sure I saw at least one person clutching one of them, it could easily be that it had been ordered for collection at the show. There was also no sign of the FansProjects Dino-Femme-Bots, but that just saved me a bit more money...

If I had one regret, it's that I didn't read the news bulletin about the 'tour' t-shirt created for the show - I saw loads of people wearing them and thought they looked excellent, but they weren't on sale at the show, as far as I could see, because they'd been made to pre-order back in July.
Top: TransFormers Adventure TAV VS05 Drift Origin Mode & Jazz Battle Mode, TFNation exclusive/MAAS Toys'  CT001TFN Rune, TLK PE Nitro
Bottom: TR Octone Octane, TR Krok, TR Broadside, TR Windblade, Legends LG42 Godbomber, TR Overlord & the Nottingham Robot Company's Overpower Upgrade Kit
Front: TFNation 2017 programme & TFAnimated 'Season 4' Trial & Error graphic novel

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hunt for the Decepticons Hubcap

One of the few coherent and interesting concepts to come out of Revenge of the Fallen was the idea that TransFormers have been on Earth far longer than Optimus Prime and his team believed. It's an idea that deserved - deserves, even now, in the wake of The Last Knight - a proper and thorough examination in a movie of its own, rather than being shuffled aside as a minor plot point in one of RotF's many silly, ad-libbed scenes.

Perhaps by way of compensation for this oversight, Hasbro decided to release a few smaller Autobots and Decepticons based around the movie's reinterpretation of the 'Seeker' title, more generally applied to the earliest visitors from Cybertron on their quest to find the Allspark. One such visitor was the vaguely G1-referencial Scout class Autobot, Hubcap...

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Titans Return Scourge & Fracas

G1 Scourge got a bit of a raw deal. As one of the new characters, introduced in the 1986 animated movie as one of Unicron's minions, rebuilt from one of the casualties of the Decepticons' raid on Autobot City, he represented the start of a very new direction in the toyline. No longer would there be realistic vehicle modes - the whole line was going completely Sci-Fi... and adopting all kinds of shortcuts in the process. Scourge, in particular, was one of the earliest - if not the earliest - shellformer, with most of his space-hovercraft vehicle mode ending up as squared-off 'wings' on his back after a minimal transformation.

Since then, Scourge toys have been few and far between and, aside from the Generations remake as a flying wing and the BotCon adaptation of Noisemaze, even his comic book character models tended to stick to the same bizarre look - moreover, the Third Party models have gone for a screen-accurate Masterpiece vibe rather than actually creating an alternate mode that looks like a spacecraft.

So, with the Generations figure already in my collection, I was all set to ignore the Titans Return version until I remembered that I have a newer Cyclonus and (Grand) Galvatron thanks to Unite Warriors, thus allowing my somewhat random OCD to kick in and demand I complete the set with a new Scourge...But is Hasbro's latest take on the leader of the Sweeps worth picking up?

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Combiner Wars (Custom) Sky Reign

While there is an official team - and configuration thereof - for Combiner Wars Sky Reign, I feel that all the components, even in the Unite Warriors version, turned out very lacklustre. I'd been toying with the idea of picking up CW Wheeljack and sprucing him up with Reprolabels simply because he's was the only CW Stunticon mold reuse that I don't have a version of (well, him and Drag Strip)... but the Breakdown mold he came from wasn't one of the better ones, so I ended up procrastinating.

Then, trawling through eBay one evening, I found the perfect solution, from Fun Publications' now-defunct Collectors' Club's final Subscription Service set. The package containing Toxitron and Counterpunch also contained the somewhat random choice of secret companion, Shattered Glass Starscream, based on the CW Aerialbot Skydive - with the head coming from the same mold's usage as UW Grand Galvatron component Ghost Starscream.

So, now complete, my Sky Reign looks a bit like this:

He's a bit of a jumble - made up of the last two figures from Subscription Service 4.0 - Impactor and Bluestreak - along with SS5.0 SG Starscream and then the two otherwise unoccupied Combiner Wars figures on my shelves - Rook and, of course, Sky Lynx.

And it actually works out rather well... It's a bit awkward that it features two of exactly the same mold, but I can live with that. I'm also not entirely happy with Bluestreak as an arm - the forearm is too wide and, in common with Streetwise on my Defensor, prone to falling apart because it doesn't really clip together. Plus, the wrist is a very tight fit, making the hand difficult to rotate - it almost feels as though the socket is going to pop off its mounting.

On the upside, it seems as though SG Starscream's most effective position is as an arm, because his bio (another of the better-written ones, but more on that soon) describes his hand/foot gun as unleashing and attack called the 'Null Fist'. OK, it also mentions that he can traverse five miles in a single jump in leg mode, but surely that depends on the other leg as well..?

...So I think that's pretty much it for Combiner Wars... I have three complete gestalts for each faction (albeit one Third Party set on the Decepticons' side) and, aside from possibly picking up some of the upgrade sets (particularly the TDW set for Bruiticus, so I can then transfer the Perfect Effect set over to Grand Galvatron), I'm basically happy with the way they all look. It might be nice to have an upgrade set for Sky Reign as well, but there don't seem to be any in the works...

Friday, 28 July 2017

Iron Factory IF EX-16 Pink Assassin

(Femme-Bot Friday #42)
When the first few figures in Iron Factory's line of miniaturised transforming robots appeared, there didn't seem to be much of interest to me. I'm not overly keen on smaller, more simplified models of anything, particularly if they go for the Cybertronian aesthetic (often quite lazy and of inconsistent appearance) or if I already own a larger format version. Of course, that all changed when the first of the line's Femme-Bots - Windsaber/'Miko for IronTitan' - and suddenly I was hooked.

But, when it comes to Femme-Bots, Arcee is pretty much always the starting point, and it wasn't too long before Iron Factory revealed 'Pink Assassin', their impossibly cute but heavily armed take on the franchise's most poorly represented character.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Last Knight/Premier Edition Megatron (Leader class)

Way back toward the end of May 2017, an announcement turned up on the TransFormers fan sites that Amazon UK had put up preorder listings for The Last Knight's Leader class Megatron for about £45. Before I'd made up my mind about whether I wanted it or not, the price and order button were removed. Later, without any fanfare, the preorder became available again and, being a somewhat impulsive creature, I ordered it.

Then I just had to wait for it to arrive... a wait of a little over a month. But, hey, at least I didn't have to pay the current price tag, which seems to be closer to £65!

And, since we're now three toys into this line, I'll spare you any detail about the box... Not least because the only difference (other than size) is that someone at Hasbro decreed that Leader class Megatron actually deserved four whole lines of bland bio in four languages.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

TransFormers Collectors' Club 2016/Combiner Wars Thunder Mayhem

By the time BotCon 2016 rolled around, Combiner Wars was already winding down but, as well as the show's exclusive gestalt boxed set - (Dawn of the) Predacus, the Club was creating another combiner of its very own via the 2016 Subscriber Service, this time collecting a motley crew of Decepticons - a pair of former Triggercons and a pair of Double Targetmasters, with a former Pretender as their leader - calling themselves the Mayhem Attack Squad and repackaged as Combiner Wars repaints, with the torso figure receiving a new head of his own and a new head for the gestalt.

I've dealt with all the components individually, so it's about time I had a look at the completed Subscription Service 4.0 figure, Thunder Mayhem...

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