Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Darker Side of Transformers #7

#7 Age of Extinction
The general concensus is that Transformers 4: Age of Extinction wasn't a great film even by Michael Bay standards but being a not very good film isn't enough to get you on this list. What gets AoE onto the list is what happened behind the scenes.

Paramount Pictures are one of the biggest movie studios in the West and are very aware of the Chinese movie market which has been predicted will surpass the US market, so Age of Extinction was their way of testing the Asian market. Casting Li Bingbing as a stereotypical aloof martial artist and setting the last third of the film in China and Hong Kong was Paramount's way of trying to appeal to a Chinese audience.

Michael Bolton Bay.

While there was a lot of publicity surrounding the attempts by Chinese gangsters to extort money from the production, including an attack on Bay himself, some of the other aspects of the production may have gone unnoticed. Paramount worked with Jiaflix Enterprises and China Movie Channel in order to film in China, but China Movie Channel is actually a state run outlet for the Chinese Communist Party because all films made in China have to have official approval from the government. Not only though was AoE approved by the government, it was mainly funded by them too.

Some Chinese Gangsters are awesome!

While in the Transformers series of films the American government has been portrayed as not always wholesome with the President being portrayed as weak and Kelsey Grammer's character as a warmonger, the Chinese government are depicted as being benevolent rulers who care about all their citizens. One line stood out in the film as Hong Kong was decimated - "We've got to call the central government for help." followed by the Chinese government vowing to rescue their people in Hong Kong. All sounds rather great unless you actually live in Hong Kong.

Giant Panda/Giant pander joke goes here.

The film premiered in Hong Kong on 19th June 2014 which angered some investors as they wanted the premier to be in Beijing, but nonetheless the film was a runaway success and became the highest grossing film in Chinese history. For the people of Hong Kong something bigger was happening.

Hong Kong residents were in the middle of an unofficial vote on political reform after Beijing started to take more broad control over Hong Kong. On July 1st an estimated 510,000 people took part in a pro democracy march in Hong Kong, 511 of whom were arrested. Tensions rose in August when China announced that democracy would still exist in Hong Kong but residents could only vote for between 2 or 3 candidates who were essentially hand picked by Beijing. At the end of September protesters began to congregate and occupy parts of Beijing in a movement that in some areas would last until December.

None of these people want rescuing by "the central government". Rescue from...maybe.

The protests would become known as The Umbrella Movement as protesters had started carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the large number of tear gas cannisters being fired at them by police. In surreal scenes, protesters would clean the streets each morning and were on the whole peaceful with police using excess force and even criminal gangs against the demonstrators. The Chinese government began having websites censored with any mentions of the occupation being removed, while annoucing on television that the protests would lead to violence and the death of protesters in a warning that came across as a veiled threat. On December 15th the last occupation site would be cleared by police and The Umbrella Movement brought to an end.

"They will never take our freedooooo...oh wrong movie."

While Age of Extinction was a 'popcorn movie' it also doubled as propaganda for China's government which is somewhat dismaying considering how the film and TV industry in the West has the freedom to portray it's own governments as they see fit. No one is going to watch a Michael Bay film for political commentary but it's alarming to see him, Executive Producer Steven Speilberg and an entity as large as Paramount concede so much control to a government in order to access a market. It's a precedent that has worrying connotations in regard to how "patriotic" further films aimed at the Asian market will be.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Darker Side of Transformers #8

#8 Mattel/IGA

Well, toys in general. Plasticos IGA SA were the company that produced Transformers for the Mexican market and while lead paint usage in children's toys had been banned in the USA in 1978, Mexico still allowed it. When the Transformers line flopped there the overstocks were shipped to the UK and Europe but laws here wouldn't allow them to be sold. The importers in some cases stripped the paint off entirely and repainted it but in many cases the offending paint was simply painted over. Badly.

Rise Ebola Prime.

You may wonder why this is a problem but in children's toys the paint invariably chips and flakes off with the child often eating the flakes. Lead is absorbed by skin and young children's skin is particularly absorbent meaning that handling a toy with lead paint can be enough to bring about poisoning, but consumption of the paint is far worse. Lead also builds up in the body so the affect accumulates and even small amounts can make very young children significantly ill while larger amounts can actually result in physical and mental development issues. The toys that never left Mexico still feature the lead paint.

Mattell on the other hand are unfortunate. In 1987 and 1988 Hasbro introduced sparking features into the Transformers line with the Sparkabots, Monsterbots and the Firecons as a simple gimmick; the toys were fitted with a wheel and flint like you'd find in a cigarette lighter and they'd spark away harmlessly. Or so you'd think. In small products aimed at young boys this wasn't a problem but in 1991 Mattel released Roller Blade Barbie which featured roller skates that would also produce sparks. The sparks generated by Barbie's footwear was a bit more significant than we saw in Transformers and these sparks would come into contact with something young boys don't generally use - hair spray. After young girls found their hair catching fire a product recall was issued for the whole line and sparking gimmicks were dropped until Hasbro resurrected them in 2014's Age of Extinction line.

The cold dead eyes and sick smile of a pyromaniac.

However, Mattel's misfortune didn't begin there and the biggest calamity they suffered massively impacted the toy industry and later the Transformers brand.

In 1977 everyone was going crazy over Star Wars and sci-fi was now the big moneymaker with film studios and tv networks clamouring to produce anything they could in order to capitalise. In August 1978 toys for an upcoming series were launched in stores and a month later, Battlestar Galactica debuted on September 17th 1978 depsite lawsuits from Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. By December the Galactica toyline was a huge hit, selling two million of their vehicles alone but instead of being able to celebrate, Mattel had a huge problem.

The missiles in the Battlestar Galactica toys were similar to those used in Shogun Warriors and were only an inch and a half long with a powerful launching mechanism. The problem was that vehicles were designed in a way, it was later argued, that children were likely to put the nosecones of the vehicles in their mouths leading to the trigger button on the nosecone being pressed and the missile being fired. As the launcher was based under the trigger that meant that children were accidentally firing missiles into their own mouths. Following 7 reports of children inhaling or swallowing missiles, Mattel added warning labels to their existing inventory of Galactica toys on the 8th of December but it was too late.

Tom Rosinski holding the missile that was surgically removed from his lung. (March 17 1977, Denver Post)

On the 29th of December 1978, 4 year old Robert Jeffrey Warren fired the missile from a Battlestar Galactica Cylon Raider vehicle (not the Viper as often cited) into his mouth with the projectile becoming lodged in his larynx. 4 minutes later he lost consciousness and was rushed to hospital where he suffered a massive cardiac arrest but was briefly revived after the missile was surgically removed from his throat. Two days later, on New Year's Eve, Warren sadly passed away.

That Christmas a number of children would be hospitalised by the missiles but these children were older and so the airway around their vocal chords was large enough to let the missile pass into their lungs. While they would require surgery the children made full recoveries. On January 11th 1979 Mattel announced a recall of the missiles and offered to replace them with a free Hot Wheels car but on both the 10th and 11th at least another two children (Christopher Auger and Michael Affanto) were hospitalised. At the New York Toy Fair in February redesigned non firing Galactica toys were unveiled but the meltdown was underway.

Redesigned non-firing Viper with sticker reassuring parents that the missile feature was removed.

On March 22nd 1979 the parents of Robert Jeffrey Warren filed a lawsuit against Mattel for in excess of 14 million dollars and on April 29th the final episode of Battlestar Galactica was screened after the series was abruptly cancelled. At this point 27 children had inhaled missiles from the toys. While unrelated to the missile controversy, there was a last victim when a 15 year old boy committed suicide due to the series cancellation.

While toy manufacturers scrambled to address the issue, the most famous of toys to be changed was Star Wars' Boba Fett which had been heavily promoted as a mail away figure featuring a firing rocket. The figure would be released with the rocket glued into place and the firing mechanism removed, making the prototypes of the figure the only rocket firing examples.

Kenner stock photo showing the filled in 'J slot' where the firing mechanism would have been.

When Transformers debuted in 1984 their launching systems had been neutered to confirm with US and European child safety laws and no longer were capable of firing missiles over a distance of feet like their Diaclone and Microchange predecessors could. By 1986 new Transformers no longer had missiles with only the last two Diaclone and Microchange designs still featuring them with either no springs (Ultra Magnus) or longer missiles that prevented choking (Metroplex, who was designed for the abandoned Diaclone Jizai Gattai line along with the Stunticons, Aerialbots, Combaticons and Protectobots). From 1987 onwards there were no Transformers designed for the Western market with launching missiles until the relaunch of the brand as Generation 2.

Reissues of Generation 1 toys now always feature the longer missiles to prevent choking and while adult collectors aren't a fan of them, Battlestar Galactica proved that they are essential.

Only a porn star could swallow the reissue missiles


IGA Prowl pic from author's own collection.
IGA red painted Optimus Prime picture courtesy of Maz
Barbie picture is a screenshot from the commerical
Tom Rosiniski photo is copyright The Denver Post
Battlestar Galactica picture comes from an unknown source
Boba Fett picture is from Kenner's stock photography
Optimus Prime missile comparison picture is from Fred's Workshop.

Transformers Takara Unite Warriors UW-04 Devastator (By Kodimus_prime_g1)

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Darker Side of Transformers #9

Continuing our look at the darker parts of the Transformers franchise and history...

9. Whirl
A part of the original Wreckers but seemingly only for their introductory story arc and two cameos, Whirl was portrayed as being calm and rational but IDW's reimagining of the character is anything but and is arguably the most tragic character in More Than Meets the Eye.

Whirl More Than Meets The Eye

Our introduction to Whirl comes in MTMTE #1 where following the conclusion of Chaos, Whirl has stashed the corpses of some Sweeps, including possibly Scourge himself, and is in the process of dousing them in fuel about to burn them. The corpses have been acting as a captive audience for Whirl as he's spent weeks ranting and raving about his frustrations as Cybertronians have returned home. There are two subtle things about this page which are easy to miss - 1. That Whirl can hear the dead bodies talking back and 2. Whirl himself is stood in the pool of fuel so it's possible that he's about to burn himself alive with them, a theory backed up later on when Whirl is taken hostage by a psychotic Fortress Maximus and begs to be shot in the head and again in the latest issue which would be spoilerific to discuss in detail.

Whirl's lust for violence and lack of concern for himself leads to him escalating the war between the Ammonites and Terradores by assassinating the Terradore leader on a whim. We discover that Whirl murdered his arch nemesis Killmaster (see image below) and that the reason Whirl was kicked out of The Wreckers was for trying to mercy kill a comatose Springer. Even more shocking is discovering that it was Whirl who, in a roundabout way, started the Cybertronian Civil War after beating a captive Megatron when the future Decepticon leader was simply a philoshoper on social change.
Whirl More Than Meets The Eye

However Whirl's story takes a tragic turn as his origin is revealed - bucking Cybertron's system where every robot has to perform the function of their alternate mode, Whirl became a watchmaker. His change of career didn't go unnoticed by the Functionist Council who had the watchmaker's business destroyed. Destitute, Whirl went on to become a drifter and skilled fighter, eventually being forced into service of the Senate as an enforcer. Under orders he was forced to commit horrific acts, acts he'd later be punished for by the Functionist Council as part of their elaborate revenge on him. Whirl's punishment was Empurata: a process where the criminal's head and hands are replaced to make an example of them. With massive claws for hands, Whirl's career as a watchmaker was now over.

When Cyclonus questions why 4 million years later Whirl hasn't had the process reversed, he simply replies that the anger at his situation drowns out his conscience and that if the source of his anger was removed then he'd have to face the acts he's committed.

Therein is the horror of Whirl - a peaceful being driven to commit endless atrocities in order to not break down at the thought of what he's become.

Whirl More Than Meets The Eye

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Darker Side of Transformers #10

Transformers are primarily marketed at children with some figures and media aimed firmly at adult collectors but there are elements, from the creation of characters to manufacturing to storytelling that really aren't too wholesome. Here's a look at some things that are a little bit on the unpleasant side.

10. Bumblebee
Bumblebee has always been our way into the Transformers universe: the character is the smallest, weakest and most affable of characters which makes him easiest for children to identify with. Most adult collectors aren't big fans of the character for those weaknesses and it seems writers aren't either as the poor little guy has been riddled with blasters, been destroyed on at least 3 occasions, had his face crushed and had to walk with a cane for a while. In nature we know that the weakest of the pack is the one singled out by predators and Bumblebee is the Transformers equivalent. However it's worth noting that there is something else darker about Bumblebee.

While we think of Volkswagon Beetles as being cute cars (mainly thanks to the Herbie films), it was actually the brainchild of Adolf Hitler. With Germany's new autobahns (motorways/highways) in place Hitler wanted an affordable car available to the people so they could enjoy their new high speed travelling option. Adolf would approach Ferdinand Porsche about creating his Volks Wagen (People's Car) with strict instructions that it should be able to sustain a relatively high speed, have low fuel consumption, have easily replaceable parts to keep repair costs down and be able to seat 2 adults and 3 children. Volkswagens were to be available to the German public via a payment scheme to help people afford them.

With the outbreak of World War 2 the Volkswagen was instead used as a military vehicle (don't laugh) because it's air cooled engine made it perfect for use by the Afrika Corps and a variation was used as an amphibious vehicle. During the war the Beetle design was a status symbol driven by high ranking Nazi officers but post war Volkswagen made vehicles for the British army and finally started producing Beetles for the German public in 1945. By 1972 the Type 1 Beetle was the most produced car in the world and immediately recognisable, thanks in part to the Disney film The Love Bug, a film about a sentient Volkswagen Beetle. The Volkswagen had finally lived up to it's People's Car moniker and the loveable car was a perfect choice for the loveable Bumblebee despite it's dark past.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Iron Factory IF EX-03S Scouts & Sniper Review

I didn't even know about this set until TFCon 2015, amazing given that a) the prototypes surfaced close to a year ago and b) I am drawn to Iron Factory product like a Davey is drawn to rum.

Following on from a damn good Overlord and their Ultra Magnus meisterwerk City Commander (review to drop), the dark lord wizards of tiny revisit a couple of existing toolings to bring us the IF EX-03S five pack. Soundwave, Ravage, Buzzsaw, Lazerbeak and a rather outnumbered Perceptor are presented for your Legends collecting needs.

'Ultra Magnus, a cursory evaluation of Decepticon capability indicates whoever stuck me in that box needs a slap'

Utilising the mold originally released as Sonictech (their riff on Blaster/Twincast) works far better than I imagined for Perceptor. The boxy look suits him fine and he has been given not just a unique chest but two heads should you wish to display him IDW sniper style.

Which I do, ta

His shoulder cannon is attached by a piece that plugs into the figure's back. This is also designed to accommodate a separate cannon that allows for a more G1 configuration. A word of caution. The shoulder cannon ball joints are tight. Be careful when swapping them out the first few times.

One criticism I have with this figure is that when fitting the weapon in his hand, due to two painted surfaces rubbing against one another, paint chipping is unavoidable. Should've left the gun handle or inner hand unpainted. Irritating.

He looks right at home with his mold mate and the changes made do the business defining him as his own character. Round this off with his sniperceptor rifle and a perfect colour scene and what was initially met with a 'Well, meh' swiftly changed to a 'Hell yeah'. Job done.

Soundwave then. Whether blindly loyal, self serving opportunist or jilted hippy commune founder, he's a big deal. The Decepticon Communications Officer, like Perceptor, gets his own (beautiful) head and chest as well as iconic shoulder cannon. And just like Perceptor the retooled parts, while minimal, do a spot on job of standing him apart. This is a good Soundwave. Just look at those glorious colours!

Articulation on this pair is identical and well up to scratch for Legends sized figures.  Ball joints, swivels and hinges are all where they need to be. And in keeping with Iron Factory's play pattern, both are dotted with 5mm ports to really amp up their armaments. The set comes with the arsenal you see below and more, all you're really missing is a little canoe and some budgie smugglers and you could totally recreate that beach scene in Commando.


Transformation is quick and simple though this is where using the Sonictech mold causes problems. It's just not a very good alt mode. It's IDW Spotlight Blaster accurate, but remains a box with legs on top. I can imagine Soundwave blasting out er.. soundwaves from those speakers, but Perceptor? Maybe A Brief History Of Time as he scorches through the battlefield. It helps that both characters have had recent, mobile depictions that deviate from their original (but powerfully iconic) alt modes but still.. poor. Not the shining light of the package.

Move along please, nothing to see here..

A little imagination though, goes a long way..

As seen above, Iron Factory releases often come with their own private armoury. These gun packs are from the City Commander release and separate into two shotguns, missile pods, a hand gun and a blast shield, just the ticket for beefing up these little buggers.

These gun packs are what you get with the IF EX-03S set. The shields here though, they're a little more involved..

.. and this is legit amazing. With ball jointed legs, a hinged neck and ball jointed head, you get a far more expressive birdbot than first thoughts might suggest. These two properly spark that 'YES! Here is why I am in this game' feeling I love about the hobby. Lazerbeak and Buzzsaw shields should not work but do so well.

 The rest of the guns double up as a flight stand. Yep. Wonderfully daft stuff.

Ah, and who might that be skulking in the background? Why, it's everyone's favourite espionage specialist and if you were reading Marvel, one of the very first Transformers to be introduced to our hungry little minds.

A four treaded Cybertronian anti aircraft artillery (..wut?! I miss cassettes too, but don't be fooled into thinking these can't interact with the big man) transforms into an adorably buff feline. Ravage looks fantastic, with some great options for poses and a sculpt full of character.


Ah yes, something about interaction. ASSEMBLE!


Brilliant, ludicrous or just plain stupid, these are but a few of the options available to you in terms of using the minions/weapon packs to kit out their boss. This is one of my favourite aspects of the Iron Factory line. Pimping your figures with modular weaponry is an utter joy. Inadvertently creating a griffon combiner made my day.

'5 minutes. I leave you alone for 5 minutes'

In closing, this has been an absolute blast to review from start to finish. You get play and display options through the roof, some inspired takes on classic characters (the minions are superb) and in terms of bang for buck, a metric ton of bitesized fun that you're not going to get bored with anytime soon. The alt modes on the main figures are pretty rubbish but that gets eclipsed by everything else they have going for them. The Iron Factory line as a whole is hard to stop fiddling about with and this release might just top them all in that respect. Not bad for a bunch of retools and transformable shields. Highly recommended for Legends collectors or to anyone who just wants a great desktop toy.


Buy 'em here Iron Factory IF-EX03S 5 pack

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Iron Factory Evil Lord review

Iron Factory have been carving out quite the niche for themselves over the past twelve months, bucking the Masterpiece scaled and styled trend and focusing on, of all things, the Legends Class market. The smaller side of Transformers is courting noticeable attention of late with this crew, Shapeshift, DX9 and Hasbro themselves all vying for your coin. At 3rd Party prices though, it's big bucks for little packages. Worth the punt? Read on.

Does whom this release homage require any introduction? Overlord made a significant impact in IDW comics' highly regarded Last Stand Of The Wreckers and went on to serve a pivotal role in the ongoing More Than Meets The Eye series. A living weapon turned sadist, saddled with serious psychological problems and the blackest of humours, Overlord has left a bloody stain on the current Transformers run.

Iron Factory have taken this delightful iteration of the character as a base point, as opposed to the characters original depiction in Super God Masterforce. But within this toy lies a great big nod to its roots too.

Packaged in robot mode, Evil Lord impresses immediately in hand. The colours are dead on, the sculpt mirrors its source material well and it's detailed enough without being busy. Excellent paint apps pick out all the important bits and he packs mighty weight in spite of small stature. He just looks the bomb and does Nick Roche's design proud. Sadly he isn't sporting the Caligula lips he became famous for in the comics, but given that his face sculpt is barely the size of a baby's thumbnail, the potential for cocking it up is so high I'll happily take a standard evil grimace over a self obsessed Facebook trout pout.

Continuing to impress in the articulation department, this pint sized instrument of destruction crams in more joints than your average Daily Mail baiting hooded menace, finding the time to include both hinged toe and ball jointed ankle action. Then you realise he has not only an ab crunch but upper torso movement.. and the swagger achievement is unlocked.

I'm a massive fan of meaningful articulation in my Transformers. When done right, the character you can give to your figures is a joy. And a guy like Overlord needs to flex maniacal. His mini me delivers in spades. I can pose him like a cocky crotch thrusting bastard and as a weighing up the kill stalking menace. Top stuff.

This can store on his back (badly), in the box (possibly) or in the fire (likely)

Accessory wise he carries a big purple gun and a shield that looks suspiciously like the nose cone of a jet. You have to pop out his wing kibble to attach the shield though. It doesn't bother me. At this scale, partsforming is no issue. In fact, partsforming doesn't bother me full stop which is handy because..



That's something, eh?

Technically Overlord IS a Duocon, so at some point you have to accept that two separate alternate modes are going to require splitting the figure apart but damn son, this is like Sid's bedroom or a G9 flashback or something.

Actually, this is all pretty clever stuff that still involves some actual transformation. But if this engineering is a dealbreaker, walk away now. The main thing I take from this is that these design choices allow for such a good robot mode. And let's face it, they didn't muck about with the vehicle modes either.

I know, I know.. that peg is sticking up like a man championing prescription blue pills so let's just get it out of the way - my weapon is knackered. My Evil Lord's weapon, yeah? Flash maybe, I dunno. Sucks for sure. Isolated though? Seems to be. It remains a decent representation of the IDW alt mode. Albeit one with the kind of QC error you wouldn't want on a crowded bus.

Jet mode looks beast, the newly dominant black adding a striking contrast to the tank and robot colour palette and the lines and curves indicating power and speed. This one is a winner. Tiny landing gear too. Joyous.

Which brings us to the third alternate mode. The G1 toy and Masterforce character sported a great base mode which Evil Lord seeks to emulate but doesn't really pull off. The side pieces don't tab anywhere, the gun goes nowhere and as said earlier, that front ramp will spend most of its life.. elsewhere anyway.

 But I see why they did it; nostalgia and toy accuracy, and appreciate the effort particularly at this size, but no. Just no. I would have rather had the extra cost go towards a Decepticon flavoured weapons pack as seen with their previous releases.

Evil Lord is an ambitious figure, and almost a very, very good one. The partsforming will push some people away, the scale almost certainly limits his appeal. And personally the base mode leaves plenty to be desired. Plus cost.

But this remains a beautiful rendering of a notorious character from a company fast gaining traction as ones to watch. In a time where Masterpiece style, scale and scandal dominates, Iron Factory's small but perfectly formed gear is a welcome alternative, as well as delivering something that's just plain fun.