Music by Max the Axe.
“Overload” from the CD Overload (2008)
Music by Max the Axe.
“Overload” from the CD Overload (2008)
GETTING MORE TALE #732: Where the Hell Am I?
What is the most important information to possess when you’re shopping? Is it your shopping list? Is it money?
No friends, that is not what matters most. What you need to know most of all is where the hell you actually are.
I was working at the Record Store in the late 90s. We had big red gift certificates in different denominations. They had our logo printed on them. You could use them at any of our locations. They were pretty standard gift certificates, like any other store might have. Today virtually everybody has switched to magnetic gift cards instead, which undoubtedly saves on paper.
A family came in one afternoon looking to spend. They had over a hundred dollars in gift certificates. Enough for the whole family to enjoy. Collectively they had numerous questions, but were courteous and friendly. I spent roughly an hour with them, helping them find songs and retrieving CDs for them to listen to. They narrowed down their pile of CDs to the discs they wanted most. Then we got to the checkout counter.
I made sure each case had the right CD inside, and I made sure each one was clean. I rang them up and told them the total, when the man handed me a little blue HMV gift certificate.
My heart sank.
“This isn’t us, this is for HMV,” I informed the man.
“This isn’t HMV?” He was stunned!
No! This isn’t HMV! Didn’t you notice all our massive signage? Also, all our CDs are used! When was the last time you saw a used CD at an HMV store? My mind was screaming all of these things silently as the man.
What bugged me the most wasn’t all the wasted time on these people, it was that he was actually angry! Angry at who? If it were me, I’d be super embarrassed but I sure as hell wouldn’t be angry. I would also be sure to buy something — anything — to make up for all the time the store spent on me. This guy escorted his family out, leaving all the discs with me at the counter.
I’m sure the boss man was thrilled when I told him this story, and how effective all our store signage was!
Now a story of my own, but without the temper tantrum.
As many of you know, my friend Jason and I collect Transformers. There are not really any decent toy stores in Kitchener. We have a Toys R Us and an EB Games. Up in Waterloo, there’s a good store called J&J’s, but they don’t carry Transformers. (I did, however, buy up their GI Joes.) Cambridge is the place to be for toy shopping.
I took a day off work to go toy shopping with Jay. First we hit a place called The Toy Society, which is an excellent store for vintage action figures. A little bit of every genre. It’s hard to leave without spending money. But Jay and I had a specific goal that day, which was to check out our friend Dan’s new store.
Dan owns B&K Collectables, which if you collect Pops, is now the place to go to get ’em. He also carries vintage G1 and new Masterpiece Transformers. His prices are high but when I buy a vintage figure from him, I know it’s complete and in working condition. He’s never let me down, and I have scored several rare boxed G1 figures from him over the years. He used to sell by mail, but in 2016 he opened an actual storefront, in a shared space with a computer store.
Jay and I hadn’t been there yet, and so partially planned this day to check out Dan’s store. We knew roughly where it was, on Queen Street down by Len’s Mill Store. We parked and started looking.
“This must be it,” said Jay as we entered a toy store.
We looked and took it all in. There was a guy working near the back.
“BIG DAN!” shouted Jay.
The guy turned around. He was big but he was not Dan.
“Did Dan hire someone?” I whispered to Jay.
“Sorry, is Dan around?” said Jay to the started toy store guy.
“No,” he answered simply, but probably confused.
“OK, thanks,” we said as we looked around for a bit. The store was cool but he didn’t have any Transformers. We had to be in the wrong place. Turns out, it was a store called Playin’ Around. B&K Collectables was still a few more doors down!
Once we found Dan, we had a laugh at our embarrassment. As usual, his assortment of vintage figures was impressive. I had my eyes on a complete G2 Megatron, but Jay was more excited about G1 Blitzwing.
“Holy shit you have Blitzwing!” said an excited Jay. A customer over in the computer half of the store was amused by his excitement. “I can’t believe you have a G1 Blitzwing, is he complete?”
The computer customer walked over. “OK, I have to see what a G1 Blitzwing is, if it’s this exciting.”
Jay explained to him, “He’s a triple changer! He changes into a plane AND a tank.”
“Ahh,” said the guy.
You have to have fun with shit. Here I am with Jay, two guys in their 40s buying toys in the hundreds of dollars. The computer guy thinks we’re nuts. We also walked into a store and accidentally scared a guy by yelling “BIG DAN!” It’s funny. The guy with the HMV gift certificate could have made that experience so much better for everybody if he just saw the humour in it (and bought something for all my efforts).
Don’t be angry. If you’re a dumb shit, just own it and laugh it off. Ponoby’s nerfect, nam.
GETTING MORE TALE #718: Phases
Do you go through phases? Perhaps you had a Hawaiian shirt phase (I did). Maybe you had a period when you were really into crème brûlée. It’s alright. Don’t be ashamed. Lets talk about different phases.
There’s always a spark. Look back at your own phases. Can you pinpoint something that started it?
The first time I heard Marillion was by pure chance. A customer who liked me came in and sold three minty Marillion remasters. (The bosses hated this customer, but he liked me because I gave him good money for his music. The bosses thought I paid him too much and “spoiled” him so to speak.) The three Marillion remasters he sold were Script For A Jester’s Tear, Fugazi, and Misplaced Childhood. Iron Tom Sharpe recommended I buy Misplaced as my first. I spent a weekend with it and wanted more. “Kayleigh” was absolutely immediate. I knew it was the hit after a few verses.
A painful breakup later that year intensified my Marillion lust. I went to their website and was astounded by what I saw: a dozen or so exclusive albums only available online. Some were sold out, such as Live at the Borderline. Those that were not sold out went into my shopping cart, and showed up at my house a couple weeks later! I even signed up for the fan club to get the free Christmas CD, and I pre-ordered their next studio album (unheard of back then).
I wasn’t done. I wanted to track down the unavailable things. Ebay had some and that’s how I ended up paying $300 for marillionrochester. Only 2000 copies of it were ever made, which were sent directly to fans who donated to their 1997 American tour fund. It’s signed and it is a holy grail item if there ever was one. And I have it and it’s a much-loved part of my collection.
This Marillion phase also inspired a small Scottish phase. I’m half Scottish and Marillion’s early lyrics got me interested in exploring that side of my history. That culminated in my Rampant Lion tattoo. I’m sure the actual Scottish guy at work, who was born and raised there, must have thought I was a wannabe. (I probably was.) I’m also half Italian but all I could think of for that tattoo was a bowl of spaghetti.
The shirt phase was a real thing too. I bought a lot of shirts and not just Hawaiian. This phase merited its own chapter: Record Store Tales Part 249: The Shirts.
There was a Lego phase. This was sparked inadvertently by T-Rev. He had a giant sack of Lego from his childhood. A lot of it was space Lego. We spent an afternoon organising it to sell on Ebay. He eventually got a few hundred bucks for the sack, but that afternoon of going through it all was naturally nostalgic. So, I bought a Star Wars Lego set. It was the Ultimate Collector Series X-Wing fighter. Go big or go home.
It starts with one, and it just escalated from there.
The problems with collecting Lego are multiple. Not only is it a real rabbit’s hole, but it’s just not easy to display. When Lego gets dusty it’s a pain in the ass to clean. Bits and pieces pop off when you dust. And spouses tend to knock them over and try to put them back together without you noticing. Some of those sets are just too huge to display.
My Lego collecting ended with the Star Wars prequel trilogy in 2005. The new releases became boring after that, and the shelf space issue had peaked. I sold almost all of it in favour of my next phase: robots.
Transformers were a huge part of my childhood, probably more so than Lego originally was, because Transformers had an ongoing Marvel comic series keeping me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next issue. Transformers came back into my life in 2006, just by fiddling with a Beast Wars toy that was sitting around the office. This phase has not really abated. These transforming figures are more than just toys. The high-end ones are functional pieces of art.
There were a few years of a Black Sabbath phase, where I obsessed to collect “everything” just like I did with Marillion. I had a couple really good years of collecting Deep Purple in bursts. The internet opened up a lot of avenues. It was easy to get rare things like Stormbringer on CD. You just had to be prepared to pay for it.
What about tattoos and piercings? Were they a phase? No — I still have one earring (left tragus) and it’s more a professional thing today. And priorities. My “thing” for tattooed and pierced girls must have been a phase, though. Mrs. LeBrain has neither! Not even her ears.
All my interests over the years have ebbed and flowed, except one: my love of Rock and Roll. 35-odd years and we are still together. And more in love than ever. It’s been there for me every time. Virtually every story on this site is associated with music. That’s a beautiful thing.
TFCon in Toronto has become another tradition of Sausagefest-scale epic-ness for me. Coming the weekend just after ‘Fest, it help blunts the withdrawal. Jay and I left Kitchener promptly at 8 am. We planned to buy the “early bird” passes that got us onto the dealer floor two hours before general admission. That’s what we did last year, though it’s not really necessary.
I hoped to pick up a specific Toronto exclusive: Maketoys’ “Maestro” (a third party version of Generation 2 Jazz complete with deco), and that was first mission accomplished ($140 from The Chosen Prime). Its lovely clamshell packaging is an homage to its 1993 “G2” counterpart. There was no line for this particular exclusive, and they had lots left by the time we departed around noon.
Maketoys Maestro (aka G2 Jazz)
As usual we had a great time, but with a couple gripes. Last year the early admission came with a shaving kit and a bottle of water — this year nothing! (I’m only partially griping, but I heard two other guys having the exact same conversation as us. And just like us, “I still haven’t used that shaving kit.”)
Our other complaint were the people with the fucking backpacks. Everybody under the age of 30 seemed to be sporting backpacks of varying practicality, but weren’t seeming to be buying things to put in the backpacks. Just as bad: the people in stupid outfits that had nothing to do with Transformers. We saw some witches and some things that were probably anime references, and a few people sporting swords. There was only one Bumblebee, one Prime, and one Ratchet. Optimus Prime’s dad was dressed as Sparkplug Witwicky.
Beast Wars Megatron and Sparkplug Witwicky
To us a lot of people seemed to be there to be “seen” rather than be there for the awesome Transformers. 90% of the floor space is dedicated to collectable robots that turn into stuff. Know what kind of event you’re going to, people!
Bitching aside, we both did well.
Jay bought the cool hologram-looking lights seen in the video above, one each for his two boys. You can hear the creator discuss pricing in the video. Jay also got a great price on a black Encore reissue of G1 Ironhide, just $20.
Jay’s best score: he picked up Fanshobby “Megatooth” (third party G1 Repugnus), a figure I had been eyeing myself. It has chromed plastic mandibles and claws, which is considered a premium finish for figure collectors.
Fanshobby Megatooth (far right)
A look at my purchases below:
Check out some of the cool sights below. In this gallery: prototypes of figures yet to come, and some customs as well.
And finally, some of the best of the cool stuff for sale.
Jay knows how to do this stuff. I saw him negotiate $20 on a red B.A.P.E. Optimus Prime, and it was done with…art, really. There was an art to it and both guys were happy with the outcome.
With us, we do TFCon right. We won’t make you dodge our backpacks. We’re smart about it. When we buy a couple large items, we take them to the truck and go back in. It’s a Transformers convention, not a campout. And I sure as fuck wouldn’t dress up as a Jedi if I’m going to TFCon.
But whatever! It was fun as these photos show. Can’t wait for next summer.
On Friday I was itching to go. I made a post here, critiquing my passenger Uncle Meat for wanting to stop at both Walmart and Value Village before hitting the Sausage Road. He’s a grown man and could be a little better prepared…but I too am a grown man who can admit when he is wrong. And I was wrong. The Walmart and Value Village stops were actually two of my favourite things that happened.
“I wanna stop at the Walmart up by St. Jacobs,” said Meat. Cool. I try to make a point of checking the toy section at every Walmart, because it’s the out-of-the-way ones where you can find the rare stuff. I made a beeline and lo! One, two, three, four, FIVE brand new Transformers figures. I grabbed all five and hit the checkout, so excited about my excellent find. These are toys that collectors are having a hard time finding anywhere. This led directly to…
“I want something ridiculous,” said Uncle Meat as we hit the T-shirts. Immediately, I spotted an Optimus Prime shirt waiting right there for me, the first shirt we saw. My size! I then found rather quickly a bright orange George Jones “The Living Legend” shirt. It had to come with us to Sausagefest. Finally, after going through just about every shirt in the store, Meat found it like destiny:
These two stops really set the tone for the whole weekend. They were:
1. Everything coming together perfectly, and
2. Dr. Dave Haslam’s hate-on for Optimus Prime.
I love when a plan comes together.
One plan that did not come together was my tent, which broke immediately just out of the box. Fortunately you can always count on certain Sausagefesters to always bring gorilla and/or duct tape. The tent weathered both nights.
The Countdown began promptly at Whenever O’clock and rapidly ticked down 50 + 2 tracks in one night, plus numerous bits and sketches. 50 +2?
We lost one of our own this year and Rush’s “Dreamline” was played in his honour. Many were decked in neon orange in honour of his old orange boiler suit. Troy was a truly good soul, a human being with a solid heart of gold. He always made me feel welcome from my first Sausagefest on, and many years before that too as we had friends in common. “Learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time” was a poignant lyric, but what really made it special was a tribute that Jeff Woods himself recorded for it. The Legend of Classic Rock participated in a sketch/tribute that made eyes wet and some bellies laugh. The tone was flawless and it is truly good to know what integrity looks like up close and personal.
“Dreamline” was not part of the official countdown, nor was a bit that I snuck into my own intro as a part of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming”. I sandwiched my personal introduction into Jeff Russo’s “Main Title” from Star Trek: Discovery, a show I’ve been hyping all year long. Russo (of the rock band Tonic) composed a dramatic, striking piece working in elements from the original show. I’m glad to have a chance to showcase it in its entirety, albeit with a long interlude of my shit in the middle.
Don’t forget the two minutes of “improvised scatting”, precisely because Troy would have hated that kind of shit! And it was so funny that I couldn’t breathe for two minutes straight. The Countdown (all a blur to me now) ran from #100 to 91 (10 songs total) with no comedy bits, because Troy always said “Less talk, more rock!” They cut the crap and just played the tunes.
I can tell you that we heard Styx that night (“Mr. Roboto” and “Light Up”), some Five Alarm Funk, Beastie Boys, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Willie Nelson, and…a blur of songs and comedy. There were a few rap tracks this year, certainly a record number. Afroman and Cypress Hill made their debuts. A list is forthcoming.
50 more tracks to count down.
Uncle Meat was up early (for him) at 9:30, and in great spirits despite a bad back the night before. We made our way to Flesherton where Uncle Meat destroyed the men’s toilet at the Flying Spatula. Emerging from the washroom he announced to the world, “Don’t use the one on the left!” He annihilated the toilet again on our way out, and that of an outhouse on the way back to the farm. I felt bad for the next guy in line waiting to use the outhouse, but Meat made it out of there really quick.
But I digress. The Flying Spatula was a great ol’ time even though the Lamb Lord got mad at me for taking a picture of his food.
Back on the farm, we played a cool game I call “Knife Chucking”. It’s kind of like axe throwing, but more special because those daggers were hand-forged by our very own Chuck. And it was way fun! A knife actually got lost in the dirt, and then plowed over by mistake by tractor. But we found it as a team with a metal detector (for real!) and a rake!
I goaded Dr. Dave to rant some more about the Transformers. Man, he really hates the Transformers. Do not watch this video if you are easily butthurt!
The second night commenced with lamb, perfectly marinated and cooked to medium by our chef the Lamb Lord. It was gone so fast that Uncle Meat didn’t even get a slice.
The rock resumed. The Blues Brothers was #1…Clutch #2…and Twisted Sister at #3 with “Burn in Hell”. More Five Alarm Funk, Queen, Tool…just a blur of songs. But probably most impressive to some of us: “Grendel” by Marillion, in its entirety. A 17-minute track within the top 20, and yet momentum was strong.
I have a literal Meat-ton of a video to sift through, but with perfect weather and setting, Sausagefest 2018 was once again utopia on Earth.
And a big, big, big thank you to Jeff Woods, the real Legend of Rock and Roll, for helping us out this year. Meat sent you a personal gift as well. I know you’re about 40 kilometers downriver from us in the valley. Uncle Meat kept having to shit that day sir. Meat took a shit in the river, and his shit signal should be with you by now. Mr. Woods, you are a huge inspiration and truly a man among men.
And woman! One woman. Sausagefest has its first woman and she is one of the guys! A massive first that may have been overdue!
My sun baked skin is aching for the comfort of a shower. Enjoy the photos. Lots more to come.
GETTING MORE TALE #678: Robots
Long-time readers know that mikeladano.com started as a site about music, but has grown beyond that. Mike Ladano (that’s me) is passionate about music, but that’s not all. You may have noticed that in addition to collecting rare Japanese import CDs with bonus tracks, I also like to collect tape decks and cars and trucks and planes that transform into robots.
The music/Transformers connection is pretty solid. First there was a Bruce Springsteen-like character who debuted in the Marvel comic series. Then, Stan Bush and Weird Al Yankovic contributed tunes to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. (Weird Al’s song was “Dare to Be Stupid”, and you should certainly know Stan Bush’s songs “The Touch” and “Dare”.) Two decades later, Linkin Park had the lead single from 2007’s Transformers. In fact, Linkin Park have songs in all five Transformers “Bayverse” films. Some members are so deep into the ‘bots that they even have their own Transformers action figure. In 2013, Hasbro released a limited edition golden Linkin Park Soundwave figure designed by Joseph Hahn!
I should state for the record, because this really cheeses off a lot of Transformers fans: I hated the old cartoon. It was too kiddie, with nonsensical plots and characterisations. The Marvel Transformers comic series, originally written by Bob Budiansky and later Simon Furman, was grittier and geared to older kids. It ran 80 issues, from 1986 to 1991. It was better than the Sunbow cartoon, and the Michael Bay movies too for that matter.
I “stopped playing with toys” around 1987, but still collected the comics for another year. The Transformers toyline and comic were officially cancelled in the early 90s, but even that was short-lived. Much like Optimus Prime himself, the toys wouldn’t stay dead for long.
1993 saw the debut of Transformers: Generation 2. This consisted of a rebooted toyline with old and new toys, and a new Marvel comic continuing the storyline of the original. While in Frankenmuth, Michigan I picked up issue #1 of the comic, in a special fold-out cover. Unfortunately, the new G2 comic was adapted to the 90s: Big guns, and grittier action. Meanwhile the toys were increasingly designed with kids in mind. They sported bright colours and gimmicky play features, like squirting water. Around the same time, while checking garage sales with buddy Peter, I ran across a massive stash of original mint condition Transformers comics that I was missing. 50 cents a piece! I was back collecting the comics once again.
I regret that I didn’t buy any Generation 2 toys. Some of them, including “Laser Rod” Optimus Prime, were really quite excellent. I thought I “shouldn’t” be buying toys at my age.
When did that all go out the window? In 2006 I quit the Record Store and started at Aecon Industrial. I was teamed up with a fantastic lady named Julie in their Quality Assurance department, and she showed me the ropes. She was also responsible for getting me back into transforming toys.
We had a little office to work out of, and on the shelf was a small black Beast Wars toy. Beast Wars was a 90s incarnation of Transformers, a complete reboot after the commercial failure of Generation 2. This time, a new cast of characters featured robots that turned into life-like animals, on a flashy new computer animated TV show. Julie brought in a small Beast Wars toy that belonged to a nephew. It was a bull of some kind, and when we needed a break we’d fiddle with it. That’s what started it up again. I remembered how fun those little toys were. Like 3D puzzles that you solved by twisting and turning parts around into new formations.
I made a trip over to Toys R Us to see what they had: Star Wars Transformers! These were famous vehicles from the Star Wars movies that transformed into robot likenesses of their drivers. There was a Vader/TIE, a Luke/X-Wing and many more to collect. Unfortunately they were not very good toys. The whole concept was dicey from the start. Darth Vader flies a TIE Fighter that transforms into a giant robotic Darth? That never made a lot of sense, but the toys were just not good. They were flimsy and the robot modes were not very good.
A couple years later, things changed again. Hasbro realized there was a massive market out there for old men buying nostalgia toys. They began issuing new versions of old classic characters from the 80s, and that was all I needed to jump back in with both feet. You could even buy “Encore” reissues for some of the original figures from 1984, ’85 and ’86! Therefore, for just a few bucks you could get a brand new replica of the original Optimus Prime, with only a few minor changes (smaller smokestacks so kids won’t poke an eye out).
I buy both Encore reissues, and brand new iterations of old characters. The new toys satisfy a lot of the wants of collectors today. Unlike the old ones from the 80s, they have better articulation. Elbows, knees and ankles all move so you can put your toys in the most action-packed poses. But they’re not perfect. They come with fewer accessories and sometimes lack the gimmicks of their 80s counterparts. Materials are cheaper today, and toys are sometimes misassembled or defective right out of the package. Design flaws and bad QA are a constant issue. Toys are made so hastily that some can’t even transform properly like they’re shown on the packaging.
Sounds like Hasbro needs a full-time play-tester. I’m available.
Balancing a music collection with a toy collection is expensive, but they do have a lot in common. For example, both feature “holy grail” items that you simply must have. In 2017, the holy grail category was won by toys for the first time. Behold! Enjoy the video at bottom.
* Terminus Giganticus is FansToys’ version of a Masterpiece class Omega Supreme action figure, to fit seamlessly with your official Transformers Masterpiece collection.
* Fucking huge.
* Comes in two packs: Pack A (September 2017) and Pack B (November 2017).
* Thanks to Madhaus Toys (facebook.com/madhaus.collectibles) for the pre-order!
GETTING MORE TALE #578: TFCon 2017
Hold onto your scraplets, I have literally a shat-ton of photos from Toronto TFCon 2017!
I’ve never been to TFCon before. Buddy Jason has been trying to get me to go for years. This is the first time the planets aligned and I went with Jay with two goals:
Jay picked me up around 7:00 am and we hit the road. We discussed strategies and vendors and I quickly realized that this was going to be epic.
I’ll let the massive photo gallery here speak for itself. For official and third party figures, I have never seen anything like it before.
The goodie bag you get for paying your $35 entrance fee was kind of crap. It had some flavoured water and a Schick razor. The TFCon bag itself will get more use than the Schick.
One of the coolest figures was the Con exclusive from OcularMax. Diaclone Paris Dakar Rally Terraegis is a mouthful, but it’s the yellow truck in the gallery below. Look at the detailed deco. Those aren’t stickers!
They also had prototypes of forthcoming third party figures. One of these was the giant FansToys Omega Supreme (mentioned earlier here). Another was a really sharp looking pair of jets for a new Masterpiece Aerialbots set.
The items I purchased were:
I just found a new annual pilgrimage. Thanks Jay — can’t wait for next year!
By request of J from Resurrection Songs. If you are familiar with the concept of bootleg CDs, then the idea of third party toys should be easy to assimilate. For the purpose of this story, I’m going to be speaking only about third party Transformers toys, as they are the only ones in my collection.
GETTING MORE TALE #570: Third Party
What is a third party toy? Simply put, it is an unauthorized toy designed to look like another toy, without infringing on any copyrights. Third party toys are big business today. These independently produced collectibles have limited runs and when they’re out, eBay prices can be prohibitive. One of the reasons the prices get so high is that third party toys often exceed the quality of the official ones. They cater to hard core fans looking for specific features and homages. Stuff that officially produced toys ignore in favour of mass production, safety features and mass appeal.
Third party toys are not to be confused with “KO” or knock-offs. KO toys originating from China or Korea are complete reproductions of official toys. Therefore, you can buy a KO of the original Optimus Prime from 1984. It will come in a KO of the original box with a KO sticker sheet and instructions too. It’ll be made of die cast and plastic just like the original, and these toys are getting better all the time. It used to be they would be made with cheap plastic and fall apart immediately. That happened to me, when I ordered a KO of 1985’s Devastator figure. First time out of the box, and one of the figures broke. One part was too tight, the other part was too fragile, and snap. They are of much higher quality now, and the bonus is that you can get a “brand new” toy of something you always wanted but never had.
To make matters a little more confusing, there are now even KOs of third party figures, and a current popular trend is oversized KOs. The theory is that bigger is better! The waters are murky indeed!
There is a certain amount of caution and “buyer beware” to be exercised with third party toys. Especially with new startup companies, the quality and design can leave a lot to be desired. One company, Keith’s Fantasy Club (KFC) had early products that were beyond shite. They initially focused on cassette-bots: robots that transformed into microcassettes. I bought one that fell apart out of the box. Now KFC have worked out the bugs and produce some of the heaviest, highest quality third party toys on the market. I recently received their “Opticlones”, an original toy based on Transformers Generation 1 Reflector. This is a set of three robots that combine into a camera. He has a lot of metal, intricate transformation and dead-on accurate looks to the original cartoon character. The figure is in “MP” or Masterpiece scale. He is designed to fit right in with the official Masterpiece Megatron, Optimus Prime, Soundwave and the rest of the line. Often, third party toys will be designed to interact with the official ones. Reflector comes with a little miniature version of his camera self that can be held by the official Soundwave.
The early days of third party toys was like the wild wild west, you really had to do your research. Fortunately, Youtube reviewers like Peaugh made some decisions easy. A company called Fansproject put out a two-figure add-on kit to go with the official Revenge of the Fallen Bruticus figure, a combiner made of five robots. Fansproject’s kit flat-out replaced two of the robots with much better ones. It improved the overall figure greatly by supplying new hands, feet and guns. Ingeniously, all the numerous accessories had a part in play in all three modes: robots, vehicles, and combined robot. Each part was perfectly integrated, and significantly boosted the firepower of the toy.
Bruticus before and after
This was wish fulfillment for fans! The intricate parts were above and beyond the official Hasbro versions. There was a new head too, with neck articulation. Guns could combine into larger guns, parts unfolded into missile launchers…it was great stuff and Fansproject have consistently been on the top of the heap.
One of the reasons companies like Fansproject have lasted so long is that they continually cater to the demands of fans who feel the official products are missing something. For just about every major Hasbro and Takara release, there is an add-on kit available from a third party company. New heads are common, because fans are picky enough to want their figure to look like a specific iteration. Transformers have a 33 year history and characters have undergone many versions.
Often there are multiple third party add-on kits to choose from. Dr. Wu is one that I have bought from frequently. Dr. Wu tends to focus on small add-ons, like guns and additional weapons that are missing from the official toy. If Hasbro and Takara could only release toys that fulfill wishes from the fans from the start, third party companies like Dr. Wu wouldn’t be necessary. Either due to cost or a desire to have toys less “weaponized”, Hasbro and Takara often omit weapons and accessories that the characters have traditionally wielded. Enter Dr. Wu and a slew of others.
Even the sticker company Reprolabels/Toyhax have entered the weapons black market. Reprolabels/Toyhax used to focus strictly on stickers, either to restore or enhance your Transformers. Now they are including plastic weapons that, once again, Hasbro and Takara have omitted from classic characters. Toyhax were the only major third party sticker company on the market, and now they’ve gone even further by adding solid add-ons too. Any serious Transformers fan should visit and make at least one purchase from Toyhax.
Maketoys’ Battle Tanker is a kit to provide weapons and a trailer for Hasbro’s G2 Prime figure, as well as new waist and head.
Similar to add-on kits are upgrade kits. These require partial disassembly of your figure to outright replace major components. This is often done to add articulation, especially in the hands. Beelzeboss is a third party that sells a very complex kit for the official Combiner Wars Optimus Prime figure. It’s a hairy process, involving tiny screws, pulling out small metal pins, and replacing entire waist and leg pieces in exchange for new ones. The upgrade adds height and completely changes the appearance of Prime. If you’re up to the task, it looks incredible. Other upgrades are simpler. A lot of modern Transformers have ball joints and it’s easy to pop off a head and replace it with a third party one that has light-up eyes.
At this point, there are now so many quality third party companies out there fighting for our dollars, that choosing one version to go with can be daunting. KFC doesn’t have the only version of an MP-scale Reflector out there. Another fine company called Fans Toys also have one. Ultimately I preferred KFC’s version of the camera mode, which tipped the scales. For other characters, especially combiners made of multiple robots, there are many versions, most great. Choosing one might depend on which one is biggest, or fits in better with your collection. Youtube reviews are essential. Benscollectibles is one of the best. Emgo316 “The freakin’ geek himself”, Peaugh, Balmatrix, Optibotimus, and many more can be counted on for their prompt and thorough reviews. Another benefit to these reviews is to master the transformation process. These companies are based out of Asia, and the instructions have no English. You have to rely on sometimes vague pictures. Some third party toys are so complex that, like a Rubik’s cube, it’s easy to just give up in frustration. Maketoys’ Wardog (aka G1 Warpath) is the most difficult toy I own. These guys will guide you through transforming it.
You might ask yourself, “What if there is a quality issue? What do I do?” Most of these companies are very good about providing replacement pieces. X-Transbots Apollyon is their version of a Masterpiece Megatron. The heavy battery-powered fusion cannon on his right arm is quite heavy, and the right arm droops. It won’t hold up. So X-Transbots provided a tighter replacement piece for the shoulder ball joint. It’s easy to install, and they began including these replacement shoulders right in the box. This is one example.
Apollyon on dispaly with official, third party and knock-offs. Can you tell?
Where can you get third party toys? Online of course, but I am lucky enough to have a store in town that sells them. B&K Collectibles in Cambridge is my go-to guy dealer. If Big Dan doesn’t have it, Big Bad Toy Store and TF Source will. Now, there are even crowdfunded third party toys! My buddy Jason just received his Ocular Max Kojin project, one such crowdfunded toy. There were incentives offered including discounts and free bonus figures, and I regret not jumping on board myself. (I didn’t because I was waiting for the official Takara version, and now…well, that might have been a mistake.)
Ocular Max Kojin
My biggest third party purchase is happening this summer. A favourite company, Fans Toys, is releasing their massive version of as Masterpiece scale G1 Omega Supreme. It is called Aegis Sentinel and is so huge that it is being sold in two separate parts. Sentinel A is the tank and track component, and it will be available in June. Sentinel B is out in August, and will have the rocket and base components. Together, Aegis Sentinel will combine into a 21 1/2″ robot behemoth. This is a beast that will look amazing in proper scale with Optimus Prime and cohorts. The official Prime is already a large figure at 9″. It’s going to be quite cool to have the giant Autobot in proper scale with Optimus!
Then all I have to do is slap some Autobot logo stickers on him, courtesy of Toyhax. Hasbro/Takara will never release a full sized Masterpiece Omega Supreme figure. Fortunately the fearless Fans Toys will. Based on their Iron Dibots line, I know that my Omega will be heavy, strong and very impressive looking.
If you’d like to know more, check out the Youtube reviews of some of the fine folks above, and browse the third party section of Big Bad Toy Store or TF Source. Even if you never buy a third party transforming robot, you have to admit they’re pretty damn nifty.
Aegis Sentinel and the Iron Dibots by Fans Toys
Did you watch cartoons in the 1980s? If you, you probably remember the Transformers. Think back, and picture the cassettebots. Remember them? Soundwave (Decepticon) and Blaster (Autobot) were the cassette recorders, each with an arsenal of cassette mini-robots to back him up. Using an advanced alien technology called “mass shifting”, these giant robots could shrink down to the size of an actual cassette, thereby enabling them to spy unnoticed on human and robot alike. As affordable toys, you may have had some yourselves. The neat thing was these cassettes designed by Japanese company Takara were designed to perfectly mimic the size and shape of actual micro cassettes. On the TV show and in the pages of the Marvel comic book, they were depicted as standard sized cassette tapes.
Third party company Toyhax (also known as Reprolabels) has come up with some fun ways to enhance your cassette-bot toy collection. Recently they released a set of plastic engines and stickers for the current Buzzsaw and Laserbeak toys in the 2016/2017 Hasbro Titans Return line. This time they transform into little media players. Fans always complain that Hasbro toys “don’t look enough” like the original 80s toy they are an homage to. Toyhax has created the labels and engines to enhance the current toys, and enhance them they do. The new accessories even enable new modes, like the “Star Trek communicator” see below.
Toyhax have also released a sticker set that enables you to use ordinary Lego bricks to create you own shrunken-down cassette versions of characters both popular and obscure. All you need are those small 1×2 flats. You know the ones I mean?
Don’t have any of those just lying around anymore? Get this. You can buy them, picked to order, for just pennies a piece. You can pick as many of any colour you like. Mix and match the stickers to get the best looking mini cassettes around, and perfect for your Masterpiece scale figures to hold.
They look great, and it’s a fun little project you can do with very little cost. They enhance any solid Transformers Masterpiece collection as scale accessories. See below with Fans Toys’ “Tesla” (aka Perceptor), they look just perfect!