Transformers: Dark of the Moon (The Toys) and Musings on Fandom

 Well, I’m back. Or at least sort-of back, in between other projects. And yes, this may just be the furthest thing from the high selflessness of Voices For Japan that’s humanly possible, but it’s just another example of what we around here call "ripping the gears out of the transmission". As you might’ve noticed, each of us here at the Buffet has our own particular niche of nerdery, and this just happens to be one of mine.

For those of you not living under a rock the size of the Maitre d’s enormous potato-shaped head and who’ve been paying attention to entertainment news, you’ve probably already heard that there’s yet another Transformers movie by Michael "Blow Shit Up" Bay on the horizon (along with sequels to Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more than likely a couple of other franchises I’ve forgotten because there’s only so many hours in a day to indulge my nerdery). That’s not really what this post is about. The movie, I mean. This, ladies and gentlemen, is about one of the lowest rungs on the ladder of geekery: toy collecting.


A parent's worst nightmare.
Picture Courtesy of General Tekno

First, I should probably set out a few caveats, disclaimers, and whatever else I need to cover my ass before someone comments that I’m biased or forgetting to mention something or whatever pedantry they need to indulge in. As a rule, I’m mainly interested in things Transformer-like because of the toys. I like to think of myself as a collector rather than a fan, per se. I don’t really care about the fiction, whether it’s the TV series or comics (although I rather enjoyed Beast Wars and Animated). It doesn’t really matter to me. I can’t even really put my finger on why the toys are so appealing to me, aside from some half-hearted excuses about them being three-dimensional art or well-engineered or whatever other snooty-sounding half-truths people put out there. I collect them because it’s fun, and I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks.

 Within a fandom, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and fixations, and this is mine. I realized this a long time ago, and I’ve accepted it. At the same time, as someone who’s been part of various fandoms for most of my life, I’ve also realized that as a fan, like anything else, you have to grow and change. I recently got into a discussion with someone about this – by not confining ourselves to one aspect of a franchise or fandom, our depth of understanding becomes richer. For that matter, as fans we shouldn’t confine ourselves to one show, book series, or even genre, always seeking to branch out and expand our interests.

As a fan and as a collector, I’ve tried to live by that principle. My collection includes everything from Beast Wars on up through the movies, Animated, and everything else. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing styles change, from the realistic, organic animal forms of Beast Wars to the weird liquid-metal aesthetics of Beast Machines to the blocky, more traditional Kunio Okawara-esque Unicron Trilogy toys. I’ve embraced the character and exaggerated proportions of Animated, and the greebly-covered movie-style figures.

However, lately I’ve found myself in what you might call a "cranky old man" kind of phase. Namely, witha new movie coming up, the current crop of Transformers toys is shifting to reflect that, and my desire to collect has shrunk considerably. Now, you’ve probably heard about a large chunk of the fandom’s reaction to what they call "Bay-formers". Namely, that some fans feel giant robots should look like a man wearing a suit of cardboard boxes instead of an explosion of metal shards stuck together with Krazy Glue (I don’t want to lean to one side or the other of the debate, so I’m just going to make fun of both). In principle, I disagree. In principle, I want to think that any style can be visually appealing. Really, I want to be a better fan than I am.

Here’s the problem: none of the toys for Dark of the Moon (which officially hit stores yesterday) appeal to me, and I’m beginning to, after two previous movies, get burned out on the style. They just don’t spark my imagination or my interest. There may be some reasons behind it, but all of them amount to myself being a cranky, hypocritical old fan who can’t quite live up to my own standards.

You might say, "Well, Revenge of the Fallen sucked, so it’s no wonder you’re not excited about toys from the next movie in the franchise." That’s not entirely the case. Revenge of the Fallen wasn’t exactly the greatest movie ever made (nowhere near the top, obviously), but it was far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen (that dubious honor goes to either Battlefield Earth or Blankman). The movie’s main failing was, in fact, being too ambitious. Good sequels usually take the story or world established by the first installment of a franchise and expand on it, filling out the concepts and adding new ones. The problem lay in that Michael Bay and the movie’s writers seemed to have sat down and browsed through the Transformers wiki, made notes of concepts and characters they found interesting, then threw all of them in without filtering the list down to only the best ideas. Combiners, Pretenders (or Beast Wars-style organic alternate modes, depending on how you look at it), the Fallen, the Matrix of Leadership, a big old Saturday morning-style superweapon, killing Optimus Prime (which has become a trope of its own by now), and more new characters than you can shake a stick at, all tossed into the space of two hours. They tried to do too much with it, and I guess it’s better to aim high and fail than to just rehash the first movie’s story. So my disinterest isn’t really from the movies themselves. I don’t know that I’ll go out of my way to watch Transformers: Turn Off the Dark Side of the Moon, but I’m not going to judge it without seeing it.

Then there’s the divisions in the line and general gimmicks of the toys. As a rule, I don’t mind this sort of thing, but the toy line for Dark of the Moon has branched out in several different ways, from the sort-of micro playset style of the Cyberverse series to the Human Alliance figures that have squishy sidekicks driving them around to the gigantic spring-driven Mechtech weapons in the main line. All these are aimed at kids, obviously, and from what I can tell, kids are going to enjoy playing with them. That’s not to say that I think toys with springs or electronics can’t be fun for collectors, or that some collectors won’t like these things. Far from it – I tend to stay away from the more delicate high-end collectors’-grade figures, and I like good, fun gimmicks. This particular batch, though, leaves me cold (getting into exactly why each isn’t that appealing is even more toy-nerdery than I’m willing to do now).

So, what has your esteemed Chef and megalomaniacal nostalgic twit been collecting? For the most part, the Classics-style figures – in between movies, Hasbro’s been kind enough to toss us old farts a hell of a large bone by redoing a large chunk of the original cast from 1984 through 1986 with modern articulation and detailing, including obscure characters from the comics. The design team has ahold of the fandom’s collective penis and is furiously giving us one hell of a handie, in other words, and I like it. Maybe that’s a bit crude, but it’s accurate. My shelves doth overflow with guys who haven’t gotten new toys in 20 years.

So here I am, conflicted by my own high standards of fandom and my complete lack of interest. What’s a nerd to do, then? Maybe dig deep into another tenet of fandom: take a break once in a while. Maybe it’s okay to not be interested in one facet of a franchise (or even an entire franchise), as long as you give it a chance first and don’t just dismiss it out of hand. Maybe it’s okay for fan-interest to lie fallow for a while, to sleep for a season until something new comes along (and with the Transformers franchise, one of the advantages is that everything reboots on a yearly basis). That might be the lesson here, or it might just be me rationalizing my decision to be a cranky old man. You decide.

About The Chef

The Chef was born 856 years ago on a small planet orbiting a star in the Argolis cluster. It was prophesied that the arrival of a child with a birthmark shaped like a tentacle would herald the planet's destruction. When the future Chef was born with just such a birthmark, panic ensued (this would not be the last time the Chef inspired such emotion). The child, tentacle and all, was loaded into a rocket-powered garbage scow and launched into space. Unfortunately, the rocket's exhaust ignited one of the spectators' flatulence, resulting in a massive explosion that detonated the planet's core, destroying the world and killing everyone on it.

The Chef.
Your host, hero to millions, the Chef.
Oblivious, the dumpster containing the infant Chef sped on. It crashed on a small blue world due to a freakish loophole in the laws of nature that virtually guarantees any object shot randomly into space will always land on Earth. The garbage scow remained buried in the icy wastes of the frozen north until the Chef awoke in 1901. Unfortunately, a passing Norwegian sailor accidentally drove a boat through his head, causing him to go back to sleep for another 23 years.

When the would-be Chef awoke from his torpor, he looked around at the new world he found himself on. His first words were, “Hey, this place sucks." Disguising himself as one of the planet's dominant species of semi-domesticated ape, the being who would become known as the Chef wandered the Earth until he ended up in its most disreputable slum - Paris, France.

Taking a job as a can-can dancer, the young Chef made a living that way until one day one of the cooks at a local bistro fell ill with food poisoning (oh, bitter irony). In a desperate move, the bistro's owner rushed into one of the local dance halls, searching for a replacement. He grabbed the ugliest can-can dancer he could find, and found himself instead with an enterprising (if strange) young man who now decided, based on this random encounter, to only answer to the name “Chef".

His success as a French chef was immediate (but considering that this is a country where frogs and snails are considered delicacies, this may or may not be a significant achievement). Not only was the Chef's food delicious, it also kept down the local homeless population. He rose to the heights of stardom in French cuisine, and started a holy war against the United Kingdom to end the reign of terror British food had inflicted on its citizens.

When the Crimean War broke out around France, the Chef assisted Nikola Tesla and Galileo in perfecting the scanning electron microscope, which was crucial in driving back the oncoming Communist hordes. It would later be said that without the Chef, the war would have been lost. He was personally awarded a Purple Heart by the King of France.

After that, the Chef traveled to America, home of such dubious culinary delights as McDonald's Quarter Pounder With Cheese. He immediately adopted the Third World nation as his new home, seeing it as his job to protect and enlighten it. When the Vietnam War began, he immediately volunteered and served in the Army of the Potomac under Robert E. Lee and General Patton. During the war, the Chef killed dozens of Nazis, most of them with his bare hands.

Marching home from war across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, stark-naked and freezing, the Chef wound up on the shores of Mexico. He spent several years there, drinking tequila with Pancho Villa and James Dean. He put his culinary skills to the test when he invented the 5,000-calorie Breakfast Chili Burrito With Orange Sauce (which is today still a favorite in some parts of Sonora).

Eventually, the Chef returned to his adopted home of America, where he met a slimy, well-coiffed weasel who was starting up a new kind of buffet - one dedicated to providing the highest-quality unmentionable appetizers to the online community. The Chef dedicated himself to spreading the word of his famous Lard Sandwich (two large patties of fried lard, in between two slices of toasted buttered lard, with bacon and cheese), as well as occasionally writing about his opinions on less-important topics than food.

Every word of this is true, if only in the sense that every word of this exists in the English language.