Thursday, 11 October 2012

TV Review - Thunderbirds 2086

Thunderbirds 2086 was one of my favourite childhood cartoons mainly because being a little bit like Thunderbirds meant Dad tended to watch it with me (though he's more of a Supercar man). I've long been intending to do something on the site about the show but faced with some resources consisting of the 1983 Grandreams annual and about half of the episodes I've never felt particularly confident doing much.

I'm not even sure why the show is set in 2086 when it was broadcast in 1982 (Japan) and 1983 (USA), though it didn't hit the UK until 1986. For one thing I'm not sure of the origins of the series. Oh, I know that it's a dubbed version of Scientific Rescue Team TechnoVoyager (the last often Romanised as TechnoBoyager). But I've heard two completely different origins of the dub. One is that Jin Productions basically ripped off Thunderbirds, which was shown in Japan; indeed, the initial import of diecast Dinky toys to support the thing inspired the Japanese toy industry to eschew tin and vinyl in favour of diecast and ABS, thus leading to basically the entire content of this site in a chaos theory way. The original show itself was probably a considerable influence on the likes of X-Bomber (brought to the UK as Star Fleet). That the vehicles carried 'TB' was a pure coincidence due to the Romanisation thing. Incidentally, diecast wizards Popy did plan to release combining toys of the TB vehicles but unforgivably only got as far as a prototype - a drool-inducing picture of this beautiful unicorn can be seen to the right. 24 episodes were made, though the show was cancelled after only 18 were screened. ITC then found out and presumably by hook or by crook acquired Western rights, did an English dub, slapped the Thunderbirds trademark all over it and broadcast it in the West in 1983 - I'm guessing it was shown elsewhere but it only seems to be in Blighty that it made any sort of impact.

The other option is that it was made completely with the co-operation of ITC (but not Gerry Anderson) as a co-production with being an update of Thunderbirds being planned from the start. To me that would have the advantage of passing Occam's Razor if it wasn't for wondering why Jin didn't use the Thunderbirds brand in Japan. Maybe someone else had already licenced the name and they had to broadcast it, or maybe they wanted to distance themselves from an old show. Could be anything, I'm no scientician.

Anyway, the series itself - beyond the chest-pounding title sequence which used early computer animation and employed the single greatest voice over in the history of anything - isn't actually great shakes. The starring players are pretty off the shelf types, including the head of International Rescue Organisation's nephew Skipper fulfilling the child association role (read as: you'll really hate him) and the usual touchstones for this sort of thing (impossibly good looking hero, crazy black guy, grumpy but fair team commander, spunky girl, space cowboy). Mainly they face the same sort of ecological and man-made disasters as the Tracy family did back in the sixties while there are also some genuine bad guys in Star Crusher and his Shadow Axis. Their arc was cut short with the show's cancellation, however, and in the dub at least there's very little sign of a real over-arching storyline.
The show has never been released on DVD, possibly for copyright reasons or just as likely due to a lack of interest. Various episodes were issued on VHS in the UK during the late 1980s through to about the mid-1990s, though never systematically and often jumbled on budget compilations with pukka Anderson stuff. Thus the episodes below are VHS (or maybe even TV) rips uploaded to YouTube.
As mentioned Grandreams did put out an annual for the Christmas market in 1983. It's pretty cobbled together. The strips were actually made in-house while most of the colour images are clearly grabbed from colour spreads in the same books and often blown up far too much - the incredibly grainy, fuzzy character models being the prime victim. It's main plus point is that it can be found cheaply if you shop around.

So that's about the extent of my knowledge on the show. Here are all the episodes I have. If anyone has a complete set please let me know, though I suspect that's only likely if the whole lot (it seems ITC did dub and broadcast all 24) did get a video release.

Thunderbirds 2086 playlist on YouTube

And here's the annual: -

Thunderbirds 2086 Annual (1983), 35.99MB

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Toy Custom - Transformers: Binaltech Trailbreaker

I've been itching to post this thing for ages but I thought reviewing my own custom would be somewhat pretentious and there didn't seem much point as the only other custom I've ever undertaken is slapping a bit of black paint on RotF Sideways. So I thought I'd just do a write-up here.

I say "my own custom" but this is probably one of the easiest customs since everyone realised turning Universe Sunstreaker's head and legs around to make Tigertrack.

The very simple steps are as follows: -

1: Pick up this Binaltech Hound knock-off. It's generally very good quality with diecast parts and substantial retooling from the original. It's basically a re-shelling to make the thing look more like a Hummer. Obviously the scale of the alternate mode is miles off in reality, being the same basic size as the original Jeep Wrangler (it's actually slightly lower). 

There are only two problems with the KO in itself - firstly it's quite difficult to get the shell of the enclosed cab all tight together, usually taking a couple of tries; secondly, the hip joints are very, very stiff which can cause some problems in terms of balancing the guy. All in all though I'd say the toy justifies its' price of $16 in itself. Incidentally I did order my example from Chimung via his site and it arrived very promptly and in excellent condition.

2: Buy a Hasbro Alternators Swindle or Rollbar. This retooling of the Jeep mould was actually intended to be Trailbreaker until some exciting copyright reason or another intervened. While the toys came out in lousy colours with random names slapped on the head cast is unmistakably based on a blend of cartoon/comic and original toy likenesses of Trailbreaker. Get one as cheap as possible - it probably won't be much because no-one liked either figure and both came out at the time the line was beginning to warm shelves. 

The only bit you'll need is the head so if you find some junker with no legs or something that'll do. The heads simply pop off both figures. There's an easily-accessible screw at the back of the Swindle/Rollbar head that allows you to open it up and remove the visor. You can then either paint it red (toy) or blue (cartoon) according to your preference and just put it back together. The generic head off the KO is all-new, so if you're a prolific customiser it can probably be used for something else.

3: Get the Reprolabels' "Classics" Trailbreaker sticker set. The Autobot symbol, windscreen decal and face aren't much use, but the doors of the Movie Voyager Ironhide toy it's intended for are so close to the Binaltech KO it's unreal. I had to trim some of the clear edges off and use a little improvisation around the rear wheel hubs but generally the fit is so good it's hard to believe they weren't designed for the process.

4: For the final touch I just added the Radar Scanner from the original toy. Well, technically it was the one that came with Encore Hoist. With very slight whittling to the width of the end few millimetres of the post it can fit snugly in the screw hole on the back of the head (if done carefully there's still enough of the post to allow it to connect to Hoist). 

It can't stay in there for transformation but it adds a lot to the robot mode. The other change I made was removing the spare tyre as with the additional roof kibble it makes the legs look a bit too cluttered and it adds a little more variety when displayed alongside Hound.

A more accomplished customiser might want to paint his legs and torso silver - I briefly toyed with transplanting these parts from a spare Hound but wasn't entirely sure it would work, besides which I've got very used to the dark green and don't think it hurts the figure. 

So there we go - if I can do it, you can do it too =)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Comic Review - The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man

The British contribution to the superpowered world has always been a bit of an odd one, and Fleetway were at the forefront of this in the 1960s. The stars of the strip were often the anti-heroes of it all - The Steel Claw, The Spider, The Snake, The Sludge, Grimly Feendish, Mytek the Mighty - pitched against cops and secret agents whose names seem so much harder to remember. Is it any wonder Alan Moore gave us V and Rorschach on the back of this stuff? Of course, sometimes these characters were mellowed... The Spider went to fighting crime, albeit largely to satisfy his own curiosity. And then there was the Steel Claw.

The character has yet to grasp me particularly strongly, on the back of both this collection and a handful of other stories. Maybe it's that the powers really aren't that impressive - invisibility loses its' punch a little when it leaves a metal hand floating around. It seems every time Crandell comes across a new enemy, they rather cannily come up with the "shoot around the hand, he's got to be there somewhere" line. An exaggeration, of course, but then the title does seem somehow repetitive, despite its' rampant genre-hopping (over its' run, the serial would run the gamut from spy stories to science fiction to outright cape heroics). Whether Crandell is fighting pirates, aliens or Reds, the same things seem to come up - the electrical charge that facilitates his invisibility running low at a crucial point, or the "shoot around the hand" thing (amusingly, Crandell's neat idea of putting the metal hand in his pocket, thus rendering him totally invisible, is forgotten after the first episode, presumably to stop his powers being all that useful).

Maybe it's just as simple as me thinking invisibility isn't a particularly interesting power (they souped up the claw itself later on to include all kinds of 007 gubbins, but right now that isn't much use). It's a shame, though, because the debut serial is nearly an absolute belter. Riffing heavily on HG Wells' Invisible Man (though without even the vague science of that - Crandell's clothes disappear at the same time as his flesh), the bitter, jealous, petty Crandell finds a laboratory accident gives him the power of invisibility, and promptly goes on a rampage. His methods aren't exactly terrific early on, but when he gets to New York, it really takes off. The tension is cranked up as Crandell basically begins a terrorist campaign against the entire world and doubles when he can't get back out of the city and the authorities, led by Scotland Yard's Inspector Lynch, begin to close in. Crandell's ersatz boss, Professor Barrington, is also along for the ride, and basically makes an idiot out of himself by constantly worrying about Crandell when he's holding the city to ransom. The episodes are very pacy, and Bulmer's script really imbues a feeling of desperation in the character.

All of which makes the last couple of episodes all the more disappointing, as Crandell reforms for no readily apparent reason. There's a rather pat assertion from Barrington that the accident caused his behaviour, something made difficult to stomach from Crandell's characterisation before the accident, and the good Professor's near-delusional bleating throughout the story, but the damage is done - Crandell apologises, and the world lets him off. Of course, the real story is that the intended one-off serial had been well-received by Valiant readers, and would become an ongoing series. It's a shame they didn't have him slip away, unrepentant, and return to threaten the world - that could have been a lot of fun.

This is a description which sadly doesn't apply to the second story, "Dr. Deutz". The titular villain attempts to replicate Crandell's accident, with slightly different results, and then sets about framing the reformed Claw for all sorts of criminal wrongdoing. With Crandell and Barrington protesting the former's innocence, Deutz setting Crandell up and the world at large falling for it, very quickly becomes frustrating. The suspense is gone, with no real feeling than Crandell's ever going to snap and really go for it, or get the blame. However, the characterisation of Crandell is good - he's already becoming the slightly withdrawn, wary, unsociable character he would for the rest of the run, a nice change from the grinning loon at the end of the debut serial and early stages of this one.

The third serial "Sharkey" (the serials generally being named after the primary villain) was Bulmer's last on the title, before handing over to Tom Tully. This does at least use a little more imagination, with Crandell going for a diving holiday with a friend, and running into a group of modern-day pirates. While it's fast and avoids the repetition of "Dr. Deutz", it's nowhere near as much fun, falling between two chairs in a way the character seemed to fairly often - it's implausible, but not implausible enough. The Spider is basically ludicrous, but under Jerry Siegel, this was taken to the ultimate degree so everything was very, very implausible, and thus it all made a mad sort of sense. Steel Claw on the other hand always seemed to be trying to be a bit more realistic, and somehow ends up looking sillier, and a little po-faced. The pirate ringleader, the titular Sharkey, is a prime example. He's just a thug who happens to be at sea, he's not over-the-top enough to be any fun. But the serial is the right length, not outstaying its' welcome, and at least testing Crandell by not taking place in an urban environment, surrounded by sources of electricity.

Overall, it's actually not a bad set of stories. It doesn't stand up to rereading particularly well sadly, and simply picking the first three stories may not have been the best option for the character. The strip does generally maintain a menacing, pulpy feel, thanks to Blasco's detailed, dark artwork, but the plots aren't quite there. Bulmer's unsure as to whether to gently develop Louis or go for bags of pace and drama, and the result is the book tends to lurch between set-pieces and rather forced characterisation. It's a shame that so much potential is sabotaged by this mixed approach. The first story is very nearly classic, the second dull, and the third a step in the right direction. Overall, though, this collection isn't half as impressive as King of Crooks, but is recommended for Claw fans, and those interested in the character. Let's just hope Titan follow it up with some choicer stories soon.