Thursday, March 30, 2006

Others agree that JLU line rocks!

JPX: This is a somewhat outdated article that reviews some of the Justice League Unlimited line. It's just good to know that others are paying attention.

Octopunk: Speaking of paying attention, It's two and a half weeks later and I'm finally adding a picture to this post. I stalled because this dude's pictures are all as blurry as this one...but I didn't feel like looking for a comparison pic of the two Braniacs. I was going to snap my own tonight, but my tripod's still at Adam's house. Instead, since I just read this article for the first time, I thought I'd chime in [in brackets]. So from Captain Toy:

Mattel's Justice League Unlimited figures are turning up across the nation, and for most fans, this is a more than welcome change in direction for the JL line. [Indeed.] Focusing on expanding the character roster rather than simply trotting out the core seven again and again with more plastic crap snapped onto them [bullseye!], this line is seen by many as this decade's equivalent of the fondly remembered Super Powers line of the 80s. Since the core seven JL members have been covered before, this review focuses on some of the new additions to the JL lineup: Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, the Atom, Red Tornado, Amazo, Brainiac, Starman, and Aquaman.

Packaging - ***1/2
The packaging used is preferable to digging through a bunch of loose figures that have been tossed into a box, and that's about all I can say for it. The cards for single figures are small, just big enough to house the figure and its accessory. With the age warnings and the multilingual product descriptions, the overall look is one of extreme clutter. The cards for the three-packs are larger, but no less cluttered. Each card has a little icon on the top left corner that names the episode the included figures were featured in, which is a nice little afterthought. The figures shown on the back are not named, a common trait on Mattel's packaging these days. I understand that it's due to their preference for multilingual cards-- naming the characters shown on the cardback would add even more clutter-- it's still a strike against them. I can see clueless parents nationwide fretting as their children ask for "the big red guy" they saw on the cardback, with no name to go by. Lastly, the fact that characters like Green Arrow are shown flying on the front of the card is just... odd.

[It is pretty loony how much text there is on these cards, and that's a pain in the butt about the names. I wonder which other non-flyers are flying on the package.]

Sculpting - Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Aquaman, Starman, the Atom, : *** 1/2; Amazo: ***; Brainiac: **
The sculpting quality is very good overall, with one glaring exception. We'll get to him in a moment. Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Aquaman, the Atom, and Starman are the best of the bunch here, with nice clean sculpts that perfectly capture the look and feel of the characters. Green Arrow, in particular, seems absolutely spot-on, a perfect three-dimensional rendering of the animated character. Aquaman's slightly-angry look is appropriate, too, and give the figure a more expressive look than the neutral facial expressions many of the other figures have. Amazo'a sculpt is generally good, but there's something about it that just seems... off. I can't really pinpoint it, but something doesn't seem quite right about him.[I'd have to get an Amazo to know if I agree, but I do recall being a teensy bit disappointed seeing the figure, since I had seen the episode of the cartoon. The main thing to remember is that the cartoon is brilliant because they made Amazo that groovy abstract robot instead of a bare-chested goblin in stripey pants. Although while looking for that first pic I found a very cool custom JLU Old School Amazo clearly made from a Martian Manhunter fig. Neato!]

Scraping the bottom of the barrel is Brainiac. The body sculpt is actually pretty good, but this guy's head sculpt is just terrible. He has this weird sunken face, and a goofy pouting expression. My advice is to skip this one altogether, and hunt down the Brainiac figure from the Superman: The Animated Series line. It's superior to this one in every way. [Yeah, I agree with everything there. The original animated Braniac is probably in my top 20 favorite figures.] The scale on the figures is pretty good, with Brainiac and Aquaman the largest, and the Atom bringing up the rear.

Paint - **1/2
The paint apps are fairly sloppy in general, but nothing too bad. Bleed and slop are apparent here and there on every figure. It's noticeable, but it's not atrocious. I've seen better paint apps on mass-marketed figures, but I've also seen far worse. The only figure on which no slop is apparent is Amazo, but all that is painted on this figure are his red eyes and the black slit that surrounds them. Red Tornado features an odd mix of paint quality, as the slop is apparent at various points on the figure. However, the little slits for his eyes and mouth are painted perfectly, with no color bleed or slop whatsoever. One of my major gripes is with Dr. Fate. The prototype pics we saw had Fate painted in blue and gold, but on the actual figure, the gold has been replaced with bright, screaming yellow. The gold looked much better, and this change hurts the figure just a bit.

[I disagree with most of that. It sounds like he was going by just the figures he had in his hands. But, maybe his standards are higher than mine. I was also glad Dr. Fate wasn't gold, he wouldn't have matched the Super Powers one.]

Articulation - Aquaman: ***, the rest: **
This is a sore spot for many collectors. Mattel added articulation to the JL figures last year, then they take it away this year. Only previously produced figures such as Aquaman and the five males from the core seven have the additional articulation, while all the new figures are missing it. Without the added articulation, the figures look a bit like glorified Happy Meal toys. Aquaman has cut neck, shoulders, waist, and hips, and elbow and knee joints. This gives him a pretty good range of movement, and only makes the limited articulation on the other figures seem more inadequate. The others have cut neck, shoulders, and hips. That's it. The old "Hasbro five." This line is often compared to the Super Powers line, and it's just sad that a line produced twenty years ago sported more articulation than this one. Aside from Aquaman, these figures are good for standing in a static pose, and not much else.

[Since I'm more in tune with static poses, I prefer the old "Hasbro five." The figures look cleaner and feel sturdier. Actually, I think the way they do it is perfect: add joints to later incarnations of the figures. The thing is, the extra articulation doesn't make them all that flexible. The sculpts prevent really dramatic poses. Try to make your "knees & elbows" Flash look like he's running reeeeallly fast, and you'll see what I mean.]

Accessories - The Atom, Green Arrow: ***, Dr. Fate: **, the rest: big fat 0
The Atom comes with an excellent accessory: a tiny version of himself, less than an inch tall. This lets you re-enact his shrinking power perfectly. The tiny Atom is unarticulated, of course. Green Arrow comes with his bow and an arrow, although he can't hold them properly because of his inadequate articulation. Dr. Fate comes with an ankh that is ablaze with lightning. The single figures also include a card featuring a character from the show. It doesn't appear to have any purpose, unlike the game cards packaged with recent Marvel Legends figures. These aren't anything earth-shattering, but at this price, these accessories are acceptable. The figures in the three-packs have no accessories. This isn't a big deal with most of them, but why couldn't they at least toss Starman's staff in there with him?

[I didn't know GA couldn't hold his bow, and I also think that accessory would be at least as important as Starman's staff. I mean, I know Starman has a staff because that character shows up in the Starman comic book (although he's not the title character in that book, he's a Starman of the past). But every should get that Green Arrow has arrows. Come on.]

Fun Factor - ***
Despite the limited articulation, kids will love these figures. Some of the lesser-known heroes, like Starman, may not be favorites of theirs, but kids love superheroes in general, and they'll at least have seen them on the show. The lack of accessories in the three-packs aren't really an issue for kids, since they tend to lose those tiny bits of plastic within five minutes of removing them from the package. For collectors, who mainly display their figures, these figures are capable of that. Some of the figures do have weak ankles, however, due to the cheap plastic used in most mass-produced figures these days.

[Even spotting how much they reuse sculpts, I totally agree here. These characters are fun and colorful. This is also my last comment.]

Value - ***
As recently as a few months ago, the JL line was wretchedly overpriced. Mattel recognized this, and they corrected the problem. At $4.99 for a single figure and $10.99 for a three-pack, the price is just about right.

Overall - Brainiac: **, the rest: ***
Brainiac is the big stinker in this bunch, but the rest are solid. With the three-packs, you're bound to wind up with some duplicates of the core seven, but they're good use as custom fodder. And at the price, it's tough to complain too much about that. My one piece of advice, like I said before, is to skip Brainiac altogether, and hunt down the version from the Superman: TAS line. It's pretty cheap, and much better than this JLU version. The Justice League Unlimited line may not be Super Powers, but it's the closest we have. We're getting figures of characters I never would have expected to see in retail stores, and that's cool enough for me.

Things to watch out for -
No huge problems here. If you have the opportunity, take a few moments to examine the figures in the store to find the best paint jobs.

Score recap
Packaging: **
Sculpting: Dr. Fate, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, Aquaman, Starman, the Atom, :***1/2; Amazo: ***; Brainiac: **
Paint: ** 1/2
Articulation: Aquaman: ***, the rest: **
Accessories: The Atom, Green Arrow: ***, Dr. Fate: **, the rest: big fat 0
Fun Factor: ***
Value: ***
Overall: Brainiac: **, the rest: ***

Well it's about time

Hasbro Unveils the Hottest Toys and Games in New Shop-at-Home Catalog

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- March 28, 2006 -- Fans of Hasbro Inc.'s (NYSE: HAS) vast portfolio of toy and game brands now have a new way to see and purchase their favorite products. This week, Hasbro unveils its first-ever direct-to-consumer catalog featuring some of the Company's best-loved toy and game brands, including TIGER ELECTRONICS, PLAYSKOOL, MY LITTLE PONY, STAR WARS, TRANSFORMERS, LITTLEST PET SHOP, MILTON BRADLEY and PARKER BROTHERS. A second consumer catalog will be mailed prior to the holiday season.

"With the strongest portfolio of toy and game brands in the business, Hasbro is providing consumers with a convenient way to shop for their favorite products in the comfort of their own home," said Ed Kriete, senior vice president of marketing for Hasbro. "And because Hasbro manufacturers products for kids and adults of all ages, consumers will find something on everyone's wish list."

The 68-page full-color catalog is broken down into four sections -- Preschool; Girls; Boys; and Electronics and Games -- making it easier for consumers to find what they are looking for. An "at-a-glance" section at the front of the catalog identifies all Hasbro brands found in the catalog.

The Preschool section leads off the catalog with a description of PLAYSKOOL's new AGES & STAGES system, which makes choosing the right toy at the right time easier than ever. The system uses a series of icons that illustrate what kind of play the toy encourages, such as "Let's Move," "Let's Figure it Out," and "Let's Discover."

The Girls section highlights several popular brands, including MY LITTLE PONY, LITTLEST PET SHOP and FURREAL FRIENDS. The Boys section showcases some of Hasbro's most well-known brands, including STAR WARS, TRANSFORMERS, G.I. JOE, NERF and SUPER SOAKER. And, the Electronics and Games section features products from the best-selling TIGER ELECTRONICS line and perennial favorites from PARKER BROTHERS, such as CLUE, TRIVIAL PURSUIT, MONOPOLY, SCRABBLE and YAHTZEE.

Hasbro is providing two ways for consumers to order the products featured in the catalog--by visiting their favorite toy and game retailer or by visiting, the online toy and game store recently launched by Hasbro. offers consumers a rich immersive experience with the Company's extensive library of toys and games. Consumers can also sign up for special offers and promotions at the online store.

Hasbro (NYSE: HAS) is a worldwide leader in children's and family leisure time entertainment products and services, including the design, manufacture and marketing of games and toys ranging from traditional to high-tech. Both internationally and in the U.S., its PLAYSKOOL, TONKA, MILTON BRADLEY, PARKER BROTHERS, TIGER and WIZARDS OF THE COAST brands and products provide the highest quality and most recognizable play experiences in the world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Secret Mojo Spices

JPX asked me to post what I assume is the next batch of Marvel Legends figures. I think I like my 10-year-old figure of Mojo better. In another example of too much detail, I present exhibit M: Mojo's hairy gut.

That old timey Iron Man, however, kicks all kinds of ass. Maybe I'll buy a Marvel Legends fig after all this time.

I'm not ruling out the Mojo, either.

It's the store's fault for making you want it so bad

MINNEAPOLIS Mar 28, 2006 (AP)— Devin Haskin isn't the first little boy to find the inside of a toy machine too enticing to resist. When the 3-year-old Austin, Minn., boy crawled through the discharge chute of a Toy Chest claw machine at a Godfather's Pizza in his hometown, he ended up on the other side of the glass surrounded by stuffed animals.

Rescuers had to pry the door open to get Devin out, though the boy was in no hurry to leave.

"When we got it open, he didn't want to come out," Fire Chief Dan Wilson said Tuesday. "One of my firefighters had to reach inside and get him. He was happy in there."

Two years ago, a boy crawled inside a toy machine at a Piggly Wiggly in Sheboygan, Wis., and was rescued with the help of a locksmith. Last year, a toddler climbed into a toy machine at a Wal-Mart in Elkhart, Ind. Workers used tools to free the boy.

Ron Morocco, chief executive of Rock Management & Associates, a Spirit Lake, Iowa, company that owns the Godfather's restaurant in Austin, said the machine would be removed until the company talked to the manufacturer.

"We're very happy the young boy wasn't hurt," he said.

An official with Smart Industries Corp., a Des Moines company that makes the toy machine Devin crawled into, didn't immediately return a phone message Tuesday.

To use the toy machine, a player tries to grasp stuffed animals and other toys behind the glass by manipulating overhead claws.

Devin's mother, Heidi Haskin, declined to be interviewed Tuesday.

Wilson said there was a lot of activity at Godfather's on Sunday when the boy got inside the machine. He estimated that 75 to 100 people were in the restaurant when rescuers arrived and that three birthday parties were taking place. But there was plenty of air in the machine and people were taking pictures of Devin.

He said the gap Devin squeezed through was about 7 inches by 9 inches.

Gregg Aamot can be reached at gaamot(at)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

He's got a new hat! I mean boots.

Here's Foul Moudama, the cute & wuffly Jedi from Clone Wars, and his "daddy" Muftak. Repaint! But with big ol' boots.

I'll probably go for this one, it's cute. But I wish they'd do the "animated" Clone Wars figs again. I bet the Ithorian (Hammerhead) Jedi will be the Hammerhead figure with Jedi togs.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The elusive, mythical Shamrock Shake

It wasn't going to happen again, not this year. McDonald's has long offered triple-thick "Shamrock Shakes" around St. Patrick's Day, but as the treats have become more elusive in more recent years, they've garnered a cult following on a level similar to Tori Amos, the simple difference being that people will still buy Shamrock Shakes when they hit 40. The desserts were sold at virtually at every McDonald's restaurant in their heyday, but their current range is far smaller, far more depressing. Since I started X-E, I've spent five years worth of March months crying in my filth, reading the endless notes from the fortunate many who live in areas where the Shamrock Shake is still given its yearly dose of respect. You see, where I live, there are no Shamrock Shakes. Not during December, May or November. Not even during March.

There is a significant Irish population in my town. There is a significant number of McDonald's restaurants in my town. Yet, there are no Shamrock Shakes. Not even during March. It's a fact that haunts me year after year, and a fact that doesn't process as such because, year after year, I hit every McDonald's in the whole damn city...just to be safe. As you might guess, this whole thing has become more than a simple pining for a good milkshake. It's a war. It's a life goal. It isn't so much about finding and devouring a Shamrock Shake and it is about just finding a Shamrock Shake, and this year, my resolve was strong and very proud of someone else's heritage: I was going to find Shamrock Shakes, even if I had to invent solar megaboots and electro-jump to fucking Ireland, where all the McDonald's restaurants serve blood sausage Big Macs on god damned soda bread.

I have a buddy at work who shares the obsession and the depression. Last year, we exploited the fact that nobody ever really mandated a lunch break time limit for us, and scoured New York City on the hunt for Shamrock Shakes. We had to have hit at least 4,000 McDonald's restaurants that day, and this includes prestigious areas where they still make McVeggie Burgers and tempt borderline racial activists with the Lamb McSpicy. All that, and we couldn't find a single Shamrock Shake. A week or so ago, he strolled into my cubicle-without-walls with a demeanor of pride and spite. "I got 'em," he said. "They're at that shitty, disgusting McDonald's you pass on the way into Atlantic City."

Motherfucker. So, we had a location. And he had a Shamrock Shake. Good for him. Despite some preliminary hopes, reality sunk in and I realized that a car ride to Atlantic City was absolutely not going to be in the cards for me in time for St. Patrick's Day, which isn't necessarily the cutoff point for Shamrock Shake Sales, but there's no sense in eating them after that because there won't be anyone left to be jealous of you. I would've driven 45 minutes on good word that a certain Ronald Roost held my ticket to ride, but I couldn't justify driving a four-hour round trip just to be able to tell my work friend, "I'm as good as you."

Thus began my research. Beginning with exhaustive online search engine sessions and ending with a bed of stupid phone calls, the free moments of my days and nights have recently been spent having phone conversations like this:

THEM: Hello, McDonald's, how can I help you?
ME: Do you sell Shamrock Shakes this year?
THEM: Excuse me?
ME: Shamrock Shakes. Do you sell Shamrock Shakes this year?
THEM: We have milkshakes.
ME: But are they green?
THEM: We are sending the police to come shoot you.

The McDonald's seen above was my last chance. I'd gone to all the others. I'd called every McDonald's in a 40 mile radius except this one. It got to the point where I was asking about Shamrock Shakes at Burger King, where worker bees do not respond well to flippancy. But this...this was just a mall McDonald's. A Spartan affair. A place that swears you said "cheeseburgers" no matter what you order because that's all they have to sell you. I was cautiously optimistic, and because it's such a cool sounding term, I lowly mouthed it to myself, right there in the mall. "Cautiously optimistic, cautiously optimistic." I got beat up for it.

Cautiously optimistic, I slowly marched towards the Last Hope of McDonaldland. My whole life flashed before my eyes, or in my head, and not just the decisively good and decisively bad stuff, but weird stuff, too. Like how I used to think that the 'cordin to our new arrival portion of the Mr. Belvedere theme referred to Wesley's birth and subsequent impact on his family's lives, when it would later be clear that the line referenced Belvedere himself. I don't know how the surly men knew what I was thinking about, but I got beat up for that too. Point is, the life flashing stuff reminded me that, to find a Shamrock Shake, perhaps I needed to understand its history first.

Presenting, the first-ever commercial for Shamrock Shakes. In its quintessential form, McDonaldland was a heavenly place where all of the chain's advertising mascots, from Ronald all the way down to Officer Big Mac, spent years going on thirty-second adventures and telling us what to eat. Though remnants of this happy land still exist in the decor of certain McDonald's restaurants and Internet tributes, the company has dropped everyone but the clown from their ad campaigns. Nowadays, McDonald's commercials geared towards kids generally feature Ronald and real children of real mixed ethnicities exercising in real world situations, partly to offset any fingered blames for the children's obesity epidemic, and partly because somebody high up at McDonald's thought that the webcam-esque shots of Ronald McDonald playing a generic DDR game would totally resonate with today's youth.

There hasn't been a Shamrock Shakes ad in years, but there hasn't been a Shamrock Shakes ad like this in decades. We kick off with Ronald and Grimace prancing through one of the many garden parks of McDonaldland, curious as to why everything's gone green. The butterflies are green, there's green footprints everywhere, and...well, that's pretty much it, but they're way impressed. I'd forgotten how crude Grimace looked in his early years, with oversized plastic googly eyes and felt eyebrows. He also seems less out of shape than later versions of Grimace; while he is indeed pear-shaped, this Grimace seems to attribute that more to an overall species body structure, while later Grimaces just looked like big fat slobs. As Ronald picks up one of the green footprints for closer inspection, I'm left amazed at how straight-facedly he was able to do that: It wasn't shtick, it wasn't played for laughs. Ronald just picks up footprints because that's what you do in McDonaldland. Wait until you find out who they belong to...

Uncle O'Grimacey! Whether he's a legit blood relative of Grimace or not is never clearly insinuated in the commercial, but the boys are nevertheless beside themselves to see Uncle O'Grimacey, whose appearance can only mean one thing: The return of Shamrock Shakes! O'Grimacey speaks in terrible Comedy Irish, sized and shaped like Grimace but with fuzzier, lime green fur and a vest lifted from an overweight Macy's cashier. A green fedora seals the deal and transforms Uncle O'Grimacey into a pop phenomenon, and Ronald decides that they should all celebrate with a round of you-know-whats at the local McDonald's. The implication is that it would be Ronald's treat, but I call bullshit, because everyone knows Ronald doesn't have to pay at McDonald's.

While Uncle O'Grimacey is a tad nightmarish on one hand, I must admit that he's also kind of infectious. He's one of those "cute" monsters, like Godzooky, or Gizmo, or old man Rolly Forbes from Amen.

As the gang settles outside McDonald's for a serious exercise in shake-eating, Uncle O'Grimacey leads the troops in the official Shamrock Shake theme song: "Shamrock Shakes, they're a beautiful green! The most beautiful green that we've ever seen!" Those aren't just the partial lyrics, either -- it's the whole song. Two damn lines. If time was an issue, couldn't they have trimmed five seconds from Ronald freaking out over the green butterflies to add another verse? I understand the theory behind leaving people wanting more, but come on...two lines? Only Fatboy Slim can get away with calling two lines a song.

The scope of McDonald's advertising campaign has critically shifted away from actually mentioning their food during the commercials. If they do, it's usually just to let everyone know that they SELL SALADS because it gets them off the hook for everything else they sell. They can get away with lard-related info more in the adult-targeted ads, but even so, it'd be really surprising to see any McD's television commercial highlight the return of a deathly unhealthy milkshake in this day and age. McDonald's food has in some ways become just another drug. It's easy to score, but you're not supposed to talk about it.

Click here to download the Shamrock Shakes commercial! (Thanks, Mystie!)

If Grimace can land himself a Shamrock Shake through nepotism, surely I can do the same by will of sheer drive and ambition. I refuse to go on living knowing that Grimace can do anything better than me, even if it's just finding Shamrock Shakes.

It was an unusually hot Saturday morning, and I was wearing a black sweater absolutely coated with cat hair. I hadn't shaved in a week. I was wearing sneakers with unsightly paint splatters all over them. And I was taking pictures of a McDonald's restaurant. In a crowded shopping mall. It wasn't among my proudest moments, but if McD's had what the heart wanted, it very well could've transformed into one. Hesitant to go inside in fear of crushing disappointment, I lingered from a safe distance for a few moments, making private deals with God. He didn't tell me he was listening, but he didn't tell me he wasn't listening, either. I stepped forward. One foot in front of the other, because I hate people who walk like ducks.

When my eyes adjusted and made sense of the portion of the marquee circled up above, I realized that the key to getting anything in this world is promising God that you'll build churches. I didn't say what size churches though, God. So start making people small enough to worship your ass in a 2D construction paper church.

It looked could might was very well may have...IT WAS! SHAMROCK SHAKES IN THE WOODBRIDGE MALL! SHAMROCK SHAKES -- THEY'RE A BEAUTIFUL GREEN! THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GREEN THAT I'VE EVER SEEN! I spun, collected myself, and spun back in the right direction. In the distance, a child pointed at me and said, "Michael Jackson."

According to McDonald's website, the Shamrock Shake was born in 1970. This may or may not be true, because the website also claims that they're only sold in Ireland. The shakes are said to be "triple thick," tasting very much like chocolate chip mint ice cream melted down into milkshake form with the chocolate chips removed. So I guess we'd just call that "mint ice cream." The sign features a shake (which admittedly looks a lot cleaner and better represented than what the goo machine actually craps out) surrounded by a crown of mint leaves, and why the fuck that crown isn't made of clovers, I have no possible explanation.

As I waited on line for my shot at destiny, I noticed that a good amount of in-store eaters had ordered themselves Shamrock Shakes. I refuse to believe that so many people make McDonald's milkshakes a part of their biweekly fat fest, and attribute this high number solely to the irresistible promise of a limited edition toxic green milkshake.

My order-taker doubled as my drink-getter, and as I saw the holy pistachio piss pour into a cup that would ultimately be mine, my heart clogged with pride. We read, we hear and we see turmoil in this world everyday. We're led to think that it's time to collect our losses start civilization anew. It's insisted that cosmic deities will respond to our eventual global explosion with a half-interested "good riddance." I don't believe it, though. A world with Shamrock Shakes still has something to offer. We just need to make sure that everyone causing us trouble has access to them, because it's impossible to think of trouble when you're sizing up a Shamrock Shake. They're the most beautiful green that you've ever seen.

The green and white galaxy becomes a more unified green after mixing, and though the flavor can never live up to the hype, Shamrock Shakes are pretty darn good. The minty marvels are only available for a limited time, and only available at participating McDonald's restaurants, and only available at participating McDonald's restaurants with a working milkshake machine. Do not take them for granted just because granting is what leprechauns do and you're convinced that leprechauns have a hand in making Shamrock Shakes, because they don't. Also, word to the wise: Stick with the small or medium-sized shakes. I ordered a large, and I swear, there was enough Shamrock Shake for me to swim in. Great. Now I have to end this article early because I want to swim in Shamrock Shake.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fan's Choice Poll: The Top 25 Characters Revealed

Fan's Choice Poll: The Top 25 Characters Revealed
Posted by Curto on March 15, 2006 at 10:38 AM CST:
ToyFare #105 is out today, and the Top 25 characters from the first part of the poll have been announced. If you've been following our daily countdown series, you might have spotted some of these characters already. While members of our forums got a sneak peek at the final list over the weekend thanks to a subscriber who got the issue a bit early, here is the official announcement of the top 25 characters YOU voted for!

Anakin Solo - Expanded Universe

Bastila Shan - Knights of the Old Republic

Clone Commander - Revenge of the Sith*

Commander Neyo - Revenge of the Sith

Corran Horn - Expanded Universe

Darth Malak - Knights of the Old Republic

Darth Maul - The Phantom Menace

Darth Nihilus - Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords

Darth Revan - Knights of the Old Republic

Exar Kun - Tales of the Jedi

Hermi Odle - Return of the Jedi

HK-47 - Knights of the Old Republic

Jacen Solo - Expanded Universe

Jaina Solo - Expanded Universe

Kir Kanos - Crimson Empire

Kyle Katarn (Jedi Knight) - Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II

Luke Skywalker - Return of the Jedi

Mara Jade Skywalker - New Jedi Order

Nom Anor - New Jedi Order

Padmé Amidala (Ilum cold gear) - Clone Wars

Padmé Amidala (Fireside black dress) - Attack of the Clones

Padmé Amidala (Naboo funeral) - Revenge of the Sith

Quinlan Vos - Star Wars: Republic

Willrow Hood ("Ice Cream Maker Guy") - The Empire Strikes Back

Yarna d'al Gargan - Return of the Jedi

* "Clone Commander" is the name given to this character (officially known as "Galactic Marine") because that is what he is called in the Star Wars: Battlefront II video game. So, it's not really a mistake...from a certain point of view.

For more details on all of these characters, head on over to and get ready to vote for your favorite character that YOU want to see made into an action figure in 2007.

It's interesting to see the number of characters from the Expanded Universe make the list. Perhaps that's something that Hasbro should seriously take a look at...FANS WANT EU FIGURES!

Not all fans of fact, one of our forum members has dubbed the term SWINO (Star Wars In Name Only) when describing the characters not from the movies. No matter where your loyalties lie, be sure to vote for the character YOU want to see made.

Another interesting thing to make note of...the Galactic Marine ("Clone Commander"), Commander Neyo, Hermi Odle, Kir Kanos, Luke Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala (Ilum cold gear) are already on many rumor lists for figures to be made in 2006/2007. So vote accordingly... ;)

But will I still be able to play pong on it?

Sony's PlayStation 3 delayed until November
By Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Sony is postponing the release of its next video game system, the PlayStation 3, until early November, the electronics giant announced today. The high-powered game system, which will double as a player for new high-definition Blu-ray DVDs, will come to market in the U.S., Japan and Europe simultaneously. No official date or price was announced.

Originally, the PS3 was to be launched in the first half of the year in Japan and later in the USA. But speculation had grown recently that development cost and complications, particularly in the Blu-ray format, would lead to delays.

"When we originally announced our plans to launch this spring, we had expected the standardization work on all of the technologies to be completed by last August, but there were improvements that were decided on since then," said Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony's video game division. He made the announcement at a hastily called news conference in Tokyo Wednesday after reports of the delay surfaced in Japanese papers.

The PS3 is expected to incorporate not only next-generation HD video playback, but also high-speed Net connections, backward compatibility with previous PlayStations and the ability to work with Sony's handheld game system PSP.

Sony is still trying to finalize Blu-ray copyright protection and other technologies. "I'd like to apologize for the delay," Kutaragi said. "I have been cautious because many people in various areas are banking on the potential of the next-generation DVD."

The announcement comes at a time when the video game industry is slumping, in part because consumers are buying fewer games for current systems in anticipation of the arrival of the PS3 and a new system from Nintendo, the Revolution — not to mention Microsoft's Xbox 360, introduced in November and still hard to find.

Sony expects to be able to produce 1 million PS3s each month, a figure that sounds large, but will pale in comparison to demand around the world, says Richard Doherty of The Envisioneering Group. "It's going to make the Xbox 360 scramble of last year look like a picnic."

Few industry observers were surprised by the announcement, because the high-definition video format has been repeatedly delayed. "The PS3 is more than just a Blu-ray player," Doherty says. "In a sense, it is like a more powerful video source than digital cinema today."

The PS3 will output high-definition video in a higher-resolution form than the first Blu-ray players that are expected in the market in May. So Sony and the supporting movie studios have reason to be concerned about its security, Doherty says.

In effect, Sony's game division has blamed the delay on the company's home entertainment division, says American Technology Research analyst P.J. McNealy. "The delay in of itself wasn't surprising. It was more Sony trying to get the message right. You'd almost expect Sony Pictures to announce the delay of shipping Blu-ray movies to the fall."

Adding to the delay was the ability to produce mass quantities of the PS3's new Cell processor, developed by Sony with IBM and Toshiba, which is touted as 10 times more powerful than current PC processors. "It wouldn't be ready to put into boxes this summer," McNealy says. "And Sony wanted to give developers more time to make a memorable game for launch."

But the delay gives Microsoft months longer to build on the installed base of Xbox 360s. "There has been a credibility gap with both platforms coming out really later than we thought," Doherty says. "Six months ago, nobody thought there would only be 1 million Xbox 360s (in the USA) at this point."

However, Microsoft has to be taking satisfaction in Sony's struggles, McNealy says. "I think they are smirking because now you see Sony struggling when the Microsoft folks have said, 'This is not a simple thing to do,'." he says. "And secondly, you see Sony breaking from tradition and going with a worldwide launch, following Microsoft's lead from last fall. I think Microsoft feels like they are driving Sony."

Not to be forgotten is Nintendo, which has not given launch specifics for its Revolution beyond late 2006. "This puts more pressure on Nintendo to do a multiregion launch," McNealy says. "If they weren't planning it two days ago, they are probably considering it now. The timing for Nintendo is going to be tricky because they don't want to be too far ahead of the PS3 and have people hold out on the Revolution because the PS3 is coming. And they don't want to go head to head with the marketing budget of Microsoft and Sony in November."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Who knew Isaac Hayes was a nutjob?

The Wednesday Comedy Central ran its famous Scientology “South Park” episode, many predicted that Isaac “Chocolate Salty Balls” Hayes – the avowed Scientologist who plays Chef on the series – would ditch the show.
And this appears to be precisely what happened.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Veteran soul singer Isaac Hayes, voice of the libidinous character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park," said on Monday he was quitting the show, citing its "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

"There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs ... begins," Hayes said in a statement.

Hayes, 63, a devoted follower of the Church of Scientology, did not mention a "South Park" episode that aired last fall poking fun at Scientology and some of its celebrity adherents, including actor Tom Cruise.

Rather, Hayes said the show's parody of religion is part of what he saw as a "growing insensitivity toward personal spiritual beliefs" in the media generally, including the recent controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

The singer, who became the first black composer to win an Oscar for best song with his theme to the film "Shaft," said he formally asked to be released from his contract with "South Park," on the Comedy Central cable channel.

A spokesman for the Viacom Inc.-owned network said producers of the show and its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, had agreed not to "enforce" Hayes' contract.

"Obviously, Matt and Trey are disappointed that he's not going to be part of the show, but they're not going to make him do something he doesn't want to do," the spokesman, Tony Fox, told Reuters.

However, he said Stone and Parker "feel that it's a bit disingenuous (for Hayes) to cite religious intolerance as a reason for him pulling out of the show" because the series has lampooned religion since its start, taking shots at Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, among others.

The series grew out of two short films by Parker and Stone, "Jesus vs. Frosty" and "The Spirit of Christmas," the latter featuring a martial-arts duel between Jesus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas.

"Their premise is as long as you can make fun of everybody, then everybody is a potential target," Fox said. "The minute you start pulling punches, then the show's reason for being sort of gets compromised."

The crudely animated cartoon, heading into its 10th season next week as one of Comedy Central's biggest hits, centers on the antics of four foul-mouthed fourth graders in the town of South Park, Colorado

Hayes joined the show in 1997, supplying the baritone voice of Jerome "Chef" McElroy, the rotund school cafeteria cook whom the boys often seek out for advice.

In an episode last fall, one of the gang, Stan, scores so high on a Scientology test that church followers think he is the next L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded the religion. Hayes did not take part in that episode.

In an interview with Reuters late last year, Hayes talked about a foundation he formed to bring Scientology-based study techniques to disadvantaged inner-city schools, in partnership with fellow devotee Lisa Marie Presley.

"But it's not religious," he said then. "It's just something that people need."

Matt Stone told the Associated Press, "Past episodes of South Park have skewered Catholics, Jews and Mormons, among others. However, according to Stone, he and Parker "never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. "He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin"

Monday, March 13, 2006

Octopunk gets his mug on TV

Early this morning I went to KRON in San Francisco for an exhibition build-off. I sat with the other two SF finalists and we spent an hour building a model, just like the audition but without the pirate theme. When I had been looking for those yellow pieces for back of the parrot's head, I had been hoodwinked by a number of the inverse version of the same piece. Knowing there would be a lot of them, I planned the rocket you see here, starting with the fins.

The two anchors had a newsdesk and an informal talk show setup with couches. We were off to the side at a long table, with a boom cam pointing down at us. As we built, they delivered the news, and showed footage of us as they went to commerical. I wrapped it up with some time to spare, and we went over to the couches and talked for a few minutes. Then the two hosts picked the frog head as their favorite (I don't have a picture, but it was made by the guy who made the octopus in his audition).

I admit I wanted the little Lego award statuette, but I feel I did really well where it counted. I finished the model I set out to do and it's got some complicated building going on. As for my performance, I don't really want to go all Gary about how I came off, but my friends say I did well. Even though I wanted to lean forward with my elbows on my knees like the other two guys, I sat up straight -- straighter than I ever do in real life. I made a couple of funnies.

Okay, this one I'll mention because it wasn't my original joke. I said that I had a Lego Room in my house, and the two hosts (who talked over each other a lot) made tandem comments asking if I was married. I said "well, there was a special lady, but she was into Lincoln Logs, so it didn't work out." Broke up the whooooole TV studio (not so much; that sentence is an inside joke).

I have one tape of this already and I plan to order another one from the studio, so those of you not in CA can judge for yourself how clever I am when I next see you.

In order to get to the studio on time, I'd had to crash at A&J's and borrow their car. As I was pulling away from the studio, my phone bleeped that I had a message. It was Adam, saying he'd caught my act on TV. I wasn't sure they'd make it up that early since they'd gone to the Cars wrap party at Pixar, which is a big shindig. We headed over to Meg's where the kids had crashed last night; they'd seen me on TV and Edie had a drawing of my rocket waiting for me. Shortly after that I had two more messages: Sherm demanded a recount; Charlie my next door neighbor said "frogs suck" and that he was gonna toss the frog-depicting "welcome to our pad" doormats from the deck outside, except that it was raining.

They let us keep the models. Mine is on the North Wall right now, my first trophy from this experience. I want to tweak it, make a band of yellow above the little brown window. But I'm going to leave it the way it is until the search is over.

I realize I'd have had a better chance with the morning hosts if I'd remembered to include a hook -- some little point of quirky cleverness to make them go "oh, cute!" Like the eye patch on my parrot head. Good lesson for the day: don't forget the hook.

Several hours later, I looked back on the day and said "I had a good television appearance today." That's a fairly unique morsel.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I made finalist! In two months, I hit San Diego Legoland and compete with 27 other people for the model building job. Yes, yes, yes. Yes.

You can see me and my entry here. (Not the best ever picture of me, but meh.)

My friend Andy (see his cool website) had alerted me to the add on Craigslist: an open spot for a Legoland Carlsbad model builder. It's a national search: seven cities, of which SF was the third. I took a look at the finalists before me in San Diego and LA, and figured out without too much head scratching that the theme was Pirates. Arrrrhhh.

I called in sick this morning, setting my alarm wicked early so I knew I'd get my boss's voicemail. The event ran from 3pm to 7, but I didn't want a day's work stress crowding my focus. I had an idea of what I was going to do -- a big parrot head, and at about 11:30 I sat down to do a practice run. Less than five minutes in, I realized there was nothing I could do to prepare myself further. I caught a whiff of that familiar zing I get when, in the small sphere of influence between my hands, I have to make something beautiful, and fast. But I could also feel that it would kick in when the time came.

The day itself wasn't very fun. Stage fright. You can't do anything about it but get through. I emerged from the train with 20 minutes to spare, determined to get myself a Mounds bar before I went in. I had a message. Was it Legoland, telling me I was late? Nope. "Kick ass, kick ass, kick ass" said JPX in my ear, telling me I could do this. A welcome boost. I settled for a pack of Rollos.

This happened at the Art Institute, an SF art school. The lobby had some beautiful, big models in it, and some tables with legos piled on them. This wasn't the competition room, these people are just entouraged by piles of loose legos. They gave me forms to fill out. I was still pretty nervous and wasn't feeling very chatty, but I overheard the pirate theme being discussed. Arrrrhhh.

I was paired with another guy who finished his forms about the same time, and up we went. They had prepared for more people than they'd got, at least at that point in the day. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure there was only one other pair of guys at work. The reason I'm a little fuzzy on the subject is that there were at least three people in there with big TV cameras on their shoulders. We got a brief rundown from Pat, introduced as the head of the model shop. Much younger guy than you'd think (if I'm remembering his title correctly).

There were seven big bins full of legos on tables at the edge of the room. Everybody got a bucket and a baseplate. You could go get legos from the bins at any time, as many times as you wanted. "I'm looking for a finished model, guys." We got one hour.

I went over and started grabbing red bricks, then thought I'd be better off using the giant metal scoop and dumping it back at my table. The camera guys were in real close as we scooped and dug, and as we built they got lots of close-ups of our busy hands and furrowed brows. I held up my model to get a good side-view look at it, figuring how many more layers before I worked on the upper beak. The camera guy, two feet away, said "wow, are you doing this all in your head?" I stammered out a yes of some sort. Ten minutes later all the cameras had left, and it was just me muttering to myself, hunting for pieces, hearing them bounce on the floor when I dropped them.

I'll save the technical talk for my fellow freaks, but suffice to say the zing did me right. The parrot head came out great, and I'd given him an eye patch. I'd finished the basic elements in just 45 minutes. I had time at the end to add a bunch of extra yellow "feathers" to the back, and I had time to find that one white piece I had subbed in as part of the beak and switch it to yellow. When the hour stuck, I was just taking out the camera for some pictures.

Right after they took my picture, they asked me if I'd talk with their documentary crew for a bit. Since the head was fragile in ways only I knew best, I carried it downstairs myself. With my other hand, I spent a second or two showing off pictures of my other lego creations on my iPod. I felt great, completely relieved. My reticence had reversed itself, and what better time to talk to a documentary crew than when you're feeling all Chatty Kathy. They shot this in a tiny room with a gorgeous rack of organized legos on a table behind me. I answered questions and rattled on about model building, toys, three-dimensional sketch pads and whatever. The room was so tiny the camera man was out in the hall, and sometimes I'd say things over again because a toilet had flushed nearby.

Then I was done. I shot some pictures in the lobby and left. The windy day had turned nasty rainy. I called Adam and he was just getting home, so I invited myself over. I told them about the day and we checked the website every few minutes (which now, hours later, is still not yet featuring my mug). At about 9:30 they called me. I was fairly composed on the phone but shrieked like a harpy the second I hung up. Julie, the PR person who called me, said I'd made a very good model. And get this...on Sunday, I'm in a spot they're doing on TV. Hee hee.

I hung with A&J for a while, drinking vodka and talking strategy (I've got some practicing to do). I made some phone calls, and my roommate Julian told me that the usual crew would be at Beckett's in Berkeley. I stopped there on the way home, got some more vodka and hugs. The support and good wishes I've gotten from everyone has been wonderful.

Now I'm home staying up late, hoping that looking tired tomorrow will seem like looking sick, and really hoping nobody saw me on TV today. Although that's probably the coolest way to get caught.

What a great day.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Battle Beasts

I started to really groove on these guys when I noticed that they weren't based on dragons or mutants but on actual animals. There was a while in the early 90's when they were cheap at Kaybee and I gobbled up a bunch (but I should have gobbled up more). And in 2003 I scored the major coup of snagging the B-Beasts' fish vehicle for a mere TWENTY BUCKS! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sorry, that still gets me going.

Buying Battle Beasts these days is a tricky thing, the bargains are only available with large groups and usually I've got most of the ones in the group. The fourth series, the Laser Beasts, never even sold in the U.S. When I say the old line about how it's better to have stuff still out there to find than to ever "finish" collecting, it's these guys I usually think about. Someday a Fed Ex robot will deliver the last needed Laser Beast to my future self, and then I'll tuck my long white beard under my arm and roll my wheelchair into the ocean.

An excellent guide to all things Battle Beast can be found here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lego Star Wars video game is cool

I'll admit my lego involvement is characterized by some tunnel vision, i.e. I know nothing about these games. The concept seems pretty darn solid, though, and you can't deny the cuteness. This is from

In April 2005, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game Force-pushed its way onto store shelves everywhere to prove itself one of gaming’s most pleasant surprises of the year – and one of its biggest hits. Now at over 3.3 million copies sold worldwide (and still going strong), NPD Group’s No. 13 bestseller of 2005 has delighted gamers young and old with its unique mix of tongue-in-cheek humor and interplanetary adventure. Hot off the game’s amazing success, developer Traveller’s Tales and its parent company TT Games have joined forces with LucasArts to release LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for multiple platforms* this fall. And with several notable improvements to an already stellar formula, there’s a lot more to love about this sequel.

“There are so many things that are better, it’s hard to quantify,” says David Perkinson, producer at LucasArts. Perkinson cites his favorite improvements as the extended role of vehicles (including playable mini-kits), customizable characters, a better camera, player-specific attacks (including new Force powers), a greater number of weapons, and an adaptive difficulty setting. All while retaining the original charm that so characterized the first LEGO Star Wars.

“We will be retaining all of the gameplay features from the first game and adding plenty more!” enthuses Tom Stone, director at TT Games. “There’s a lot that worked well in the original game, such as the character animations, the ‘drop in/drop out’ two-player feature, the general pace, collection of studs and characters, and so on. However, we have spent a lot of time improving the vehicle levels – you’ll be very pleased when you see what you can do with the X-wing and TIE fighters on the Death Star!”

Perkinson agrees that “the reworked vehicles levels are a huge improvement. Giving the player the opportunity to wander freely throughout vehicle levels is a great change, as is including vehicles and creatures that any non-droid character can build and ride through certain on-foot levels. And character customization is another fantastic addition. Players will finally be able to create their own Star Wars character and bring it into the LEGO Star Wars world!” Perkinson and Stone promise to delve even further into the subjects of vehicles and character customization in the months to come.

Perkinson is also excited about LEGO Star Wars II’s improved camera. “When playing in co-op, the camera will now pull farther back to allow the two players greater separation from one another,” he says. “We received a lot of feedback from gamers saying that while they liked co-op play, they wished that they were allowed more freedom to fight and explore. With the new co-op camera, they can do that. We’re still looking into other ways to further improve the camera, as well.”

Another common sentiment of both consumers and critics was the desire for a sequel set in the Original Trilogy era. Now they have it, and Stone couldn’t be happier. “There are lots of well known scenes and action that we can have fun with,” he says. “There are also fewer Jedi, of course, so the other characters all need to step up in their abilities to help defeat the Empire. That said, we’ve added a new ‘building’ feature for all non-Jedi characters. Of course, Jedi like Obi-Wan still have the Force at their disposal.”

In fact, the Force and other abilities have been expanded upon in a character-specific manner for LEGO Star Wars II. “We’ve worked hard to bring out the distinctive individual personalities of all those great Original Trilogy characters – and that’s given us lots of cool new moves,” says Stone. “So, as you’d hope, the Emperor now has a Force lightning attack, Vader has his Force choke, Han’s got some athletic blaster combat moves, and Chewie’s got a signature melee attack – he pulls arms out of sockets!”

In order to greater challenge hardcore gamers, LEGO Star Wars II will include an optional adaptive difficulty feature that, based on players’ actions, “knows” how good they are, which accordingly affects how hard things get. “When switched on, the game will begin at the base level of difficulty and ramp up as the player succeeds,” Perkinson explains. “The opposing AI will become more aggressive, harder to destroy and more accurate with their fire as the user improves.”

“We were surprised and, of course, delighted that the original game was played and enjoyed by so many people,” says Stone. “And with all of the new improvements and features along with the Original Trilogy we’re implementing into LEGO Star Wars II, we’re confident that the new game has what it takes to entertain even more gamers than before.”

NEXT MONTH: “All the Characters in the Galaxy”

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hey, isn't that the vice president? BLAM!! BLAM!!

Some clever lads put this together, ignoring the fact that they left most of the birdshot inside the poor old guy, bestowing him hassle at airport metal detectors for the rest of his life.