The flashy new Star Trek was worth exactly $32.75

May 9, 2009

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***HEREIN BE SPOILERS***

FROM JASON’S COMMUNICATOR — The leaks all said there would be time travel in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film. I should have been smart enough to bring a pad of paper to diagram for my wife the black hole-induced plot.

“How can there be two Spocks?” she whispered a good two thirds into the film. I arched a single eyebrow and tried to get her to remember the basic mechanics of Back to the Future II.

That was a mistake. Her eyes went glassy. She is not a science fiction buff. She hates all things Trek, but was classy enough to tag along with me this time and indulge my spaceships and green aliens fetish.

Oh well. At least the pretty cast, a brief sex scene featuring the aforementioned Orion sexpot, and a certain hunky captain were enough to keep my lady’s eyes on the screen. “Who is that guy? The main guy?” the wife asked at one point. “Chris Pine? I’ll bet he’s got a big pine… in his pants,” she snickered. But I  noticed she was watching more than just James T. Kirk. Try as she might to hide it, and this is important, she was actually watching the film.

That’s all I could ask for — enough gloss to keep a noob interested while my inner geek whooped and jumped up and down like a first-grader at recess. And Abrams delivered, making the most accessible Trek flick of the franchise (rivaled only, in my opinion, by First Contact).

That’s great, because I certainly paid for it. We shelled out $19 to get the digital version, which looked and sounded magnificent, and then another $13.75 for two boxes of candy and a single frozen Coke.

In exchange for that huge hunk o’ cash, I got a Red Shirt death, the return of Leonard Nimoy, and an introduction to characters that didn’t devolve into Starfleet High School: 90210 Edition.

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There was also a surprising amount of Star Wars tossed into the mix — and I mean the good ol’ A New Hope, not the George Lucas-needs-a-new-yacht variety. My spidey sense went off when an impressionable Kirk zoomed across the Iowa farmscape on his motorcycle looking an awful lot like Luke Skywalker putt-putting past Tatooine moisture farms in his landspeeder. But there were other subtle references packed in as well, such as brief glimpses of exotic aliens in background shots that evoked the Mos Eisley cantina scene.

Chris Pine wasn’t nearly as wet-behind-the-ears as Mark Hamill, though. He managed to put just the right amount of immaturity into Kirk’s typical smarm and meritocratic leadership. There was a smidgen of reckless self-assurance and just the right amount of sex hound (he uttered, “Hey ladies,” just about every time a warm body walked by).

He also managed to throw in a couple of sentences in William Shatner’s trademark stutter-stopping bravado during the Kobayashi Maru sequence toward the film’s start. The timing was so underplayed that it almost slipped my radar. Or sensors. Or whatever.

Pine wasn’t even the best actor of the new brood, though. Zachary Quinto oozed Spock, managing to put a surprising degree of emotion into the logical Vulcan. For that matter, 14-year-old Jacob Kogan gets huge props for playing Spock as a child without the slightest hint of Jake Lloyd blandness.

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Of the entire crew, however, I was most impressed with Karl Urban as Bones. He felt the most relaxed, and his cranky color did the most to put me in mind of the cheesy old space opera. But while his performance was flawless, there was none of the McCoy-Spock interplay, the bickering, the affection-padded insults that made their relationship so much fun in the 1960s series. I missed that, and hopefully the two planned sequels will explore that side of their friendship.

In its place, Abrams and company wrote in a surprise romance, and I very much approve of the Uhura-Spock coupling. You heard that right. Spock and Uhura making out.

The predictable model for the film would have been to allow Kirk to woo and win the at-first unwilling Nyota. But not so here. Spock gets the girl. He gets her good. And the writers chose to skip over the beginning of their fling and jump straight into the midst of a mature, nurturing relationship.

Meanwhile, Chekov and Sulu got exactly the right amount of screen time due them, which screams to me that someone who loves the old series knows how those two fit into the picture. They are the R2-D2 and C3-P0 of the franchise. But tragically ignored was Simon Pegg as Scotty, who got just about zero exposure and seemed to be needed only to get Kirk from point A to point B through some clever teleporter tricks.

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Where Trek gets really skimpy is in the villain department. Nero (Eric Bana) isn’t a particularly compelling, sympathetic, or even really substantive antagonist. He’s not a Khan. He’s no genius, or a clever tactician, or a conqueror. He’s just a mining ship captain with a broken heart, veins filled with hate, and a 129-year technological head start.

Nero”s really just there to be a Prime Mover. I guess that’s okay, because it’s not his story. I guess you could say he’s just the tattoo-faced foe who fires up the platonic Kirk-Spock love story.

Next to that, everything else is incidental. I mean, other than extinguishing Nero as a threat, nothing is truly fixed in the end.The tragedy that destroyed Romulus is not reversed through some miracle of temporal engineering, and neither is the destruction of Vulcan. Two of the holy grails of the franchise are simply obliterated, their handfuls of survivors scattered to the stars.

I actually really liked that. Billions of people died and Kirk didn’t slingshot around the sun in a Klingon Bird of Prey to gallop across time and set it right. It’s permanent collateral damage, and it set Abram’s work apart by diverging hugely from traditional Trek cannon.

I guess what I’m driving at here is that if you don’t think you like Star Trek, you should still watch this movie. It’s not The Love Boat in space anymore; neither is it barrel-chested Shatner fighting a man in a gorilla suit with the zipper showing and a fake unicorn horn planted on the forehead.

Really, I promise you, there’s very little nerd stink on this one.

If nothing else, just watch it for Zoe Saldana, who is incredibly hot:

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YouTube Cinema: Transformers the Movie (1986)

May 7, 2009

The treacherous Decepticons have conquered the Autobot’s home planet of Cybertron. But, from secret staging grounds on two of Cybertron’s moons the valiant Autobots plan to take back their homeland.

FROM JASON’S ENERGON STOCKPILE — Blah blah blah, Optimus Prime Dies. Youngsters crying. Childhood trauma. Yada yada yada.

There. It’s out of the way. Now let’s get down to some far more interesting aspects of one of the most memorable movies of the 1980s.

Watching Transformers the Movie (again) this week on my 42-inch plasma, I was shocked by how good this 23-year-old ‘toon looks. Each cell is a mash-up of deeply-inked shadow and ambient electric light washing over hard metal, and all of it comes through in the same supra-bright color I remember drinking in as a six-year-old.

The terrestrial backdrops are breathtaking, and even more amazing are the emminently-intricate planetscapes of Cybertron, Junk, Lithone, and Quintessa. This isn’t some minimalist Nicktoon. The depth of detail really is staggering: Each scene is filled with all the ports, exhaust grids, data banks,  gears, axles, and metal plating you’d expect from enormous robuts.

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Sure, some of the sequences have a ropey Scooby Doo feel (watch Soundwave carry Megatron’s body away from Autobot City). But there is more anime than Hanna-Barbera here — which makes sense, since Matrix Forever (as it’s called in Japan) was made by Toei Animation.

Toei is the powerhouse studio behind some of the most memorable anime and cartoons of the past three decades: Galaxy Express 999, Sailor Moon, Inhumanoids, Robotix, G.I. Joe, Mazinger Z, Voltron, Dragon Ball, Getter Robo, Fist of the North Star, Captain Harlock.

And through it all, Transformers the Movie is a spectacle of pure size. Everything is huge — not just Cybertron and the planet-sized Unicron, but the size of the cast, the epic battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron, the assault on the Autobot stronghold, the galaxy-spanning plot and civilizations, Devastator, the shock of the many, many deaths, the impact of Starscream’s demise, and the rise of a new leader to take season three and beyond in a completely different direction.

Who doesn’t want to see a showdown between the Constructicons and the Dinobots?

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And then there are the subtle touches that send us nerds into an orgasmic froth — like when Megatron pulls out his laser sword. Because any Star Wars devotee will know that director Nelson Shin designed the lightsabers for Episode IV: A New Hope.

Speaking of which, one IMDB dweeb really made me smile by drawing character comparisons between Star Wars and Transformers the Movie (of course, they are fairly standard Campbell-ian archetypes):

Hot Rod = Luke Skywalker
Springer = Han Solo
Arcee = Princess Leia
Optimus Prime = Obi-Wan Kenobi
Galvatron = Darth Vader
Unicron = The Emperor with the Death Star as his body
Junkions = Ewoks

All that Arthurian “hero’s journey” nonsense aside, I still think that 1980s cartoons made villains more appealing than the heroes, just like with G.I. Joe.

While the Autobots were chunky, moralistic, painted in prime colors (no pun intended), and slightly boring, the Decepticons were sleeker, all angles, and secondary colors. They also had a far more dynamic range of models — where the Autobots were, well, autos, the Decepticons were tanks, jets, guns, and even motherfucking astrotrains.

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The Decepticons also had much more social intrigue, with the morbid comedy of the Starscream vs. Megatron rivalry. None of the Autobots tried to usurp Optimus’ authority, but on the other side there was constant scheming and power-shifts.

Need more of an argument? Let’s consider the worst Autobot: Perceptor.

The robut-cum-microscope was the only Transformer my parents ever allowed me to have, saying he was non-violent and (even worse) educational. He doesn’t shoot. He just talks a lot and sees things from far away. Great power, douche-bot.

He would never have survived as a Decepticon. Megatron would have crushed him under heel for being a useless turd.

Other Autobots go down like punks in the film, taking a single shot to the chest and oozing black smoke from their lifeless corpses. Ironhide, Brawn, Ratchet, and Prowl are decimated in a matter of a 20-second space battle. They barely pull their guns.

The only other real criticism I have is that the 1986 flick suffers from a distinct lack of Megan Fox.

Oh, and that Rodimus Prime is a glorified Winnebago. WTF?!


Wallpaper of the Week: AT-AT walkers

April 10, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — The Empire Strikes Back is easily the best of the original (good) Star Wars trilogy, due in large part to the ginormous quadruped attack dogs called AT-ATs.

They only appear for a few brief scenes during the Battle of Hoth, and they’re not strictly dogs, really, but the slow-marching mecha are so animistic that it’s easy to assign them some canine properties. I mean, they’re stomping around with the “head” looking back and forth — you can almost imagine an All Terain Armored Transport wagging its tail (if it had one) as it zeros in on the rebel shield generators.

The wallpaper at the top of the page is typically-brilliant concept art by Ralph McQuarry, who I think is just as responsible for the design success of Star Wars as is George Lucas.

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This one, though, comes from a Flickr set about ATilla the dog in various poses: Getting a bath, wearing a hat, taking long walks on the beach…. Every guy loves dogs. Geeks are no exception; we’re also born with the Old Yeller gene. And a lot of sci-fi (or should I say SyFy?) finds a way to work in man’s best friend, whether it’s Boxey’s daggit in the old Battlestar Galactica, Megaman’s dog Rush, K9 from Doctor Who, the mechanical hound from Farenheit 451, or Chewbacca.

Everybody loves a dog. And any boy born in the early 1980s is going to be infatuated with the idea of mecha — I mean, how many hours did I spend watching RoboTech and Voltron? So mix the two and you get AT-ATs (or the Gobots Command Center).

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But as canine-pomorphic as we’ve made them, the cinematic AT-ATs are still terrifying in an almost zombie-like way, slowly encroaching on the rebels’ hidden base and deploying waves of snow troopers to harry the retreating Alliance soldiers. There’s no escape from their heavy, plodding assault once they land on the horizon.

I first saw the Battle of Hoth when I was four years old, and it remains one of the most captivating sequences I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t ever seen it, take a gander and be amazed:


Wallpapers of the Week: Ralph McQuarrie ‘Star Wars’ concept art

January 30, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — My father took me when I was four to see Return of the Jedi at the drive-in. It was the first film I ever saw on the big screen; from that moment on, I was a Star Wars acolyte.

No joke. I would line up my stuffed animals on my bed and they would help me pilot the Millenium Falcon through the Death Star’s infrastructure. In my mind, epic battles were waged against storm trooper legions. A long, cardboard giftwrap tupe became my lightsaber.

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Those imaginary campaigns stopped long ago, but my fascination with Star Wars backstory and its greater universe never faded. When I was about 11, I discovered a large picture book filled with artistic renderings that looked almost — but not quite — like Star Wars. There were hairy monsters that looked almost like Wookies, and a hulking figure in black that looked more like a robot ninja than Darth Vader.

These were the drawings of Ralph McQuarrie, commissioned to envision the worlds and characters and atmosphere from Geoge Lucas’ mind before they could be transported to film.

There’s something incredibly attractive about that process, watching idealized pulp imaginings change as prop, costume, and set designers wrestle to make them solid and practicable.

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So I was very excited the other day when I came on a cache of these McQuarrie pieces in a larger format. I quickly resized them, tinkered with the contrast and brightness ratios to offset some fading and dullness, and ran them through a quick crosshatch filter to make the lines a little bolder and modern.

The results make, I think, for some great desktop wallpapers for Star Wars geeks like me. Enjoy. Click any of the images for a 1024×768 version.

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Remember these? The 10 best Atari 2600 games

December 17, 2008

atari26002FROM JASON’S FAVORITE WOOD-PANELED CONSOLE — Forget Pitfall. Screw Ms. Pacman. To hell with Pole Position, Joust, and Asteroids.

I want to talk about the games that I played so much as a kid that I still dream about them sometimes at night.

My uncle had an Atari 2600 when I was three, and he introduced me to low-skill, low-learning curve classic Outlaw. Over the next two years, I obsessed over the machine whenever I was at his house. Finally, my parents caved to my whining when they found a used Atari set for a few bucks.

I didn’t give that sucker up until well into high school.

Households back then tended to only have one television. With some spare birthday money, I managed to grab a second one for $15 at a yard sale when I was seven — it was black and white only and even had a UHF dial. It was the Atari TV, and it went in my bedroom.

I pillaged flea markets. I raked through bins at the Salvation Army. I obsessed over electronics tables at yard sales. Pretty soon, $1 or $2 or $3 at a time, the old TV was swimming up to its rabbit ears in piles of cartridges. My room started to smell of the dust that burnt on the tapes’ contacts.

The Atari never went out of use during the Nintendo revolution, or even when the Genesis came out. It was, even back then, hardcore. Old school. It was where you built your vidjagame street cred.

Sadly, my mother sold it when I went to college, and I’ve cursed her blasted name down through the years. Luckily, there emulators, and you can download Stella to play any of the following games. Grab the ROMs here.

Now, I’ve shied away for the past year on posting any “top 10” lists, but here I just can’t resist. These are my favorites; I know them inside and out. And I’m sure I have the order correct:

#10 — Berzerk

There wasn’t much in the way of fragging when it came to four-bit graphics, but Berzerk gave us a primitive shooter experience in eight degrees of freedom. Like James Cameron’s Terminator, this evil robot epic was also the result of a dream. Designer Alan McNeil said the idea came to him in his sleep.

But even though Jack Thompson was nowhere to be found, the real nightmare started in 1981 when a 19-year-old boy died of a heart attack while playing. Another boy, 18, died the following year after playing Berzerk.

Personally, the great thing for me about so many low-res Atari games was bringing your imagination to the screen. The cartridge cover showed a Luke Skywalker-type figure in white blasting away at rotund robots, and back in those days you kind of had to overlay that over the screen in your mind. In a series of technological dungeons with electrifed walls, flying laser beams, and a malevolent smiley face named “Evil Otto” on your tail….

#9 — Enduro

Activision usually had top-rate games, and Enduro, though simple, was no exception. This is a speed and reflexes test — an early no-shooting twitcher. The goal isn’t to wreck other cars or fire machine guns. Instead, you just have to take a queue from Ricky Bobby and go fast.

Through sun, snow, dusk, night, and fog, you’ve got to pass 200 cars with the odometer going.

There’s not much else to say, just that the rendering, third-person view, and concept are executed so much more beautifully than other racing titles like Night Driver or Pole Position. There’s also after-game content; after hitting the magic 200, you can keep going as long as you want.

#8 — Warlords

First there was Pong. Then there was Breakout. When Warlords was released in 1980, it combined the best of all the other bouncing-ball titles by using the 2600’s paddles, allowing up to four players at a time, letting players hold and aim the ball, and adding kill targets inside the “castles.”

Warlords got a lot of play in my house because it was one of few 2600 games to let many players in on the action at the same time, rather than taking turns. Rounds were quick and fun, and rarely ended without a jaded loser swinging a paddle at their oppressor like nunchucks.

#7 — Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

There were some real loser Star Wars titles for early consoles (Jedi Arena for the 2600 being among the mind-blowingly bad ones). But watching the movies, there were a few scenes that any sane 8-year-old boy wanted to play, and I’ve always had a big chubby for the Battle of Hoth.

Face it: AT-AT walkers are pretty much the coolest sci-fi transports ever. They’re like giant dogs or horses with the ability to crush groundlings and the firepower to zap snowspeeders out of the sky. So when they tromped across the cover of an Atari cartridge, I knew I had to own it.

As the pilot of a snowspeeder (you had to believe you were Luke Skywalker and not some lame cannon-fodder Rebel), you fly against hordes of AT-ATs marching toward your power generators. Sting them on the nose enough and they’ll change colors, eventually exploding. Or you can hit their flashing sweet spot, causing instant destruction.

My only gripe was the lack of tow cable trip-wires — at least until the Nintendo 64 gave me Shadows of the Empire. But that’s another story.

#6 — Solaris

Space Harrier gets a lot of credit for its semi-3D rail-shooter asthetic. But Solaris (and Battlezone, too — which just barely got edged off the list) proved that even the Atari with its limited memory could fake 3D first-person views.

Solaris, in many ways, is just a graphically superior version of the earlier Star Raiders (both are written by Douglas Neubauer). It lets you choose outer space battlegrounds from a grid and jump there through hyperspace, as well as allowing players to skim the surfaces of planets to refuel and pick up passengers.

The rendering was super-smooth and the backdrops (for Atari, at least) were jaw-dropping. It was obvous from launch that Neubauer cared about providing a simulation experience that cheap 2600 fliers didn’t. He gave me a nice combination between Star Trek strategy and Star Wars trigger-happiness.

#5 — Cosmic Ark

They must be cows. That’s it. After years of thinking about it, they must be cows that I am trying to abduct with my UFO in Cosmic Ark.

Space cows. Possibly robot cows. You can never really tell with Atari games.

Look, this one ranks pretty high for being such an unsophisticated game. There are only two stages, repeating and increasing in velocity. In the first, the player fires in four fixed directions to ward off a meteor shower. In the second, you get to flying down a mini-saucer from the mother ship to pick up (what must be) cows from a planet’s surface while avoiding a laser field.

What really makes this work, for me at least, is the UFO mythology, four-bit though it might be.

#4 — Demon Attack

There were a lot of  bottom-up shooters in the post-Space Invaders era, but Demon Attack had by far the best-looking baddies. This was altogether different than Galaxian or Phoenix (Atari sued Imagic because of Demon Attack‘s “similiarities” to Phoenix). Instead of small enemies and fixed formations, Demon Attack presented bigger aliens in swarms of three.

The monsters, portrayed on the cartridge cover as MechaGodzillas, materialize from both sides of the screen — a novelty — and they fly in unpredictable patterns. Early in the game, they start to split into multiple aliens, and what begin as clusters of falling bullets turn into lasers.

The game would have benefited from a scrolling background or at least a starfield or planetscape. But the gameplay itself was ace compared to its competitors.

#3 — Yars’ Revenge

What could have been mistaken for a lame house fly was perceived instead as a ferocious insectoid warrior, thanks to the cover art on the Yars’ Revenge cartridge.

Inane buzzing aside, piloting Yar around is fun. The player has to use Yars’ firepower to shoot through protective blocks, get to a target, get a special missile, and then time it just right to hit the target from across the screen. A later level surrounds the target in a rotating shield of blocks (a nifty trick by programmer Howard Scott Warshaw).

That Warshaw came up with a game as clever and enduring as Yars’ Revenge is something, considering he was responsible for the uber-stinker E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. Looking back on both games, it might be fair to say he was good at coming up with pioneering game mechanics, such as using Yars’ jaws to eat through blocks, or E.T.’s neck-stretching flight.

Those mechanics kept me hooked despite the limited number of levels (the most common and tragic flaw of 2600 games, in my opinion).

#2 — Vanguard

There would be no R-Type without Vanguard.

For years, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe because it was such a good game, there didn’t seem to be any free copies floating around the used electronics circuit, so it became somewhat of a holy grail. But rarity wasn’t all. This was a truly great game to play, and offered so much in the way of variety that Yars’ Revenge never could.

There were the hordes of ever-changing varieties of enemies flying at you. There were the cave walls to watch out for, and the gas guage to keep your eyes on. There were the energy blocks that would grant temporary invinsibility (they not only made you invulnerable to enemies and lasers, but let you fly through walls, too). There was the ability to shoot in the four cardinal directions instead of straight ahead. The ship’s navigation was sluggish to add challenge.

And best of all, the screens changed from side-scrolling to top-down perspectives on varying stages to add a bit of a switch-up. There were traps and puzzles to get past.

Truth to tell, Vanguard could easily be #1 on this list, if it weren’t for…

#1 — River Raid

Maybe my obsession with River Raid had something to do with seeing Iron Eagle and Top Gun. The 80s were all about flyboys and speed. And, you know, lots of bullets and explosions.

But Activision also gave us a title that had excellent level design and gameplay gimicks to compliment the jet-jockey theme. The long river gave us non-repeating levels with increasing challenge and zero load times. Fuel was a factor, but a lot of the fun was in seeing how many fuel tanks you could destroy while keeping the needle off empty.

You could throttle up and down. There were helicopters and aircraft carriers and enemy planes and bridges to destroy. But the big problem, even though it was thematically accurate, was the Atari 2600 joystick. It was too stiff, which made flying hard. What changed the entire name of the game was the Sega Genesis.

Sega designed a D-pad to keep up with Nintendo, but the geniuses made it a nine-pin jack that was backward-compatible with the 2600. Even better, a third party made a touch-sensitive Genesis pad that made thumb-jamb a problem of the past. It also made flight through narrow river cliffs much more convenient.


Axis rancors attack Allied forces

October 30, 2008

FROM JASON’S RANCOR OBSESSION — I’ve seen some interesting wallpaper shoops lately that insert AT-ATs into World War II photos. Well, I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I couldn’t sleep Wednesday night, thanks in part to a Reese’s Pieces high, so I began toying lazily with Photoshop while listening to Dave and Joel’s Fast Karate for the Gentleman.

While I love me some AT-ATs (aka the Gobots Guardian Command Center), I’ve always had a thing for the rancor, and longed for one of the prequels to have a sequence on its home world, Domitian. No dice.

After a couple of hours toying with masks and contrast, I inserted five rancors into the ranks of attacking Axis hordes. They’re all yours. Click to enbiggen.

Anyway, it was time to do something a little lighthearted and fanciful after all the heavy political junk I’ve been posting. Hopefully, giant space monsters running amok in black and white glory does the trick.


Week of Cartoons – Day 4: Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (1985)

March 26, 2008


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jayce.jpgFROM JASON’S DETACHABLE CIRCULAR SAW — From the golden vineyards of France came Jayce et les Conquérants de la Lumière. You probably didn’t see it, even when it was imported to the US and translated to English in syndication.

Imagine taking He-Man and Transformers, putting them in the Large Hadron Supercollider in Switzerland, and bashing them together. Ta-da. You’ve got Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

This is more than just a little coincidence. Executive producer J. Michael Straczynski was a former Masters of the Universe writer and went on to do The Real Ghostbusters and Captain Power. The ‘toon’s writers also had hands in Inspector Gadget, She-Ra, MASK, and Centurions.

The premise has some pretty familiar elements: In Eternia a universe where sorcery is used alongside interstellar travel and advanced battle machines, an experiment goes wrong and radiation from a supernova mutates plants into sentient beings known as the Monster Mind. The leader of the Monster Mind, Skeletor SawBoss, drives the plant people toward galactic conquest.

The only thing standing in his way are the Masters of the Universe Lightning League, led by Prince Adam Jayce. With help from a space smuggler known as Han Solo Herc, a wizard called Obi Wan Gillian, a telepath named Teela Flora, and a wisecracking magical robot living suit of armor named C3-PO Oon, Jayce tries to defeat the forces of darkness.

Opposing him are Saw Boss’ henchmen, who can Transform change into a tank, Megatron a giant gun, a flying flail, and an AT-AT a four-legged transport.

Luckily, Jayce and company have all kinds of cool vehicles to help fight the Monster Mind. And guess what? The toys were for sale! You could own them! I had four of them! Wow! Who’s ever heard of a cartoon that has merchandising tie-ins? It was revolutionary.

The toys were amazing, though. Their schtick was that they disassembled and you could switch the parts out — all kinds of wheels, treads, buzz saws, lasers, torpedoes, grappling hooks, drills — you name it. The more you bought, the bigger and cooler custom Wheeled Warriors you could build. Mattel executives, you are geniuses. The toys didn’t really morph, though; that was left to Transformers and MASK.