Sunday, March 3, 2019

2018: A Year in Review

Once upon a time (like... six years ago), I did year-in-review posts for the state of my LEGO collection here. It's getting to be a while since 2018 ended, but not quite so long that I don't want to put one up, having just stumbled on the old ones.

LEGO Set of the Year:

The last time I did one of these, 9472 Attack on Weathertop was brand new and my selection for this honour. A lot of water has swept under the bridge since then. I never did get the big sets in The Lord of the Rings theme.

2018 was not much of a sets-prominent year for me, and most of the sets I bought were somewhat swiftly parted. The most striking set was one that I didn't buy for myself and probably wouldn't have bought for myself: 75952 Newt's Case of Magical Creatures, a Christmas gift from my in-laws.

I'm a Harry Potter fan, but not to the extent I'm a Tolkien fan, and even as a Harry Potter fan, I've never been into Harry Potter LEGO, so Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as a source of LEGO sets has never been something I've definitely needed. This set is really well-built, however: a dense collection of parts (for its size, the box it came in is one of the heaviest I remember) in an attractive form. Building a playset that folds into an actual case is clever, and I like the animals. Despite having NO prior need to have a Potterverse set built in my collection, this one is actually staying.

LEGO Theme of the Year:

This is a hard category to nominate. In terms of sets purchased, Star Wars and Nexo Knights were far and away the numerical leaders, but Star Wars was mostly battle-packs riding a wave of nostalgia more appropriately alloted to 2017 (when I first, belatedly, watched The Clone Wars and then Rebels), and Nexo Knights is misleading, since it's mostly deeply discounted accessory sets.

Outside of buying new sets, I didn't do much MOCing, excepting temporary things for various webcomics. Even here, Android Files took place largely in the wild, with no clear leader for intervening themes between Adventurers, Wild West, Arctic, and Alpha Team. My other comics and pictures on Flickr reveal no dominant interests.

So, what was new in 2018? Filtering my purchases on my master spreadsheet (because, yeah, I keep track of a LOT of things...), City was the only theme other than Star Wars that I bought multiple 2018 releases in. And these were a bit more substantial than battlepacks.

It's a victor by default, though.

LEGO Minifig of the Year:

It's also hard to name a Minifig of the Year. Though my LEGO time was somewhat sporadic and largely webcomic focusing, there's always some fig-fiddling going on, but if we look at what cropped up on my irregular Flickr account, we don't see a predominant theme or a prominent fig taking centre stage.

If someone must be named, then we'll look at the gentleman on the left: one of many Evil Peachies, his ever-changing nature as torsos, arms, hands, and more get cycled in and out of as new figs are added to the collection has made this former Naboo Royal Guard (he hails from the more recent Flash Speeder set) a much built-and-rebuilt fig over the past year, which was the main way that a fig could hope to achieve attention.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Rebuilding the Past - 6525 Blaze Commander

I have now, for a long time, been in an era I would call "the slow rebuild," contrast with "the Great Take-Apart" of 2004. As a kid, my LEGO sets were largely kept in their "official" form, and though they would get dismantled for an ad hoc build, they were typically rebuilt. Until, finally, I was an edgy 17-year-old* and decided to take it all apart and build my own things for good.

Well, that didn't last forever. A very select few (maybe three) sets were never demolished and eventually, there was a rebuild, a set here, a set there--starting around 2008, when I wanted my castles back and was completing my Royal Knight collection.

From there, it was somewhat inevitable that the sets of my childhood would see their native forms restored. The rebuilding slowed around 2012 or so--mostly because I thought I'd rebuilt all the sets that I'd want to bother rebuilding.

Turns out, I was not QUITE right.

Chief Castor has an encounter with two unusual fire hazards.
The photo above shows the recent fruits of this never-quite-finished endeavour: 6525 Blaze Commander and two copies of 7111 Droid Fighter. Each had its own slight elements of distinction, even if neither set was ever an All-Star (by which analogy, by the way, it is important to note that rebuilding a set isn't quite the same as voting it into the Hall of Fame--some rebuilt sets might not even make the Hall of Kinda Okay). We may talk about the Droid Fighter later; for today, we're looking at the Chief.

6525 Blaze Commander was only my first Fire set if you are willing to discount 6614 Launch Evac-1 because it was a Launch Command set. Not actually having any other Launch Command (a fantastic theme I wish I had more of) and never getting much in the way of its 1999 successor, Spaceport, Launch Evac-1 really was more of a firefighting set in my collection, and it had both a hand-held hose and a nozzle up top, whereas Blaze Commander was just a truck with a fire extinguisher in the back (and Launch Evac-1 had two of those).

On the other side of Blaze Commander's arrival, I eventually got 6407 Fire Chief, which had the exact same fig driving a slightly crappier truck (1998-2000 were not good years for Town designs), albeit one that had a fire hose (though no gear, which Blaze Commander did have).

Fire Chief Castor Cyber
So Blaze Commander was something of a forgettable set, sandwiched between two other small firetrucks, and while the character of your generic Town figs is what you make of them, Castor Cyber (as he would eventually be called on paper, since he was never really named anything in-game or in stories) was not a fortunate one, as some of his predecessors (or successors) were, who developed a story and a character and a mythology.

If Blaze Commander is a boring set and its minifig has no distinguishing features, why rebuild it? The answer for me is frequently that "I love catering to my nostalgia," but there is a bit more that could be said. While not a major player in my old Town games, Blaze Commander was the only Town set I'd owned before 1998 (it had been a birthday present in 1996) that had not been rebuilt in my collection--indeed, it was my oldest unbuilt set. As the "slow" part of the moniker "The Slow Rebuild" suggests, I don't spend many, many hours with my LEGO these days and I can't claim to be a great builder. Such use of my collection as I do have tends to focus on storytelling, mostly around my various webcomics.

Blaze Commander may not be an exciting set, but it's a good background set. It's typical of its era, mid-1990s Town sets, which is home base for the Town figs of Android Files and basically what I mean when I say "Townland." It's the only true classic Town firefighter set I own (I date Fire Chief much too late to count as "classic Town," which I see as lasting up until 1996, after which Town focuses either on fantastic subthemes, like Outback and Res-Q, or eventually devolves into Town Jr).

So keep an eye out--you never know if it might get itself a cameo!

*I have never, at any stage of my life, been "edgy."

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Minifigure Profiles: 7131 and 7141

It's been a looong time since anything was posted on this old blog--about four years. That's not to suggest I've been away from LEGO that long: Android Files, whose first season was announced in that last post four years ago, has updated averaging a season a year, and will see its fourth season debut this coming Sunday.

In addition to Android Files, which has been my primary comic, I've also seen sporadic updates on Grandfather's TaleCrossed Bricks, and Aquazone Breakfast News, all of which used to exist here on this blog and now have their own comic sites on Comicfury. I also contributed, for one year, to a joint comic with my younger brothers: Crossover Championship. This is the most esotericly in-jokey, pandering almost more to our joint knowledge than existing as something really intended for a public audience (however, more is coming starting this Advent, so maybe I should plug it more heartily than that!).

I've also been posting pictures of minifigs on Flickr for better than a year and a half--not quite as daily as the plan might have been, and certainly nothing special in the realm of either photography or LEGO building, but it speaks to my ultimate love of LEGO as the realm of the minifig and has been a good "tablescrap" of LEGO involvement for the long months of adult monotony between doing anything with my collection--"doing anything" these days being primarily focused on comic making.

What has been lacking, though, across these platforms, is the long-form writing about LEGO in any form that used to exist here, and I have missed it. Authorial comments on the comics or Flickr lacks the longer form depth that I sometimes miss, so here we are--years later--with a new post!

L-R: Pitdroid, Rey, Elf-warrior, R2-D2, altar boy, battledroid 1, battledroid 2

The subject of this particular post is a look at two sets that I got for Christmas in 1999. That was a significant end-of-the-year for my LEGO collection, because not only was it the first gift-giving season for a 12-year-old Star Wars fan, but it was hard on the heels of my first viewing of ANY Star Wars movie--friends had introduced my brother and I to the Original Trilogy in one unforgetable movie marathon and we got our parents to take us to The Phantom Menace, which was still playing in the cheap theatre, 5 months after its release.

By Christmas, my meagre cash reserves (expended earlier in the year on sets like Mystic Mountain Time Lab and Pharaoh's Forbidden Ruins) had only resulted in two Star Wars sets in my collection: the iconic 7101 Lightsaber Duel and 7110 Landspeeder: two absolutely iconic sets, some of the best value for your money of any set I've ever owned [warning: nostalgia factor is approaching critical levels].

For Christmas, I got two more sets: 7131 Anakin's Podracer and 7141 Naboo Fighter. Neither of these sets goes down as all-time favourites, but they--or, rather, their minifigs--might actually be a bit more interesting to look at because of it.

Anakin's Podracer has the dubious distinction of being identical to one-third of a much larger set, the massive 7171 Mos Espa Podrace. I never had that set, nor 2001's 7186 Watto's Junkyard, which meant that I never had (and still do not have) any other LEGO podracers for Anakin to compete with. The Attack of the Clones eventually came out, so even if I didn't already prefer Darth Vader as a minifig over Anakin Skywalker, I had "better" Anakin options to keep built in my collection, and with a collection built (especially in those days) more for play than for display, that meant both the young Anakins of these two sets were doomed to be parted.

One of these Anakins, the minifig on the far left, would ultimately end up back in my Star Wars fold after the release of The Force Awakens. Nearly a decade after LEGO's decision to shift licenced themes to flesh-toned minifigs, the heroine of the new saga did not come as a yellow-toned minifig, but my Star Wars collection has stubbornly refused to update--indeed, I have deliberately modified new human Star Wars characters to be yellow-figs rather than flesh-tones. Young Anakin's face has proven, if not perfect at least the best option I've found yet for Rey's face.

However, as my collection only needs one Rey, the other Young Anakin has ended up with a career as a Town fig, having been paired with a classic Ron Weasley hair and a plain white outfit to serve as an altar boy in my ever-unfinished parish church MOC.

Unlike Young Anakin, who reappeared in several sets over the years--and many, many more in his older forms as both Anakin and Darth Vader (in a couple of sets, twice over!), Padmé Naberrie would go many years before being released again, and is still a somewhat uncommon minifig--and, in my collection, this would continue to be the ONLY Padmé/Amidala fig down to the present day!

Despite that--and despite the fact that I do have a Padmé in my standing collection--this original Padmé has long since been sent elsewhere. Although I think it's a good head, I don't think it really looks at all like Natalie Portman, and in the intervening years, it has become long associated with an elf-warrior from my own fantasy legendarium.

The four other minifigs in the two sets are all droids, and are all currently extant in my collection, though the pit droid owes his recent re-existence to a Clone Wars-driven Star Wars mood coupled with a bit of nostalgia for some of my earliest Star Wars memories, in those days before Attack of the Clones. It's quite a faithful build, except for its scale, and made out of generic '90s pieces. I'd like to see what a 2018 set would use for a pit droid, because they would surely make it smaller, but I don't if it would be so general in build.

On the other hand, I know exactly what the droids from the Naboo Fighter would look like today, because the moulds haven't changed! LEGO perfected astromech droids in 1999 and have only ever tweaked the printing. I do use a 2016 R2-D2 as my primary R2-D2, but all my older models continue to be perfectly functional astromechs in my collection and this, the first, remains an R2-D2 by virtue of a self-entertaining loophole.

The battledroids haven't seen even a printing update, because they don't have printing! A sharp-eyed viewer will notice that I've upgraded their right arms to the newer, straight-arm options. Thanks to LEGO's propensity for including extra pieces of smaller parts, I have more than a few from newer sets. The original, side-ways-handed arms actually look better, on their own, again indicating the perfection of the original battledroid, but most guns looked ridiculous in their hands and I'm glad they eventually made the switch. These two battledroids are part of a larger army now, completely undistinguished--the only two minifigs out of these seven to fulfill exactly the same role in my collection as upon their arrival.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Android Files

So much for returning to regular posting here, huh? At least I can claim that this is because I've been busy with LEGO. As noted in the last couple posts, I've been working on a new LEGO comic, made in a style similar to Grandfather's Tale, but with (an initial) focus on Town instead of Castle.

So far, I have posted five chapters, one each of the past five Saturdays, and another seven are in production for the coming seven Saturdays, bringing Season 1 to completion in late September. I have plans for the next season, but as I have yet to fully outline it or photograph it, I will hold off from announcing a release date, as that may prove premature. (If anyone is paying really close attention, they will notice that the above image does not exist in any of the five chapters released yet. It is a pre-text-added image from Chapter VI, coming this Saturday.)

"Cactus Canyon, Part I" starts here.
"Cactus Canyon, Part II" starts here.
"Launch Evac 1" starts here.
"Slick Racer" starts here.
"Gator Landing, Part 1" starts here.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the next episode will be "Gator Landing, Part II."

Gator Landing, Cactus Canyon, Launch Evac 1, and Slick Racer are all Town LEGO sets from the 1990s, and using the names of sets that feature in each comic as the title of the chapters is a convention that I intend to follow--at least for the rest of the season. It looks probable that I'll continue with that in Season 2, but I may change my mind, or at least play with it a little. Three of the four sets mentioned so far have, in fact, been reviewed on this blog: Cactus Canyon (my most recent post, and a teaser for the comic), Slick Racer, and Gator Landing. Launch Evac 1 may well get a review someday, since like these others, it has deep roots in my childhood, but it has not been
done yet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

1720 Cactus Canyon

I've alluded in the past (not that I expect anyone to have any readers left, let alone any who remember the particulars of three-year-old posts) that my first true Town set was 1720 Cactus Canyon. It wasn't my first set (it was my seventh), nor was it the first one I would use in the Town world (that would be a Basic set, 525 or a Fabuland set), but it was and remains one of my favourite Town sets. It was also, on a note of trivia, the first set I ever received the same year that it was released, since I got this Christmas 1994.

For those keeping score at home, 1720 Cactus Canyon was released in 1994 and was an amalgam of three other sets: 1740, 1741, and 1742, which were also released in 1994. In that respect, it was much like some of the other sets of the decade, which were released in some countries as polybags under one set number and in others as boxed sets under another. Cactus Canyon has a single instruction book for the three subsets and, growing up, I never really thought of the set as anything other than a complete unit, though I was sort of vaguely aware that it wasn't QUITE a normal set--at the very least, unlike most of my sets, its picture never appeared in the catalogues of the era, a fact it shared with the polybags.

Each unit of the set has a minifigure and a vehicle. Starting with the smallest, we have a kayak (though the paddle is not a kayaker's paddle)--a very simple build indeed, with a grand total of seven elements required.

A little bit larger, certainly in the piece-count department, is the dune-buggy. This subset also includes two natural elements: a grey falcon/hawk piece and a bush--the titular cactus, I always assumed. Growing up in Canada, "dune buggies" weren't exactly a regular part of my lexicon, so this vehicle was generally just referred to as a car or possibly thought of as a four-wheeler or ATV.

Speaking of things with four wheels, the largest of the three subsets has the real highlight of the set, the truck. A fairly standard mid-1990s LEGO truck, this has always been one of my favourite vehicles in my LEGO city. It's looks a bit chunky compared to some more contemporary vehicles--and quite a bit smaller, since it hails from the 4-stud-wide standard era, but it's still pretty vroomable (the driven equivalent of swooshable).

In most sets I'd consider it a fairly minor point to bring up the minifigure accessories, especially in a theme where these are unlikely to be weapons--because who really needs to army-build guys holding walkie-talkies? In this case, however, because of how early Cactus Canyon falls in the timeline of my collection, almost all of the items pictured above were significant. With the exception of the oar (I had two in a Pirate set), each of these were the very first of their kind in my collection. The pickaxes and shovel would remain the only ones until the Adventurers theme in 1998--and it is worth noting as a sidebar that before the Adventurers were released, I did use this set to supply my town with its very first archaeologists or paleontologists, because, clearly, that's why they had picks and shovel, right?

And, of course, there were the minifigs. At this point I'll note that my choice of reviewing this set isn't pure nostalgia; it's nostalgia that's been awakened by the recent drafting of these three minifigs as the main characters in my new webcomic series (coming soon to the Internet near you). The exact characterisation of these three changed over the years, but as the first Town figs in my collection--figs who were, helpfully, not limited by a job-specific uniform, they filled many roles in many games.

From the left we have Carson Smith (who drove a car--note too the facial resemblance to the Smiths of Gator Landing and Speed Trackers), Nick Townson, and Larry, aka "Boaty" Townson. I'll only say this about the "inventiveness" of the names: yes, one guy from a Town set has a boat and was named Boaty Townson. Notably, he and the other Townson here have the same head: it was a convention in my Legoverse and my brothers that Town figs with the same head belonged to the same family. For the longest time, these were my only figs with that head, which a point of some soreness to me, because I thought the head was really cool... and my brother had five of them.

The roles they'll be playing in my upcoming series won't be 100% identical to what they would have been in my youthful LEGO games, which is probably just as well because what appeals to a 12-year-old boy is rarely universally appealling, but it is based on them to an extent. Anyone paying attention will note that nostalgia is a key element in why I create webcomics and why I run this blog. So there was really no competition for main characters when I decided to make a new comic.

In case anyone is wondering, the working title for the series is "Android Files."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


It's June now and I last posted in January, so I think it's fair to say that I've had a bit of an unscheduled hiatus. In this respect, the job situation has continued to be killer (though the continued possession of a regular income has been very nice indeed), and I don't foresee a change to that. Nonetheless, especially with summer here--and the opportunities it brings to take pictures of LEGO at later hours--I find myself wanting to get back into the blogging habit.

That said, I'm not planning to bring AqBN back as a weekly feature. I've had enough experience over the past few years to say that I don't have the requisite interest AND free time to guarantee that I could manage that, and going to a less frequent schedule would just make it easier to forget and easier to put off.

I'm not planning to end AqBN forever, but I think it will go to an "Advent-only" schedule. That was part of the problem when this hiatus rolled around: I'd been cruising so hard to make sure AqBN went up daily in December that I crashed when it was finally done--but, by the same token, while the Advent Calendar was actually still running, I had the enough momentum of interest and passion to keep at it day after day. I know I can't manage it year-round, but maybe I can do it every Advent. Here's hoping, anyway.

If I do succeed in putting things up here more regularly, it will have to be the irregular stuff: Grandfather's Tale, set reviews, and things of that nature. Maybe a Crossed Bricks or two, but for the most part I think that was an experiment that ran its course. I *do* have an idea for a new webcomic, which is a large part of why I'm here dusting things off the old blog, but I'm trepidatious of promising anything when my track record is largely built of hiatus of late.

Assuming I *do* go ahead with this comic, the idea is probably that it will be closer in format and scheduling to Grandfather's Tale than to AqBN--meaning that it would be released in chapters or episodes, rather than weekly strips, and it would have more of a prescripted arc. It would also move away from breaking the Fourth Wall. That was fun, now and again, in AqBN, but as the series progressed, I found that it was a dragging factor on keeping the series going. My natural instincts as a storyteller are not meta at all and tend to dislike mixing the consistency of an internal world with the world of the viewer. It worked here and there and will likely persist in AqBN as it continues, but I know it's not something I would want to hang onto in developing a new project.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Aquazone Breakfast News: 186

I tried posting yesterday, but Brickshelf was down (and, yes, I am an AFOL dinosaur, still using Brickshelf...).