I still remember that day in the third grade at recess when three of my best friends and I finally collected all six Constructicons and were able to assemble the super robot Devastator. It was 1985, and Transformers had officially passed Go-Bots and G.I. Joe as the coolest toy on the Kmart shelves. So what was it about those little chunks of plastic and die-cast metal made in China that totally engrossed a generation of pre-pubescent boys? Simple. Transformers were toy cars, planes, guns and dinosaurs that you could also play with as robots. Plus there was the puzzle factor and the challenge of figuring how to make the sports car turn into a robot without breaking it. Watching the animated adventures every day after school didn't hurt the Transformers' appeal either. But I'm not the only one with fond memories of "robots in disguise," because a day doesn't go by that I don't spot the logo of the Autobots (the good Transformers) or Decepticons (the bad guys) stuck to a car's rear window. For the most part, it's all nostalgic fantasy turned into modern-day adult escapism. While sitting in traffic on LBJ, who wouldn't like to dream that their Volkswagen Jetta could turn into a giant robot and blast a path through the stopped cars?
This weekend the parking lot at the Embassy Suites in Frisco will be filled with vehicles their owners wished were robots in disguise--like their favorite childhood toys. But the real robots will be inside during BotCon, the Transformers convention. (Two full days of activities are also scheduled for Thursday and Friday, but those are for club members only. Visit www.transformersclub.com to see if you're a big enough fan to qualify.) The celebrity guest list for BotCon is mostly voice actors from the cartoon series, including Paul Dobson, Wally Burr and Michael Chain. The panels and seminars will delve into the histories and the futures of the Transformers in comic books, feature films and television as well as the unveiling of the next wave of Hasbro toys. An exclusive set of action figures has been designed for--and will only be available at--the convention. Plus vendors will be pawning off their old toy collections at ridiculous prices. Competitions include the obligatory costume contest and "Transformers Idol," where contestants will audition their best robot voices for the celebrity panel of judges.
To the casual onlooker, BotCon looks like it will take sci-fi geekdom to new levels of fanboy exclusivity. Does this crowd mix well with Trekkies? Or how do Transformers collectors compare with the average comic book fanboy? Are Transformers cartoons considered anime? The answers to these questions will probably garner caustic glares, but here's one that should get a reaction: Did you cry when Optimus Prime died?