Elevating the Theme

I’ve always considered Blacktron II (aka Blacktron Future Generation) to be the weakest of the early official Space themes: the set designs were bland, the trans-neon green was obnoxious and the minifigs looked more like a pro-sports team than an intergalactic force.  It reminds me of a terrible sequel to a cult favorite film, like Highlander 2 “The Quickening” or Escape from L.A. The original Blacktron was perhaps the coolest theme ever created by our corporate overlords, it featured minifigs that still hold up with the best of today’s offerings despite not having modern features like two-face craniums or printing on the back of the torso.  Blacktron II replaced those bad-ass space criminals and replaced them with a bunch of milquetoast “B” boys who looked more likely to serve you a corn dog than steal your spaceship.  In all the years I’ve been looking at models online I don’t recall a single example of a Blacktron II done right, with the one exception of Nathan Proudlove’s outstanding SHIP from 2007.  So I was both surprised and delighted to run across the “Ghost Stealth Ship” by Stephan Niehoff.  The shape of the hull is just wicked and it somehow looks incredibly fast even while sitting still at the dock.  Every time I look at it, I hear the Miami Vice theme playing in my head.  While the accompanying diorama seems like a bit of an afterthought, it is very clean if under detailed.  My biggest issue is with the crane, the legs are nice but it doesn’t quite look minifig scale.  The simplistic lights also seem like a missed opportunity but the cargo crates are pretty nice.

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I’m a little confused by the tiny cluster of plants in the corner, they look good but it seems like there should be more of them scattered around the diorama.  The entire dock might benefit from being raised a bit, or those crates would wash away with the first decent sized wave.  The plants might look better tucked under the dock where it can’t interfere in the cargo loading operations.  The hexagonal background is a great touch, it elevates the presentation above the typical blinding-white space that is so prevalent these days.  I could probably do without the water marks and do-dads in the corners, but it seems to be a millenial thing to slap your brand on everything.

If you enjoy the Ghost, be sure to take a trip through Stephan’s photo-stream, where you will find a plethora of builds in his “Projekt Blacktron II Special Forces” series.  Although I think the Ghost is the best of the bunch, I also enjoyed the slick engine on this  “AT-04 Rhino” space-train.  One of these day’s I’ll get around to an Omnibus posting dedicated to Sci-Fi trains and this one will no doubt make the cut.  So thanks for proving me wrong Stephan, Blacktron II can be cool after all.

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39 thoughts on “Elevating the Theme

  1. Stephan’s work has been some of my favorites. The nostalgia is palpable and the Ghost is truly one of his best.

    I have to agree with the B2. The first generation was so delightfully evil that the next gen felt more like the cheer squad. I always saw the Blacktron as fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants badasses of the cosmos. More hammer than wrench. B2 was like the bureaucratic faction that managed to funnel all the funds/booty into their accounts. They were eating the Ceti Alpha 5 caviar while Blacktron ate Tatooine turkey legs without utensils.

    Still, they both looked like that they could take on those happy faced CS guys without guns by just parking their blackness in front of a Galaxy Explorer. Blacktron, any gen, for the win.

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    1. I wasn’t familiar with Stephan’s work until I spotted the boat, but I’m a fan now. I think you nailed it, B2 does seem bureaucratic, the paper-pushers of the galaxy. Don’t get me started on Classic Space, it’s my most hated theme of all time, I don’t get all the love for it except as childhood nostalgia. I still think Benny was depicted as a retard in the movies to make fun of all the “spacers”.

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      1. I agree with your take of Benny’s portrayal in the movie and, as a dyed-in-the-wool Spacer myself, I believe it is more evidence of the Global Trainheads Conspiracy Movement. Clearly the directors and/or writers were/are Train builders (mortal enemies of Spacers) and as such seek to eliminate all Spacers across the globe through intimidation, ridicule and violence. The Lego Movie was thus an important propaganda tool from the psych-ops department…

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      2. You know, Keith, one can also not get your enthusiasm for this or for that (by example, F1 MOCs that are good models, but not very interesting on a lego level. Where’s the art and personnality ?).
        But you’re free to say wathever you want on your own corner of the internet. As you’re God on Earth and Master of all things-Lego related, you’re obviously right on every single point. Obviously, your rant would be less useless if it use true arguments, but who cares today ?
        Talking about old space themes, and expecting to be taken seriously, when you dismiss the core and origin of all space theme (CS), is utterly ridiculous to say the least.
        Anyway, I’m very “happy” to learn that CS is shit and that all Spacers are retards.
        (interesting when everyone knows you mostly build space Mocs)

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      3. Thank you so much for confirming my status as “God on Earth and Master of all things-Lego related”. It’s about god damn time somebody around here recognized my greatness. As if that wasn’t enough, you keep heaping on the praise: “you’re obviously right on every single point.” Yes! again, thank you! Would yo mind explaining that to my wife?

        I’m always glad to hear from a butthurt CS fan, although I don’t remember saying CS is shit, I’m sure you’re right. Just keep shouting “SPAAAACE” or “spaceship spaceship spaceship!” and you’ll feel better. Maybe clutch your retard-Benny figure to your chest even tighter and all the bad stuff will go away.

        Thanks for stopping by the Manifesto, I hope you stick around and leave more insightful commentary on my “corner of the internet”. Maybe next time don’t hide like a coward behind some fake screen name? We’re all friends here and I love a dissenting opinion.

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  2. Keith, you have once again opened my eyes with your assessment of B2’s uniforms. I was always partial to Unitron and Exploriens with their “tube” helmet trans-green visor subbed for black. Maybe it’s our age difference, but their ship design never offended me. Exploriens had rickety contraptions that seemed for appropriate for the Clampetts than an intergalactic science squad.

    Anyway, great curating today. It’s rare to see minifig sci-fi boats, much less in SPAAAAACCCEEE.

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    1. Cheers Juan! I was a Unitron man myself, I always wished they got a second series to really explore the theme. The helmets and torsos were awesome! I agree with you about the Exploriens, rickety is just the right adjective to describe those sets. We definitely need more sci-fi boats, there is plenty of room for new ideas and exploration there.

      BOAAAAAATS.

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  3. Mr. Keith,
    If you had asked me then I could have explained that the crane operates without Personnel, so is a robot crane. The entire diorama is only a section of a base that I want to show throughout. To wash away the crates: This is another planet without major changes in the weather and the scene is created on a lake.
    Nevertheless, I can only agree in all other points, that is why I have called this series to life. B2 is evil 🙂
    Thank you for your great contribution
    Stephan Niehoff

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    1. Thanks Stephan! I’m glad you found your way over here and that you took the critique in the spirit it was intended. I never considered the fact that it might be a lake, so I’ll have to retract that point, along with the crane. I’m still not the biggest fan of the crane design, but now the scale makes sense. B2 may be evil, but you made them cool! I hope you stick around the blog and comment as you are inspired, and I look forward to your next build!

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  4. I do not understand the hate towards Blacktron 2. Sure, original Blacktron is more popular because it was first, but being more popular is the only reason for more better original Blacktron builds.

    I find Blacktron 2 colour scheme much more interesting and “space”. And that logo makes the torsos unmistakably BLACKTRON, as opposed to the generic old-style minifgs, well-designed or not.

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    1. It’s not just the popularity of B1, it was just better, it looked cool and had an edge that was entirely absent in B2. I don’t think it had anything to do with being first. If B1 had come second, it would still have been better. Where we really part company is the giant B on their chests…that’s just idiotic, the classic blacktron astronaut suit set the standard for years.

      Your mileage may vary though, thanks for weighing in.

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  5. Unto Stephan’s build, I disagree about the crane, I think it looks great and matches the style of the boat. If anything, I’d have a beef with the arm rather than the legs.

    As for the B1/B2 argument, I don’t have much say in this… I grew up with Ice Planet/Exploriens and only discovered older themes after returning to Lego. The B torso is indeed silly, it looks like a switch to a logo t-shirt and looking at a standalone fig evil is the last thing that comes to mind. The other ones though imply just that, especially with the black visor hiding the smiley.

    What’s so good about classic space? The color scheme works! (I’m talking about mocs based on it here here, the sets are terrible by today’s standard)

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    1. I was oriented in the crane at harbor cranes. It was difficult to implement this mechanism, but I am satisfied with the result.

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    2. Dear L’etranger absurde, I think you’ve got it wrong.
      Truth is : Today’s sets are terrible compared to any CS set.
      I forgive you, you’re a young leaf (and a great builder)

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      1. I never said that; by today’s standards I wasn’t implying that sets today are better than cs sets (most sets released today are dreadful aside from maybe being great part packs); what I mean to say is that they’re simply outdated in 3 departments: visual, part wise (although some parts do hold up well today) and build wise.

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    3. I’m pretty sure I said I liked the legs, that they were the only part of the crane I liked. I’ll give you the fact that it matches the boat in terms of style, I was just confused by the scale. I guess the CS color scheme works, it’s pretty basic, but just like blue jeans and a white T-Shirt, I think it’s played out and a short-cut to getting attention. Just slap a CS livery on anything from a castle to a submarine and you’ll get a hi-5 from a CS cult member.

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  6. Mr. Niehoff,

    Your B2 boat is a delight. I can not overstate my enthusiasm regarding SCI-FI boats! And a Blacktron boat? Excellent. The use of that rich dark trans green for the water is perfect. I can smell the algae from here. Methane gas wafting up off the lake surface in the chill evening air. Like Keith, I would expect that fantastic plant life to cluster around the pier. But that expectation is no doubt the result of my Earth biased world view. Perhaps it is actually a floating raft of plant life, which swims against the wind, appearing to drift across the surface of the inlet as it traps and metabolizes the schools of tiny crabfish that swim just beneath the surface. The build suggests so much in terms of possibility while showing so little in actual detail. I want to know all about the boat. Where it goes, what it carries.

    I guess I am more concerned with the knife like edge of the pier that with the cargo decks proximity to the water. As you say, maybe there is no tide, and maybe those long fast boats never move fast enough to create a wake so close to the cargo loading dock. But that edge. I mean, that boat is long, lean, and smooth. No bumpers on the hull, and no bumpers on the pier. That sexy vessel is going to get scratched up I think. Maybe the bumpers are magnetic?

    The train is likewise a treat for the imagination as well as the eye. Very utilitarian. No silliness, and yet possessed of a certain character of it’s own. Its a mean train, used by mean people, to carry mean cargo. Very cool. I would love to see it in an underground platform or a cave (pretty blacktronny places right?)

    I must admit, B1 remains the best dressed faction in SPAAAACE. Opaque black visors and nylon web gear that has been scrubbed of any organizational insignia? They have always looked like SAS to me. The Green B crew? Boy band. Total boy band! The B Street Boyz?

    But make no mistake, you sir make the Green B look GOOD!

    Attack!

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    1. First of all thank you for your thoughts. Bumpers I wanted to install at first, but for that I would have to make the Pier higher and currently my design is slightly different for the base. Now I am convinced to raise the pier and some bumpers to install, not only because you bring it up. But because it look more realistic. Just so I will revise the lights again, as they surely act to “cheap”. Nevertheless, it is difficult to insert this part in the base. Just as it is difficult to insert the rails for the Rhino, for this reason I will no roads (as I first intended) use. Firstly, the base is too small for, on the other hand the Scorpion is simply too large. And third, I would have the rails to sink into the ground.

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  7. For the record, I don’t have any Benny figure, I don’t shout “spaceship” or anything.
    I wouldn’t even define myself as a CS fan. I love CS, but not more than a million other things. Is it too late for me to apologize ? Certainly my way of expressing my anger wasn’t clever or nice. And I recognize your sick skin and your humour in your answer.
    See, I’m able to do self-criticism 🙂
    Could you do the same and recognize that how you see spacers is caricatural and unpleasant ?
    (but there’s maybe a rationnal explanation : you’re speaking only of *some* stupid US spacers… come in europe, there’s actually CS fans with a brain, you may even enjoy the trip)
    Anyway, I’ve spend hours fighting web facist trolls on more crucial issues : and I’ve done my “nervous breakdown” here. Sorry – this won’t happen again.

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    1. Crimso! It is never too late to apologize, but in my mind the only thing you have to apologize for is the pseudonym and you cleared that up. You are indeed able to self-criticize and that makes you a cut above most people. I’m not really willing to change my core opinion on Benny being a dig at the ‘spacer’ crowd, or that he acts like he has special needs, but I never meant to suggest that every CS fan is deficient in some way. I have nothing against CS fans, I just think its incredibly funny that they don’t get the Benny joke, and of course, I’m a bit of an asshole and I enjoy taking the piss out of people. Again, no worries, I hope you stick around and comment from time to time. If you wrote an article on FebRovery it would be my honor to post it. Look, if nothing else you inspired me to finally write a piece on my Benny theory and kick the wasp-nest even harder. Cheers Crimso!

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      1. Hahaha, that’s a silly theory. Sure, it coincidentally matches your theory perfectly but no, you’re reading too much into it. You can take any themed character from it, apply it to a crowd and maybe find a theory there. Afterall most characters in that movie were dumb.

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      2. 🙂 I was going to write here that I was the author of the stupid comments, but you’ve been faster, thanks 🙂
        I feel better now. If anyone could think that Keith don’t have a golden heart : well he’s got one, that all I can say.
        I would be interested to read an article on your thoughts about Benny – he may not be the best thing which happen to the spacers, on that point we’re agreed !
        About FebRovery, I’m afraid my so-so english won’t suffice to write a good article, but David Alexander-Smith had wrote an excellent article on it :
        https://buildingdebates.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/collective-conventions-and-shared-inventions-the-case-of-lego-febrovery/
        Cheers and keep on brickin’ 🙂

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      3. Cool and calm Crimso, sounds like a potato chip or sugary cereal. 😀 Hell, bring the insane and furious, we ALL celebrate it. This silly little endeavor of ours brings out the best in everyone.

        Sein, wer Sie sind. 😉

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  8. ^^ Matt, I think I’ll keep insanity and furiousness for my MOCs 😉
    Still unsure to do Shiptember… but if I don’t, there’s a risk that nobody bring Bonktron in the debates – and THAT would be a shame ^^

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  9. I’m coming in late to the party here and finding out it went on longer than I expected. I was ten when they started making minifigures and have every single CS set from the first four years it was around. So I’m hard core space nerd, yes, and I find Keith’s hatred of the theme one of the most endearing things about him. In fact years ago I purged most trans neon green visors from my minifig army because Keith pointed out how gross that color was (while discussing Blacktron 2 of course). It’s possible he showed me something I also felt but hadn’t realized or maybe he just gaslighted me with his overbearing personality, but when I look at the first years of Silver Age Lego Space (Futuron-Blacktron-Space Police-M-tron), it’s clear now how it all comes to a screeching halt with those big Bs. Especially after the rousing visual success of the M-tron M. The M works, it uses a cool font and it works that the minifigs have letters on their torsos because M is for magnet! Those Bs suck.

    More on this later.

    That boat is freaking cool.

    More space boats.

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    1. “M is for magnet!”

      This leads to another point: you don’t need a letter to stand for Blacktron when you have the color itself.

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    2. You’re right Jeff, the big M doesn’t bother me in the slightest on the M-tron minifigs, it must be the font (as you suggest), or maybe it’s just that M-tron was so much better. I wish LEGO would take a second run at M-tron because magnets are the bomb and we need more of them.

      More space boats!

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      1. One thing I’ve noted. That is not my first Spaceboat.
        Yes I know this is a topic CS, but only for the correctness.
        a

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      2. Stephan, don’t ever feel like you’re confined to the topic, we like all types of comments here to include non sequiturs. It’s a pretty cool boat, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the seats! That’s very clever to use those car radiators pieces. I hope it isn’t your last spaceboat either, thanks for the link!

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      3. Come to think of it, Atlantis had a pretty M-Tron color scheme. Wonder if that was an influence on the design.

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  10. I look at those old CS sets and the sharp angles of the ships and think of the clean designs of retro sci-fi concept art. Then I look at most of the “neo” CS stuff from the fans and see greeble vomit. Guess those old designs leave a lot to the imagination.

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    1. Greeble-vomit….yes, I’ve not heard that one before but I dig it. There are a few guys who do that ambiguous CS techno-texture very well like Pete Reid and Giddens, but mostly it’s annoying and sloppy looking.

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      1. There is no denying (no rational denying) that there is a consistent CS esthetic. And yea, I think invoking Reid and Gddens is appropriate here. They both really do carry the feeling of CS into the realm of the new and less sucky. They make CS look GOOD! But most CS builds… greeble vomit… sums it up perfectly.

        I’m putting that one on the shelf next to figbarf and rock vomit. Excellent names for tragic phenomena.

        Oh! And just to return the focus to the best part of this post: Space Boat! Yes! Niehoff, you are the man!

        Attack!

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      2. Those two fellas do excellent work (and I even have their book), but they’re still nowhere near what I imagine when I look at those sets. Shannon Sproule, Kristof (legoalbert), and Bartosz Kacprzyk (the oneman) hit closer to the 70s sci-fi style that I picture.

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  11. Hey y’all. Seems like I’ll definitely have to check out the business going on here more often! Fun discussions and all sorts of nice posts 🙂 Nice reading Keith and of course, wonderful work again from Stephan. Can’t wait to see the whole thing combined.

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