Category Archives: Blacktron

“Some People Call Me A Space Cowboy…”

Even awful Steve Miller Band songs can occasionally inspire a LEGO creation.

I know “The Joker” is a very popular song from its era, but it’s never really scratched where I itch, personally. But when the first line came on the radio as I drove to my LEGO User Group meeting, I started thinking about the possibilities. My personal builders’ rallying call is something along the lines of “Space Everything”, so… space cowboys. Literally.

Shootout at the Space Corral

As an Englishman living in Texas, I’m surrounded by cowboy culture. The Fort Worth stock show and rodeo. People who wear cowboy boots. People who wear stetsons. Everybody and his brother’s cousin’s dog in their stupid pickup trucks. People who actually own cattle – in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which is one of the larger urban conglomerates in the entire US. The whole Western genre. The entire Country music scene. Now, there are a few good Country songs, and I enjoy the occasional Western, but really, the entire cultural landscape is as alien as HG Wells’ Martians tramping through the English countryside.

There are two basic ways of dealing with the alienness: assimilation or resistance. Either you assimilate and learn cowboy, at least culturally speaking, or you return to your cultural roots and become a sort of professional Englishman.

Resistance is not futile.

“Draw!”

A creation like this could be taken as either the product of a final blended assimilation of worlds, or a sort of ironic joke on the whole subculture. In actuality it’s something of both. Merging different genres is something I do, and usually results in an interesting creation, but there’s a certain amount of visual irony involved in the Blacktron vs Space Police shootout, the rover shaped a bit like a stagecoach and the robot cactus. And the horse-shaped antigravity speeders tethered outside the saloon.

 

Mustang speeders outside the saloon

Robot cactus. Because no Western scene is complete without a Saguaro.

Using my two tan baseplates for what I think is the first time (my kids use baseplates a lot more than I do), I started out with the saloon and then expanded it into the stagecoach area. Starting with the Saloon sign and then building a façade like that in any classic spaghetti Western, I initially planned the model structured entirely around the Shootout at the Space Corral, but then the model started to get overpopulated with minifigures as I added more and more, and I realised I had to expand onto another baseplate.

But the resulting two-plate creation was a bit sparse, so I had to build more stuff. This is not a problem.

If I had four or five of the Gungan steeds from the Phantom Menace sets, they’d make a pretty good herd of alien cattle, but I don’t have any, let alone 4 or 5. Thus, the stagecoach rover. Building a rover that recalls a stagecoach was actually pretty fun; you don’t see too many Classic Space stagecoach rovers. I think it’s the elevated driver’s position that sells it; the rover itself isn’t all that stagecoachy otherwise.

The Stagecoach rover. Not a great angle, unfortunately, but the overall shots give the idea. Note the alien prospector in the background.

It might be fun to expand this still further and incorporate a real Space Cowboy herding Gungan steeds, but those Gungan steeds are relatively expensive for what’s basically a single brick, and I have other purchasing priorities.

It’d make a pretty good display, though.

I’m quite pleased with the horse speeders. Loosely based on the Nexo Knights’ hoversteeds, they’re my own design because we only got two of the sets from that theme and neither included a hoversteed that I could adapt. Anyway, I prefer to create rather than copying whenever possible.

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The Dark Underbelly of Classic Space

The System. Brightly coloured business tyranny of a half-dozen ruthless transcorporations who dominate and control human exploitation of the solar system.

Bound over to a Dark Side hypercapitalist creed of profit maximisation at the expense of individual lives and freedoms, the System owns everything, dividing up the worlds between the several megacorporate business interests and enforcing their will through both the theoretically independent Space Police organisation and internal transcorporate security forces.

Despite occasional turf wars and bloody takeover battles over the control of their various subsidiaries, the half-dozen major transcorporations collude as much as they compete, with the directorates of Bencom, TransOctan, Lagrange-Lunacorp and the others in full agreement over the basic tenets of their pseudocapitalistic corporate feudalism and its overall expression in the System.

A growing protest movement has emerged, using stark black as a unifying colour in reaction to the brightly-coloured transcorporate liveries used by the major economic players, and bearing a triple-triangle emblem representing the ancient French Revolutionary battle cry of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”. Dubbed “Blacktron” by the Bencom-controlled media outlets (who tried to pin the blame for the disturbances on the TransOctan Group’s takeover of Bencom’s financial subsidiary Atlas Solutions), the protesters are drawn from a cross-section of idealists and radicals across all the major transcorporations up and down the economic ladder.

Ruthlessly suppressed by transcorporate goon squads with the full support of the Space Police organisation whose mission is in theory to uphold the last vestiges of real law in the System, the movement spreads underground by word of mouth, liberated communications and graffiti scrawled on outpost walls, a David-and-Goliath alliance of motley rebels who may be the last best hope of humanity…

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Several of my recent builds have been tied into my dystopian Brightly Coloured Tyranny universe in their descriptions, but this is the first time I’ve specifically built anything that couldn’t be a more generic Neoclassic Space creation.

Since the System is a Brightly Coloured Tyranny, it’s a fairly certain bet that anywhere out of the direct eye of the directorate classes is going to be underfinanced and broken-down, and it’s actually been a lot of fun putting together a ramshackle, tumbledown version of the Classic Space theme. It’s also let me bring in colours that never usually belong in a Neoclassic Space build; most significantly dark grey, but I’m also making judicious use of flat silver and dark tan.

There are quite a few fun little details here. The guy riding the speeder bike looks absolutely terrified of the Space Police officer. The officer does look rather brutal – she’s actually Cyren from the Ninjago theme, and the only yellow head in the entire build.

There’s a security camera on the wall, casting a roving, Big Brother eye over that part of the build. Predictably, it seems in far better working order than the various lighting fixtures, half of which have missing or broken bulbs.

On the middle level are the armed transcorporate goon squads, behind their dehumanising black visors. If the traditional polarity of “Classic Space good, Blacktron bad” is reversed here, then it’s the Blacktron who need the humanising touch of being able to see their faces and the Classic astronauts who need the darkened visors. Or at least the transcorporate security forces.

Down below, it’s a lot more ratty and grim-looking, with dark grey (new greys throughout as usual) predominating and more dark tan. Here are the Blacktron protesters, one of whom is being gunned down by a blue-suited Bencom enforcer. The protesters have homemade signs, both because I’m a cheapskate and because I wanted the look of hand-drawn signs. With one protester down, I figured a little blood wouldn’t be out of place, even if it ups the classification rating somewhat. This is the first time I’ve built anything with bloodstains in it; normally I stay within the boundaries of a Universal/General rating.

The Futuron dude looks suitably horrified at the brutality of the transcorporate security forces; the Brightly Coloured Tyranny universe isn’t a simple case of Blacktron versus the world, but a more complex and nuanced world in which some of the brightly coloured astronauts might be sympathetic civilians, or System partisans, or apathetic, or anything in between.

I’m not sure “I hope you like it” is the right thing to say with a build like this, but you know what I mean. It’s a gritty and dystopian build, but I’m really satisfied with how it’s turned out.

Black Viper

The clean, conventional lines of the Colonial Viper are most unBlacktron, really. However, having built a Cylon Raider (1980s version) in Futuron colours, a Blacktron Viper does complete the symmetry.

This isn’t a straight copy of the Colonial Viper, either the original version or the reboot, but like my Futuron Raider, it’s definitely in the “inspired by” category.

Blacktron I hardware tends either toward the sleek and streamlined (like the Battrax) or the nastily unconventional (cue the asymmetricity of the Renegade); and while this is smooth, the shape doesn’t give quite the impression of sleekness and is certainly a very conventional, hero-type design.

However.

As I’ve been mentioning on this blog, in these parts at the moment the Blacktron movement is a heroic rebel Alliance rising up against the brightly-coloured tyranny of the System and its shiny Classic astronauts (frowny faces punishable by Disappearance). And in that inverse version of the Classic Space/Futuron/Blacktron shared universe, the conventionality of the Viper-esque lines make a certain amount of objective sense.

Or it’s a sophisticated visual irony and the Blacktron are their usual bad selves.

Either way, I built a Blacktron Viper to go with my Futuron Raider. And of course, I had to take a pic of them facing off.

I think that with this creation I’m done with this mini Classic-Space-meets-‘80s-Battlestar-Galactica kick. Though I do wonder whether a Blacktron Battlestar would work…?

Brightly-Coloured Tyranny

Blacktron bad, dark, evil, chaotic. Classic Space/Futuron/Space Police good, light, ordered.  It’s pretty much standard for interpreting the (lack of) story behind the shared universe of the earliest LEGO Space themes.

But what if we’re wrong?  What if the Blacktron are the good guys?

Yeah, they wear black and have ships with slightly sinister-sounding names like “Invader” or “Renegade”, but so what?  Batman wears black.

This would make the Space Police an evil instrument of tyrannical oppression, which TLG weren’t going to do back then (still probably aren’t) because they don’t want to be accused of teaching kids that regular street cops are villains.  However, we’re AFOLs, and we can do things with LEGO’s products and universe that might not be completely kid-friendly and inoffensive.  The idea of a tyrannical government and oppressive police force isn’t a new one and ought not to shock anyone.  It’s even been used in children’s literature: CS Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had the tyrant Witch Jadis’ chief wolf Maugrim be “Captain of the Imperial Secret Police”, to say nothing of more recent vintages like The Hunger Games.  I think even quite young kids can separate out police in a story from police in real life, especially in a fantastical or futuristic setting, though I can see where a toy company like TLG making their own, non-licensed merchandise with no tie-in to a particular story might not want to go there.

The more I looked at those old catalogue pictures and all the smiling happy faces of the astronauts, the more they looked like Lord Business’ propaganda in The LEGO Movie.  Maybe it’s because I spent some time in the former Soviet Union, but I was suddenly struck by a sort of New Soviet Realism take on the old catalogue images, complete with potential sloganry:  “Working Together For The Greater Good”, or “Bringing Peace To The Galaxy”, or “Be Happy; You’re In Spaaaace!”.  Unhappiness punishable by disappearance.

Developing the idea, I was originally going to call my Classic Space dystopia a “Federation”, inverting the moral polarity of the term that’s been adopted by fans for the Classic astronauts’ political unit ever since Reid and Goddard’s LEGO Space: Building the Future.  Possibly before.  But when I started thninking about how it might function and what the different suit colours represent (genetically determined caste system?), I had an alternative idea.  What if the “Federation” isn’t really a thing at all?  What if the different industries that make the civilisation work are divided up between massive megacorporations run by single corporate dynasties – a sort of Ayn Randian hypercapitalism gone horribly wrong, administered by the Yakuza and the Mob, with a Soviet-esque approach to information control?  Each suit colour might represent a different megacorporate First Family, with different industrial specialisms; for example the white suits might represent some kind of energy/resource extraction corporation – a TransOctan, if you will – whereas the blue suits might be an information-controlling media and communications giant – Bencom? – that manages the propaganda machine.

Welcome to the transcorporate brightly-coloured tyranny of the System.

In such a world, you can imagine that the Revolution picked black as a unifying colour, and countercultural, aggressive ship names that stand the shiny oppression and corporate propaganda of Dark Side rogue hypercapitalism on its head.  The Blacktron movement might be something akin to a political revolutionary movement – not socialism per se, because it’s the future and I’m sure they have new political movements.

Cernunnos-class Blacktron mech

I’m trying to write a story set within this universe, something like Peter Reid and Tim Goddard’s Building the Future, but kind of inverted.  I doubt the LEGO Group would fully approve of what I plan to do, but there are advantages to having no real plans to publish…

Like Reid and Goddard’s book, but unusually for me, all the action happens within the Solar System.  Even as a kid I usually interpreted the Classic Space theme as taking place on an interstellar level rather than merely interplanetary, but the requirements of story overrule.  However, my version of the Solar System is a lot more extensively colonised, including outposts on Mercury, asteroid bases carved into the interior of Pallas, nitrogen and hydrocarbon harvesting on Titan, and of course the usual suspects on the Moon, Mars, Ganymede and in orbit.

Exploring the surface of Mercury: the “Hellsuit” mech

Earth has an orbital ring (which I may try to build a section of): the Bifrost Ring.  I was initially considering multiple space elevators until a friend suggested this concept, and after doing some investigations I have to say I’m sold.

Massive megacorporations control everything, which is less cool, but that’s the essence of this universe.  There is a rebellion in the shape of the Blacktron Alliance, because stories thrive on conflict and I’m not going to leave the future in the hands of evil corporations if I can help it.

And the very first ventures beyond the Solar System are taking place:

Orion One transsolar explorer flying by planet Futuro

Horned Mech

Cernunnos-class mech in its service gantry

The Cernunnos-class mech is a versatile combat walker used by the Blacktron Alliance.

Named after the horned god of Celtic mythology, the Cernunnos derives its name from the antlerlike combination weapons mountings attached to the head area; the possession of antlers being one of the distinguishing marks of both Cernunnos and his later form Herne the Hunter.

The Cernunnos mech’s versatility means that it is often found performing planetary exploration duties for the Alliance, as the Blacktron tend to have fewer dedicated exploration and science mechs. The chest-mounted quad plasma pulse cannon mounting can easily be exchanged for additional sensors to facilitate this role.

The stafflike device often carried by Cernunnos mechs is a combination of targeting array and a high-powered broad-spectrum energy beam; the device’s supporting pole is also robust enough to serve as a close-in physical weapon in its own right.

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Apparently I’m still in Blacktron mode, this time with a mech. Originally this was actually going to be a Blacktron-variant space minotaur mech, which is why I reprised the foot design of the steampunk Mechnotaur. I do like the combination of those large beast foot elements with the reversed clip claws to make a cloven hoof.

However, I couldn’t find a (technically) shoulder-mounted weapon design that looked sufficiently like bull’s horns. The gold prong elements I used for the steam Mechnotaur obviously weren’t going to work with Blacktron I colours, and I didn’t like any of the alternatives I came up with.

Repositioning the final one of these aborted designs one last time in an attempt to see if it looked any better at a different angle, I was suddenly struck with the thought that it looked a bit like antlers.

“Maybe not a space minotaur then, but a Cernunnos, perhaps,” I mused, and made some additions to the horn design in order to make it look even more antlery.

I’m not sure whether cloven hooves are an attribute of the Celtic horned god, but it does work. Deer have cloven hooves as well as bulls, and I like the way the legs are way too much to mess with.

So having settled on a Celtic mythology-themed Blacktron mech, it somehow seemed like it needed a Druidic staff. A mech with a staff seems a bit strange on one level, but I like the look of it so it’s staying. So I have an antlered mech with a ginormous staff weapon.

And I decided to build a sort of servicing gantry to display the model, because I’m finally tumbling to the importance of scenery in displaying a cool model to best effect.

One Brick On Top Of Another

12×12 is a nice size for a scenery square or room corner. It’s big enough that you can exhibit repeating patterns and really give a sense of a larger area, but small enough to be manageable.

I originally built this to showcase my Classic Space robot George, only to realise that light bluish grey wasn’t necessarily the best background colour on which to display a light bluish grey robot. Honestly, you’d think I was slow-witted or something.

Still, I was quite pleased with my scenery-building, because it’s something I always feel like I suck at or don’t have enough pieces for. And once you have a piece of scenery you can use it for numerous purposes. It doesn’t have to be a display case for any one thing in particular.

 

The three 2×2 jumper plates with which I graced the top of the walls were originally placed there because I couldn’t find enough flat tiles just then, but then I realised that it would be quite easy to build a stackable second storey to be held on those 3 studs.

And thus began the modular stackable space scenery.

The balcony storey came next, because I liked the idea of an upper walkway overlooking some cavernous room of which this is but a corner. At only 3 studs wide, there’s not a lot of room up there, but it does its job. I think my favourite part of it is the handrail, actually.

After that I built a roof, and then, running low enough on 1xwhatevers in light bluish grey for more walls, I decided to shift colours and go to a rough-hewn dark bluish grey mining area.

So now I have 3 storeys of stackable modular space scenery, ready for whatever I want to do with them…

The Dragon of the Spaceways

Dragon-class Battlecruiser of the Blacktron Alliance

Ever since I built my Elemental Dragon of Classic Space back in January of 2017, I’ve been contemplating a Blacktron counterpart, but so far I haven’t produced. I’ve made a couple of abortive false starts, but nothing that’s actually any good.

This past week, however, it occurred to me that the hypothetical Elemental Dragon of Blacktron wasn’t the only way to combine Blacktronian spacecraft design with the idea of dragons.

Borrowing some of the more ornamented design ethos of the Sunhawk-class (but with a vastly different actual design), this Blacktron battlecruiser was designed around that decorative dragon’s head form of the upper frontal hull and then took in the bat-wing vanes toward the rear. I was initially half thinking about a raised dragon’s tail at the rear as well, but then I built the ship’s engine section a little differently to what I had thought after those rather Y-Wing styled engines took shape, but then I realised that I could still add the tail so I did.

But it didn’t look as good as I had first hoped so I removed it again.

At 32 1/2 inches long (which this handy LEGO stud calculator calls 103 studs), the Blacktron Dragon-class battlecruiser turns out to actually be a SHIP. I was slightly surprised at this because I’d got hold of the idea from somewhere that 100 studs was 37 1/2 inches, not 31 1/2, so some of my previous SHIPs and near-SHIPs get their stud length estimates revised upwards. The horribly designed Liberator is still 101 studs long (I measured that in studs to begin with), and Dark Pegasus clocks in at 126 studs.

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The Blacktron Alliance’s smaller absolute size compared to its sprawling Federation adversary has made it far more aggressive in its interstellar dealings due to its perception of the size disparity as a disadvantage.

When it comes to large combat ships, however, the size disparity tends to go the other way and pile it on: Blacktron spacedoing dreadnoughts and battlecruisers are often more powerful on a class-by-class basis than their putative Federation Space Fleet counterparts, and almost always proportionally larger to make up for the smaller number of hulls that the Alliance is able to field.

Federation officers going toe to toe with Blacktron dreadnoughts often report the ship size disparity to be somewhat intimidating, and it is perhaps due to awareness of this fact that later Blacktron vessels have the designs that they do, a prime exemplar being the latest generation of Blacktron battlecruisers of the Dragon class.

It should be said, however, that the Blacktron Alliance has always had a more flamboyant design ethos than the stark functionality favoured by the Federation (compare the Federation’s Galaxy Explorer class with the similarly-sized Blacktron Renegade), and many observers see the more ornamental design of the Dragon-class as merely a continuation of that flamboyant attitude.

The class is recogniseable not only for the characteristic dragon’s head design of its upper forward hull, but more importantly for its massive spinal graser weapon system. For more conventional weapons, the Dragons are armed with 2 dreadnought-calibre antimatter accelerators and 12 battlecruiser-calibre laser cannons in dual-mounted turrets, backing these up with smaller secondary weaponry serving as antifighter and antimissile defences.

The initial production run of the Dragon-class currently stands at twelve vessels: Jormundgand, Ouroboros, Tiamat, Smaug, Weng Chiang, Mnementh, Gojira, Quetzalcoatl, Night Fury, Leviathan, Kongyong and Strabo.