Sunday, September 4, 2016

Marvel's Civil War II is even stupider than the first one

Mainstream comics are inherently ridiculous, which is probably why I enjoy them so.  Lately, by which I mean for at least the last decade, the trend from Marvel and DC has been to have a big "universe changing" event that mostly happens in it's own limited series, while splashing out into the majority of other titles being published at the time.

Probably the first that I really followed, at least as an adult, was the first Civil War series. Brief synopsis: Lesser known superhero team fights a team of villains, and an entire school full of children get called, backlash is that the government institutes mandatory regulation and training of anyone that tries to be a superhero, Captain America is against, Iron Man is for, they fight. I tried to read all of the tie-in books, but ultimately got really annoyed when different writers decided to write the same character, at roughly the same time, and get them completely different. If you read the chronological order, you go directly from one issue where Stark and Cap say: "We have our different opinions and we respect that." To the next where the President tells Stark that Cap's opposing the registration act, and Stark says: "I'm going to put him down."

This is also my first exposure to Iron Man being the biggest asshole of the Marvel universe. To help in his fight against Cap and his rogue Avengers, he clones Thor from a strand of his hair that he secretly stole and kept for such an occasion (Thor was long gone, doing Thor things) replaces most of his brain with a computer, and gives him a fake Mjolnir that he built. Fake Thor is then the perpetrator of the only thing more important in a crossover event than heroes fighting heroes: The death of a character that's popular enough to be recognizable, but not enough to merit his own title. Here we had Bill Foster as Giant-Man who gets killed by Fake Thor.

I like and dislike crossover events for kind of the same reasons. They pit hero against hero, which is kind of counter to how heroes are supposed to work, but it's also great to finally get to see them fight and see which is stronger, etc. Recently Marvel did Infinity which lead right into Secret Wars, which were both amazing, and made me forget my previous dislike for crossover events. Now we have Civil War II, which I kind of feel exists purely because there was recently a Marvel movie that had the same name.

Now, let me tell you what was going on in Marvel comics right before CW2 kicked off. Steve Rogers had long been "drained" of his super soldier-serum, and was working for SHIELD as commander, and had handed his shield off to Sam Wilson, who was previously The Falcon. After an encounter with a reality warping child, he was killed, and then resurrected all super-soldiered up again, but also secretly an agent of Hydra (there are reasons, which are actually kind of fun, but beside the point.) He assume the name of Captain America again, but decides that it's okay for there to be two of them.

It seemed pretty natural to me, that Hydra Cap would get involved in some kind of event or initiative, and be on the more restrictive side of it. Nope, he's not involved in Civil War at all, other than half a page where he says that his involvement in the last one was enough for him... Okay. So, yeah, Civil War II starts up because of a new Inhuman that shows up with the ability to predict the future. He predicts a couple of near catastrophic events, and all of the heroes are there and ready, so the world is saved. Captain Marvel, fan favorite badass with realistically normal emotions and morals, comes down hard on the side of predictive justice. "Let's use this information, incarcerate people that are about to do something until the time has passed, and then let them out again." Tony Stark, on the other hand, is our voice of reason, kind of, initially he has concerns with where these visions are coming from. Is he actually seeing the future? Or is he somehow processing information and algorithmically extrapolating the future? "That's dangerously close to profiling." Is almost an exact quote of Tony Stark. Which based on his past, it feels like he's fighting against that, almost purely because someone told him that profiling is bad, not because it's what he actually feels. Although he does express, later, that he got involved in the last Civil War, and he end up being on the wrong side. So maybe he's acting against his leanings intentionally, Regardless, after doing all kinds of scans, it's revealed that Ulysses, the aforementioned Inhuman, takes in all kinds of information from the universe on every wavelength, and processes that information to come up with his predictions.

There's all sorts of questions to be asked about that: Once the vision has occurred, has the future been altered enough to invalidate the prediction? How accurate are his predictions? Are they subject to personal biases that he might have? By averting one possible future, are they opening themselves up for something worse? So far, none of these have been answered yet, some of them are used as philosophical arguments about acting on the visions too much.

So far, two deaths have occurred as part of this event. The first is surprising, and surprisingly non-sensical. Bruce Banner is formerly the Hulk, Amadeus Cho, supergenius friend of the Hulk, somehow sucked all of his Hulk-iness away, and is now the Hulk. Ulysses has a vision that Banner Hulks out again, and kills all of the Avengers. Literally every superhero shows up on his doorstep, and says: "Hey buddy, whatcha been up to? Working on anything gamma related?" Banner gets angry at everyone's lack of trust, and then Hawkeye (Clint Barton) assassinates him with a damn arrow, designed by Banner to kill him should he ever Hulk out again. "Was he, wasn't he?" is the big question, and Barton goes on trial, and is ultimately acquitted since no one can say for sure.

The second death, which has been getting a lot more publicity, is that of James Rhodes, AKA War Machine. In this instance, they get a prediction that Thanos is going to raid a facility on Earth, and kill everyone in the process of stealing something gizmo.

Now, let me talk about Thanos for just a second, if you're not much of a comic reader, you might know him from his brief appearances in the first Avengers movie, and as the guy behind the scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos is quite possibly my favorite villain of all time. Physically he's strong enough to go toe to toe with Hulk. Intellectually, he's a super genius, he has access to any alien technology you could probably think of, and is capable of developing his own. While he's generally very technology oriented, he's not opposed to getting down and dirty with a bit of magic as well. He's long had an association with Mistress Death, who is an intelligent embodiment of death, he is infatuated with her, and she has brought him back from the dead on numerous occasions to do her bidding. He has occasionally filled in as something called the Avatar of Death, basically her champion in the affairs of the universe. On top of all of that, he's quite unstable. He's frequently the villain of the story, although occasionally he works with heroes to save the universe, where he resides, or to get revenge against the true villain of the story. He always has a plan, and frequently he succeeds in his plans, he has actually destroyed the universe, at least once, but then built it again, because he changed his mind.

I spent a paragraph talking about how stupid powerful and evil Thanos is, because the group of people they brought to fight him approaches Star Trek "away team" levels of stupidity:

Blue Marvel: He's living Anti-Matter. Among lots of other things, this makes him very difficult to hurt, and nearly impossible to kill.

Spectrum: She's living light! See above

Captain Marvel: She's pretty tough, she could probably survive getting punched by the Hulk, so okay. Apparently her powers also work by absorbing energy, and then spitting it back out. A big part of their strategy was to let Thanos shoot her with things, and the she would throw it back.

She-Hulk: I don't mean to be sexist or anything, but she's frequently shown to be less strong and durable than the Hulk. As much as I love her character, she wouldn't be my first choice for a fight with Thanos, since I doubt he's ticklish, but she's not the worst.

Dazzler: She's a normal mutant, her only power is that she can convert sound into light. Literally she's a character that was introduced a disco star. Light can do a lot of things, but I really don't think she belongs anywhere near a fight with Thanos

Medusa: She's the queen of the Inhumans, has intelligent control over her hair, its not made of snakes. For most of my teens, when I was reading very old Fantastic Four comics where she was sometimes a villain, ally, or even a member of the FF, I thought her hair was just normal hair, that she could control and had a lot of. Recently I've discovered that it's stronger than steel, basically her hair constitutes more mass than the rest of her body, and it's all individually manipulable steel wires that are microns thick. She still doesn't belong in a fight with Thanos, she's the queen of the Inhumans. The number of people that she could tap that would be better suited for this fight than her is staggering. Not the least of which is her estranged husband, Black Bolt, who is functionally a mute, because if he were to speak at a normal volume, his voice could destroy the west coast. Hey! Maybe he could scream at Dazzler, and she could convert all of that energy into a focused light beam and cook Thanos? No, he's not there though.

War Machine: James Rhodes is a good guy, a better guy than Tony Stark. He's wearing a heavily modified castoff Iron Man suit, who knows how far out of date. As far as Thanos goes, this is a man, in a can.

I think there might have been a couple of others, but they're not that important, and I don't have the book handy to recap.

So, this goes about as well as you could hope. They do manage to capture Thanos, although when you're dealing with Thanos, who knows what he was actually intending to do. He could have a machine that gives him even more accurate predictions than Ulysses. Actually, I'm fairly certain I've read comics where it's confirmed that he has that kind of technology.

Sorry, side track. Thanos, of course, doesn't just give up when he is confronted by group of Earth heroes with varying levels of fabulous hair. After losing his gun that he was carrying for some reason, he punches War Machine in the chest, and crushes him to death. This makes the missile he was launching go wild and hit She-Hulk in the chest. War Machine dies shortly thereafter, and She-Hulk is in critical condition, every comic which mentions her states that she probably won't survive the night.

So, THIS incident, where a bunch of people willingly decide to take on a mad god is the rallying point of whether or not predicting the future is bad. Not the guy who was murdered by his former friend for something that he might have done.

Yeah, crossover events are kind of stupid.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Strong Female Protagonist is a webcomic that everyone should be talking about

If you're still somehow following this blog after three years of inactivity, two things:

1. Surprise!

2. I'm very curious to know who you are, so leave a comment, or reach out to me in other ways.

I'm planning to do some more writing here. Basically, I have thoughts that are too long-winded to put on Facebook, or bug people by sending them in emails.

First up! Strong Female Protagonist is the most interesting treatment of the differences between "saving the world" in the traditional comic book sense, versus combating  problems of social injustice that us bland, real world people have to deal with.

In this universe, a freak storm occurs giving a bunch of teenagers superpowers. I like to think that this is in the same universe as the phenomenal TV series, Misfits. Just like any other story, things quickly turn into super-villains trying to destroy/take over the world, and superheroes fighting to stop them. In this world, our Justice League/Avengers stand-in is actually a government run training/education program for the more powerful of these superhuman teens that decide to work on the side of the law.

The webcomic follows the eponymous Allison Green, who has retired from the role of "Mega Girl" after having a breakthrough/breakdown during a public interview where someone asked her opinion on a matter of foreign policy. She takes her mask off, says she's just a teenager, and why does being invulnerable and superstrong make her any kind of authority on foreign policy?

Obviously, it doesn't, and she realizes that there has to be a better way to help the world than punching bad guys in the face. Now her only problem is figuring out what that way is. She knows that she knows very little about the way the world works, which is probably pretty important to rectify if she wants to figure out how to save it. So she goes to college. It's not exactly a positive experience. She faces discrimination from some faculty based off of who, and what, she is. As well as the more "mundane" issues, such as her fellow students focusing purely on passing their classes instead of trying to understand the material. She gets yelled at by a bus driver who hits her, and damages the bus "Are you Ok? Oh, it's you, you should have been watching where you were going, who's going to pay for the damages?" She gets kicked out of her apartment after she intercedes in an ambiguous situation where a girl who has maybe been roofied, but maybe just had too much to drink is about to be taken home by her date that no one has met before. The whole thing seems equally ridiculous and sickeningly realistic.

There's a lot of other interesting stuff that occurs in the background. Such as the entire super scene just kind of dies once she retires. I guess when your world's equivalent of Superman says "This whole thing is kind of pointless." It takes all of the fun out of it. The supervillains fade into the background, one is a prominent character for awhile and pretty much just becomes a CEO, which is kind of a supervillain anyway, so I suppose it makes sense. The government run super team is still technically a thing, but only has a single member, who just spends most of his time putzing around in his lab.

Obviously I highly recommend it. The college bits in particular resonate with my repeated attempts to start a "career" through higher education, only to meet with discouragement at the amount of time it takes, and the amount of debt I'd have to rack up to accomplish anything. I also share a lot of the melancholy of Allison's realization that the world's not a bad place so much because of the bad people, but because of the majority's outright indifference, or fear of standing out by disrupting the status quo.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I think it's pretty obvious that this blog is just about dead...

Clearly this blog hasn't exactly been a high priority for me, if there's anyone out there that's wondered where I've gotten myself off to, the answer is this: My marriage of 12 years just dissolved a few months ago, and I've decided to get out of toy collecting. I might come back here eventually and keep up on reviewing other things, and just talking in general, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Thanks for reading everyone,
Bryce

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Optimus Prime World Tour Stop 8: Armada Optimus Prime

So, last time I covered Robots In Disguise Optimus Prime, which was the first Prime toy I bought as an adult, but what actually got me back into collecting was reading a Toy Fair magazine that had a feature on the upcoming Armada toy line. As I recall, the article didn't even have any pictures of the new toys, just some descriptions of a few samples, and an overall theme for the line. In the article, at least, Armada was described as the first full collaboration between Hasbro and Takara, prior to Armada, each company worked more or less independently, and would choose to use media or toys from the sister companies on a case by case basis. Most of the US cartoons were brought to Japan at some point, while Robots In Disguise was the first Japanese TF cartoon to be brought to the states.

So, what was Armada supposed to be about? The idea was Mini-cons, a new name for an old idea, which is little tiny Transformers. Look back at Star Convoy. The difference this time was that there was supposed be a greater emphasis on interaction between the smaller and larger toys. Not only were the larger Transformers going to turn into bases and vehicles for the smaller ones, but the Mini-cons would be able to attach, via a special port, to the larger Transformers, and unlock new weapons. Some Mini-cons even turned into weapons.

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This Optimus Prime is another truck and trailer combination, and a long nosed truck at that. I'm not sure how towing a trailer with treads works exactly, but there's plenty that's bizarre about his trailer. 

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Scale reference, for all his bulky look, he's actually a lot squatter than you'd think.


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Just about every Armada Transformer comes with a Mini-con buddy, there were also themed three packs of Mini-cons that were sold on their own as the lowest price tier. Optimus Prime's helper bot is Sparkplug, the name is an homage to one of the human characters in the original cartoon, and the color scheme is an obvious homage to the original Bumblebee. On average I'd say that Mini-cons are little bit larger than Micromasters were.

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On his underside you can see the "Powerlinx Port" that is used to attach him to larger Transformers. Posts to attach them come in two flavors, the first are just posts, that fix the Mini-con in place, the second have a little button in the center of the post, so that when the Mini-con is attached, it will push that button down and activate a gimmick.

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The trailer has a number of posts on it for Mini-cons to attach to, but none of them actually have any features associated with them.

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There are four posts on the top, and as you can see, it looks kind of ridiculous when you start using them all, according to the fiction, attaching a Mini-con would actually boost the overall strength of the Transformer, not just let him access new weaponry.

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And yes, the one on the right side of the trailer is actually a tiger...

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The weird bulges on the sides of the trailer are actually compartments that can open up and fit a Mini-con.

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Okay, time for a nice good look at the cab, there are a few odd design decisions, and of course they're all in service a one gimmick or another. In this shot you can you see the clear smokestacks, which I'll get into more.

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Here you've got some pretty boldly exposed electronics, this is actually an infrared emitter, which again, I'll get into later.

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And probably the worst thing, there are giant fists sticking off the back! I love this figure, but that's just lazy!

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Nothing terribly exciting in the transformation, if you've seen G2 Prime, then you know how it goes, the only odd thing is that the grill folds down on a double hinge to make his chest.

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Scale reference again, I'm a big fan of this toy all around, but I like this figure because of his bulk, he looks like he's actually built to go hand to hand if needed. One gimmick that definitely doesn't photograph well is that he's got a button on top of his head, that when pressed, causes his face plate to shift down, as though he's talking. Unfortunately mine has always been kind of crooked at rest, so it looks like he's smirking all the time.

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The chest plate folds down to reveal the Matrix. Something to note here is that he doesn't have the fake windshield on his chest, and the grill is actually the truck's grill.

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The clear smokestacks come off and combine together to make a handgun, the choice of clear plastic still doesn't benefit from it's intended gimmick, and makes it just kind of look like nothing here.

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He's also got a much larger gun that's actually stored in the trailer, honestly, this one seems to be way too big for him to handle. 

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The purpose of the IR emitter is that when you transform him from truck to robot, he sends out a signal, that if received by the trailer, triggers a transformation into its base mode. It's actually a pretty simple mechanism, the back of the trailer folds down via a motor, and everything is attached to it via hinge, so they all just kind of drop. I don't really have a good way to capture video, so I can only describe it. I'd messed with this particular gimmick for quite awhile, but it is actually really cool to see in person, even if it does result in the trailer looking pretty odd. I think it's really rare for bases to actually be good, and I think this one isn't a really good base, but it's better than a lot. It doesn't have any walls or defensive cover, which I think would be pretty important, but it does have a lot of stuff for Optimus Prime and especially Mini-cons to interact with.

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Sweet! Our first example of a Powerlinx activated gimmick.

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Attaching a Mini-con causes this gun to popped up, and then it can be aimed around. One frustrating thing about this base is that it's obviously designed symmetrically, but the gimmicks are only active on one side. So while there's a Mini-con post on the other side, and the imprint of the gun, the gun doesn't actually move at all.

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There's a sort of crow's nest at the top of the tower with a gun that can "seat" a Mini-con.

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And a man-able turret on the rear, again there's imprints of two of them, but only one is functional.
 
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The side compartments are now under the base, and on this side at least, there's a lever that can be slid in order to force a mini-con out, kind of like launching, but much, much slower.

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Optimus can also attach his big gun, and sort of man the whole base as a big gun emplacement.

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Now, here's where the big fists come into play, reforming the cab, and then folding his legs down to either side turns him into an upper torso.

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And triggers another automatic transformation from the trailer. 

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Snapping them together causes his head to pop out, and activates a neat transforming sound effect. Here's where the clear plastic gun actually interacts with a gimmick, that being that his right hand has a light in that does a pretty terrible job of illuminating the clear plastic in both guns.
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RID Optimus Prime combined with Ultra Magnus, but Armada Prime takes that quite a bit further. Pictured here is Overload, who can attach as a second trailer, and Jetfire who can rest on top of Overload.

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Up first Jetfire, one of the trends that developed in the Armada line, was features that required a Mini-con for no good reason. In Jetfire's case, he can't actually land unless his buddy, Comettor transforms into his front landing gear. That's just silly.

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Here he is in all his landing gear glory.

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As his actual alt-mode, he looks more like the Mars Rover, and is a pretty sweet little toy.

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His transformation, like most Mini-cons is pretty simply, but for his size he's pretty cool.

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Jetfire's only Mini-con activated gimmick is located on the rockets.

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Attaching a Mini-con causes some extra tail fins to popout. Making him more maneuverable I guess? Oh, wait! He's got another gimmick, he has bombs under his wings that are dropped by pegging a Mini-con onto the top of the wing. I don't know where the bombs actually are because they only just stay on in the first place, and requiring a Mini-con in order to drop bombs that are clearly already on your wings is almost as stupid as the whole landing gear thing.

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In what I think is a first for at least a US Transformer, Jetfire actually has opening shuttle bay doors that reveal a bay that could fit something, like a Mini-con in.

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I'm not going to go into transformation details, but we get another chunky robot out of it, again, I don't have a problem with chunky.

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What I do have a problem with is that for some reason they decided to paint eyes on him, rather than just a visor, which is clearly what the head was sculpted for. As it is, they look terrible.

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Jetfire ends up being taller and wider than the basic Optimus Prime.


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Now, of course, the interaction between Prime and Jetfire is not just limited to him being able to tow him. Performing a little origami...

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...and opening the nose of the shuttle up like a flower.
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Gives Prime a new pair of pants! 

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Jetfire's shield can then be attached to Prime's chest.

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And he can wield Jetfire's gun, for some reason they included a small bar that prevents it from being held left handed. Not sure why. This mode is officially called Jet Prime, but most everyone refers to it as Jetpants Prime. 

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Overload is a very odd one, even in this context.

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Since a trailer that can't move on it's own wouldn't be a very interesting toy, Overload actually comes with the beefiest Mini-con ever, Rollout. 

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As you can see, he towers over all the other Mini-cons. Although I still don't think he should have enough horsepower to pull Overload around.

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Now, here's Overload's robot mode, without Rollout. Apparently whether Overload is just a big powered suit for Rollout or his own separate entity varies depending on where you look.

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But what it comes down to is that Overload doesn't have a head without Rollout, and also a gaping whole in his chest.

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Slotting Rollout into place rewards you with the classic transformation from the '80s cartoon. Let me tell you, if you're a serious TF dork like myself, that's enough to make your wear this guy out right there.

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He doesn't have any guns of his own, but he's got missile batteries on his shoulders, which really, isn't that preferable?

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The usual suspects? Or just three burly dudes that like to plug into each other?

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And just for more comparison, the two upgrade figures next to the original supermode Prime.

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Now Overload actually has one of the coolest part swapping transformations I've ever seen. Technically all you're doing is moving his from the ends of his legs, to the ends of his arms, but you actually line up a track, and slide them from one to other, no loose parts hanging around.

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The feet then flip around to reveal some big guns.

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And the whole thing attaches to a convenient empty spot between his shoulder blades. The arms of the smaller prime even peg into wholes on Overload to hold him in place pretty damn effectively.

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And there you are, this combined mode is never actually seen in fiction, it's always either Jetfire or Overload. the Overload mode is called Heavyweapon Prime, so I guess this is Heavyweapon Jet Prime?

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One side note, not only is Rollout a Headmaster homage (little robots/people that made the heads of robots) he's also a Targetmaster homage (not a huge deductive leap, but they're little robots/people that turn into guns).

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And here he is next to the largest Primes I've reviewed so far.

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And the whole group shot, I'm pretty much tapped out for room in this little diorama, I think the next one is probably going to happen on the coffee table, and I'm not sure what my wife will say to that.

Closing thoughts: Even with all of the shortcomings and ugliness in service of silly gimmicks, this is still my favorite combining Optimus Prime. It seems to be the only time that his combination with his trailer/upgrade partners, has been an intricate transformation for the main bot, instead of just snapping on armor, or otherwise folding up into a suit