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