The Transformers Pointless Awards Show
I’m going to be honest with you, from the moment I had a son, I have been waiting for this to happen. My two young sons have fallen in love with the Transformers. Their enthusiasm has reignited mine, and since I don’t know how long this is going to last, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.
With that being said, and this being written during the (equally pointless) movie awards season, I present to you the following completely random list of Transformer achievements.
MARVEL COMIC SERIES MVP: DECEPTICON
Shockwave was an inconsequential lackey in the original cartoon. He was given one job, to guard the exit to the space bridge on Cybertron, and he failed repeatedly. However, in the comics, he was a certified badass, defeating the Autobots nearly on his own and seizing command of the Decepticons from Megatron.
Despite a puzzling period of being bossed around by Ratbat, and a brief stint with being dead, Shockwave returned near the end of the series to turn his Cyclopean eye towards conquest again.
(Shockwave being one of the coolest looking Transformers ever designed should not be underestimated in my lifelong fascination with him.)
Recommended reading: Transformers #5
MARVEL COMIC SERIES MVP: AUTOBOT
(Tie) Grimlock and Blaster
Comic book Blaster was very different from the light-hearted, pop culture fan version of the cartoon. He was a hardened, even jaded, warrior that was feared and respected. His two-part storyline early in the series, which doubled as a look back at Cybertron, was an early gem.
Grimlock eventually rose to the ranks of Autobot leader following the death of Optimus Prime, but any wisdom and competence he briefly displayed was quickly replaced by arrogance and intimidation. (It was kind of funny to read all these Autobot warriors that hated Grimlock, but were too scared to do anything about it. It was like a high school where all the kids were too scared to do anything about the school bully.)
Grimlock and Blaster’s opposing views came to a head when they participate in a trial by combat on the surface of the moon for leadership of the Autobots. (If those words don’t excite you, comics may not be for you.) Grimlock would also go on to play a major role in the latter part of the series, under writer Simon Furman.
(I would really love to have given this award to Ratchet, for his early role as the only surviving member of the Autobots following a deadly battle, struggling to save his comrades, but he didn’t play a major role in the remainder of the series, for the most part.)
Recommended reading: Transformers #41
GREATEST CARTOON EPISODES: PRE-ANIMATED MOVIE
(This was actually much more difficult to limit to 10 than I anticipated. The Gambler and Masquerade get honorable mentions. That doesn’t even get into some great first season episodes like More Than Meets the Eye and The Ultimate Doom.)
10. Hoist Goes Hollywood
Hoist and some of his fellow Autobots get involved with a movie project, that at one point leads to them wearing these masks…
…and ends with a pretty great scene in which Hoist uses old school movie effects to bluff the Decepticons into abandoning their current scheme.
9. Trans-Europe Express
A good old fashioned race for charity (and to see who the fastest Autobot is) turns into a battle to defeat the Decepticons. One of the belligerent human racers even grows a heart at the end, sacrificing his one-of-a-kind car to save the day. I’ll even overlook Bumblebee tying as a winner of the race.
8. The Search for Alpha Trion
Introduces the female Autobots, and retroactively introduces a love story between Optimus Prime and female Autobot leader Elita One. Also introduces Autobot mentor Alpha Trion, who would be a minor reoccurring character.
Incidentally features one of the only moments in the cartoon where Shockwave seemed like a character to be reckoned with.
Of course, it lasted but a moment.
7. The Key to Vector Sigma Part 1 & 2
Not only does this epic (at the time) two-parter bring back Alpha Trion, it showed us how new Transformers are created, and introduced two of the all-time best combiner teams, the Aerialbots and Stunticons. (I cannot possibly explain to you how excited I was when the second episode aired, after waiting a full 23 ½ hours since part one ended on a “to be continued.” Three words that never failed to create anticipation with a dash of soul-crushing impatience. No kidding, a multi-part cartoon storyline, for kids of my generation, was the most epic thing that could ever happen, every single time. Even when they would split up and air the Transformers and G.I. Joe animated movies over the course of a 5-day week, I would still watch those every single time. I was weirdly fascinated to see where they would end each episode.)
6. A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur’s Court
Rumble: “What is this place anyway?”
Starscream: “Our tomb.”
(You have to hear the way the line is delivered to find it as funny as I do.)
An eclectic mix of characters (Warpath, Hoist, Spike, Starscream, Rumble, Ravage, and Ramjet) travels back in time to the age of knights and kings, and have to find a way to produce energy for themselves (so they can fight each other, obviously). Notable for being one of the few episodes where Optimus Prime does not appear at all, and Megatron appears only briefly at the very end. (Let me state that again, the heroes of this episode were Warpath and Hoist. That would never, ever, happen on a cartoon today. Those are two of my least favorite Autobots of all time, and I can still appreciate the courage to headline them for a full episode without any Optimus Prime at all. Outnumbered by Decepticons, even.)
5. The Golden Lagoon
Autobot geologist (you read that right) Beachcomber stumbles upon a hidden natural paradise, that also happens to contain a golden pool of liquid that makes Transformers impervious to harm. This is actually a pretty profound comment on the costs of war, as the paradise is destroyed as a consequence of the Autobots and Decepticons battling over ownership of the pool.
4. Cosmic Rust
A deadly rust plague makes its way to Earth and infects the Transformers. This leads to scenes of one of my favorite things ever, decrepit Transformers occasionally losing limbs.
3. The God Gambit
The Autobots crash-land on an alien planet followed by the Decepticons, where they are mistakingly worshipped by the local populace as Gods. Subtly, this was some potentially controversial subject matter for a ‘80s action-adventure cartoon.
2. War Dawn
The naïve Aerialbots travel back to the past of Cybertron, witness the beginning of the war, and unwittingly contribute to the creation of Optimus Prime and Elita One. Also features an appearance by young Alpha Trion. This is without a doubt the most comic book-like story to ever occur in an American cartoon.
A spiritual sequel to Make Tracks, where Tracks (incidentally my all-time favorite Transformer) became friends with a youth named Raoul. I loved everything about these episodes in the city. Most of the early Transformers episodes took place in barren southwest looking landscapes, but these took place in the heart of a city. It was always nighttime, with darkly lit animation. Not to mention it featured a blue corvette that could fold out a pair of wings and fly like an airplane. The plot involved Starscream and Soundwave using a hot local nightclub to brainwash humans into working for them. All that, plus the only on-screen battle between Blaster and Soundwave in series history. Without a doubt the greatest cartoon ever produced by human beings.
INEXPLICABLE FAVORITE OF MY SONS THAT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FULLY EMBRACE
In their defense, since the live-action movie in 2007, Bumblebee has been far more cool than he ever was in the original cartoon. Bumbebee was the herpes of the original series, nobody wanted him but you couldn’t get rid of him. That alone could be forgiven, but my problems run much deeper.
I am not a tall person. As a kid, I was very small. So out on the playground, when me and the other kids were ready to play as Transformers, without fail someone would always go, “you should be Bumblebee. You have to be Bumblebee because he’s the smallest.” F**k that dear readers. I was Tracks or Mirage, and those kids could kiss my shiny metal ass.
GREATEST CARTOON EPISODES: POST-ANIMATED MOVIE
(I would really love to include the 5-part Five Faces of Darkness, but the animation is so bad it’s laughable. They obviously rushed it out to follow the animated movie. If the animation wasn’t so so very bad, it would be a pretty great story.)
5. Only Human
Two words: Cobra Commander.
4. Dark Awakening
Rodimus Prime versus zombie Optimus, and Rodimus loses.
(Quick digression, a lot of the post-movie episodes are actually pretty good stories, with appealing visuals that almost always took place in the dark of space. The problem is that they replaced all the characters you loved with Rodimus Prime and Wheelie.)
3. The Rebirth Part 1-3
The series closed on an absolute doozy, introducing the Headmasters and Targetmasters, including the massive Fortress Maximus and Scorponok. I spent the rest of my childhood wondering when the series would continue. (Isn’t that sad? Be sad for young Ben!)
2. Starscream’s Ghost/Ghost in the Machine
The ghost of Starscream possesses other Transformers so that he can steal replacement eyes for Unicron. If you can’t appreciate that sentence, comics aren’t for you. (I know this isn’t a comic, but it’s basically the same thing.)
1. The Return of Optimus Prime Part 1 & 2
This was a bonafide event for me and my fellow fourth-graders. Optimus Prime returns to battle a deadly hate plague and save the universe. (I remember a rerun of Dark Awakening was on one day, and at the end was a new teaser to “come back tomorrow for the return of Optimus Prime!” This was the greatest thing that had ever happened before the invention of the internet.)
BEST NEW AUTOBOT INTRODUCED IN THE ANIMATED MOVIE
Some might like you to believe its Springer, but the correct answer is Ultra Magnus. He was the coolest looking, his toy had an all-white version of Optimus Prime as its truck, and he was voiced by Robert Stack. Eat that, Mr. Cool triple-changer with the best lines… (Ignore that he probably had the shortest and most incompetent tenure as Autobot leader ever. And that’s with Rodimus Prime also existing.)
BEST NEW DECEPTICON INTRODUCED IN THE ANIMATED MOVIE
C’mon, no explanation needed.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: DECEPTICON
As cool as Megatron was, Starscream was just so much more interesting. Megatron banishing him from the Decepticons always led to the best episodes of the cartoon ever. His plots to gain greater power were ready-made for entertainment. In the comic, Starscream was at the center of one of the greatest storylines of the series, when after he attains ultimate power, the Autobots and Decepticons have to team-up into separate teams around the globe (old school Justice League style) to defeat him.
Recommended reading: Transformers #50
Recommended episodes: Starscream’s Brigade, Auto Berserk
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: AUTOBOT
Could it really have been anyone else? If you have any doubts, consider this. I’ve heard an anecdote before, don’t know if it’s true, that Transformers in the mid-‘80s was the highest selling toy line in the history of toys. At the very least, we can agree it was extremely successful. When they idiotically decided to kill Optimus Prime (spoiler alert) in the movie, it subsequently murdered a beloved cartoon series, and initiated the death spiral of a massively successful toy line. The people in charge realized their mistake and tried to bring Optimus back, but it was already too late. I can’t think of any other instance where the death of a major character consequently killed an entire franchise.
(Of course Transformers, like Ninja Turtles, will never die. In every subsequent new iteration of the cartoon, Optimus Prime is always a prominent character.)
Recommended reading: Transformers #24, Transformers #40
Recommended episode: Prime Target
SINGLE COOLEST SHOT IN THE HISTORY OF EVER