Tag Archives: Peter Cullen

Transformers: The Last Knight – A Review

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Yeah, yeah, I know, this review is waaay past a day late and a dollar short. But I have been busy, and the film was so poorly reviewed that watching it as soon as it hit DVD was not a priority for this blogger. Not until a friend decided to see it and asked that I join in to watch the (hopefully) entertaining film.

*Sigh.* Mi compadre liked the film; I have mixed feelings about it. There were elements/characters/scenes of The Last Knight which I enjoyed, and then there were things I did not like. I will list the problem parts to get them over and done with quickly before mentioning the positive aspects of the movie:

Problem #1: The Plot – As one reviewer said, if you want to watch this movie, enjoy the robot fight scenes and forget about the plot. Even I, a relatively well-informed Transformers fan who kept (most of) the plot for this film clear, found it switchbacked and retread ground too often. It’s like three or four of the seven people writing this story left in elements from one another’s original script when they should have excised or changed them. There is too much going on that either happens too fast or occurs too slowly.

Problem #2: Not Enough Optimus Prime and Bad Brainwashing – In a continuation of the modern trend to delegitimize heroes Optimus Prime, the noble leader and the father figure in the Autobot faction, gets brainwashed temporarily into attacking and killing some of his allies. Obviously, I didn’t like his being brainwashed to begin with, but I could have handled that if the filmmakers had at least convinced me that he was being influenced by another’s will after enduring severe torture.

However, from what little we see of Optimus before the end of the movie, it looks more like the villainess of the film just talks him into being bad. Having the good guys snap him out of it fast is fine, but how about a little lead up to his being mind-controlled? The Avengers had a MacGuffin (the Mind Stone) which allowed for instantaneous brainwashing, but the bad girl in Last Knight is only shown beating up on Optimus twice. Bottom line, we didn’t see enough of Optimus in this movie, and most of what we did see was negative in the extreme. That’s an automatic demerit in my book.

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Problem #3: Too Much Foul Language – Truth be told, this has been one of my main problems with the Transformers films from the get-go, along with the oversexualization of the main female characters. While Last Knight dropped the more explicit sex stuff, almost everyone in the film had a potty mouth, with the worst offender being Anthony Hopkins.

This is why the Transformers movies rank at the bottom of my entertainment media. The franchise started life as an innocent children’s show, and even in its darker TV incarnations, it isn’t anywhere near this foul. I have never understood, from the POV of a Transformers fan, why the writers decided to sexualize the franchise and allow the characters – human or not – to be foul-mouthed twerps. It’s like they cannot believe anyone would take a film like this seriously unless the humans in it were screaming epithets or hooking up every five scenes.

Hello, bozos, this was a children’s franchise!!! You should have been aiming to please the PG-13 to G rated audience. So what if the critics carp about the films being unrealistic? They are not and never were the ones you had to please to sell your product. Why can’t you respect Transformers fans as much as the guys running Marvel Studios have respected theirs?

Yes, I know this is a relatively useless aside, readers. But I have been holding that paragraph in for years. It is past time I let it out – and it feels soooo good to have done it at last!

Problem #4: Merlin as a Joke and Stanley Tucci Needs a Better Agent – Seriously, the best part I have ever seen Tucci play was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Every time I see him in a new film, he is either playing a foul-mouthed jerk or a washed-up annoyance. He should fire his agent or choose better parts.

Yes, it is true that Merlin appears in The Last Knight, which decided that tying the Transformers to the Pyramids and the moon landings wasn’t enough. Now they have to go back and add Tranformers to the Legends of King Arthur, since mankind is apparently too stupid to figure out knighthood on his own. Rather than being a wise, powerful, and benevolent magician, Merlin is portrayed in the beginning of this film as a drunk and a charlatan. Thanks but no thanks, Hasbro; I like my Merlin to be a respectable magician, not a souse. Go beg for someone else’s money.

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Problem #5: Quintessa as Transformer Goddess – Okay, first off, the Quintessons were aliens opposed to BOTH races of Transformers in the original stories, and it was their homeworld which was called Quintessa. Now we get this film revamp where there is only one Quintesson – a female, at that – who claims to be the Transformers’ deity, when even in the previous films it was the Transformers’ deity Primus that made the Autobots and Decepticons? *Author pinches nose and sighs.* Can someone please stop the revisionist train so I can get off now?

Problem #6: Rewriting the Timeline – It’s not as if the films’ series of events was hard to keep track of before the writers decided to redo everything from the ground up. What exactly is the purpose of re-aligning a timeline that you have practically killed already? Your circular logic is giving me a headache, Hollywood!

Problem #7: Planet-wide Devastation? You went with that trope AGAIN?!?! – In this film, the destruction of the moon and many major population centers really hits home in a bad way. Like the X-Men films, this movie focuses on nihilism and despair; although the heroes win in the end, the enormous loss of life and near global destruction makes their victory a Pyrrhic triumph. They lose more than they save – the film ends with more torn up cities, more catastrophic human body counts, and irreparable damage done to the face of the Earth.

This is another problem I have with the TF film franchise. Heroes in most stories always try to minimize the damage the bad guys inflict on innocent civilians. It is a mainstay of the Avengers films AND the Transformers TV shows. The fact that Hollywood has most of the Autobot/Decepticon confrontations occur in large population centers, where they make sure to show massive devastation and imply great loss of life, is directly anathema to the franchise’s roots. The Autobots are supposed to care about and work hard to protect humans, but the films never really demonstrate this – and, in a couple of cases, they directly oppose the idea. This is probably due to the filmmakers’ desire to make the movie franchise “more realistic” than the TV shows.

I’m sorry, but since when were we supposed to take ANYTHING in a movie seriously?! Films are supposed to be a form of escape wherein we (the audience) are encouraged to reach for heights of grace and heroism by following the example(s) of the hero(es). They are not and should not be used as vehicles for nihilism. If that is all you want to feed us in theaters, Hasbro, then you can kiss my money and precious time good-bye. There are much better things for me to spend both those things on.

Okay, with these seven big complaints covered, I can expound on what actually made this film worth my time. Most of the reason I was able to sit through this movie was Mark Walhberg’s performance as Cade Yeager. Whether you love Walhberg or not, the fact is that he did an excellent job in this film. He sold the audience on the idea that he was talking to living, thirty foot tall robots and not tennis balls on sticks. The scenes where he deals with the Autobots under his command/care are the closest this film comes to touching on why children around the world love the Transformers TV franchise(s).

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His character, Cade, has also softened somewhat since we saw him in Age of Extinction. (You can read my review of that film here, if you would like.) Watching this movie, you can almost feel the brotherly camaraderie he has come to share with the Autobots, especially Bee. His relationship with Optimus gets short shrift in this film, but that’s the fault of the writers, not Walhberg. Cade’s transformation (pun not intended) from down-on-his-luck-independent-inventor to trigger-happy Autobot ally and fugitive doesn’t feel particularly forced, either. He is doing what he needs to do to help the Autobots survive until Optimus returns and he will not let anyone – human or Decepticon – dissuade him from his purpose.

Once again, he gives us very few screaming and “freak out” moments than we saw in the previous movies, where Shia Labeuf was always having panic attacks during a battle. The gentleness and compassion he shows to a dying Cybertronian knight in the beginning of the film is especially touching. It cannot have been an easy scene to film, either, given that Wahlberg was probably talking to a lump of plastic and a green screen.

This leads to another great aspect of Cade’s character in the film: the title Last Knight is not a reference to Optimus Prime, but to Cade Yeager. The knightly attributes which allow Cade to help save the world become more and more obvious as the film progresses. It is really nice to finally have a “chaste” character in one of these movies, even though it is too little, too late. Walhberg pulls off a splendid performance here. I have virtually no complaints about his acting, even when he has to use foul language. Given the rest of his presentation, I can put up with that relatively easily.

In a similar vein, the two girls who appear in the film are not tarts used to titilate/“intrigue” the audience. But while the fourteen year old girl (Izabella) is fun, adding depth to Cade’s character and touching on the childhood wonder of the Transformers, I am not exactly sure her presence was truly needed to complete the film. She wasn’t a bad character, but I do not think she was necessary for the story to work.

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The adult woman in the story, Vivian, has the second-worst potty mouth in the film. Though she is (thankfully) not a trollop, she is a jerk with a chip on her shoulder. It is made abundantly clear from her first appearance onward that she hates men. Normally, that would grate on my nerves and, while I am not fond of her, it was really nice to FINALLY have a female jerk in a Transformers film who did most of the screaming. This meant that I could easily accept her; in a real situation where humans meet thirty foot tall mechanical humanoids, I am fairly sure it would be the women freaking out more often than the men.

Another nice touch to her character is that she is an Oxford professor. While Izabella is given the position of mechanic-in-training, the writers somehow got it into their heads that Vivian should not be mechanically savvy. (YAY!) While Vivian is a fighter, she is not a terribly great one. It is nice to see a strong woman who is rather pathetic at physical combat but who nevertheless has a will of steel. I will take a feminist Oxford professor who fights hard but improperly, who is fluent in medieval languages, and who knows history over the faux Amazonian stereotype any day.

That reminds me, one of the best things about the addition of Vivian to this film is a brief spat she and Cade share in Hopkins’ manor house. Having been “kidnapped” by a young Autobot on Hopkins’ orders so that she can help save the day, Vivian is not in a good mood when the explainations begin. She becomes especially upset when she sees her world-saving partner is a male American fugitive. Vivian tries to slap Cade down at once but he bites back at her, criticizing her education and her dress. “Well, then, perhaps you would like it better if I took [the dress] off?” she snaps waspishly. Clearly, Vivian is expecting Cade to become embarrassed by her retort and to stutter a rejection, giving her leverage against him.

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You can see that he almost falls for the bait – almost. To my infinite delight, Cade instead does a quick one-eighty degree turn and says, “Yes [I would].” He doesn’t actually mean it; if you look at him closely, you can see he is worried that she might carry out her threat to undress in front of everybody. But his decision not to accept Vivian’s abuse quietly leaves her gaping and temporarily at a loss for words. It was probably the best scene in the movie! 😀

This scene is also important because, as she continues to verbally spar with Cade, Vivian starts to grow and change. Cade’s continuous refusal to take her vocal mistreatment makes her soften; she becomes less abrasive and demonstrates more feminine characteristics the longer they work together. In a fascinating reversal of Hollywood trends, Cade is allowed to be a “manly man” and Vivian is allowed to become a real woman. She is not the Femi-Nazi, faux Amazon warrior we are fed too often these days in modern fiction, which is a really nice change – especially for a Transformers film.

Cade and Vivian’s character arcs, while slow, were the best in the film. Bumblebee was good and even Hot Rod, a franchise character I despise, was fun. (Can we get his time gun for the Avengers? They could really use a gizmo like while fighting Thanos!) Seeing so many Autobots hidden around the world was really nice, too, since we got brief glimpses of more Transformers as characters, not just gimmicks. It was a surprisingly touching addition to the film.

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Another nice thing about it was having Josh Duhamel return as Colonel Lennox. (His comment about lawyers and Decepticons was a scream!) He pulled off the weary soldier act very well; my only complaint is that he wasn’t given as much of a chance to show his faith in the Autobots as Cade was. Hopkins’ Transformer butler Cogman was fun, too, if a little foul. The “kidnapping” of Vivian by Hot Rod was a good scene as well.

This is all I can really think of to praise the film for, which isn’t much. As my list of complaints at the top of this post made clear, this movie really isn’t recommended. But that has less to do with the actors’ performances and more to do with the way the story was executed. I will probably watch this film again in the future at some point. But when I do, there will be a lot of scenes I skip, since most of the ones I liked had Cade in them. The rest of the show can go hang; Cade is the star attraction this go around, with Bumblebee a close second.

This is my opinion of Transformers: The Last Knight. It isn’t anywhere near as palatable as Age of Extinction, but it is an improvement over the first three films, and that says a lot about the quality of those movies. There is also some genuine character growth for the humans here, which is a nice change. If none of this makes you want to see Last Knight, though, don’t worry – I understand completely. That’s why I wrote this review; The Mithril Guardian is watching out for you, so that you don’t have to watch bad entertainment to learn something good from it. 😉

‘Til next time, readers – “Autobots, roll out!”

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Spotlight: Transformers – Hot Shot

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Transformers: Armada Hot Shot

It is not always easy to describe a character, readers, especially one you enjoy watching. I imagine there are plenty of real people whom we like that we also have difficulty describing. We cannot even describe ourselves accurately, since we hardly know ourselves! Now, describing a character that was featured in three different TV series – readers, that is a tall order. But it is an order that I am going to try to fill in this post about one of my favorite Autobots: Hot Shot.

Hot Shot is a young Autobot rookie in the series Transformers: Armada, a seasoned warrior in Transformers: Energon, and a cocky professional in Transformers: Cybertron. I never saw the original Japanese Transformers: Robots in Disguise all the way through, so I did not “meet” the version of Hot Shot in that series in any meaningful way. Therefore he is not part of today’s discussion.

The four series I described above were written and animated in Japan before they came to the U.S. by way of Canada, where they were translated into English. Armada was the series where I first “met” Hot Shot, whom I liked at once. He was more relatable to me than Red Alert, whose focus, calm, and mostly unemotional demeanor in that series always put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan. Optimus, as I stated in the Spotlight! post describing his character, reminded me more of a father-figure than anything else. He was approachable, but you usually went to him when you had a problem or needed something explained.

Hot Shot was still young enough, as I was at the time, to enjoy a good game of tag with the Autobots’ human friends. He was young enough to mouth off at the bad guys, to take insults personally, and to make stunningly stupid mistakes. He also had heart, a determination to defeat the Decepticons, and an easy, endearing manner. I liked him right from the start, and I kept on liking him during Armada’s run.

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Left to right: Energon Inferno, Optimus Prime, and Hot Shot

Admittedly, my favoritism toward the character cooled during the second series: Energon. Hot Shot was an experienced ‘Bot by then, with a more serious and focused deportment than I was accustomed to seeing in him. He still retained his sense of humor and a degree of cockiness, not to mention that loyal spark. But the light-hearted elements of his character and the easy manner were missing. I was rather disappointed that my favorite Autobot had lost his friendlier characteristics in the span of time between Armada and Energon.

But what he lost in Energon, Hot Shot got a double dose of in Cybertron. In that series, he was as cocky and jovial as ever. He also possessed the same act-first-think-later attitude which had caused him so much pain in Armada. But in Cybertron there was a more professional temper to it. This time, instead of charging off like a little kid, he behaved more like a teenager on the very cusp of adulthood. He was a professional warrior who knew his business on the field of battle. So what if he threw in some flair while he did his job? It got done, right? And if it kept the ‘Con down longer, or softened him up more than the traditional attack would have, all the better. When he acted before thinking, it was usually because he was doing the right thing that needed to be done, even if it would get him in trouble with Optimus later on.

I think, though, that one of the things about his performance in Cybertron which REALLY got my attention was the lack of angst. Hot Shot still had his dour, “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to the team,” moments but they did not last nearly as long in Cybertron as they had in Armada. Hot Shot needed fewer wake up calls in Cybertron, both on the angst and the cocky fronts. If he got knocked down, he learned he could get right back up again if he had the determination to do so. Once he learned that, he was literally off to the races.

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Transformers: Cybertron Hot Shot

This also afforded Hot Shot a better teenager-to-adult story arc. Less angst and more determination to keep going no matter what meant that, when Megatron almost killed him and two friends in a battle, Hot Shot remained the only one stubbornly determined to get back up and rejoin the fight. His compatriots gave up at the knowledge of the amount of damage they had sustained, sure that they were going to die.

Only Hot Shot remained firm, saying the damage was “no biggie” and he would get up once the proper repairs were made. His determination and that of the human kids the Autobots had partnered with inspired Red Alert and Scattershot to fight through their injuries as well, which allowed the three of them to acquire enormous upgrades shortly thereafter. This meant that Hot Shot abandoned his favorite race car mode to become a large tank.

Though not as aerodynamic or as fast as his previous alternate mode, Hot Shot’s decision to become a tank was a sign that he had grown up. He was still cocky, still funny, and definitely endearing because of that. But he was also battle-tried and true, with more confidence for having beaten greater odds than he had previously. He wanted to, as Auntie Mame said, “Live, live, live!”, and he was going to do it no matter what happened to him.

It is not hard to see why Optimus always valued Hot Shot in these series. Though the two had their attitude differences (Optimus has never been what one could call cocky after he earned the mantle of Prime), their sparks were always in alignment. They always knew the right thing to do and were willing to do it, no matter the cost to themselves. They knew it would not be easy for them, but because it was the right, true, good, and just thing to do, they were willing to bear the pain and to do their duty.

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Optimus’ position as Hot Shot’s mentor and father-figure is likely one of the reasons I always associated him with that role. The two got on in that manner, and Hot Shot never failed Optimus, even when he made a spectacular mistake or disobeyed orders. Although he might be annoyed or disappointed, Optimus never stopped believing in Hot Shot, never gave up hope that he could become a great ‘Bot with the right encouragement. For his part, Hot Shot remained loyal to Optimus in everything, even when the two disagreed or Hot Shot goofed up magnificently.

I have always been saddened by the fact that Hot Shot is absent from the American Transformers series. This is understandable; the Japanese put Hot Shot in Bumblebee’s place for their stories. I do not know why they did this – maybe there was and remains some kind of licensing disagreement with their Hasbro branch and ours, or something like that. I cannot say. I only know that Bumblebee traditionally has a filial relationship with Optimus in America, for generally the same reasons that Hot Shot does in Japan.

While I admire and like Bumblebee, I have always missed having Hot Shot around in the American Transformers series. Bumblebee is not the same character as Hot Shot; the two are not interchangeable. What you gain with one, you lose with the other, and vice versa. Bumblebee has always had a cooler head than Hot Shot, shown by the fact that he is not a very big fan of racing as Hot Shot always has been. Bumblebee is more fascinated with the intricacies of human society and humanity itself. Hot Shot has never failed to befriend the humans present in the Japanese series, but he acts more like their big brother than an intrigued social scientist. He would happily spend a day just hanging out with humans, talking about their shared interests, while Bumblebee tends to be more concerned with finding out the whys and the hows of human life.

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I like Bumblebee pretty well, but I know which character I would rather have an afternoon chat with: Hot Shot. Until Japan’s Hasbro branch makes a new Transformers series, however, it seems unlikely that I will be seeing Hot Shot again anytime soon. Besides, I would hate to see our writers on this side of the Pacific manhandle such a great character. Even the Japanese had to try three times to get a version of him that struck just the right balance with this viewer!

Another character who may be associated with Hot Shot is Hot Rod. But the fact of the matter is that Hot Shot is NOTHING like Hot Rod. While they share similar names, have a fascination with racing, and both transform into race cars, that is about as far as the similarities between them go. Hot Rod is cocky, but his swagger strikes a far more abrasive tone than Hot Shot’s does. Hot Shot’s bravado is endearing while Hot Rod’s is aggravating; Hot Rod earns the mantle of Prime not through mentoring under Optimus, but through simple luck. Hot Shot earns his leadership skills in battle, taking pointers from Optimus and abiding by his commander’s wisdom. No matter which series you find him in, Hot Rod has either no relationship with Optimus or it is so strained that it is not worth being designated a relationship.

This is a difference for which I am thankful. I am no fan of Hot Rod, anymore than my friend who admires Optimus Prime is. We both find him irritating, with no redeemable qualities whatsoever. The idea that some would put Hot Shot and Hot Rod in the same class, and I think they might be tempted to do this, does not rest well with me. Compare apples and oranges if you must, readers, but at least admit that they are apples and oranges! They are both nutritious, round fruits, but that is where their likenesses end!

This is not a terribly extensive Spotlight! post, readers. Hot Shot deserves better than I have given him, but this is the best that I am capable of at this time. Suffice it to say that Hot Shot is an Autobot I wish we had more of in current and upcoming Transformers series. He is a worthwhile character and, while not interchangeable with Bumblebee, I think the two would be excellent friends in a series. There is no law saying Optimus cannot have two protégés, after all, and I think Hot Shot and Bee would get along like a house on fire!

Accordingly, I therefore cede the floor to Optimus Prime, so that he may have the last word:

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“Autobots, roll out!”

Fan Fiction Story for Transformers: Robots in Disguise

Merry Christmas, everyone! Waaaay back in January 2016, a friend requested that I write a fan fiction story for Transformers: Robots in Disguise.  At the time I was not prepared to write such a story, though I did promise to do it at some point.  I had meant to do it that month, but the project never got past the promise stage.

I remembered that promise to my friend a little while ago, and I knew it was well past time to deliver.  And so, without further ado, here is the story I promised my friend all those months back.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as my compadre does!

Let’s rev up and snowball out!

The Mithril Guardian

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Snowball Fight!

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

It started harmlessly enough, from what Drift said later.  Russell, Slipstream, and Jetstorm had been showing the newly returned Weaponizer Mini-Cons how to build a snowman.  Thankfully, they had received Optimus’ warning in time and returned to Earth safely to rejoin Bumblebee and his team – just in time for the first snow of the season.

With Sideswipe and Drift sparring nearby, and Denny out with Bumblebee to pick up more energon, Drift had been content to let his students have some fun.  He had not put it in those words, but Optimus was fairly sure that was what he meant.

Things had become more raucous when Grimlock, his arms behind his back, had told Russell that he had forgotten something to show the Mini-Cons.  Russell looked up at him in utter bewilderment.  “What’s that, Grim?” he had asked.

Grinning widely, Grimlock had brought both arms forward and thrown two giant snowballs at Sideswipe and Drift.

Neither of the combatants had noticed the projectiles coming until they were hit.  There had been enough force in Grimlock’s throw to send the two flying sideways.  And from there, things had spiraled completely out of control.

At least, that was the way Bumblebee seemed to see it.

“Guys, I thought we agreed – ”  He had to stop talking as a snowball flew at his head.   Optimus reached up and plucked it from the air before it could hit him.  Bee ducked reflexively anyway.

Flicking a glance at Optimus, he muttered, “Thanks,” before turning again to try and interrupt the snowball battle.

Optimus hid a smile as he let his arm fall to his side, keeping a careful hold on the snowball.  Ever since he had briefed his former scout on the preliminaries of the situation on Cybertron, Bee had been on edge.  It was only natural that Bumblebee wanted his team to be prepared for the coming threats.

But according to Sideswipe, since their discussion Bumblebee had kept his team on a strict regimen of training exercises and patrols.  While Sideswipe was doubtless exaggerating the severity of Bee’s change in attitude, even Optimus could tell that the young commander had his servos in a knot lately.  He barely allowed himself or the team time to really relax.

Optimus felt something small and light settle on his left shoulder.  He knew it was Aerobolt before he turned to look at him.

The leader of the Weaponizer Mini-Cons turned to him, cocking his head like a true Earth bird.  “I do not understand this form of training,” he said.  “It seems to serve no real purpose.  Sideswipe and Drift could train by throwing objects of various weights at an inanimate target just as well as they throw these balls of snow at each other.  Grimlock could do the same.”

Optimus turned at a human shout from the battlefield.  He was just in time to see Russell pelting Grimlock’s leg with snowballs.

The big Dinobot raised his arms over his head in the manner of surrender and shouted, “Ah!!  No, noooo!!  Stop!  Arrgh!”  With a theatrical groan, he toppled onto his side.  “Ahhh!!!  I’m dead!”  Grimlock shut his eyes and went limp, letting his jaw hang open for extra effect.  Russell laughed so hard at the sight that he sat down in the snow.

Grimlock opened one eye and smiled.  Opening the other, he sat up.  “Was it that good?”

“Yes!” Russell gasped.  “You’re a great actor, Grim!”

“Hmm,” the Dinobot replied.  “I guess I am.”  Taking a handful of snow, he sprinkled it over Russell’s head.  The boy stood up and, quieting his laughter, stuck out his tongue in an attempt to catch the flakes.

Meanwhile, Sideswipe had decided to dump a large container of snow over Drift’s head.  “Something in your eyes, Drift?” he asked, laughing as the former bounty hunter scraped the snow from his face.  “Guess you’ll be having a – ”

His gloating cost him, leaving him totally unprepared for Drift’s lunge.  Grabbing his arm, Drift pulled it behind the younger ‘Bot’s back and thrust his head into a nearby snowdrift.  “I believe that your Christmas will be whiter, Sideswipe.”  The former bounty hunter smiled wickedly as Sideswipe’s free arm flailed, his voice muffled by the snow.

Standing up, Grimlock whipped snow up into the air with his tail, dowsing Russell with it.  Using his arms to keep the snow from his eyes, Russell did not notice his father sneaking up behind him.  Denny darted forward and grabbed hold of his son’s midsection.  Lifting him high over his head, Denny spun the boy around fast enough to startle a shout from him.  The two toppled into the snow, where they started wrestling and laughing.  Above them, Grimlock smiled.

“This is not a form of training,” Optimus explained to Aerobolt slowly.  “It is a form of human entertainment called a snowball fight.”

Aerobolt cocked his head.  His whole posture radiated confusion.  “Humans find it entertaining to be attacked with hard balls of snow?” he asked.

“The humans I have had contact with prefer to keep the snowballs soft enough that they do no permanent harm.”  Sideswipe had gotten free of Drift at last.  The two were rolling around in the snow now, just like Denny and Russell.

Slipstream and Jetstorm began throwing snowballs at Grimlock.  Optimus noticed for the first time that the rest of the Weaponizers were watching the fight from some distance away.  Tricerashot watched the fun, a scowl on his face.  But he was usually scowling.  The other Mini-Cons looked as confused as Aerobolt.  Only Sawtooth was watching the scene with bright eyes.  He was quivering with suppressed emotion – excitement, if Optimus had to guess.

“Humans find the winters dull without some form of entertainment, much as Sideswipe finds a daily routine stifling.”  Optimus hoped the comparison would suffice.  It was difficult enough to explain human behavior, especially when he still did not understand some of it himself.  “If the routine or the weather does not provide a change, they will find a way to make the change themselves.”

Aerobolt nodded, understanding dawning in his eyes.  “Ah.  With a lack of useful occupations, such as farming, humans are left only with caring for their basic needs during Earth’s winter.  I can see how that could be considered…drudgery.”

“Indeed.”  Optimus nodded to indicate the happy chaos before them.  “It seems Bumblebee’s team has come to the same conclusion regarding their newest routine.”  Bumblebee himself had given up trying to be heard over the shouting and laughter.  He turned to leave, only to be confronted by Strongarm, who had just returned from her patrol.  The two began talking quietly, but Optimus noticed how the young cadet’s eyes strayed to the fight every few seconds.  She wanted to join in the fun.

It surprised him when the Mini-Con gave an almost imperceptible sigh.  “I had not thought to see him so tense.”

He was referring to Bumblebee.  “I believe it is the situation on Cybertron which worries him most.  He, Strongarm, and Sideswipe left without official permission, and he already knows that the High Council is unhappy with that.”  Optimus paused.  “My subsequent return and involvement with him and the others here has angered them further.”

“You have not stated just why they are displeased with him.”  Aerobolt eyed him closely.  “If it were simply because he traveled to Earth without official authorization, then that should be easily rectified.”

“That is indeed a part of it.”  Optimus did not want to tell anyone just what the situation on Cybertron was until the others had arrived.  The situation may have changed since he returned to Earth.

But Aerobolt deserved to know at least the preliminaries, if not the details, before that happened.  They were partners, after all, and to hide anything from the Mini-Con could destroy the trust necessary to form the Power Surge Link they had forged in their last battle with Starscream.  They might need that bond in the future, if things did not change – and that was extremely unlikely.  “I cannot say more here,” he told him at last.  “And some of the details are still unclear.  I will tell you what I know so far later on, but there are many things which may change when our reinforcements arrive.”

“You speak as one expecting a battle,” Aerobolt said, his wings fluttering in a wary manner.  “We did not wish to become involved in a war.”

“Nor did I wish to involve you, since you have suffered so much during the previous war,” Optimus agreed, stifling a sigh.  “If you were discovered on your own, however…”  He let the sentence hang in the air.  The Mini-Cons believed they could take care of themselves, and against opponents such as the Decepticon Scavengers, he did not doubt that they could.

But if what he suspected was true, they would not be able to stand against what was coming alone.  Neither would he, Bumblebee, or his team.

Aerobolt was watching him.  “Is it Megatron?” he asked evenly, his tone very quiet.  That was not easy to manage, considering what the Decepticon leader had put him and the others through.

Optimus sighed.  “Perhaps.  We have no way of knowing for certain at the moment.  As I said, what I know now may change when the others arrive.”

Slowly, Aerobolt nodded.  “Yet what you know has obviously made Bumblebee anxious,” he observed.  “I do not think mere political machinations would upset him so.”

“Unless the intrigues were more than simple games,” Optimus told him calmly, adding a little edge to his tone.  If it really was as bad as Jazz had said, they were facing a great crisis, possibly another war.  It was not a thought Optimus relished.

The Mini-Con caught the edge in his tone and looked at him sharply.  Optimus stared back.  Finally, Aerobolt nodded.  “Indeed.  I see now the reason for Bumblebee’s distress.”

Optimus could not stop his instinctive glance in Bumblebee’s direction.  The younger ‘Bot was deep in conversation with Strongarm.  He felt his spark ache with empathy as he watched his former Scout.  He had been in Bumblebee’s place many times in the past.

Not long ago, he reflected, Bee would have joined in the snowball fight wholeheartedly.  But watching him now, Optimus was reminded of the more embittered or uptight ‘Bots whom he had commanded during the Great War.  With so many lost lives and lost battles, it was inevitable that some would come to see any form of amusement as a frivolous waste of time.

He was fairly sure that Bumblebee had not fallen that far in such a short amount of time.  The younger Autobot’s personality was too buoyant for that.  Even the loss of his voice box had not marred his spirit permanently.

It was a commander’s duty, Optimus reflected, to stay apart from the games his subordinates enjoyed on most occasions.  Arcee had once told Jack, Miko, and Rafael that “Primes don’t party.”  In part, it was because it was not expected of them.  A Prime was to comport himself at all times with as much dignity as possible, according to the records Optimus had read in his youth.  Besides, he had found that he enjoyed watching those under his command while they “partied” more than if he had joined in their games.

He looked at Bumblebee again and caught him glancing toward the fight as Drift kicked Sideswipe off of him and into a snow bank, sending a plume of powder into the sky.  Primes may indeed have to excuse themselves from such high-spirited play, but Bumblebee was not a Prime.

Optimus found himself fingering the snowball he had caught before it could hit Bumblebee.  An idea began to form in his mind.

Just then, Grimlock gave a mighty roar and dove at Slipstream and Jetstorm.  The maneuver lacked his usual speed and force, giving the two Mini-Cons time to move aside.  They did, and Grimlock’s head disappeared into the snowdrift behind them.  Denny and Russell, having their own snowball fight some little distance away, stopped at the sight.

Grimlock brought his head up and out of the snow bank.   He moved so quickly that he showered Denny and Russell with a light film of snow, making them shout and laugh.  Slipstream and Jetstorm avoided the cloud of powder, flipping out of range to land one atop the other next to Grimlock’s leg.  It protected them from the backwash of snow.

What they did not realize was that Grimlock’s charge had been a feint to allow him a chance to fill his mouth with snow.  Bringing his head up, Grimlock twisted his neck so that his closed jaws hung over the two.  Then he opened his mouth and allowed the snow to cascade onto them.  The two shouted in surprise.

Their dual shout, though, was drowned out by Strongarm’s sudden shriek.  Optimus looked over and smiled as he watched Sawtooth pick up a snowball with his tail.  He had a pile of them near that appendage.  With everyone concentrating on the others, he had been free to slip away and make his own snowballs.  He flipped this new snowball at Strongarm, who managed to block this projectile.

Sawtooth paused as a thought seemed to strike him.  “Did I hit too hard?” he asked, concerned.

“No,” Strongarm replied.  “You just hit me when I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Oh.  My apologies.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, waving one hand.  Reaching out with her other hand at the same time, she clutched some snow from one of the racks holding Denny’s car collection and threw it at him.

Sawtooth never saw it coming.  It hit him in the chest and sent him skidding backward along the ground.  He shook his head, then turned to stare at her.  A slow smile spread across his face.

Strongarm smiled back.  In an instant, the two were going at it nuts and bolts, throwing, diving, and catching snowballs.  They looked less like warriors and more like human children.

Optimus glanced at Aerobolt to see his reaction.  The Mini-Con shrugged his wings, looking caught between anger and confusion.  He thought, however, that he detected a gleam of delight in the other’s eye.  “I had not thought Sawtooth would be interested in such a game.”

“It is in times such as this that commanders learn the most about their subordinates,” Optimus replied softly.  “I have found it informative and pleasant, watching my Autobots at their pastimes.”

“Have you?” asked Aerobolt.  “It does not strike you as…undignified?”

Optimus smiled.  “Dignity at times may be put aside by most.  In times such as this, it relieves the stress that would otherwise threaten to divide a strong unit.  Also, it has sometimes provided an Autobot with the perspective necessary to win a battle.”

“Hmmm,” Aerobolt murmured thoughtfully.

Strongarm and Sawtooth’s snowball fight seemed to give Grimlock an idea.  Leaning down, he picked up some snow and began packing it into a ball.  Slipstream and Jetstorm, excavating themselves from the snow he had dumped on them, looked up at him.

“Do-de-do,” Grimlock hummed.  “Da-da-da.”  He looked down at the two, then over at the Weaponizers, who were watching Sawtooth and Strongarm in confusion.

The Mini-Cons understood him.  Reaching down, they began packing their own snowballs.  “Hey, Tricerashot!” Grimlock called.

“What?” the Dino Mini-Con growled.  His growl morphed into a gasp as he saw the snowball arcing through the air toward him.  Before he had time to move, it hit him in the head.  “Arrgh!” he shouted.

The other Weaponizers started and stared at him in shock.  Slipstream and Jetstorm’s battle cries therefore caught them unawares.  Before any of the other Mini-Cons had time to move, Drift’s students began bombarding them heavily with snowballs. They turned the remains of the pile Grimlock had dropped on them into a fort to defend against returning snowballs.

Denny and Russell shared a look.  Then they ran over to join Slipstream and Jetstorm.  In a few seconds, both sets of Mini-Cons and the humans were trading snowballs at a furious rate.

But Tricerashot, having cleared his eyes of the snow, had a bigger target in mind.  As Grimlock watched his handy work in action, the Dino Mini rolled a large ball of snow with his horns.  Carefully picking it up on his snout, he lobbed it a Grimlock’s shin.

The Dinobot grunted with the impact, then turned to look at Tricerashot.  “Fair is fair!” he called smugly.  “You wanted a snowball fight – well, you’ve got one!”

Grinning widely, Grimlock picked up some more snow and packed it into a ball.  Tricerashot rolled another ball, picked it up on his horns, and threw it at Grimlock…

…Just as the bigger ‘Bot lobbed his own snowball at the Mini.

The results were comical.  Tricerashot’s projectile hit Grimlock in his snout, obscuring his vision, while the Dinobot’s snowball covered Tricerashot completely.  It took them a few minutes to burrow out of the snow.  They looked at each other and started laughing.

Aerobolt cocked his head.  Optimus caught the smile which flitted across his face.  “I’d no idea Tricerashot could laugh,” he muttered.

Optimus smiled a little himself.  “As I said, a commander often learns more about his subordinates at play than in battle.”  He looked back at the battlefield and saw a snowball coming toward him.  Shifting to the left, he let it pass.  “Well aimed, Sideswipe,” he complemented.

“Daw – you weren’t supposed to move!” the younger ‘Bot lamented.  He grunted as Drift hit him in the back with a larger snowball.  “Hey, Bee!  Give a ‘Bot a hand?!”

“We’re supposed to be studying battle tactics, not playing,” Bumblebee retorted.

“Come on.  Snowball fights are all about battle tactics!”  To prove his point, Sideswipe feinted left.  Drift blocked his real punch from his right, but Sideswipe used his still-moving left hand to snatch a handful of snow and shove it onto the samurai’s head.  Sputtering, Drift backed up, allowing Sideswipe to knock him over with a well-placed kick.  “See?” he said.

Drift’s response was to kick his legs out from under him from his position on the ground, and Sideswipe landed with a loud “Ooomf!” in the torn-up snow.  Strongarm and Sawtooth laughed as he scrambled to his feet and lunged at the other Autobot.

But Drift was ready for him.  Throwing loose powder in Sideswipe’s eyes, he ducked behind him and kicked him into a snow pile.  “He is indeed correct, Bumblebee.  I am now engaged in lecturing Sideswipe to avoid gloating over his opponents before they are unconscious.”

“I’ll show you unconscious!” Sideswipe growled playfully as he pulled himself free of the snow, one hand clutched tightly on a white something.  Pivoting on his right foot, he threw a malformed snowball into Drift’s chest.  There was enough force behind the throw to send the other ‘Bot skidding backward.

Bumblebee sighed as the two continued to spar.  “He has a point, Bumblebee,” Optimus remonstrated gently.  “The surrounding territory can be an advantage in a battle, and it is unlikely our opponents will have had experience with snow or snowball fights.”

The former Scout closed the distance between them.  “Optimus, if you’re right, snowballs aren’t going to help us.”  He glanced at the laughing, happy scene, and Optimus recognized the fear in his eyes.  Bumblebee was wondering if he would lose any of his teammates in the coming conflict.

He had faced that same fear and lived through it many times over the years himself.  Often the Autobots he had watched having fun moments before lay dead within the opening phase of a battle.  Some of them had been friends of his and others had been friends of Bumblebee’s.  Neither of them wanted to see his team suffer the same fate as so many units of Autobots had in the War.

Optimus hoped fervently that they could in fact survive this situation without casualties or another war.  He had seen enough death and destruction over the eons; he did not wish to see more.  And these young Autobots, who did not know what it was to truly lose a compatriot, would hopefully never have to learn the grief that came with the loss.  Sideswipe’s near-miss in the battle against Starscream was the closest they had come to true injury and death.  He desperately wanted that to be as close as they came to actually losing someone.

Shaking the phantoms of fear away, Optimus turned his head slightly to avoid another snowball.  This one had been a stray; Sideswipe had his hands full with Drift and was in no position to think of throwing snowballs at anyone but him.  “Excessive stress from too much training is not helpful either, Bumblebee,” Optimus chided gently.  “I learned that in the War.”

The other sighed.  “You’re right, of course.  It’s just…”

“It is never easy waiting for a battle.”  Optimus put his free hand on Bumblebee’s shoulder.  The younger ‘Bot looked up at him, and for a moment, Optimus saw the eager, trusting young Scout he had commanded for so long staring back at him.  Bumblebee had grown and strengthened during his absence.  But a part of him was still that hopeful, never-give-up young ‘Bot who had dared to face down Megatron at the price of his voice box.

But the rest was the grown Autobot who had saved Optimus’ life by running Megatron through with the Star Saber, whose sense of righteousness and commitment to what was good and true in the universe mirrored his own.  Optimus knew he could have asked for no better successor than Bumblebee.  Nor could he ask for a better subordinate.  “You, Bulkhead, and the others needed rest and relaxation during the War from time to time as well.  Do not begrudge your own team the freedom to enjoy themselves while they can.”

Bumblebee’s eyes turned to regard the fight still raging in the midst of the scrap yard.  He sighed, and as his shoulders slumped Optimus felt the tension leave him.  “You’re right.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Smiling slightly, Optimus hefted the snowball he had caught earlier and held it out to Bumblebee.  “Perhaps it is best to think only of the present moment.  I believe this belongs to Sideswipe, does it not?”

The younger ‘Bot looked at the snowball for a long minute.  Slowly, a smile spread across his face and he took it from Optimus’ grasp.  “I do believe it does.”  Switching the projectile to his other hand, Bumblebee cocked his arm and threw the snowball.

It splattered on Sideswipe’s head, startling a yell from him.  Shooting Optimus a playful grin, Bumblebee transformed, raced forward a short distance, and then swung to a stop.  The maneuver threw snow over Grimlock, the Weaponizers, Denny, Russell, Slipstream, and Jetstorm.  Strongarm and Sawtooth both ended up with a face full of snow courtesy of the slide as well.  Sideswipe was too busy brushing snow from the top of his head to notice some had landed on his feet.  Drift was far enough away that the snow Bumblebee kicked up did not touch him.

“You guys gonna sit there all day?” Bumblebee asked.  “Or are we going to go show Fixit how to have a snowball fight?”

The others shared a look.  Grimlock grinned, to be answered by similar smiles from Strongarm and Sideswipe.  Drift did not grin, but Optimus could see the corners of his mouth turning up in a smile.

“Then let’s rev up and roll out!” Bumblebee shouted, peeling out of the yard.  Grimlock chased after him as Strongarm and Sideswipe transformed to follow, Strongarm pausing only long enough for Sawtooth to climb onto her roof.  Drift transformed and drove over to Denny and Russell, who hopped in as soon as his door was open.  Slipstream and Jetstorm jumped onto his roof and he raced toward the Command Center.

The Weaponizers shared a look.  As one, they turned to Aerobolt.

Flicking a glance at Optimus, he nodded once to them.  The band took off after the other Autobots.  All of them were smiling, even Tricerashot.

As the roars and shouts began in the Command Center, Optimus’ partner turned to look at him.  “Shall we watch the festivities?” he asked.

“I believe we shall,” Optimus answered.  Transforming to vehicle mode, he let Aerobolt fly ahead of him.  Smiling privately to himself, Optimus drove toward the Command Center.  The threats they faced were as dangerous as any they had known in the Great War.  But this was a new era, with new soldiers who had already proved that they were worthy warriors and true friends.  Though the road ahead would be dangerous and dark, with Autobots such as these at his side, Optimus knew in his spark that they would succeed.

But for now, they were going to have a little fun.

THE END

Robots in Disguise: Why are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?

You want to know what the most popular post on this blog has been for the last three years, readers? It is the post titled “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?”

I have no idea why this post is so frequently read. In some ways, it is rather annoying. I would really like it if something else would get looked at rather than that post. But apparently no one is as interested in anything else as they are in “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?”

*Sigh*

Anyway, this post is something like a sequel to “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?” It is also a look at the latest Transformers series to hit the airwaves: Transformers: Robots in Disguise.

First and foremost, I have to say that the Autobots have not always been outnumbered. In the 1980s TV series and a couple of sequel TV series, there have either been an equal number of Autobots and Decepticons, or more ‘Bots than ‘Cons. My problem with the later series is that there have been fewer and fewer Autobots. The 1980s series had a long roster, and few ‘Bots from that series appear in newer shows today.

This goes for the original female Autobots as much as for the male ones. Transformers Prime had one female Autobot, the perennially popular and recognizable Arcee. Arcee is a great character (Prime had an especially intriguing take on her, not least because she barely had any PINK in her armor!), but the original characters are either shunted aside to make room for new characters or they are left out completely.

As an example, both Transformers Prime and Transformers: Robots in Disguise have character rosters that include old stand-bys Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. These are two great characters, and I certainly cannot imagine a Transformers series that does not have Optimus Prime as the leader of the Autobots. I much prefer him to all the other potential supreme leaders of the group, quite frankly.

But other ‘Bots from the original series are either never brought in or are killed off, as in the case of Cliffjumper and Seaspray in Prime. If the writers do not want to bring them in, they certainly do not have to. But why bring them in only to kill them off? Especially when most of their target audience (children aged seven and up) either barely got to know them or have no idea who the particular characters were?

I simply think it would be a good idea to include as many original characters in the new Transformers series as possible. Luckily, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, is doing that fairly well. The current Autobot roster consists of such originals as Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Grimlock, Optimus Prime, and Jazz. Slipstream and Jetstorm, whose names have been applied to characters in previous series, appear in the show as Mini-Cons. The newcomers in the series are Autobot bounty hunter/samurai Drift, Decepticon hunter Windblade, Mini-con Fixit, and Elite Guard cadet Strongarm. (Previously, characters named Strongarm were male. I am sorry, but would it not have been better to bring in an original female Autobot instead of retrofitting a male Autobot’s name for a female character? Anyone…?) The only newcomer in Prime was Bulkhead, who in that series was a former Wrecker, while the ‘stand-bys’ included new versions of Wheeljack, Ratchet, Arcee, Ultra Magnus, and Smokescreen.

And, as I said in “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?,” it is rather irritating that the Decepticons end up outnumbering the Autobots in the newer stories because the Autobots are too stupid, wishy-washy, or otherwise ignorant of the coming Great War. Robots in Disguise seems to recognize that fact, being helped along by the detail that the series takes place after the close of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Now, the Autobots rule the rejuvenated Cybertron and the Decepticons have been reduced to the criminal class. Their alternate modes are vehicle and animal, much like those in the Japanese show also titled Robots in Disguise.

And in this new Robots in Disguise series, Bumblebee’s team roster is up to the task of re-incarcerating the Decepticon(s) they face each episode, escaped criminal(s) from the wrecked prison ship, the Alchemor. Though there are technically about two hundred or more Decepticons loose on Earth after the crash of the Alchemor, this discrepancy in Autobot/Decepticon numbers is compensated for by the fact that ‘Cons are notoriously bad team players. Only a strong, terrifying leader like Megatron or, in this series, Steeljaw, is capable of keeping a unit of Decepticons together for any length of time.

And a couple of the ‘Cons in this series are also certifiable nutjobs, so they are unwilling to be part of a gang for very long. This makes them much easier for the Autobots to handle.

The only irritating thing about the shift in tactics for the Autobots in Robots in Disguise is how by-the-book Cybertronian society has become post-war. This is demonstrated best by Strongarm, an Elite Guard cadet and Bumblebee’s protégé. She believes that following the rule book will help her advance in her career, not realizing that such rigidity stifles creativity – her own as much as anyone else’s. (Though it is nice that it is a female Autobot who is so by-the-book and not a male Autobot.)

The opposite is brought out in Sideswipe, who in this series is an Autobot ‘punk’ who has been nabbed several times for minor infractions of the law. As he once put it, one apparently “can’t turn left on Cybertron without breaking some law!”

Bumblebee is in the middle. He follows the rules every hero follows and is flexible enough that he is willing to bend or break the rules when he has to. In this way he is less rigid than Strongarm; however, he also recognizes the importance of laws and rules, something the high-spirited Sideswipe is still learning.

Unfortunately, this regulation-bound version of Cybertron is a trap that I did not realize the writers might fall into if they followed my advice in “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?” I should have seen it coming, but I did not. The result is that the new Cybertron has too many rules and regulations on the books. Now that the Autobots are in charge, the writers have made Cybertron something of a “regulation nation” in Robots in Disguise. Instead of keeping order, most Autobots seem focused on being orderly.

That is not the solution to the problem I brought up in my last post. Too much regulation breeds characters like Sideswipe who, if you tell him “it’s the law,” but do not explain why, go out and cause trouble because he feels he is being squashed to death by a bunch of regulations. It also breeds characters like Strongarm who live, breathe, eat, and dream about the rule book.

Neither attitude is proper for life, something Bee has been training the “two teenagers” to realize. You cannot live without law and order, but you also cannot kneel down and worship the rule book. One attitude leads to anarchy while the other leads to a police state, wherein only the police are happy. What is necessary is a balance between these two viewpoints.

And this, from what I remember of my research, is the problem that I was trying to address in the original “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?” post. If the writers make most of the Autobots by-the-book characters like Strongarm, then of course they are going to be devastated in a war! They have no flexibility or capacity to think beyond the instructions in the book, so how can they react to life-threatening situations?

Meanwhile the Decepticons, who want to take over Cybertron, are not going to cut such ‘Bots any slack. Their pride demands that they be in charge of everything, and if someone is going to stand there and quote the rule book to them, they will not be quoting it for long. The ‘Cons will see to that.

This is why Ultra Magnus has always been an inferior leader when compared to Optimus Prime. He has too much rigidity in his outlook on life, too much dogmatic love of the rule book, to think on his feet and face the enemy when they strike at him. In contrast, Optimus knows the difference between right and wrong, maintains that outlook on the battlefield, and is prepared for the Decepticons to play dirty. Because he knows that they will. Experience and an understanding of his enemy, namely Megatron, assure him of this.

And this is the attitude I would rather the writers took toward the Autobots and Decepticons the next time they tell a story about the Autobot/Decepticon Great War. No more rigidity; just an understanding of good versus evil. That does not eliminate characters like Strongarm or Ultra Magnus, but it does give the Autobots a much better chance of survival as a race!

Well, readers, this is the successor to “Why Are the Autobots Always Outnumbered?” If this post tops the charts for the next three years…!! Do you think you could look over some of the other posts? Please?!

Let’s roll out!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime

Spotlight: Transformers – Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

A friend of mine is very into the Transformers franchise. I would be remiss if I did not admit that part of this fascination is my fault; I was – and remain – a fan of the Transformers mythos myself. I have not abandoned the franchise, though I must admit, I think my enthusiasm for it has cooled a fair bit. The writers for Transformers, whether they are working on the TV shows or its other media, seem to be writing things higgledy-piggledy these days. It makes the stories somewhat confusing.

Anyway, my friend’s favorite Transformer is the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime. (This post is written about that character in part to please my friend.) I can relate to my friend’s love of the Autobot leader, in a small way. He was never my favorite Autobot, but I could not imagine any other leader for the Autobots than him.

I first got to know Optimus, really and truly, through the Japanese series Transformers: Armada. It came out around 2001, having been translated into English in Canada, much as the Zoids series were. Though Transformers is an American story idea, it is very popular in Japan as well. The Japanese have created at least four TV series for the franchise (that I know of).

The voice actor for Optimus Prime in the Armada series was Gary Chalk. A Canadian actor, Mr. Chalk’s voice was the one that I thought fit Optimus best. Since hearing Peter Cullen voice the character again, Mr. Chalk has slipped into second place.

I bring up Mr. Chalk because, as I said, he was the Optimus I knew and loved for – ooh, goodness, eight or so years. He voiced Optimus over three TV series that I watched almost regularly when they came out: Transformers: Armada, Transformers: Energon, and Transformers: Cybertron. (I lost interest in Energon after one episode, and so I stopped watching it. Armada and Cybertron I watched from beginning to end.)

Voices are something which has always enthralled me. I can remember, when I was five years old, listening to people on TV, on the radio, or in the room just because I liked the sound of their voices. The words blurred together and became meaningless as I simply sat and listened to the tone and resonance of their voices.

In the case of Mr. Chalk’s performance as Optimus Prime, his calm, gentle, fatherly manner in Armada struck me deeply. I came to regard him rather like I regarded Professor X of the X-Men. But my affection for Optimus was and is much deeper and warmer than it has been or ever will be for the Prof. (Sorry, Charles.)

That brings me to the point of this post. I do not know how others view Optimus Prime, but he seems to have the same sort of publicity problem these days that Cap does. Once, he had no such trouble at all, but I will mention that in a bit.

Since the 1984 series, Optimus Prime has transformed into a red, white, and blue truck. The truck model has varied – he was Freightliner in the original series, but over the years he has also transformed into firetrucks, Peterbuilts, and now a Western Star with six outrageous smoke stacks in Transformers: Age of Extinction. But his paint scheme has never shifted from his original red, white, and blue – even when the red dominates the other two colors.

This tells me that Optimus was conceived as a ra-ra America kind of character. To some degree, the writers have left him that way. His paint scheme is still red, white, and blue, after all. The only other character in a modern franchise that wears the same colors and is as popular is Captain America. Just like Cap, Optimus values friends, freedom, and fidelity above all else. He is a kind, compassionate leader who respects life. And not just Cybertronian life; Optimus has always taken special interest in and care of the humans who interact with the Autobots and Decepticons in the franchise serials.

Peter Cullen, the voice actor for Optimus Prime in the original series as well as the new shows Transformers Prime, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and Transformers: Rescue Bots likes to tell the story of how he became Optimus Prime. Mr. Cullen says he based Optimus’ voice after the voice of his older brother, a veteran U.S. Marine captain who served in Vietnam.

The day that Mr. Cullen was to audition for the part of Optimus Prime, he spoke to his older brother, Larry. When Larry was told his younger brother was going to voice a truck, both Larry and Peter Cullen got a laugh out of it. Mr. Cullen has since admitted that at the time they “had no idea” what they were in for. After having their good laugh, Captain Cullen sobered and asked his brother to portray the character not as a typical shouting Hollywood hero, but as someone “strong enough to be gentle.”

His older brother’s request stayed with Mr. Cullen, and when he read over the script for the first episode of Transformers, he said it was like hearing Larry Cullen speak. So he imitated his brother’s voice, adding a dash of John Wayne just to make it interesting, and Optimus Prime rolled into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Children all over the U.S. wrote letters to Optimus Prime and sent them to the studio, which for some bizarre reason never passed the notes on to Mr. Cullen.

My point in bringing this up, readers, is the request Peter Cullen’s brother made of him: “Be strong enough to be gentle.”

I think that this is why I have always had a particular fondness for Optimus Prime. Even when Gary Chalk was voicing Optimus, the character did not lack for gentleness in his speech. Or at least, he did not in Transformers: Armada. In the latter two series, Energon and Cybertron, Mr. Chalk stopped imitating Mr. Cullen after a point. He did not lose much of the gentleness in his voice, but his characterization of Optimus became more… in tune with popular attitudes. This is something Mr. Cullen prefers to avoid when voicing Optimus Prime. I do not know why Mr. Chalk began reading his lines this way; I simply know that his voice changed over the years. Not by much, but it did.

It is this strength, this firm but gentle quality which Optimus Prime has that I remember and love most. This is the reason I have never lost my particular love for the character, though I have lost my patience with his, ummm…..handlers. (Mr. Cullen has never been among those, thankfully.) When asked to voice Optimus in comedy skits, he has declined, stating he has too much respect for the character to treat him so trivially. It is too bad other, similar characters do not have performers who treat them so!!!

Optimus’ character is rooted in “Peace through strength.” He is a kind character who maintains his dignity in everything he does. Optimus Prime is not only strong enough to fight Megatron and the Decepticons; he is strong enough to be gentle to those weaker than himself, whether they are humans or Autobots.

This is not quite the post I hoped it would be, readers. I seem to have a great deal of trouble describing Optimus, much as some people have a hard time discussing Captain America. It is perhaps because they are so alike; there is never a doubt where Cap stands on an issue. Just as you never have to guess where Optimus will be standing in an argument – at the head of his Autobots.

I still regard Optimus the same way I did as a child. He is a father-type character, one whose strength of arms is equaled only by the strength in his spark. There is really nothing more to say.

Autobots, roll out!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime