Spotlight on the Unknowns
The amount of characters that populate the franchise is a vast amount in just Generation One alone. The original series introduced a relatively small number of Autobots and Decepticons during its first season before introducing many more as the series went on, sometimes a new bot in each episode. While the heavy hitters like Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Prowl, Megatron, Starscream get their due, IDW also took time to explore some lesser known bots and put a literal spotlight on them in their Spotlight issues, one chapter that would focus solely on one bot.
Some of those early Spotlight issues focused on bigger name bots like Shockwave, Hot Rod and Ultra Magnus, but many others began branching out to lesser known characters such as Nightbeat, Sixshot, Doubledealer and Hardhead. It was nice to see IDW utilize more Autobots and Decepticons beyond the usual suspects, but this only grew as time went on. Most of the characters in The Last Stand of the Wreckers (which I believe to be one of the best Transformers stories ever) are made up of C and D-List Autobots while half the cast of More Than Meets The Eye is made up of lesser-known or sometimes self-created bots such as Drift or Windblade, both of whom even got their own series and became integral characters to the story. Even in Robots in Disguise and Optimus Prime, a lot of other characters were used as Cybertron got repopulated to create the idea of what everyday life would be like, especially in a fragile state of peacetime. This focus to include Autobots and Decepticons other than the big names really helped expand the scope of Cybertronian society.
As with many other Transformers media, the Autobots and Decepticons had been fighting their war for millions of years. At the start of IDW’s Phase Two, the war was effectively over in the pages of Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets The Eye as the Autobots won and Cybertron began to get repopulated. Much of Robots in Disguise dealt with the question of what they do now after suffering through such a long, tumultuous war that caused their planet to essentially die before it was miraculously brought back. However, the big wrinkle thrown into peacetime was the return of what the Autobots and Decepticons termed ‘NAILs’ – Non-Aligned Indigenous Life-forms who did align with either faction during the war.
The introduction of NAILs ended up being a great addition to the franchise. In the majority of other continuities, Cybertron’s population is made up entirely of Autobots and Decepticons with no middle in between. Robots in Disguise took a more realistic approach where many Cybertronians chose not to take part in the war at all, instead being civilians caught in the crossfire and forced into exile once Cybertron couldn’t sustain life. It didn’t help matters for the Autobots that the NAILs blamed them just as much as Decepticons, viewing them and Optimus Prime as war mongering tyrants. It connected it nicely to the beginnings of the war when the original Autbots and the Cybertronian senate were a pretty ruthless and manipulative regime.
This was the most extensive look at what a peacetime Cybertron would look like as million of years of bitterness and resentment didn’t just go away overnight. Bots who were in the thick of the war like Bumblebee and Prowl had to adjust to a new world where they had to be held accountable through elections, journalists and civilians who didn’t want want them there. It breathed fresh life into IDW’s franchise by placing the characters in a very different and difficult situation that the hadn’t experienced before and offered Bumblebee, Prowl and even Starscream a chance to grow and look back or learn from their past mistakes. Mairghread Scott’s Windblade series took this even further by focusing on a number on new or revamped characters to the franchise as old Cybertronian colonies were discovered. Scott took time to examine the tensions between their political, philosophical and even religious differences to Cybertron, especially as she positioned Windblade and Starscream from political opponents to frenemies. Because of all this, the political aspect of IDW’s peacetime was very intriguing and exciting.
Optimus and Megatron
Optimus Prime and Megatron. In my mind, that rivalry is synonymous with Batman and The Joker, Superman and Lex Luthor or Sherlock and Moriarty. Over the course of millions of years Optimus and Megatron have battled each other and are always the focal point of a piece of Transformers media. With so many different interpretations of their rivalry, what could IDW do that would be different from other iterations?
It turns out, a fair bit. IDW’s versions of Optimus and Megatron shared almost a mutual respect for one another (at least on Megatron’s part) and explored the similarities between the two. Both rose up from unassuming positions in society to become grand leaders of a revolution. There had been great scenes between them, but where their development really began to shine was in the story ‘Chaos Theory’ where Optimus and Megatron actually sat down to have a chat about their history alongside flashbacks to their pre-war days. You really got the sense of just how long their relationship had lasted as well as the notion that that they truly knew and understood each other in a way no one else could ever understand. Even as Megatron was a prisoner and Optimus was trying to find a peaceful solution to their conflict, the other Autobots remarked it seemed less of an interrogation and more like two friends speaking as they reminisced about the various injuries they’ve each dealt the other.
Optimus’ character was given a fair amount of deconstruction throughout IDW’s continuity, especially in the last few years as he renounced the title of Prime and tried reverting back to being Orion Pax. This examination only continued as he recognized why people needed him and what he could mean to them, even as he made some questionable choices in his leadership. It really brought forth a realistic and three-dimensional version of the character. He was still the same heroic Optimus Prime, but one with deeper layers as his rise to power was examined. However, the real revelation was not what IDW did for Optimus, but what it did to Megatron.
At the start of the continuity, Megatron was just as ruthless and evil as he’d ever been with a cold and calculating mind that would stop at nothing until he achieved victory. However, James Roberts and John Barber took him in a direction the character had never gone before: making him renounce the Decepticons and become an Autobot. Megatron finally began to realize the level of damage he had inflicted upon Cybertron and the universe and willingly became an Autobot in order to atone. Under Roberts’ care, Megatron was given a great amount of examination as various bots tried to reconcile his list of evil deeds to this sudden change of heart. It opened many doors and allowed him a chance to interact with someone other than Optimus on a regular basis as he developed friendships with Rodimus, Ultra Magnus and several others. He even tried making other Decepticons realize where they went wrong and, with the exception of a conflict with the Decepticon Justice Division, refused to fight again for fear of slipping back into his murderous ways. Megatron’s development from a lowly miner and philosopher who preached against violence to revolutionary warlord to a bot trying to make amends was really something to see over the course of IDW.
Through the course of their 13 years of stories, IDW’s Transformers really became something new and special. I’ve only listed a few of the reasons why it stands out among the vast Transformers franchise, but any fan would do well to check it out and see how it breathed new life into Transformers comics. If you’ve been a fan for a while, what have some of you favourite aspects or moments been? Let us know below…