True Story: I remember this advertisement coming out (or rather the German version of it) and soon after I had my first G1 Ultra Magnus toy. This was long before the Internet, the 1986 movie would not be shown on German TV for many years yet, and all we had was a few English TF episodes from Sky Channel, which we barely understood.
So a school buddy of mine and I sat down and played with the Ultra Magnus toy, which I fully believed to be Optimus Prime wearing a suit of armor. Starting from that (false) premise, my buddy asked me whether that meant that this Galvatron guy was actually Megatron in a new body, too. I thought about it for a minute and then said: yeah, of course he is.
So bottom line: without ever having seen the 1986 movie, we correctly figured out that Galvatron and Megatron were the same guy. All because we falsely believed Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus to be the same guy. Funny how that goes sometimes.
In the second season of the original Transformers cartoon we were introduced to the Decepticon Triple-Changers Blitzwing and Astrotrain, the first Transformers with two different alternate modes. Pretty much the first thing they did was try and ursurp Megatron’s command in the episode “Triple Takeover”, but Megatron was at that point pretty used to that, I guess, so he obviously forgave them. Blitzwing was portrayed here as the typical bad guy brute, all strength and very little brains. He even recruited a human football coach to help him with stragety (which, surprisingly, worked pretty well for a while there).
Fast forward twenty in-story years, though, and we meet a very different Blitzwing. The Decepticons have fallen upon hard times, their leader Galvatron is missing, and out of nowhere there are these strange alien creatures called Quintessons, who offer a deal that seems to good to be true: get all the Energon the Decepticons want in return for doing what they like doing best: destroy some Autobots. All the Decepticons are gung-ho for this with one noteable exception: Blitzwing. The former brute seems to be the only thinker left among the troops and distrusts the Quintessons. Why? Because he seems to remember meeting them before somewhere.
Sadly the cartoon offers no further details on this, even as it goes on to put Blitzwing through a great character arc that culminates in him switching sides and going against his leader in order to help Rodimus Prime save all of Cybertron in the final episode of the 5-parter Five Faces of Darkness. Sadly we never see Blitzwing again after this episode apart from being in some crowd scenes, where he was likely added simply to fill out the ranks. He was supposed to star in the subsequent episode “Starscream’s Ghost”, but the script writers had to replace him with a new Decepticon Triple Changer toy which was available in stores at the time, Octane.
So the cartoon leaves us with two big questions: what exactly happened to Blitzwing that made him remember and distrust the Quintessons and what happened to him after the finale of Five Faces of Darkness? While the latter is wide open, there are actually some hints as to the former. Enter Overcharge, an E-Hobby exclusive repaint of the G1 Blitzwing toy, and a text story from Transformers: Timelines, the continuity established by the Transformers Collectors Club. Here Overcharge is a type of Quintesson battle robot, based on Decepticon technology (because the Quintesson-built Cybertronians couldn’t transform originally, they developed that skill / technology later on their own) and looking very much like Blitzwing.
So there are two possible stories here: one, Blitzwing remembers the Quintessons because at some point between the second season of G1 and the beginning of season 3 he was kidnapped by the Quintessons in order for them to reverse-engineer his triple-changer technology, leading to the development of the Overcharge drones (possibly briefly seen in the season 3 opening sequence, though in Blitzwing colors). Blitzwing then either escaped or was released, possibly having his memory damaged or erased by the Quintesson experiments.
Second possible story: the Quintessons actually created the triple-changing technology (probably still based on stolen technology from the Transformers) and Blitzwing began life as just another Overcharge drone himself. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Quintesson-created robot developed a mind of its own (remember, all the Transformers in the cartoon started out that way). Maybe he escaped from them and joined up with the Decepticons, who then based fellow triple-changer Astrotrain on his technology without knowing where it came from.
Either way, the final fate of G1 cartoon Blitzwing remains undisclosed. Which is sad, because after Five Faces of Darkness there was loads of potential to turn him into one of the most interesting characters in the G1 cartoon world.
It was the year 1986 and after two seasons of watching the adventures of Optimus Prime and his Autobots taking on Megatron for control of the Earth’s resources, there came the animated movie. And let’s be honest: while the movie was beautifully animated, had a kick-ass soundtrack, and featured several iconic scenes such as Optimus’ final battle against Megatron, Unicron devouring a planet, or the rise of Rodimus Prime, from a story-telling perspective it was a mixed bag at best. A huge villain turns up out of nowhere, only to be defeated by a bunch of characters fresh of the assembly line, using a McGuffin no one ever heard of before. Not to mention killing off a whole bunch of beloved characters so that new toys could be sold.
The third season of the cartoon might as well have been a whole new series. Certainly a follow-up to the old one, but with a different cast, a different setting, and a different tone. And in order to kick off this new series / season, we get what I consider the best G1 cartoon story of them all: Five Faces of Darkness. Not only the only five-parter in the cartoon’s 98-episode run, but also by far the best effort in terms of handling multiple story threads, a pretty large cast, and introducing tons of new characters.
And yes, I am fully aware that Five Faces of Darkness suffers greatly from sub-par animation and production. AKOM, the studio that handled it, had serious problems when it came to scale and coloring, frequently filled out crowd scenes with guys who were either supposed to be dead or elsewhere (for example that infamous scene on Char where Galvatron is among the Decepticons cheering for the imminent return of Galvatron), and frequently had characters mouthing lines actually belonging to others. It’s really too bad that this brilliant story wasn’t animated by the guys who did “Call of the Primitives” or “Ultimate Doom”.
But let’s get to the story itself. Five Faces of Darkness sets up the new status quo after the disastrous events of the movie. The Autobots have retaken Cybertron, now once again a populated planet (though still sparsely due to the limits of the animation budget), and you get the sense of a larger-scale galaxy with humans, Transformers, and aliens competing in an Olympics type event. At the same time the Decepticons are in shambles, having retreated to a backwater planet called Char. Autobots Wheelie and Blurr are on a secret mission carrying Metroplex’ new transforming cog to Earth. And then there are the mysterious new villains, who are observing this new world and make their own plans.
Cue the start of several parallel story threads: even as Cyclonus and the Sweeps search for the missing Galvatron, the Olympics are attacked by the new villains, who capture Ultra Magnus, Kup, and Spike (whose annoying son Daniel is, thankfully, barely in these episodes). Springer and Arcee pursue the kidnappers, while Rodimus Prime and Grimlock check on the Decepticons, thinking them responsible for the kidnapping. As it turns out, though, it’s actually the Quintessons (who first appeared in the movie, but only as a side show), mysterious aliens who seem to have a connection to the Transformers. It was all a trap to lure Rodimus Prime, wielder of the Autobot Matrix, into a trap. When Rodimus and company narrowly escape, the Quintessons switch over to plan B: recruiting the desperate Decepticons.
Speaking of the Matrix, we finally learn a bit more about it. Not only can it destroy planet-sized Transformers and turn medium-sized Autobots into Leader-sized ones, it also holds memories. Rodimus briefly experiences this as he recovers from damages, but can’t make sense of them yet. In the meantime Cyclonus and the Sweeps have made a brief stop at Unicron (who is established to still be alive despite only his head being left) and found Galvatron, who is more powerful and crazier than ever. They run into Wheelie and Blurr, stranding them on Jupiter’s moon Io, before heading home to find Char abandoned. Everyone converges on the planet Goo and we have a big skirmish that ends up with Galvatron accidentally saving Rodimus and company (who are rescued by Wreck-Gar) and ending up in an alliance with the Quintessons.
Needing to learn more about the Quintessons, Rodimus Prime accesses the memories stored in the Matrix of Leadership and we get nearly half an episode of establishing the history of the Transformers. It was the Quintessons who created them, as Cybertron used to be a robotics factory. The robots eventually developed awareness and emotions, kicking out their creators and establishing their own civilization. Tensions between the military models and consumer goods turned violent, though, and the Cybertronian wars between Autobots and Decepticons began. The final scenes are narrated by none other than Optimus Prime, who advises his young successor to prepare, as the Quintessons seek to reclaim the world that was originally theirs.
Enter the final battle as the Quintesson-Decepticon alliance stages simultaneous attacks on Earth and Cybertron. The giant city-Transformer Trypticon is awakened and destroys the old Autobot headquarters, then heads off to smash Autobot City. At the same time scores of Decepticons invade Cybertron. Meanwhile human space pilot Marissa Fairborn is off to Io to rescue Wheelie and Blurr with some help from newcomer Sky Lynx, who gleefully smashes past the new Decepticon combiner Predaking. Tensions mount. Can Sky Lynx bring the transformation cog to Metroplex before Trypticon arrives? And what are the Quintessons’ true plans, as their promise to Galvatron, a Decepticon Matrix, doesn’t exist?
In the end, it comes down to a Decepticon: Blitzwing. Suspicious of the Quintessons’ motives from the start, he overhears them talking about their deceit. When Galvatron doesn’t believe him, Blitzwing instead goes to the Autobots. And even as the battle on Earth is won with an activated Metroplex defeating Trypticon, Blitzwing and Rodimus Prime manage to stop the Quintessons from activating a failsafe deep in the bowels of Cybertron. Sadly a crazed Galvatron interferes and the failsafe is activated nevertheless, freezing all Transformers in place.
Triumphant, the Quintessons arrive on Cybertron to reclaim their new home. But they forgot one tiny detail: Spike Witwicky, unaffected by the failsafe, who manages to destroy it and reactivate the Transformers. Hostilities between Autobots and Decepticons are briefly forgotten in the face of a common enemy, but the Quintessons manage to escape. And as hostilities seem about to resume, it’s Blitzwing again who ends the battle, forcing Galvatron to call off the attacks and retreat.
The epic story ends much as the movie did with a speech by Rodimus Prime, though a more somber one this time. It is an uneasy victory they have won. The Autobots now know that the Decepticons are not their only foes. Because the Transformers have looked into the face of their creators and seen the face of an enemy.
Of course Five Faces of Darkness is far from a perfect story. Many new characters (read: new toys) appear out of nowhere as if they’d always been there. Some plot threads are left dangling, such as why Blitzwing seems to remember the Quintessons from before (the reason for his suspicions about them), where the Matrix actually came from, or why the Quintessons waited so long before attempting to regain their planet. But overall Five Faces of Darkness is, to me, a great success. We are shown a much bigger universe as the story unfolds across multiple worlds and learn about the history of the Transformers. Rodimus Prime and Galvatron are established as the new leaders of their respective factions. We get a great new enemy in the Quintessons.
Side note: the Quintessons’ being the Transformers’ creators has largely been sidelined in favor of the more popular creation story from Simon Furman featuring cosmic entities Primus and Unicron. Personally, though, I always preferred the Quintesson version, simply because it has a more realistic feeling to it and doesn’t blur the lines between magic and technology. It’s a matter of taste, of course.
In closing I must say that I enjoy the Five Faces of Darkness “movie” far more, at least in terms of the story, than the actual animated movie. It might be because I saw it first, several years before I actually got to see the movie, and really came to like the characters of Rodimus Prime, Kup, Cyclonus, Marissa Fairborn, Sky Lynx and others. The animation is terrible, yes, but I still enjoy those five episodes to this day. For me, it’s the definite Transformers movie.
Every once in a while you wonder what might have been. What great story-telling or character-development opportunities briefly teased at your imagination, but then failed to materialize. Today we are looking at one such opportunity.
Punch was an Autobot undercover agent infiltrating the Decepticon ranks under the name “Counterpunch”. He briefly appeared in the 1987 cartoon episode “The Rebirth, Part 1” were he did little but advertise his then-current toy. He played a slightly bigger role in the Japanese Headmasters cartoon, where he regularly reported on the activities of the Destrons and Scorponok to Cybertron leader Fortress Maximus. But apart from being a spy with a second robot mode we still learned very little about Punch / Counterpunch.
Finally the More than Meets the Eye profile series by Dreamwave hinted at a much more interesting version of Punch. It described him as being a cool and competent guy on the surface, but a nervous wreck on the inside, always in terror that his cover could be blown. It also described him as being so paranoid that he developed an entire full-blown personality for his “Counterpunch” cover, to the point where his behavior changed completely the moment he assumed his other robot mode. Finally, it hinted at a deep-seated psychological problem where the Counterpunch persona slowly begins to develop a life of its own, a way for Punch to indulge his darker urges while keeping himself utterly separate from them.
Sadly neither Dreamwave nor the current IDW comics ever picked up on that. Imagine a story set in the current IDW comics universe, where the war is pretty much over, and amidst a horde of other characters already struggling what to do now you have Punch, basically James Bond with multiple personality disorder, looking to rid himself of the now-unnecessary Counterpunch persona. Counterpunch doesn’t want to go, though, setting the stage for a full-on Fight-Club-esque sequence of events where the two personalities strive for dominance. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly buy a Spotlight issue or mini-series featuring that.
To this day, though, Punch / Counterpunch remains one of the most underutilized Transformers characters of them all.
When it comes to Star Trek movies there is no beating Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, but the one movie that came very, very close for me was Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country. As the Cold War ended in the real world, this movie asked the interesting question: does the end of a war automatically mean peace? And it provided the answer, too: no, just because the fighting is officially over does not mean all is well. Ending a war is oftentimes far, far easier than winning the peace.
IDW comics, who ended their version of the Great War with the Chaos Event, has explored the aftermath of the war ever since. You have disgruntled soldiers on both sides who refuse to lay down their arms or don’t know what to do with their lives now. You have a vast population of neutrals who are not happy with either side and just want to rebuild their civilization. Then there is Starscream, who has managed to manipulate said population and got himself elected king of Cybertron, his ambitions only barely held in check by newcomer Windblade. And there is Optimus Prime, of course, who struggles to find a new place in this world, where half the Transformers regard him as a war criminal while the other half regards him as a deity.
Most interesting, to me, is Megatron, however. When he was first made into an Autobot at the end of the Dark Cybertron arc I did not expect much of it. It came too quickly after his latest bid to conquer the planet and there seemed little reason for him to change. Him joining the crew of the Lost Light in order to find and be judged by the legendary Knights of Cybertron seemed little more than a plot contrievance to get him onto the ship. Ever since then, though, Megatron has surprised me, which is mostly due to how writer James Roberts has handled him in the More than Meets the Eye series. In a beautiful character scene with Ravage, for example, he ponders when exactly he became a monster and, more importantly, when stopped caring about being a monster.
And more recently there was a tremendous scene when the Lost Light crew stopped on the planet of the Necrobot. The Necrobot has taken it upon himself to record every last death of the Cybertronian race. Every living Cybertronian has a holographic statue upon this world and when they die, the Necrobot switches the hologram off. Megatron learns that the Necrobot also plants a techno-organic flower for every Cybertronian killed and he plants them at the foot of the statue of the killer. Megatron visits his own statue then… and is stunned at seeing it standing in the middle of a vast field, surrounded by millions of flowers. Not a single word is spoken, but the image of a despondent Megatron, standing alone in a sea of flowers (aka corpses) clearly conveys that, maybe for the first time ever, he actually realizes how many lives he has destroyed.
The hardest thing for any story writer is to make the readers care about the characters, especially the bad guy characters. For most of his 30+ year career as main bad guy in the Transformers franchise, Megatron has been little more than the stereotypical would-be conquerer. Powerful, evil, occasionally brilliant, oftentimes cool, sometimes ludicrous. James Roberts has managed, though, to give Megatron a believable back story as the disgruntled miner who saw his attempts at peaceful revolution crushed and finally concluded that violence was the only answer, only to be utterly corrupted in the process. And he has also managed to get Megatron started on the first shaky steps towards redemption. Will it work? Will this great character arc reach a satisfying conclusion? I don’t know yet, but I do know I’ll keep reading. Which, I guess, is the biggest compliment a reader can give to a writer.
Renowned comic artist Phil Jimenez had, at one time, pitched a comic book crossover between the G1 Transformers and DC Comics’ Justice League. Sadly the proposal never went anywhere, but oh my, look at that beautiful artwork above.
Sadly, this crossover seems to be firmly filed away under Things That Could Have Been.
Read more here: comicbookresources.com