Friday, May 5, 2017

Mike's Top 50 Favorite Transformers Characters Part 1: 50-41

I love Transformers.  It's my favorite fictional thing...ever.  It was officially born the same year I was and in those thirty-something years, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of characters in the Transformers Universe.  And these are my top 50 favorite ones, which I'll be doling out in five installments of this list.

First, a disclaimer; this isn't a "BEST" list of the greatest or most iconic Transformers in the franchise- these are the ones near and dear to my geeky heart for one reason or another.  It might be because of what they did in a piece of fiction, it might be because I love the toy, or it might even be they remind me of myself!

With that said, come on this journey with me!

50. Atomizer
First Appearance- "Bullets", text story in Last Stand of the Wreckers trade (2010)

This asshole.

Atomizer's an original character created by James Roberts for the IDW comics.  He was first mentioned in a text story in the back of the "Last Stand of the Wreckers" trade paperback, and later became a crew member of the Autobot spaceship, the Lost Light.

As a huge fan of Marvel Comics character Hawkeye, how can I not like another dude who wields a bow and arrow?  He's got a cool design and I'm also usually drawn to those morally ambiguous wetworks-type characters.  Atomizer is said to have been a former assassin, is buds with Getaway (who is higher on this list), and he's clearly been in my favorite guy Prowl's employ at some point. (Did I just spoil my number one pick already?? OH NO.)

Also, Atomizer's something of a writing critic (obviously a personal quirk of mine), and while some may loathe his guts for helping to try and get "beloved" Lost Light mascot Tailgate murdered, I'm not one of those people.  In actuality, I'd consider trying to get Tailgate killed a service, considering I've never really cared for that little white and blue ball of obnoxiousness.

I'd love an actual figure of him in the future- a new mold, retool or long as he comes with some kind of arrow-shooting weapon.

49. Starscream (Movie)
First Appearance- IDW Transformers Movie Prequel # 1 (2007)

I'll say something that I'm sure will be shocking; I've never been a huge fan of ANY version of Starscream.  I mean, I'm fine with him...but he's just never been a favorite character of mine.  However, this version of Starscream was one I actually became invested in, and that's completely down to the 2008 IDW mini-series "Reign of Starscream" by Chris Mowry and Alex Milne.  We had Starscream-centric stories before in the past, but this was a five-issue series told almost completely from Starscream's point of view that really fleshed out this incarnation in a way that none of the other movie fiction did at that point.  Certainly not the actual Michael Bay movie itself, which allotted THREE lines to the guy, and one was in Cybertronian.

In Reign of Starscream, the titular character was written as an intelligent, competent warrior with his own plan for the Decepticons.  The first issue basically tells his perspective of the events of the '07 movie and we get a real sense that the Decepticons in this universe might be better off with Megatron staying dead.  Later in the series, Starscream comes very close to succeeding where Megatron failed and then has to deal with his own "Starscream" as his subordinate Dreadwing betrays him.  The whole way through, the reader is practically made to root for Starscream and hope he overcomes the difficulties put in his path.  He was quite surprisingly a charismatic, compelling protagonist throughout the story.

And his entrance to take on the Decepticon deserter Wreckage in the follow-up comic series "Alliance" is pretty badass.

Sadly, this version of Movie Starscream is pretty much limited to the writing of Chris Mowry.  Virtually every other appearance of him, particularly the subsequent films, paints him as either a mewling, cowardly sycophant or a generally hopeless wannabe leader.  Ah well.

His Leader Class toy (which was released under the "Masterpiece" line in Japan) is pretty awesome, and one of my favorite Transformers toys ever.  Sure, you've got to get past the fact of...well...Movie Starscream's very odd character design, but if you can accept that, you'll find that the Leader Class figure is one of the most accurate representations of an on-screen character in toy form ever.  I dig the "tribal tats" he gave himself after the first movie (as seen in the aforementioned Alliance mini-series.)  He's even got sound clips and they're weirdly adorable.

“No one can defeat Stah-scweam!” 

48. Oil Slick (Animated)
First Appearance- Transformers Animated: The Arrival # 3, second story "Bots of Science" (2008)

Here's an odd guy.  Oil Slick was created by the Animated toy design team, and the staff of the cartoon didn't even know he existed until production had already begun on the first season.  I've listed his first fictional appearance above, but Oil Slick first appeared in the public eye on a toy shelf.  I scooped up his toy because...well, check him out!  What a cool-looking, distinct Decepticon; the domed head, the elongated arms, the chain-n'-barrel weapon...this guy has got some serious personality in his design.  Without even knowing a thing about him, you can probably guess his schtick just by looking at him.

Oil Slick's a "chemical warrior", who enjoys employing various deadly liquids against his foes.  His first fictional appearance, the above-mentioned comic story, featured Ratchet encountering him lying sick and dying on a Cybertronian battlefield littered with the corpses of those who died in a biological attack.  Ratchet, being the good medic that he is, helps cure Oil Slick only to be immediately betrayed and infected with Cosmic Rust by the Decepticon.  Turns out, Oil Slick was the one who unleashed the Cosmic Rust on enemies and allies alike, just to see what would happen!  He accidentally was hit with some of his own weapon in the process, and if not for Ratchet being a good Samaritan, would have perished along with the rest.

This comic story was later adapted into a kid's read-along book.  Let me repeat that so you hear it properly; THIS STORY ABOUT AN EVIL DECEPTICON WHO UNLEASHED A LETHAL CHEMICAL ATTACK ON HIS OWN COMRADES WAS ADAPTED INTO A CHILDREN'S BOOK.  Makes you wonder if that sort of thing would even fly today, just under ten years later...but Hasbro's never been shy about putting their stamp of approval on lots of horrific, violent things in Transformers.  They're just robots, after all!

In whatever case, Oil Slick eventually made it onto the cartoon in Season 3, although it was mostly just a brief cameo.  Phil LaMarr did his best George Takei impression in voicing his one line, and Oil Slick even got to infect Rodimus Prime with Cosmic Rust.  He might have had a bigger role in the aborted fourth season of Animated, as a new character model was made for him with bigger and more menacing-looking chemical weapon dispensers, but sadly we'll never know.  However, for having a great design, a cool toy, and making the most of his limited fictional appearances, Oil Slick certainly left an impression on me.

 47. Crosscut (G1 Autobot)
First Appearance- Transformers Botcon 2002 special comic "Enter the Wreckers, Part 2: Betrayal"

Crosscut was an exclusive Japanese redeco of Skids that utilized one of the other Diaclone heads originally made for the pre-Transformers toy mold.  He and his fellow exclusive Road Rage actually have the distinction of being the first two brand-new characters added to the Generation 1 era since the original line ended.  His Japanese bio paints him as an Autobot diplomat who serves as "first contact" for the Autobots with many alien races.

However, I didn't really care about him until James Roberts added him to the crew of the Lost Light and invented a new occupation and personality for him.  IDW's Crosscut is known for being the Cybertronian Senator who "liberated the city of Petrex with wise words and a shovel", so I guess he was one of the very few non-douchebag Senators back when there was a Senate.  He's often drawn in scenes holding his trademark shovel, and once I got the 2014 Generations toy version of him, I had to also find a miniature shovel that he could carry around.

However, the attribute of IDW Crosscut that made me like him is that he's also a playwright and regularly performs his work aboard the Lost Light.  I dabbled in theater in high school and the bits that Roberts writes for Crosscut in regards to that usually earn a bemused smirk from me and have led to me making things like this-

His Generations toy is quite a good mold too, brimming with weapons.  But all Crosscut really needs is a sturdy shovel!

46. Ultra Magnus (Prime)
First Appearance- Transformers: Exodus novel (2010) 

Ultra Magnus is my favorite character on Transformers: Prime and I'd go so far to say that he is probably my favorite incarnation of the character across all continuities period.  He's pretty much an amalgamation of every other major version of Ultra Magnus and voiced on the cartoon by a man with one of the most badass voices of all-time, Michael Ironside.

Prime's Ultra Magnus is subcommander of the Autobots like he is in G1 most of the time, a spearhead for the Wreckers like he is in Marvel and Dreamwave continuities, a roving law-enforcer and stickler for rules and regulations like his IDW-self, and usually wields a big hammer like his Animated-self.  I was not really an avid watcher of Transformers: Prime for its first two seasons, but once this guy showed up, I watched the show every week just to get a dose of Ultra Ironside.  Sadly, he got taken out early in Predacons Rising, the "movie" finale of Prime and had to spend the rest of it on a hospital bed.  LAME.

He gets his hand destroyed by Predaking midway through Prime's third season and winds up with a replacement claw...which was kind of cool actually and gave him a sort of trademark of his own.  I bought a Shapeways replication of that claw for the Voyager class "Beast Hunters" figure, which is probably the most accurate toy version of this Ultra Magnus- particularly the Japanese "Adventure" repaint of it.  The only thing that sucks about that Voyager toy is that the hammer he comes with is small and non-threatening- it looks like Magnus is going to play croquet or something instead of smashing fools into paste.  There are some third-party options for a larger, more-accurate hammer, but they're mostly out-of-production and way expensive nowadays.  Gargh, why must cool accessories cost more than the actual figure itself???

There are a lot of other toys though; thanks to Prime's relatively-small cast, everyone got multiple figures at multiple size classes and this Ultra Magnus has no less than five different figures across four size-classes, if not more.

As Magnus himself would put it- "Your options are looking...robust."

45. Scourge (Robots in Disguise)
First Appearance- Transformers: Car Robots episode 14 ""Foe? Friend!? Black Convoy"/Transformers: Robots In Disguise episode 14 "The Decepticons" (2000/2001)

Scourge isn't the first evil Optimus Prime duplicate, but he is certainly the one who defined the role.  In all honesty, I don't have any particularly strong feelings about his portrayal in the cartoon...basically his whole characterization was "he's angry most of the time."  He even named his blade "Sword of Fury" and was often wont to swing it around in a rage.  He wanted to take leadership from Megatron, he tried, he failed, and then got reprogrammed to be completely loyal.  The end.  Not much scope for character growth there.  He had a cool English dub voice though- R.I.P. Mr. Barry Stigler.

Still, there's a lot to be said for style, and Scourge looks absolutely awesome.  I always liked his English name and thought it was quite fitting for a corrupted duplicate of Optimus Prime.  He could have been hated by his allies for looking like their greatest enemy and hated by his enemies for looking like their greatest hero- he's a "Scourge" of Autobot and Decepticon alike!  Unfortunately that's not really how he played out in the actual show but it would have been a cool way to go with him.  Activate headcanon!

The thing that REALLY puts him on this list is his original toy, a redeco of the Generation 2 Laser Optimus Prime mold.  It is easily one of my favorite Transformers toys of all time.  That mold looks so much more appropriate as a bad guy, and is jam-packed with weapons.  The transformation is simple, yet elegant- the way the head swings around into or out of his stomach has always been a cool bit of engineering to me.  He's in perfect scale with RID Optimus Prime and now with the more recent Unite Warriors release of his buddies, the "Commandos", he's got an appropriately-big Ruination/Baldigus to hang with too!

His original toy is also infamous for having some of the WORST stock photography ever on the box.

If you've owned Scourge, you can see above that it must have been a truly amazing and heroic effort to fail so hard at transforming him.  The guy who did it must have also given his transformation difficulty ranking too.  "3 out of 4?"  C'mon, he's a 1.5 at BEST if you've ever actually held a Transformer in your life.

44. Crosshairs (Age of Extinction)
First Appearance- Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

The live-action films have traditionally, with few exceptions, just tagged old names on Transformers and expected our nostalgia to do the rest., we didn't give a crap about Jazz dying in the first movie because he wasn't so much a character as a stereotype and we barely spent any time with him.  The writers didn't get much better with subsequent movies, but I can say that Age of Extinction easily had the most well-defined Autobot cast, at least personality-wise.  And Crosshairs was my favorite new character of the bunch.

Crosshairs was the acerbic wisecracker and cynic of the group, a sharpshooter and a saboteur, and not entirely convinced of either the Autobot cause or any kind of worth in humanity.  He was basically Rattrap, if Rattrap were green and had a faux-trench coat made of car kibble.  That's probably more than I could tell you about any other Autobot save Optimus Prime in any of the three other movies.  Voiced by the lovably-gruff John DiMaggio (bite his shiny metal ass), Crosshairs had virtually all my favorite lines in the movie, describing loyalty to Optimus Prime as "some kinda brainwashing or something!" and casually reminding the humans that on top of all the other lethal dangers in Lockdown's ship...they should also beware of radiation.

Crosshairs was also quite cool to watch in action, and I actually like the weird "trench coat and goggles" look he's got going on.  He's simply quite distinct on every level and it's nice to have a guy named "Crosshairs" who has demonstrated his skills with firearms in actual fiction.  I mean, G1 Crosshairs is fine and all, but he's never really done anything impressive with his given occupation and skill set in anything yet.  The other Movie-verse Crosshairs- the repaint of Energon Strongarm, just somewhat-inharmoniously carried around a giant axe as his primary weapon.  However, AOE Crosshairs has got some mad skillz.

His deluxe AOE toy is alright...I liked it enough to spring for the better-painted Takara one when it decreased in price eventually.  Supposedly we're getting a retooled and improved version of Crosshairs in The Last Knight toy line, but I guess we'll see just HOW improved.  Gotta give the toy designers credit for getting the "trench coat" to work without inhibiting articulation and you can even store the little sticky-bombs (they're sticky-bombs, NOT tiny pistols) he comes with inside it.  I wouldn't mind a larger, "Human Alliance"-style version of Crosshairs, but the deluxe is a pretty decent mold if you're into that kind of thing.

43. Lockdown
First Appearance- Transformers Animated episode 7- "The Thrill of the Hunt" (2008)

"Badass bounty hunter" is a pretty popular archetype in science fiction, and over its long life, the Transformers franchise has had a few of them.  The first was probably Death's Head, Simon Furman's original character that he introduced back in Marvel UK stories to fill the bounty hunter role because...well, there were no real strictly-bounty hunter-type characters in Transformers at that point.  Death's Head is one of my personal favorite comic book characters...but despite him originating in Transformers, I've disqualified him from this list.  Hey, he can go play in the Marvel universe and wait for those writers who think he's awesome to elevate him in stature any time!  Besides, Animated Lockdown's ship is named "the Death's Head", which is a fitting tribute.  Aside from Death's Head, there's also Devcon and Axer in terms of other Transformers bounty hunters, but neither of them really ever gained enough traction with fans.

Enter Lockdown; created as a recurring bad guy for Transformers Animated and quickly striking a chord with viewers.  Thanks to a transplant into Movie continuity and a starring role in Age of Extinction, he's since become the premiere bounty hunter in the Transformers multiverse.  Aside from that, he's also been dropped into G1 continuity as of the IDW comics and is even in the current "Earth Wars" mobile game.  The overall concept is just too popular to let go of.

This entry is mostly for Animated Lockdown, the first and best version of him...but he's so dang similar in other continuities that I felt it was silly to leave the other versions out.  I was actually disappointed they didn't get Lance Henriksen back to voice the character in Age of Extinction...he certainly gave Lockdown a distinct personality.  Speaking of personality, I really like it when robots wear capes or cloaks...just something cool and absurd about it, and I custom'd up a "space poncho" for my Lockdown toys (it fits both the Animated and Revenge of the Fallen figures) so he can look all Clint Eastwood-y.

His original Animated toy is a great (and huge) deluxe, although you might have to do the "wrist-fix" thing to get him perfect.  His Revenge of the Fallen toy is a cool experiment in converting a character between two completely-opposite series design styles, and also probably has the most articulated robot mode neck of any Transformer ever.  It is also abnormally-tall for a deluxe, keeping in tradition with the Animated version.  The Age of Extinction design/toy...well, it's a departure but it has some weird charm of its own, like the B.F.G. head cowling.  Too short though, which is probably why I didn't buy it...Lockdown's gotta be tall!

There's also a few expensive third-party options for the guy, and let's face it; Lockdown as an overall concept is probably not going anywhere soon.  Any sci-fi fan worth their salt loves badass bounty hunters and those fans will keep Lockdown popular for years to come.

"Not bad for a...human."

42. Shockwave (Movie)
First Appearance- Transformers the Game (2007)

My fellow Fanhole and Bottalker Rung once said something to me that I have found to be pretty true over the years; no matter what the design or the series, it's usually a safe bet that any homage to G1 Shockwave will look cool and sometimes be the only toy you actually will pick up from a line that mostly doesn't appeal to you.  That completely applies to me and Shockwave from the Dark of the Moon toyline- he IS the only figure I bought from that iteration of the Movie franchise!

Of course, he's got the usual Movie aesthetic of being much too busy and his alt-mode looks like a pile of scrap metal masquerading as a tank...but honestly, when has any Shockwave had a truly "realistic" alt-mode?  And as far as the robot mode goes, all you really have to do is nail the singular optic and the gun arm and you're 90% the way there to having a good Shockwave design.  So Movie Shockwave does indeed meet the minimum requirements for being a good interpretation of least in terms of physicality.

As far as personality goes...well, don't look to the actual movie.  Shockwave was basically used as a big fat red herring in Dark of the Moon.  See, they needed to hide the fact that Sentinel Prime was going to end up being the big bad, so virtually all the promotional material sold Shockwave as the next big threat.  However, he uh...didn't really do anything in the film.  Sure, he was fearsome-looking, but he got only one line ("Optimusss...") and his monstrous "Driller" pet did most of the destructive work.  Then Optimus Prime got his murderface on and tore Shockwave's lone eye out through his throat while snarling "YOU DIE!"  I'm still uncertain if Optimus was threatening him or just describing his entire role in DOTM, but that was that for Shockwave on the big screen.

BUT!  There is another reason Shockwave is here, and like with Movie Starscream, it has to do with those lovely folks at IDW.  God-of-all-continuity John Barber wrote a pair of prequel mini-series to Dark of the Moon that heavily featured Shockwave and nailed down his character.  Instead of a cold logician like G1 Shockwave, a temperamental berserker like Energon Shockblast, or a cool and collected double agent like Animated Shockwave, THIS Shockwave is a bloodthirsty assassin who lives to kill.  He's a true sociopath with no empathy for others and only sides with Megatron because Megatron gives him the most opportunity to slaughter other sentient beings.  In fact, the only slight emotional attachment that he appears to possess is to his giant pet Driller, which is completely devoted to him.

Shockwave is a literal murder machine in Barber and Carlos Magno's mini-series "Rising Storm", where he cleans house among the cluttered Movie-verse cast and kills virtually every Movie Autobot character not appearing in Dark of the Moon.  He even kills that one asshole human bureaucrat guy from Revenge of the Fallen whose name I can't be bothered to look up!  It was all somewhat akin to General Grevious' appearance in the Genndy Tartatovsky Clone Wars series in that he was super-badass in tie-in fiction, but his actual appearance in the film itself left a lot to be desired.  Seeing a version of Shockwave (whose G1 version is much, much higher on this list) coldly tear his way through these (let's be honest) no longer on shelf products was some great fun to me.

The way Shockwave kills Elita-1 is possibly one of my most favorite "kills" ever in Transformers fiction.  Elita is on her way from upstate New York to warn Optimus Prime of Shockwave’s surprise attack on their base.  With Soundwave jamming Autobot communications, she drives all the way to Philadelphia where Optimus is engaged on another front, to deliver the news in person.  Meanwhile, having finished slaughtering dozens of Autobots and humans at the Autobot/NEST base, Shockwave takes to Earth orbit and then begins descending again.  After weathering more Decepticon pursuers on her way, Elita finally arrives to the battlefield in Philly and…

S**t, that is some cold slag, son.  Maybe you kind of understand why Mister Optimus pulled the bad man's eye out his throat now, huh?

41. Lio Convoy
First Appearance- Beast Wars II episode # 1- "The New Forces Arrive!" (1998)

Beast Wars II was a series created in Japan to fill a gap in material produced by the West after the first season of Beast Wars.  Season 2 of Beast Wars simply wasn’t long enough to justify a timeslot on Japanese television, so they opted to wait and combine seasons 2 and 3 into “Beast Wars Metals” years later.  In that time gap, two cel-animated series were produced that took place in a different time period and somewhat-different setting than the CG Beast Wars, but still maintained the overall concept of “Transformers that turn into animals.”  While most of the character models for Beast Wars II came from already-existing Beast Wars toys in the West, the leaders of the two factions were given all-new models and thus all-new toys.

Lio Convoy was the leader of the Maximals (or “Cybertrons” in Japan) and in the earlier days of the Transformers Internet fandom, there seemed to be a lot of speculation and/or fan aura surrounding this guy.  I can remember reading several fanfics where writers would re-purpose Lio Convoy as a Beast Era version of Optimus Prime himself, even though he was intended to be a new character.  I know I had similar thoughts upon first seeing pictures of him and figured he had to be more important than Optimus Primal since he looked a lot more like Optimus Prime!  I guess I must have also thought Lion > Gorilla on the beast hierarchy too.  Ironically, Lio Convoy and Optimus Primal WOULD eventually meet up in the Beast Wars II movie, and Primal would be the one who was considered “legendary” in fiction at that point.

People would speculate in those early days over whether Lio's toy would officially be brought over to this side of the ocean.  I mean, you could import him, but buying stuff over the Internet wasn’t as widespread or appealing a prospect back then.  Hasbro eventually opened an official Collectors website that offered him among some other Japanese Beast Wars toys, and eventually with the explosion of eBay’s popularity, Lio Convoy became extremely available for anyone who wanted one.  Like...I remember seeing whole pyramids of him in some hobby shops I’d visit in the early ‘oughts.  Once I finally obtained one, I was...underwhelmed, I guess.  Don’t get me wrong; he’s a fairly-solid toy...but I had spent so many years building Lio Convoy up in my head, that the toy could never meet those expectations.

The character of Lio Convoy himself is also okay, but he’s just your standard Autobot/Maximal/Cybertron commander...pure and good and stern and extra-full of burning justice and the like.  Simon Furman brought him into the US comics with the IDW Beast Wars mini-series and made him the leader of “the Pack”- more or less a Beast Era version of the Autobot commando group, the Wreckers.  That was cool and all, but the character still didn’t really leap out at me again like he originally had when there was more of that mysterious and mostly fan-created aura around him.

What finally DID earn Lio this spot on my list is his usage by Jim Sorenson and David Bishop in their series of prose stories from the (now-defunct) Transformers Collector’s Club.  “Beast Wars: Uprising” is set in an alternate dystopian future (are there any other kinds of alternate futures worth reading about?) where the Maximals and Predacons are forced to battle in gladiatorial games by their now-corrupt and complacent progenitors- the Builders (former Autobots and Decepticons).  It was basically the Hunger Games with Transformers, and Lio Convoy was cast as Katniss (or “Cat-niss”, heh-heh), albeit without the teenybopper love triangle.

Through this compelling series of stories, Lio Convoy leads the Resistance against the Builders’ army of Micromasters and eventually helps fend off a Vehicon apocalypse that they unwittingly unleash.  It was great stuff and while Lio Convoy is the chief focus of only a couple of stories, his presence is always felt as Supreme Commander of the Resistance.  The tough wartime choices Lio makes over the course of the series are sometimes shocking and sometimes heartbreaking, and the reader is always left wondering if he’s gone too far...or not far enough.

It was because of Uprising that I sprung for the Japanese repaint of the Titans Return Alpha Trion toy as Lio Convoy, who eventually wears that body in the latter half of the series.  It basically comes full circle, only this time, I COULD get my hands on that cool-looking Japanese toy over the Internet and this time I was getting it for who Lio Convoy actually was...not for who I thought he could be.


And that's that for the first batch.  Stay tuned for 40-31!

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