Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of the IDW Transformer comics. More Than Meets The Eye is arguably the best comic published in the 2010s and got me back into comic book stores after over a decade of not collecting, and Robots in Disguise/The Transformers turned out to be secondary to that ONLY in that gold will always seem inferior next to pure diamond. There’s a reason that, despite the billions the Bay movies bring the company, Hasbro usually chooses the IDW comics as the standard bearers of the Transformers brand. That said…I have some real problems with some of the aspects of the IDW canon. Mostly this is simply due to a matter of perspective; I’m a United States citizen who was 11 years old, living in the waning years of the Cold War and the height of Reagan’s America when the Transformers debuted. Hell, I even accused the property of being a “cheap Go-Bots rip-off” on first exposure…until the cartoon, the comics, and the TOYS won my heart. More so the former two, since as the second youngest of 7 children whose parents had already decided that since I’d been collecting “Masters of The Universe” the previous year, THAT was the toy line I was allowed to be into. So, in lieu of the far more expensive Hasbro toys, I instead renamed the much cheaper and easier to get Go-Bots, as well as various bootleg mecha from swap meets, into Autobots and Decepticons. The mythology and the characters are what won me over, particularly that of the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime…and there is where I feel the IDW writers have stumbled the most. Or, rather, it is Orion Pax which is the crux of their first error. In Barber, Roberts, and Furman’s defense, they aren’t the only ones to make this mistake, as Dreamwave chose to completely ignore Pax in favor of Optronix, the scholarly data clerk who was later paid homage to in the flawed but popular Transfomers Prime cartoon series. The IDW iteration of Pax, however, went the complete opposite direction, eschewing the scholarly origin in favor of ORION PAX: SUPER COP. Known for entering scenes by jumping off the nearest rooftop, for being the one honest cop on a corrupt police force, and for doing the kind of high-octane, morally unimpeachable super heroics that would make Captain America tell him to turn it down a notch, IDW Orion was both a parody of 80s American heroic fiction and an earnest replication of them. He was so perfect that Optimus later simply started calling himself by his old name again and nobody really noticed…which is the whole problem. There was no growth, no character arc…Hell, not even the implied mutation to demi godhood by the Matrix as was seen with Hot Rod/Rodimus in the ’86 movie, and therefore was implied with him. Oddly, they inexplicably kept the part where Orion was rebuilt into his Optimus body by a meddling ally who apparently “saw something greater in him,” but in the IDW version he was simply one of Senator Shockwave’s numerous possible candidates for Matrix Bearer. The problem with the IDW Pax, as stated, is that there was no character growth, and therefore it was easier to further distance Optimus Prime from those he led, to make him just as “apart” from his troops as most political leaders are from their constituents. By contrast, the IDW version of Megatron was rewritten as almost a super heroic version of Karl Marx, a low-born miner-turned-gladiator whose maniacal despotism and mass-murdering tendencies apparently hid the sensitive soul of a philosopher-poet and whose genocidal Decepticon hordes started out as a rebellion for equality…but more on this later. For all its flaws, the original Sunbow cartoon has the version of Pax, and of Optimus Prime, that resonates the loudest to me. The example I repeatedly bring up to friends is the episode that started with the almost obligatory post-“E.T.” scene of “teaching the aliens some random aspect of earth culture,” in this case basketball, and, sure enough, there was Prime out on the courts with his troops, dribbling the comically tiny ball and dunking Like Mike. Even more telling was the later throwaway gag of Optimus on monitor duty, twirling the tiny ball on his fingertip. Why, though, is THIS of all things the defining moment for one of the biggest fictional characters of the past thirty years? Remember what I said earlier: IDW’s Prime is an “Other,” a politician-messiah who stands apart from his followers, Robo-Christ and Tony Blair all in one red-white (OK, silver)-and-blue bot. The original Prime, however, wasn’t above his men, he was one of them. He fought with them, he played with them, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder and knew each of their names and personalities, and he even took his shift on monitor duty same as anyone under him. The original Megatron, by contrast, only seemed to remember those most useful to him or, in Starscream’s case, were the biggest nuisances; countless times he simply referred to his troops as “you there,” even throwing ONE-THIRD OF A COMBINER TEAM, Reflector, who would be useless without him, into the test pod for the Space Bridge to face almost certain death. Optimus cracked jokes with his Autobots; Megatron used his troops indiscriminately as resources for his plans. What does this have to do with Orion Pax? In the season 2 episode “War Dawn,” we finally meet Pax, as well as his friends Dion and Ariel. Was he a sequestered data clerk, hidden from the realities of the world? No. Was he an unbeatable super-cop bucking the system in the name of justice? No. He was a young dock worker, a stupid kid with a shitty job and equally foolish friends looking up at the sight of Megatron and his Decepticons soaring over head with awe and envy. He was US. This was a powerful moment for me as a kid just entering my teenage years, that the character I’d come to love had once been as taken in by the sleek looks and power of the villains as anyone else. It quite literally took being on the business end of Megatron’s fusion cannon to shock him to his senses; it took his and his girlfriend’s near-murder, and the apparent murder of their best friend, to wake him to the reality of the Decepticon cause. This was when Optimus Prime was born, both physically and as a character, but as we saw from the earlier episodes he never forgot that he was still someone from, well, the streets, a regular guy who obviously ended up putting the well-being of life, ALL life, and the breaking of Decepticon power above revenge or retribution. …I feel I should add that “sequestered data clerk” is not meant as a slight against white-collar workers versus blue-collar. I’m just saying, as someone who spent over a decade as a data entry specialist then another decade-plus working various blue collar jobs, including my current stint as front desk at a motel, there is a PROFOUND difference between working in your cubicle, isolated by all but other cubicle-workers and dealing with faceless voices over telephones, and doing physical labor and working directly with people face-to-face, both customers/clients and co-workers doing the same thing. I miss my cubicle, dammit… Now, I will be the first to admit that the current redemption arc that Megatron is undergoing has made for compelling reading; I always prefer a full character as a villain to a cardboard cutout, this is why Megatron has remained salient over contemporaries like Cy-Kill and why his Beast Wars successor stands out as the greatest villain to bear the name despite his more cartoonish eccentricities (and his live-action representation has remained little more than a disposable joke). However, the changes made to both the Autobot and Decepticon ideologies, I feel, have undermined these properties to the detriment of both. I mentioned Beast Wars, and this is indeed where one of the defining elements of this change first started: as the series went on, we learned more and more about the fate of the original series’ elements, how the Decepticons ultimately lost the “Great War” and were reduced to, at best, a historical footnote, with implications of Decepticon ghettos and Autobot oppression. This was admittedly an odd stance to take for a kids’ show who once had an episode-long buildup to an epic fart joke, but Beast Wars was never a show to shy away from experimentation and innovation. Now, I feel the need to reiterate and elaborate on the differences of perspective between myself and at least two of the IDW writers: they come from the U.K. and, naturally, have a MUCH different perspective on the franchise than I ever could have. Indeed, the IDW depiction of the Autobots and Decepticons seems based upon the post-Cold War United States and the former Soviet Union, with Megatron as the founding Karl Marx analogue (as previously mentioned), almost legendary and larger than life as an overly-romanticized “worthy foe,” while Optimus represents the United States president, simply the latest to bear the title and doing his best to bear the weight of the sins of his predecessors. Again, compelling stuff, but my perspective and experiences with the franchise inform a different view of the opposing parties. It’s been said since that the term “Autobot” is a portmanteau of the term “autonomous robot” …this is very important to the ideology of the faction, since they are defined by their individuality. The Autobots, to my view, have always been a collection of personalities, of actual people pulled from their comfort zones and thrust into a war they neither wanted nor expected to survive. Look at the “Functions” on the Tech Specs of so many of them: metallurgist. Theoretician. Architect. These aren’t soldiers by design, they’re conscripted civilians, uprooted from home and putting their faith and trust in their commander to get them through alive. This is why Pax’s “blue collar” origin was so important to the creation of Optimus Prime: he may be “General Patton vonJesus-Bot 2.0” NOW, but he still started as one of them, and never forgot his roots among the common man. By contrast, the Decepticons are the military industrial complex, the elite warrior class backed by disposable mass-produced Seekers and, later, Vehicons. They have the best toys, the deadliest weapons, and the SKY ITSELF among their advantages. They stand upon their ebony towers, sneering down at the expendable masses as they soar heedlessly overhead. It was one of the most subtle and effective elements of Transformers Animated that the first thing the corrupt Sentinel Prime did upon gaining the status of “acting Magnus” was to adopt the Decepticon doctrine of the “faceless minion” with his Autotrooper forces, volunteers’ sparks transplanted into mass-produced bodies to carry out his will. Anyone who has studied politics or, given the pop-culture nature of the Transformers, read up on “Star Wars” and/or Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth will identify that the first act of most despots is to strip those beneath them of their identity in order to better subsume them into the mechanism of their regime, particularly soldiers. It’s not a coincidence that most of the generic “army builder” Transformers bear Decepticon sigils. In IDW’s canon, however, this has been reversed: the current Autobots are merely the latest iteration of the Functionist Movement, which prioritizes the alt mode over the robot who turns into it, and the title of “Prime” is so universally reviled that even ROM, a cyborg mistaken for Cybertronian who has spent centuries hunting parasitic space wizards, spit on the word in the recent “Revolution” crossover. Meanwhile, the Decepticons (and, sorry, NOBODY has EVER been able to come up with a feasible reason for the faction to call themselves that in over 30 years) started as a rebellion by miners and the downtrodden, oppressed masses against the AUTOBOTS. The writers STILL haven’t given a reason why they ended up as the mass-murdering planet ravagers they did beyond “war changes you.” …it’s almost like the Decepticons are Cybertron’s version of the Underpants Gnomes of South Park: Step 1: Rebel against our oppressors in the name of equality; Step 2: ????????; Step 3: Planetary genocide against all organic life and universal domination (Step 4: Profit?). In trying to force the “post-Cold War” metaphor, the writers have completely forgotten what defines the factions they’re writing. I’m all for shades of grey, and some excellent stories have come from these men and women (woman?), but the core ideologies of the Autobots and Decepticons are what MAKES them Autobots and Decepticons, and Orion Pax’s origin is at the heart of this. Without his, well, “humanity,” Optimus Prime is as faceless as any Vehicon and just as compelling. Again, though, this is simply one fan’s perspective.