Cold-War Politics, Orion Pax, and IDW's Biggest Mistake

Discussion in 'Transformers Comics Discussion' started by Heckfire, Oct 18, 2016.

  1. Heckfire

    Heckfire General Patton vonJesus-Bot 2.0

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    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.
     
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  2. Bumblebee2000

    Bumblebee2000 Well-Known Member

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    Orion Pax Super Cop always bugged me, as cool as it is on the surface, but you've actually made that funny feeling into a compelling argument. Prime isn't Prime without some humanity (to me anyway).
    There's definitely a missing piece in the Decepticon puzzle, which I'm hoping someone comes and fixes. A Megatron mini-series or flashblack plot in Lost Light maybe.
     
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  3. SouthtownKid

    SouthtownKid Headmaster

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    I really hate that, too.

    I like the aspect of Orion being an average Joe who steps up/is transformed into a great leader. If he's already basically Optimus Prime, with pretty much all the leadership & fighting skills and experience, just without the name, that kind of kills the point, imo.

    I agree with you that it's a weak point in the otherwise good IDW continuity.
     
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  4. Honorbound

    Honorbound The Working Hermit

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    Heckfire, if I could like your posts more than once, I would. The changes that IDW made to the factions, their history, and their ideals, is what led me to stop reading them. I don't have a problem with changing stuff if it works, but this feels like a change that undermines the core premise.
     
  5. QLRformer

    QLRformer Seeker

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    A great post OP. You presented the Cold War themes and analogies in a fairly accurate and non-controversial manner.


    Speaking for myself, I am a simple person when it comes to ideology: Decepticons want to conquer the universe to rule it, and the Autobots fight against them to stop their. The Decepticons are Nazi-esque soldiers, and the Autobots represent the Allies. However, I can also appreciate the complex stories that Transformers have had.

    The IDW comics seems to focus on Cybertron's government being a corrupt establishment, causing two individuals - the noble cop Optimus/Orion and the gladiator Megatron - to rise up and form armies to overthrow them, for a desire to improve things and make a new Cybertron. Alas, they had different ideas which ended up clashing and causing conflict and war.

    Of course, IMO the IDW writers seem to be better at non-war situations, with Megatron on the Lost Light and Optimus trying to manage politics and forming a team (Revolutionaries) to stand against threats. That I feel may be at a disadvantage for a war story. And besides there are no many neutrals conflicting with each other in the story (Blackrock, EDC, Starscream, Scavengers, etc) that it will be sometime before war can actually get going.


    Regarding IDW Optimus, I don't think being a cop takes away from him; he's still the one who received the Matrix and became a leader to do good. IDW makes him a hero in a world that is more complex now that there is no war; he's gone from being Captain America to Charles Xavier, so to speak. He has to deal with trying to live in a world where people despise him (and his title) and want to kill him, and don't care for nobility and instead just want to survive.
     
  6. SouthtownKid

    SouthtownKid Headmaster

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    Well, personally, I like IDW adding a little depth (and a bit of a point) to the Decepticons. My only complaint is that I don't think they've gone far enough with that, and that their philosophy is still too shallow.

    To take QLRformer's Xavier analogy a little further, I had no interest in Magneto in the comics until 20+ years in, Claremont gave him legit motivation. Still wrong, but for the right reasons. And even more interesting: possibly redeemable.
     
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  7. flamepanther

    flamepanther Interested, but not really

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    I've always seen the Sunbow Autobots and Decepticons as representing the best and worst of the United States (and humanity in general, but they both have a very American color to them).

    Autobots represent: Freedom, diversity, cooperation, optimism, stoic work ethic, altruism, rule of law, and heroic self-sacrifice to defend others.

    They're practically a robot version of the G.I. Joe team--an all-American melting pot of git-'er-done, deployed to defend anyone and everyone in the name of freedom. But most of them would rather be doing something else if not for the Decepticon menace. They work across gaps in ideology and social class for the good of all. They're typically just great everyday guys that you'd love to have over for a barbecue and some beers. Optimus Prime's desire to obey Cybertronian law, even though he's the boss, even though he's away from Cybertron and at war, and even though he knows his enemy has no such concerns is a reflection of our reverence for the Constitution and due process.

    Decepticons represent: Military oligarchy, colonialism, authoritarianism, social Darwinism, extreme self-interest, and exploitation of labor.

    They invade targets that have energy resources, force others to work in sweatshop conditions. Between themselves, there's rarely much other than envy, contempt, and a need to look out for number one at the expense of anyone else. When they do cooperate, they're often very transactional about it. The Insecticons have to be bribed into working with their fellow Decepticons. Megatron's concern with law comes down to whether it suits his purposes. "I possess it, therefore it is mine." Even while being rescued from certain death, he asks "what's in it for me?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2016
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  8. Honorbound

    Honorbound The Working Hermit

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    You can have depth without going the "villain who had a sympathetic origin but lost his way." There are plenty of philosophies and movements that are wrong from stem to stern, but they took root. Look at Overlord. He's pure evil, yet he has his character wrinkles. Look at The Dark Knight's Joker. Look at Beast Era Megatron. There are plenty of ways to flesh out monsters while preserving their evil.

    Some people like the Xavier and Magneto dynamic, but I guess I'm the minority - I've always seen Magneto as just another terrorist scumbag. He's become just like the people who made him a victim, and that robs him of any sympathy I might have had for his younger self. To me, these sympathetic villains are weak - they can be compelling, but in the end, a lot of them are a bunch of pathetic whiners. "Oh, I just hurt a bunch of people, but pity me for my pain!" To heck with that. I'd rather see a villain like Order of the Stick's Xykon or Beast Era Megatron: monsters who know what they want and are willing to do whatever they have to in order to win. It seems simple and childish until you put it in perspective, then these kinds of villains become horrifying. In Xykon's words: "It's not just about raw power, it's also about how far you're willing to debase yourself before feeling bad. And me? I ripped off my own living flesh so that I wouldn't have to admit weakness. You're strictly little league compared to that. That right there? That's the difference between bonafide true Evil with a capital 'E' and your whiny 'evil, but for a good cause' crap. 'Cause one gets to be the butch and one gets to be the bitch, bitch." He gets a bit meta with the card-carrying villain part, but it fits.

    This isn't to say that my tastes are the absolute standard - Xavier and Magneto have a following for a reason. I think I'm just not the target audience for that sort of thing, because it usually falls flat for me. I think it's because the villain may have been a victim, but he or she made the choice to become a victimizer.
     
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  9. RobotKnight95

    RobotKnight95 Unamused and Insane

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    Thought provoking stuff. I like it. :popcorn 
     
  10. moreprimeland

    moreprimeland Optimus told me to do it! Moderator

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    WE HAVE A TF COMICS FORUM... IT EVEN INCLUDES IDW. :D 

    MOVING
     
  11. hardlurk

    hardlurk Well-Known Member

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    Post-Chaos IDW is about the ideology that emerged in the 1990s: the grand conflict between individual liberty and authoritarian collectivism has ended, the liberals have won, and the dream of communism is dead and buried. RID is about making the sausage of a functioning state/society in this supposedly post-ideological world (at least, it was season 1; since then WB/TAAO seems to have picked up that torch), and MTMTE is about living your life in it. Roberts writes the Decepticons sympathetically because he is a Labour Party socialist and as such views socialism as a noble goal but its violent imposition as a horrific mistake.

    I don't think this is all that new to Transformers; Beast Wars, TFA, and even the Bayverse involve similar politics, just without as much of an overtly sympathetic portrayal of the Decepticons.
     
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  12. Zenstrive

    Zenstrive Well-Known Member

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    Orion Pax as a super-cop is a new thing and feels even more logical than a clerk who receives a magical thingie and becomes leader.

    Remember, he started also as the commoner, albeit in the form of policeman. This Super-cop Orion Pax has first hand dealing with the then corrupt authorities while trying to maintain his integrity, leading his precinct in the face of oppression from the Primal Vanguard, befriending a senator that is trying to reform the corrupt senate. He then valiantly and defiantly faced the senate and declaring that they're corrupt and need to be reformed. Heck, he got attacked by the authorities on his own precint.

    He is also fascinated by a miner called Megatron who writes a peaceful manifesto. When he met the guy in his precinct's prison, he defended him from the maniac and corrupt Whirl. In that even, Orion Pax's rise to start giving voice against the authority is contrasted to Megatron's path to violence (as depicted by him throwing his datapad that contains his manifesto).

    Orion Pax, time and time again, has proven himself worthy of something greater than just lowly police work. So when the time has come for Orion Pax to receive the Matrix, he already is imbued by a drive to make things better, already proven to be able to stand up to corruptions and evil, have the posture and strength to do so, and able to inspire and lead people.

    It also makes the Matrix less magical, able to transform puny bots into big leader type bots.
     
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  13. hardlurk

    hardlurk Well-Known Member

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    Megatron is the real Prime.

    Also, fight your way into your country's congressional/parliamentary floor to give an impassioned speech, beat to unconsciousness any cops who stand in your way, and report back on whether other people see you as a peaceful reformist or a terrorist who has just committed multiple acts of attempted murder.
     
  14. Jalaguy

    Jalaguy has no known physical weaknesses

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    Yes they have. I forget which issues exactly, but MTMTE has established that the Decepticons' imperialism grew out of a desire to pre-emptively strike against the organic species who are generally racist against mechanical life.

    The "mech supremacy" aspect of Decepticonism definitely has been underdeveloped in IDW relative to the social equality stuff, though, no doubt.

    Also, the current Autobots aren't in any way representative or proponents of Functionism and the old government regime. Several of them used to work for the government, yes, but when the moment came, they all turned on the authorities and fought alongside Megatron's Decepticons to bring down the government. And then Megatron immediately betrayed Optimus Prime afterwards.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2016
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  15. hardlurk

    hardlurk Well-Known Member

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    Functionism was a symptom, not the root of the problem, and the Autobots stand in the way of fixing that problem.
     
  16. Jalaguy

    Jalaguy has no known physical weaknesses

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    ???

    The problem was a government that acted in its own interests, not those of the people. The Autobots and Decepticons fought together to successfully bring down that government, but then Megatron literally shot Orion Pax in the back so that he could enact his idea of an equal society - a communist dictatorship - rather than Pax's vision of a democracy with individual freedom for all.

    The title of Prime absolutely has been tainted by basically everyone to hold it between the Thirteen and Optimus being massive bastards, but it's not really at all representative of the fiction to characterise Optimus/Orion's Autobots as being "the problem". They initially wanted to create change within the system, but when they realised the system was irreparable, they helped tear it down.
     
  17. hardlurk

    hardlurk Well-Known Member

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    Functionism was an ideology which justified the caste system. The caste system was an oppressive regime which served to exploit the lower classes for profit. That exploitation was the problem. The old government's harsh enforcement of the caste system lead to a crisis, but out of greed, prejudice, and religious zealotry they would not back down. Orion's rebellion and reforms were aimed at ending that crisis by creating a kinder society. That kinder society was still based on exploitation. Megatron rejected this and fought for the end of exploitation. Optimus fought back because Megatron was unkind to exploitation's gentler proponents.

    Yes, exactly.
     
  18. Kataquan

    Kataquan Transform and Rise Up!

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    I was under the impression that fuctionism IS the caste system. Take away functionist classifications and there are no castes
     
  19. hardlurk

    hardlurk Well-Known Member

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    Someone would still be mining the energon. Removing the castes doesn't end class.
     
  20. General Magnus

    General Magnus Da Custodes of the Emprah

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    I really agree that the aspect of why the Decepticon movement went from a legitimate goal of freedom, to am warmongering faction that wiped out billions of lives.