Back in the days of alt.toys.transformers I bore witness to a rather odd concept: that the Decepticons might be the actual heroes of the Cybertronian Wars. It’s a curious faction and I’ve never been sure if they were serious or just trying to invoke discussion about how one perceives good and evil. Yes, a bunch of grown adults got existential about a kids show meant to sell toys. The fact that this is even possible should (but won’t) silence all the “it’s for kids” dimwits out there. The idea was that what the Decepticons wanted was in the end better for Cybertron in the long run. This called for a stretch or two at some point but for the most part I have to reject this notion.
So recently I came across a video by Emperor Kumquat because screennames can’t stop being silly–myself included–looking at the events of Transformers Prime and the rest of the “aligned continuity” and concluded they may have a point. The video will get more into the history as created for this continuity, which mirrored similar origins in the first IDW continuity. Therein lies my biggest problem with Cybertronian history and modern Transformers, but I’ll get more into that through dissecting the video. The short version is the principle itself is flawed.
Catch more of Emperor Kumquat on YouTube.
Before we dive too far I must note and point to two previous postings on this site. I have not seen his chapter by chapter review of Transformers Exodus but I have done my own in the past. I’ve also done an article about the “aligned continuity” and noted that Transformers Prime really didn’t follow that gameplan because the creators didn’t care and wanted to do their own thing. Meanwhile Exodus, supposedly a preview to the War For Cybertron game, got a few of their facts wrong, like when Starscream joined the Decepticons, which Prime Megatron killed which lead to the rise of Optimus Prime, and a few other multiversal details like what a “Mini-Con” is. If you read my review I noted a lot of differences, so while some details were used by the Prime writing team using it as a source of backstory in Prime or the other TV shows of the Aligned Continuity works about as well as the regular IDW continuity of the time. Despite hopes by Aaron Archer, Rik Alverez, and other involved with forming the idea, the shows and books contradict what we see in the games as well as each other, meaning Ratchet isn’t necessarily biased because they might as well be splinter universes at this point. It’s not a mistake on the writers’ part; the showrunners just didn’t care. The backstory for the Autobot/Decepticon war in that continuity was similar to what Irvine came up with in the book and what we see in the War For Cybertron prequel comic, which didn’t make the same mistakes about the game’s story that the book did because it didn’t get the chance, but may not be an exact match outside of what we see in Prime, so in that version Ratchet may well be telling the kids what actually happened. Remember, in this continuity we have three different versions of Grimlock. The one we see in the games and the Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters comic are not the same one we see in Robots In Disguise while the teacher at Rescue Bots Academy seems to be a fusion of both Grimlocks that never actually transforms. Granted Academy tends to be influenced by the current legacy plan but it’s supposed to be a continuation of the original Rescue Bots, which was retroactively added to the Aligned Continuity because it and Prime were both airing on The Hub, later Discovery Family, at the time.
Then there’s my biggest problem with the whole idea. Before we get into Kumquat’s thoughts specifically and in the interest of full disclosure, let me state that I hate this take on early Autobot society, and not only personally. Yes, having the Autobots being a bunch of elitist punks who deserve to be overthrown for their alt mode caste system is already a bad idea, and that’s what Eric Holmes came up with and what they later used for the Aligned Continuity backstory. However, it’s just wrong from a multiversal continuity lore perspective. The Decepticons are supposed to represent the worst of humanity. You have your tyrants, your backstabbers, your violent punks, your anarchists–they’re called the EVIL Decepticons for a reason. As sometimes writers have characters note, they’re name is “Decepticon”…as in deceptions, as in lying. The con at one point might also be con artist, but since the old days you’ve had Omnicons, Mini-Cons, and a few other “con” suffix factions so that really doesn’t work anymore in this franchise. Heck, the original Vehicons were lifeless drones and more recent ones were just troop building toys to save on the CG budget for the show counterpart.
The Autobots meanwhile stood for the best parts of people. They could be contradictory, just like people, but you had Autobots fighting to protect, pacifists, builders, explorers, engineers…there’s a reason why there is a group called the Protectobots. The Autobots are the good guys of the toyline and thus are supposed to be good. The idea that Cybertron used to be run by a caste system when we’ve seen Transformers in other continuities change their alt mode or something about their robot mode (between G1 and G2 alone Optimus had at least five different bodies and we’ve seen Autobots take on multiple forms despite not being designed as a triple-changer as early as Rescue Bots) doesn’t make a lot of sense. You can change your vehicle mode whenever you want simply by scanning a new vehicle, though I imagine there are some restrictions based on the Cybertronian’s own design. Making the pre-war Autobots into elitist power mongers ruins the whole point of Autobots in this franchise. It’s based on a kids toy, so yes it can be as simple as that. It ruins the Decepticons as war mongers who want to conquer the galaxy so changing that the way Holmes and Irvine did shows a lack of understanding as to what Autobots and Decepticons (and their Maximal and Predacon descendants) are supposed to represent in the mythology. Even the Shattered Glass universe, the obligatory mirror universe, understood this when the two factions switched moral allegiances.
However, it’s only fair to judge this continuity based on what we’re given beyond my biases against the concept of corrupt Autobots. Whatever led Megatron to become a gladiator the experience clearly had an effect on him. In the IDW version he became cruel and violent and maybe due to not having read The Covenant Of Primus as of this writing (and again, the books are rather suspect as the show creators ignored much of the gameplan) but I find it hard to believe that it was any different here. Whatever the Decepticons were put through extremist views are still bad. In Avatar: The Last Airbender we meet a kid name Jet, leader of a three-person resistance group against the Fire Nation, much like Aang’s team at the time. (This is pre-Toph.) The difference is that Jet wasn’t afraid to kill citizens of the Fire Nation and not just the soldiers serving the Fire Lord’s tyrannical rule. This is how I see the Autobots and Decepticons. Optimus believed in the rights of all, oppressed and oppressor alike, because what the Cybertronian leadership at the time was doing was morally wrong but the citizens may not have been aware or been convinced that the atrocities were as bad as they were. Optimus sought to end the caste system and his words allowed him to become Prime and effect these changes.
You can’t blame Megatron’s actions on Dark Energon (the “drugs”) if you’re going to use the full continuity. In the game he wasn’t using Dark Energon (later revealed in Prime to be the blood of Unicron though that raises a few questions as well, like did Unicron seed Cybertron with Dark Energon the way he did the Mini-Cons in the Unicron Trilogy?) but was seeking it at the start of the game and was already more than willing to kill. The TF Wiki quotes Megatron during this scene:
During the early war on Cybertron, Megatron found reference to an energy source called Dark Energon, which had impressive potential as a weapon, and became determined to claim it for himself. One of the few places it was made was in a station in orbit around Cybertron, guarded by a politically neutral force led by Starscream. With this knowledge, he took a ship and launched an assault on the station.
The ship was badly damaged in the attack, and so he ordered Barricade and Brawl, piloting it, to ram the station. He and many of his soldiers survived the impact and escaped the core’s detonation. They were then confronted by Starscream, who informed them that they would not allow them to take what he had guarded for ten thousand years. After surviving a trap of sentry guns, Megatron, Barricade, and Brawl were reinforced by more of Megatron’s troops, and set out on their way to find the station’s Dark Energon stores and claim them for the war effort. They encountered significant resistance, but managed to shoot their way through, with directional aid from Soundwave. Barricade noted that the station itself seemed quite primitive; Megatron noted it was very old, and that he intended to modernize it. At one point, the Seeker Jetfire confronted Megatron nonviolently, asking him to give up his quest, as Dark Energon would result in only horror, death, and destruction, to which Megatron sneered, “You say that as if it were a bad thing.”
By this point Megatron wanted power to cause destruction. Whether it did follow the book’s notion of Megatron’s origins, and again the book has many contradictions that may or may not be the result of novelization issues we’ve gone over in previous novelization reviews of movies like Fantastic Voyage or Total Recall, at this point Dark Energon had nothing to do with his more aggressive nature. He still believed that battle was the only way and was mad that Optimus sought a more peaceful solution. Megatron’s murder of Zeta Prime (Sentinel in the book, further proving my point about using it as reference), and frankly it’s not a huge loss since Zeta’s ego was as big as Omega Supreme, took place after the war was well underway, meaning Optimus wasn’t even Prime yet. This is what I mean about the contradictions and I’m not sure the book or the novel are truly considered canon by the show runners. So all we can really look at are Megatron’s actions during the show itself, and that’s where Megatron proves to be evil for the very reasons Emperor Kumquat stated.
- The name Decepticon: Marvel gave them that name for a reason (I don’t remember if that was Shooter’s team or Budiansky, I think the former). It’s supposed to note to the audience that they’re the baddies.
- Megatron and Starscream admit they are devious: It’s not just them. Knockout, Soundwave, and especially Airachnid are also cruel in their own ways, Knockout less so and he ends up switching sides for a while. Megatron only changes his mind after he is resurrected and taken over by Unicron, while Starscream is so mad Megatron quit that he was hunting for him in Robots In Disguise
- We saw the Decepticons try to harm humans and life on Earth: I’m not a Cybertronian, I’m a human, an Earthling. If one side wants to protect us even when they’re annoyed with us and the other wants to hurt us or at least doesn’t care if it means getting sources of power, guess who I’m siding with? When the Rescue Bots show up their first assignment is to protect and worth with humans. The Autobots off-screen found allies in the US government (who unlike the Bayverse counterparts didn’t betray them). When Silas tries to join the Decepticons they do horrible things to him. We have to go by the Decepticons we see and what we see are horrible beings, in line with every Decepticon depiction in TV and previously in comics.
- Shockwave experiments on bots: Not just Shockwave. Right in the first episode Starscream experiments with Dark Energon by using it on the body of Cliffjumper, and Megatron tries to create a zombie army at one point. Knockout and Airrachnid also so cruel sides, while Airrachind is just crazy.
- We saw Decepticons willing to torture prisoners then try to kill them: Isn’t that enough to show they’re the villains? Even if you want to defend the faction as a whole and proclaim that the ones we usually see on the show have lost their way, we’re talking about the ones we see on the show. The subtitle of the video is “The Decepticon Cause Fully Explained in Transformers Prime“, not in the whole of the supposedly but not really “Aligned Continuity”.
Megatron wanted to take over as Prime. It’s why he killed Sentinel/Zeta Prime, but was denied the Matrix. Instead Optimus is chosen. The council went with Optimus for his words of peace and change while Megatron wanted violent conquest. I’m not denying the council were jerks to him because this was part of the old system. The war in this continuity is over whose way would take over the ways of Cybertron. Megatron’s ways were a different form of control while Optimus wanted the people in charge, not some ruling class or “survival of the fittest and scrap everyone else”, which is what Megatron came to believe during his time as a gladiator. Megatron’s response was that of an extremist, and Megatron founded the Decepticons. Megatron may have exposed the system for what it was but his solution was still rejected in favor of Optimus’s, which pushed for peace and cohabitation rather than the old caste system or Megatron’s more violent solution.
When it comes to the Dinobots in the IDW tie-in comic he does make some good points, but also remember the Dinobots do not speak for the Autobots, and that was as I recall the point of the story. The Dinobots were victims of Shockwave’s experimentation and thus have as strong a beef with the Decepticons as Kumquat says the Decepticons has with the Autobots. Grimlock learning to be a better bot is part of his character arc in that story while the other Dinobots have suffered under the Decepticons’ assaults. Slug has some good points as well. Having families and friends that you care about don’t necessarily mean you’re the better people. We see that in the real world and factions in various wars past and current. It’s part of the whole situation between Israel and Palestine, and let’s stop there because that is a whole other set of issue no matter whose side you’re on there. Also, this isn’t the site for that discussion, but on the surface at least it’s parallel to my point. Israeli and Palestinian people love their families but hate each other, though even then a lot of that is the goverment more than the individual citizens. In the various Cybertronian wars Autobot and Decepticon are military factions. Citizens in Marvel and IDW (the “NAILs”) continuities are not part of either side and for the most part neither are the Mini-Cons, who may only choose one side or the other based on Unicron’s influence or their desire to not be enslaved. Yes, I know that doesn’t matter here specifically but there is a trend as to what roles “Autobot/Maximal/Cybertron” and “Decepticon/Predacon/Destron” serve in the narrative. Whatever hell the ‘Cons were put through, and I’m not defending any of it beyond the mixed up continuity issues, doesn’t condone their cruel actions against those not guilty. Like Jet and the Fire Nation the problem was with the leadership while Megatron’s crew took it out on everybody, blowing up theme parks and other civilian targets. Was it fair to them? Was it right for, say, Bluestreak to watch his whole city be destroyed because of what the government was doing? Intentionally or not, the host is saying yes and I’m not in favor of that. The Decepticons are not the Rebel Alliance here.
Whatever caused the Decepticons to form and the war start the Decepticons we see in Prime and even Robots In Disguise are not the good guys. A cause alone does not make one a hero, which is the theme of every terrorist group in fiction not called Cobra or just in it for the kicks. It subverts their message and makes them the baddies. Megatron’s Decepticons as we see in this show are indeed the villains. However righteous their cause may seem, it’s the actions I judge by. I’ve seen in both fiction and real life people do noble things for bad reasons and bad things for noble reasons. It’s why we debate things like waterboarding or try to get aid to people oppressed by their own government even when they’re enemies of the free world. Being oppressed isn’t reason alone to blow up theme parks or other entertainment areas like we see in the book and it doesn’t mean we humans should cheer on the group that wants to kill us. The Decepticons of Transformers Prime are not the secret heroes whatever the larger faction view is. I judge Megatron and his group on their actions and their actions are evil whatever their reason is.