For over 30 years, Autobots and Decepticons have been battling it out, continuing their ancient struggle. Over that time, fans have been introduced to a bewildering number of ‘bots, their number increasing with each new toy line, animated series and comic launch.
But despite the hundreds of characters that have been featured over the years, sometimes the originals really are the best. Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader, who helped launch the toy range in 1984, is not only the greatest Transformer, he’s also one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time.
For kids who discovered Transformers in the 1980s, Optimus Prime was a hero: a strong, compassionate leader who did his fair share of Decepticon smashing when required. His death in the 1986 “Transformers” animated movie traumatized a generation of children. If you’re able to watch that scene without getting teary-eyed then you’re made of sterner stuff.
In every iteration of the Transformers — including the modern movies — he’s been there, inspiring others, protecting the innocent and forever fighting the good fight. With IDW set to release an ongoing Optimus Prime series in November, we’ve selected 13 of Prime’s finest comic book moments to help whet your appetite.
13. Confronting Galvatron to save the Universe (Transformers #206, Marvel UK)
The Galvatron originally introduced in the 1986 “Transformers” movie had his moments, but in the end, he just couldn’t live up to his reputation as the new, improved big-bad. The Galvatron in the UK Transformer comics, though? That guy wasn’t only incredibly tough, he was also dangerously insane.
In his every appearance in the strip, he caused mayhem, cutting through the present-day Autobots and Decepticons and shrugging off attacks from their time travelling comrades. Ultra Magnus fought him time and time again, straining every circuit, but in the end the best he managed was a draw. It seemed that nothing could stop him; but then again, he’d yet to fight Optimus Prime.
The UK comic’s “Time Wars” storyline saw Galvatron fighting side-by-side with Megatron in the present day. This, coupled with Cyclonus being killed in the wrong time era, caused a huge crack in time, threatening to destroy the Universe. Galvatron didn’t care, lost in the fury of conflict and succumbing to madness.
Things looked so hopeless that Optimus Prime had no choice but to enter the fray, risking not only his life but the very existence of time. The first meeting between the two reborn enemies — Prime as a Powermaster and Megatron as Galvatron — had fans desperate for more, and their eventual battle didn’t disappoint.
12. Annexing Earth into the Cybertronian Council of Worlds (Transformers #50, IDW)
Part of the reason that so many fans love Optimus Prime is that he has so many qualities to admire. He’s steadfast, loyal and brave, has a focused moral compass, and always tries to do what’s right no matter the personal cost. One of the interesting things that IDW has been able to do to date is offer fans a more reflective portrayal of Prime, allowing fans into his head.
The IDW Prime is a character who doubts himself and sometimes makes mistakes, yet is all the more enjoyable to read as a result. This more nuanced look at Transformers has seen alliances shift and characters act in often surprising ways, allowing fans to get to know the real characters behind the insignia.
One recent act that confounded expectations was Prime’s decision to annex Earth into the Cybertronian council of worlds. He may have believed that he had good reason for doing this, and that by doing so he could better ensure the safety of Earth’s inhabitants, but it raises the question of whether Optimus is forcing this situation on humans. If so, does that make him a hero… or an oppressor? That’s just one moral conundrum faced in this series, which has been a hallmark for both publisher and property.
11. Rebirth as a Powermaster (Transformers #42, Marvel)
It’s interesting to look back on early issues of the Marvel “Transformers” comic and note just how closely it was tied into the toy line. After the first year of publication, original characters were gradually replaced or side-lined, while a bewildering number of new toys were introduced: Special teams, Microbots, Pretenders, Headmasters, Triggermasters and more.
The desire to promote Ultra Magnus and Galvatron as the new leaders in the wake of the animated movie’s release was undoubtedly a factor in the death of Optimus Prime in issue 24. With so many characters having vanished without a trace, distraught fans would have been forgiven for thinking that they had seen the last of Prime.
Thankfully, they were wrong. In issue 42, he was returned to life as a Powermaster, after being bonded to the Nebulan scientist Hi-Q. Prime’s last appearance had been bittersweet — kept alive as a computer programme, he had no memory of his real existence — so seeing him return to life and being reunited with his devoted friend, Bumblebee (now in his Goldbug persona) was a truly special moment.
10. The Execution of Galvatron (Transformers #56, IDW)
The Galvatron in the IDW continuity was a more calculating character than his insane counterpart from UK publications, but was capable of equally dastardly deeds. This Galvatron had no links to Megatron or Unicron, but was an ancient Cybertronian. How dangerous was he? Well, he very nearly succeeded in destroying Cybertron, only being thwarted by a desperate alliance between Autobots and Decepticons.
After Megatron joined the Autobots, Galvatron took the chance to ensconce himself with the Decepticons, travelling to Earth with his forces and secretly pursuing his dreams of conquest. When his plan was enacted, it resulted in a brutal four-way fight between him, Arcee, Soundwave and Optimus Prime. Eventually Galvatron lay defeated, but he warned Optimus that terrible things were coming to Earth and that he would need his help.
The Optimus Prime of old would have reluctantly accepted this point, while giving Galvatron a monologue about working together for the good of all. Hence it was all the more surprising when Prime, instead of accepting his surrender, executed Galvatron, leaving readers to wonder what path he was taking, and why.
9. His Sacrifice to Stop The Swarm (Transformers: Generation 2 #12, Marvel)
If there’s one thing Optimus Prime does well in any medium, it’s a heroic sacrifice. Whether it’s to save an innocent, to help the greater good or as a result of his moral code, Prime isn’t afraid to put his life on the line when he believes it’s the best option. One of the most notable examples was in the concluding chapter of “Transformers: Generation 2,” Marvel’s short-lived relaunch of the original Transformers line.
From the beginning, the comic was notably darker in tone than the original series, with long-standing characters being killed or mutilated left, right and center. An off-shoot branch of Decepticons was discovered that posed a new threat, but the biggest danger came from their creation: The Swarm. This was a cloud-like black mass, which — often in graphic fashion — literally ate its way through Transformers.
As the Swarm descended into the final battle, Optimus Prime realized that only the power of the Creation Matrix could alter the swarm, turning it into a force for creation, not destruction. His determination to get the Matrix to the centre of the Swarm, even as his body was eaten away piece by piece, is a perfect example of his determination and strength of will.
8. Succumbing to the Wear of War (Transformers #60, Marvel)
Ever the most casual Transformers fan is familiar with the long-lived Autobot v. Decepticon conflict, but the sheer mind-boggling scale of it is sometimes easy to forget. These characters have been fighting for millions of years across time and space, with all the death, destruction, despair and heartbreak that perpetual warfare brings. The losses they have endured are almost unimaginable, regardless of what victories they may achieve in the short-term.
It’s therefore not surprising that there came a time when Optimus Prime, who, for so long, was at the forefront of the war effort, had to question whether it was all worth it. After the death of his close friend, Ratchet, he was left to ponder what the point of the eternal struggle was, and whether anything he and his troops did was making any difference in the grand scheme of things. The great thing about this scene is that it highlights that Prime is not some aloof military commander, happy to send his troops into danger. He’s someone who cares deeply about the welfare of his Autobots — sometimes even to his own detriment.
7. Introduction to the Autobots (Transformers: The War Within #1, Dreamwave)
The path to Orion Pax becoming Optimus Prime is depicted in slightly different ways in the Dreamwave and IDW continuities. One thing that is constant between the two is that Orion Pax is a loyal soldier with a good spark, who becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the injustice with which he is confronted.
In the Dreamwave series “Transformers: The War Within,” which explores the early days of the conflict, things are not going well for the Autobots. They are losing ground and disheartened, with the most vocal of their team — led by Grimlock — agitatied by the fact that if the new Prime is not a Warrior, they should take command themselves.
When the newly empowered Optimus Prime arrives on the scene, the Autobots hold back in order to see what he can do. They are rewarded with the sight of Optimus ending the fight with cool efficiency; the first of many victories they will see him attain for them over the years. In a second, the mood of the Autobots is transformed, their faith in the new Prime starting to build. As an illustration of Prime’s ability to inspire his troops even at this early stage, it’s a great moment.
6. An Alliance with Megatron (Transformers: Autocracy, IDW)
In the IDW continuity, Orion Pax, still working as a law enforcement officer, is increasingly being called upon to deal with manifestations of the Decepticon uprising. But as time goes on, things seem less and less cut and dry, with revelations about the true nature of the Senate making him question what he is fighting to achieve, and what the right thing to do really is.
After one conflict between Autobot and Decepticon forces, Pax’s troops are taken back to the Decepticon base where he comes face to face with Megatron. The beauty of this scene is that it doesn’t lead to a stereotypical fight and clash of metal. Megatron and Pax talk about their ideologies and the situation they find themselves in, and what the best course of action is. When Megatron and Pax shake hands, cementing their temporary alliance, the look on the faces of their followers speaks volumes about the action’s significance.
5. Ending the Decepticon/Autobot conflict (Transformers #80, Marvel)
In the final issue of the original Marvel run, things looked bleak for the Autobots. Cybertron had been saved from Unicron at the cost of Optimus Prime’s life, and a temporary alliance between Autobot and Decepticon had reverted to type, with Decepticon forces hunting down and killing the last remaining Autobots.
Eventually, the survivors are cornered by Decepticon forces at every turn. It seems to be the end and they prepare to go down fighting. That’s when Optimus Prime appears, reborn and ready to end the conflict. The full page spread of Prime declaring that he’s back, radiating strength and authority, is powerful; even though the Decepticons outnumber him ten to one, the outcome is never in any doubt.
Optimus Prime may have flitted in and out of the Marvel “Transformers” comic during its run, but even in his absence his presence was felt at all times. That he returned in order to end the conflict and also bring the entire series to a conclusion felt only right.
4. Comforting a Dying Scorponok (Transformers #72, Marvel)
Optimus Prime is undoubtedly one of the most formidable Transformers, and is capable of great feats of strength. But one of his strongest traits is his great compassion for living beings, whether they be friend or foe.
As a Decepticon commander, Scorponok never seemed to live up to others that had held the role, including Megatron, Shockwave and even Soundwave. Under his leadership, the Decepticons endured many setbacks, while his status as a Headmaster meant that he was often a vulnerable character, exhibiting more emotions than the average Decepticon.
When Unicron attacked Cybertron, Scorponok was absolutely terrified of dying, proclaiming that at heart, he was just a weak and flawed creature. After a plea from Prime, he found the courage to attack Unicron, paying for the effort with his life. As Optimus Prime comforted the dying Scorponok, readers could feel his grief at the loss of life, whoever it might be.
3. Return to Cybertron (Transformers #100, Marvel UK)
The 100th anniversary issue of the Marvel UK “Transformers” title was the culmination of a storyline where Optimus Prime and Megatron were transported back to Cybertron, both finding very different receptions. For Prime, the return home was not what he had been dreaming of for years. The Autobots he encountered believed him to be a fraud, furious at him for defiling the memory of their beloved Prime. They were out for blood, and fully intended to get it.
Aided by a trusting Autobot called Outback, Prime made his escape, but Outback was gravely wounded. Optimus Prime therefore had a choice: he could keep moving and stay one step ahead of his pursuers, or he could stay put and give comfort to an Autobot he barely knew. Prime chose the latter option, promising to stay with Outback, come what may. Even when the Wreckers found him, he chose not to beg for his life but to ask that they save Outback. As an example of Prime’s moral courage that could so inspire others, there are few better examples.
2. Death over Dishonor (Transformers #24, Marvel)
Some people believe that it doesn’t matter how you play the game, winning is all that matters. Optimus Prime is not one of those people. Prime’s first death came about not at the hands of Megatron or some other Decepticon, but at the hands of a young computer programmer.
In an effort to avoid needless destruction, Decepticons and Autobots agreed to fight it out inside a virtual world on the condition that whoever was the loser in the game — Optimus Prime or Megatron — would thereafter be destroyed in real life. Despite cheating by Megatron (hey, it’s the Decepticon way), Prime still triumphed, but only through accidentally killing virtual citizens in his last-ditch attempt to defeat Megatron.
Prime could have kept silent and allowed Ethan Zachary to detonate Megatron. Instead, he declared that he should be the one executed. As he told his fellow Autobots, “Each of us always has a choice. I chose to cheat.” For Optimus Prime, the nature of the game’s inhabitants wasn’t important, but his strict moral code was. He felt he had caused harm to innocents through his actions, and because his ethics are inflexible in this incarnation, he would rather die than see them corrupted.
1. Inspiring the Autobots (Transformers: All Hail Megatron #8, IDW)
“Transformers: All Hail Megatron” sees the Autobots in possibly the most desperate situation they have ever encountered, with their forces defeated and driven from Earth in disgrace. Hiding out on a ruined Cybertron, morale was non-existent and tempers flared as each Autobot blamed the other for their perceived failings. The situation was made worse by the fact that Optimus Prime was gravely injured, perhaps terminally.
It’s striking how every time Optimus is dead or presumed so, the Autobots go to pieces; but it’s rarely been displayed as well as it was here. Without Optimus, the Autobots lost their reason for carrying on and were unable to hope. Even the arrival of Autobot reinforcements weren’t enough to stop them coming to blows and exchanging harsh truths.
When Optimus Prime is repaired and his troops see him for the first time, the reader doesn’t need to hear or see their response. Optimus was back, and somehow, no matter how hopeless things seemed, it felt like everything was going to turn out okay. As many times as he may fall, Optimus always carries with him the hope that he, and those who serve at his pleasure, shall always rise.