When you think of Transformers, I’m sure you think of giant robots that change into things that fight against each other. What if I told you they were so much more. For quite a few years now, IDW Publishing, with numerous talented writers, has created the most subtle political drama of our time. they’ve transformed what were pretty simple characters into political dynamos, and by doing so, given us an epic story that questions the idea of revolution, armed resistance, and the corruption of government and individuals through power.
For me, much of the groundwork came to the forefront in issues #22 and #23 of Transformers written by James Roberts and released in 2011. While there was more previously, this is the clearest time, in IDW’s world, that there was much to the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons.
During a journey to Cybertron, through flashbacks we’re presented with how Megatron, a manual laborer, went from lowly cog to revolutionary raging against a class system, apartheid, based on how one was created, as well as a government run amok.
It’s best to start with the issues to rage against. The Transformers race is divided based on what they change into, ie their utility, and how they were created either forged or constructed cold (think born versus genetically engineered). If your ability to change is that of a miner, you worked in the mines, never to rise above. There was a division of class based on labor and birth.
After being caught up in an unfortunate incident, Megatron, who already feels oppressed, is arrested and abused by local police, causing the former worker to radicalize.
At the same time, a young Orion Pax (later to be known as Optimus Prime) is a local police office who truly believes in the law he must enforce. He’s the uncorrupt cop in a clearly broken system. A system that wears the sigil of the Autobots and run by a Senate and leader dubbed the Prime. As we know though, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this Senate and the Primes are examples of that. That belief in justice and freedom puts Pax on a collision course with that corruption, forcing him to choose whether to continue be a pawn of a broken system or ensure freedom for all beings.
Pax has been won over by Megatron who has released his manifesto to Cybertron which asks three questions to the government:
- In whose interests do you exercise your power?
- To whom are you accountable?
- How can we get rid of you?
Pax, after an outburst before the Senate, showing off its corruption, is saved by a young Senator, in a twist that has taken 3 years to play out and a storyline just concluded with this week’s Transformers: Dark Cybertron Finale.
Megatron’s resistance of course is met with brutal action by the government, who through their actions radicalize the upstart further and labels them terrorists. All of this eventually leads to the war between the Autobots and Decepticons and the story you might be more familiar with.
Flash forward millions of years, and an event has led the Autobots back to Cybertron to rebuild, shifting the series to one of governance, and the difficulty to do so. At the same time, the series split into two, taking one storyline and a group of Transformers on a religious mission, while the others stayed and attempted to rebuild their world leading to drama worthy of Shakespeare in the crosses, double crosses, and subterfuge.
And here we are, at the end of another major event. Those seeds place three years ago has paid off into a political drama unlike anything else in comics. The story clearly wasn’t about Optimus, or his band of brothers, it turns out this is Megatron’s story. A revolutionary, a radical, a terrorist, whose extreme methods lead to death and destruction. A man whose beliefs became corrupted and used to justify death and subjugation. And much like we’re shown Megatron eventually realizes his folly.
The Decepticon cause was never about that, we fought for peace – for equality.
Three years since we were presented the genesis of his political cause and the philosophy and it’s application is still evolving. We’ve been presented a tale about oppression, politics, corruption, and revolution. And soon we’ll be presented with the after effects of war, the nation building.
While you might see giant robots with guns, in reality, there’s more than meets the eye.