When I was a kid, I watched lots of the popular cartoons of the day ("the day" being the mid eighties through mid nineties, mostly). Some of those even included shows geared towards girls, like the original My Little Pony (more because of its timeslot than anything else, I think, although I'm not trying to make excuses here) and Jem (which I genuinely enjoyed for some reason). But still, being a boy, it was stuff like He-Man (and, yes, She-Ra), GI JOE, M.A.S.K. and Voltron (which became my favourite when I was much older) that I liked the most. Hell, even more forgettable stuff like Bravestarr was alright by me.
But one show stood above them all. This was the show that I followed as closely as I could and collected as many of its toys as my parents would buy for me. Since the entire purpose of this show was to get kids to buy their toy line, in my case I would say mission accomplished and then some. This show of course was The Transformers. Even though some episodes and characters were totally phoned in and stupid, and there were animation errors aplenty (more than any other cartoon I can think of) I'd contend that actually the vast majority of the content was really good. I mean, as this was a show created simply to advertise a toy line, it would be understandable if it was all halfassed, forgettable crap. But I believe its creators really put a lot of effort into the animation, characters and stories. It's amazing how well much of it still holds up even all these years later.
Because the series's main mandate was to sell toys, TONS of characters were introduced. Of all the shows I watched as a kid, Transformers easily had the biggest cast. And as I've said, this definitely led to a quantity-over-quality approach. With so many characters, good guys and bad guys, vying for screentime, many of them were one-dimensional and lame, with their only redeeming quality being perhaps their transformed mode.
This also led to a lot of annoying voices since, with such limited time to develop characters, the easiest way to differentiate between them was making their voices and/or way of speaking somehow stand out from everyone else. This gave us results such as THREE characters who spoke in rhyme (Jazz thankfully only briefly, Blaster occasionally and Wheelie ALL THE GODDAMN TIME), the tank, Warpath, endlessly punctuating his sentences with exclamations of "Bang!", "Zoom!" and crap like that, some weird accents (Tracks, Outback, and someone who appears on this list) and miscellaneous weirdness like the Dinobots (speaking like braindead retards), Blurr (talking like a superfast retard) and Seaspray (gurgling?).
There were some great characters, though. And, of course, Transformers exists in all kinds of media besides the show, like comics, movies as well as tons of different updates of the show. So plenty of characters were given more dimension there. All are in different continuities and sometimes make changes to various characters. For this list I'm considering characters based on ALL their appearances. Let's get to it.
5. Razorclaw (Transformed mode: Lion)
While hardly a major character in any incarnation of Transformers, Razorclaw is still the leader of the Predacons unit, and that has to count for something. Actually, in the IDW Comics continuity, the Predacons are considered one of the most elite units in the entire Deception force. And, typical of being a Predacon I guess, in most media he's shown to be one of the most capable fighters when it comes to hand to hand combat.
He's proven himself a good leader as well, with a sort of all-business attitude that's actually kind of unique among Decepticons. I guess I like him because the Predacons are my favourite Combiners in all of Transformers and, as their leader, he's their best representative. He transforms into a lion and is often able to overwhelm opponents in this mode. When in robot form he wields a really cool sword (officially called a sonic sword as it's able to emit powerful vibrations) and you know I love swords. Not many transformers, Autobot or Decepticon, have swords so this makes him unique as well. An effective tracker as well as commander, it breaks my heart I never had his toy.
Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: I'd go with the episode "Nightmare Planet" from the original animated series. Specifically when he's forced to team up with Autobot, Springer in battling his way out of a castle created by Daniel Witwicky's dreams (yeah, it's a weird one). The castle is owned by a fearsome dragon and Springer, wielding some kind of trident, rode Razorclaw (in lion mode, obviously) and they charged the dragon, managing to kill it. Serving as horsey for the enemy may seem like an odd pick but trust me, it's really cool.
4. Galvatron (Transformed mode: Laser cannon)
Well, I think you'd all agree that this guy definitely is a major character. Some people might've even doubled down, taking the old Megatron/Galvatron route, fitting in two characters
for the price of one. They'd certainly be justified in doing so. But to me, Megatron and Galvatron are separate characters and should be treated as such. While in most continuities, most notably the original show, he was formerly Megatron, he wasn't in all of them. In the IDW comics, for instance, he is a completely separate character who actually predated Megatron by millions of years. And even if you are dealing with a continuity where he isn't, I still believe the change (or, transformation, if you'll allow me) was enough that there's really nothing tying him to Megatron anymore besides a fanatical desire to defeat the Autobots.
If this list was a few slots longer I would definitely include Megatron because he is awesome and probably one of the best villains you can find. He's extremely powerful, brutal, charismatic and, even though it's true he kind of loses all the time (such is the fate of the villain), actually quite a competent leader. He's even shown to be quite rational, sometimes putting aside his hatred of the Autobots for the sake of the greater good (although in those cases the greater good only counts because it involves saving his own skin and that of his Decepticons). It seems every time he dies he manages to come back and just his name strikes fear into the hearts (or...circuits, I guess) of Autobots and those on the side of good.
So why am I picking Galvatron over him? For starters, one key difference between him and Megatron is that he (Galvatron) is most definitely NOT rational. While Megatron could certainly became enraged and occasionally fly off the handle, this is basically the permanent setting for Galvatron. He's always screaming and ranting and raving, threatening everyone around him. While that could just as easily be an argument for why he isn't as cool as Megs, personally, it just really appeals to me. Galvatron is a fucking lunatic and I love him for it. It makes him wildly unpredictable and ridiculously dangerous. In the continuity of the Generation One cartoon, it's his defeat at the hands of Rodimus Prime (The Transformers The Movie) that really drives him over the edge. Things get kind of confusing after that because in both this continuity (as continued in the Transformers Headmasters series that never aired in North America) as well as the Marvel Comics continuity, there are diverging timeliness involving his path, so multiple versions of him result.
In the world of IDW comics, Galvatron hails from Cybertron's fabled (and oft-referenced) Golden Age, which predates that continuity's setting by a few million years. That's before there were such things as Autobots and Decepticons and he was actually close friends with that era's Prime, Nova Prime. Here he's part of a spaceship crew (the first Ark) that is lost in an anomaly sending them into what's known as the Dead Universe, where he became an undead being. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that he eventually shows up in the present to trouble the Autobots.
In most continuities he's presented as even more powerful than Megatron, which is really saying something. Hell, in some he's nigh invincible. I love the purple colour scheme (purple seems to always work so well as the colour of evil in various things for some reason) too.
Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: For a guy like him, there are many but it's tough to beat his arrival on Char just after his rebirth at the hands of Unicron (The Transformers The Movie). The devastated Decepticons have reluctantly allowed Starscream to assume leadership in the wake of Megatron's demise when suddenly Galvatron touches down with the also newly created Cyclonus.
Starscream: Who disrupts my coronation?
Galvatron: Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.
Starscream: Megatron? Is that you?!?!
Galvatron: Here's a hint! (Transforms into cannon mode and blasts Starscream to ashes)
It's so awesome you should see it. So here you go.
3. Sky Lynx (Transformed mode: It's...complicated)
Here we have a truly unique transformer. This guy doesn't even have a robot mode. Instead Sky Lynx is a sort of triple-changer who actually has FOUR (just three in the Marvel comics though) unique forms, those being: lynx, space bird (?), space shuttle and...space bird with lynx legs? I don't know. But it doesn't matter because he's awesome. And he knows it too. In fact, he repeatedly lets everyone around him know just how awesome he is. Just how full of himself is he? Well, consider this quote from the Generation One show: "Before you do anything, think, 'Is this what Sky Lynx would do in my position?' , and you will not go far wrong." ("Call of the Primitives").
Holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which maybe isn't all that impressive because Grimlock does too, I'll always associate Sky Lynx with my memory of the commercial for his toy (which also featured the Predacons/Predaking, something we'll explore in further detail below) which used footage from the show as well as catchy musical hook ("It's Sky Lynx!). I actually had this commercial on tape, as it appeared during an episode of Ducktales, another great cartoon from that era.
By Season Three of the Generation One show, Omega Supreme was still around but Sky Lynx seemed to take over as the Autobots's de facto mode of transportation when going on missions deep in space and/or to other planets. And, unlike the Decepticon equivalent for this, the triple-changer Astrotrain, he actually retained his giant size. Strangely enough, while in his own shuttle mode, Astrotrain is large enough to transport many of his fellow Decepticons (a good example is in the movie right after the battle at Metroplex where Starscream tosses out the nearly-dead Megatron) but as a robot, is the same size as the average transformer. The two have actually battled each other several times. But, as the aforementioned commercial suggests, it's the Predacons Sky Lynx has a real rivalry with, clashing with them on numerous occasions. In the Generation One episode, "Call of the Primitives", where he is front and centre, it must have really galled him to be lumped into the same group as the Predacons as well as the Dinobots and the various animal cassettes. In that instance he immediately named himself leader of that group. Also to his shame, during the show he was often mistakenly animated with a Decepticon insignia. How insulting!
Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: While his rescue of the Aerialbots (as Superion) in the episode "The Big Broadcast of 2006" (a favourite of mine) deserves a mention, I'd say it was his role in locating and bringing back a Quintesson during the Hate Plague ("The Return of Optimus Prime parts 1 & 2"). Fortunately one of the few Autobots not infected by the plague was the magnificent Sky Lynx as he was the only one left capable of spaceflight. The Quintesson he retrieves is successful in restoring Optimus Prime to life and Prime discovers how to stop the plague. Sky Lynx then helps Optimus against Galvatron and although he later does wind up being infected by Rodimus, his prior actions led to the curing of the plague.
2. Optimus Prime (Transformed mode: varying kinds of 18 wheeler truck)
Like on some of my other lists, we've come to an entry on a character who is so iconic and so celebrated that I'm at a loss for what to say about him. There have been many, many different incarnations of the Transformers over different forms of media. And while some can get pretty different and "out there" when compared to the original show and Marvel comic, the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, is always present. Although his character doesn't exactly appear in the Japanese animated series Super God Masterforce, his form does at the least (Ginrai) and as far as I can tell, that's really the lone exception.
Naturally it's his depiction in the Generation One cartoon that still stands as probably the most iconic and it's the one I draw the most from with the current ongoing IDW comic series coming in second. I mean, honestly, how could he have had the same initial impact without the brilliant voice talent of the legendary Peter Cullen? Even Michael Bay and the geniuses behind the live-action film series realized that there was no way they'd succeed if they didn't get the man himself to once again voice Prime. And while you can say what you want about those movies, back in 2007 when I saw the first one, hearing Cullen's voice in the theatre literally sent shivers down my spine.
Optimus is leader of the Autobots but he's not the type to lead from the back. Whatever's going on, he's in the thick of the action. And while it's true that many characters on the original show were often poorly written and forgettable, Optimus was ALWAYS well-written, exuding courage, strength, wisdom and compassion that often transcended the cartoon. As weird as it sounds, this giant transforming alien robot warrior was actually a good role model for the children who watched the show. He always showed reluctance to battle the Decepticons and often expressed his disappointment and frustration with constantly being forced to fight. He lamented that Megatron and the Decepticons couldn't learn that their way of attempting to conquer everything around them by force was wrong, that it was anything but glorious. But when it came time to fight, he was ready.
And really, there was no one better at it. As I said, Optimus was an incredibly "hands on" leader. He wasn't just a brilliant commander and tactician but was unequaled in battle prowess. Whether he was firing away with his ion blaster laser rifle, fighting hand to hand or even in vehicle form, he was a force to be reckoned with, able to defeat many enemies single-handedly, best Megatron one on one and even fight off much larger opponents. The Decepticons knew to fear him and few would dare engage him without plenty of support.
Probably the best depiction of Optimus becoming a Prime is the IDW comic miniseries Transformers: Autocracy. Set on Cybertron just before the Great War (the beginning of the millions of years of Autobots vs Decepticons conflict), Autobot commander (of what was a special police unit back then) Orion Pax is given the task of rooting out terrorist Decepticon cells sowing dissent throughout the city-state of Kaon. The Prime at that time was Sentinel Prime.
As noted above, some version of Optimus Prime exists in every incarnation of Transformers and while they have their differences, all are great leaders. Still, Peter Cullen, much like Kevin Conroy with Batman, gives the definitive vocal performance and his is the voice I hear in my head whenever I read any of the comics.
Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: Too many to mention, obviously. He had one in nearly every episode of the original show and plenty more were to follow in other shows, comics and movies. He even has some great ones in the much-maligned live action films. Personally, I love his highway battle with Bonecrusher in the 2007 movie. Even his death scene in the animated movie could be considered one. But for me, it's not a moment of glorious combat or even that dramatic a moment that always resonates the most. I'm going to give it a pretty long setup because I think that's the only way to give it proper justice so bear with me.
In the Generation One cartoon, there's an episode called "The Core" wherein Megatron has the Decepticons construct a massive drill to tap into the earth's molten core. The plan is to harvest geothermal energy thus giving themselves either an alternative to Energon or possibly an ingredient to make it; it's never explicitly stated.
The plan, as pointed out by Starscream, is incredibly risky as the deeper they drill, the greater the chance of breaching the core and causing the earth to explode. Megatron brushes this off, saying he has a contingency plan in place: a space bridge capable of teleporting the Decepticons to Cybertron is nearby in the event of the drill threatening the earth's stability. The Constructicons build and operate the drill.
As you would expect, the Autobots discover this plan and try to stop the Decepticons. To counter the power of Devastator, whom they know Megatron would surely deploy against them, Wheeljack and Chip (Spike's wheelchair-bound friend) created "dominator discs" - small discs that need to be placed on each individual Constructicon. Once this is accomplished, when they combine to form Devastator, the discs will activate and allow the Autobots to take control of Devastator.
Blah, blah, blah. They get the discs on the Constructicons, predictably the drill goes haywire and the earth is in danger, the space bridge becomes damaged so now the Decepticons are in the same boat and Megatron agrees to work with the Autobots to save the planet. Devastator, who had briefly been under Autobot control as planned but isn't anymore, uses his strength to destroy the drill. But when he returns he finds Megatron and the other Decepticons have fled. Chip tells him his "noble leader" ran to save his own hide but Devastator, loyal to a fault, states he left to plan his next attack, as a good leader would. He takes off and Chip sighs. He says he was hoping that Devastator/The Constructicons really would join the Autobots but dismisses it as a "dumb old dream." As the music dramatically comes up, Optimus comforts Chip with these words: "Hang onto your dreams, chip. For the future is built on dreams. Hang on."
Maybe that seems like me making a big deal out of something rather simplistic but between the writing, the music and Cullen's delivery, I think it will always be my favourite Optimus Prime moment. It's stuck with me ever since I first saw it more than twenty-five years ago.
1. Starscream (Transformed mode: F-15 Eagle fighter jet [Gen 1]; F-22 Raptor [IDW])
Just like with Optimus Prime, you pretty much can't do a version of Transformers without the scheming, treacherous Air Commander Starscream. So known and revered is he for his conniving nature that he is actually the Trope Namer for such characters across fiction. Simply put, nobody out-Starscreams Starscream.
The earliest indication of Starscream's ambition is in his bio on the box for his original 1984 toy, where it's mentioned that he desires to lead the Decepticons. Then in the very first episode of the original show, within the first five freaking minutes his stance is heavily hinted at and he winds up making a power play, beginning a long streak of failure. Seriously, even in the episodes where he didn't have any specific plan to overthrow Megatron, he's always criticizing him, quite openly. This of course leads one to wonder why a ruthless commander like Megatron would ever tolerate Starscream. Hell, Cracked even did their own list on this subject back in 2009.
The accepted explanation for this is that Megatron, as a Decepticon, actually values and encourages a certain amount of ambition and guile in his troops, plus, since Starscream is so bad at seizing power, he gets to constantly punish him and demonstrate the folly of challenging him to the rest of his underlings. And it isn't lost on Megatron that for all his whining, scheming and criticizing, Starscream still is a very capable and effective soldier. He is the leader of the Seeker jets after all and does instill a healthy amount of fear and respect in the Autobots. This is even shown in the 2007 film.
Still, sometimes he does prove to be more trouble than he's worth. The episode "Starscream's Brigade" may be the best example of this from the Generation One show. After another unsuccessful attempt to take out Megatron, Starscream is beaten by his superior then dumped (by Laserbeak - arguably the most effective Decepticon there's ever been if you stop to think about it) on a remote island in the south Pacific. Here he discovers several old wrecks of military vehicles from World War Two and is inspired to create an army of his own. He brazenly makes his way to Cybertron and steals the personality components of five renegade Decepticons that were stored in a detention centre. He returns to the island and installs them in five of the vehicles. Thus the Combaticons were born.
Starscream, by virtue of activating his new "friends" without installing energy absorbers, leaving them dependent on him to get some for them, is able to get them to do what he wants. Eventually he leads them in an attack against Megatron and the Decepticons and at first, they're winning. Megs plays his trump card, having the Constructicons merge into Devastator. However, the Combaticons show they also are Combiners and form Bruticus, who quickly despatches his giant counterpart. Only the late arrival of the Stunticons saves the day, with their combined form, Menasor, taking Bruticus by surprise and defeating him. For once, Starscream's actions have real consequences as Megatron banishes him and the Combaticons to deep space, having Astrotrain dump them on a distant asteroid.
After so many humiliating defeats and setbacks, Starscream finally does manage to depose Megatron, throwing his nearly lifeless body out of Astrotrain (oh, the irony!) after the disastrous attack on Metroplex. Of course, his stint as leader is short lived as the newly born Galvatron arrives to destroy him. (The Transformers The Movie)
As much as I love Starscream from the original show, it was in the comics where he often really shined. Longtime Marvel scribe Simon Furman would portray him as more intelligent and often sarcastic. Here he suffered less defeats and humiliation and was often the main focus of many stories. He was a bit more respected by his comrades and his enemies here and he was always very competent. The IDW comics would follow this approach. He's one of Megatron's first supporters before the Great War and, because of his charisma, was deployed as a Decepticon recruiter. Two of his targets that didn't join up were Blurr and Hot Rod but with many others he was successful. But it wasn't just his silver tongue that made him an effective operative. He, along with an assist from Shockwave, assassinated a room full of senators, beginning in earnest Megatron's rise to power on Cybertron (Megatron Origin). However, it wasn't long before he began to conspire against his leader and aided Scorponok in overthrowing him. Once again, this was a temporary state of affairs and Megatron would resume his position. Starscream would grow disillusioned with the Decepticons, tiring of the state of endless warfare. It was revealed that Megatron chose to keep him around as reminder to always watch his own back, as treachery was part of the Decepticon way.
There's plenty more and not just in the versions of Transformers I've mentioned but that's the stuff I know best and we can't be here all day, can we? Starscream will always be one of the most memorable and prominent characters in Transformers and he'll always be my favourite. He's been a scientist (that's his backstory in the Generation One show, where he was friends with fellow scientist Jetfire/Skyfire), air commander, Decepticon recruiter, Decepticon leader and even a freaking ghost. As previously noted, his scheming, treacherous ways are the stuff of legend even outside of Transformers and his deeds as a warrior shouldn't be overlooked.
Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: There are many but how about personally shooting down Air Force One in the IDW comic All Hail Megatron #3?