Life Expectancy: the Future and Mortality
Monday, July 7th, 1997 12:01AM CDTCategory: Site Articles
Posted by: Seibertron Views: 325,543
Written by Michael Jenkins
In the history of all the entertainment mediums of fiction, the issue of mortality has always questioned the level of credibility - the reflection of reality - that any work of fiction produces.
In some works, such as satire, the issue of credibility is completely thrown out the window; the only reflection of reality is the subject which satire ridicules in its colorful and often humorous formats. So in the case of satire, the characters that we indulge in every morning in the newspaper comics are not bound by the issue of mortality; Charlie Brown will forever be known as the little boy, as he and his crew were created decades ago. As a contrast, many fictional entertainment mediums strive on continuum, in which mortality pays a crucial part. In countless numbers of novels and television shows, we are exposed to "alternate realities" that must be as believable as the creators can make them so that the audience comes back wanting more of the unexpected - a loose and distant derivative of the primal demand to stay alive. In these alternate realities, people and things are born, grow and die; relationships begin and end; people get along or fight; and decisions are made and carried out, for better or worse. Though these worlds are truly fictional, we enjoy them because they are strangely realistic - and we can somehow relate to and admire the characters in these worlds.
As for the Transformers, there is no strong continuum beyond the premise of them being sentient robots that can change their form as a tactical in battle. There are four or more alternate realities through which fans around the globe experience the "Robots In Disguise." It started in America in the early eighties in a morning cartoon series. But it soon spread to another medium; the comic book. Marvel Comics produced the TRANSFORMERS comic book series that reflected on events that occurred on TV, but the stories in no way paralleled. In the comics, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, and Ravage (Soundwave's cassettes) could talk unlike they could in the cartoon series. Ratbat talked as well, and even led his own barrage of Decepticons. Shockwave was a sworn enemy to Megatron and wrestled the Decepticon leader for power on occasion; that was in the comics. On the TV show, Shockwave was one of Megatron's most devoted followers. The TRANSFORMERS comic ran rampant with flesh-slug humans that got the upper hand or some such. The Cybertronians met G.I.Joe and Spider-Man. None of these events would dare happen on the TV show (except for that one episode that featured an elusive Cobra Commander). How could anyone say what actually happened or not with two different story lines going at the same time?
Apparently, this question was not an issue, because the UK released its own comic books series, which remained true to the TV show even after the movie and the television show's demise. The Japanese TV show continued to thrive long after the US stopped, deciding to change events and characters, and ignoring what occurred in the Transformers: Movie.
Unfortunately for the Transformers, there is no George Lucas to patrol what happens to the Autobots and Decepticons and their home planet of Cybertron; thus the numerous story lines. Freelance writers and fans (like myself) have even written stories that continue events, but no one monitors what happens and what shouldn't happen. Timothy Zahn could not make a move with his Thrawn Trilogy unless Lucas approved. Can this be a part of STAR WARS world success? So many people have so many ideas as to what direction the Transformers should take, and the Transformers have yet to reach fans on all mediums, as STAR TREK and STAR WARS have. There is no question the graphic novels, video games, role playing games, sin-off TV shows and even movies would sell and play as excellent PR for Transformers, if done correctly. But substance must be brought to them, a sense of reality. Mortality and continuum seem to be two of the crucial fibers in securing and substantiating an alternate reality.
Though the mortality rule would help make the Transformers' universe a little more realistic and dramatic, not many fans argue with the numerous reincarnations of Optimus Prime and Megatron, two of the most recognized Transformers worldwide. Prime himself may be the most recognized Transformer in close to the almost two decades of the world's exposure to the Robots In Disguise.
Optimus Prime is extremely popular; he has up to seven different action figures in America to date claiming his name and fans were passionately displayed with his demise in the 1986 release of "Transformers: The Movie". As a result of the fan uproar, the creative staff of the TRANSFORMERS television show decided to coo the crying fans by returning Optimus to life, thus making the movie production team's major theme in the feature-length film "Cybertronians are mortal also" almost obsolete.
Megatron, on the other hand, possesses a different track record. Though he too is fairly popular, and has an equal number of action figure reincarnations (I include Galvatron), he did not cause any uproar with any death. Throughout the television series, the Imperial Decepticon Leader was notorious and uncanny for escaping death (much like Captain Kirk in STAR TREK). He pulled an ultimate bout of uncanny luck eluding ultimate oblivion when Unicron "slave-named" him Galvatron. The only reason why Megatron seemed so different was because of the damage caused to his mental circuits in the molten pit in which he was hurled into by Rodimus Prime. Overall, Megatron once again escaped death, and to this day suffices as leader of the "Decepticons (at least by American standards).
The credibility of mortality in these cases is fairly acceptable, due to excellent storytelling. A lot of story lines kill off characters, only to anti-climatically bring them back to life (thus being a major cop-out). Marvel Comics is notorious for killing off characters and then bringing them back with the typical "alternate universe", "time travelling", "oh I got out in time" mumbo-jumbo. It has happened so much (G.I.Joe screamed it) in the Marvel Universe that when you see a character killed off these days, you don't mourn because the character will pop up again in due time. But most fans seemed to have swallowed the bullet when Spock, Scotty and even Captain James Kirk escaped death to pop up in the 24th Century with Picard and crew. Fans did the same when Emperor Palpatine came back in the present accumulative of three times after his death in Return of the Jedi (due to a convenient plethora of Dark Side clones). All in all, the mortality rule can be bent a little with good storytelling. Megatron is not immortal, he just seems that way because of his tactical genius and sheer luck, and "relentless resilience". Prime is not immortal either, though I would personally like to see a better story that explains his return.
Where did the Cybertronians originate? Were they created by the sophisticated technology of the Quintessons; are they the children of the god-like Primus; are they the spawn of the super-computer Vector Sigma; did Unicron play a role in their creation; did the Liege Maximo play a part; or does the ultimate truth of Creation lie in all of these previous theories? How do the Cybertronians reproduce? Do they asexually do so in some form of soma-mitosis; do they extract key parts of their circuitry and build a unique personality matrix with the help of another Cybertronian; do they use the Matrix of Light to bring life to a lifeless machine; do they present the lifeless machine to Vector Sigma who grants life to that machine; or are all of the previous just the many examples of how Cybertronians reproduce? The two main questions of origination and reproduction have been major questions in Transformers continuum. Perhaps the origination of the Transformers does not have to be known, since we are not too sure of our own. Some fans may have adopted one of the "belief systems" and do not want there to be a definite, which could rule out the one they selected. But it can be argued that the creators of the Transformers universe are the ultimate gods and have say in what is true and what is not. The reality of the Transformers universe, and it depth is still fairly undeveloped and shallow. There are no definites, no true answers. So the next time someone asks you "How does Megatron shrink when he transforms into his gun mode?" you can't really boast the true answer because there is no true, official answer.
In one story line, Primus reigns supreme as the entity that created the phenomenon of the Cybertronians. In another, it is sequentially the Quintessons, Vector Sigma, and the Matrix of Light. So which one is right?
The phenomenon of enjoying a concept or group of characters is dependent on the world in which they exist, and how real that world is. One cannot enjoy something they cannot take seriously. Without realism, the concept or group of characters are naked and won't survive long in the cold. Many would argue that it is not enjoyable to watch others make that world in front of them, that perhaps the Transformers are better off without continuum. Who knows how the Transformers universe will substantiate, if it ever does. Perhaps it will evolve into a role playing experience where there is a book of rules and the audience makes their own adventures. Or will it become as tightly chronological as STAR WARS, or a little looser like STAR TREK. In my humble opinion, continuum will help secure a sense of reality in the Transformers universe, a reality which fans will most likely appreciate. Spanning out into different entertainment mediums will then be accomplished more successfully, bringing more attention to the Transformers.
Originally published in TRANS-FORUM #7 (July 1997) by the owner of SEIBERTRON.com