Category Archives: Transformers

The Owl and the Raven

“The great destroyers of nations and men are comfort, plenty and security. A coward gets scared and quits. A hero gets scared, but still goes on. ”     – unknown

by Leyla Akdogan

“We make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.” – William Shakespeare

The Owl

Heroes rarely surprise us.  They do what we expect them to.  What is right, what is just, what is honorable.  They may struggle getting there but there is never any real question as to the outcome of their fight.  They may die trying but it will be a heroic death.  But what makes them heroic?  Is it strength, intelligence, wit, loyalty, perseverance, morality, sheer bull headedness?  Is it the fact that they do what is right, not for any benefit or personal gain but simply because it is the right thing to do?

Heroes are rarely seen as such by their peers.  Their actions are often regarded as too avant guard, consider Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird or Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.  While a hero’s actions might be altruistic, their motives rarely are.    I personally have always been skeptical of the typical hero.  Why would someone go to such lengths for others with no thought of any gain of any kind?  We all want to be at least recognized for our good deeds if not compensated.

The Raven

Villains rarely surprise us anymore.  They are a necessary evil to thwart the hero.  They are crafty, greed, capricious and cruel.  They seem to appear out of the ether, hate already fully born and festering for revenge on the hero.  They will die before they let the hero succeed.  But what makes them a villain?  Is it strength, intelligence, lack of morality, snark, perseverance, sheer bloody mindedness?  Is it the fact that they do whatever they damn well please just for the hell of it, or at least for some principal gain?

Villains rarely see themselves as such.  They are fully justified within their own minds and see their actions as not only right but necessary.  Darth Vader, Shere Khan of The Jungle Book, Moriarty from any incarnation of Sherlock, Sauron of Lord of the Rings. Shall I go on?  You get the idea.  I personally have always hated the one dimensional evil for the sake of being evil villain.  Everyone has a motive and motive implies will and will implies thought and reason.

The Quandary

So who is the Owl and who is the Raven?  Sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to determine.  This has given rise to the terms anti-hero and anti-villain.  Theses characters are neither strictly one or the other.  They are the vagabond hero and the dubious ally, the thief with a heart of gold and the benevolent overlord.

To illustrate this point I will be drawing on several characters.  Most I’ve discussed before and a couple will be newcomers.  If you are not familiar with my fandoms then beware of spoilers here on out.

First, Megatron.  Yes that Megatron.  By the time we meet him in the franchise he’s a despotic overlord with the mantra ‘Peace through Tyranny.’  A villain’s villain if you will.  Yet we learn that he and his archrival Optimus Prime were once friends and depending on which backstory you prefer, co-collaborators in the rebellion on their homeworld.  In the most recent iteration their friendship fell apart over method.  Megatron, a former slave and gladiator only knew how to achieve his means through violence.  Optimus saw a more peaceful, albeit slower, method through diplomacy.  Neither was wrong in wanting change in their society.  So what made one the hero and the other the villain?  Motive and execution.

Then we have Loki.  In the original works he is not the scene stealing villain from Marvel, but a crafty, cunning and beloved brother.  He’s as mischievous as he is helpful and often his schemes benefit himself more than anyone.  When they do go awry he still manages to find a way to make the outcome work for him.  Yet he allows his jealousy to get the better of him and resorts to murder and extortion.  This doesn’t stop him from helping when a situation calls for it.  He simple will only do it if it in some way benefits himself.  He’s an opportunist.  Again motive and execution come into play.

Now let’s look at Deadpool.  He’s the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ who fancies himself a hero yet can never quite live up to the hype.  When he’s trying his hardest to be the hero is when he fails the most spectacularly.  Its those moments when he stops trying and just does that the hero emerges.  Yet he’s too bogged down by his own demons to ever fully transcend his penchant for indiscriminate violence. He at times both hinders and helps the other super heroes depending on how the situation strikes him and if he can make money off of it.  Much like Loki, he’s an opportunist and will stab a hero in the back as soon as offer a helping hand.  Motive. Execution.

So how do you write a convincing non villain?

Keep them consistent.  Know their motivations, even if they don’t. Make sure their actions are supported by their motives, that they execute their plans accordingly.  Loki and Deadpool are both consistent in that you know at some point they are going to betray you sometimes just for the hell of it.

The Devout Decepticon: Religion in Science Fiction

It’s often considered that science and religion cannot be in the same room without a fight breaking out.  Yet, many aspects of science fiction involve belief in a greater power or veneration of something.  In fantasy it’s often a given that there will be a religious aspect, some stories even involving gods/goddesses themselves.  Science fiction hasn’t shied away from this either often exploring themes of faith, recreating history and delving into deeply religious cultures.  Yet science fiction in general is seen to be the antithesis of spirituality.  One cannot be analytically and religious at the same time.  One is said to be exclusive of the other.  Science dealing with fact and observable phenomenon while religion deals with faith and belief in the things unseen.

Many people have used science fiction to explore religion, either to deride and mock it or to question it’s place in our cultures.  It cannot be ignored that humans have an innate desire to look to something greater.  It’s shown in every culture, race and people the world over. This is often reflected in our literature.

As an avid fan of the Transformers franchise in all it’s forms I’ve noticed something.  I’m not the only one either.  Many fans have pointed out the fact that the base story line in Transformers can be compared to the Christian allegory. Optimus Prime as the Savior who is sacrificed. Megatron as the devil from the Pit bent on world domination. Being either an Autobot or a Decepticon has over arcing moral implications. The Cybertronian culture as a whole was very religious for a bunch of oversize sentient robots. They had their gods The Primes.

It was a deeply personal decision for a Cybertronian when it came to choosing a faction to join.  According to the new aligned continuity most of the Decepticons came from the working class or the slave laborers in the Pits.  Megatron promised freedom from the elitist tyranny that had existed for eon.  Then he granted it, but at a tremendous price.  Many Cybertronians looked upon him as a god, their Savior.  Others new differently.  The true Savior had to be chosen by the Matrix. The Matrix chose Orion Pax the humble clerk not Megatronus the proud gladiator.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should.  Its the same trope used in Star Wars and many fantasy novels/series. The unsuspecting and humble hero is plucked from obscurity and told Destiny awaits. Its the story of the Messiah told with metal and energon instead of flesh and blood. Star Wars had Jedi and Sith instead of angels and demons.

Religion factors heavily into everyone’s life whether they are aware of it or not.  Science fiction doesn’t gloss over this and shouldn’t. We crave a god but also fear having to be responsible to that god. Just be glad it’s not Megatron.

Without You

This week I was treated to a massive dose of sanity threatening emotional issues.  Some were happening in real life, the rest happened in two of my favorite fandoms.  I won’t bore you with my real life issues that involve being pregnant and having to move.  However, I was rather surprised by the strength of my reaction to two different story plots.  It led me to wonder what causes us readers to become so emotionally invested in characters that we weep over them as though they were real.

The first thing I realized was that each story line was excellently crafted, the characters expertly fleshed out and realistic.  The fact that both subplots that emotionally devastated me were romantic ones is nothing short of ironic.  I am not a romantic person.  Ask anyone who knows me personally.  Typical romances bore me to tears.

So how did these characters manage to drag me into the narrative and hold me there over months?  Lets look at them.

Let Your Light Shine

First I will discuss Green Lantern: The Animated Series since that was the first blow to hit last Saturday when the final episode aired. Just the fact it was cancelled after one season was harsh enough.  Then I had to deal with the tragedy that was affectionately referred to by fans as Razaya.

Razer and Aya

Over the course of the season we watched Razor grow and change and fall in love with the ship’s AI, Aya.  Both characters started out seemingly one dimensional but very quickly we were treated to various aspects of their personalities.  Razor grew from being the angry Red Lantern to a multidimensional, complex and conflicted individual.  Aya quickly went from the ship’s navigation computer to a full fledged member of the team.  Both made misjudgments  said things that were taken wrong and just generally where adorable together.  All you have to do is search Tumblr for the tag #Razaya to see how much the fans loved this pairing.

There was a lot to love about it.  It was realistically portrayed and organically developed over the length of the series.  Even the creators were surprised at how loved the two became.  So how did they achieve it?

More on that in a moment.  Now on to the second source of my woe.

Never Let You Go

As many of you know, I am a huge Transformers fan and have been reading the current IDW Publishing series Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.    The past Wednesday the newest issue, #15, was released.  I had been dreading this issue.  Mostly because I knew the happy times were over and things were going to get bad.  People were going to die. And they did.  Horribly in some cases and horribly tragic in others.  (If you have not read the series, please go do so as from here on there will be major spoilers.  You can find the entire run on Comixology.)

One pairing I’ve spoken about before, Chromedome and Rewind pretty much took center stage this issue.  Mostly due to Chromdome’s involvement in the accidental release of the unstoppable and extremely deadly Overlord.  In a scant thirty minutes the entire crew of the Lost Light is subjected to his murderous rampage.  He is only slowed when Rhodimus utters a trip phrase that Chromedome had implanted in his subconscious.  Fortress Maximus, having been released from the brig by Rung, drags Overlord back to the temporal prison he’d escaped from.  It is at this time that Chromedome decides that having the Phase Sixer anywhere near them, even in a prison cell, is too close and goes to jettison the cell.  Except a sword is preventing the mechanism from closing.  Rewind, Chromedome’s life partner, sacrifices himself to get the doors closed and ends up trapped in the cell, floating in space with Overlord.

The phrase that will come back to haunt Chromedome forever.

It’s at this point that Chromedome realizes that Overlord is going to kill Rewind in the slowest and most painful way possible and does the only thing he can think of to spare his lover any more pain.

This panel still makes me tear up.  These two had a very long history together, had been by each other’s sides when they faced death, fought together, with each other and generally behaved like any other loving married couple.  The writer, James Roberts, skillfully wove their relationship into the narrative while developing their personalities and backstory.

Forever and Always

In both of these cases the writers took great pains to make sure the characters were realistic and relatable  None of the characters are human.  Yet we the reader/viewer find ways to identify with them.  Maybe it’s Razor’s rage and inability to control it or Aya’s need to be accepted as her own person.  Or it could be Chromedome’s desire to be useful.  Or even Rewind’s desperation to keep Chromedome safe and healthy when his line of work is so dangerous and mentally detrimental.  It could be all or none of these things.  Either way, most of us have faced something similar at some time in our life and it is by tapping into this that the writers help us to understand and sympathize with the characters.

They created people, not just characters.  Each of them had their own motivations, goals, dreams and flaws.  They each acted and reacted according to what happened around them, just as we all do.  They had emotional, sometimes visceral reactions that ended up leading them to make wrong and in two cases, deadly choices.

We as writers must always strive to give our reader as much emotional input as possible in our stories.  It would be a disservice to our readers to do other wise.  We owe it to them to help them not just empathize, but sympathize with our characters.  Too laugh and cry along with them.  In doing so we build not just an artificial world, but a reader who is capable of much greater sympathy out in the real world.

I’m Not Male, I’m Not Female, I am Me.

Our perception of gender is tainted by the media, by what we are told is feminine and beautiful and strong and masculine.  Strong and feminine aren’t supposed to go together just as beautiful and masculine should not.   Right?


Gender bias is just that bias.


As recently brought out in the article Gender Dichotomy is a Fairy Tale We Have Been Telling Ourselves to Sleep at Night on The Mary Sue  Anika Torruella addresses the difference between being physically male or female and being mentally male or female.  Surprise, mentally there is little to no difference, other than things we are conditioned by society to think is gender appropriate.  She quotes a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Men and Women Are From Earth: Examining the Latent Structure of Gender,” headed byBobbi J. Carothers and Harry T. Reis, who are from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Rochester.  Their goal was to “provide empirical evidence that sex and gender are not the same thing.”

So what did they find?

‘122 unique indicators from 13 studies comprising 13,301 individuals provided later, Carothers and Reis point out “clear empirical evidence to support the belief of researchers who see psychological gender differences in dimensional terms”. In other words even among those with strong and unambiguous gender identities, men and women do not exhibit all the characteristics and behaviors expected of their sex and “may also display some of the characteristics and behaviors associated with the other sex.”’

So in other words when physical gender is ignored men and women are remarkably similar.

Well I could have told you that.  And so could James Roberts, writer of the IDW Publishing comic series Transformers: More than Meets the Eye.  He’s done a masterful job at writing physically gender-less characters while still allowing them to have multidimensional personalities that either gender could identify with.  This was beautifully illustrated in Issue #13 as I will explain in a bit.

That Giant Gun Totting Robot is Female?

When you have no gender and do not identify with either gender having someone try to fit you into one role or the other can be infuriating.  So why do we do it?  Why must things that ‘look’ male automatically be male and vice versa?  Can we not choose what we feel best represents our psyche.  For myself personally, I have never identified fully with either gender.  Intellectually, I know what biology says I am but that has never affected my self-perception.

I am going to use the comic I mentioned earlier to illustrate this point.   I’m going to use two of the characters in Issue #13.   First will be Whirl, second will be Ultra Magnus.  If you are unsure why I am using Transformers, its for the simple reason that they have no gender.  They are not male or female or anything in between.  They do not reproduce sexually (at least not in the established canon, fan fiction begs to differ).  They are giant, non-organic, intelligent life forms.  (For more on their interpersonal relationships see last week’s post.)

A little backstory:

In issue #13 of IDW Publishing’s Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye the Autobots of the ship Lost Light are on shore leave on the planet Hedonia.  Being giant metal beings, they are not always welcome by the smaller organic beings who squish easily.  Sensitive to this, a few of them agree to adopt holomatter avatars in order to scout out locales where they will be welcome to come and unwind for a bit.  The program they install to adapt these avatars has been upgraded so that their avatar more closely represents their personalities.  Which makes sense because the risk for being misunderstood would jump considerably if you were uncomfortable with, or misrepresented by your avatar.

Rhodimus explains the new avatars (MTMTE #13)

Rhodimus explains the new avatars (MTMTE #13)

Probably the biggest shock to fans was the fact that the sometimes rather insane and violent Whirl had this for ‘his’ avatar.

Autobot Whirl’s holomatter avatar. MTMTE Issue #13

In case you are unfamiliar this is his actual form:

Autobot Whirl

That’s right.  That bot that the Transformers wikia describes as  ‘ . . .a rather reckless fighter and can take damage because of it. He’s okay with that, because he absolutely LOVES his job . . .’ has what looks to be a preteen girl for an avatar.  A very tomboyish girl who obviously loves her weapons, but that’s Whirl.    Honestly, I love the fact that his avatar is so fun.  It’s obviously a perfect reflection of his personality, forget anything about it being a girl.  He didn’t choose this avatar.  The program, after analyzing his personality, chose it for him.

On the other hand we have Ultra Magnus.  He is first and foremost a soldier.  His loyalty and self-sacrifice are tempered by his reluctance to form close bonds with anyone.  That and his strict adherence to rules and regulations to the point of being obsessive compulsive.  Magnus chose his own avatar.   He chose the likeness of the one human he felt closest to who just happened to be female.

MtMtE cover issue #13

Ultra Magnus is front and center of the cover looking quite sexy with his avatar.  (Love the power pose he’s got going on.)  Those who have followed the comics will recognize the woman.  For this post her identity is not important.  What is important is that Magnus respected her enough to want to use her likeness to represent himself.  He was not concerned that she was female.  I’d wager that thought never occurred to him.  To him she was simply a human he admired and called a friend.

Maybe They are on to Something

So why do we get so hung up on the male/female dichotomy?  Why does it matter so much in our daily interactions?  Why can’t we just see people as people instead of their gender?

It goes back to what I said in the beginning, we are conditioned to think this way.  We can, however, unlearn it.  And a good way to start is by realizing that just because I look a certain way doesn’t mean I’m going to behave a certain way.   Just like with the Transformers.