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#5

Megatron

By inflatable dalek

"Understand this. So long as you stand in my way- so long as anybody stands in my way, I will respond by killing. Murder on an industrial scale. Because in the final analysis, I would happily wade across a river of corpses, chest-deep in rust and grease and engine oil, just to crush the spark of the last Autobot standing. And I would do so not simply as a means to an end, no. I'd do it, Prime, because it would give me pleasure."

Percentage of vote: 45.4%
Average ranking: 10.2

Being the baddie in a kid orientated franchise can be quite hard. The heroes may never completely vanquish their foes, but they still win the day most weeks. Your Skeletors, your Mum Raas and yes, your Megatrons are doomed to fail at near enough everything they do. Optimus Prime is eternally cool (and may or may not be higher on this list as a result), Megatron has the lodestone of failure round his neck dragging him down to fifth place despite arguably being the second best known Transformer of them all.

This is reflected in a lot of the comments that accompanied poor old Megatron, there's a frequent feeling that a lot of you voted for him because of what he represented as the series main villain rather than because you actually liked him all that much. "An iconic character without whom no subsequent Megatrons would have existed." from Sciflyer being one of the more generous examples, but the blunt "Oh yeah, him too" from one anonymous voter sums up a lot of the apathy towards him.

"There've been a lot of great Megatrons, and a lot of terrible ones. He's too important to not crack the top few, though."

--Tahukanuva

There is one particular version of Generation One Megatron who did get a lot of particular love, but before we get onto him, let's look at the original cartoon and comic incarnations and see how fair a lot of this apathy coupled with grudging respect actually is.

Cartoon and Marvel US Megatron tend to veer into more traditional Saturday morning cartoon territory, hardly surprising in the case of the former as he's actually in a Saturday morning cartoon. TV Megatron is an easy character to mock, with his ludicrous plans, complete inability to deal with Starscream and catchphrase of "Decepticons retreat!"

However, there's still a lot to like about TV Megs. Though it's not at the Soundwave level of awesome, Frank Welker still gives a memorably craggy performance as Megatron (though personally, I actually prefer how he's refined and deepened the voice for Prime), and he has one huge advantage over the majority of his fellow cartoon villains: He's not the boss of a gang or a small group of terrorists, he's the leader of (at least) half of an entire species, a despot with a (admittedly mostly unseen) vast army at his disposal. He's a military dictator, not a super villain and that gives him a power and gravitas that Skeletor looks at and has a good cry over.

Cartoon Megatron also had a nice dry line in wit, often playing well off Starscream in those moments where they weren't actually trying (and failing) to kill one another, the scene where they discuss the legality of the power chip rectifiers scheme in Heavy Metal War being a particularly fine example. The scene of him being blind drunk and bemoaning the state of his life in Microbots is also a highlight of his time on the show.

However, the most iconic moment for cartoon Megatron is his film fight with Optimus Prime. As it does with the Autobot leader it solidifies everything about the character that works into one handy scene, he's a cheating bastard but one with strength of will (he's very nearly the equal of a just arrived and fresh Optimus after a long night of fighting and shouting) that's genuinely impressive. The earlier scene of the shuttle of him gunning down the Autobots also ably show the full potential threat of the character once the kid gloves of childrens television have been removed.

The final moments of Megatron also bring his best qualities to the fore, being sarcastic and rude to a giant killer planet. It's a shame lazy modern comic writers can't stop quoting every other line from the Astrotrain scene onwards (as a rule of thumb, random quoting of Transformers the Movie is shorthand for: "This writer is a hack with no ideas") as that has diluted the impact somewhat, but overall the film is a perfect send off for the character encompassing everything he does well.

(I know what you're thinking- doesn't Megatron carry on afterwards as Galvatron? Well, this being a democracy we're rolling with those of you who took part in the vote, most of whom treated the two as completely separate characters. For more on what cartoon Megatron did next read our Galvatron piece HERE.)

In the Marvel comics Megatron had a huge advantage over his TV counterpart: He was almost instantly replaced. From the moment where Shockwave comes raining death out of the sky at the end of the original mini-series there's no point where bucket head is the single undisputed Decepticon leader again until Generation 2, and indeed there are long stretches of the comic he's completely absent from.

"Just an amazing character."

--Warewullf

The advantage is, he gets to side-step most of the silly villain moments. The ludicrous plans, the constant failure, the camp speeches... well he certainly has his share, but the bulk of them go to the Shockwaves, the Scorponoks, the Straxuses and Thunderwings. Generally, even when he's written at his most camp, if Megatron takes a major lead role in a story it usually matters and makes an impression more than it would if he were there every issue.

This is good as main American writer Bob Budiansky clearly had little time for Megatron, making him Joey Slick's bitch, before sending him really, really mad and then blowing him up at the first opportunity so the much more attuned to his light comedy tastes choice of Ratbat could take over. If you're in the right mood however, the scenes of him doing things like whacking Soundwave with a car engine just for making a suggestion are good solid camp fun.

"The only time G1 Megatron came across as a decent character in his own right, world weary and ready to change his ways. So of course he had to be a fake..."

--inflatable dalek (what a guy!)

In the UK stories Simon Furman would give Megatron a somewhat better final story, though by rather unprofessionally borrowing ideas from Budiansky stories British readers hadn't seen yet. However he quickly brought the character back almost immediately after his American death (after all, with a future Megatron running about the stories, trying to pretend he was gone for good was effectively moot) via an Action Force crossover.

This Megatron would weave infrequently in and out of the stories, rarely under his own control. However, once he got his mind back and teamed up with Galvatron we got the best material of the original comic for Megatron. He was older, more world weary and keen not to repeat the mistakes of his past. Retrospectively it's very easy to hear Welker's Prime voice when reading his speech bubbles, and this more mature and ready to start over even as reality is on the brink of ending Megatron is fantastically written.

So it's a shame there was a massive ham fisted retcon where this Megatron turned out to be a clone with Lord Straxus' mind. Of all the ways his return to the American series could have been smoothed over this was by far the silliest and completely destroyed all the good work for the character.

In fact, thinking about it, as he's not really Megatron the three preceding paragraphs are completely pointless. Bugger.

It didn't help that this ripping up of the excellent work done in British stories was just for the sake of the return of the "I'm mad me" Megatron in Furman's first, (understandably) hesitant American arc. This would be the last we'd see of him fully active in the series, though the arc of him being merged with Ratchet would at least provide some memorable moments even if few of them were specifically Megatron-ey. The last we'd see of him was mentally linked with the medic and involved in a no-doubt confusing to him fight/team up with Galvatron before crashing into Canada in the Ark (after being coated in Nucleon, so if the series had continued Action Master Megatron would have been around fairly quickly).

"G2 mostly."

--Denyer

It was with the arrival of the Generation 2 comic that Marvel Megatron really got his late in the day moment to shine however. Two years before Beast Wars the character was reinvented by Furman as a smart, borderline fourth wall breaking sadist with a real sense of power and threat to him. His best scenes come in his team up with Optimus Prime, and it's completely impossible to read his lines without hearing David Kaye in the role. Over the 12 issues he goes from out and out villain to anti-hero in a way that feels perfectly natural and ensues the Marvel take on the character goes out on a high.

Before we talk about the most popular Megatron amongst our voters, a quick mention of the Dreamwave comics, where he was basically inoffensive, being written as a fairly straightforward reuse of cartoon Megatron's personality.

Yes, the version of Megatron that really resonated with you is the one from the current comics. This is something that likely wouldn't have been the case two years ago, because whilst we've arrived at a good place now (just about) it's been a rocky road getting here.

Under Simon Furman when IDW launched their titles Megatron was a straightforward streamlined version of the better Marvel UK take, a character of few words with a straightforward no-nonsense attitude there was a nice sense of power and threat to the character, with this peaking in his one on one fight with Optimus in Escalation.

"Generally, I found Megatron to be a bit of a shite bad guy - too weak in the early Marvel comics, too stupid in the cartoon. But the way he was shown in Chaos Theory showed that there is the potential for the character to be fantastic - heres hoping MTMTE season 2 fufills that promise."

--Red Dave Prime

However, the attempts to give Megatron a secret origin in Megatron: Origin fell flat when writer Eric Holmes completely failed to find anything interesting for Megatron to say. For a four issue series supposedly entirely about him the bulk of Megatron's dialogue winds up being "Huh" and it seems to very quickly forget it's supposed to be about an oppressed miner rebelling against cruelty and instead turns into an inferior State Games rip-off (to rub salt in the wound James Hill had pitched a comic adaptation of his story that was rejected at almost the same time). As a general rule of thumb, when commissioning Transformers comics anything involving the words "Pitch Dreamwave rejected" should be binned.

It seems IDW were having trouble making any title with his name in it work as a story about him because Shane McCarthy's All Hail Megatron suffered from similar problems of not really knowing what it wanted to say about the character with his personality and motivation being all over the place throughout the series (it also started a bad trend of writers attempting to make Megatron seem like a master chess player who anticipates every move in advance but not having the skill to pull it off so he comes off as a bullshitter who simply goes "This was totally part of my plan" however unlikely or strange whatever just happened was).

Then Mike Costa's version suffered from Mike Costa.

"One of the most complex Megatrons regarding character. I like his pseudo-friendship with Optimus, they do share the same ideas and goals, but their ways to achieving these is so different. Plus I like how he changes his designs over and over again, keeps it fresh."

--Nemesis-Scourge

The reinvention of Megatron, and specifically what I think the bulk of those who pimped for the IDW version were voting for, came via the two part Chaos Theory story written by James Roberts towards the end of Costa's run, the equivalent of finding a diamond in the piece of dog poo someone has been rubbing in your face for two years solid.

This made a virtue of the failings of Origin, by taking the silent miner and showing his philosophical, poetic side that got pushed further and further to the edge where nothing but total war can free the down trodden masses. The telling moment is a small one, where the otherwise nice cop asks Megatron an apartheid based question without even realising he's done it. The beating Whirl gives Megatron might be what drives him to his final destiny, but it's that sort of sin of omission where even the friendliest of Autobots just accept the segregation in their society which builds up over the years to drive an oppressed minority to breaking point.

Of course, by fighting against segregation Roberts sneakily presents this young Megatron as almost a Mandela figure, someone whom it is easy to see would impress a young Orion Pax. What is really clever though is how this is contrasted with the present day framing device, where Megatron is the fully formed monster who gives the quote that opened this article. You can see him at the beginning and the end of his journey, the fall from potential hero to villain, all in the switch of timeframe between panels. Megatron has never been so nuanced as a result.

"Had it in him to be complex and interesting. IDW are doing some interesting stuff with him, off and on."

--Rack'n Ruin

What's also interesting is something that TFArchive poster Aunty Slag pointed out following the recent death of British political icon Tony Benn. When Orion Pax angrily quotes from Megatron's manifesto at the Senate, the five questions are almost identical to those posed by Benn to the British government in 2005 (What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?).

Assuming this isn't just a massive coincidence, nor that Roberts didn't pick it just because it sounded cool, the comparison to Benn is hugely interesting. Benn stood up for the working classes whilst having little but disdain for those encroached in power (famously going to court so as not to be given his hereditary peerage in order to allow him to stand for election as an MP rather than being given an automatic seat in the House of Lords), and is also famous for getting more and more extremely left wing as he got older, a rarity in British politics.

Now, I'm not suggesting Roberts is trying to say Benn had any resemblance to what Megatron became, just that in his attempts to portray young Megatron as genuinely sympathetic he used a man admired by pretty much everyone interested in British politics regardless of their own beliefs, a man famous for his deep unshakable convictions in a job where that is an increasing rarity. It's an extraordinary bit of writing, especially in the context of the Costa issues surrounding it (coming in-between Megatron trying to take over Earth by dropping replicas of his gun mode on it and defeating the Chaos monster by firing a massive ejaculation in its direction a metaphorical use of contemporary British politics is almost mind blowing).

The follow up hasn't completely capitalised on this potential, with John Barber reverting to the McCarthy "No, honestly, this was my plan all along" take on the character for the mess that was the Prowlestator arc in Robots in Disguise. But the end of Dark Cybertron (which, as it's the policy of these features not to go into huge depth on anything spoilery for currently running fiction I won't specifically mention even if IDW themselves blew the twist with their solicitations weeks ago) shows a huge amount of interesting new potential for the character.

Running concurrently with John Barber's take, two other writers had the chance to play with Megatron. ReGeneration One hasn't received a lot of love across this series, mainly because it's treatment of characters has been awful ("Hey, you know how everyone loves noble anti-hero Scorponok and his death was one of the greatest moments of all Transformers fiction? Let's just piss on that from a great height!"), but Megatron was one of the things it got right.

In a comic that was at it's best when it wasn't aiming higher than good old camp fun the return of completely bonkers Megatron worked extremely well and provided a nice change of pace from the attempts at a more sophisticated Megatron in the other IDW comics. Him actually getting to rule a ruined Earth gave the character a nice sense of power as well, albeit one let down by the fact he only achieved his goal because moaning tit Spike Witwicky gave up on his self appointed task of guarding the Ark five minutes after taking it on.

Over in the main IDW continuity underutilised writer/artist Nick Roche gave us a dedicated Spotlight: Megatron. Considering this came in a run of Spotlights intended for inclusion with toys, where references to drinking in Trailcutter had been removed from the pack-in version of that comic, the fact it got away with treating the Megatron/Starscream relationship as a domestic abuser analogy was pretty impressive. Either Hasbro didn't get the metaphor or someone there thinks having a beer is worse than wife beating.

As an attempt to try and justify why Megatron doesn't just kill Starscream it perhaps didn't work perfectly (because of course, there is no real good reason for him not to do so), but it was still a nice little character study as it showed Megatron's frustration at Starscream having stolen defeat from the jaws of certain victory whilst he was having his nap.

Megatron is a character who has been written in wildly different, both in terms of approach and quality, ways over the years, running the entire gamut from subtle and sophisticated to loud and brash. But at his best, he's an extraordinary character who is more than the equal of Optimus Prime. His new IDW direction promises to open up a whole new avenue of opportunity for him and should make the second season of More Than Meets the Eye even more interesting.

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