|Percentage of vote:||35.1%|
Well, this sure makes a certain Mr. dalek's mean-spirited slander in the Galvatron and Ultra Magnus articles look silly, doesn't it? Sorry dalek, but Rodimus couldn't hear you from all the way up here in the top ten.
Ahem. That aside, it does make me very happy to see Rodimus this high up the list because he's been my favourite Transformer since I was a child. Rodimus isn't wise like Optimus, brilliant like Prowl, hyper-cool like Jazz or a solid rock like Ultra Magnus. The concept behind his character is much deeper, but it's also one that every single one of us can sympathize with. He's a young, inexperienced person that fate shoved into a position of great responsibility that he's not sure he wants. He's forced to grow up quickly, but along the way he realizes that growing up didn't necessarily mean growing old -- that you could be mature and responsible without leaving behind all that you loved in your younger days.
When talking about Rodimus, though, it's impossible to dodge the fact that he was a replacement -- and more than that, he was a replacement for the most popular, beloved character the franchise has ever seen. Optimus Prime was beloved by children in the 80s, a surrogate father figure to many and a shining example of a hero who would always be there to save the day no matter how bad things got...until, one day, he wasn't there anymore. Rodimus had an impossibly big set of shoes to fill, and it's no surprise that a great many children reacted negatively to him.
But Rodimus wasn't just a half-assed Xeroxed copy of Optimus like you might have expected in a children's show. He was much different, and in my opinion much more, than Optimus ever was. Because in the 80s Optimus was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. I called him a father figure earlier and I did so with deliberation, because Optimus is a distillation of everything the men of our father's generation represented. Stern, serious, hard-working and (outwardly) without doubt, Optimus Prime was the idealized image of an 80s dad given life as a giant robot.
Most of you will recognize that quote, I'm sure. As a Bible verse it's older than dirt, and for a very, very long time it represented society's idea of what it meant to be a man. To grow up, you needed to give up those things that made you happy as a boy and accept the role that society had laid out for you. Optimus Prime, the quintessential 80s authority figure, did exactly that, leaving behind the young, energetic Orion Pax entirely when he became the Autobots' new leader. Rodimus, though? Not so much. He might have reluctantly become more responsible, but he never gave up the fun-loving spirit or zest for life that made Hot Rod such a breath of fresh air in the 80s movie.
And here's the thing. If you're over twenty or so and you're reading this? You're following in Rodimus Prime's footsteps. In fact, most of our generation is. Unlike our fathers and grandfathers, we see nothing wrong with playing with toys and video games at the same time as we hold down important jobs and raise children of our own. In a lot of ways, Rodimus Prime is the embodiment of our generation.
--Another TF Fan
I don't think there's any question that the character's early days were probably his most controversial. As Hot Rod, he was introduced in the 1986 Transformers movie as part of the new wave of
product characters who joined the cast. Along with Ultra Magnus and Kup he was one of the new leads on the Autobot side, adding an element of youth and energy to the film. Of course, as the story played out it became clear that Hot Rod was the chosen one who was going to vanquish Galvatron, destroy Unicron and lead Cybertron into a new age of peace and happiness. Unfortunately none of this really mattered to a lot of the franchise's oldest fans, because before Hot Rod could make an impression on them by doing any of this he'd already earned their hate by jumping into a duel between Optimus and Megatron and basically getting his beloved leader killed.
That bad start was compounded by Rodimus's uncertain leadership in the third season of the cartoon, which led a lot of fans to write him off as an annoying whiner who can't lead worth a damn and got the Autobots real leader killed while acting like an idiot. That's not really a fair judgement at all, but emotions aren't fair and Rodimus earned a lot of ire from a lot of kids for the way he was introduced and that ire has never really gone away. In fact, when I joined the fandom in 2002 you could easily have made a case that Rodimus was the most hated character in the entire franchise. That attitude has faded a fair bit over the years, but even today you'll still meet a lot of adult fans who hate the character purely for how he made them feel as a child.
But as the third season of the cartoon ran its course, Rodimus Prime was on the receiving end of more characterization and development than any other Transformer. In fact, like fellow list member Cyclonus, there were times when he didn't feel like he belonged at all because he was a fully fleshed-out three-dimensional character amidst a sea of one-note cyphers. His self-doubt set him apart both from the sea of Prime-like nigh-perfect leaders who inhabited the world of 80s cartoons and the countless young hotheads who his younger self resembled. But in spite of neither wanting the job nor thinking he was any good at it -- and in fact, partly because of those doubts -- Rodimus quickly grew to become a very effective commander.
His relationship with his troops was very different from the one that Optimus enjoyed, though. The former leader had stood alone as a mentor, a wise sage and a paragon of what it meant to be an Autobot. Rodimus...wasn't any of those things. Instead of shouldering the load alone, he leaned heavily on the likes of Ultra Magnus, Kup, Springer, Blaster and Sky Lynx for support. And while Optimus's authority was never questioned, Rodimus was frequently the target of back-talk and disobedience -- often he came across more like the nominal leader of a group of peers than the unquestioned commander of an army. But for all the differences in style, it's hard to deny that Rodimus did a really, really good job. It was under his leadership that the Autobots reclaimed and rebuilt Cybertron, after all, and in spite of all the wisecracks you hear about the supposedly low quality of his competition it does bear mentioning that Optimus lost the entire planet to Galvatron within three episodes of officially resuming command and had to rely on Spike and a pacifist to save his bacon.
I don't want to give the wrong impression, though. While Cartoon Rodimus was a really intriguing character who was on the whole very well handled, he wasn't without his faults. When he was being written by some of the show's less-skilled scribes he occasionally crossed the line from "compellingly flawed" to "annoying". This was especially common in the back half of the series, and by the time The Return of Optimus Prime rolled around it had become increasingly clear that the writers had run out of ideas for the character. And while bringing Optimus back was a panicked move driven by flagging toy sales, moving Rodimus aside to a more supporting role was a good choice. But unfortunately for the character's fans, the series came to a close three episodes later and we never got to see what the character would become now that the burden of leadership had been lifted.
Of course, while the character's most notable run was in the cartoon he put in a solid showing in the Marvel comic as well. But unlike the cartoon, where he was portrayed as Rodimus Prime for the bulk of the series, most of his time in the Marvel books was spent as Hot Rod. Though Bob Budiansky had zero interest in the character -- for reasons that probably have a lot to do with him being one of a handful of characters whose personality Bob didn't create from scratch -- Simon Furman was clearly fond of him. So while Hot Rod got the bare minimum of page time while his toy was actually on the shelves, once Furman took over the US book Hot Rod was a steady supporting presence in the series straight to the end, usually standing at Optimus Prime's side.
Starting from issues in the mid-50s until the end of the series at issue #80 and on into Generation 2, Hot Rod was probably seen more than any Autobot not named Optimus or Grimlock. But while that sounds like a golden opportunity to show the character growing and changing...in practice, not so much. Hot Rod was a turbo-revving young punk when Furman first put pen to paper for the character and he was still a turbo-revving young punk when the continuity came to a close. And in spite of ham-handed attempts to make up for that in the pages of IDW's sadly misguided ReGeneration One relaunch of the Marvel continuity, Hot Rod's lack of development stands out for me as one of the few truly weak points of Furman's run on the US book.
In the UK, on the other hand, Furman more than did the guy justice. Though Hot Rod rarely appeared in current-day stories, future versions of the character frequently appeared as a part of the UK books' long-running time travel saga. Making appearances as both the young Hot Rod and the mature Rodimus Prime, the character was one of the lynchpins of the UK stories and one of Furman's most distinctive characters. As in the cartoons, he was a much different leader than Optimus Prime. But the UK's Rodimus, while burdened by self-doubt, was in many ways a much darker character. He had a ruthless streak to be sure, and he was willing to take actions that Optimus never would have -- whether that be to operate deep-cover infiltrators in the Decepticon ranks, ruthlessly gun down Decepticon soldiers or send a past version of Ultra Magnus off to face Galvatron on his own because, eh, he's alive in my future so he probably pulls through.
Of course, UK Rodimus's decisions were coloured by the world that he lived in, and Simon Furman did his level best to make that world hell. Between a Galvatron who was nigh-invincible, a corrupted Matrix, a Cybertron torn apart by the continuing stalemate of a civil war, a Unicron who just wouldn't stay dead and time storms wiping out entire solar systems, Rodimus probably faced more crises in less time than any other character in the series. And unlike the cartoon version of the character, he didn't get let off the hook after a year of service. No, this Rodimus was put through the wringer for hundreds of years, until the taint of the Matrix he bore had reduced him to a broken-down shell of a Transformer. But no matter what he faced, he never gave up and he was never beaten. And while he was a very different person than his cartoon incarnation, he was every bit as much the hero.
Like a lot of popular characters, Hot Rod faded from the franchise for a while after the Generation 2 line gave way to the Beast Era. And despite a few appearances in Transformers media in the early 2000s -- as a field commander in Transformers: Energon and as a rebel leader in the Dreamwave comics -- he didn't really become a major part of the franchise again until IDW Publishing got the licence to produce Transformers comics.
Unfortunately, like a lot of prominent characters in IDW's stable he's been all over the map. Way back at the start of the series he was characterized very differently from his G1 self, not as a callow youth but as a grizzled, war-scarred veteran who had lost his entire team in a Decepticon ambush. A potential clash with the Decepticon spy Doubledealer (who had gotten the rest of his troops killed) was teased, but ultimately fell flat with a rushed conclusion when Simon Furman's mess of a run on the series was cut short in the face of falling sales and a million subplots had to be truncated in two miniseries. But even in the short time that he had, Hot Rod's characterization never particularly fit with his stated backstory -- he felt too much like the traditional Hot Rod, with the same shallow reckless streak and youthful arrogance that Furman's US version of Marvel Hot Rod had sported.
With Furman gone the reigns were passed to Shane McCarthy, who didn't pay much mind to the character or his previous characterization. Hot Rod in All Hail Megatron was hopelessly naive, but ultimately inconsequential and inoffensive (something that could be said to describe the series as a whole). The definitive IDW version of the character didn't begin to take shape until Mike Costa's ongoing series, which is a tad ironic since so little of worth could be said to have emerged from those dark days. His Hot Rod -- or Rodimus Prime, once he began to believe his own press -- was a charismatic egotist, highly skilled and likeable but with some very large psychological blind spots that drove most of the interesting plot threads that ran throughout Costa's years on the book.
It wasn't until James Roberts got his hands on the character, though, that he began to see a surge in popularity. Roberts' Rodimus is essentially Costa's version, played to the hilt and placed in charge of a cast of oddballs and lunatics. Charming but vainglorious, brave but reckless, well-meaning but unfocused, the Rodimus of More Than Meets the Eye is a brilliantly realized character. Hugely flawed but still eminently likeable, this Rodimus is in many ways the polar opposite of the 80s version of the character -- eager for power and authority and far too confident in his own abilities. But this new take on the character is just as believable as the old one, because without the wise, moderating influence of the Matrix this Rodimus is essentially a reckless kid tossed into a position of leadership that he is woefully unprepared for. But in spite of the differences in personality he serves much the same role as he did in the 80s -- a fresh, youthful contrast to the more straight-laced leadership offered by Optimus. Only this time around instead of being sullen and unhappy, he's cheerful and actually kinda hilarious.
And though his story is far from told, this version of Rodimus has already experienced more growth and self-realization than the previous versions combined. That's got a lot to do with the fact that his mistakes so far have been far more monumental than anything the cartoon or Marvel versions have been responsible for, but also a testament to the fact that, beneath all the ego and hyperactivity and starships shaped like his head, Rodimus is a fundamentally good person who knows when he's screwed up. And while he tries really hard to do better, he's still a flawed person and life is still a struggle.
And you know...in his own way, I think that makes this version of Rodimus just as relateable as the original was.
Whatever the incarnation, Rodimus has always been a very flawed, "human" character. He's smart, brave, strong, charismatic and has a camper-load of potential, but for every strength he has an equally compelling weakness that makes him stand out from some of the franchise's more archetypal characters. He's a guy who's easy to love and almost as easy to hate, and he's always provoked a very strong reaction from the fans, whether it's positive or negative. Thinking back on how disliked he was in days past, it does my heart good to see him rated so high on our list.