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#14

Jazz

By Warcry

"Like, wow! Rock and roll with real rocks!"

Percentage of vote: 34.0%
Average ranking: 12.3

Jazz is a fairly unique entry on this list, because unlike most of the others he's not really a "person". Jazz has never gotten a lot of character development across the various continuities he's appeared in, never really been a main character or a focal point of an important character arc. That admission might prompt a reader to ask "so what is he doing here, then?"...but only if they're not familiar with Transformers. Anyone who does know the franchise knows exactly why he's so far up the list: Jazz is fun!

"Makes every scene he's
in cooler by default."

--lastmaximal

Although Jazz didn't get a huge amount of focus in the 80s cartoon, it was clear right from the get-go that they had something special in the character. His design was slick and he had the coolest car mode by far of all the Autobot cars, at least in animated form, as the animators didn't cut corners with the Porsche 935's rounded lines nearly as much as they did with the Datsuns, Lamborghinis or what have you. His robot mode was equally cool, incorporating some great details from the toy (though the animators sadly omitted his door-wings), a great colour layout and one of the nicest head designs in the history of the Transformers franchise. Even in the worst-animated episodes of the show, Jazz didn't have to do anything to be cool -- he just had to show up.

But let's be honest. All of those things were great, but what really made Jazz so cool was Scatman Crothers' voice work. It's truly a testament to the man's talent that a character voiced by a 74 year old man was easily the hippest, youngest-sounding character on the show. He literally made a roll call sound awesome during the climactic episode of the show's three-part pilot episode and carried on in style from there, delivering even the cheesiest of lines with a flair that made them oh-so-awesome. Though Jazz didn't get to take a lead role in many episodes, he was always hanging around in the background with a snappy one-liner and a cocky grin at the ready.

Although that could be seen as a missed opportunity, the truth is that it was probably the perfect way to handle the character. As episodes like Attack of the Autobots or The God Gambit seem to suggest, Jazz is a dish best served in small doses and the line between "awesome" and "kinda annoying" is one that the writers tended to flirt with when they gave him more screen time. As a supporting character, though? Jazz was easily the coolest cat around, and the best thing going for the first two seasons of the cartoon.

"Do it with style or
don't bother doing it.
Words to live by."

--Denyer

In the Marvel comics, though? Eeesh. Jazz had a rougher time of it there. The limitations of the media really didn't help him here. You obviously couldn't hear his awesome voice, Nel Yomtov the printing technology used for American comics in the 80s kept his colour scheme from standing out and the artists assigned to the TF book were often sub-par. And while he looked better in books penned by the UK Transformers team...well, there were other issues with a lot of those appearances that we'll get to in a bit.

It the original four-part miniseries, Jazz is probably best-remembered for trying to murder Sparkplug Witwicky with a flamethrower. Under Bob Budiansky he was less overtly homicidal, but rarely got any attention at all. Aside from one early issue where he listens to Madonna (Yes, Madonna. It was the 80s and Bob evidently wasn't as with-it as Jazz.) and improvises his way through kidnapping G.B. Blackrock and negotiating an alliance with the industrialist, he basically didn't do anything. And while Budiansky did a great job of Jazz's unique dramatic flair in that issue he got little more than a background cameo in those books for the rest of Bob's run.

In the early UK books, though, it was a different story. Since the British arm of Marvel published at a much faster pace than the US comic, they authored a fair number of books in the early days of the franchise when the only characters to play with were the twenty-five Transformers who appeared in the initial miniseries (and a bit later on the Dinobots as well). Jazz inevitably got in a lot of appearances in those books, but unfortunately the early British authors didn't have a great grasp of how to write the Transformers as characters so Jazz's most prominent appearance in those days featured him kidnapping a little boy by luring him into his car mode. But while the content of the Man of Iron issues was...odd, to say the least, it did feature some truly lovely toy-based art that made Jazz look truly awesome in its' own way.

Sadly, in spite of having great potential as a running joke this appears to have been the last time that Jazz kidnapped a random human.

"Jazz is the epitome of cool.
If I had any friends, I'd want
at least one of them to be
like Jazz."

--Anonymous

After Simon Furman picked up the baton as the UK book's lead writer, Jazz's fortunes took a turn for the worse. Although he appeared in a few stories, his most prominent role was in Target: 2006...where he got blasted by Cyclonus and tortured by Galvatron before being turned into a brainwashed zombie and set loose on his comrades. After that he basically disappeared from the book, presumably sidelined with severe brain damage.

Bummer.

After Furman took over writing the US book and the UK comic transitioned into five page black-and-white strips, though, the man finally seemed to find his comfort zone with the character. Spurred on by a spate of new Jazz toys that needed hyping -- a Pretender that forced his revival in the US book, a European Classics release that necessitated his presence in Earthforce, an Actionmaster a couple years later and finally another re-release of the original in G2 -- Jazz was a solid presence for the rest of the Marvel run. After a handful of issues as a lead character following his return as a Pretender, though, he faded into the same role as Jazz had in the cartoon -- appearing every three or four issues to do something awesome before disappearing again. This was probably the most solid run Jazz put together in the Marvel series, with a consistent, hip personality and none of the outbursts of psychosis that he was plagued by early on.

After that, Jazz was more or less forgotten by official fiction until Dreamwave picked up the licence to publish Transformers comics in the early 2000s. And while Dreamwave mishandled a huge amount of characters and stories during their run, Jazz is one of the things that they actually got right. The books' heavy focus on the 80s cartoon and the characters it made popular meant that Jazz was a fixture in the Dreamwave books, featuring in probably every second issue and looking cool but rarely taking on an important role. The writers did appear to be hinting at an inter-species romance between him and Marissa Fairborne, but mercifully Dreamwave went out of business before that particular terrible idea could be made official.

His run as a character in the IDW comics, on the other hand, has been much longer and far more uneven than his truncated Dreamwave history. He was a part of the story from the get-go, a member of Prowl's tactical response team on Earth during Infiltration (which seems like so long ago now, doesn't it?), but Furman did absolutely nothing with the character other than blowing his arm off. Following that he was used as a main character by Shane McCarthy, whose take on the character was...different. McCarthy wrote him as the badass super-agent that his original bio implied he was, but that we'd never seen before because of the emphasis that his previous characterizations had placed on fun. It was an interesting take on the character, though it lost some of the impact it could have had because McCarthy wrote everyone as a darker, more badass version of their established persona (except for the handful that he reduced to wide-eyed, youthful versions of same). Still, it was refreshing to see Jazz step up and take command in a crisis, and amongst all the terrible continuity and needless machismo Jazz was one of the bright lights of All Hail Megatron.

Unfortunately this badass new persona only lasted for the dozen or so issues that McCarthy wrote before being discarded entirely by incoming "writer" Mike Costa. In his infinite wisdom Costa decided to ignore Jazz's recent leadership role and the well-defined pecking order that McCarthy had established (a pecking order in which Jazz was the "war chief" who was supposed to step up in a crisis) in favour of the half-baked idea that the Autobot military would choose their supreme military commander through popular vote. This being written by the same man who figured that All Hail Megatron was a decisive Autobot victory (even though the known galaxy bar Earth was under total Decepticon control at the end of the book), it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Autobots passed over brilliant tactician Prowl, all-around badass Jazz, experienced and charismatic Hot Rod and veteran unit commander Hound (Remember when he was high-ranking? Anyone?) in favour of Bumblebee, whose accomplishments in the IDWverse to date had consisted of "not dying while hanging out with the main characters". Jazz proceeded to hide out in the background for most of the rest of the Costa run, save for one truly out of character moment where he finally fulfilled his three decade long desire to burn a human alive. Then John Barber took over the reigns and Jazz started hanging out with Sky-Byte before abandoning his allegiance without so much as a word of explanation to become a neutral under Starscream's command.

"Keeping it cool
for three decades."

--Copper Bezel

This article has taken an unexpectedly bitter turn, so I feel almost obliged to clarify that, yes, I really do like Jazz! The fact that he could go through all of this dreck and still come out of it as one of the fifteen most popular Transformers characters of all time is a real testament to just how great a character he is. But he's also a very 80s character, and it's no surprise that some modern writers have had a hard time getting a handle on him. Whether for good or ill, most modern Transformers books take themselves very seriously, and it's understandably difficult to find a place for a slick, effortlessly cool funster like Jazz in something like that (though ironically he would have fit like a glove in More Than Meets the Eye, the current book that he's not in).

Writers in other, less-serious modern mediums have had more success with Jazz, though. In the first live-action movie he was a breakdancing cool guy who spoke with a lot of hip-hop slang, basically a less-classy version of the original updated to fit the urban culture of the mid-2000s. He was certainly a lot more "street" than the original Jazz, which raised some eyebrows and induced some eye-rolls (greeting Sam and Michaela -- and the audience -- with the immortal line "What's crackin', little bitches?" did not help), but he fit the tone of Michael Bay's Transformers movies perfectly, for better or worse. Or at least he did for about forty-five minutes, until Megatron tore him in half.

The version of the character that appeared in Transformers: Animated was even more successful than the movie edition at reinventing Jazz for a new age. He was incredibly hip, and though he frequently took on an important role in the episodes he was in, as an infrequent guest star he never wore out his welcome. His fondness for Earth and his friendly attitude towards Optimus Prime's crew made him easily the most likeable of the Autobot guest stars, though since his primary competition in that category was towering jackass Sentinel Prime that's not a huge accomplishment. In fact, Jazz frequently served as an ignored voice of reason under Sentinel's command, until he'd finally had enough and decided to join Optimus on Earth.

Plus he had nunchucks, weapons which instantly quadruple the cool of any being who possesses them.

When you get right down to it, though, Jazz isn't here for what he did or didn't do in any of the comics and shows he appeared in. No, he's here for a much simpler, much easier to articulate reason. He's here because of the big, happy grins that fans of all ages get when he shows up and does something unfathomably awesome with his trademark ease. He's here because he's the coolest thing to ever happen to the Transformers franchise, and because it's almost impossible to not like him. The rest of that stuff -- the facts and history and the things that he did? Those are just the icing on an already very, very cool cake.

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