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#17

Generation 1 Bumblebee

By inflatable dalek

"I was going to say Goldbug, but it seems Iím back to being Bumblebee again! Ah well, it doesnít matter! One or the other of me will blow big holes in you if you donít let Ratchet go!"

Percentage of vote: 21.6%
Average ranking: 11.3

Those of you who have been reading these write ups in order (as you should so you can chronicle the complete mental breakdown of the writers), will no doubt be getting a perverse sense of satisfaction that Bumblebee has charted higher than his movie namesake, that will teach Blackjack (the poster who wrote that piece, not the Micromaster, that would be silly) to back the losing horse.

Mind, a few of you did a combined vote for pretty much every version of Bumblebee, so maybe the film version is the one laughing after all?

Kid friendly identification characters are incredibly tricky to get right, no one ever watched an episode of Thundercats and said "Boy, I hope Wilkat and Wilykit are in this one", and to see an especially disastrous example you only have to look as the successor to Bumblebee in the original cartoon: Wheelie, a character who pretty much single handedly undoes all the street cred Frank Welker has ever built up (between that and Scooter on Challenge of the Gobots he's actually responsible for the two worst giant robot performances of all time).

What doesn't help of course, is when a fandom of mostly middle aged portly people are watching a children's cartoon, let's face it, the character aimed most at the five year olds is never going to stand a chance under their cruel and unflinching glare.

So it's a real testament to the success of Bumblebee that we didn't just love him at the time, but he generally stands up well enough today for people to still think on him fondly. And let's not underestimate his popularity in the 1980's: counting Goldbug he set the precedent for his modern name sakes by having more toys made of him than any other character.

"I was a kid once, OK?"

--Osku

Bumblebee was most prominent in the cartoon, where he got to be the main Autobot to hang out with Spike (after Hound tried and totally failed to get this choice role in the pilot) and the other human boys and girls. He could be a little wet behind the ears, but was still generally competent and very rarely ran off to get into trouble so the other Autobots had to rescue him.

This is where we should give credit to Dan Gilvezan. He's rarely an actor fans champion to the hilt but he actually gives an incredibly solid performance, making Bumblebee likeable and energetic but never annoying. It's a fine line and he walks it well and a lot of the success of cartoon Bumblebee can attributed to the enthusiasm he brings to the part (an enthusiasm he clearly still has today considering he's written an entire book about playing Bumblebee).

Indeed, so successful was Bumblebee, he not only got to survive the film- one of only two 1984 Autobots to definitely do so- but continued to feature into the third season. And after the treatment of the new Movie Decepticons had been somewhat confused (who was Cyclonus?) he became the first character to unambiguously be rebuilt into a new form and be treated as the same person as they were before. Sadly the cartoon didn't last long enough for Goldbug to do more than have a new name foisted on him against his will by Optimus, but it was clearly successful enough to set a precedent for all future cartoons and toylines where any character who comes into frame for more than three seconds cannot do so without being suddenly given a new body or repainted as a homage to an obscure European Action Master.

Goldbug did get to feature in the Japanese Headmasters show (where, as in the American cartoon and comics he started hanging out rigidly with the Throttlebots for no readily apparent reason); with the peak of his appearances being made to dance a jolly jig... TO DEATH by an evil demon meteorite.

"Adorable scamp."

--Another TF Fan

In the Marvel comics Bumblebee got to make first contact with humans in a sequence that would be heavily reworked in the first Michael Bay film (and, based on the trailer-all we've seen at the time of writing- may be providing inspiration for Markey Mark meeting Optimus Prime in Age of Extinction), but generally wasn't as much the One Who Hangs Out With Humans as he was in the cartoon.

Though in the early days he could be a generally weak and vulnerable character (not helped by both Crisis of Command and Plight of the Bumblebee happening within weeks of each other), Marvel Bumblebee was more usually portrayed as a competent and effective soldier. His original function was spy after all, making him the counterpart to Ravage, and the comics generally treated Bumblebee as someone who could actually be capable of operating alone and making the right choices at the right time for the right result.

So over the course of the eight years he was able to take part in fights against Galvatron, Megatron, the Mayhem Attack Squad, Thunderwing and Scraplets, all without becoming a hindrance and was never less than just as effective as those around him. He wasn't completely serious though, and had a nice line in thoughtful dry humour that always kept him likeable even when trying to do things as potentially serious as not wake up God.

Bumblebee also became Goldbug, and his rebuilt form was actually (well, it feels like it anyway, I've not counted up pages) featured more heavily in the comic than the original body he wore either side of it ever was. As a sign of his comic independence and strength of character he actually got to be second to Blaster in the resistance against Grimlock's insane leadership, taking part in a cross-country adventure to avoid capture before eventually helping to remove the despot.

That was the lengthiest storyline he was involved in, and generally showed the character at his best, even if the relationship with Blaster did verge on the abusive at times ("I'm sorry I left you to go find a cure for Scraplets Blaster..." "MY BEST FRIEND DIED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DO THAT AGAIN AND I WILL KILL YOU!!!!").

"Just like Bumblebee, just
a little more... competent."

--Shakeshift on Goldbug

Bumblebee was another character who didn't do a huge amount that was memorable despite being featured prominently in the Dreamwave comics, his toy based faceplate being the one thing that really stood out, so it was down to IDW to follow up on Marvel and the cartoon and make Bumblebee a major character once more.

In the early issues IDW Bumblebee was a nice understated success for Simon Furman, who simply picked up on how he'd written him for Marvel and made him a little more thoughtful, a little more cunning. Amidst a lot of very showy modern day reinventions Bumblebee managed to still stand out by simply doing what he'd always done, just slightly better. The scenes of him carefully plotting with Ratchet behind Prowl's back in Infiltration are some of the very best material the character has ever had in any media.

Sadly, when Furman had to "Go away" from writing the comics, things went horribly wrong for Bumblebee. Starting with the Coda issues to All Hail Megatron inept writer Mike Costa (a writer who managed to get the job because nobody asked him "So, do you like, or even understand, Transformers? OR story structure?", or even "So you are actually a writer are you?") totally threw out his established character and turned him into a vague race memory of what he thought cartoon Bumblebee must have been like because all kid identification characters in cartoons are like that.

So Bumblebee suddenly became a gullible idiot who spent a lot of his time crying and who was deeply upset the humans didn't want to be friends with the giant robots who had stomped their cities. A far cry from the character in Infiltration who wasn't that bothered if all of Earth had to be sacrificed for the cause.

To add insult to injury, Costa decided to make this new crybaby take on the character Autobot leader even though this made no sense. A decision IDW had doggedly stuck with in the face of all indifference, meaning that up to 2014 he now only has one story, he's repeated endlessly. That being everyone thinks Bumblebee is useless until he proves himself and then they're all in awe of him as leader. It happened in his mini-series, it happened in his Spotlight and it's happened at least twice in Robots in Disguise (most recently it was him deciding to throttle Prowl for suggesting the Autobots might want to actually take an interest in the story they're in, which apparently showed strength of character but instead seemed more like the sort of thing Megatron would do. As a general rule of thumb for Autobot leaders it's a good idea to not be more like Megatron than Megatron is being).

Several of the characters on this list have had their positions improved by being heavily featured in current IDW comics, but I think Bumblebee is the only one who would have actually done better if not for what Costa and company have done to him.

Despite that harshness, Bumblebee overall remains the definitive "Young" Autobot, the one the likes of Cheetor and Hot Shot could only wish to be. Thanks to the films raising his profile he's also alongside Optimus Prime in being a genuine cultural icon and you can't say that about Wilykat can you?

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