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#18

Ultra Magnus

By inflatable dalek

"They call me Ultra Magnus, Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Accord. Field commander, alpha class. Recipient of the Distinguished Service Order and the Novic Medal for Outstanding Valour. The Rodimus Star? Err- Yes, I've received that, too. But..."

Percentage of vote: 40.2%
Average ranking: 14.8

Ha! Ultra Magnus ranked higher than Galvatron. Scourge, Cyclonus, Straxus, your boy took a hell of a beating! Justice at last. Oh yes, Ultra Magnus can deal with that right now. 18th is the most beautiful position in the galaxy to be in, pass me the bomb. And so on.

Magnus' managing to rank higher than Galvatron is actually very impressive when you consider how he suffers from the worst loadstone round his neck of any of our finalists: Years of weak fan jokes taking the piss out of him.

This is of course all down to how he's portrayed in his very first appearance in the film. Despite being well played by Robert Stack and having some nice lines here and there (probably thanks to Flint Dille's script polish), Magnus suffers in the film from just being a red herring. His entire purpose in the film is just to try and convince you he might be the real new Autobot leader in the vague hope that the ending with Luke Skywalker actually assuming the position might be in any way shape or form a surprise. Other than filling that function, the script has no interest in him whatsoever; to the point that after they leave Junkion he is reduced to a non-speaking extra despite nominally still being in charge.

The fact he's destined to lose the leadership right from the off created an unfair impression that Ultra Magnus was completely useless, and it was certainly the case that when I joined fandom a decade ago there was almost an entire industry based around mocking his performance there, mostly centred around the "I can't deal with that right now" line, somewhat unfairly as it works much better in the context of the film. He's not helped by the fact his second most famous line, about the bomb, makes him seem demented out of its proper context (in a comedy episode) as well.

Despite these easy targets, Magnus at least makes a memorably stoic impression in the film, and amidst an influx of new characters that include an Autobot who talks in rhyme, one who talks TV and one who talks like a senile old man there's something to be said for "Straightforward" as a character. Or as voter Huntercham put it, "Behind the stupid movie reference, there's an actual, interesting character."

"Written off as boring or ineffectual by many,
I actually consider Ultra Magnus one of the
most relateable Autobots. A figure of tremendous
courage and gravitas, he is the perfect foil to
Rodimus Prime. But in spite of that, he's a guy
who'd much rather be taking orders than giving them."

--Warcry

It was however in the cartoon that animated Magnus came into his own. He could be a formal stick in the mud, but considering he had to carry the mostly useless Rodimus Prime that's hardly surprising. You could easily imagine Magnus and Cyclonus meeting in a bar after work in order to drown their sorrows and see which of them can top trump the other over whose leader had done the most stupid thing that day ("He killed the Stunticons because the magic mouse that lives in his shoe told him to" "He ordered another 1000 badly made and over priced Optimus Prime statues"), it was almost inevitable really that they'd end up on the Lost Light together.

What's easy to overlook though is just how tough and competent Magnus was, he could below orders whilst smacking the heads of Constructicons together and keep his cool in even the most extreme of situations, as the Universe went to hell around him because Rodimus has run off to have a cry Ultra Magnus was always there to hold the pieces together.

Unlike characters such as Galvatron and Cyclonus he even managed to be one of the few 1986 character to keep their dignity (and basic personality) when the Japanese took over making the cartoons, keeping up his stoic common sense right up until his Death By New Toy.

"What an Autobot Ultra Magnus is! Fearless,
selfless, unwavering, strong, how could
you not admire his virtues? Too bad he's
modest or lacks the confidence to recognise
just how great an individual and leader he is.
But then again, that's what has always drawn
me to him: that modesty or low confidence
level."

--Consecrated Prime

But to see "Classic" 1980's Ultra Magnus as his best, you need to look over the Atlantic to the Marvel UK comic. As British fans got to be introduced to him (via an impressive full page spread where he makes just standing there seem cool) before the film limped into cinemas in a slightly embarrassed way their first impression wasn't "I can't deal with that right now" but having Impactor, a character whose bad ass credentials were established by him having a harpoon for a hand, declaring that Ultra Magnus was the only creature in the Universe more hardcore than himself.

Ironically, in terms of success Magnus often talked (or rather have others talk for him) a better fight than he showed on page. His most memorable moment in Target: 2006 was losing an explosive punch up to Galvatron after all.

However, this is where his defining British characteristic, that which makes him such an amazing hero, really came into play. There's no shame in losing to a creature as powerful as Galvatron, but for every time he was punched, shot or buried in lava Magnus never gave up. He had his dark times where he felt the weight of constant defeat on his shoulders, but when push came to shove when Galvatron threatened the world, or even the Sparkler Mini-bots, he would never stay down for long and would always throw himself back into the fray regardless of personal safety.

It's easy to be brave when, like Optimus Prime, you are the best. Ultra Magnus would always do the right thing even with the odds stacked against him, and I would argue that makes him the most selfless and pure hero of the entire Marvel comic. He also underwent a genuine character arc as he became stronger and stronger in strength of will, doing better against Galvatron each time with the promise at the end of Salvage that their next combat would see him finally, decisively, finish the Decepticon forever. As voter Rack'N'Ruin put it, Magnus is "As. Hard. As. Nails."

Sadly, an influx of new toys and the comic looming on the edge of cancellation means we never got to see the payoff to that storyline. The obviously rushed nature of Time Wars means only the 2009 Ultra Magnus take part (and the fact Furman is vamping at that point is obvious as it would have been fairly easy to include the 1989 Magnus instead in exactly the same role, and if the future Decepticons turning up before going away without contributing anything had been dropped he might even have gotten at least a bit of payoff) and there's the very real chance he dies off-panel. It's a shame that a character arc the readers had become so invested in died with a whimper, but overall Marvel Magnus is still a hugely impressive character.

"Forget Mr. I Can't Deal With That Now.
He's had two great depictions - as a
determined ultimate warrior for the
Autobots, and the compulsively-by-the-book
Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest
Accord with a bit of a secret...."

--Anonymous

Following the end of Marvel, Magnus has always been a character you can count on the show up fairly early in any G1 revival. He was in a good chunk of the Dreamwave comics, but tended to be just sort of there, if not for a memorably bad sequence where it turned out that, yes, he really is an albino Optimus Prime, there'd be very little to say about his time in the Porsche Fund era.

This largely remained the case during the initial IDW comics. Under Simon Furman he was basically a Flanderised version of the Marvel take, just that little bit too ridged and formal to be as effective and interesting a character (most obviously his insistence on shouting his catchphrase at character's who were trying to kill him rather than just shooting them made him look fairly hopeless as what was basically a bounty hunter) but still mostly harmless and a provider of generally solid support.

It was in 2012, where Magnus joined the crew of More Than Meets the Eye, than things changed. Writer James Roberts reworked Magnus into an insanely OCD rule bound fuddy duddy who couldn't even stand a speck of dust on his desk. I must admit dear reader, after finding it initially funny this portrayal began to annoy me more and more as the comic went on. It was not only over done, but felt very mean spirited, as if Roberts was excessively taking the piss out of the flaws in the way IDW Magnus had been written before. It became so exaggerated, that by the time of the 2012 Annual I was loudly bemoaning on forums "It's very poor now what's happened to Magnus. He's now no longer even slightly the same character he was before!"

Ah Roberts, curse you. Because soon after it became apparent that was exactly the point. The Ultra Magnus of More Than Meets the Eye wasn't the same as the one in the contemporary Autocracy and Monstrosity. And one of the nice things about this twist is exactly which of the present day Magnus' definitely have been the same character has never been firmly clarified, we can make educated guesses but it's nice to have gaps left where your imagination can have some fun filling.

Yes, that fiend Roberts had carefully set up over two years than Magnus was actually Ace Rimmer. Or, if you're not a cultural philistine like me, the appropriately named Dread Pirate Roberts. Or if you're the fan of the Billy Zane film, the Phantom.

The revelation that "Ultra Magnus" was just a suit of armour worn at the moment by the tiddly Minimus Ambus was the sort of twist that seems perfectly logical in retrospect (the early issues are an especially rewarding reread on that score, Skids even comes out and says "That's not the Magnus I used to know" in issue 6!) but wasn't guessable in advance. We're still in the immediate aftermath of that revelation and "Magnus" giving up his duly appointed role to become actually normal, but the generally more relaxed and capable leader unburdened by strict duty has already been interesting to watch, even in his relatively brief screen time in Dark Cybertron.

"A deceptively deep character in the
G1 movie, an ass-kicking action hero
in the UK comics, and a great source
of comedic relief in IDW."

--Anonymous

Whether he's a white Optimus Prime, a moustached midget or even glowing red and screaming about how much he wants Rodimus Prime, Magnus is the good, solid backbone of Generation One Transformers. He may not be as showy or gimmick ridden as many of those around him, but he's exactly the sort of character you need to ground the series.

Of course, I'm just a demented man with a keyboard, I'm sure what you're all really wondering is, "What does Ultra Magnus' season 3 voice actor Jack Angel think of the IDW version of the character?" Well, thanks to the magic of British convention Auto Assembly (and also all round splendid chap Chris McFeely who was kind enough to find the link for me after my own Google-fu failed), you can find out:

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