By Matt Adler
Since their debut in 1984, the Transformers have seen many incarnations throughout the full range of media, from comics to cartoons, to toys and, of course, live-action film.
With the latest installment of their big-screen franchise, "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," rolling out into theaters today (June 29), we’re taking a look at the key characters in this summer blockbuster, and seeing how they developed from their classic forms in the original animated series and the comics into the big-screen blockbuster stars they are today.
Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is the leader of the heroic Autobots. The most iconic of Transformers, his character is the one that has remained the most consistent across media, although there are inevitably differences.
Both the comics and cartoon hold Optimus and his Autobots to have crash-landed on Earth in pre-historic times, where they remained inert until a volcanic eruption awoke them in the modern era. The first film has Optimus and company arrive on Earth in modern times in search of the All-Spark, a powerful object which the rival Decepticons also seek (a different concept with the same name was originally introduced in the "Transformers: Beast Machines" animated series).
Optimus is shown in all incarnations as the keeper of the artifact known as the Matrix of Leadership, which is passed down to each successive Autobot leader; he uses this object in "Dark Of The Moon" to restore life to his predecessor, Sentinel Prime, setting in motion a dramatic chain of events.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) draws on two different characters for his makeup, one from the comics, one from the animated series. Both Buster Witwicky (who debuted in Marvel Comics’ "Transformers" #1) and Spike Witwicky (who made his debut in the original "Transformers" animated series) play the role of primary human ally to the Autobots, but their characters and story arcs develop along different tracks.
Spike is working with his father on an offshore oil rig when the evil Decepticons attack, and they are rescued by the Autobots. Buster is at a drive-in movie when he witnesses the first Transformers battle, and he and his father rescue and repair a wounded Bumblebee. Bumblebee becomes the closest friend among the Autobots to both Buster and Spike, a relationship echoed in the films, as Sam’s first encounter with the Transformers comes when he unwittingly purchases Bumblebee as his first car!
The disparity in names between Spike, Buster, and Sam has been a source of much discussion for Transformers fans; former Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, who was involved in the Transformers’ early development, says that those behind the franchise felt that “Spike” was too aggressive of a name for the comics, hence the use of “Buster.” And "Transformers" screenwriter Roberto Orci has said that he felt “Spike,” while an appropriate name in the cartoon, didn’t fit Shia LaBeouf’s character who does not share the same occupation. Interestingly, Spike was later brought into the comic book series and introduced as Buster’s older brother.
Mikaela was said to have been modeled in part on the Carly of the animated series (there is no Carly in the comics), but with the introduction of Huntington-Whiteley’s character, they seem to be going for a more explicit connection. The animated Carly was as American as apple pie, however, in contrast to the film’s Carly who hails from the UK. Something for fans to possibly anticipate in future big-screen installments is that the animated series has Spike and Carly’s relationship develop into something more serious; they will eventually marry and produce a son named Daniel who carries on the family tradition of aiding the Autobots.
Find out more about Sam and Carly's relationship in the video at the top of the post.
Shockwave (Frank Welker) is the latest Decepticon to join the Transformers film universe. In the comics and cartoons, Shockwave is the Decepticons military commander, and is cold, calculating and ruthless in contrast to the more wild-tempered Megatron. Unlike most Transformers who are known for transforming into particular vehicles, Shockwave is best known for transforming into a gigantic laser gun; the movie retains the gun motif by turning him into a tank.
The circumstances under which Shockwave makes his debut on Earth vary among the sources; the film has him awakened by Megatron, after having crashed on Earth more than 100 years ago, causing the Tunguska event in the process. The Marvel Comics version takes his history even further back, having him land in the fictional “Savage Land” region of Antarctica four million years ago, and winding up buried alive till the present day. The animated series offers still another version, in which he remains on the Transformers home planet of Cybertron for millennia until re-establishing contact with his boss Megatron.
The comics show Shockwave to be a challenger to Megatron’s leadership, although that is not in evidence in the animated series or film. The film also introduces The Driller, a dangerous Cybertronian creature which Shockwave keeps as his pet.
Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) is Optimus Prime’s mysterious predecessor as leader of the Autobots. Not much is revealed about him in the comics, but the cartoon reveals that he was killed by Megatron millions of years ago on Cybertron.
The film gives us a different and much more substantial background; it posits that he crash-landed on Earth’s moon during a war with the Decepticons, and discovery of this is what prompted our own race to the moon, which eventually leads to his reactivation. It credits the former Autobot leader as the creator of the Space Bridge, an intergalactic transportation device which in the animated series is invented by the villains Megatron and Shockwave. And his transformed state is revealed to be a Rosenbauer fire truck.
"Dark of the Moon" should hold lots more surprises for Transformers fans when it comes to Sentinel Prime; this is the first time we’ve seen him active in modern times, and the re-emergence of this powerful Autobot is sure to have a major impact on the Transformers and their Earthly compatriots.
Which Transformers would you like to see in forthcoming films? Let us know what you think in the comments section or on Twitter!