Awesome plots in disguise.
I’m pretty conflicted with Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege on Netflix.
On one hand, I loved seeing the series’ Cybertron being laid out and told in a serious fashion, where both the Autobots and Decepticons represent a particular grey area of good and evil, respectively. On the other hand, Siege is just a below-average animated TV show that relies more on its fanbase and their knowledge rather than on its own merits.
What’s the point of having nice sci-fi robot aesthetics if you don’t do much with it? For a show with “war” in the title, there isn’t much of that going on.
The fact that one of its producers is Rooster Teeth explains a lot about the show’s emphasis for talking heads, exposition aplenty, and borrowed ideas from other sources that aren’t realized to their full potential. But that’s another feature for another time. *coughRWBY*
This feature exists to let you know that there are better Transformers stories out there if you’re looking for an awesome tale of transformings robots fighting a civil war against each other on the planet of their choosing, be it Earth, Cybertron, or elsewhere.
Or maybe if you’re totally disappointed with this Netflix show, the following Transformers stories will help make you feel better. You just have to come in with an open mind.
In no particular order, here are my top picks of Transformers stories and story arcs that are more entertaining than Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege. I do hope the production houses pick up the slack with the second and third series; we need better Transformers media that are both action-packed and filled to the brim with great characterization & story payoffs.
The Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Let’s get the obvious pick out of the way & sum this up quick. Yes, we know it’s better than most of the Bayformer films, and yes, there’s a ton of action and “changing of the guard” going on, with Autobots getting massacred in the most brutal of ways. It introduced a planet-sized Transformer that ended up being in the series’ mythos for eons to come. And it had the most quotable lines and the best 80s soundtrack by synth master Vince DiCola.
Its plot is simplistic, but as an 80s film meant to sell new waves of Transformers action figures, it’s a goddamn effective tool that went above and beyond with its style and animation. It was probably too effective for its own good; it killed off a main character in the saddest of ways and had a lot of parents banging onto Hasbro’s door back when it debuted. That cop-out third act in the GI Joe animated movie? You can blame Transformers: The Movie for that.
All in all, this is the go-to Transformers story for both fans and newbies alike, even if its intention was just to be an incredibly well-animated cash cow. Besides, not many kid movies open with the complete annihilation of a species from a giant planet-killing machine.
Transformers: War Within (Dreamwave series)
The series focuses on the Transformers past on Cybertron before they came to Earth. From then on, a ton of changes were made, most notably the Transformers forms pre-Earth where they look as futuristic as possible. The whole story is crafted by famous Transformers Marvel scribe Simon Furman, who focuses a lot on making Cybertron fleshed out lore-wise from its culture to how its society works.
Coupled with art by Don Figueroa and you’ve got quite an entertaining Transformers story that balances the fine line between action and world-building. The plot could be better structured, but with Furman’s entertaining dialogue, it mattered little as it was engrossing.
Too bad its publisher Dreamwave went bankrupt, otherwise we would have seen some of these stories come into fruition.
Transformers: Matrix Quest (Marvel UK series)
What would a Transformers story feature be without bringing up an arc from Simon Furman’s Marvel UK run? In the story arc “Matrix Quest”, Optimus Prime sends out teams of Autobots to find the Creation Matrix which can kill planet-killer Unicron.
Furman not only created an entertaining story that blends in influences from 80s sci-fi and even noir series like The Maltese Falcon, but he also set up the Transformers lore by bringing up the Transformers brother-gods Primus and Unicron, the race’s inception, and how it all came about. Many writers and artists from here on out use the Marvel UK series and this particular arc to help flesh out new Transformers stories for the next few generations of readers.
Furman could have phoned it in, given that it’s a story meant to sell action figures, but thankfully he didn’t.
Transformers: War & Peace (Dreamwave series)
The plot finds the Autobots and Decepticons going back to a united Cybertron after being called back to end its squabbles on Earth. Turns out that both factions are unified under one banner and is led by peacekeeper Ultra Magnus. It’s a gripping tale of secrets and shifting alliances, with even Autobots decking each other because of this newfound unification.
Of course, it all goes sideways in the most spectacular of fashion. If you liked how the gestalt Transformers like Devastator are depicted in the Prime Directive storyline, you’ll love the big fights in War & Peace. Plus, you get to see Ultra Magnus break out of his giant body and take the fight in his tiny white Optimus Prime-mold body in a hero moment. Not even the puffy TF artwork of Pat Lee can ruin the solid writing and tale crafted by Brad Mick.
Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers (IDW series)
If you want a good standalone Transformers story that hits the grey moral line, you can’t go wrong with “Last Stand of the Wreckers”. Arguably hailed as one of the best storylines in Transformers comic history, this arc is about a covert Autobot group that fights hard and live through the skin of their teeth and by their legend.
The Wreckers are perceived as god-like soldiers, but once you see how they operate, they may you question if the Autobot cause is worth preserving and worth fighting for in the first place. This story arc also introduces IDW’s version of Transformers Masterforce’s Overlord, a Decepticon villain so vile and calculating he makes Megatron look like Mother Teresa.
Transformers: Chaos Theory story arc (#22 & #23 of the IDW series)
Disclaimer: you may need to read up on Transformers: Escalation before diving right in.
This two-parter delves into Cybertron’s past but through the viewpoints of Optimus Prime and Megatron. How did they come to blows prior to the war? This issue sheds light on that. You may need to play catchup with some of the IDW stories to get the present story’s context, but you can enjoy the flashbacks on their own merit; it’s like reading a comic of two enemies having a conversation that led to their fates as leaders of opposing factions.
You get to see the lives of Optimus Prime (formerly a cop named Orion Pax) and Megatron (a mine-worker & scholar of sorts) intersect in the past, set in a Cybertron where Autobots and its senate are living the high life above the lower-class bots. They even share a laugh at the ridiculousness of Cybertron’s Great War and everything leading up to it.
What makes this story works is that in another life, both Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t one-dimensional characters fighting for the sake of their alignment; they have their own code and philosophy, and are too stubborn to budge from it.
Those are our top picks of Transformers stories better than the Netflix show that cropped up recently. You can buy the trade paperbacks of the stories (the comic book ones) on Amazon, Comixology, and other places. Are there any other TF tales you’d like to recommend? Let us know!