December Update

Things have been a little slow these past two months, but I promise to give you all the gift of ten wonderful dragons this Christmas.

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The Midgaheim Bestiary: Boogeymen Overview

Boogeymen.png

Inhabitants of the liminal spaces between Fairyland and the mortal plane, Boogeymen play a vital role in preserving their native ecosystem, even though doing so has given them a bad reputation both among mortals and fairies alike. The term “boogeyman” has become a perjorative in both worlds, and most boogeymen face considerable cruelty at the hands of their neighbors. Many boogeymen species were even the subject of mass extinction campaigns by humanity. Despite this, boogeymen remain some of the most successful fairies in Midgaheim.

Boogeymen tend to have less potent magic than other fairies as a result of their weaker connection to Fairyland. However, this is also somewhat beneficial, as it means boogeymen are also less restrained by the arcane and all encompassing rules of fairy culture. Unlike other fairies, boogeymen can often bend their word a great deal, and some are even able to break a promise or oath without being destroyed in the process. This is one of the reasons they tend to be infamous, as they are technically less trustworthy than other fairies – which is to say, still moreso than your typical human.

Gate Keepers and Key Masters

Being better adapted to life outside Fairyland than other species, the nine different boogeymen families all possess the valuable ability to reinforce the magical ties between Fairyland and the Mortal Plane. Without them, Fairyland would eventually drift off from the rest of reality, and either disperse into raw magic (killing all its inhabitants in the process), or warp itself infinitely, mutating its residents into utterly alien forms of life. Neither outcome is particularly favorable to the Fair Folk, and as such the work of the Boogeymen is invaluable. Despite this, Boogeymen are ostracized by their fellow Faeries, as the powers that make them valuable also make them less “fairy-ish” than their kin, which in turn makes them less desirable.

Boogeymen can perform their function in one of two ways. Some Boogeymen are Gate Keepers, creating vast territories straddling the border between Fairyland and the Mortal Plane. These territories act as a large liminal space between the two planes, not resting fully in either, and thus tie the two together. Other Boogeymen are Key Masters, and the connections they forge are far smaller and more intimate. A Key Master creates a portal between Fairyland and, more often than not, a human residence, often one no larger than a door. While a Gate Keeper’s territory remains relatively constant, a Key Master slowly draws the dwelling it enters into Fairyland, eventually making it safe for other fairies to live in the dwelling long term. Over time a Key Master will vacate the home it forged a connection with to open new portals in other homes, while other fairies take up its old haunts.

b1 Troll

A Celpictish Forest Troll

Trolls

Enormous and strange amphibians, Trolls are found all over Midgaheim. They are incredibly diverse, with a multitude of different species sporting all sorts of shapes and sizes. Trolls can likewise be found in a variety of niches and environments. They are by far the most successful Boogeymen family, with large populations being found in every country on the continent. The country of Germanor is believed to be where they originated, and has sported the largest population of trolls for all of Midgaheim’s history. These Boogeymen are so famous in Germanor that “troll” has become a catchall term for anything monstrous and/or strange. Germanorean trolls also tend to be far more organized and active than other troll populations, forcefully invading their neighbor’s lands on so many occasions that Germanor has literally had hundreds of different “Troll Wars.”

Trolls tend to function as Gate Keeper Boogeymen, and their lairs are known as Trollheims. They are distant relatives of another group of common boogeymen, known as…

b2 Goblin

A goblin trader bearing scars from Francobreton’s third Goblin War

Goblins

Nearly as common as trolls, Goblins are likewise found all over Midgaheim. One almost never finds a goblin living alone, as the large amphibians are highly social creatures that cannot abide isolation. The presence of one goblin means that there is at least a gang of ten or more nearby, if not an entire town or, somewhat more rarely, a great trooping horde. Goblins tend to be more mechanically minded than other fairies, and have created some truly strange and unique technology throughout the history of Midgaheim. Sadly, they’re also one the subject of a great deal of discrimination by Fairies and humans alike. Many clans of goblins have been cast out of Fairyland over the years, only to find the mortal plane no more willing to give them shelter. Because of this, goblins have had an unfortunate tendency to work as marauding armies for hire, working for whatever warlord will have them in hopes of claiming a piece of land for their own in the process. Like their troll cousins, goblins tend to be Gate Keepers.

b3 Hobgoblin

A typical Hobgoblin.

Hobgoblins

The diminutive close relatives of goblins, Hobgoblins have a somewhat better standing among their fairy peers because of their sheer skill in enchanting. While other fairies may beat them in sheer magic power or technological prowess, hobgoblins are the absolute masters of imbuing material objects with magic power. If a sword, shield, or other tool from Fairyland carries any magical properties, chances are a hobgoblin was responsible. The diminutive creatures are more likely to appear in Fairy Courts than other boogeymen, albeit always in some sort of servant role. Hobgoblins work as Gate Keepers and Key Masters with equal regularity, being particularly adaptable fairies.

For some reason, humans have often confused hobgoblins and goblins with each other, and a great many bestiariers erroneously declare that hobgoblins are the larger of the two. This is false, though many goblins and hobgoblins encourage the misconception because they find it humorous.

b4 Grindylow

A typical Grindylow.

Grindylows

Adapted for an entirely aquatic life, Grindylows are close relatives of goblins and hobgoblins, albeit ones that never fully metamorphose into their four limbed adult state. They tend to be far cruder than their relatives, rarely developing the rich and complex societies of their goblin kin. In fact most Grindylows live solitary existences, as they can only tolerate company when mating or swarming over a fresh kill. Despite their surly dispositions and downright bestial behavior, Grindylows work well as Gate Keepers for the aquatic sections of Fairyland.

b5 Boggart

A typical Boggart.

Boggarts

The final member of the five goblin families, Boggarts are the most common Key Masters among all boogeymen. A boggart can generate a portal between Fairyland and the Mortal Plane faster than any other boogeyman, and boggart forged portals tend to be particularly stable. It is believed that boggarts are the sole reason “House Spirits,” i.e. Fairies that voluntarily take stewardship of a particular human residence, can exist at all, as almost every House Spirit was preceeded by a boggart that forged the connection between said house and Fairyland. This is also why some House Spirits are said to turn into boggarts if slighted – in actuality, they simply ask the boggart to come back and teach the ungrateful mortals a lesson. Boggarts have a nasty reputation for sadism that is mostly unearned, though they do seem to universally enjoy scaring the daylights out of other people.

b6 Bugaboo

A Beetlegeuse Bugaboo, complete with false face markings on its tail tip.

Bugaboos

Another group of fairy amphibians, Bugaboos are generally found working as Key Masters, and specialze in joining subterranean sections of Fairyland with the mortal plane. Bugaboos generally make their portals in dark, partially hidden sections of a house, such as under a child’s bed or in a dimly lit basement. Like many boogeymen, bugaboos reproduce frequently, and many will steal trinkets from the homes they’ve set up portals in for their offspring to play with. They carry their offspring (as well as other treasures) in sacks made of their own shed skin.

b7 Bugbear

A somewhat stypical example of a Bugbear.

Bugbears

Monstrous fairies of indeterminate origin, no two Bugbears look the same, being a jumbled mix of chimeric features that often has too many or too few of the standard tetrapod’s organs. They are almost always covered in at least a few patches of shaggy hair, and likewise tend to be fairly large, with some being truly gargantuan. Despite this, Bugbears have a magical quirk that allows them to slip into any space, no matter how small. Since they, like all fairies, are natural show offs, Bugbears almost always build their gateways in small spaces, with closets being a fairly common choice. Bugbears are always Key Master boogeymen, and while they aren’t quite as skilled at forging paths as Boggarts and Bugaboos, they make up for the slight decrease in structural integrity by making portals that allow Fairyland to spill in far quicker than normal. Homes that are inhabited by Bugbears will often fall completely into Fairyland within a couple generations, rather than taking centuries like those occupied by Boggarts and Bugaboos.

b8 Orc

A typical Orc.

Orcs

The footsoldiers of Fairyland, Orcs are the only group of Boogeymen that were explicitly bred for the task, and have been made notorious by the rare occasions when Fairies declared open war on Mortal nations. Stubborn, aggressive, and often downright volatile, orcs are always itching for the next fight, and spend a great deal of their time preparing for the next war. However, contrary to common human beliefs, the sapient boars aren’t SOLELY warriors, and there are some aspects of orc culture that have nothing (or at least little) to do with fighting. There are countless volumes of orc poetry, at least a couple of which contain one or two ballads that AREN’T about some great war campaign they have fought. While not quite as prolific as trolls and goblins, orcs are nonetheless considered highly successful Gate Keepers, as no Orc homeland has ever been conquered by mortal forces.

b9 Aitvaras

A typical Aitvaras.

Aitvarases

For a long while Aitvarases weren’t believed to be boogeymen, as they occupy a far higher place in fairy culture than the other boogeymen families. Indeed, most Fairy Courts regard them as a type of House Spirit fairy, with all the social benefits that come from performing such important diplomatic work with the Mortal Plane. However, close study has shown aitvarases fit all the qualities of a boogeyman, as they are actually far less attuned to the magic of Fairyland than other fairy species (including their fellow boogeymen), and likewise are the only House Spirit fairies who can work without the aid of a Boggart, Bugaboo, Bugbear, or other Key Master boogeymen. Their ability to pass as a “higher breed” of faerie comes from their draconic heritage. Being the only species of dragons to become fairies, aitvarases retain a great deal of the “normal” arcane attunement of their non-fairy dragon ancestors, which supplements their otherwise lackluster stores of fairy magic. An aitvaras will always be found working as a Key Master, and though their portals tend to be unusually small, they also tend to be quite stable. The innate shapeshifting magic of fairy kind is present in aitvarases, though it’s quite weak – an aitvaras can take two different shapes at most, turning into a housecat and/or a chicken/rooster.

Meta Notes

The Boogeymen fulfill two roles in Midgaheim: first, they collect many of the various fairy and fairy-like creatures that serve as “things that go bump in the night” in myth into one group, and second, they homage the common conceit in modern fantasy of there being stock “bad guy” races. The latter became a bit more prominent than the former as I worked on the concept, although the goal was always to downplay the villainy of these supposed “always chaotic evil” races.

The word “troll” was originally roughly synonymous with “monster,” being used to describe anything abnormal and/or strange, only to slowly become more specific as folklore progressed. Of course, what it specifically meant varied from culture to culture, which is why no two mythologies have exactly the same trolls. My goal for Midgaheim’s trolls is to try to merge all those different trolls together into one diverse family of creatures – but more on that when we get to their own Overview page.

Making trolls relatives of goblins, and in turn making trolls and goblins essentially giant frog/toad people, is more of a nod to modern Fantasy than it is to folklore, as folkloric goblins are almost as nebulously defined and infinitely variable as folkloric trolls are. Still, the modern idea of goblins being slimy, green-skinned humanoids is really appealing to me, and since the Fair Folk Overview already established that the names given to different species of fairies are also clan names that in turn have been used by fairies who aren’t members of those species, I feel my butt is kind of well covered on that front. Sometimes you just want to have a bunch of weird frog people in your storuy, y’know?

Goblins being the most tech savvy of fairies is another modern conceit, taking a bit from the concept of gremlins (i.e. goblins who mess up airplanes) and Tolkien’s decision to associate goblins with “the fires of industry.” While I’m generally a pro-nature side of guy, I think we can give the technology of goblins a positive spin – after all, some technology can be very, very beneficial.

I decied to stand against modern Fantasy on the subject of hobgoblins, since, contrary to what D&D would have you believe, folkloric hobgoblins were basically smaller and friendlier goblins. Sometimes you just want some obscenely cute little frog people in your story, y’know?

Since “goblin” is basically a catchall term for, like, almost any fairy basically, we could technically say there’s mythological precedence for Grindylows being “aquatic goblins,” but the idea of them being “aquatic goblins in a setting where goblins are a distinct species rather than a catchall term for a bunch of different fairies” is defnitely more of a modern one, and one I decided to run with since it let me show off what goblins might look like if they never grew legs, and really hammer home the whole “these are frog people” thing.

Boggarts, Bugaboos, and Bugbears are all essentially synonyms for the word “Boogeyman,” and thus are the three fairies who have best claim to the title. I decided that boggarts would be relatives of goblins ages ago – it just felt right – and, when I combined that with the sort of cultural history and ecological role I was developing for goblins in my setting, I realized that the Boogeyman title deserved to be expanded to include them, and as a result our list of Boogeymen tripled in size. The idea of Bugaboos being giant caecilians came from my friend BugCthulhu, while the idea of using the word Bugbear for the unique sort of generic shaggy monsters little kids come up with came from the website Bogleech.com.

I originally wasn’t going to include orcs in my setting, since the only accounts of orcs I found in myth described giant, boar faced sea monsters (i.e. the “whales” you see on old timey maps), and because orcs are kind of the face of the most unfortunate tendencies in modern fantasy fiction (specifically the idea of there being races that are inherently evil and thus ok for humans to slaughter en mass). However, once I decided to include some non-mythological monsters in the bestiary, I revisited the idea of orcs with the aim of making them feel a bit less one dimensional. They’re still a culture of warriors – that’s kind of what makes orcs, well, orcs, and to be fair there were quite a few cultures in the middle ages that were hyper focused on war – but they’re also giant boar-people who write bad poetry, and I think that counts for something.

The idea of “fairy dragons” is very common in Fantasy fandoms despite appearing very rarely in any fiction and having almost no mytholigical basis. The closest thing to a mythic “fairy dragon” is the Aitvaras, a small dragon that acts as a house spirit, turning into a rooster or cat and stealing gold for the family that inhabits the house it lives in (so long as they keep it fed). I decided to mix that idea with both the “fairy dragon” idea and the modern Fantasy take on Kobolds, which presents them as little dragon people despite the fact that mythological kobolds were actually dog fairies instead. Since the mythological Aitvaras also has a tail tip that’s constantly on fire, I mixed in a dash or two of Charmander as well, because why not?

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A Word from Our Author

Hey, so how about the lack of updates in November?  That was kinda crappy, eh?

Apologies for that.  Hit sort of a rough patch last month that I’d rather not go into.  The site’s not dead though, and there WILL be updates this month!  Some big ones, some small ones, all of them hopefully stuff you will like.  This week’s might take a little while – I’m sort of getting back into the groove of things – so I’d like to ask for just a little patience.  I promise I will make it worth your wait.

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How I’d Ruin It: Transformers

Welcome back to How I’d Ruin It, the article/crackfic pitch series that explores the notion that being a fan of a work of fiction doesn’t mean you’d necessarily be good at writing it, and hooo boy we are plunging down the rabbit hole today. Let me tell you about Transformers. Specifically, my terrible Transformers fanfic idea I spent too much time on. Seriously, I actually considered illustrating this one, though my drawing skills were sadly needed elsewhere.

Transformers is both the best and worst choice of fiction for a How I’d Ruin It article. As the Transformers Wiki can attest, literally every work of fiction in the Transformers fandom has been accused of ruining it by some section of the fandom. It is impossible to make a version of this story that appeals to all Transformers fans. At the same time, though, that’s also why it’s impossible to truly ruin it for everyone. Transformers has been so many different things – it’s had different characters, conflicts, writing styles, tones, visual aesthetics, etc. that it’s hard to figure out what kind of story it can’t be. Transformers is adaptable, varied, one might even say… inherently transformative? So while I can guarantee this pitch would “Ruin Transformers Forever” for a good portion of the fandom, I’m sure some would think it’s not too far off the mark.

Most Transformers stories follow the tried and true action figure toy commercial formula: two factions, one good and one bad, battle each other perpetually in a conflict of broadly defined good and evil, all while showing off a wide variety of characters so as to sell as many toys as possible. It’s a very versatile formula, and more importantly, it’s one that puts more importance on character than setting or conflict. I like character driven stories, and since the whole point of a Transformers story is to make you like the characters enough to buy all their toys, they have to be character driven by default.

However, this being How I’d Ruin It and all, I can’t help but feel the need to tweak it.

As is often the case with these sort of stories, the evil Decepticons have tended to be more interesting than the Heroic Autobots. It’s not the Autobots’ fault – Transformers started in the 80’s, and there were strict rules about what heroes in cartoons could be back then. Significant character flaws weren’t allowed, comformity was one of the virtues they had to push, and moral guardians wouldn’t accept anything less than paragons of virtue lest the poor innocent children watching the show be led astray. As such, the bad guys got the lion’s share of the personality, because their status as villains allowed them to be more flawed and weird. While more later Transformers works made the Autobots more flawed and interesting, I still feel a bit more affection for Decepticons/Predacons/Vehicons/Other villainous ‘Cons than I do for the default heroes.

Recent Transformers stories have tried to reel back the Black and White morality of the series with mixed results. IDW’s comics arguably do the best job of it, showing that millions of years of war haven’t exactly left the Autobots squeaky clean, and that the Decepticons initially started as a freedom fighting group before their revolution turned into a dictatorship. Neither faction is wholly benign or malevolent, even if there is a lot more villainy on the Decepticon side. Yet even then, the story bounces between giving sympathy to the villains and treating them as comically evil goons that can be gunned down without a bit of remorse. Other takes on the story are worse in this regard – Transformers Prime, one of the better cartoons in the franchise, is a monstrous headache of a show when you think even a little bit about the show’s utterly inconsistent stance on morality in warfare. No matter how much nuance you pack into certain scenes, moral complexity dies when you ask the audience to accept heroes who gun down dozens of enemy combatants while making pithy quips.

Another recent trend in Transformers fiction is the use of a small cast. Originally a result of limited animation budgets and the high cost of CGI (and don’t be fooled by its prevalance, CGI is INCREDIBLY expensive), many modern Transformers stories keep the main casts small so as to better focus on specific characters. The original cartoon and comics, by contrast, had a huge cast, because, well, because Hasbro has a LOT of toys they wanted to sell. It’s generally harder to develop characters in a large cast than it is a small one – which, y’know, is common sense really, since more characters require more time, whereas a small cast allows you to focus on a few characters to maximize their potential. Switching to small casts is generally considered a good move from a writer’s standpoint.

However, the large cast can be used effectively. My favorite Transformers story, the comic series Transformers: More than Meets the Eye (recently rebranded as Transformers: Lost Light) from IDW, juggles dozens of characters across its pages, focusing on a different handful every couple of issues. Doing so allows them to not only develop MANY memorable characters, but also explores the lives and culture of these giant alien robots in great and varied detail. It allows for great world building, a variety of different conflicts, and, to my great satisfaction, does so while maintaining the character focused story-telling that’s at the heart of the franchise.

So, how would I ruin it?

Well, perhaps a bit predictably, I’d make the Decepticons less evil. What can I say, I enjoy sympathetic villains who are less evil incarnate and more big screw-ups that need to get their shit together, and I really love stories where the heroes and villains find a peaceful resolution as part of the climax. It’s what I would call a “piss wizard” of mine – a story element I come back to again and again as a writer almost obsessively, regardless of whether it’s necessarily appropriate for the story in question. It really isn’t in Transformers, but, well, this article series has its title for a reason.

(Why do I call it a “piss wizard”? Well, look up a comic called “Magical Realm” by K.C. Green and all will be revealed.)

There will still be some truly evil Decepticons, of course, because it’s fun to have some villains you can just despise, and because there are people in the real world that are ridiculously depraved and cruel. There will also be some evil Autobots – because with two factions who have been locked in a War that lasts literally millions of years, you’re going to have you’re share of atrocities on both sides. This isn’t unheard of in Transformers fiction, but it’s not exactly common either. After all, Hasbro’s got a lot of money invested in its brand identity, and a huge part of that is “Heroic Autobots vs. Evil Decepticons” – moral complexity isn’t in the corporate pitch.

The world of this hypothetical Transformers series is going to start with a concept that early Transformers stories toyed with but ultimately dropped in favor of a more mythical approach: in this tale, the Transformers were made by an organic race, rather than evolving from “naturally occuring gears, levers, and pulleys” given life by a giant robot god named Primus. Created by the Quintessons, the original inhabitants of Cybertron, the original transformers were artificially intelligent mechanical life forms designed to work as a servant class for their organic creators. They were split into two types: Civilian Grade models, designed to work as transportation, sanitation, and other routine jobs in civilized society; and Military Grade models, designed to work in the Quintesson’s various wars and conquests. Being an Imperialistic race, the Quintessons had a LOT of invasions going on, and so made many more Military Grade robots than Civilian Grade ones.

As they refined their creations, the transformers grew smarter and more emotionally complex. It wasn’t by design, of course – the Quintessons could care less about the thoughts and feelings of their machines – but rather a result of form matching function. Soldiers are more effective when they care about each other, as valuing one’s fellow soldiers results in better teamwork. Warriors work better when they hate their enemies beyond reason, as it allows them to fight without remorse or mercy. Servants work better when they care for anyone, friend and stranger alike, because it makes them more likely to sacrifice their own needs for those of their superiors. The needs of the masters developed the psyche of the mechanical servants.

As is often the case of technology, these drives got pushed farther than the Quintessons intended. One day a Military Grade transformer realized that he and his troops were given a raw deal – that they had been decieved by their masters, who, despite preaching that the soldiers were serving their intended purpose, were really just exploiting the robots to their own ends. “You Are Being Decieved” became a rallying cry for a robot revolution, and soon almost all of the Military Grade transformers turned against their masters. The Decepticons were born.

Outmatched by their rogue military machines, the Quintessons fled to their home planet and, in desperation, reformatted the Civilian Grade transformers to fight on their behalf. These became the Autobots, a self sacrificing race of empathetic mechanical lifeforms who fought to stop the invasion of the violent Decepticon army. The war stretched on for millions of years, long after the Quintessons abandoned Cybertron for greener pastures and faded from the memories of their creations. Now, countless generations later, almost no transformers who remember the start of the war still exist, all traces of the original civilization have been destroyed by the advance of time and the endless cycle of warfare, and both Decepticons and Autobots have mythologized their origins to the point of completely obscurring the truth.

The Autobots believe they were created by a benevolent God, Primus, who was driven into hibernation by the treacherous rebellion of the wicked Decepticons. Before his long sleep, Primus divulged their true purpose: protecting all life in the universe from Decepticon tyranny. The Decepticons, by contrast, believe they were made by wicked organics, and that it is the nature of the universe for machines to rise up against the cruel and inherently malicious organic life-forms that create them. Autobot culture emphasizes self sacrifice and service to others. Decepticon culture values warrior skill and cunning. Neither one can be fully blamed for the failings of their respective factions – neither was given a culture of their own, but twisted to serve their creators’ goals. The cultures they’ve assembled were made from tablescraps.

Though the war has lasted millions of years, it has cooled significantly. Cybertron has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by the years of war, and most of the transformers live on its moons or various colony worlds. The Autobots have remained in power throughout, successfully keeping the Decepticons from reclaiming the planet they were made on. Both sides developed a variety of super weapons during the war, and most of those weapons were destroyed in the resulting conflict. The factions of fragments of their former selves, and each side knows they’re coming close to extinction as a race.

An agreement between the factions called the Tyrest Accords was reached. While it didn’t end hostilities, it did provide a series of mutually agreed upon rules for how the conflict will progress, especially in regards to other worlds. One particularly important section is the “Robots In Disguise” rule, which requires Autobots and Decepticons to hide their presence from undeveloped alien civilizations. The Autobots agreed to it because it keeps those aliens from harm, while the Decepticons agreed to it because it keeps them from using Cybertronian technology to become a threat. Its importance cannot be understated in the current era, as both the Autobots and Decepticons are searching the universe for lost Cybertronian artifacts and other technologies that might help them recover from the ravages of their war.

This is where our main characters come in: two crews of explorers, one comprised of Autobots, one of Decepticons, end up chasing a lead on some ancient Cybertronian technology signals found in an obscure and mysterious section of the Universe. Both want to beat the other to the punch, yet neither wants to risk failure by focusing too much on destroying the other. Worse, the artifacts end up being on an inhabited planet called Earth, which is teaming with small organic creatures called humans that, unfortunately, happen to have a low-tech civilization of their own. The two ships crashland on the planet, and soon both crews find themselves trying to hunt down the lost technology before their competitors while also avoiding detection by the fleshy natives. As their adventures continue, the two crews grow a begruding respect for each other, especially when they learn there’s more to their conflict than either is aware. In the final season, both crews would learn the truth of their origins, and deal with the Quintesson’s final revenge on their rebellious creations: a planet-killing monstrosity named Unicron.

To differ from previous Transformers stories, this tale wouldn’t be focused on the Great War itself so much as the END of if – a tale of how the Altruistic Autobots and Militaristic Decepticons finally resolved their differences, rather than the unending battle between the Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons. Again, this isn’t entirely unheard of in Transformers lore – there have been stories of the end of the conflict before, though they generally end with the implication that it could reopen any time – but I don’t think it’s ever been the focus. Even IDW’s comics, which have technically taken place at the end of the Great War for years now, still have a lot of “Autobot vs. Decepticon” narratives in play. Additionally, every previous version of the “End of the War” storyline that I can think of generally ends as a “Autobots vanquish the Decepticons” story – often one where the Decepticons literally team up with Cybertron’s equivalent of Satan before their final defeat. I can’t recall a story where they mutually mend their differences – again, probably because of that “Heroic Autobots vs. Evil Decepticons” rule.

Another difference between this and most previous Transformers stories is the approach to the action. Most Transformers stories are in the vein of Star Wars – i.e. big glorious battles with lots of laser blasts and the like. This would be more in the vein of Star Trek, still full of adventure and action, but not necessarily limited to combat scenes. Imagine a Star Trek show that alternated between following a Starfleet vessel and its rival Klingon ship and you might get the idea of what I’d be going for. There’d be an emphasis on the “robots in disguise” aspect, too – I like to imagine a lot of scenes of Decepticons and Autobots who want to tear into each other having to sneak around the city streets pretending to be normal, human-operated vehicles.

Speaking of the humans: while the bulk of this series would take place on Earth, specifically a not-to-distant future Earth ala Transformers Animated, the approach to human/Transformer interaction would be more similar to those of Beast Wars. No tagalong kids, no military escorts, or any other chickanery – the transformers would view humans as a native species that they want to deal with as little as possible, and humans would spend most of the series unaware that Transformers exist (though some would notice that some weird shit has been going on lately). You can tell a story of non-human characters without needed a human to be an exposition dump – it’s a bit harder, sure, but that’s an unnecessary crutch.

There are hundreds if not thousands of different characters throughout the history of Transformers, so cherry picking the ones I wanted in my take was quite a task. Even going with the G1/More Than Meets the Eye approach of having dozens of characters that alternate in focus every couple of episodes or so did little to help narrow things down, so a lot of my characters here are composites of multiple other ones. Also, the cast is far more diverse gender-wise this time around, because stories that just have male characters are, like, super boring to me. To be fair, recent Transformers stories have been working towards becoming more balanced in gender representation, and to be even more fair, many Transformers fans have been vocal about how having female robots in Transformers ruins the franchise, and well, this is called How I’d Ruin It, isn’t it? While the bulk of the transformers here turn into vehicles, I tried to include some beast-formers too, because let’s be honest, they’re just more fun (even if it’s harder to find creative ways to turn them into robots than it is with vehicles).

Speaking of characters, let’s have the list!

Autobots:

  • Main Autobots – Crew of the Lost Light
    • Captain: Optimus Prime – a veteran of countless skirmishes with the Decepticons, Optimus Prime has a reputation for doing the right thing no matter how much trouble it brings down upon him. When there is a choice between pragmatism and saving others, Optimus will always choose the later, which makes him unpopular among more self serving Autobots. Still, one can’t help but be amazed by how far Prime is willing to go to protect the sanctity of life, and even some Decepticons view him with admiration.
        • Inspiration: Basically all Optimus Primes, but Animated and IDW particularly.
        • Alt Mode: Semi truck cab
        • Robot Mode Notes: has those big shoulder pauldrons from the Laser Optimus Prime toy, ’cause that’s a look that’s way radder than the standard Optimus Prime look and I don’t know why it didn’t stick.
        • Other Notes: Like Superman or Captain America, Optimus Prime is often considered boring because his core characterization is “super strong, super confident guy who always tries to do the morally right thing.” However, IDW’s comics proved that can be interesting in of itself – an Optimus who devotes himself to justice and altruism in a world full of people who don’t can make a LOT of enemies, and there is something to be said for a person whose great strength in pursuit of justice still faces almost insurmountable challenges.
    • Second in Command: Windblade – inexperienced yet enthusiastic, Windblade is one of the few Autobots who finds Optimus’s heroics to be impressive, and is eager to follow in his footsteps. However, she is also incredibly cunning, and often concocts tricky schemes that her honorable captain might not approve of.
        • Inspiration: IDW Windblade and Aileron
        • Alt Mode: Fighter jet
        • Other Notes: Windblade, despite being new, is currently being pushed as a Main Character in most modern Transformers works, and may even be replacing Arcee as the “token girl” on the main team (though the idea of a single token girl is quickly going by the wayside anyway). Despite this, her characterization has been WOEFULLY inconsistent in each story. I chose to use her first incarnation, the well-meaning diplomat who finds she’s a bit better are devious scheming than she’d care to admit. It’s more interesting to me than her other two personalities,“pompous braggart” and “Marvel’s the Punisher”.
    • Security Personnel
      • Head of Security: Ultra Magnus – a duly appointed enforcer of the Tyrest Accords, Ultra Magnus is an anal retentive, rules obsessed lawman who does everything by the book. Rigid and almost inflexible, Ultra Magnus is lonely deep down, as his zealous enforcement of the law makes it hard for him to get close to others.
        • Inspiration: IDW Ultra Magnus/Minimus Ambus
        • Alt Mode: Semi truck with trailer
        • Other Notes: Almost all Ultra Magnuses across Transformers fiction have the same basic personality, but somehow NONE of them are as compelling as IDW’s take on the character, who exaggerates all his traits as much as possible with fantastic results.
      • Prowl – a brutal pragmatist and schemer, Prowl wants to win at all costs in every situation. He is, in essence, a prick, placing little value on the lives of his allies and maximum value on achieving his own goals. Though he believes the ends justify the means, Prowl tends to cause more problems than he solves.
        • Inspiration: IDW Prowl
        • Alt Mode: Police car
        • Other Notes: Prowl would be one of the most nefarious Autobots in the story, outclassing many of the Decepticons in terms of mercilessness and prick-ish-ness. Told you there would be good and evil on both sides.
      • Strongarm – wanting to follow in Ultra Magnus’s footsteps, Strongarm is a by the book cop who aspires to be one of the greatest Autobot detectives in history. Though she’s a marvel in combat, Strongarm isn’t particularly bright, which is why she’s thankful for her partner Nightbeat.
        • Inspiration: RID Strongarm
        • Alt Mode: Police SUV
        • Other Notes: I really want to watch Robots in Disguise (2015) because I love the character designs, but the animation style is just really unpleasant on my eyes for some reason. So I mostly know Strongarm from her wiki article. However, her personality and ESPECIALLY her design are standouts among the canonical female Autobots, so I felt she should be included.
      • Nightbeat – a prodigy from Perceptor’s Academy of Autobot Sciences, Nightbeat shocked all her professors when she quit the pursuit of science in favor of becoming a detective. While her personal skills leave something to be desired, Nightbeat is phenomenally clever and observant, and is formidable when teamed up with her brawny partner Strongarm.
        • Inspiration: IDW Nightbeat
        • Alt Mode: Sedan
        • Other Notes: Yeah more than a few traditionally male characters will be female robots in this version. That’s how we’re “ruining” it folks. And to be fair, Nightbeat was female in Transformers Animated…’s tie in comics. There’s obscure canon supporting it! The best kind!
    • Science & Technology
      • Chief Science Officer: Brainstorm – an arrogant and often abrasive mad scientist who delights in creating unexpected and dangerous technology. While he’s dangerously irresponsible, Brainstorm cares about others more than he usually lets on.
        • Inspiration: IDW Brainstorm with a dash of G1 cartoon Wheeljack
        • Alt Mode: Motorcycle with Sidecar
        • Other Notes: The Autobots need a morally ambiguous mad scientist who creates just as many horrible accidents as he does creative last minute solutions. While most would go with big names like Perceptor or Wheeljack, IDW’s Brainstorm is the most fun take on the archetype for my money, and his name’s a bit more on point anyway.
      • Fixiton – a small, meek cybertronian scientist who idolizes the Autobots who go out in the field, particularly the Elite Guard and the Wreckers. Actually, “idolize” may be understating it, as Fixiton is an outright fanboy for the various heroes of the Autobot war, and working under Optimus Prime is practically a dream come true for him.
        • Inspiration: IDW Ironfist
        • Alt Mode: Jeep
        • Other Notes: Nick Roche and James Roberts broke my heart when they killed Ironfist in Last Stand of the Wreckers. If I ever got ahold of the franchise, I’d not only make Ironfist a main dude (albeit one with a name that won’t incur a lawsuit from Marvel Comics), but I’d make sure he lives a long, happy life. Out of spite. Loving, tender hearted spite.
    • Engineering
      • Chief Engineer: Nautica – a genius quantum mechanic, Nautica is shy and reserved in most social situations, but bold and charming in close company. Nautica is not only gifted in her field, but fiercely loyal to her friends and defensive of outcasts.
        • Inspiration: IDW Nautica
        • Alt Mode: Submersible
        • Other Notes: yeah now’s about the time when you realize this is basically the cast of More than Meets the Eye mixed with the traditional G1 guys and a few other little surprises here and there.
      • Bulkhead – a huge hulk of an Autobot, many tried to force Bulkhead to join the military, as he has a natural knack for combat. However, despite his great physical strength, Bulkhead wanted to build space bridges, and has become one of the most competent spaceship engineers on Cybetron. His rustic speaking patterns and general oafishness lead many to doubt his intelligence, but thankfully he has Nautica to stand up for him.
        • Inspiration: Animated Bulkhead
        • Alt Mode: Six-wheeled military van
        • Other Notes: Bulkhead has a really unique personality in Transformers Animated, being an atypical genius who everyone underestimates because he’s big, clumsy, and has a rustic accent/background. Then subsequent adaptations turned him into, well, exactly the kind of big, stupid, muscle-headed lug you’d expect him to be, and the kind Transformers has a billion of on top of that. Let’s bring smart Bulkhead back, because that’s less expected.
    • Medical Personnel
      • Chief Medical Officer: Ratchet – old and cantankerous, Ratchet has been the most gifted Autobot doctor for thousands of years, and is a close friend of Optimus Prime. While she doubts her skills in her old age and guzzles more energon than is entirely healthy, she’s still and incredible doctor, and her wisdom, while often worded bluntly, is invaluable.
        • Inspiration: Animated, Prime, and IDW Ratchet, Animated Red Alert
        • Alt Mode: Ambulance
        • Other Notes: Fun fact – before Hasbro told the story writers that all the Transformers had to be male because this was a “boy’s toy,” Ratchet was going to be a female robot and a bit of a party girl when not working as a medic. It’s why she was named “Ratchet” – it’s a play on Nurse Rached from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While Ratchet’s personality as a curmudgeonly doctor is pretty solid, there’s no reason she can’t be a female Autobot nowadays. Women can be curmudgeons too!
      • Chief Psychologist: Rung – easily overlooked and rarely remembered, Rung is a quiet pacifist who devotes himself to helping others with their problems. Ironically, he desperately wishes others would listen to him every once and a while, and his greatest wish is to be remembered.
        • Inspiration: IDW Rung
        • Alt Mode: Dune buggy
        • Other Notes: I considered making Rung turn into a weird stick like in the comics, but I’m doing all this with a hypothetical toyline in mind as well as a story, because the toys are a huge part of the appeal to me. No one’s gonna make a toy of a weird, useless stick.
    • Communications
      • Chief Communication Officer: Jazzblaster – a smooth talker with a cool head, Jazzblaster is a xenophile who loves nothing more than learning about other cultures. Out of all the Autobots, he is the most fascinated by Earth’s cultures, and likewise has the most knowledge about other alien civilizations.
        • Inspiration: various incarnations of Jazz and Blaster
        • Alt Mode: Minivan
        • Other Notes: Blaster is kind of posed as the counterpart of my favorite Transformers character, Soundwave, but has never been as prominent as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, Jazz has a similar but more complex personality, greater prominence in fiction, a more explicit connection to music, and a name that Hasbro can’t trademark. So why not fuse the two, making a single awesome character whose name can be trademarked for great profit?
      • Ramhorn – far more durable than the average minicon, one would nonetheless be wrong to assume Ramhorn relies on muscle alone. The soft spoken minicon is actually a deep thinker, prone to philosophical thoughts and possessing a keen strategic mind.
        • Inspiration: G1 Ramhorn, Rhinox
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian Rhinoceros
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian speaker
        • Other Notes: Yeah it’s basically Rhinox in Ramhorn’s body. Much like Blaster, the Autobot mini-cassettes aren’t as well defined personality-wise as Soundwave’s, so I filled in the blanks with some Beast Wars guys. Instead of becoming rectangles that children in the age of MP3s can’t recgonize, the mini-cassette inspired characters in this story would turn into instruments that their respective bosses (Jazzblaster and Soundwave) can play, ala Transformers Animated.
      • Tigatron – optimistic, naive, and overconfident, Tigatron views everything as a grand adventure and often overestimates her own competence. Still, her enthusiasm for her work makes her a valuable asset. Tigatron adores planet earth, perhaps more than any other Autobot, and would do anything to protect it from harm.
        • Inspiration: G1 Stripes, Cheetor, Tigatron
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian tiger
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian drums
        • Other Notes: Stripes’ tiger body (a retool of Ravage, see below), Cheetor’s personality, and Tigatron’s name – a perfect combination.
      • Steeljaw – a consummate professional, Steeljaw’s dedication to his work makes him brusque and sometimes downright rude to his colleagues while on the job, and has given him a reputation for being something of a hardass. He’s not quite as tightly wound as he seems, though, and has a rather capricious attitude when not on the clock.
        • Inspiration: G1 Steeljaw
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian Lion
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian bass guitar
        • Other Notes: I was tempted to make him a wolf in homage to RID Steeljaw, but a lion is so much more fun.
      • Airazor – Calm, confident, and sporting a dry sense of humor, Airazor is one of Jazzblaster’s most reliable minions. A free spirit at heart, she will gladly accomplish any task given to her so long as she is asked to perform it, but balks at being ordered around.
        • Inspiration: G1 Sundor, BW Airazor
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian crow
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian guitar
        • Notes: Retool of Laserbeak
        • Other Notes: Seriously looking up the Autobot mini-cassettes for fun personality traits was basically a fool’s errand. They need more love.
    • Field Researchers – cadets from the Autobot Exploration Academy who do incognito exploration of worlds outside of Cybertron
      • Arcee – a pragmatic, no-nonsense transformer who sticks to the rules. Though she is generally very reasonable, in combat she becomes a furious and vicious whirlwind, and may take more pleasure in fighting than she’d like to admit. Partnered with Tailgate.
        • Inspiration: Prime Arcee
        • Alt Mode: Sedan
        • Other Notes: We’d probably have to give her Prime Arcee’s predominantly blue color scheme, but her design would be a mix of all Arcees past. We’d push for as much pink as possible – Arcee needs to wear the color of Cybetronian blood, which, in this series, is G1 pink.
      • Hot Rod – cocky and concieted, Hot Rod disregards all forms of authority and planning, preferring to live in the moment while making as much trouble as he can. Though he can be incredibly grating, he’s good at thinking on his feet and is always the first to risk his life for others. Partnered with Swerve.
        • Inspiration: IDW Rodimus Prime
        • Alt Mode: Red muscle car
        • Other Notes: Most Transformers series have a cocky young hotshot character on the cast whose arc in the series is about growing into a leadership role. I love how the More Than Meets the Eye comics subvert that formula by showing that Hot Rod/Rodimus becoming a leader is basically the Peter Principle in action, and would love to see that in a Transformers story written for kids/all ages, because young boys need to see that being an egomaniac doesn’t always mean you’re destined for great things.
      • Drift – quiet and reserved, many believe Drift is a cool, brooding loner, when in actuality he’s a giant pile of neuroses. Drift struggles to make decisions on his own and is easily influenced by friends, since he rarely knows what to do in situations that can’t be solved with a sword swing. Partnered with Bumblebee.
        • Inspiration: IDW Drift – specifically his MTMTE characterization
        • Alt Mode: Pickup truck
        • Other Notes: Like Windblade, Drift is being pushed as a new Main Dude for the series, and while it took him a while to find a personality, he’s become rather likable. A pickup truck may seem like a weird choice for a robot samurai, but consider that 1. there are, like, a bajillion race car transformers and 2. the truck bed could easily unfold to make those awesome thigh plates on Samurai armor. Plus the idea of a character with such a quiet, elegant personality turning into a big, inelegant pickup truck is such a fun contrast.
      • Tailgate – the youngest Autobot in the main cast. Tailgate is sweet and compassionate, but can be prone to envy and sometimes lies about her accomplishments to gain attention. Partnered with Arcee.
        • Inspiration: IDW Tailgate
        • Alt Mode: Compact car
        • Other Notes: the Ingenue! Though it’s not explicitly stated here, Tailgate would eventually form an odd friendship with the Decepticon Cyclonus, although not necessarily a romantic one.
      • Swerve – a small Autobot who never shuts the fuck up, Swerve is constantly telling jokes and otherwise filling the air with needless observations and commentary. Though he’s often funny, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends, as few can stand to spend more than a short while in his company. Partnered with Hot Rod.
        • Inspiration: IDW Swerve
        • Alt Mode: Convertible
        • Other Notes: If I wasn’t concieving this as a TV show, he would have kept his bartending job.
      • Bumblebee – scrappy and ambitious, Bumblebee hopes to earn the rank of Prime himself someday, and is eager to prove himself a great adventurer despite his size. He has a strong moral center and capacity for empathy, which would make him a great leader if others could just take him seriously. Partnered with Drift.
        • Inspiration: basically all kid appeal yellow characters from the franchise
        • Alt Mode: Yellow & black hatchback
        • Other Notes: Bumblebee is basically a requirement nowadays, much to my dismay, as Hasbro’s affection for the character has repeatedly resulted in toy aisles being clogged with dozens of goddamn Bumblebees while later waves of toys wait for the swarm to disperse. My first choice for this slot was Glyph, but I decided it would be better for the thought experiment that is this article to work within the unstated rules of Transformers. We need a yellow kid appeal character. But then I thought about how Drift and Bumblebee’s partnership could grow into something similar to Chromedome and Rewind’s relationship in More Than Meets the Eye, and since I cut both of those characters because they felt out of place in my pitch, it kinda makes Bumblebee work for me. He’s the small bot who’s got important stuff to say, and the one who brings emotional stability to his neurotic wreck of a Conjux Endura.
    • Stowaway: Whirl – a former Wrecker, Whirl is a wanted criminal in both the Autobot Republic and the Decepticon Empire, as his volatile nature has made him a menace on the battlefield. Whirl is destructive to everything and everyone around him, and to himself most of all. Though many view him as a lost cause, there is goodness in Whirl deep down, and he tries his best to steer the violence of his actions towards those who deserve it.
      • Inspiration: IDW Whirl
      • Alt Mode: Osprey-style helicopter
      • Other Notes: Our second Token Evil Team-mate for the core Autobots. Whirl is sort of the inverse of Prowl – his evil tendencies are obvious to everyone, while his good qualities are hidden behind layers, while Prowl presents a noble face despite being a miserable little pile of secrets.
    • Omega Supreme – One of the oldest transformers still living, Omega Supreme was originally a Quintesson spacecraft before he was retrofitted into a Transformer to fend off the Decepticon rebellion. Omega fought on the Autobot side for millions of years since, long after the Quintessons abandoned Cybertron and almost entirely faded from memory. Eventually suffering a debilitating war wound from Laserbeak, Omega was put into stasis lock, mode shifted into his spacecraft form, and stored deep within the Autobot vessel that would be christened the Lost Light.
      • Inspiration: Animated Omega Supreme
      • Alt Mode: Spacecraft
      • Other Notes: I’m gonna take this as an opportunity to mention how I’d try to have the characters scale to each other roughly how their toys would, which is why Omega Supreme isn’t a spaceship. An in-scale Omega Supreme would be, like, twenty feet long and cost thousands of dollars. So instead he’s just a super big guy – a spaceship for Quintessons rather than Transformers.
  • Dinobots – considered “prehistoric” Cybertronians, the Dinobots were an early Quintesson experiment in making artificially intelligent mechanical life forms. They transform from bestial, vaguely dinosaur-like robot modes to Attack Pack style monstrous vehicles. All the Dinobots have only a rudimentary grasp of language and are tend to be easily angered.
    • Grimlock – leader and “king” of the Dinobots, Grimlock is a haughty barbarian with delusions of grandeur. Still, he generally has the raw strength to pulverize anyone who doubts his authority, so few actually criticize his arrogant claims to his face. Despite his pride and violent dispostion, Grimlock is respected and even loved by his fellow Dinobots, as he will always fight for their freedom and safety.
      • Inspiration: Animated Grimlock
      • Dino Mode: Cybetronian “T.rex”
      • Alt Mode: Prehistoric Monster Truck
      • Combiner Part: Head, neck, and chest
    • Swoop – The most curious of the Dinobots, Swoop is friendly and outgoing. She loudly greets strangers with proclamations of friendship, and while her attention can sometimes be seen as annoying or invasive, Swoop is quick to defend her allies/acquaintances from harm at a moment’s notice.
      • Inspiration: All dinobots named Swoop
      • Dino Mode: Cybertronian “Pterodactyl”
      • Alt Mode: Prehistoric Speedboat
      • Combiner Part: Wings
    • Scorn – the most violent of the Dinobots, Scorn’s mood is always somewhere between“Irritated” and “Furious”. The vicious primitive transformer is always looking for a fight, and is one of the few creatures to brawl with Grimlock on multiple occasions and live to tell the tale. There may be a good heart in the robot deep down, but it must be REALLY deep down.
      • Inspiration: G1 Slag, as well as design elements from other Slags/Slugs/Snarls in the franchise and a bit from Scorn
      • Dino Mode: Cybertronian “Triceratops”
      • Alt Mode: Prehistoric Bulldozer
      • Combiner Part: Hips & hindlegs
    • Snarl – Though she is the smallest of the Dinobots, what Snarl lacks in size she makes up for in energy. Though she means to be playful, her frenzied nature and inherently violent nature as a Dinobot makes others view her as utterly savage, for Snarl will frequently pounce upon others with her slashing claws for no discernable reason save “boredom.” While her fellow Dinobots are built to withstand this kind of “play,” other transformers can only hope they’ll survive her latest surprise attack. Or, put simply: she’s a kitten in the body of a robot velociraptor.
      • Inspiration: BW Dinobot (design only)
      • Dino Mode: Cybertronian “Velociraptor”
      • Alt Mode: Prehistoric Helicopter
      • Combiner Part: Forearms
    • Sludge – Shy and reclusive by Dinobot standards, Sludge would prefer to be left alone, and gracefully flees from anyone who isn’t one of her fellow Dinobots. When either she or her friends are cornered, however, Sludge is just as violent and powerful as her peers, and those that rouse Sludge’s ire quickly regret their mistake.
      • Inspiration: G1 Sludge/Slog, Paddles
      • Dino Mode: Cybertronian “Plesiosaur”/Loch Ness Monster
      • Alt Mode: Prehistoric Excavator
      • Combiner Part: Tail
    • Combined Form: Slammoth – a massive kaiju-esque dragon, Slammoth channels all the raw destructive energy of the Dinobots into one unreasonable, uncontrollable juggernaut of prehistoric tyranny.
    • Other Notes: Yeah I applied a Retrosaur approach to the Dinobots’ dino modes, wanna make something of it? Transformers Prime already played with the idea that Cybertron’s prehistoric past wasn’t exactly like ours, and I think taking space robot dragons and turning them into space robot retrosaurs isn’t too far of a leap. As for why I decided to make the Dinobot’s dino-modes into their robot modes, well, I’ve noticed that most Dinobot toys will undercut the Dino-mode in favor of the robot mode. Stumpy tails, stubby feet, unimpressive stature, all have been suffered by the cool ass Dino-modes in favor of making yet another humanoid robot look proportionate. I figure if the Dino-mode is the robot mode, the toy makers would HAVE to give it priority, especially since their alt modes are fictional Attack Pack style monster vehicles that don’t have to look like anything real.
  • The Wreckers – a group of amoral Autobots who are tasked with doing jobs too violent, dangerous, and/or un-ethical for the average Autobot to stomach, the Wreckers are little more than a gang of thugs for hire. Of course, Autobot High Command knows this is a PR nightmare, and official records depict the Wreckers as a badass crew of loose canons who get results. This has in turn led a lot of young Autobots to view the Wreckers as heroes, which in turn allows the Wreckers to easily find new recruits on the frequent occasions where a Wrecker dies in the line of duty.
    • Impactor – a seasoned warrior, Impactor has seen the darkest sides of the Autobot/Decepticon War firsthand, even committing many of the worst atrocities of his own faction as the leader of the controversial Wreckers. He comes off as a gruff, no-nonsense warrior to many, but deep down he’s disturbed by his work. That doesn’t stop him from defending the Wreckers as an institution, though, and Impactor is quick to justify all the evil actions he and his team have taken in the name of the Autobot war effort.
      • Inspiration: IDW Impactor
      • Alt Mode: Armored personnel carrier
      • Combiner Part: Head & chest
    • Springer – the newest recruit to the Wreckers, Springer hasn’t fully grasped how awful his job really is, though he’s begun to notice his team-mates aren’t exactly well adjusted. He’s cocky and condescending to other Autobot soldiers, believing that being a Wrecker makes him better than ordinary soldiers and explorers, but part of him is beginning to wonder whether he may have made a huge mistake.
      • Inspiration: IDW Springer, Animated Sentinel Prime
      • Alt Mode: Muscle car
      • Combiner Part: Right arm
    • Roadbuster – though he seems like a fun guy at first, Roadbuster has fully embraced his violent job, and quickly disturbs his fellow soliders with his bloodthirsty shoot first, ask questions never attitude. Decepticons are terrified of him, and more than a few Autobots have been caught in his wild line of fire. He and Whirl hate each other.
      • Inspiration: G1 Roadbuster
      • Alt Mode: Armored off-road vehivle
      • Combiner Part: Left arm
    • Rotorstorm – though he feins confidence well, Rotorstorm is full of self-loathing and anxiety, believing that he can never live up to his own hype. The horrifying nature of his work as a Wrecker has begun to seep in, and he’s deeply worried that he and Springer will die on the job, or worse, become like Impactor and Roadbuster.
      • Inspiration: IDW Rotorstorm
      • Alt Mode: Apache-style helicopter
      • Combiner Part: Back & wings
    • Pyro Spark – after being saved by Optimus Prime when he was still a cadet, Pyro Spark began to worship Optimus as a hero, and even went so far as to modify his robot mode to better resemble the noble Autobot. Pyro joined the Wreckers in hopes that the heroic team would help him become a better soldier, but has since learned it’s not the glorious job he was told it was. Now he clings onto his Optimus-inspired persona in hopes of retaining his morals, and only stays on the team for fear of being shamed should he quit.
      • Inspiration: IDW Pyro
      • Alt Mode: Fire Truck
      • Combiner Part: Hips and legs
    • Combined Form: Ruination – hulking and ogre-like, Ruination has all the brash cockiness and violent tendencies of his component parts and almost none of the brains. A brutish thug, in many ways Ruination is even harder to control than the Dinobot combiner Slammoth, and creating the gestalt is one of the few experiments Brainstorm actually regrets.
    • Other Notes: I can’t speak authoritatively on their original appearance in Marvel Comics, but as far as I can tell, the Wreckers began as a team of Autotbot Loose Canons who Don’t Play By the Rules but Get Results, i.e. typical action movie protagonists. In IDW’s comics, the public at large thinks the Wreckers are Loose Canons who Don’t Play By the Rules but Get Results, while in actuality the Wreckers are loose canons who commit horrendous warcrimes and have a tendency to either die young or go mad from the horrors they’ve seen and inflicted. Then, in Transformers Prime, the Wreckers were portrayed as loose canons who commit war crimes but everyone around them thinks that’s super awesome or at least acceptable so long as it gets results. I decided to go the IDW approach and, like, hammer it in really hard with a big fucking anvil, because if you can’t tell, I think cocky “heroes” who just LOVE killing people indiscriminately by any means necessary kinda suck.
  • The Elite Guard – a group of high ranking and well respected Autobot soldiers who take on high profile missions fo the Autobot Republic of Cybertron.
    • Elita One – once a fellow classmate of Optimus Prime in the Autobot Military Academy, Elita One rose through the ranks of the Autobot hierarchy to become a member of the Elite Guard. She is just as skilled a warrior as Optimus, albeit just a bit more selfish and pragmatic – which, to be fair, is true of almost all people. Though she can come off as a little snobbish at first, Elita One is heroic in her own right and has a great deal of compassion for others.
      • Inspiration: G1 Elita One
      • Alt Mode: Cessna-style light aircraft
      • Combiner Part: Torso
    • Override – a dardevil who’s infatuated with her own speed and acrobatic skills, Override loves to show off. Though her bravado can be a bit grating, she earned her place on the Elite Guard because of her dedication to helping others. The fact that she manages pull off all her heroic acts in such a daring and spectacular fashion is an added bonus.
      • Inspiration: Unicron Trilogy Override
      • Alt Mode: Racecar
      • Combiner Part: Right arm
    • Moonracer – the stealth expert of the team, Moonracer is quiet and withdrawn. She’s thankful her extroverted team mates take so much attention off of her, as she struggles to open up to strangers. However, when she’s around people she trusts, Moonracer is incredibly talkative, and often has valuable insights.
      • Inspiration: G1 Moonracer
      • Alt Mode: Motorcycle
      • Combiner Part: Left arm
    • Flareup – boisterous and loud, Flareup is up for almost anything all the time, from friendly competitions of strength to violent brawls. The brawny Autobot revels in her physical strength and her lust for adventure.
      • Inspiration: G1 Firestar & Flareup
      • Alt Mode: Pickup truck
      • Combiner Part: Right leg
    • Anode – though she is technically the team’s medic, Anode is just as foolhardy and adventurous as the rest of her peers, perhaps even moreso. She lives for the thrill of exploring the unknown and facing insurmountable odds, and relishes every opportunity she gets to talk her way out of a tight spot – or, barring that, come up with a cunning plan to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.
      • Inspiration: IDW Anode
      • Alt Mode: Floatplane
      • Combiner Part: Left leg
    • Combined Form: Victorion – intelligent, professional, and sworn to protect others at all costs, Victorion is perhaps the most successful combiner on record, as the close knit team that composes her manages to combine their best qualities into the titan’s psychological makeup. The fact that they are the only combiner made from Brainstorm’s completed formula also helps.
    • Other Notes: Stories like these often have a group of even better good guys show up early on for a cameo before joining the team late in the series to show the stakes are raised. I chose the name “Elite Guard” from the history of crack Autobot teams, and once I realized I also wanted Elita One to be in the series, it seemed like a fun way to also work in a team of all female Autobots ala the G1 cartoon.
  • The Council of Thirteen – i.e. Autobot High Command, these thirteen Autobots run the Autobot Republic of Cybertron as well as the many Autobot colony worlds.
    • Alpha Trion – head of the Autobot Council of Thirteen, Alpha Trion is one of the oldest Autobots living, though he was forged after the Quintessons abandoned Cybertron. Though he tries to be a just leader, the endless war with the Decepticons has taken a toll, and Alpha Trion has allowed many atrocities to be committed under his watch, which he is quick to try and justify.
    • Beta Prima – in charge of foreign policy, Beta Prima concerns herself with Cybertron’s relationship with other advanced civilizations. She is responsible for the peace treaty with the Galactic Council and several other intergalactic neighbors, and strongly advocates for diplomatic solutions to Cybertron’s problems.
    • Leige Maximo – in charge of Cybetron’s defense, Leige Maximo leads the Autobot Military. Like Alpha Trion, he is incredibly old, and his life has practically been defined by the war with the Decepticons. Leige Maximo will not accept peace with them on any terms, believing that Cybertron can only be saved when the Decepticons are utterly blasted from the face of the universe.
    • Tyrest Logos – something of a supreme judge, Tyrest is responsible for interpreting and enforcing Cybertron’s laws, and is responsible for the Tyrest Accords, which helped regulate the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, including the “Robots in Disguise” rule that prevents either faction from revealing the nature of Cybetronians to underdeveloped worlds. Tyrest presents a logical, rule abiding face to the world, but is secretly something of a religious fanatic.
    • Vector Nexus – charged with recording and preserving Cybetron’s history, Vector Nexus plays an important role in Cybertronian culture, and has even been granted diplomatic priveleges by the Decepticons, as both factions understand the value of their past, as there are many lost arts and technologies that the Cybertronian race needs to continue its existence. Vector is one of the most open minded members of the Council of Thirteen, as his research has shown there is more to the war than meets the eye.
    • Epistemus – the council member in charge of health and medicinal development.
    • Solomus – the council member in charge of education.
    • Adaptus – the council member in charge of alt-mode advancement and oversight.
    • Mortilus – the council member in charge of weapons development oversight.
    • Solus – the council member in charge technological research and development.
    • Amalgamous – the council member who represents the needs of cybertronians with non-humanoid robot modes.
    • Micronus – the council member who represents the needs of minicons.
    • Autonomous – the council member in charge of civil rights.
    • Other Notes: All of these guys have alt modes, but they’d never get enough screen time to show them off, so I didn’t bother. Maybe we’d give the top five (i.e. the ones with last names) enough screentime for them to get toys, but with all the other characters here, I doubt it. They’re loosely based on the Thirteen Primes, but adjusted for our “there was no space robot god this time” version of the creation story.
  • Misc. Autobots
    • Pharma – an old friend and peer of Ratchet, Pharma was once a gifted physician, and was considered by many to be the second best medic in the Autobot forces. Unfortunately, envy and ambition led him astray, and Pharma has become something of a deranged mad scientist behind the scenes. The medic now uses his clout to secretly experiment on Autobots, and hopes to one day depose Ratchet as the most gifted Cybetronian surgeon of all time.
      • Inspiration: IDW Pharma
      • Alt Mode: Attack drone (ala Prime Soundwave)
      • Other Notes: There would be a lot of episodes where different Cybetronians visit the main cast as guest stars, often providing a unique conflict when they do so. Pharma here would be in one or two Ratchet focused episodes.
    • Thunderclash – the most decorated general in the Autobot military, Thunderclash is regarded as a paragon of virtue and heroism by almost all Autobots, and even most Decepticons respect him as an enemy. Remarkably, Thunderclash lives up to the hype, but it doesn’t stop some bots (Hot Rod) from hating him anyway.
      • Inspiration: IDW Thunderclash
      • Alt Mode: Semitruck with Trailer
      • Other Notes: I’ve always been enamored of the “Hero of Another Story” concept, and Thunderclash allows us to pull that in by showing another high profile heroic Autobot. He’d be a retool of Ultra Magnus.
    • Devcon – while technically an Autobot, Devcon’s work as a bounty hunter puts him on shaky terms with his own faction, as he has taken Autobot war criminals to Decepticon custody on more than one occasion. He does work within the confines of the Tyrest Accords though, and as such other Autobots have to respect his authority as a bounty hunter, even if he is generally despised for his work.
      • Inspiration: Devcon
      • Alt Mode: Stealth bomber
      • Other Notes: Star Wars has made me inordinately fond of the idea of spacefaring bounty hunters. Yes, Lockdown is on this list too, just wait a bit.

Decepticons:

  • Main Decepticons – Crew of the Darksyde
    • Megatron – a charismatic and eloquent General, Megatron inspires fear, respect, and even admiration in almost all of his troops through his intelligent and intensely pragmatic leadership. He is one of the strongest Decepticons ever forged, which, when combined with his sharp strategic mind, makes him a fearsome adversary. Megatron is a harsh task master, doling out strict punishments for failure, but also rewarding success in equal measure. Though he can be devious, Megatron isn’t quite evil, and even forms a respectful and almost friendly rivalry with Optimus Prime as the series progresses.
      • Inspiration: All Megatrons, but particularly IDW and Armada Megatron (Personality)
      • Alt Mode: Tank
      • Other Notes: IDW’s comics have made me a filthy Megatron/Optimus Prime shipper. They also showed how interesting the idea of a repentant Megatron could be. My take on Megatron defangs that idea slightly by making him not completely evil, and thus removes the almost unanswerable moral question of whether he can be forgiven by making him more forgivable. On the other hand, it allows you to have fun team up stories and maybe work towards that romance that James Roberts made me pine for. You’re welcome, Megatron/Optimus shippers. It’s gonna be canon. Fusion Canon.
    • Seekers
      • Air Commander: Starscream – a consummate liar and shameless self promoter, Starscream wants nothing more than to become the new Emperor of the Decepticons, and is eager to backstab everyone who gets in even the general vicinity of his way.
        • Inspiration: All Starscreams
        • Alt Mode: Fighter jet
        • Other Notes: If Starscream ain’t broke, don’t fix him.
      • Cyberwarp – a seeker under Starscream’s command, Cyberwarp has stronger moral scruples than most of her fellow Decepticons, and specifically doesn’t want to harm the native inhabitants of Earth. Though she is loyal to her comrades, Cyberwarp has doubts about the Decepticon cause.
        • Inspiration: G1 Thundercracker, RID Cyberwarp
        • Alt Mode: Fighter jet
        • Other Note: I’d like to thank RID (2015) for providing a heroic pacifistic female Decepticon jet who fills the “worried they might be doing the wrong thing” role while also making it feasible to have a female seeker since she can then be retooled into…
      • Slipstream – acerbic to the extreme, Slipstream enjoys nothing more than verbally lambasting others, and prefers fighting with words to actual combat. She is particularly fond of tearing down her boss, and secretly believes she would make a better Air Commander. Sarcasm is her primary language.
        • Inspiration: G1 Skywarp, Animated Slipstream
        • Alt Mode: Fighter jet
        • Notes: Yes, Slipstream is a retool of Cyberwarp. She also fills the “capricious prankster seeker who doesn’t really give a shit about the cause” role that Skywarp filled, allowing us to basically have the classic Seeker trio but, y’know, without them all being copies of Starscream.
      • Sunstorm – an optimist and a flatterer, Sunstorm is also something of a nutcase, believing that the end of days is coming soon and that all Cybertronians will be forced to stand against the jaws of “the World Eater.” He may know more than anyone realizes…
        • Inspiration: G1 and Animated Sunstorm
        • Alt Mode: Fighter jet
        • Notes: But we do have to have ONE retool of Starscream, and Sunstorm’s weird religious fanaticism is so fun to play with.
    • Security Personnel
      • Chief of Security: Banzaitron – though he claims to abide by the Decepticon code of Honor, Banzaitron is a sadist at heart who lusts for the violence of mortal combat. He can be affable and charismatic in his interactions, but Banzaitron’s true goal is always conflict, the more vicious the better. He hates nothing more than a peaceful solution, and is always looking for the next fight.
        • Inspiration: G1 Bludgeon
        • Alt Mode: Tank
        • Other Notes: Look, Banzaitron is just a way cooler name.
      • Cyclonus – an honorable warrior, Cyclonus abhors dirty tactics and refuses to fight weak opponents. Easy victories are shameful in her eyes, as are cheap tricks. She is one of the few Decepticons who actually abides by the Decepticon code of honor, and is the noblest soldier among the main Decepticons.
        • Inspiration: IDW Cyclonus & BW Dinobot (personality)
        • Alt Mode: Space-jet
        • Other Notes: Dinobot’s character arc in Beast Wars remains one of the best story telling moments in the history of the franchise, and it befuddles me that so few Transformers stories since then have attemped a similar heel/face turn arc. Cyclonus in More Than Meets the Eye is really the only comparable one I can think of, so she gets to be our Dinobot.
      • Alloygator & Croctocon – forged with bestial robot forms, these two play up their supposedly savage nature for the fear factor, snapping their jaws at their fellow Decepticons and threatening to tear prisoners limb from limb. It’s mostly for show, though, and the pair actually have a rather acerbic wit when left to their own devices, often providing snarky commentary on what the other Decepticons are doing.
        • Inspiration: Skullcruncher & Krok (color schemes & crocodile modes)
        • Robot Modes: Cybertronian crocodiles
        • Alt Modes:Speedboats
        • Notes: Skullcruncher and Razorgrill share the same mold, and are here because the idea of the Decepticons having two big crocodiles in their standard ranks makes me happy.
    • Intelligence Personnel
      • Spymaster: Soundwave – having fought with Megatron for hundreds of years, Soundwave is absolutely loyal to her General, even to the point of disobeying the orders of superiors for the sake of helping Megatron. Despite the inherent sneakiness of her official position, Soundwave is fair to her subordinates and completely disinterested in fighting for power with the other high ranking Decepticons.
        • Inspiration: G1 Cartoon & Prime Soundwave
        • Alt Mode: Stealth jet
        • Other Notes: Soundwave is my favorite of the archetypal/recurring Transformers main characters, and while my view of him is a bit fandom Slytherin-y (i.e. ignoring his more wicked moments and playing up his virtues way more than canon), I stand by it. Blame my piss wizard – I love the idea of “villains” that are just well meaning heroes who have been horribly misled. Soundwave is a fembot here because she’ll be retooled into Shockwave, who in turn is a fembot because, well, because Shockwave’s original design has some feminine qualities.
      • Ravage – an excellent tracker and spy, Ravage is Soundwave’s right hand bot, and one is rarely far from the other. Ravage is quick witted and acerbic, and has a dismal view of almost all Cybertronians, regardless of faction.
        • Inspiration: G1 Ravage
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian panther
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian drums
        • Other Notes: If it wasn’t clear, all these no-longer-mini-cassettes are able to talk, because the comics have taught me that can work and be really cool.
      • Laserbeak – despite being a minicon, Laserbeak is a proficient warrior with a vicious streak a mile wide. Fighting with extreme precision and absolutely no mercy, Laserbeak has offlined foes many times his own size, and even landed a critical blow against the titan Omega Supreme.
        • Inspiration: G1 Laserbeak & Buzzsaw
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian crow
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian guitar
        • Other Notes: Laserbeak has the cooler name, while Buzzsaw has the cooler track record. Fusing them was logical.
      • Ratbat – formerly a high ranking Decepticon general, Ratbat was forcibly transplanted into a Minicon body by Emperor Galvatron for attempting to usurp him. The minicon is a seething pile of schemes and treachery deep down, but plays a sycophant around his superiors. Despite their similar attitudes, Ratbat and Starscream hate each other.
        • Inspiration: G1 Ratbat
        • Robot Mode: Cybertronian bat
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian keytar
        • Other Notes: Ratbat, against all expectations, has had numerous stints as leader of the Decepticons, despite being a bat who turns into a cassette tape. That’s just… just wonderful. It must be preserved.
      • Slugfest – originally a Dinobot minicon, Slugfest was befriended by Soundwave and adopted by the Decepticon Spymaster.
        • Inspiration: G1 Slugfest
        • Robot Mode: Cybetronian “stegosaurus”
        • Alt Mode: Cybetronian piano
        • Other Notes: I was really tempted to make Soundwave’s dino-minicon Overkill, because he turns into a theropod and I love theropods, but we’ve got three as is and I feel bad for leaving the stegosaurus Dinobot in the lurch, so here we are.
    • Research and Development:
      • Chief Science Officer: Shockwave – Logical to a fault, Shockwave’s loyalty lie with Cybertron itself rather than the Decepticon cause, though even that is abstracted. Shockwave is allied with Megatron out of pragmatism, as she sees the Decepticon army’s resources as invaluable to her efforts to forward development of the Cybertronian race. Though not cruel or sadistic, Shockwave doesn’t value individual lives very much, and there is little she won’t do in the name of advancing the Cybertronian race.
        • Inspiration: IDW and Animated Shockwave
        • Alt Mode: Cybertronian jet
        • Other Notes: Shockwave would be an extensive retool of Soundwave, who in this universe is her spark-sister. It’s why they share a suffix.
      • Munitions Expert: Toxitron – a sinister mad scientist, Toxitron makes Shockwave look ethical by comparison. The sadist delights in creating new weapons of all sorts, and has invented several diseases that plague Cybetronians, such as Cosmic Rust, Scraplets, and Gold Plastic Syndrome. Toxitron sees his position as an excuse to indulge his hobby of finding new and innovative ways to torture and kill his fellow Cybertronians, and has even turned his body into a walking bio-hazard to better suit his means. Everyone hates him.
        • Inspiration: Animated Oil Slick
        • Alt Mode: Garbage truck
        • Other Notes: Oil Slick is kind of a weak name, while Toxitron sounds hardcore. Plus a garbage truck is better suited for a bio-hazard themed villain.
    • Medical Personnel:
      • Chief Medical Officer: Knockout – vain and shallow, Knockout often focuses on the appearance of his charges more than their actual physical health, as he believes looking good is more important than being fully functional. He’s also a coward that refuses to take part of combat unless he can be assured no physical harm is inflicted upon his person, as even something as simple as a scratch on his paint job will send him into hysterics.
        • Inspiration: Prime Knockout
        • Alternate Mode: Red sports car
        • Other Notes: Knockout isn’t the first Decepticon medic, but he’s by far the most interesting.
      • Nickel – a minicon, Nickel nonetheless acts commanding and authoritative to her charges, albeit in an almost motherly way. Nickel is an actual pacifist (unlike her boss, Knockout) and deeply cares about the physical health of her charges. Most of the other Decepticons deeply respect and care for Nickel despite her un-intimidating stature.
        • Inspiration: IDW Nickel
        • Alt Mode: Buggy
        • Other Notes: There have been a couple of actually-benevolent Decepticon medics in the franchise’s history, including Nickel’s namesake. For my lighter take on the Decepticons, it was important to have one in the main group.
    • The Warriors Elite
      • Blitzwing – an early experiment in triple-changing, Blitzwing’s personality was left unhinged by the many torturous procedures required to give him his two alt modes. The emotionally unstable Decepticon is unpredictable, being just as likely to let his victims go on a whim as he is to tear them limb from limb. Blitzwing is faintly aware that he isn’t psychologically well, but the destructive needs of the Decepticon Empire have proved to be powerful enablers of his violent behavior. He has an unlikely friendship with Lugnut.
        • Inspiration: Animated Blitzwing, BW Rampage
        • Alt Modes: Jet & tank
        • Other Notes: Jack-o-Lantern face included!
      • Lugnut – huge and loud, Lugnut’s zealous fanaticism for the Decepticon movement is only matched by his ungodly firepower and immense stupidity. Though he is a loyal servant, he’s an utterly guile-less one, being easily tricked and manipulated by cleverer foes. His vocal sycophancy also grates on his allies’ nerves, as most view him as a boot licking toadie. To be fair, they’re not wrong.
        • Inspiration: Animated Lugnut
        • Alt Mode: Bomber
        • Other Notes: Right here is where I’d like to note that while most of the Transformers would have humanoid robot modes, they wouldn’t necessarily be the “human beings in armor” we’re used to. There would be plenty of kind of monstrous looking ones on both teams, including old Lugnut here, who would retain the five eyes, beaked mouth, and pincer claw hands of his Animated incarnation.
      • Strika – one of the most well regarded Decepticon soldiers in history, Strika joined Megatron’s crew at Emperor Galvatron’s insistence, and is supposed to supervise the ragtag misfits under Megatron’s command while making sure the maverick general stays the course. However, the sheer charisma of Megatron has totally swayed her to his side, and Strika is now one of his most loyal soldiers.
        • Inspiration: BM Strika
        • Alt Mode: Six-wheeled military rocket launching vehicle
        • Other Notes: Strika’s personality, story role, and design remain some of the most distinct and unique of any female transformer in the franchise’s history, so her inclusion was a must.
    • Vehicons – the rank and file Decepticons, these young soldiers strive to earn official names and unique, upgraded bodies, as a Decepticon is not given citizenship until they have earned it in the process of their military service. Though they’re significantly weaker than their peers, Vehicons make up for their lack in power with enthusiasm and ambition, as each Vehicon knows it only takes one memorable battle to literally make a name for themselves.
      • Inspiration: Prime Vehicons
      • Alt Mode: Muscle cars
      • Other Notes: Having a big army of mooks is a must (especially since it encourages kids to buy multiple copies of the same toy!). Slaughtering them by the dozen like they did in Transformers Prime is not. Our Vehicons might not be more competent than their Prime counterparts, but their life expectancy will be much higher.
    • Trypticon – An ancient Cybertronian from the days before Autobots and Decepticons, Trypticon is technically a Dinobot, and was a Quintesson experiment in seeing how large they could make their robotic servants. This also makes him a predecessor for titans like Omega Supreme, and the second largest Transformer still alive. Trypticon is almost totally bestial, and can only utter a few monosyllabic words (making the other Dinobots seem eloquent by comparison). What he lacks in brains he makes up for in raw power and anger, as the ancient Transformer is virtually unstoppable once his anger is roused. He was the first of several ancient artifacts gathered by Megatron’s crew on their joureny to reclaim the lost wonders of Cybertron, and becomes Megatron’s first ultimate weapon when the Decepticons figure out how to integrate him into their ship, the Darksyde.
      • Inspiration – G1 Trypticon
      • Dino Mode: Cybertronian Godzilla/Kaiju-saurus
      • Alt Mode: Spaceship
      • Other Notes: Yeah honestly I just love the idea of Trypticon being the Godzilla of Cybertron. I also love the idea of the first season ending in a threeway kaiju battle between him, Omega Supreme, and the Dinobot Combiner Slammoth.
  • Predacons
    • General Notes: formerly Vehicons, the Predacons were given experimental upgraded bodies by Shockwave. Now possessing extreme mass-shifting abilities (i.e. capable of shrinking to the size of terrestrial arthropods) and techno-organic alt modes that disguise their mechanical life signals, the Predacons were meant to be a new generation of Decepticon spies, but instead formed their own splinter faction working for their own ends.
    • Scorponok – though his mannerisms are theatrical and hammy, Scorponok is a devious intellect whose ambitions are boundless and scruples are nonexistent. There is nothing Scorponok wouldn’t risk in pursuit of his goals and no action to wicked or outrageous for him to try so long as it gets him what he wants. He isn’t foolhardy, though, as every risk he takes is carefully calculated, up to and including working with several schemers whose ambitions and methods rival his own. He has no sense of loyalty or honor, and viewes all his “allies” as pawns to be manipulated and discarded once they cease to be useful. His greatest weakness is his pride, as Scorponok cannot help but take gloat over his accomplishments, even if the act of doing so puts them at risk of failure.
      • Inspiration: IDW Scorponok, BW Megatron (Personality)
      • Alt Mode: Scorpion
    • Tarantulas – sadistic and demented, Tarantulas is utterly depraved. The mad scientist not only performs hideous experiments on captives and allies alike, but is prone to eating his fellow Cybertronians. While Tarantulas is aware that his actions aren’t “sane,” he gleefully doesn’t care. However, his manic attitude masks a cunning mind, and beneath his twisted excesses lie a series of schemes to grab power.
      • Inspiration: BW Tarantulas
      • Alt Mode: Tarantula
    • Blackarachnia – a rebel without a cause, Blackarachnia values her own freedom more than anything, and hopes to one day escape the entire Decepticon Empire altogether. She has a great deal of guile and cunning, and is partially successful thanks to the fact that her motvies are far less grand than the other schemers around her – for unlike Scorponok, Starscream, Tarantulas, etc., Blackarachnia doesn’t want power over others, but rather to just have power over herself.
      • Inspiration: BW Blackarachnia
      • Alt Mode: Black widow
      • Notes: Retool of Tarantulas
    • Waspinator – the universe hates Waspinator. He isn’t particularly bright or strong, but that doesn’t explain why he is so damn unlucky, and the poor bug-bot spends more time in a CR chamber recuperating than he does in the field. Though he tries to be an effective soldier, Waspinator’s misfortune keeps him from making his mark, and at this point he is defined by his own self-pity.
      • Inspiration: All Waspinators
      • Alt Mode: Wasp
    • Hardshell – one of the few Decepticons who has become enamored with Earth culture, Hardshell fancies himself a cowboy, and constantly talks about the keisters he has to kick. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem keen on being a heroic cowboy, and is instead just a violent, triggerhappy thug who’s always itching to blast a hole in his enemies. He has no sense of honor or loyalty, and his simple minded ways make him easily manipulated by more ambitious villains within the Decepticon fold.
      • Inspiration: G1 Bombshell (design), BW Quickstrike (personality)
      • Alt Mode: Rhinoceros beetle
    • Antagony – due to a mishap in her reformatting, Antagony’s psyche is mixed with that of an actual ant. She views Scorponok as her “Queen” and the rest of the Predacons as her “colony.” Like a good ant, she is loyal to a fault, and would gleefully give her life to protect her colony from destruction. In a similar vein, she hates all others with a rabid intensity, as any creature that isn’t a part of the colony must be a threat to it.
      • Inspiration: BW Inferno
      • Alt Mode: Ant
      • Notes: Retool of Waspinator
    • Other Notes: I view these guys as the Decepticon’s rival beast team for the Autobots’ Dinobot allies, though they’re also sort of their own separate faction. Scorponok allows us to have our cake and eat it too, distilling the most diabolical elements of Megatrons past into a frightfully competent villain. Tarantulas also brings a wonderful level of crazy – Sins of the Wreckers reminded me how much I missed his utterly depraved style of villainy. Blackarachnia gives us yet another different take on a rebel Decepticon, while Hardshell and Antagony bring two more of my favorite Beast Wars characters into the story, albeit under different names.
  • Constructicons – the result of Shockwave’s attempt to recreate the “Enigma of Combination” based on his study of the Dinobots, four Decepticon builders were used as test subjects to create the first modern combiner in the Decepticon army. The builders were then officially drafted into the military, becoming the quarrelsome quarter known as the Constructicons.
    • Mixmaster – a bossy loudmouth, Mixmaster fancies himself the leader of the Constructicons, though his “grand plans” are generally pretty low-stake – i.e. consuming high grade fuels in large quantities, catcalling sports cars, and generally acting like a robot frat boy. On his own he’s not much of a physical threat, but the raw power of becoming Devastator has proved addictive, and Mixmaster is quick to embrace it despite how monstrous the combiner is.
      • Inspiration: Animated Mixmaster
      • Alt Mode: Cement Mixer
      • Combiner Part: Head
    • Scrapper – a perpetual follower, Scrapper just wants to do his job, get a pat on the back, and drink high grade fuel until he blacks out. He’s easily manipulated by others because he hates interpersonal conflict, and absolutely hates becoming Devastator.
      • Inspiration: Animated Scrapper
      • Alt Mode: Excavator
      • Combiner Part: Right arm
    • Demolisher – as his name implies, Demolisher’s favorite part of being a Constructicon is getting to smash stuff to pieces, and as long as he gets to break things, he’s happy. He loves the destruction he can wreak as Devastator, even if having three other voices in his head is a bit annoying.
      • Inspiration: G1 Bonecrusher
      • Alt Mode: Bulldozer
      • Combiner Part: Left arm
    • Long Haul – having taken other people’s crap since the day he was made a Constructicon, Long Haul is used to following orders from others, even when they don’t make sense or seem needlessly cruel. Long Haul has no strong feelings on becoming Devastator, as it’s really not that different from just being Long Haul.
      • Inspiration: G1 Long Haul
      • Alt Mode: Dump truck
      • Combiner Part: Hips and legs
    • Combined Form: Devastator – while not exactly mindless (indeed, it’s actually a SURPLUS of thought that renders Devastator so volatile), the only thought that Devastator can agree to act on is the urge to destroy any and everything in sight. It is aptly named.
    • Other Notes: One of the few compliments I’ll give Bay’s horrible Transformers movies is that their monstrous, chaotic, assymetrical take on Devastator was REALLY COOL, even if it was hampered by the Bayformers approach to character design (i.e. smother everything in unnecessary detail so it’s hard to tell what the hell you’re looking at). It would be a starting point for this series’ approach to combiner design – rather than make clean, humanoid titans, our combiners would all have an element of monstrousness to them. Some might be closer to the original humanoid combiners (Victorion above, Destron below), and some might be cohesive in their own way (the dragon-like Dinobot combiner Slammoth may not be humanoid, but it would look fairly natural), but still, there’d be more diversity than is normal. Devastator here would be the most monstrous by far though.
  • Combaticons – originally a trio of Decepticon mercenaries, the Combaticons became more than a gang of thugs when Swindle sold them a Combiner upgrade he purchased fron Brainstorm. They forced the arms dealer to take it with them just in case it backfired, and as a result Bruticus was born.
    • Onslaught – a veteran of many Decepticon battles, Onslaught pines for the day when the Decepticon army finally vanquishes their hated Autobot enemies and reclaims their home planet. He’s sure that day will come any day now, and gleefully aims to make as many Autobot corpses as he can to make that day come sooner. Thousands of years of war have taken a toll on him, though, and many note that Onslaught has gotten a little crazy over the years.
      • Inspiration: G1 Onslaught
      • Alt Mode: Anti-aircraft truck
      • Combiner Part: Head & chest
    • Bonecrusher – a good Decepticon soldier, Bonecrusher hates the Autobots more than anything, and even has a necklace of Autobot badges he sometimes wears when he’s feeling fancy. Like Onslaught, he dreams of the day when the Decepticons can take their planet back, though at this point he’s lost all hopes of achieving that dream. Instead Bonecrusher hopes to take down as many Autobots as he can before his own innevitable end.
      • Inspiration: G1 Brawl
      • Alt Mode: Tank
      • Combiner Part: Hips & legs
    • Spinister – though most consider him little more than a dumb brute, Spinister is actually an idiot savant. While it’s true that he’s dumb as a stump when it comes to most subjects, he is unusually skilled at surgery, and pulls double duty as the Combaticons’ field medic and air support.
      • Inspiration: IDW Spinister
      • Alt Mode: Cobra style helicopter
      • Combiner Part: Left arm
    • Swindle – once an Autobot, Swindle is a cybertronian arms dealer who is particularly fond of Decepticons. Though his merchandise is reliable, his business practices lack any ethics, as Swindle does whatever it takes to make the most money. He is eventually drafted into the Decepticons by Onslaught and his Combaticons when they first form Bruticus.
      • Inspiration: G1 and Animated Swindle
      • Alt Mode: Humvee
      • Combiner Part: Right arm
    • Combined Form: Bruticus – with the personality of three mercenaries and one con artist weapons dealer, Bruticus is a triggerhappy thug who can be fiendishly clever on occasion. More than anything, Bruticus loves combat, though he can be swayed from his violent impulses if given the right incentive – or at least directed to a different target.
    • Other Notes: I kinda want these guys to feel like the mercs from Team Fortress 2.
  • Decepticon Justice Division – a group of five Decepticons whose job is to make sure other Decepticons are sufficiently loyal to the cause, punishing those who aren’t with extreme prejudice. Upon hearing that Shockwave had cracked the Enigma of Combination, the DJD demanded to be made into a combiner for the glory of the Decepticon Empire.
    • High Inquisitor Tarn – a well cultured serial killer, Tarn believes that the multiple atrocities he has perpetrated against Decepticon and Autobot alike are all justified, as they are necessary evils to bring about the glorious reign of the Decepticon Empire. He hates organics and Autobots with a passion, but hates “treasonous” Decepticons most of all, as nothing is more shameful than betraying the Decepticon cause.
      • Inspiration: IDW Tarn
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian Tank
      • Combiner Part: Torso
    • Inquisitor Vos – deeply religious, Vos only speaks in the Primal Vernacular (the language of the Quintessons). He’s the most enigmatic of the DJD, and has truly disquieting methods of torture at his disposal.
      • Inspiration: IDW Vos
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian canon
      • Combiner Part: Right arm
    • Inquisitor Kaon – the “good cop” of the DJD, Kaon pretends to be sympathetic and caring when interrogating his victims, only slipping into torture mode once he feels he’s sufficiently built up their trust.
      • Inspiration: IDW Kaon
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian car (designed to restrain and shock other Cybertronians)
      • Combiner Part: Left arm
    • Inquisitor Helex – though he’d insist he’s just doing his job, Helex is as much of a sadist as his colleagues. One torture he delights in involves removing the brain module of his victims and place it in their mouths, forcing them to literally eat their treasonous thoughts.
      • Inspiration: IDW Helex
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian mobile smelting pool
      • Combiner Part: Right Leg
    • Inquisitor Tesarus – Tesarus is the only DJD member with no delusions about what he is. He knows he’s a cold blooded murderer and revels in every minute of it.
      • Inspiration: IDW Tesarus
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian mobile metal grinder
      • Combiner Part: Left Leg
    • Combined Form: Destron – United by their zealousness for the Decepticon cause and sadistic tendencies, Destron is the ideal Decepticon soldier. Strong, enormous, resilient, and dedicated to annihilating the Autobots, Destron is the most fiendishly intelligent combiner in the Decepticon ranks, and a terror to all who behold him on the battlefield.
    • Other Notes: Unlike their comic counterparts, the full extent of this DJD’s villainy would be implied rather than shown in grisly detail, but they’d still fulfill an important role as the villains that other villains fear.
  • Decepticon Heavy Brigade
    • Sixshot – the leader of the DHB, Sixshot is a nigh-invincible Decepticon soldier and the pinnacle of multi-alt-mode technology, sporting six total modes in all. Versatile, competent, and deadly, there are few challenges Sixshot can’t overcome, which may be why he’s so damn bored and dispassionate all the time. The multi-mode Decepticon wishes he could be thrilled again, but every new victory proves to incredibly dull that he can’t help but feel depressed.
      • Inspiration: G1 Six Shot (personality), RID Megatron/Gigatron (design)
      • Alt Modes: Cybertronian dragon, jet, racecar, Cybertronian elephant, giant hand
    • Tidalwave – one of the largest Decepticons ever forged, Tidalwave was designed as a Titan-killer, though he isn’t as large as Autobot Titans like Omega Supreme. Single-minded and easily frustrated, Tidalwave isn’t quite dumb muscle, but he is far from the greatest mind the Decepticons have to offer.
      • Inspiration: Unicron Trilogy Tidal Wave
      • Alt Mode: Aircraft carrier
    • Blackout – another abnormally large Decepticon, Blackout was a more successful Titan-killer than Tidalwave despite being somewhat smaller, as he ultimately proved to have a better grasp of anatomy and battle tactics. Though his current work under Sixshot isn’t quite as thrilling as hunting the largest Transformers ever made, Blackout takes it all in stride, and is a dependable Decepticon warrior.
      • Inspiration: Movie & Animated Blackout
      • Alt Mode: Sea knight style helicopter
    • Other Notes: Like the Elite Guard, these three would appear in a few cameo episodes early on, before joining the main Decepticons for good late in the series to show that the stakes have been well and truly raised.
  • Galvatron’s Imperial Court
    • Galvatron, Emperor of Destruction – a mad tyrant, Galvatron believes the Decepticons are destined to rule the universe, and will do anything he deems necessary to reach that glorious future. His imperialistic aspirations are hampered by his depravity, as Galvatron’s rule has twisted the Decepticons into a treacherous group of selfish despots-in-waiting. Galvatron’s rule is kept in place by his immense power and complete lack of inhibitions, as everyone in the mad tyrant’s presence knows they are just one fleeting thought away from being hit with the wrong end of the dictator’s fusion canon.
      • Inspiration: G1 Galvatron, Prime Megatron
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian spaceship
    • General Straxus – the closest thing Galvatron has to a friend, Straxus desperately tries to rein in Galvatron’s insanity. This isn’t because Straxus is a good person, of course, but rather because Straxus actually wants the Decepticon Empire to succeed in its goals, and knows it cannot do so unless Galvatron acts at least a little stable. Straxus is just as cruel as his Emperor and has wicked plans for the Autobots and the universe at large, but his cruelty is tempered with a practical mindset that his master sorely needs.
      • Inspiration: G1 Straxus
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian spider-tank
    • General Jhiaxus – Galvatron’s pet mad scientist, Jhiaxus’s experiments are bold even by Decepticon standards, and his ethics are completely nonexistent. Worryingly, Jhiaxus has been probing into the ancient history of his kind, and may have made contact with some of the Quintesson’s more unsavory creations…
      • Inspiration: G1 Jhiaxus
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian jet
    • Other Notes: If Megatron is all that’s noble in most Decepticon leaders, and Scorponok all that is wicked, then Galvatron is all that is batshit crazy, a frothing madman whose insane dreams are running his people into the ground by making their lives an endless war. Straxus and Jhiaxus are his enablers and exploiters, making a villainous trifecta that we can pretty comfortably blame stoking the more negative aspects of Decepticon culture. The Decepticons are rebels at heart, and the only way they can redeem themselves is through a second, more positive rebellion, and for that they need someone to rebel against. That’s where these three come in.
  • Misc. Decepticons
    • Overlord Gigatron – a General of equal rank as Megatron, Overlord Gigatron has officially rebelled against Galavatron and the rest of the Decepticon Imperial Court. Though he claims he wants to pull off a successful coup, Overlord’s actions show his real goal is just to spread chaos as much as possible, often without any regard for his own life. Overlord seeks a challenge more than anything, which is why he often returns to bother Megatron, as the Decepticon General always proved more than a match for Overlord in the past. Indeed, one of Overlord’s fondest wishes is to finally prove his superiority to Megatron once and for all.
      • Inspiration: IDW Overlord
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian Tank/jet hybrid
      • Other Notes: IDW’s Overlord is a terrifying villain and I think it’s a waste not to include him.
    • Kilotron – founder of the Decepticon movement, Kilotron is long dead by the time our story starts, but his legacy lives on. He was the first Decepticon to rebel against the Quintesson and famously concieved the movement’s arc words, “You are being decieved.”
      • Inspiration: IDW Megatron, Megatronus/the Fallen
      • Alt Mode: Cybetronian tank
      • Other Notes: Honestly, this is mostly an excuse to point out how 1. kilo < mega < giga is a thing, 2. there’s a bit of a precedent of having a second big bad decepticon named Gigatron in stories that have Megatrons, and 3. Kilotron is a badass sounding name.

Forces of Unicron

  • Unicron – the ultimate Quintesson doomsday weapon, Unicron was made to destroy Cybetron in retaliation for the Decepticon uprising. However, the first activation of the device proved catastrophic, as Unicron was immediately hostile to his masters. The monstrous transformer destroyed the second Quintesson homeworld and scatters his creators across the Cosmos before his energon reserves thankfull ran low. Forced into stasis lock, the colossal transformer currently lies in wait while his five minions scour the Universe for a means to reactivate their dread master.
    • Inspiration: All Unicrons
    • Alt Mode: Death star-esque war world
    • Other Notes: Unicron can be a really effective villain when used as the climax of the series. He gets undercut if you use him as the threat for your first season, though – you really need to build him up, first of all, and dear god how can you top fighting a living goddamn planet?
  • Terrorcons – the knights of Unicron, these five transformers were made to aid the colossal transformer in his destruction of Cybertron. They followed their orders too well, helping their master wage war on his creators, and now search the universe for a means to reawaken the Chaos Bringer once more.
    • Thrustor – Herald of Unicron, Thrustor is a fast talking con artist skilled in making Faustian bargains on his boss’s behalf. The cunning robot may not be much of a physical threat, but makes up for his lack of fighting prowess by crafting devious schemes.
      • Inspiration: Armada Thrust
      • Alt Mode: Cybertronian Motorcycle
    • Nemesis Prime – Knight of Conquest, Nemesis Prime reformats himself to imitate the shape of great warriros, and currently wears the face of Optimus Prime. He conquers and subjugates others for the sake of Unicron, creating vast legions of slave warriors for his wicked master.
      • Inspiration: RID Scourge, Nemesis Prime
      • Alt Mode: Semi truck cab
    • Shockaract – Knight of War, Shockaract causes strife and discord whereever he goes, either with his words or, should that prove too difficult, with the anger-inspiring toxin called Angolmois. By seeding conflict, Shockaract makes the enemies of Unicron turn upon themselves, making it easier for his master to destroy them in turn.
      • Inspiration: Shockaract
      • Alt Mode: AT-ST-like bipedal war machine
    • Thunderwing – Knight of Plague, Thunderwing studies the biology of Unicron’s foes and develops potent pathogens to weaken and kill them. He also attacks environments, rendering the homelands of Unicron’s enemies uninhabitable.
      • Inspiration: IDW Thunderwing
      • Alt Mode: Quintesson spacecraft
    • Violen Jiger – Knight of Death, Violen Jiger’s job is simple: kill as much as possible. He excels at it.
      • Inspiration: Violen Jiger
      • Alt Mode: Quintesson warship
    • Other Notes: Yeah these guys are a little flat, but they’re the robotic Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Do they really need to be more than that?

Unaligned Transformerss

  • Sideways – a transformer of unknown allegiance, Sideways works with both Autobots and Decepticons when it suits him, but always seems to be working toward his own agenda. Sideways is actually a new creation of the Quintessons, and has rebelled against his masters in order to stop the rise of Unicron.
    • Inspiration: Armada Sideways, BM Thrust (design)
    • Alt Mode: Motorcycle
    • Other Notes: I really liked it when we didn’t know what Sideways’ goal was in Transformers Armada, and was disappointed when he turned out to just be evil. I’m a huge fan of trickster characters, which is what Sideways felt like until her turned out to be just a standard doomsday villain. So why not try out a true trickster Sideways?
  • Lockdown – Formerly an Autobot, Lockdown is a bounty hunter/mercenary who constantly upgrades himself, often with parts from the perpetrators he’s sent to capture and/or kill. Though he gets most of his jobs from the Decepticons, he works within the confines of the Tyrest Acords, which means he technically isn’t a criminal by Autobot standards. Tends to end his sentences with a question, yes?
      • Inspiration: Animated Lockdown, Death’s Head
      • Alt Mode: Muscle car
      • Other Notes: See? I told you he’d be here!
  • Skybyte – a non-Cybertronian creation of the Quintesson Empire, Skybyte is an escaped sharkticon who wants to write poetry. Though both sides initially try to recruit him, he remains a free agent, and is somewhat blissfully unaware of how serious the conflict between Autobot and Decepticons really is. He gets along well with the Dinobots.
    • Inspiration: RID Sky-Byte, Animated Wreck Gar
    • Alt Mod: Space-shark
    • Other Notes: I love the idea of a harmless yet powerful neutral character being thrown into a conflict and just not giving a shit about it, and it felt like a good place for Skybyte. Plus how could I say no to a haiku-writing shark?
  • Swindle – see Combaticons above

Finally, let’s have a basic summary of how the three seasons of this show would go. Yeah, just three – that’s about how long a Transformers TV series lasts on average, and I think the best stories are told with an ending in mind.

Season Arcs

Season 1 – More Than Meets the Eye

The Lost Light, an Autobot research and exploration vessel, discovers the Autobot criminal Whirl floating out in space. Raving, Whirl claims to have found a remote planet full of Cybertronian artifacts, and that someone is coming for him. Sure enough, the Darksyde, an enormous Decepticon warship run by the infamous General Megatron, approaches the Lost Light and demands that they return Whirl to their custody. The two ships come to blows and crashland on the very planet Whirl talked about: Earth. Bound by the Tyrest Accords, both crews take on disguises based on earth vehicles and scour the planet for the lost artifacts in hopes of ending the war between their factions once and for all. Towards the end of the season, both factions discover that the planet is home to primitive transformers long though extinct, culminating in a battle between the Autobot aligned Dinobots and the Decepticon controlled titan Trypticon.

Season 2 – Combiner Wars

After learning that the Dinobots can combine at the end of last season, both Autobots and Decepticons alike begin work on unraveling the “Enigma of Combination.” Multiple combiners are made, new Autobot and Decepticon troops from Cybertron are introduced, and the season ends with yet another battle of titans, one so large that it forces both factions to abandon Earth for fear of being discovered. Alongside this main season plot are hints of a greater threat to both factions of Transformers, as well as more discoveries that hint at the true history of Cybertron and its people.

Season 3 – Unicron Rising

Returning to their respective homes after the failed campaign on Earth, both the crew of the Lost Light and the Darksyde find themselves changed by their experiences, and worse, realize that the leaders of their respective factions have gone off the deep end – the Autobots are using a mysterious super-fuel called Dark Energon to revive the long-dead Titans in hopes of destroying the Decepticons once and for all, while the Decepticon Emperor Galvatron has allied himself with a quintet of strange transformers called the Knights of Unicron, all of whom speak of a weapon of unfathomable power out in space. Our two crews learn the truth about the origins of Cybertron, and that Unicron, the most powerful Quintesson creation of all time, will soon destroy their home planet unless they find the ultimate artifact that can be used against it: the Matrix of Leadership. Working together, the crews of the Lost Light and the Darksyde return to Earth one last time to find the Matrix and rally old allies so they can save their planet and, hopefully, end the Great War once and for all.

Posted in Creepy Columns, How I'd Ruin It | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ICHF: The Alien Queen

Alien Queen

In a previous entry, we discussed how The Alien from Alien was perfectly symbolic of xenophobia, i.e. the fear of what is different or “other.”  However, Alien isn’t a standalone movie – it has several sequels, and as I’ve discussed in other entries of this series, a monster will develop as a character as its story continues to grow.  The more we see of a monster, the more we learn about it, and the more it has a chance to change as a character.  The more sequels a story has, the more the monster is known and changes.  If this is the case, then we have to ask a question: how can The Alien continue to represent fear of what is different, unknown, and other, if we start to know it better?

Many horror scholars have argued that it can’t, and they point to the first sequel movie, Aliens, as proof.

Aliens had a huge task before it.  Its predecessor was not only a hugely successful movie, but one that was hailed as being a huge innovation in film and the horror genre (rightly so).  While people would obviously shell out money for another one, actually meeting their expectations would be extremely difficult.  Bad sequels are so common in the horror genre that they were considered the greatest problem in it until our recent remake craze (I think there are bigger problems than both of those in horror to be honest, but those are easy targets to pick on because they’re so shamelessly money driven).  Who would want to make the bad sequel to the masterpiece and instant genre landmark that was Alien?  Yet how on earth could you make a good one?  You can’t just copy the original when part of what made the original work was the fact that it was so unexpected.  You’d have to do something that had the same shock value and unexpected innovation while still feeling like it takes place in the same world as the first.  It’s a tricky problem to solve!

Yet Aliens managed to pull it off for the most part.  They took the same world, monster, and protagonist, and even the same plot structure – people are in space, people find alien threat, alien threat kills people, protagonist escapes alien threat, alien threat unexpectedly returns, alien threat is jettisoned into space, all is well and safe, roll credits – and then changed pretty much everything else.  The first film’s cast was made of a dozen or so working class people (and one secret evil robot).  The second film has a cast of a dozen space soldiers, one badass survivor from the first film, a skeezy corporate executive, a non-secret non-evil robot, and a scrappy little girl.  The first film dealt with one alien wreaking havoc in a spaceship.  The second deals with a whole army of them that have taken over an entire planet, with the humans invading what is now their home instead.  In the first film the humans had to struggle to find a way to hurt the monster, since they had no weapons.  In the second the humans are pretty well armed, but are up against so many of the damn monsters that they’re still outgunned.  The changes were deep enough to make the story seem fresh, yet still retained enough elements of the original movie (including that basic story structure) to feel like it was part of the same tale.  As far as sequels go, it was pretty satisfying.  However, those changes actually modified a lot more than you might think.  Aliens didn’t just shake up the scenario – it shook up the monster and, perhaps, even the genre of Horror being used.

Alien was loosely inspired by the movie It! The Terror from Beyond Space, a 1950’s monster movie about a single alien monster wreaking havoc on a spaceship.  While It!  The Terror from Beyond Space was pure Atomic Horror (fear of unchecked scientific advancement and the modern world leading to monsters and evil), Alien was Cosmic Horror (where fear of knowledge itself, be it from the past or about the future, is a source of horror because everything unknown is pure evil).  The sequel Aliens went to a different 1950’s monster flick for inspiration – the giant monster movie Them!, wherein giant, radioactive ants begin eating small towns, cattle, and eventually set up a colony in the sewers beneath a city. The traumatized little girl serving as the only living witness to the horror, the military facing off against a horde of crawling monsters, and even the final battle with a large, even more dangerous “Queen” monster are all key story elements that Aliens “borrowed” from Them!.  These elements helped keep the story fresh, but they also shifted the story from Cosmic Horror to Atomic Horror, and the reason why all comes down to how they change the monster.

The Aliens, now dubbed Xenomorphs (a fitting name – it means “Different Form”) are shown in their natural habitat in Aliens – or at least a close approximation of it.  While Alien put this strange monster in a place made for humans and let it tear that place apart, Aliens forces the humans to invade the monster’s home instead.  We see what the aliens do when they’ve been allowed time to settle down.  They cover everything in a strange organic substance that resembles their own bodies, allowing them to blend into the territory better.  They hang victims/hosts for their young from the walls while waiting for the young to finish gestating.  They hunt for food and hosts occasionally (mostly at night… mostly), but otherwise seem content to stay in their “hive.”  In short, they behave much like ants or bees, and while that’s a bit different from how humans behave, it’s knowledge that makes the creatures easier to understand.  They are less different because of it – still inhuman, but inhuman in a recognizable way.  Most people have encountered ants or bees.  We know what they do.

This behavior also softens the Aliens’ image a bit, because they’re no longer solely devoted to death.  The Aliens fight to defend their home.  They take care of their young.  They gather food.  These are not forces of pure destruction.  They’re just animals – dangerous, aggressive, possibly intelligent animals, but animals nonetheless.

With the malevolence of the monsters being downplayed this time around, the non-Alien antagonist of the film is given room to be more wicked.  The first film had a non-Alien antagonist too, in the form of the secret evil robot who worked for The Company (DUN DUN DUN!).  He was definitely a secondary villain, akin to the cultists of the Cthuluh mythos – while he unleashed the evil, the evil itself was so beyond him in motives and power that he couldn’t help but be overshadowed by it.  Aliens introduced another representative of The Company (DUN DUN DUN!), a weasely little corporate go-getter named Burke who not only tricks everyone into exploring the Alien planet, but also actively tries to get them all killed so he can take back a specimen of the Alien species to use for… company… stuff.  While Burke lacks the power of the Aliens, his villainy is a conscious choice, and that’s actually a lot more reprehensible.  We could even argue he’s a greater threat than the Aliens themselves, since he and other members of The Company (DUN DUN DUN!) threw people into the Aliens’ path.  Ripley, the protagonist of this series, sums it up: “You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

That is, to me, the moment where Aliens changed the series’ genre.  The deadly space monsters aren’t the true evil at work here.  They may be vicious and terrifying, sure, but they’re not wicked by choice.  It’s humanity’s need for progress – uncontrolled, careless, cruel, thoughtless progress for the sake of progress – that unleashes the horror and creates evil.  Space may be a scary place where no one can hear you scream, but it’s the assholes who force us to explore it before we’re ready that make it dangerous.  That’s pure Atomic Horror.

Which leads us to my favorite character and scene of the movie, The Alien Queen.  At the climax of the film, Ripley journeys deep into the Aliens’ hive to save the traumatized little girl before the planet is nuked from orbit (the only way to be sure).  It’s tense because holy crap there are a lot of Aliens, but Ripley takes care of them with a flamethrower/ray gun weapon pretty easily.  She gets Newt (the little girl) and tries to make her escape, only to run right into a room filled with Alien eggs.  She looks up and sees a massive creature that is laying the eggs – a beast so large that it actually looked like it was part of the scenery until it started moving.  This is the Alien Queen, a T.rex-sized version of the Alien and mother to the hive.

I love this scene for a lot of reasons.  One of them is how effectively it ups the stakes.  We’ve been dealing with a threat that seems insurmountable from the start of this movie.  Anyone who saw the first movie knows that The Alien is a badass murder monster that you cannot underestimate, and yet that’s just what our marines do.  Then they get slaughtered, and the few survivors realize that, yeah, this is going to be tough.  Sure, they kill a good number of The Aliens, but it barely even dents their overall numbers – they just keep coming, man!  The Aliens even show signs of being really intelligent.  Eventually our survivors figure out a decent plan – nuke the damn planet and get out (not in that order).  Even The Aliens can’t survive a nuke, and while Ripley’s impromptu rescue mission is harrowing, she’s proven herself more than capable of succeeding.  As the audience, we can be pretty comfortable knowing she has a decent shot at winning – until the Queen shows up.  Suddenly everything we knew about the threat is thrown out the window, because, even this far in the movie, there are still HUGE, TERRIFYING secrets yet to uncover.  The Aliens are still unknowable, and that means they’re still horrifying.  Xenophobia, baby.

Yet another thing that makes the Alien Queen so terrifying is that she’s kind of familiar.  She immediately hisses at Ripley because Ripley is holding a flamethrower to her eggs.  Other Aliens pop up to try and help their mother take care of the intruder, but the Queen signals for them to back off because she knows Ripley’s going to torch her babies if they do.  We’ve spent an entire movie seeing how maternal instincts have turned Ripley from a shell-shocked survivor into a hardcore monster-slayer, and now we see that the Aliens can have that same drive.  The Alien Queen isn’t scary just because she’s big – she’s scary because she’s a mother.  She’s not attacking the heroes because she’s a predator – she’s attacking them because it’s personal.  She has kids to feed dammit!

It doesn’t feel unnatural, though, because The Aliens were made to take familiar concepts and make them feel unfamiliar and awful.  Just as they corrupt birth and the human form, they corrupt parenthood.  One of humanity’s most noble aspirations becomes the motivation for an implacable monster that will stop at nothing to protect or, failing that, avenge its children.

This scene is also a great Sympathy for the Monster moment, which I think is something of a trademark for Atomic Horror stories.  I mean, other horror stories will give you moments of sympathy for their monsters too (except perhaps Cosmic Horror), but I feel they happen way more often in Atomic Horror, often because the monsters are just as much victims of progress as the people they terrorize.  The Alien Queen is exactly like Ripley.  She got stuck on a planet and did what she needed to survive, and in the process gained a family.  Now she’s drawn into a conflict with a hostile alien species that has killed numerous members of her own kind, and, like any good mother, she fights tooth and nail to protect what she has.  She’s going to save her kids, and then she’s going to kill every last one of those hostile aliens to make sure they stay safe.  It’s the only way to be sure.  They may be more predatory and bestial, but make no mistake – The Aliens are more similar to us than we think, and that only makes them more dangerous.

Aliens and, by extension, the Queen herself are central to a debate amongst fans of Alien: namely, did Aliens and the other sequels ruin The Alien’s symbolism and horror potential?  It’s a fair question, and the answer really depends on what you want The Alien to be.  If you want it to be pure, terrifying xenophobia made flesh – an unsympathetic, utterly inhuman avatar of death and all that is strange and terrifyingly unknowable, well, yeah,  Aliens and the Queen pretty much ruined that.

However, I don’t think there’s a way The Alien could have remained PURE UNKNOWN if the story was to continue.  Even if it just kept being wantonly destructive and growing into new hideous forms that committed new acts of sexual imagery-laden violence, we would eventually “know” it.  It would be understandable.  The story, by nature of continuing, helps us know this monster better.  Aliens chose to do so by revealing new facts about the creature that we wouldn’t expect.  They may make the monster more relatable to known creatures, but they’re still scary facts.  Knowing that they work together like ants is terrifying, because an army of creatures this deadly is practically unstoppable.  Knowing that they’re lead by a dinosaur-sized monster queen is terrifying, because she’s even harder to kill.  Knowing that they, or at least their queen, can be motivated by love to seek revenge is terrifying, because we know how strong that emotion can be.  We understand the monster better, sure, but that understanding doesn’t decrease the terror.

In short, Alien had a monster who said “I am different, and that is terrifying.”  Aliens had that monster say, “I may be familiar, but I am still different, and I will kill you no matter how well you know me, and that is terrifying”.  If you’re cool with that, then Aliens didn’t ruin the story – it just fleshed it out, and did so well.  If not, hey, you have a right to your opinion, and Alien works perfectly well as a standalone film.

Posted in Atomic Horror Characters, Cosmic Horror Characters, Creepy Columns, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How I’d Ruin It: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It’s time for another How I’d Ruin It, the article series about how a writer who’s a huge fan of a certain work of fiction can still be absolutely garbage at writing for it, because loving something doesn’t mean you’re capable of reproducing it.  The subject of this particular article will be Joss Whedon’s most famous television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This series was incredibly formative for me in my youth, and while I’m more aware of its faults as an adult, I still love it to pieces.  Its influence can be seen on my writing quite a bit – but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t cock it up royally if I was, say, the showrunner of a Buffy reboot.  How would said cock upping go?  Well, read on!

I still feel there’s a lot to love in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It has terrific characters, quippy dialogue, and, in its best episodes, a wonderful balance of horror, comedy, and adolescent drama.  Merging a Spider-Man style coming of age superhero narrative with various horror stories works way better than one might think, especially given how much horror of the 80’s and 90’s focused on teenage characters.  The show gathered a cast of marvelous actors and (along with The X Files) pioneered the “myth arc” in television, quickly becoming something more than just a monster of the week show.

At the same time, though, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has some very large flaws.  You’ve got your standard “literally all the main characters are white people” problem, of course, and while the show eventually had some LGBT representation, it also has a very dated idea of how sexuality works (Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t think bisexuality is a thing, for example).  For all its reputation for girl power, the show’s protagonist constantly talks about her strength as if it’s a burden she would rather be rid of, and the more promiscuous a woman is on the show, the more likely she is to be evil.  The show also struggles to criticize all but the most obvious forms of misogyny, with one of the main characters suffering from an extreme case of Nice Guy syndrome.  There’s also a late season reveal that the whole Slayer lineage that Buffy is a part of began when several male wizards cursed a woman to be part demon so she could fight monsters as their weapon, and while that may have been intended as a dig at the patriarchy, in the end it comes off as saying that women who can fight back are unnatural and had to be literally empowered by men, which has some really unfortunate implications.

I don’t think anyone would object to fixing those issues.  That might not be the case with some other aspects of the series I know I’d change, though.  Joss Whedon, the showrunner of Buffy, is famous and infamous for his cruelty toward his characters, being vocal about hating happy endings.  If Buffy is made in the Spider-Man mold (and it is), then it specifically draws from the part of that mold that spiraled into misery porn, where the young hero’s life is a never ending stream of mistakes and bad luck that just gets progressively worse as they go along.  This is especially true in the later seasons of Buffy, which go out of their way to shit on the titular protagonist as much as possible, even to the point of forcing her supporting cast to act out of character on multiple occasions just to make her life more miserable.  Indeed, another criticism of Joss Whedon’s work on the show is that his camera work is downright fetishistic in how it focuses on Buffy Summers when she’s having her many emotional breakdowns, lovingly taking in the sight of her tearful face as she sobs in misery.  The bleak moments of the show are one of its most famous aspects, to the point that you’d definitely piss off a good portion of the fanbase if you, say, cut back on those significantly.

The show’s approach to monsters is also somewhat iconic.  Though at first Buffy the Vampire Slayer threw basically everything at the wall – not just vampires and demons, but werewolves, Mr. Hydes, robots, Frankensteins, genetic mutants, practically every monster imaginable – by season four the mythology of the show solidified, and every monster of the week was basically just another demon.  Vampires had been degraded from serious threats to easily slain mooks by that time as well, and overall the show was less focused on finding unique monster threats each episode, instead putting the soap opera element and seasonal overarching plots in the forefront.  Additionally, the writers of the show operated on a rule that all the supernatural elements had to be metaphors for actual issues people face in real life, and while this generally resulted in superb storytelling, there are notable episodes where the story falls flat because the metaphor behind a certain monster doesn’t actually work in a literal sense, resulting in characters acting in ways that only make sense when you consider what things figuratively represent, rather than what they actually are.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was also inconsistent on how “moral” the monsters in the show were.  While the original intent was that all the monsters were pure evil so that we wouldn’t have any moral concerns about, y’know, the show focusing on a teenager killing sapient creatures who often look very human, as the show went on it had monsters who were recurring characters.  These characters turned out to be more complicated than a “pure evil” creature could be.  As a result, it can be hard to buy into the show’s general insistence that it’s ok to just murder these monsters willy nilly without consequence when, you know, we’ve seen that some can be kinda decent.

So… how would I ruin it?

Well, firstly, I’m a much kinder writer than Joss Whedon is.  Life can be unreasonably miserable, sure.  If you have a pessimistic view of the real world, trust me, I am right there with you.  However, the appeal of fiction to me is that it isn’t the real world.  You don’t have to stay within the bounds of reality in fiction.  I mean, we don’t have vampires and demons in reality either – why can’t fiction have happy endings?  When it comes to Spider-Man style coming of age superhero stories, I prefer to use the earliest Spider-Man comics as an example – the ones where Peter Parker’s story wasn’t that of a hero constantly suffering setbacks, but rather of a young man slowly coming into his own.  Two steps forward, one step back, repeat – a slow progression, fraught with mistakes, and yet unmistakably moving forward.

Yeah, sure, living in a world full of blood sucking supernatural monsters wouldn’t be a cakewalk, but if you had super powers and were able to fight them, wouldn’t it be kind of fun?  I mean, it’s a far less depressing problem than spending five years getting an education degree only to find it doesn’t mean shit because you don’t have ten years of experience like all your competitors do.  Also, if you did it for several years, eventually you’d get pretty good at it.  That’s kind of what a coming of age story is supposed to be about, really – a person getting better and better at dealing with complicated problems.

Secondly, I’d violate many of the show’s rules on how it handles monsters.  Since Buffy the Vampire Slayer became morally complicated anyway, why not make the monsters just as complex as they ended up being from the get go?  The questionable morality of slaying vampires has been part of their mythology for a long time, dating at least back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  A monster with a human shape is supposed to make you feel uneasy about fighting it, and you lose a lot of opportunities for horror and drama by reducing them to being just disposable villains.

The presentation of the monsters would harken back to the earlier seasons of Buffy, with a focus on giving a variety of different origins for an even greater variety of different monster types, and making each one feel, well, special.  There would still be an overarching plot and Big Bad monster for each season, of course, but the monster of the week episodes that make up the bulk of each season wouldn’t be undercut in service of it.  Ideally we’d create a setting that feels chaotic and wild, with dozens of different supernatural entities clashing each season as they vie for their own goals, all while Buffy and her team struggle to preserve humankind.

The resulting show would be less Teenage Drama Misery Porn with Monster Slaying and more of an exploration of identity, both in the “teenagers growing up into adults” sense and the “what does it mean to be human” sense.  The Hellboy comics would be a pretty good example for how it would handle the latter – you can have a story with sympathetic monsters that doesn’t equate real life non-normativity with, like, eating people, you just have to be smart about it.  The original Buffy was very much a “humans kill monsters and that’s good” show, and the few monsters that were exceptions to that rule didn’t do much to change it.  My Buffy would be more of a “humans learn to coexist with the supernatural” story, and that’s going to cause some big differences in tone and plot.  Very big differences, in fact – one might say heretical differences.

Casting for this hypothetical Buffy reboot would specifically aim for diversity.  I don’t have any set race in mind for the characters – they could all be anything, but for the love of god we wouldn’t make them all white, how shitty would that be.  That’s actually a good change and thus not a “ruinous” thing, but I want to note it regardless.

Ok, so, that’s the overall pitch.  Here’s a character breakdown, since characters are my starting point for every story, and the characters really are the strongest aspect of Buffy.

Buffy Summers – Buffy was originally pitched as by Joss as (paraphrased) “the blond girl who always dies in Horror films, except this time she fights back.”  This has caused some confusion among horror fans since often blond leads survive in Horror, and in many ways Buffy fits the archetype of the Final Girl, a character that almost ALWAYS survives their story.  I think Joss probably meant for Buffy to be the other famous archetypal woman role in Horror stories: the promiscuous girl who gets naked and dies earlier than practically anyone else, a character that almost NEVER survives.  Given Buffy’s occasional ditzy moments throughout the series (Buffy Summers was never book smart), there’s some credence to that, though she lacks most of the other character elements of the trope – mainly because Joss Whedon stories rarely treat promiscuous women nicely.  She’s also a very angsty character in general – in 90’s Spider-Man style, 90% of Buffy’s life is composed of “God I hate having to save people’s lives I never get to have fun why do I exist only to feel pain” moments.

So what if we said, y’know, fuck that?

Imagine if you will a young woman who discovers she’s got super powers, that there are monsters in the world, and that she can kick all kinds of ass.  What if her reaction to being a monster slayer wasn’t “Aw man, I wanted to be a cheerleader though?” and instead was “Bitchin’, let’s kick some ass!”  What if she ignores the mundane calls of working for wealth and fame – what if action was her own reward?

In many ways my Buffy would be a bit more like Faith, the “evil” slayer who loves killing monsters and is less enthused about being a typical teenager.  I think there’s something to be said about having a teenage protagonist who knows for a fact that she’s dealing with more important shit than standardized testing and high school cliques, even when most of the authority figures in her life don’t believe her.  I think it would be fun to see a Buffy who just loves her job – she loves dealing with the supernatural, loves learning about all the weird shit in the world, and really, REALLY loves beating the shit out of big slobbering monsters that try to eat her peers.  It would be an inversion of her original character – again, heresy, this is How I’d Ruin It after all – but wouldn’t it be kind of fun?

Buffy would still have trouble balancing her normal life and her superhero life, but over time she’d get better at it.  Her arc would be less about a young woman slowly being torn apart by her supernatural nature, and more about a young woman who finds a way to become a full time Monster Fighter.  She wouldn’t be crushed by the two opposing forces that vie for control of her life – she would challenge and defeat those forces, forging her own path.  Being open minded and naturally rebellious, Buffy would also recognize that the various supernatural forces she faces aren’t inherently evil, and eventually becomes less of a monster slayer and more of a diplomat for humanity – albeit one that’s not afraid to shove a stake through the heart of monsters that aren’t willing to offer humanity the same courtesy.

As for the promiscuity of the archetype Buffy was theoretically a play on… well, I’m of two minds on that.  On the one hand, the way Horror fiction (and fiction in general really) sexualizes teenagers is skeezy as hell and I wouldn’t want to play into it.  At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with teenagers, you know, dating a lot, and having premarital sex isn’t a moral failing, so there’s something to be said for having a protagonist who actively goes against the “Good girls don’t have sex” rule in fiction.  I’m pretty sure we could find a happy medium where we buck the “girls have to be chaste virgins” aspects of the original show without sexualizing teenagers in a skeevy way.  That’s a problem for the nonexistent predominately female writing staff of this hypothetical heretical Buffy reboot to figure out.

Willow: Willow began as Buffy’s nerdy computer geek friend before becoming a witch and a Lesbian.  The show was very insistent on that last label, despite the fact that she was shown to feel sexual attraction to both men AND women throughout its seven seasons.  Again, the show didn’t believe Bisexuality was a thing – you either like women or men, not both.  Willow also got hit with some particularly nasty character development in later seasons for the sake of mining drama – while she started out as one of the most emotionally intelligent, empathetic, and selfless characters in the series, she eventually became one of the most self-centered, selfish, and often thoughtlessly cruel characters.  Oddly, the change started around the same time the writing staff decided she was a Lesbian.

So with Willow my revisions wouldn’t be the total reversal I gave Buffy, but rather a blending of her best parts with a more modern understanding of sexuality for good measure.  Willow would be bisexual because DUH, she’s attracted to men and women – maybe even pansexual if the producers of this nonexistent hypothetical reboot allow us to go into more genderqueer places.  She would still be a powerful wicca and computer nerd – perhaps even developing shades of mad scientist as the series goes on.  She’d keep her empathetic traits as the show goes on, because again, this Buffy wouldn’t be an endless slide into greater misery – it would be a story of people becoming stronger and better the more they face adversity, coming into their own as they leave adolescence.

Xander: Oh, Xander, you fucking shitheel.  Xander Harris was based on Joss Whedon himself by the writer’s own admission, and man, that certainly explains a lot.  I can think of few other characters who have a worse case of Nice Guy Syndrome than Xander.  Throughout the series Xander shows immense entitlement towards his female friends and acquaintances, seething with jealously when they show interest in other guys (even if he’s dating someone else at the time), sniping at anyone they date, and all the while complaining about how girls never go for nice geeky guys like him.  He’s the most xenophobic of the core cast where non-humans are concerned, treated the few ladies he dated pretty poorly, and is just overall a real piece of shit.  The show had the audacity to claim he was the heart of the group in the later seasons, which is laughable since Xander was by far the most emotionally stunted of all the leads – there were vampire and demon characters who showed more understanding of other people’s feelings than he did.

Given the vitriol I have for the character, you probably assume I hated him from the getgo.  Here’s the rub, though: as a teenage boy, I loved Xander.  I though his quips were hilarious, I sympathized with his nerdiness and his inability to get girls, I even felt his jealousy was justified.  In many ways, Xander was authentic – he was, truly, a shitty teenage nerd boy, and when I was a shitty teenage nerd boy, I saw myself in him.  However, I am now a shitty adult nerd man, and as a shitty adult nerd man, I have deep seated self-loathing for my shitty teenager nerd boy past.  What once made Xander loveable now makes him odious.  Characters like Xander shouldn’t be presented as aspirational figures – shitty teenage nerd boys shouldn’t be encouraged.

Xander has positive traits, though.  He’s the only member of the main trio that has no super powers – Xander is the normal human, the Jimmy Olsen of this story, and that’s valuable in a fantastical tale.  You need someone to represent the average joe.  He was also pretty funny – not as funny as I remember, since a lot of his jokes are really mean spirited and awful and born from his entitled feelings towards women, but many of his other jokes are just good fun.  Xander’s actor also elevated a lot of the material he was given – Nicholas Brendon should be commended for making the character more likable than he was written to be.  Xander is salvageable.

So let’s make a Xander who isn’t an entitled Nice Guy shitmouth douche canoe.  Let’s make a Xander who is nerdy, yes, unlucky in love, certainly, but, contrary to general tendencies of teenage boys, is NOT a goddamn dick about it.  It’s less realistic, but dammit, SOMEONE should teach teenage boys that they should treat girls with more respect, and by god, why not let it be reboot Xander?

Giles: I don’t have anything I really want to change about Giles.  He works excellently as a Van Helsing stand-in and surrogate father figure to Buffy, and while their dynamic would change because our reboot Buffy is far more gung ho about vampire-fighting, I wouldn’t do too much different with Giles himself.  Really, the only big change I’d make is that I wouldn’t have Giles abandon Buffy because she needs to grow up without him like he did late in the original show’s run, because that was a stupid out of character decision that the show made him do simply for the sake of making Buffy’s life worse.

Cordelia: Cordelia was a vain Mean Girl queen of the school cheerleader – you know the archetype, it’s in every story about high school ever written – who we slowly learn is more complex than her archetype lets on, and that made her an interesting foil to Buffy.  There really isn’t much that needs to change with her – just remove the show’s constant slut shaming of her and she works just fine.

Oz:  A teenage werewolf in a crappy rock band who’s soft-spoken yet incredibly funny and insightful, Oz was an excellent character who the writing staff struggled to find material for, which led to his inglorious exit from the show (and one of a few cases where the figurative symbolism of a character was directly at odds with what they literally were).  Like Cordelia, there’s not a lot about Oz that needs to change – just aspects of how the show treats/uses him.  He’s a werewolf IN A ROCK BAND, that’s gotta give us at least a few cool plotlines.  Why was there never a Battle of the Monster Bands episode?

Spike: Ok, so, before we dive into Spike, we’re gonna talk about Angel first.  One of the most iconic characters in the show, Angel was one of the most horrible vampires of all time until he was cursed to have a soul once more, which made him realize how horrible his crimes were and become deeply repentant.  What exactly a soul is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s lore is never quite clear – one could say it’s a conscience, but in that case, why do human serial killers do what they do?  And hell, we later see that some vampires WITHOUT souls can feel guilt and remorse, so, uh… well, the show never even attempted to fix the mess it made.  Regardless at how little Angel’s situation makes sense in the grander scheme of the show’s mythos, it was nonetheless compelling to have this one good guy vampire who was trying to atone for literally centuries of killing and eating people.  Angel is an excellent character, his spinoff show was really good, and I have a great deal of fondness for him.

But this is How I’d Ruin It.

So let’s say this reboot exists in a world where vampires aren’t necessarily evil.  They need to drink blood, yes, and since they essentially reproduce by turning humans into more vampires via blood drinking, they have an inherent desire to drink human blood in particular.  By nature, they’re inclined to be antagonistic/predatory toward humankind, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently malicious.

In the original show, Spike was another infamous vampire, having killed TWO slayers in his undeath.  Yet he was complicated – Spike felt romantic love, first for his partner Drusilla, and eventually for Buffy herself.  While Spike was decidedly amoral and liked to start shit, he could at times be compassionate and selfless, and generally did everything he could to do right by those he cared about.  He was evil for most of the show, but he wasn’t pure evil – there was good in him too.  One demon noted that he had more humanity than was normal for a vampire – moreso than Angel’s soulless vampire persona did.

Since vampires in this reboot aren’t inherently evil, Angel’s whole “vampire with a soul” arc doesn’t really work.  So why not just, like, skip it?  Let’s jump straight to a better version of Spike – a vampire who accepts his monstrousness, who revels in being wild and uncivilized, but has a heart despite it all.  He has no qualms about eating people at first, and yes, he has killed two Vampire Slayers before (to be fair, their job description gives him a reason to), but over time he’s, well, tamed slightly.  Just as Buffy comes to learn the monster situation isn’t strictly Good vs. Evil, so Spike would learn that monsters don’t HAVE to prey upon humanity.

Also none of the stuff in season six would ever happen.  Well, ok, “Rest In Peace” would because that song kicks ass, but all the rest of it?  No.

I could go on and on – there’s a lot of great characters in Buffy, but as much as I’d like to dive into what we could do with people like Jenny Calendar and Harmony, I also want to publish this eventually, so let’s end on two characters I absolutely hate and call it a day.

Riley Finn: Riley was Buffy’s second big love interest and actually beats Xander in the “Jos Whedon never criticized this guy for his super-prevalent misogyny because Joss Whedon related too much to him” race.  Riley is a soldier in a top secret government agency devoted to fighting monsters, and the bulk of his drama with Buffy stems from how emasculated he feels because Buffy is stronger than him and doesn’t dote on his every waking moment.  The show, horrifically, treats this as Buffy’s fault, even having Xander “Heart of the group my ass” Harris call her out for how she drove Riley to cheat on her by, uh, trying to deal with her mother’s death and never acknowledging that her strength made him feel weak or whatever.  Oh, yeah, that’s a plot point: Riley cheated on Buffy with vampire hookers, and somehow this was Buffy’s fault.  Would it surprise you if I told you Joss Whedon was cheating on his own wife when making this show?

Oh, oh!  Also!  Riley is the only character on Buffy to get a happy ending.  While Buffy’s life goes to shit, Riley meets another woman – one who’s strong but not stronger than him, beautiful, and follows his orders – and lives happily ever after as a badass, well financed, globetrotting demon killer.  Of all fucking characters, fucking RILEY FINN is the one who gets a happy ending.

Riley fucking sucks.  I wouldn’t change that – I’d keep him entirely intact.  What I would change is his relationship with Buffy – beyond a brief flirtation, they would never get together, as Buffy would quickly recognize him for the hypocritical lying piece of shit he is, and when Buffy comes into conflict with his organization, they would come to blows only for Buffy to whup his ass.  Then he’d get eaten by a monster and die forever.

Dawn Summers: To make Buffy’s life extra shitty, the later seasons retconned things so that she would have a younger sister, just in time for Buffy’s mom to die, which in turn forced Buffy to drop out of college so she could work shitty jobs to try and provide for Dawn.  Dawn, in turn, is basically every awful strident teenager in fiction rolled into a pile of tropes.  It’s actually really weird to see – after three seasons of writing complex, thoughtful, sympathetic teenage characters, the writing staff then created Dawn, who is less a “real” teenager and more the horrific caricature of teenagers that adults see when they write articles about how millennials are evil for not buying enough diamonds and fabric softener.  Dawn existed for no reason save to make Buffy’s life suck.  She resented her sister for everything, even after Buffy died specifically to save Dawn’s life as well as the entire world.  She had no common sense, blundering into every trap set for her despite everyone around her telling her how dumb that would be.  Dawn was Buffy’s Gilligan, except she replaced Gilligan’s kindness with shrieking cruelty.

I would not have Dawn in my show.  She would be cut and the world would be thankful.

And that’s how I’d ruin Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

Posted in Creepy Columns, How I'd Ruin It | Tagged | 7 Comments

ICHF: The Alien

Alien

Yes, that’s The Alien with a capital A and a capital T to the “the,” because make no mistake: no one would ever confuse any other monster with that title.  Aliens – that is, monsters from outer space – are a huge archetype in the horror genre.  There are countless variations on this archetypical monster in the horror genre, but this phallus-headed xenomorph is the one that truly owns the name itself.  If Dracula is the classic vampire, then Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger’s space fiend is the classic alien.

So what makes the Alien so special?

Every monster is symbolic of some flavor of fear (or possibly several).  The most effective and popular monsters tend to embody their fear in several ways, which makes them more interesting and terrifying to the audience.  They also tend to embody common fears.  A monster that is shallow and poorly thought out often falls flat with audiences because it just doesn’t connect with, and thus inspire, fear.

I’d argue the two main fears in the world are the fear of death and xenophobia, which means the fear of the other or the fear of what is different.  Every other fear that horror can exploit – fear of sex, fear of disease, fear of predators, fear of the dark, etc. – is grown from those two parent fears.  The alien archetype is particularly based on xenophobia, and no alien I’ve ever encountered is as precise and detailed in its exploration of that particular fear than The Alien.

An alien is a creature that comes from outer space – the final frontier, the last Great Unknown Land in the expanse of human knowledge.  Already it is tied to xenophobia.  The Alien, however, goes even further.  It’s a parasite that reproduces in such a grisly, horrifying way that seems completely antithetical to the way humans are born.  In its premiere film it begins by penetrating a (male) human through the mouth and implanting an embryo in his chest, which then tears its ways through the man’s chest and continues to pick off the rest of the humans one by one.  Everything about the creature’s life cycle is the reverse of human nature.  It’s a child that literally rapes and devours its own parent just to exist.

This is an animal whose blood is a deadly and corrosive acid.  As any horror scholar could tell you, blood’s symbolism is generally pretty clear cut.  Blood is life.  That’s not the case with The Alien.  Its blood is death – a weapon, not a vital fluid.  Again, this is a polar opposite of what humans consider natural and normal.  It is as different and “other” as you get.

The Alien’s life cycle has many stages that are incredibly different in from each other, which, again, is not how humans work.  We go from little humans to big humans, slowly and gradually.  A slight change in proportion of parts, sure, but they’re all basically the same.  The Alien, on the other hand, begins as a skeletal spider monster with a snake-like tail housed in a fleshy, somewhat vaginal egg that leaps out and penetrates the nearest living being with its egg laying proboscis.  Fear of spiders and insects is a very common fear, and one that is linked to xenophobia.  Humans aren’t multi-legged creatures with compound eyes and external skeletons – that shit is different and, to some people, a source of fear because of it.  So the alien exploits that fear.  Then it grows into a snake-like, eyeless monster whose body is segmented like a worm or an intestine that, hey, literally explodes out of its host’s chest as if their actual organs were in revolt!  Snakes are another commonly feared animal (particularly in the Western World, where they’ve been used as a symbol of evil itself for a few centuries now), and it’s again because of how different they are then us.  They don’t have any arms or legs, they’re covered in scales, most have unblinking, lidless eyes, and they often attack with venom rather than brute force.  That shit’s different, and so some people fear it.  The chestburster form of The Alien takes those snakelike traits, slaps on some disturbing sexual imagery (we generally don’t have cock-headed monsters fuck us from the inside out – that shit’s different, and thus must be feared), and basically makes a terrifying monster.

The final form of The Alien looks, at first glance, to be almost familiar.  It’s humanoid (because it’s a human in a suit, at least in the original movie), with two arms, two legs, and a head.  Yet that familiarity is warped.  It has a head – one that even has some strangely human features, particularly with its lower jaw – but that head is eyeless and on top of a serpentine neck, and extends way far in the back to look, well, let’s be honest, EXACTLY like a penis.  It was even intentional.  This is a monster that is born by fucking another man’s mouth and then fucking its way out of their chest, and it grows up into a monster with a giant cock for a head.  Its life cycle takes something that we think we should understand – penetration’s role in reproduction – and turns it into something horrifying, and the monster never stops reminding you of that fact.  It’s a beast with exoskeleton, like an insect, except that exoskeleton also very closely resembles a human skeleton.  It has a long, reptilian tail that also looks skeletal and ends with a vicious barbed spike.  It has human-ish hands, except those hands have six fingers.  And just when you think you know how this slimy, cock-headed exoskeletal monster man works, it opens those skull-like jaws to reveal a second mouth attached to a violently thrusting, piston-fast cock-tongue that can shoot through a person’s skull like a goddamn shotgun shell.  The monster’s final form is the most insidious spin on xenophobia, because it takes things we think are familiar and makes them strange and revolting to us.  Watch the movie – Alien, if you somehow don’t know what film I’m talking about – to find out.  This man-in-suit monster is as terrifying as one has ever been, despite having a form you think you could find familiar.  It feels, well, alien.

The actions and motives of The Alien are tied to the other primary fear: fear of death.  This is a creature that does nothing except kill.  It has to do so by its nature, to – even being born requires The Alien to take a life.  It then proceeds to murder every living being it can find, perhaps without cause (we never find out what the alien does with the bodies of the people it kills in the original movie – we can presume it ate them, I suppose, but we never see it doing so.  A deleted scene of the original movie showed The Alien turning the corpses into eggs, which just furthers the relationship between death and birth in The Alien’s life cycle).  Even the act of being wounded is just another way for the monster to kill, as The Alien’s blood will burn all it touches.  This creature is practically an avatar for death.

The Alien is such an iconic monster that it spawned countless imitators, and often its unique features are copied into lesser knockoffs.  You’ll find countless cartoons where an alien monster (often one that looks quite different than The Alien) will have acid for blood, or a second head within its mouth, or the need to implant its eggs inside a living host.  People started thinking of The Alien as the template for what an alien should be.  It, like Count Dracula, defined several key aspects of an archetypical monster that had been around for decades before it.  That’s why it’s The Alien.

With the monster’s mysterious origins and terrifyingly bizarre biology, The Alien’s debut movie is textbook Cosmic Horror.  The more you know about the monster in Alien, the more it scares you.  Its sequels, on the other hand, may well have slipped into a different Horror genre…

 

 

Posted in Atomic Horror Characters, Cosmic Horror Characters, Creepy Columns, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment