Optimus Prime vs Megatron: A look at their relationship
Optimus Prime: Strong, noble, clever, idealist, charismatic, great leader, patient, self-sacrificing, always willing and prepared to do the right thing.
Megatron: Powerful, manipulative, scheming, mad, cheater, frightening leader, short temper, arrogant, narcissistic, always willing to do whatever it takes to get his way.
For anyone into comics or cartoons in the 80s, few figures are as memorable as the leaders of the two factions of Transformers; The Autobots and the Decepticons. They have always had a special relationship built on hatred, rivalry, opposing ideologies, mutual understanding and occasionally respect.
They have gotten to know eachother better than they know themselves, and can usually predict what the other one will do even before they know themselves, although they don’t always understand why the other one does what he does. While it often comes to physical blows between them, the mind games are just as important. Let’s take a deeper look at these two titans and how they interact.
I will state right off the bat that my “expertise” as it were comes almost entirely from Generation 1 and the more recent reboots of that part of the franchise. I have dabbled in Beast Wars and other more recent animated series, even some comics like Transformers: Energon, but most of my knowledge and impressions are from the original Marvel Transformers comics, the 80s cartoon show and movie, the rebooted IDW comics and the War For Cybertron game. (Really looking forward to Fall of Cybertron, btw)
The inspiration for this article came from reading the IDW comics and thinking that it seems they’ve changed the dynamic between Optimus and Megatron from the old days, and it’s not the first time I’ve noticed that in an IDW comic. Reading further on has amended my view a little, but it’s still left me thinking.
Optimus Prime started out as Orion Pax. What Orion Pax did varies, but I believe the current canon is that he used to be a police officer. Not the biggest or meanest person on the force, but determined, honest and quite capable. Other stories paint him as a former scribe who got pulled into war by his own sense of right and wrong, and I’m sure there are a dozen other origin stories. Where they tend to converge is that Optimus was pulled into the war and leadership unwillingly. He never asked for such power or responsibility, but he stepped up when he was needed.
As for Megatron, he didn’t really have an origin story originally. Villains rarely did in the old 80s cartoons. This has later been amended to Megatron starting out as a mine worker who got into activism because he was fed up with the corrupt class system that was firmly entrenched on Cybertron. He is put in a situation where he snaps, and discovers he has quite the propensity for violence. He gets together with other malcontents and psychopaths and ignites a civil war. Megatron craves power, though he sees it as a means to an end, and always has an end goal. He will use any means necessary to get there, no matter who or what he has to kill or destroy, and he never has any regret for any of it. A lot of people mistake him for a dumb brute, but he is in actually quite clever and cunning.
Current canon seems to be that these two met even before either of them became a leader. Reading about it was quite interesting, though not much to write about.
These two have always been a pretty even match. In sheer physical strength, Optimus would usually win out since the Matrix has elevated his physical form significantly, and he tends to be the better tactician and better shot, but Megatron would still win because he was willing to fight dirty and cheat like a bugger to get his way. No ploy or tactic would be considered too low for Megatron, and he was often able to catch Optimus off-guard for that very reason.
The IDW reboot seems to have changed this dynamic, and I’m not sure I approve of that. Now Megatron is the stronger one by far (something also evidenced in the Michael Bay movies, but the less said about those the better), and Optimus is the one needing to resort of tricks and clever ploys to win out. This changes their relationship, and I don’t really think it’s for the better. Maybe that’s just my nostalgia. However when I read a more recent issue they had some flashbacks showing that these two have frequently bested eachother over the years, and I quite liked seeing that it hasn’t always been as one-sided as these comics have presented it.
Let’s take a look at a couple of their more memorable showdowns, at least in my book.
The first one we start in the issue that introduced both the Protectobots and the Combaticons. Megatron takes the Combaticons to capture a piece of technology that generates vast amounts of power, which was the main scheme of most Decepticon plots in this era. Thanks to a listening device Optimus and the Protectobots are ready and waiting when they arrive. They all transform and get ready for battle, Optimus reminding Megatron that if they battle it out here, the gizmo he came to steal will probably be destroyed, but true to form Megatron says he doesn’t care so long as Optimus dies.
The situation changes when Bruticus captures a human who stayed late at the plant and to save his life he offers a way for them to battle without destroying the plant by using a videogame (omg topical!) where their specs can be downloaded into to make accurate representations of themselves. The aim is to destroy the other team’s leader, but Megatron will only agree if that also means they forfeit their actual lives when they lose. Since this only applies to himself and Megatron, Optimus agrees in order to keep the battle contained. Needless to say, things go tits up for Megatron and he resorts to cheating to win. I should probably mention that Optimus does actually win anyway, but he has to sacrifice some innocent creatures in the game to do so, and forfeits the match on those grounds, getting himself killed. That part of the story is a bit daft, but we’ll roll with it.
Megatron takes the gizmo and heads back to base triumphant, while the Autobots return Optimus’s remains to their base, and the human puts away a diskette containing Optimus’s personality (this was the 80s, remember) unbeknownst to either faction. It doesn’t quite end there though.
As I mentioned, Megatron is quite mad. So he starts obsessing over Optimus’s death in the next issue, never quite believing he’s actually dead, and turning quite paranoid that his old enemy is still out there and plotting against him. He even kills Brawl in a fit of rage. Shockwave, the ever-logical, sees this as an opportunity, and lays plans to provoke Megatron by hiring the Predacons to attack him while wearing Autobot symbols. Megatron falls for it initially, and wastes the Predacons, soon discovering Shockwave’s treachery with Soundwave’s help. As he is about to execute Shockwave, he says something that gets his cogs turning, and he becomes 100% certain Optimus is still alive and out there, so he goes completely mental and blows himself up on the Space Bridge.
I think the way these two issues play out shows a lot of how these two interact. Optimus is the noble and honourable warrior who follows his own code even if it gets him killed, while Megatron is the cunning and deceitful madman who will cheat and cajole to get his way, though his own paranoia and arrogance tend to get the best of him in the end. They clash again and again, each scoring victories that never seem to last, ultimately leading to ruin for them both.
A much more well-known encounter between these two is the showdown in the 1986 animated Transformers The Movie. Megatron and his Decepticons are attacking the Autobot base on Earth, and Optimus decides to charge into the fray saying “Megatron must be stopped. No matter the cost.” What follows is a scene where Optimus is an absolute badass, blasting several Decepticons before facing Megatron himself. They trade blows, Optimus getting injured, but still beating down Megatron. As he’s about to finish it, Megatron spots a blaster and begs for mercy to buy time. Hot Rod tries to help, but gets taken hostage as Megatron blasts Optimus several times. Optimus still gets the final blow, as he does a massive double-handed swing that crushes Megatron, though he ends up losing his own life shortly after. Scored by Stan Bush’s “You Got The Touch”, this is probably the most well-known and well-remembered Transformers scene.
If this isn’t inspiring at all to you, you are most peculiar.
So there you have it. Me rambling about two characters from my youth that still mean a lot to me. I could probably say a lot more, but I think this is a good place to cut it. If there’s anything you feel I missed, feel free to let me know.