When presented with as open-ended a question as “describe your favourite something-or-other to do with Transformers”, one can find their mind quickly becoming as blank and featureless as the void Unicron was so fond of back in the old Marvel days. And so, after a good deal of back-and-forth and trying to be all clever-clever (my favourite non-Furman issue of Transformers UK!) I decided to keep things simple. My favourite character.
Except that’s not simple, because my favourite character is Hot Rod. Sorry, Rodimus Prime. Sorry, just Rodimus. Just Rodimus.
I guess really, really, it’s Rodimus Prime, and most specifically, it’s the version of Rodimus Prime Simon Furman wrote in his future-set Marvel UK stories such as Wanted: Galvatron – Dead or Alive! and Headhunt! But one thing bleeds into another, and in a franchise as varied as Transformers one finds multiple iterations of characters or tropes that echo throughout different continuities. So I guess my favourite character is really the headcanon multi-faceted “Rodimus” who exemplifies the characteristics of Furman’s Rodimus, or James Roberts’ Rodimus, or the animated Sunbow Rodimus. Just as a fan saying “I like Batman” requires them to have some mental space reserved for both Adam West’s and Christian Bale’s take on the Caped Crusader, so a Transformers fan must navigate multiversal waters to pick their idealised favourite, or else descend into Comic Book Guy specifics regarding publishing dates, format, and writer.
“Aha!” says the little voice in my head, “You brought up Batman! What a serendipitous opportunity to segue into exactly what it is you like about Rodimus.”
You see, I like Rodimus for exactly the same reasons I like Robin off of Batman. It’s less about their character per se – although in both cases, I like their character plenty – but more about what they represent, both in-universe and metafictionally. And, essentially, that is: tomorrow.
Whilst I’ll allow that there’s something almost Poochie-esque about the so-cool Hot Rod’s appearance in Transformers: The Movie, blasting Decepticons whilst essentially wearing shades as everyone’s favourite characters die off-screen, he emerges as less of a replacement Optimus than a replacement Bumblebee: the primary-coloured kid-appeal character who gets to hang out with a human boy, crack jokes, and have safe adventures in which he gets to prove his mettle with the bigger boys (in this case grumpy uncle Kup and perennially uncool big brother Springer). My cousin and I used to imagine that, if he wasn’t Prime’s “son” per se, he was at least some kind of foster-child or student of Prime’s; Danny to his Miyagi, as they say in the Eighties. I’m not sure if that’s there in the text of the film, but it’s safe to say that a kind of fatherly relationship is often implied in subsequent media, from Furman’s stories right through to the recent Deviations one-shot. And casting Hot Rod as Prime’s surrogate-in-waiting, his heir apparent, serves to highlight all the things Hot Rod is that Prime isn’t: cool, young, cocky, impetuous, self-serving, quick to action and to anger, a doer not a thinker. And, of course, he “gets Prime killed” by jumping onto Megatron at a key moment.
But Rodimus is the next generation: a sexy pink supercar with flames on the bonnet set next to Optimus’ honking great semi-truck. Op speaks of old America, of industry, haulage, freeways, flannel shirts and Stetson hats; Rod is the new youthful America, MTV and LA and Greenwich Village. But it’s this brash and belligerent young punk who has to ultimately step up, to assume the mantle of leadership even when he’s not looking for it, to take on his pointy shoulders the responsibility for his entire species. He’s the daydreamer who became the dream; the class clown who grew up to be President; Prince Hal becoming King Henry.
And it never sits well on him, for the same reasons that becoming Batman never sits well with inaugural Robin Dick Grayson: because the guy who came before him is The Guy. Optimus Prime is and always will be Prime, just as Bruce Wayne will always be Batman; anyone who follows is just a follower, another leader in a different story. But they try; they try and try and try, in memory of their fallen mentor, and because what they fought for is still worth fighting for now. They know they’re not as good, but they try all the same, because who else will? Who else can?
And it’s this that I love. The idea that even if our heroes fall, there is a new hero there to take their place; that there will always be a Prime, always be a Matrix Bearer, always be someone to lead the fight against the Evil Decepticons. He’ll doubt himself and he’ll be insecure and he’ll have his fair share of mishaps and misadventures, but he’ll keep going – because it’s what Optimus would have wanted. Thanks to Rodimus Prime, we know that the Transformers will always have a tomorrow.
Because It Never Ends, see?