Robots in disguise!
This phrase has meaning even to those with only a basic awareness of the core Transformers concept. Alien robots have come to Earth and must blend in with their surroundings by “transforming” into look-alikes of Earth machines. So what may look like your average car, truck, jet, tank, stereo or microscope, might just be “more than meets the eye.”
Like a good Netflix subscriber, last year I found myself binge-watching the original 2 seasons of The Transformers (1984-1985), and learned a few things from that experience. For one, while the show’s writing and “jokes” are on par with your choice of mid-budget 80’s cartoons, the storyline is occasionally surprisingly deep and more thought-provoking than any of the contemporary Michael Bay films.
On the other hand, maybe that’s not so surprising.
Before we launch into the list, I’ll state that my knowledge of the first generation cartoon (“G1”) is decent, but beyond that I’m not an authority on the overwhelming multiverse of Transformers. Being as such, I’m limiting this conversation to what I know.
1. Megatron is a Gun
That’s right, I went there. You might think that being the overlord of the Decepticons would merit at least a decent disguise, yet Megatron has arguably one of the worst ones out there. “But a gun is not inherently a bad disguise” you might say. And you’re right, it’s not. Guns do exist. But that’s more or less where the logic ends.
In the series’ fashion of shamelessly ignoring conservation of mass, the 30-foot robot can neatly fold himself into a handheld laser blaster. It’s implied that this is not small enough to be human scale, but rather large enough for another robot to hold. In either case the laws of physics are delightfully broken, but did you notice the other two issues in that statement? The gun is much larger than normal human scale. Even in a Texas gun shop this disguise would easily stand out as abnormal and draw some attention. But the bigger issue here is, from a functional standpoint, another Decepticon has to hold & fire him while he is in gun mode. In essence he’s leaving himself completely at the hands (hah) of someone else. And much to his chagrin, it’s usually Starscream.
The only exception being during the show’s theme song, for some reason.
2. The Dinobots are Robotic Dinosaurs
A lot of people love the Dinobots. And I mean sure, they are among the strongest fighters for the Autobots. Plus come on, robotic dinosaurs.
But come on, robotic dinosaurs?
There is literally no scenario in which that makes sense as a good disguise. There are several other instances of Transformers with animal forms, but for the most part they either fit a thematic scenario (such as in the Beast Wars series) or simply for mobility’s sake (e.g. Ravage as a jaguar, Laserbeak as a condor). But the Dinobots aren’t very mobile, at least not fast by any means, so that idea is out the window.
Even if they could somehow hide their robotic nature and pass as regular dinosaurs, there’s about 65 million years that will still argue with that logic.
Their robotic forms would probably draw less attention.
3. The Insecticons are Giant Robotic Bugs
I can’t help but wonder if the creators were even trying at this point. Most of my ranting of this nature was exhausted on the Dinobots, but there are some additional points to make here.
While I don’t remember any instances of the Dinobots interacting with humans, the Insecticons will straight up terrorize local farmers and eat all of their crops. The basic idea of crop infestation can be a very real problem, but usually the bugs responsible aren’t flying robots the size of cars.
4. Astrotrain is a Purple Steam Engine / Space Shuttle
For the unaware reader, the vast majority of Transformers characters have 2 modes, usually the standard biped robot form and then some kind of vehicle. In the second season we are introduced to some Decepticons who are “triple changers,” in other words they have 2 different vehicle modes in addition to their regular robot form.
The ironic thing here is that the triple changer concept actually has potential to create some of the best Transformers disguises. A character could go unnoticed both in the air and on the ground, doubling his stealth range. Blitzwing, for example, can turn into either a fighter jet or a tank. As a war machine, that makes him a pretty incredible asset. Astrotrain on the other hand is given the gift of a double disguise, but somehow manages to fail at both of them.
From a mobility standpoint, Astrotrain’s space shuttle mode is actually pretty useful. You could say that it’s better than the average Decepticon jet since he can also fly through space, which is a strangely common goal in the show. He can even carry other Decepticons inside him, although the rest of the time he appears the same size as them (seems legit). As a disguise though? There’s the basic fact that space shuttles are very uncommon as it is, so you’d likely get some raised eyebrows from the get-go. Not to mention that they aren’t purple.
It’s actually a bit of a shame because Astrotrain is one of the most cunning and ruthless of the Decepticon bunch. With some minor adjustments to his vehicular disguises he could have been far more effective.
5. Omega Supreme is a Rocket Launch Site With a Tank
Throughout the series there is a slow build in the physical scale of new characters. I’m assuming this served the need to make increasingly epic battles, in which case new, massive opponents makes sense. (As I alluded in the Insecticons bit, this most notably took the form of “combiners,” basically groups of robots who could combine into one larger robot. By the end of the second season we see no fewer than 3 separate cases of this. Because robots.)
Omega Supreme is not a combiner but he is huge nonetheless, and appears during this same period and basically for the same reasons. Considering most of the other characters are pretty uninteresting, the exploration of Omega’s back story adds surprising depth to his actions and is one of my favorite moments in the show. Alas, for sake of this list I must mercilessly berate him for his vehicle mode—he’s a rocket ship with an accompanying launch pad that also includes a tank.
I’ll give him some practicality points here. He can transport other Autobots through space or even defend himself on the ground using the tank. But if I remember correctly, Omega’s rocket mode requires a ridiculous amount of fuel (yay for accuracy I guess?) so this often leaves him stranded in one place or another. That’s an awkward moment when you’re the designated driver through space.
Thanks for not chipping in gas money, Auto-butts.
6. Cosmos is a UFO
I’m not sure whether it’s a coincidence that half of the characters in this list are space vehicles, but that wasn’t an intentional trend on my part. Although it’s worth considering if the Transformers weren’t aliens, they probably wouldn’t spend half as much time in space as they do.
On that note, let’s finish off this list with a lesser-known character, Cosmos. We’re conveniently introduced to him just when the Autobots are hurtling toward the sun and need a way to get back to Earth. He’s a great friend to have, but there’s a problem—his vehicular mode is a flying saucer.
Sure, you could argue that a great disguise is less crucial for a character who does most of his work in space, but that doesn’t mean he’s undetectable. The military aside, people do occasionally look through telescopes, and there have certainly been frantic claims of UFO sightings with far less basis in reality.
Nothing weird about that.
But in any circumstance, Cosmos proudly bears the iconic symbol of wishful thinkers and conspiracy theorists. Granted it’s hard to commute between Earth and space in any physical form that makes sense, but some kind of conventional aircraft (heck, even Astrotrain’s shuttle or Omega Supreme’s rocket) would draw less attention. There’s a certain demographic of people out there who dedicate their lives to proving that aliens exist. Autobots are aliens, and they do exist, but they may not want everyone to know that. In light of this, Cosmos devilishly disguises himself as the one type of vehicle that everyone associates with aliens. Smooth.