Monday, October 28, 2013

The Transformers Thunderous Thirty #14 - Optimus Prime

There can be little doubt that Optimus Prime is the most iconic Transformer of them all. The sheer number of toys dedicated to the Generation One version of the character alone demonstrates the enduring popularity of the character. If further evidence should be needed, one need only observe what happened when the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie came out. But I've told that story already....

But why has Optimus Prime been so popular? His quasi-religious ability to die and come back to life again (now so common it's become a cliché) cannot be the cause, as it was Prime's popularity that caused Hasbro to bring the character back after having killed him off for the first time back in the 80's, while quite a few other characters were allowed to remain dead without much notice.

To some, it may seem like Optimus Prime doesn't have much personality aside from a stereotypical "hero" archetype, and there is certainly some truth to this. While later interpretations of the character (notably under comics scribe Simon Furman) have given Prime additional layers of self-doubt and anguish, even these came after his original fan-demanded return to the world of the living.

Indeed, I would argue that it is precisely because Prime fits our heroic stereotypes so well that he has been so beloved by so many fans. Prime is the one that can be depended on to save the day. When all hope seems gone, once Prime walks onto the screen, the viewer knows that everything will work out all right. I suspect that this was the intention even from the beginning. One can certainly hear overtones of "John Wayne" (best known for playing other iconic, if occasionally stereotypical, heroes from days gone by) in voice actor Peter Cullen's portrayal of the character in the original cartoon.

Now, nearly thirty years later, the concept of Optimus Prime is still beloved by many, although most children today are more popular with some other iteration of the character, whether through the live-action movies, or perhaps the recently-completed Transformers: Prime cartoon. While each of these versions represents its own unique take on the character (even if most of them today are still voiced by Peter Cullen), each one retains those heroic archetypes that made the original version so popular. If the history of the Transformers franchise has proven anything, it is that the concept of Optimus Prime will never die.
Just a few of the Optimus Primes I own.

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