The Lesbian Queen

Frozen, a franchise that generated enough money for the creators to buy a country mansion on the moon and is responsible for planting the lyrics to “Let It Go” so firmly in our collective psyche I’m pretty sure I could lose all memory of my own family to dementia one day and yet still remember what line follows “A kingdom of isolation…”, is getting a sequel. This news shocked absolutely no-one, a deaf blind idiot buried under the ocean could tell you this but recently Twitter has lit up with a campaign about a suggested plot development in that everyone’s favourite metaphor for homosexuality, Elsa, should come out of her closet as an out-and-out lesbian and get herself a girlfriend in Frozen 2. Frozen has been widely regarded as a very pro-LGBT film, the songs have strong themes of self-acceptance and that guy running the sauna seems to have a family consisting of himself, children and another man, no mother to be seen. Now, being a LGBT ally and unashamed fan of the Frozen franchise (Not in so far as the hype train has escalated it to but I can certainly relate to Elsa), I wanted to give my opinion here so let’s not leave this idea out in the cold, shall we?

The obvious merit here is representation, which despite what you think isn’t as abundant as offended Christian mothers like to make out. Gay characters are starting to appear more and more in fiction, slowly, but usually in the form of the magical advice guru for the straight members of the cast or token representation. I know we’ve heard things such as Luke Skywalker’s sexuality being open to interpretation or Dumbledore apparently having a taste for wizards over witches but such characters are a blog post in themselves about their ‘representation’. Truth is, characters that are written as gay characters are hard to come across in the mainstream media and Elsa seems one of the few characters of her popularity that could easily be seen as a gay icon. Zero interest in the men around her, struggling to accept her true identity, spends years trying to pass for ‘normal’, Elsa starred as the focus of a film that was in no small way a parable about being outed and having to accept the truth of who you are. With Frozen 2 starting with a happier liberated Elsa, it only makes sense to see this parable continue logically, that she should meet another elemental princess This would tie up the theme neatly and convey the message that you should be true to who you are, someone will love you for it and homophobes/Dukes of Wesselton, will get their comeuppance in time.

Now I know that one thing we all appreciated about Elsa was her being a strong single female character who was saved by the true love of a sibling, not a prince. I’d be all for Elsa remaining a single pringle, which makes it sound like I have my own designs on her and that is weird and moving on, if she’s going to remain single, that’s fine, but let’s not have her be just another pretty white blonde girl who falls for a pretty white boy otherwise what you’ve got is Cinderella and Jack Frost thrown into a creativity blender. This is a film the LGBT community has clung to and adored and it would be a strange move to disenfranchise that entire swathe of people for the sake of making a run-of-the-mill Disney sequel. You might dissuade a few staunch religious types but in this day and age, we need films to be more progressive, there is a whole back catalogue of heteronormative films for the old-fashioned types to enjoy. The Disney Princess collection has covered the globe for different princesses to depict, be they black, Asian, semi-human or semi-conscious (Sleeping Beauty), would it be so terrible a thing to add one lesbian into that mixture?

I guess that’s that, a short one, there’s not a lot to say beyond this just being a good idea. Why should I have to justify it in great length? What is added to the character of Elsa by making her fall for a man? Nothing. A woman? We get the full story of what it means to be gay told through a Disney character – to be isolated, ashamed, exiled only to then find truth, acceptance and one day, love. Maybe we could grit our teeth and endure more endlessly repetitive anthems if it means we get the Elsa we know we all secretly want – a badass lesbian ice queen. POINT OUT ANY WORD IN THERE THAT IS NOT COOL!

Ha. Cool. Cause she’s an ice queen

Really need a sign off phrase…

4/20 Fiasco

4/20, a day unofficially recognised as a celebration of all things marijuana, a day to light it up and get high and other such shit. Look, I won’t even ATTEMPT to use the colloquial terms, I’m so square I could lie down flat and get a decent job as a spirit gauge. Point is, if you smoke weed, or even if you just have a general interest in the world beyond your bed, you know what 4/20 is all about. We all have our own ways of celebrating it, though I myself spend it celebrating my brother’s birthday that falls on the same day, but I think the weirdest recent recognition of the day was Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter, a photo filter for selfies that superimposed Bob Marley’s face onto yours and darkened your skin tone to match. Yeah, that does sound weird when you look at a literal description of it. Is this harmless fun? Well…

I want to put up a disclaimer and say I recognise the connection between Bob Marley and marijuana, I’m not an idiot, and my opinions on this are not influenced by the fact I have never smoked anything in my life, closest I get to smoking is salmon. As a liberal man, I support the legalisation of marijuana, it is far less harmful than alcohol, which is legal, and its criminalisation is the result of an idealistic and unenforceable war on drugs, started by our forefathers and fuelled by myths and ignorance. Marijuana is not a gateway drug or chemically addictive substance, it doesn’t blacken lungs or turn you into a violent lunatic, it is a plant that happens to have recreational benefits when set on fire, nuff said. Furthermore, my opinion is in no way influenced by the choice of Bob Marley, I’m not hating on the dude, I am not an avid fan but I do like his music and appreciate the cultural influence of the man. So, with that established, let me explain why personally I’m taken aback by this poor move by Snapback. Cue the non-PC outrage in the comments.

First of all, let’s face it, this is blackface. No, don’t bullshit me, don’t come out with “It’s not blackface, it’s…”, it’s blackface. You are taking a non-black face, putting a black face on top and playing it up for a laugh. Jim from IT is a white dude living with his mother who listens to Weird Al and Stereophonics, his weekends are spent modding Skyrim and he is most certainly not a famous rastafarian musician. Didn’t like that stereotype? Guess what? Black people don’t appreciate the making of Marley into a stereotype of a laidback black man with dreads and a funky hat smoking weed, he is a cultural icon. Snapchat has a history of struggling to accurately represent diversity, evading questions about the percentages of employee races in their company by saying they don’t think of people as numbers. I mean, amen to that but y’know, we kind of need numbers to make sense of what we’re doing, not looking at your bank balance is not the same as making the situation more financially manageable, trust me.

Bob Marley, as a man, was more than just a dude who got stoned and this filter, that immediately slaps his face on yours just because it’s the 20th April, reduces his legacy to his drug habit. Bob Marley was more than just a man who loved his weed and yes he campaigned for its legalisation but that was not all he did, he fought for peace and the fair representation of minorities, he opposed a system that dehumanizes us all but one that especially dehumanised people like him. The music he became famous for showed a love and respect for his culture and his faith, the lyrics of which resonated with the pacifists inside us and went on to influence not only a genre of music as a whole but generations of peaceful protests after him. Also, Marley didn’t smoke weed just for shits and giggles, he did it as a spiritual exercise of meditation, a means of understanding himself.

“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural t’ing* and it grow like a tree.”

*Source uses ‘t’ing’ instead of ‘thing’, reflecting his accent, I have not changed this text

Read that and understand the difference between what you think he cared about and what he did care about. We far too often recall Bob Marley as just that reggae guy who got high a lot and this filter does nothing to combat that, all it’s done is said “Umm, 4/20, Bob Marley right?”, like some sort of bad joke.

Now, a counter-argument you might have for me is that Bob Marley’s family themselves approved this idea right? Well, hate to break it to you, they’re not the sole representatives of their heritage, it’s not like them saying “It’s not blackface” will make every other black person shrug and walk away like it’s not a problem, who are they to speak for everyone and tell them it’s not offensive or not perhaps cheapening the legacy of a national treasure into a joke? Marley’s image wasn’t a construct like the image of Elvis or Motley Crue, it wasn’t a style picked out to be memorable, he wore the clothes of his spirituality and his culture, making them into easy jokes for stoner humour is like making a Jesus filter for people on Easter. By the way, imagine the shitstorm we’d get if there was a whiteface filter to commemorate a dead white person hey, as a cheap joke no less? World AIDS day, we get Freddie Mercury tashes on everyone. The Marley family are, for want of better words, money-grabbers, licensing the Bob Marley image to everything under the sun they reckon would sell better if it had his face on it. I personally find that disgusting and a forewarning to my children if I ever become famous, if I die and you memorialise me by selling Old Man Wolfe branded soap, I’ll come back from the dead and wash your skulls out with it. Soap. Fucking soap. The man made an entire cultural history of music mainstream and known to the world and his name is stuck on a bar of hemp-scented soap. Fuck me.

I’m not just out to be a stick in the mud but I feel that making this filter was in poor taste, it’s harmless fun to the white would-be hippies amongst us but to those who share in Marley’s heritage, their sacred herb and an icon of their society is being made into a comic fad to amuse idiots. This will all be swept under the rug before the week is out and Snapchat won’t face any real backlash, nor will the Marley brand lose any customers for a lack of integrity, and that in itself is disturbing. We all, in 2016, just blinked at a show of blackface. Bob Marley, forgive us. Please please please forgive us.

The Unicron Trilogy Part Two – Energon

Carrying on from the previous article, for those of you who find yourself interested in this esoteric topic, today’s article will look over the second installment in this trilogy of Transformers cartoons, Transformers Energon (Known as Transformers: Super Link in Japan). Made in Japan but dubbed first in English and then sent back to Japan to be redubbed in Japanese, the series was devised as a direct sequel to Armada before it and to avoid the failings of the crude animation of Armada, it was animated primarily in cel-shaded CGI with hand-drawn animation being reserved for the human characters and backgrounds. However, though efforts were made to make Energon much more dynamic, exciting and altogether ‘better’ than Armada, what resulted was not so and Energon is remembered as a low-point of the franchise and the shitty little sibling of big brothers Armada and Cybertron. So let us now analyse it using the same three-stage formula utilised in my Armada retrospective!

Lore

Ten years on since Armada, Megatron is no more and the Autobots and Decepticons co-exist in an uneasy truce with their kind living on both Earth and Cybertron, making efforts to rebuild from the aftermath of war. However, the peace does not last when rogue Decepticons, dedicated to the revival of their leader Megatron, start harnessing powers beyond their comprehension and soon enough, Megatron is reborn and the war begins anew. Like Armada beforehand, there is a looming threat in the form of Unicron, thought dead but somehow still functional but what is new to this series is the other threat, a mysterious alien called Alpha Quientesson (Hardcore fans of G1 may recognise the name), who leads legions of ravenous beasts called Terrorcons with the goal of harvesting all the Energon in the universe so as to revive Unicron’s hollowed out shell as his own personal weapon of mass destruction.

Whilst Armada started shite and got good, Energon was the opposite, a series that started strongly with hints of serious character development to be had was lost as the series went on and though there were 51 episodes made, the plot came to a standstill by around episode 20, giving us 31 episodes of “Unicron is destroyed… wait no, no it’s not… Ok now it is… damnit nope… Oh look a shiny coin!” Armada added depth as it went on but Energon seemed to lose it, despite starting out with some seriously interesting points:

  • Demolishor, a previously loyal Decepticon, doubts whether or not he actually believes in Megatron’s vision anymore. This made us think perhaps he’ll change sides right? Nope, he’s killed off and brought back by Megatron as a mindless drone.
  • Inferno, an Autobot but with a Decepticon past, struggles to resist the will of Megatron within his own head. Resolved by Inferno killing himself to silence the voice inside his head only to then be brought back from the dead and relegated to the background for the rest of the series.
  • Kicker, a human, hates Transformers despite being assigned as their ally. However, it’s never explained in clear detail WHY he hates them and his hatred for their kind is forgotten about two episodes after his introduction to the series
  • Rodimus, an Autobot leader in his own right, constantly fights with Optimus Prime about differing ideologies. Is this the start of a huge topic for debate? Nope, Rodimus gives up his side of the argument and says “Well Optimus is in charge so I guess he knows best…”
  • Wing Saber is dedicated to capturing his nemesis Shockblast, which he succeeds in doing but only briefly. Shockblast escapes and how does Wing Saber react? He doesn’t, he says nothing and his rivalry with Shockblast is never mentioned again

Individual episodes are then essentially filled with useless footage of thirty second long Transformation sequences and whilst the cast is expanded like Armada, new characters add nothing to the team and are just shameless excuses to promote toys. There is also a lot of time dedicated to having characters Skype each other to repeat plot points the audience is already aware of. There were a myriad of other poor choices too – most action sequences took place in outer space so the characters had no reason to transform most of the time, combiner teams (the central gimmick of the series) were only ever there to be combined into an ultimate robot and had no personalities beyond “We are a team of robots that combine into one big one”. Energon then, fell short of greatness by not so much a gnat’s wing as a dinosaur’s meat shaft…

Behind-The-Scenes

If Armada was a rush, Energon was a blur. We are talking artistic mistakes, typos in episode titles, repeated stock footage to fill gaps in episodes, Energon was about as lovingly crafted as one lovingly crafts their own turds. Energon suffered from consistently poor choices of character colour schemes (that made them hard to differentiate at a glance), gimmicky and wooden performances from their bulky character models and background designs that were poorly considered (i.e Unicron is mostly black in colour, as is the background he is set against in his scenes and when characters are inside his body, it is too dark to see who is doing what at any given moment… for 30 episodes, characters are fumbling in the dark trying to do a thing we stopped caring about them doing ages ago). The CGI, whilst allowing a consistent standard of animation hand-drawn animation could not, was sub-par and character faces were hard to read for any emotion. As a result, the movement of faces was limited to them opening and closing their robotic lips in sync with what they were saying but you could not visibly tell if a character was happy, sad, angry or pensive, they all just constantly looked somewhat perplexed… as did the audience. In defense of the animators, their budget was miniscule.

Editing and script-work wise, we had ourselves a hastily mashed together assortment of fight scenes, banter exchanges and transformation sequences. Nothing flowed naturally and as a result, the episodes were confusing, seeming to be twenty minute chunks of a single long flowing film that didn’t do much in the way of establishing shots so we’re just expected to go “Oh, we’re at this point in the plot, I remember”, meaning you had to watch EVERY episode to make any sense of anything – that or wait for Optimus Prime to recap the plot but even then he only stated the obvious. The scripts were rushed translations of a Japanese writing team’s work and so many lines didn’t make sense in English, may characters were named incorrectly, sometimes multiple times in a single episode and the performance of the actors reflected a lack of understanding of the script. Energon also had some deadpan silences where clearly nothing had been written in and actors improvised… badly, often saying stuff just to fill the gap. Given all of this, Transformers Energon left a sour taste in the mouths of fans who still hadn’t gotten over how much of a dud Armada was.

Reception

Transformers Armada was a mess that defied expectation, it started bad but redeemed itself whereas Transformers Energon had a hopeful start but condemned itself to the slot of “Worst thing to come out of the franchise, shit I’ll watch Michael Bay’s stuff over this” in the eyes of fans. Energon was released in line with the 20th anniversary of Transformers but came as a real smear on the honour of the franchise, a hapless shambles of a poorly strung together plot pushing toys nobody wanted all that badly (The toys themselves did not sell as well as Armada before them and many characters sat on shelves for so long, they were eventually repurposed into discount multipacks given new names and sold off as minor characters from other continuities). Energon has been fixed rather recently, 2014 saw the release of a re-mastered version of all 51 episodes as a DVD box set with the script retweaked and awkward silences filled with something more than just “So…” and typos/colouring errors were fixed but at the time of release and for years afterward, Energon was seen as an abomination and efforts made it to fix it have been too little too late to save it from being a lowpoint in the franchise.

Conclusion

Energon lost me too, it wasn’t on any channels I had access to as a little kid so I never really got into it, having never really had the chance. I owned some Energon figures simply because they were cool looking Transformers. Energon was sold around the gimmick of combining characters together – most of the cast could transform into goliath sized wrecking machines by combining together, be it two robots, three or even five and Optimus Prime himself seemed capable of combining with just about anything he touched. Energon had grand ambitions but failed to deliver and ultimately did more harm than good, in fact Energon’s redeeming grace was that it was so shit, Hasbro asked a different company to make the next series of Transformers and what they delivered was gold-dust, especially by comparison. So next time, let’s draw this to a close with what fans consider the best thing to come out of the Unicron Trilogy, Transformers Cybertron, a series that definitely learned from the past to make big strides in the right direction.

The Unicron Trilogy Part One – Armada

Yes, I’m doing it, might as well even if it is purely for my own love of writing. For those of you not nerdy enough or not pathetic enough to have read my post about Transformers, you might have noticed a lot of references to something called “The Unicron Trilogy”, a Japanese take on Transformers (Well, three takes out of a dozen but these three are known for being the most widely bought/sold Japanese Transformers toys and amongst the precious few Transformers “animes” to be dubbed in English, though the degree to which you can call them an anime in the typical sense one imagines it is debatable). Basically, three separate continuities designed by a number of animation companies were seen by fans as being linked and indeed, within the continuities themselves, there were arguably some connections (Between Armada and Energon, it’s hard to argue they are not directly related though Cybertron/Galaxy Force’s link to the others is vague at best, that or Optimus Prime and company all have serious processing errors in their hard drives by the third series…). The three continuities are all ones I’m very familiar with and can discuss at length and seeing as I have a blog and whatever the topic, the responses are usually “Oh I’ll have to read that later… MUCH later”, might as well just chill out a bit!

Part one of the trilogy, Armada, generally remembered as both a hobbled together mess of sloppy robot drawings and a bizarre gateway to the world of Transformers for kids growing up in the early 2000s, aka me. Armada was designed to be a reboot, a rebirth for a franchise that had grown stale and weirdly experimenting with concepts that ultimately didn’t take off anywhere other than Japan (Headmasters, Humans inside Transformer suits, blatant Gundam ripoff plots) and whilst this was a sound concept, in execution, ehhh… they stumbled, from a technical standpoint certainly. I’ll go into that later, let’s tackle this topic in three chunks shall we? The lore, the behind-the-scenes and the reception. Awesome, let’s go!

Lore

In an attempt to add a new layer to the Cybertronian Civil War, Mini-Cons were introduced as a neutral faction of tiny robots with extraordinarily helpful powers, be that for construction or destruction relied on their Autobot/Decepticon colleagues. Anyway, sick of the futility of war, the Mini-Cons flee on a refugee ship that gets shot down by a Decepticon battle cruiser and crashes into the moon, causing Mini-Con stasis pods to be jettisoned all over the surface of the Earth. What ensues then is a scavenger hunt for Autobot and Decepticon alike to find the Mini-Cons and use these tiny tin toys to gain the edge on the battlefield. However, this is then overshadowed when everyone involved realises there is a larger power in play than any of them could have realised, a planet-devouring giant called Galactu…UNICRON! Yeah, sorry, wrong giant. Erhem, from here, you can perhaps guess what happens – put their differences aside, save the universe, celebrate, realise they actually make great teams working together, war ends, mourn losses and carry on in a new united world. Yay.

As series arcs go, Armada had a funny run. Initially starting slow with a three-part TV movie followed by several dull episodes of “Let’s find the Mini-Con” and a basically flip-the-coin to see who wins at the end of the episode, Armada received lots of shtick when it first came out but then… it got good. The cast expanded with new Autobots and Decepticons, each new introduction was interesting and executed well but no current characters were pushed to the back and then some characters got added depth and the plot started alluding to something bigger whilst tackling themes such as “What does it mean to be a leader of men?” and “Are we born evil?” in a non-pretentious manner (Though perhaps somewhat childish manner but hey, their target audience was literally written as “4-9 year old boys”) However, the series ultimately failed to win hearts, being pushed to 6AM slots in America and by the time the writers were in their element, nobody cared any more. Armada is redeemed by three saving graces:

1. “Hey, CERTAIN CHARACTER had an awesomely emotional death scene, you really felt for them and I cried”

2. “It introduced a whole generation to Transformers”

3. “Transformers Energon was WAAAAAAAY worse”

So a mixed bag – a plot that started slow but at about the midway point of the series, if you’re still watching by then, it becomes much more interesting, adds an actual sense of serious threat to the characters situations and introduces some fun twists and turns before finishing up with a nice lead in for the sequel

Behind-The-Scenes

Shambles, that’s the first word I think of, shambles. Cartoon Network put a lot of pressure on these guys to deliver on a cartoon to coincide with a line of toys that were coming out and as a result, there was a rush to make this cartoon and it showed in the animation, the voice acting (Actors took like one shot at a line so sometimes they confuse character names, plot points and are even dubbed for the wrong characters at times) and the awfully dull episodes at the start, seeing as the production company were being paid for the work on the condition they had episodes ready to be released alongside new toys so their early work was just “Ehhhhhhh and then Optimus punches Megatron and done, dub it and toss it at the screen like a monkey’s turd”. Armada perhaps came back at a bad time, it’s release coinciding not only with toys but the much better executed return of the TMNT – after all, when your mate drives up in a Mercedes, your little Ford Fiesta looks like a bucket with wheels on next to it. Armada is littered with mistakes and as it was mostly drawn like G1 before it, the characters suffered from wrong colour schemes and hideous disfigurements, sometimes all detail being omitted and instead we got glimpses of colourful talking blocks with faces on that loosely resembled transforming robots. The dialogue is especially atrocious, with the scripts seemingly never having been edited, conversations seemed incoherent and characters would respond either inappropriately (I don’t mean they flopped their cock out, I mean someone would give advice and their response would be “Uh? Hey, what? LEAVE ME ALONE! *pause* So even you would abandon me…”) or, as they often did, just with stock phrases like “What did you say?” and “Huh?”. Seriously, “Huh”, “Wait up!” and “Transform!” are like the holy trinity of Armada dialogue. The series as a whole got polished for the home releases but it was too little too late and Armada sat as well in the hearts of hardcore fans as a dead dog does on your Christmas dinner table…

Reception

Of the Unicron Trilogy, Armada had the rough job of trailblazing and whilst for fans of the original Transformers it failed to resonate with them in so far as offending them by being a sloppily made pile of hasty crap, with the kids it struck a chord. I can admit, as a child I never noticed the poor quality and if I ever did, it didn’t stop me loving what was to me, the best thing Saturday had to offer alongside no school, video games and Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The toys, the whole reason Armada existed, sold at such a rate they had to supply the demand by recolouring and renaming old Transformers and claiming they were characters from the extended universe of the Armada series. The demand even prompted Hasbro to think “Maybe Armada wasn’t all bad, as a glorified advert for plastic cars, it did the trick” and thus, Energon and Cybertron were commissioned and further toy lines announced to meet with the ever growing market of new kids getting into Transformers. Energon then, they decided, had to be bigger and better – more effort, more toys, more characters and soon they’d be rolling in the birthday wonga of every kiddy in America.

Conclusion

Armada, to me, tried hard and whilst it started poorly, it recovered in the final lap of the race and in my heart it holds a special place. As I mentioned, it served a dual purpose, introducing my generation to Transformers and selling toys, which it achieved so well they ran out of toys to sell and had to repaint whatever old shit they had lying around and call it something cool like Stormbreaker, Dirtbrawler, Buttscratcher, you get the gist. Of the trilogy, Armada is not the worst, that’s it’s defence in the eyes of the Transformers community, it’s the Fantastic Four of comic based films – Ehhh, it’s not really the best you could’ve done for these characters but hey, it’s not Batman Forever level bad. So that’s that, Armada, part one done! Next time, Energon… oh boy Energon… you thought this was bad? Armada is commonly rescued by the phrase “But Energon was worse” so… prepare for that…

Old Man Wolfe RAVES – The Lasting Appeal of Transformers

I realise my blog can sometimes be seen as a den of negativity, in this past week I emptied my bowels of discontent onto the heads of Marvel and Minions alike and beyond that this site usually serves as a highlighter pen picking out the worst of the worst in the news of the world and complaining about it. So, here’s a rave, a feature I might try to work into the blog as inspiration takes me in which I explain why I like something and why, I feel, people might be inclined to agree with me. Franchises mainly, as a film and game critic it’s a strongpoint of mine to be able to pick apart media for positives and negatives so with that in mind, here’s one of my favourite nostalgia properties, Transformers, analysed by me with a burning question to answer – How has a blatant toy commercial lasted so long and why is it a story we can retell to no end?

You’re likely to know all about Transformers, be it from G1 cartoons, the Unicron Trilogy that originated in Japan, the more recent Animated and Prime series or, heaven forbid, the Bay movies. Robots fighting a civil war on a distant planet come to Earth to harvest the natural resources here in order to gain the edge in battle, disguising themselves as vehicles to do so (Mistaking cars for the dominant life form on Earth). The story of two factions, the paragon Autobots and renegade Decepticons, is a clear cut moral conflict that appealed to the American market post-Vietnam war when people weren’t sure if heroes were heroes considering the horrors they had witnessed their own soldiers commit for shits and giggles on innocent civilians. Transformers, much like He-Man and Thundercats, had a clear definition of good and evil established and character motivations were unambiguous with Megatron being a means-justify-the-end conqueror content to squash humanity underfoot and Optimus Prime being a bot dedicated to freedom. Straight off the bat, if you never picked up on it, Optimus Prime is an avatar for the American dream, being decorated red, white and blue and preaching about the right to freedom for all sentient beings.

Now without a doubt Transformers started as a way to shlock otherwise uninteresting generic robot toys to a large market by giving them all cool names and an established lore for children to take part in but it did so in a way that was perhaps more interesting than the likes of He-Man, using a tactic of variety. By this I mean the number of Autobots and Decepticons on each side is so immense, you can draw up a list of ten of each without breaking a sweat and still probably have another few names in your back pocket. The large cast did mean only a few characters had established personalities that could essentially be summed up in sentences (Ironhide is a war veteran, Wheeljack is Frankenstein, Soundwave is rational and Starscream is a dick) but this allowed imagination to run wild. I have fond memories of getting Transformer figures of characters I knew shit all about but it didn’t matter, you could make them whoever, aside from the likes of Optimus Prime, the rest of them were interchangeable plastic moulds for you to assign a character to in your own head, all that mattered was what side they were on. For children then, this offered a combination of familiar faces to emulate and lesser characters to improve on and the simplistic personalities the characters started with served as gateways for imaginative play. You pick up an Optimus Prime figure, the FIRST THING you do is Peter Cullen’s voice (Which is beautiful. Did you know he was originally going to give Optimus a more gung-ho brash tone but decided against it when he realised real war heroes aren’t such loud boasters, they’re more quiet and reserved resilient types so that’s what he went for and it stuck – at last an 80’s protagonist with a voice not suited to singing Wham! lyrics). Point is, familiar characters are easy to play and easy to work around as kids but you get more toys, you’re then encouraged to give them whatever personality you want. Nobody much remembers the likes of Red Alert or Sunstreaker, you’ve got to come up with something for those guys OR buy more comics and find out, both paths open to you and nobody can judge you either way.

The original cartoons, rewatching them, are awful in terms of writing but it allowed it to stay simple and episodes were based around singular plot points that reset the balance of power at the end. Usually it was:

MEGATRON: “I want the thing!”

STARSCREAM: “I have the thing! I am the leader of the Decepticons!”

OPTIMUS: “You can’t have the thing! I must capture/destroy the thing!”

STARSCREAM: “I no longer have the thing!”

MEGATRON: “STAAAAAAAAARRRRRSCREEEEEEEEAAAMM!”

And they all lived forever locked in an eternal struggle for political conquest. Some episodes went out there but they didn’t shake it up too much. Well, the first movie did, first animated movie, that killed off every major character and gave some of them shiny new forms and some shiny new characters altogether, which received mixed responses but was overwhelmingly met with cries of “OPTIMUS!” (No joke, the fan response was so strong, they had to include an end narration in the home release that assured children Optimus Prime would be reborn because the kids who saw the film in theatrical releases cried for days, it’d be like ending every Doctor’s regeneration with the previous body getting up and saying “I had a fun time but I’m going home to eat cake and play XBOX”) Erhem, this is long-winded, you can see I know my shit here. Anyway, Transformers offered a simple lore but with a rich tapestry of characters and with almost every character getting merchandise based on them, it was an easy thing to get into, it’d be like knowing every single Pokemon ever designed is available as a plushy, you’d eventually figure to buy one you like. That’s what Transformers was, more so than GI Joe which had interchangeable white dudes in camo gear plus some minorities just because, Transformers was more “THIS ONE IS A SPORTS CAR! THIS ONE IS RED! THIS ONE IS A T-REX! YOU THINK OF IT, IT’S A TRANSFORMER! SHIT MAN, EVEN BOOMBOXES AND TRAFFIC LIGHTS” (Not a joke, there is a traffic light Transformer)

Now you might think that explains the original appeal but why hasn’t it died off or only existed as a property some company foolishly tried to reboot into another animated series below the radar? Well, owing partially to the confusing ownership of rights between American and Japanese toy companies (The Japanese invented the toys but the Americans figured out how to make them sale-worthy and thus began a longstanding but oddly rickety partnership) nobody involved ever let Transformers die off and when G1 ran its course to a point of dwindling interest, it was reborn in various forms. Beast Wars, The Unicron Trilogy (Japan’s take which is a blog post in itself about how that worked), RID, Rescue Bots, Animated – since the 80s, there hasn’t been a generation of children that hasn’t had immediate access to an Optimus Prime they’ll always remember. For me, I started with an old video tape of two singular episodes of G1 and a single figure of Mirage, the Formula One car that could turn invisible. As I grew older, my Saturday morning cartoons were the Unicron Trilogy and my first Optimus Prime figure was Armada Optimus, the small one though so no trailer (violin plays) but then for one Christmas I went big with Cyberton Optimus, holy shit that was awesome, especially as I had Wing Saber and they could COMBINE and man that was fun. Each iteration of Transformers as a cartoon offered the same characters, with some slight differences owing to either writer’s choice, marketing decisions or legal disputes meaning certain character names belonged to certain people yadda yadda yadda, no two series are all that alike (Well, the Unicron Trilogy within itself seems all too happy to repeat some trends but I digress)

As the audience for Transformers matured, the franchise itself did too, hitting at more sophisticated audiences with Beast Wars and Prime, seen as the “best” iterations of Transformers cartoons, but also with various comic book series that delved into deeper realms the TV shows left alone – politics, post-war diplomacy, interpersonal relationships, even a sense of racism (Autobot/Decepticon peace treaties leading to the use of old war faction names as slurs against people who used to be aligned with said side). However, far be Transformers from just getting bigger and bigger and leaving people on the outside looking in like Game of Thrones or Agents of SHIELD where, if you’re not desperately trying to keep the pace by now, you’ve missed the boat and will have to endure many conversations you can’t follow, Transformers split its universe into numerous respective lores that you could opt into or out of and there was always an easy to digest option available in the form of a TV series. You liked the Bay films and want more but not G1? Oh okay, well Animated came out just in time for you, the artistic style is kinda weird but the characters are memorable and the plot doesn’t twist itself into a bagel like every other fucking thing on television seems to do at some point. You want your kids to watch Transformers? Rescue Bots is super kiddy friendly, think Aquanauts with robots. The team at Hasbro sort of accept two core universes now, Prime and Bay Film Universe, and seriously, if you’re even remotely interested in Transformers at this point then watch Transformers Prime, it is so well done, easily the best-written TV show based on these characters. With a lore that boils down to good versus evil, robots versus robots and only perhaps three characters you must never fuck up (Optimus, Starscream and Megatron), any writer can run with them and utilise the imagination of their childhood to give you new looks and new attitudes for these ten ton super robots to love and discuss and perhaps even inspire your works (Heck, I wrote my own Transformers lore as a kid using what figures I had to hand as core characters and sometimes even adult me is like, if fan fiction were my thing, I’d write a lot of Transformers stuff)

So, let’s summarise and answer those starting questions:

How has it lasted so long? – A huge expanse of characters all diverging from one core concept allows any team of writers to run wild, each iteration doing something the one before it did not and reimagining these characters in new and exciting ways that appeal to each new generation, ensuring every generation of children has at least ONE Transformers continuity they remember fondly

Why can we retell it to no end? – Because it is a classic story of good versus evil, freedom versus tyranny and the timelessly appealing combination of Sci-Fi, giant robots and fun gimmicks. Unlike say Spiderman, characters in Transformers are much more flexible to play with and can be remembered in a variety of ways. Optimus the Truck, Optimus the Fire Engine, Optimus the Gorilla – all that matters is that core concept, beyond that the only limit is the creativity of the writers and of the audience, who in time become the writers

So there you go! Let me know if you enjoy things like this, I know it certainly went on for quite a while and if anyone’s ever interested, I’ll go over the Unicron Trilogy in a follow up to this. Beyond that, let me know if there’s ever something you’ve thought of as timeless, maybe I’ll agree with you and I’ll gush my undying love for something you suggested to me for about 2000 words, who knows? If you’ve read this far, you’re either hankering for the Matrix of Readership (BADUMTISH) or just really want me to like you. Either way, thank you for enduring a seemingly endless ream of fanboy burbling!

Death Scene

Can I make a blog post about Doctor Who? Are people cool with me doing that? If you haven’t seen the series up to the finale, this post probably isn’t for you, unless you have no intention of catching up or don’t mind a spoiler but still want to read about Doctor Who, although this will also tie in with Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? Death scenes, that’s why, tragic ends to character arcs and why that’s not a thing anymore, if Whedon and Moffat are anything to by at least – though regarded as harbingers of death in their work, actually killing characters stone dead forever is not something they’re all that good at and that pisses me off more than it should. Without further ado, let’s begin!

So Doctor Who, my starting point, just closed another series and the big thing we’d been leading up to this whole time was the death of Clara and the Hybrid story arc, which turned out to be a red herring (There was no ‘hybrid’ in the sense of a single warrior being, it was the hybrid of the Doctor and Clara, a duo so damned dangerous they had to be separated or time itself would splinter around them) and we’d known that for a while with Jenna Louise Coleman already landing work elsewhere and Moffat promising a devastating death scene. Personally, long overdue, Clara outstayed her welcome for me and as a character, offered nothing that Moffat female characters don’t already – plucky attitudes, implied fluid sexualities and a fascination with the protagonist that overrides their sense of individuality. Clara died, having failed to cheat death and meeting her end in a big tragic scene with that raven thing and that was that… except it wasn’t. No, because you see Clara died with valuable information in her head so the Time Lords stole her at the precise moment just before she died and she lived on as a preserved memory of herself and the Doctor tries to run away with her so he can wipe her memory of him and dump her on Earth in a normal life, ala Donna Noble. The plan backfires, the Doctor wipes his own memory of Clara and Clara lives on, a fugitive fleeing the wrath of the Time Lords and gallivanting about time and space with the red herring hybrid we’d all thought was going to be a bigger deal than she was, Me (Me is the character name, I’m not referring to myself)

I’m annoyed. I already watched Clara have a big moment of sacrifice when she jumped into the Doctor’s time stream to save him and thus she broke apart into a million other Clara-like characters littered across the life of the Doctor and that, for me, should have been it. The Impossible Girl explained, terrific, a lack lustre character but hey, the arc ties up nicely at the end. Only it doesn’t, the Doctor still has a Clara at his side through thick and thin. Jeez, selfish cow, a big touching sacrifice scene wasn’t enough, you want more? What’s that? You want two tragic death scenes? Well Moffat seems happy to oblige apparently. This is dumb writing, this undermines the emotional investment, I didn’t even blink at Clara’s second death because any heartbreak I had, I’d already spent and then, not only does she die twice, she’s alive again and free to roam time and space in her own TARDIS just so as not to write the character off in case Coleman ever turns up back at Moffat’s door looking for work.

Here’s where I connect to Marvel, who do the exact same thing. Coulson, Stark, Groot, Pepper – all of those characters made big sacrifices and final plays that would have killed them but they survived through asinine loophole nonsense so as not to cut chunks out of their marketable merchandise and so you never have to part with a character you want to save for later. Heaven forbid Coulson die, even though his death was the catalyst that united the Avengers, god no, if he’s dead we can’t make a TV show about him. Groot dies but he survives, Pepper falls to her death but surprise, she has powers and Iron Man goes to sacrifice himself but he’s fine after. Heck, look at Loki (As if I need to tell the internet to look at Tom Hiddleston), he’s died twice too, when he dies for real nobody will believe it, it’s just a sham, he’ll be back, it’s like someone looked at Doctor Who and Dragonball Z and thought the key to timeless cult classics is to have main characters that just don’t die ever.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell Whedon and Moffat to go ahead and kill off their cast willy-nilly, death scenes aren’t just shock film filler, that’s what fake out death scenes are. If you have a death scene that doesn’t result in the end of a character, that’s a cop out, that’s an excuse to get that emotional response from your audience without committing to finding a way to advance the stories without those characters. One revival, sure, I’ll forgive it, but two deaths and then suddenly you’re a time traveller/disguised as your dad? That’s just exploitation and a lack of willingness to evolve a story beyond the same five or so faces you know earn you some money. Doctor Who, kill off companions or have them left behind, don’t combine the two – Amy and Rory didn’t die, Clara didn’t die, Moffat seems incapable of killing anything other than my interest in Doctor Who of late. Marvel, have someone important die and stay dead, at least for a little bit – you killed and revived Loki IN THE SAME FILM, there’s no big reveal to that, it’s more just “Haha you thought he was dead but he’s not, aren’t you a silly?”. No, I’m not, I thought you’d actually closed his character development but it seems you have come up with an excuse to keep using Loki as a villain rather than a tragic hero that died to avenge his mother and seek the forgiveness of his brother.

Death scenes are beautifully potent endings to character stories, they allow us to see the last of that character and reflect on who they were and what they meant to us and to the world in which they lived. We saw Loki die, we saw a shitty entitled brat become a self-sacrificing hero with his last breath but then it seemed that was not so, he had always been just a piece of self-serving shit. We saw Clara die, we thought she had been prepared to sacrifice everything for those she loved yet she sacrificed nothing, she never lost, if anything, she gained – a TARDIS all her own and her own little companion. As a writer and as a fan of fiction, I can’t stand to see the powerful emotions brought by death used as just an excuse to shake the snowglobe a little bit and watch people react to the snow inside.

The Letter ‘T’

Disturbingly, a petition online of about 600 signatures has been circled around the internet by gay men and women calling for the T in LGBT to be erased from all media concerning them, might not sound like much but in the same year we’ve had Germaine Greer say trans women are just demented cockless men, announcements of a thriller action movie using gender reassignment as a gimmick and the movie Stonewall turned a black trans character into a white gay character. Basically then, this petition is summing up the increasingly dark treatment we as a species are giving the trans community – urging them to disappear.

Straight off the bat, let’s make it clear that even within feminism and LGBT movements there are poisonous individuals, spoiler alert, defending equal marriage rights doesn’t exempt one from being a total asshat. Germaine Greer, case in point, equated being trans as having ear extensions and fur added to your body and calling yourself a dog – because you know, one of those experiences is a harrowing journey of self-exploration and the other is a hilariously misguided use of medical resources, please don’t make me point out which is which. There is apparently no malice intended by this petition, it isn’t saying they want the trans community to be brutally killed off but apparently these individuals feel that the T in LGBT is what is holding them back from achieving fair treatment. Funny, I remember the issue being a modern society objecting to the concept of love being love because of a book written two-thousand years ago but whaddaya know, it was those darn transitioning twatmonkeys holding back the human race, go figure.

So what other criticisms do we have of the trans community here? Oh, this old gem, the “I can pretend to be a trans woman and still be a straight cis male and thus get free looks at boobs!”. I have many qualms with this transphobic trope – one being there are zero recorded incidents of that happening and whilst that doesn’t mean it has never happened, it certainly doesn’t happen as often as other invasions of privacy such as men molesting women on trains or inappropriate same-gender interaction in a changing room (I’ve been in a changing room and had other men comment on my underwear/penis, it is not just banter, it is fucking terrifying and weird and unless I invite you to look at my dick, do not discuss it). Secondly, it’s pretty fucking noticeable when someone is sexually aroused in a changing room, if this is someone’s master plan to watch women undress, please take this person and introduce them to porn, I beg of you, it will make their life so much easier. Trans people want to use the changing room or toilet they ask to use because that is what feels right to them, they aren’t there for a cheeky nose around in the same sense you aren’t. If you see someone wanting to use a different changing room and your first response is “Ohhhh so you can stare at other people getting changed?” then what does that say about you? Is that what you’d do? Heck, stick me in a women’s changing room, I’d just get changed, I’m waaaaaaaaay too self-conscious to spend my time oggling (That and y’know, I fucking respect their right to not be stared at)

The petitioners fear a promotion of trans equality alongside gay equality gives them a bad name, like they had an easy ride to begin with, the only difference between your struggles is one group got called sinners and abominations and then became popular and trendy on television in bit parts of stereotyped characters, the other got all that plus being used as a comedic trope and being confused with drag queens and psychotic perverts by even the people supposedly looking out for them. Apparently teaching children as young as four its okay to be trans will encourage them to be trans is another issue, to which I say “Why is that an issue?” and also “Kids experiment, that’s part of growing up, they will decide who they are when they’re done undressing their dolls and poking parts of the anatomy curiously”. Seriously, we need to get over this idea that this stuff is too complex for children when kids are actually pretty on the ball, why do we treat our children like impressionable morons? If your child is going to do something dumb, that is your problem, not the media’s, parent your goddamn child but love that child whatever they want to be – be that straight, gay, asexual, pansexual, genderqueer, gender re-assignment surgery – and if they ask a question, answer it, because if you don’t then it will eat away at your child and confuse them for years on end until they get the wrong idea from a film or a reddit post or whatever. All children experiment with their gender and sexual identity in some way, we have to allow for that and realise they will decide what is right in their own time and we have to show them love and support, not shame and resentment. I had ‘girly’ interests at different stages in life – Powerpuff Girls, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, some of my imaginary roles I played were female – I’m ‘fine’, I’m not a deviant, the same is true of so many others, I merely use myself because I know myself best for an example but experimentation leads to the discovery of a true inner identity, without that chance to learn we repress ourselves and THAT creates deviants.

Lastly, tieing in with Stonewall, the petitioners felt the film appropriated their culture and tried to pander to trans audiences by including trans characters arbitrarily, which is odd because y’know, I’m fairly sure trans people were there (Miss Major-Griffin Gracy ringing bells anyone? Google it). The film is a terrible whitewashing of an event at which only a third of the people there were gay/lesbian white folk, the rest were drag queens, genderqueer, trans and a veritable assortment of ethnic origins, Stonewall was the definitive bar for that community, it was not just a gay bar but a secret sanctuary for anyone who didn’t fit the straight-white guideline. The film, if anything, did too much to make it white and gay, to make a friendlier and less diverse portrayal of the events, possibly for fear of being too far out there to attract an audience or get a positive response in the media. To want less trans people and people of colour in the film and in the media portrayal of the community in general suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of what the community is – a genderfluid asexual black woman deserves as much media attention as a cisgender gay man because both of those people are being denied fair treatment in some sense or another, both are called abominations and both of them, as if this needed pointing out, are human beings.

Division within the LGBT+ community only serves to harm those within it and whilst there are some issues in which you can’t lump the L,G,B and T in the same discussion (For starters, T isn’t a sexual orientation, it’s a gender identity) the problems faced are shared and are best faced united. I’m certain that the overwhelming majority of the community won’t buckle to this transphobic way of thinking but if you have, I urge you to take up your beef with someone else because it is not the fight for trans equality you need to be worried about ruining your life and your chances of being respected by your peers – it is the crackpot zealots in government jobs saying you cause floods and plagues, it is the misconceptions that AIDS was the fault of people like you, it is the educational system that refuses to teach children why you are not a freak – those are the problems the LGBT+ movement have to face and they must face them together because a house divided is a house that falls! Trans people are human, just like you and they deserve to be fought for, why are you exempt from that fight?