COUNTDOWN: 9 classic Transformers Skybound has absolutely nailed!

In case you’ve yet to notice, we’ve been loving Skybound’s new Transformers series!

With gorgeous art, high stakes and relentless action, you might imagine the main reason for such praise is anything other than the wonderful character work the book has also capably demonstrated. Yet, whilst all of those elements are, of course, hugely influential, it’s the depictions of the Autobots and Decepticons which truly sing, fleshing out the robotic cast with a sense of purpose and surprising attention to detail, often in ways which go right back to the franchise’s roots.

So, today, here are nine classic robots who have been absolutely nailed during the Skybound run thus far!

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Transformers so far, including #7 (and previews for #8)!

#9: Skywarp

Transformers (Skybound) #2, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

Skywarp is a thug. A goon. A hooligan. He’s little more than a miscreant playground bully who delights in tormenting others, assuming he can even be bothered to do so. Whilst this first entry on our list may not sound all that nuanced a portrayal – especially considering he was (mostly) taken off the board as early as #4 – longtime G1 fans will no doubt recognise the origin of all of these rather regrettable character traits, given the essence of Skywarp’s persona is right there in his classic 1984 toy tech spec bio. It describes him as “sneaky“, enacting “cruel pranks” on Autobot and Decepticon alike and even condemns him as “not too smart” as he is “useless without Megatron’s supervision“. All of these elements play out to varying degrees in Skybound’s run, which portrays the dastardly Decepticon as anything but the brains of the operation, lacking any real motivation beyond being told what to do and then revelling in the carnage when he’s let loose. The ultimate indictment of this is how he intended to take the injured human Spike out of the running, moving to end his life with a simple but highly callous flick of his finger. We were also treated to some of the most creative uses of his signature teleportation powers ever seen in Transformers media, all of which allow this Skywarp to feel closer to the original packaging blurb than ever before.

#8: Jazz

Transformers (Skybound) #5, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

Even a casual Transformers audience has a fair idea of who Jazz is, given how unbelievably popular the fan-favourite Autobot has been since the early days! He was a standout presence in the first seasons of the 1980s cartoon and has been a welcome face in plenty of other media since, never failing to make his mark with his lively presence. Yet, in some ways, the Skybound portrayal is more like the Jazz so many of us think existed in the classic storylines than the actual reality from the time, dishing out the one-liners and Earthbound references with free abandon far beyond anything you might find in the show itself if you go looking. Add to that this take also brings the essence of his 1984 tech spec bio to life, showcasing him as “daring” and “very stylish, very competent” as he undertakes “the most dangerous missions“, all of which syncs up with his depiction as a respected Autobot warrior and a major player on the battlefield in this instance. Plus, his initial entrance in #4 is among the most rousing, punch-the-air debuts imaginable!

#7: Arcee

Transformers (Skybound) #7, artwork credit: Corona / Spicer

Arcee has become a popular presence in Transformers fiction over the decades, but the truth is the character largely lacks a core ‘template’ on which to draw inspiration. That’s no bad thing; it just meant some wildly varying takes in different media, which all stems from her origins. With no released toy in sight, there was also never an accompanying tech spec bio, and her debut appearance in the 1986 Transformers movie, whilst excellent in so many ways, didn’t exactly set a firm roadmap for future creators to follow regarding her personality. Although it’s very early days, the Skybound run has already done a great job at fleshing her out somewhat, and you could argue that her recent appearance in #7 takes a few cues from her classic Marvel universe profile back in the day. That describes her as “sweet, kind, and loyal… to her friends” but “a merciless, lethal warrior to her enemies“, with a “quick wit, and coolness under fire (making) her invaluable to the Autobot cause“. That sounds precisely like the Arcee we saw in the latest issue, lamenting her formidable battle prowess while reaching out to her new human ally to ensure she was doing okay. 

#6: Thundercracker

Transformers (Skybound) #8, artwork credit: Corona / Spicer

It’s not an exaggeration to say Thundercracker inspired this list. We haven’t seen much of the powder-blue Seeker so far in Skybound’s run beyond him being brought back online and showing increasing disgust over Skywarp’s fate. Yet the previews for the upcoming #8 show we’re well on track for a more nuanced portrayal of the classic Decepticon than we might have first imagined, as he offers mercy to a human in explicit and stark contrast to how Starscream reacted in a similar situation at the end of #1. He also seems surprised (and somewhat horrified) at Soundwave’s assertion that the fragile beings cannot be left alive, which again feels entirely in step with Thundercracker’s G1 tech spec bio. That describes him as “not totally convinced of the Decepticons’ cause“, which “impedes his effectiveness” at times. This subtle but crucial detail is often absent from how the character has been depicted in media (especially at the time, given he was little more than a generic thug alongside Skywarp in the classic cartoon), so it’s incredible to see it utilised here. True, the IDW comics did make good use of this inspiration, too, though that evolved into him taking up TV screenwriting and settling down with his dog, Buster, so it was quite a distinct interpretation overall! Again, it’s early days, but something about Skybound’s interpretation feels like it harkens right back to that 1984 bio, so it’ll be fascinating to see where it goes next.

#5: Soundwave

Transformers (Skybound) #7, artwork credit: Corona / Spicer

Soundwave is another character who has had many wild and varied interpretations over the years, although rarely any of them consistent with his 1984 toy tech spec bio, in truth. There, he is described as an “opportunist” who uses “blackmail to advance his status” and is “despised by all other Decepticons“. There’s equally scant evidence for that in Skybound’s run, mind, with their Soundwave feeling rather more akin to the character’s classic Marvel UK portrayal. There are the obvious parallels, such as the surely intentional homage during his brief moment with Optimus Prime in #6, but even that aside, what we have here is a ruthlessly intelligent and surprisingly foreboding spin on the Decepticon who is seemingly loyal to Megatron yet only too happy to assume the mantle of leadership when the opportunity arises. The ’80s cartoon take may be the most iconic on account of those Frank Welker-supplied vocoder vocals, but this Soundwave feels far more in the spirit of what we saw on the page back in the day, and it works wonderfully.

#4: Ratchet

Transformers (Skybound) #4, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

Like Soundwave, Ratchet is another character who has become a fan-favourite thanks to a very different spin than is found in his original toy bio. That describes him as a back-talking party animal who lets his desire for a good time interfere with his effectiveness as a medic, which feels far from the more established doc bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders we’ve all come to love. That reputation has become solidified in more recent interpretations of Ratchet, including series such as Transformers Animated or Prime. Still, the origin of it all is again the ’80s Marvel comics. There, the Autobot healer became a mainstay of the overarching storyline, going through such ever-increasing levels of horror that perhaps he just never had the time to strut his more party-hungry side. Still, there is often a down-to-earth pragmatism to the character, which feels very much in keeping with how he’s brought to life by Skybound, especially in scenes such as his fraught chat to Optimus at the end of #4. Ratchet’s assertion that the humans are not as innocent as his commander would believe and that the Autobots should look after themselves first if they hope to defeat the Decepticons may read as cold to some. Yet, it’s also not entirely inaccurate, giving us a welcome foil to Prime’s optimism and yet another wonderfully balanced take on a beloved old-timer.

#3: Cliffjumper

Transformers (Skybound) #2, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

Cliffjumper can only be described as the major breakout character of this series so far! Just go on social media, and you’ll doubtless find evidence of how much he’s resonated with readers already, not to mention memes aplenty showing him reacting in often hilarious ways (who needs guns when you can flip birds?). Yet, despite Cliff being a mainstay of Transformers fiction, he’s never been portrayed with as much reverence or nuance as we see in the pages of Skybound’s series. His classic bio describes an eager, daring, but often reckless Autobot who frequently finds himself in “situations too dangerous for him to handle“, and whilst that rings true for a lot of what we’ve seen of him here, he’s also fleshed out a lot more besides. This Cliffjumper is undoubtedly larger than life, with a bold, brash personality. Still, he also possesses a quieter, caring side, allowing him to resonate just as much in his sombre moments as he does for his over-the-top antics. His hesitation to follow through and execute Starscream is a defining moment for the Autobot, and it will be fascinating to see where his portrayal takes him next.

#2: Starscream

Transformers (Skybound) #1, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

Ruthless, overconfident, reckless, conceited, foolhardy. There are plenty of words to describe Skybound’s Starscream, but none of them are positive. Over the decades, the character has become iconic for his underhanded, opportunistic, and treacherous ways. However, only a few times has he been portrayed as quite this single-mindedly cruel without some means of keeping his worst traits in check (usually a fear of Megatron). Much like the unleashed Marvel comics Starscream, who took on the power of the Underbase and proceeded to destroy whole fleets of Autobots and Decepticons alike, this spin on the Seeker never fails to enact petty, cruel torture on those he considers beneath him, showing precisely zero mercy even for the meek, wounded or defenceless. From squishing humans in his palms to destroying hospitals (and kicking comatose robotic cats), this is an antagonist you love to *hate*, and one who had a considerably-sized comeuppance in the offing from the get-go. Such a grisly fate may have finally arrived in the pages of #7, although time will tell if it is as permanent as it seems. Whether he returns down the line or remains a short-lived but chaotic upstart of the book’s early run, there’s still no denying that this has been one of the most horrifyingly memorable – and thoroughly entertaining – takes on Starscream in years.

#1: Optimus Prime

Transformers (Skybound) #2, artwork credit: Johnson / Spicer

You surely knew who would take the top spot going into this list, and whilst I wasn’t really looking to create a ranking of any kind here, Optimus Prime would undoubtedly remain in such an esteemed position even if I was. After years of more grim and gritty takes on the Autobot leader (yes, I’m largely thinking of his big-screen persona here), it’s nothing shy of refreshing to see the classic essence of the character so instantly and authentically *nailed* on the pages of Skybound’s run. Noble, caring, self-sacrificing, “strong enough to be gentle” (in the immortal words of Peter Cullen himself), this Prime exhibits all the best traits one would hope for from the iconic hero. However, he also shares another critical characteristic of other fan-favourite interpretations from over the years: he’s wholly fallible. Skybound’s Optimus is not some stoic super-soldier who always knows what to do in any given situation; if anything, he’s second-guessing himself the whole time and winging it as best he can. Consequently, he makes mistakes, slips up and runs into conflict with his troops along the way, often leading to severe consequences. Yet the mark of a good bot is not in being perfect, but how they respond to such errors when they arise, and in that arena, this might be the most immediately lovable spin on the character in some time. Much has been said of the famous deer scene at the beginning of #2, but it perfectly encapsulates why Prime is such an appealing presence: not just his massive and powerful outward robotic form but the equally giant beating heart and palpable values at his core. That said, he still kicks arse when required – even dishing out suplexes and death drops aplenty as the moment calls! – yet there’s never a sense that he’s revelling in the carnage, much less bloodthirsty in any way. Skybound is now, for many, *the* quintessential Optimus Prime in modern media in that it so superbly skewers the foundation of what has made him so appealing from the beginning.

So that’s our list!

TTFN

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About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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