By Nick Saunders
One debate has consistently reigned supreme in the Transformers fandom and has raged for decades- which Prime is best? Is it Optimus Prime, the no-nonsense original leader of the Autobots, or his successor, the introspective and self-doubting “Chosen One” Rodimus Prime? Semi-truck or pimped-out Winnebago? Stripes or Flames? Smokestacks or Spoiler? Peter Cullen vs. Judd Nelson? Wait, who the heck is Judd Nelson?
By now you surely comprehend the gravitas of this philosophical undertaking. For context, let’s jump in our DeLoreans and travel back in time to the year 1986, when the USSR still thrived and Madonna still had human skin and not a semi-synthetic reptilian epidermis. Transformers were all over toy shelves and the cartoon series was hugely popular. The executives at Hasbro decided to cash in by producing and releasing a feature-length animated movie based on their smash hit toyline, and Transformers: The Movie was born. Hasbro used it as a vehicle to introduce new characters (read: toys), and throwing brand equity and character recognition aside, killed off 99.9% of the original cast in the process. During a fight with Megatron that Optimus was already winning, Rodimus (Hot Rod at the time) jumps in and is taken hostage, leading to Optimus getting killed. It was this moment in time that caused all the world’s unicorns and leprechauns to die en masse. Angels wept softly; the Earth split in twain. Children across America concurrently screamed in a cacphony of anguish. Not me though, I kept it gangsta.
And by the way, apparently Transformers turn gray when they die, so there’s that.
On his deathbed, Optimus reveals he possesses the Matrix of Leadership, a mystical device that contains the wisdom of all past Autobot leaders. He passes it on to Ultra Magnus, saying the Matrix will choose the next leader. Long story short, Magnus gets blown apart (or drawn and quartered, per urban legend) by the Decepticons, and at the end of the film it turns out that Hot Rod is the chosen successor. He takes possession of the Matrix, upgrades to Rodimus Prime, throws Galvatron (reincarnated Megatron- voiced by Leonard Nimoy aka Mr. Spock) into space, blows up Unicron (giant planet-eating mofracken), turns into an RV, showers, shaves, and bounces. Busy day, right?
In the subsequent season of the television series, Rodimus agonizes constantly over his suitability as a leader, and is often seen being excessively emo and self-consiously drippy in conversations with Ultra Magnus. In the episode “Dark Awakening” where it appears Optimus is resurrected, the dude can’t give the Matrix back to him fast enough. A Quintesson-possessed Optimus is happy to oblige him and subsequently beats him like Rick James in search of his stash of PCP.
At the end of the episode, Optimus overcomes the Quintesson mind control and sacrifices himself (again!) to save the Autobots. He then dies a fugly, hideous death (again!). Noticing a pattern here, true believers?
The point I am trying to make here, at least as far as the Generation 1 cartoon and movie go, Rodimus Prime was much more content to follow as opposed to lead. Optimus never backed down, and was never afraid to throw down heavy, even in the face of death. Rodimus abdicated his responsibility the minute an opportunity arose. Sure, homeboy blew up Unicron, but without the Matrix could he have done it? Sucka please. He is the Transformers equivalent to a nasty back-up dancer for En Vogue.
However, as far as the toys go, I have much less venom to spew towards Rodimus. While I much prefer the various Optimus Prime toys, there is plenty of cool to spread around. In fact, as a kid Rodimus was the only Prime I owned for quite some time, so that toy holds a special place in my heart.
My solitary toy-related gripe regarding Rodimus Prime would be that the arm of my $75 Masterpiece version decided to spontaneously shear off a few weeks ago while on display in my man cave (you’re dang right I have a man cave homie, and it reeks of win). Only after some deft handywork on my part, and a broken drillbit to the thumb, was I able to make it presentable again.
Well that’s it for this week people. Until next time, keep your toys minty and your toejam linty.