In the years since its 1984 debut, the Transformers franchise has proven itself to be remarkably durable. The original Marvel series lasted 80 issues and was followed by runs from Dreamwave and IDW. Add in the numerous versions of the Transformers in TV and film — including “Armada,” “Beast Wars” and the Michael Bay movies — and it’s clear that the battling ‘bots are beloved by many.
A large part of the reason for this is the characters, with many — such as Optimus Prime — being developed into fully-rounded individuals through their appearances in comics and animation. Over the years, hundreds of characters have fought in the ranks of Autobot and Deception. While many are bonafide legends, others are memorable for all the wrong reasons. CBR has assessed the troops to find 15 Transformers that may be better suited for the smelting pool than the battlefield.
Bumblebee is undoubtedly one of the most well-known Transformers, particularly since the advent of the live-action Transformers films, where he is a central character. He’s also received a lot of page time in the comics: in Marvel’s series he was one of the first Autobots to strike up a relationship with humans, while in the IDW continuity, it was Bumblebee that took responsibility for keeping order on the repopulated Cybertron. And yet, despite all this, it’s a sad fact that Bumblebee has repeatedly proven to be rather disaster-prone.
Part of the reason is that, for much of his history, Bumblebee has been cast in the role of the younger sibling, desperate to impress the older and cooler kids. This meant that he was invariably kidnapped, beaten up or otherwise imperilled, while his long-suffering Autobot brethren mobilized to save him yet again. This is an Autobot who rivals Optimus Prime for deaths, although Bumblebee rarely even gets the dignity of a heroic sacrifice. He’s been blown up by G.I. Joe, destroyed by Death’s Head, disintegrated by Starscream, and shot by Shockwave. It can’t be denied that the little yellow guy tries his best; it’s just a shame that it’s rarely enough.
It’s unlikely that Ratbat’s tenure as commander of the Decepticons inspired any epic ballads or blood-pumping drinking songs. While leaders such as Megatron or Galvatron inspired their troops, either by inspiring devotion or fear, Ratbat was another story. In essence, he was the embodiment of the colorless leader in a grey suit, a bean-counter who was more obsessed with the bottom line than any cause or overall strategy. When your leadership style can even make Soundwave look like a devil-may-care Decepticon leader, there may be a problem.
Ratbat’s “successes” have included aborting Trypticon’s successful attack on the Autobots due to the energy budget being exceeded, banning use of the space bridge between Cybertron and Earth, and implementing a memorably complicated plan to steal fuel supplies from human cars through the use of a hypnotizing rock and car wash. Inexplicably, this latter plan failed. Ratbat was killed by Arcee in “Transformers: Robots in Disguise” #2, sparing his fellow Decepticons any more of his “cunning” plans.
As the Transformers G1 Universe expanded, the toys released became ever stranger. Gone were the days of robots that simply turned into cars or planes. Instead, a bewildering range of characters was introduced, including Targetmasters, Throttlebots, Powermasters and Pretenders. One of the more unusual releases were the Terrorcons. While they followed the combiner template of five bots joining together, they were more animal-like and quirky than many of their fellow Decepticons. The Terrorcons’ most unusual, and most useless member was undoubtedly Blot.
Blot’s claim to fame was that he was the most disgusting Transformer ever invented, constantly oozing fluids from his joints and emitting a rank odor. The battlefield advantage of both these abilities must certainly be questioned. If your opponents can find you simply by tracking your discharge (shudder), it suggests that stealth probably isn’t an option. And if your fellow combiners are reluctant to join with you because your stench is too unbearable, then your contribution to the team must certainly be questioned.
Hot Rod has a great visual, that can’t be denied. By proving worthy of the Matrix in “Transformers the movie” and being reborn as Rodimus Prime, he was also instrumental in the defeat of Unicron. When Hot Rod is judged on his own merits the findings aren’t quite so kind. His impatience, brashness and headstrong behavior could be attributed to youthful arrogance, but the case against him is weighted by the fact that a generation of kids blamed him for the death of Optimus Prime. It was Hot Rod’s intervention in the Megatron/Optimus battle that turned the tide, allowing Megatron to use him as a human shield and gun down Optimus.
As for Rodimus Prime, perhaps the kindest thing that can be said is that he was an improvement on Ultra Magnus’ short tenure as Autobot leader. However, he frequently questioned his decisions, was constantly second-best to Galvatron in the Marvel UK comics, and struggled to live up to the burden of leadership. The heavy focus on Rodimus in IDW’s “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye” has offered partial redemption, but it’s still telling that a significant proportion of the Lost Light’s crew have never had any faith in Rodimus’ leadership.
The Special Teams were one of the first expansions to the Transformers line released. The Constructicons were the first combiner team to debut, with the power of their gestalt form (Devastator) giving the Decepticons a significant advantage over the Autobots. Devastator’s success led to the introduction of the Special Teams, with both Autobots and Decepticons adding combiner teams to their ranks. The Autobots introduced the Aerialbots and the Protectobots, while the Decepticons debuted the Stunticons and the Combaticons. The Aerialbots were (after Jetfire) the first Autobot flyers introduced and were composed of Skydive, Sling Shot, Air Raid, Fireflight and Silverbolt, their leader. Unfortunately, Silverbolt had one small problem for a flyer: he was scared of heights.
This acrophobia drastically affected Silverbolt’s usefulness. Despite transforming into a Concorde and being the most powerful member of the Aerialbots, it diminished his confidence and made him risk-averse. This not only affected him but also his comrades, who he often tried to prevent carrying out any maneuvers he deemed too risky. When the response of Optimus Prime to your first mission is to mind-wipe you and your team, essentially restoring you to factory settings, it’s safe to assume that you’ve failed to impress.
One of the main innovations in Generation one was to pair Transformers with humanoids, as Headmasters, Powermasters and Targetmasters. While the rationale for the toys was clear (“Look! It’s a little man who also transforms!”), the in-story justification was less apparent. In the case of the Targetmasters, the concept was that Nebulons were binary-bonded to Transformers and could transform into their weapons. Theoretically, this was meant to benefit Transformers by providing them with a living weapon that could make its own decisions.
If this is the case, then something went drastically wrong with Misfire. As his name suggests, he’s a Targetmaster that had the unfortunate affliction of being unable to shoot. His Nebulon partner was even called Aimless. Misfire and Aimless: it’s like a Transformers buddy comedy where both leads are utterly useless. When you’re designed to do one thing and can’t even do that well, you’d be forgiven for being rather downhearted at times. Luckily for Misfire, he’s found a place within the Scavengers in “Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye,” where he’s somehow managed to survive battles with foes, including the Decepticon Justice Division and Fortress Maximus.
Transforming into a bright yellow Lamborghini Countach, Sunstreaker is sexy and he knows it. This vanity has given him a certain arrogance: early adventures saw him voice concerns that engaging in battle would scratch his paintwork and he described himself as “Cybertron’s greatest warrior.” It’s unlikely that this endeared him to his fellow Autobots. Destroyed by Shockwave in “Transformers” #5, it was to be several years before he returned to the comic, suggesting that his resurrection wasn’t at the top of Ratchet’s to-do list.
It’s not just in the Marvel continuity where Sunstreaker’s actions failed to match his self-belief. In “All Hail Megatron,” he was revealed as the Autobot traitor. Sunstreaker’s price for his co-operation was that Starscream killed all humans, highlighting his trauma from his past torture and the experiments made on him by human forces. As traumatic as this experience was for Sunstreaker, even this highlighted his unreliability. The humans created an army of Sunstreaker clones, believing that their use of his data banks would tell them everything about the Autobots. Unfortunately for them, Sunstreaker spent more time studying his own reflection than Autobot mission logs, meaning that the information they gleaned was incomplete at best.
While the majority of Transformers have the ability to change modes, the impressiveness and usefulness of this can vary drastically. For every triple-changer such as Springer or Astrotrain, there are characters such as Rung, whose alternate mode is officially classed as an ornament. But even this pales in comparison with the sheer strangeness of Reflector: three Decepticons that combine to form the awesome construct of… a Polaroid camera. It’s true that technological advances since 1984 have diminished any prestige this may have once had, but even so, it’s a ludicrously convoluted transformation.
Spectro (Shutter), Spyglass (Flash) and Viewfinder (Lens) are among the best examples of Transformers created with the toy possibilities foremost in mind, and any logical backstory a distant second. It makes no sense that it would take three robots to make a tiny camera; the economics of scale involved in such a transformation are troubling to say the least. Reflector’s design, though, did have the bonus of allowing Hasbro to sell a more expensive toy. And people think the
Ultra Magnus is a character that, in many ways, found it impossible to live up to his own hype. “Transformers: The Movie” was promoted as a changing of the guard, with much hype around the new leaders. While Galvatron was more powerful, destructive and downright insane than Megatron, Ultra Magnus simply couldn’t compete with the legend that was Optimus Prime. He proclaimed his unworthiness when receiving the matrix and, unfortunately, his actions while leader did nothing to challenge this view.
The majority of his Marvel comic appearances came in the UK title, where he repeatedly clashed with Galvatron. The best that Magnus could manage against the fury of Galvatron was a score draw, leading him to develop an almost pathological fear of his foe. Perhaps this explains the reason why, after being stranded on Earth, he spent several months hanging about in the American wilderness instead of locating Earth’s Autobots and assisting with their struggle. These lost months are, as yet, not chronicled. Surely, this is the perfect opportunity for a retroactive miniseries entitled “Ultra Magnus: The Wilderness Years,” featuring his exciting escapades encountering Earth’s flora and fauna.
As a member of The Wreckers — the Autobots’ elite Cybertronian fighting force — Broadside has been involved in countless battles. A fierce fighter in robot form, he’s also a triple-changer who is capable of transforming into a jet or an aircraft carrier. Unfortunately, there’s a minor problem with Broadside’s alternate modes. He’s terrified of heights in jet mode and suffers from sea sickness as a boat.
It’s hard to imagine how humiliating this must be for him and perhaps explains why Broadside — in robot mode at least — has often been portrayed as an argumentative, defensive character . The Wreckers are Autobot legends, generally portrayed as being tough as old boots and including members such as Whirl and Springer. It’s a safe bet that Broadside’s struggle with his delicate constitution failed to elicit much sympathy. It’s also safe to assume that his Autobot comrades were reluctant to travel on an aircraft carrier that could spray chunks of Energon whenever a particularly nasty wave rolled in.
Transformer combiners were designed to turn the tide of battle, with five Transformers joining together to make a powerful whole. Defensor, Devastator, Superion and co. may all have had their unique personality quirks, but it’s undeniable that their great strength was a huge asset on the battlefield. There’s always an exception to every rule, however, and for the combiners it is Computron.
The gestalt form of The Technobots (Scattershot, Afterburner, Lightspeed, Nosecone and Strafe), Computron was intended to increase his effectiveness by pooling the intellect of each individual Technobot, allowing them to better work in tandem. It seems a reasonable plan, but the execution was anything but a success. The pooling of minds meant that Computron could not make any decision without first analyzing the views of all his parts, severely dulling his reaction time. This meant that by the time he made a decision, Devastator and friends were normally already beating lumps out of him. Sometimes, brawn really does beat brains.
It’s almost impossible to dislike Starscream as a character. As the constantly scheming, cowardly Decepticon, he’s never less than entertaining, whether it’s in comics or cartoons. Unfortunately for Starscream, more often than not, he’s actually portrayed as completely useless, whether it’s as a fighter, schemer or leader. Despite constantly lusting after leadership of the Decepticons, on the rare occasions Starscream achieved his goal, he typically had no idea what to do next, completely failing to inspire loyalty in his troops.
Starscream’s most ambitious power-play — where he attempted to steal the power of the legendary Underbase — saw him deactivate scores of Autobots and Decepticons in “Transformers” #50. But even then his lust for power saw him grab defeat from the jaws of victory, being destroyed by the energy he coveted. In the IDW Transformer books, Starscream has assumed leadership of Cybertron, but at times this has only been made possible by good fortune and the — often unwilling — help of others. Starscream is a character who, in trying to turn every situation to his advantage, invariably ensures his own defeat. It’s clear why Megatron put up with his presence for so long: good entertainment is so hard to find.
The first problem with Breakdown is his name. Perhaps a recovery truck could be called “Breakdown,” but calling a souped-up sports car that doesn’t inspire much confidence. As part of the Stunticons, Breakdown combined with Motormaster, Drag Strip, Dead End and Wildrider to form the destructive Menasor. While many of his comrades were vicious and psychotic, Breakdown was another story. He had an acute case of paranoia that drastically impeded his effectiveness, both on his own and as part of his team.
Breakdown’s name was apt in one way: the vibrations from his engine often caused other vehicles to have mechanical failures. Despite this, while his comrades were happily causing carnage and mindless destruction, Breakdown was often more comfortable in the background, afraid of standing out and being the center of attention. Unfortunately for him, being a giant robot on a planet full of tiny humans rendered this a most unrealistic goal; still, a Decepticon can dream.
Scorponok wins the hotly-contested award for “Greatest wasted potential in a Decepticon.” Here was a character that had immense strength, a brute savagery and a cunning mind. Unfortunately, he binary-bonded with a cowardly and corrupt Nebulon called Lord Zarak. With Zarak now transforming into his head, Scorponok’s life would never be the same — mainly for the reason that his natural aggression was being tempered by a cowardly, elderly Nebulon. As a result, a character that could have had great potential as a Decepticon leader became a playground bully with a soft center.
Scorponok’s time as Decepticon leader was not a great success. Many of his troops were killed by Starscream during the Underbase saga and in one ignominious defeat, he had his head forcibly ripped from his shoulders by Highbrow. Even the surrender of Optimus Prime and the Autobots to him couldn’t raise the morale of his downhearted troops. When Scorponok finally rediscovered his inner warrior and pride, he joined the battle against Unicron. Scorponok’s frenzied attack only managed to, in essence, stub Unicron’s toe before the irritated victim incinerated him. Scorponok therefore died as he had lived: being completely ineffectual.
The leader of the Dinobots, Grimlock is one of the Autobots’ most feared warriors. Whether he’s in robot mode or his T-Rex form, the last thing a Decepticon wants to see is him charging their way. It takes more than brute force to make the robot, though, and Grimlock has often been his own worst enemy. Dinosaur brains may be larger than commonly believed, but Grimlock frequently gives the impression that his synapses aren’t firing correctly. He’s a hothead who has let his temper and emotions cloud his judgement on numerous occasions, imperilling all those around him. He’s also an even less impressive Autobot leader than Ultra Magnus.
Grimlock’s stint as Autobot commander on Earth was farcical, largely due to his stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to others. They say that power corrupts; well, in Grimlock’s case, it made him wear a ridiculous looking crown, push several Autobots into defecting and pull others back from protecting humans. Even after he was reborn as a Pretender, Grimlock showed that he’d learned nothing, blithely reviving his Autobot comrades with Nucleon without having any idea of its effects. The Dinosaurs are long extinct, and it’s quite frankly a wonder that Grimlock hasn’t joined them.
There you have it! Whether you agree or disagree, be sure to let us know on Facebook and in the comments! Also let us know your own choices for most useless Transformer!
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