The myriad Transformers continuities are united by many things—mostly robots that transform into vehicles (and or prehistoric creatures, depending), but also: war. War, specifically not just on Earth, but for their homeworld. We’re about to see the battle for Cybertron rage all over again in Netflix’s new Transformers show, so to celebrate, here’s the best of the wars that came before. Be-war?
It’s bad. You barely get to see any of it, and not just for the greebled, sharp metallic designs of the “Bayformers” continuity, but because your sole glimpse of the conflict that brought all these spiky robots into the life of Shia LeBoeuf is basically a tracking shot of a small shuttle you get to see avoid some missiles and speed away to safety. Well, as much as you can consider “being the catalyst for Michael Bay’s Transformers movies” safety.
The “Unicron Trilogy” of early-aughts Transformers shows—Armada, Energon, and Cybertron—already has a radically different reason for the Cybertronians pummeling each other, in a way that was essentially: “there are important new toys to sell.” Enter the Mini-Cons, humanoid-sized Transformers who were both a powerful amplifier when linked to a normal Transformer and also... occasionally just weapons? Anyway, the Mini-Cons are the vital resource the Autobots and Decepticons are fighting over here, until they decide that being literal tools of war sucks and flee to Earth to try and wait it out. You should know that that’s not how it goes in any version of Transformers continuity, though.
Transformers: Animated’s continuity is a bit different, as it begins with Cybertron still intact and the war between the Autobots and Deceptions long since over—the Allspark is missing, and our heroes are a motley salvage crew rather than brave resistance fighters. It’s a bit unfair as we basically get to experience the first War for Cybertron via an old holotape that is actually just clips from the classic cartoon, but that’s a cute throwback even if it has bizarre continuity implications.
Just before the cartoon would come along and change pop culture forever, it was Marvel that actually got a first crack at exploring Cybertron’s fate in the original four-issue miniseries, which proved so popular it became a Marvel stalwart throughout the ‘80s. Although heavily enmeshed in the iconic cartoon that would start months later, Marvel’s series went on to build its own continuity within the iconic “G1” era—and its War for Cybertron was likewise a bit different compared to other Transformers origins.
Here, the Autobots don’t leave Cybertron to find energy to save their draining homeworld. However, the war between them and the Decepticons is so fierce it catapults Cybertron out of a stable orbit. Realizing their spiraling planet is on a collision course with an asteroid field, the Autobots launch an ark to clear the field—only to be assaulted by Decepticon saboteurs after doing so, leading to the ark crash-landing on prehistoric Earth.
The recent Cyberverse animated series actually goes the other way around. It’s set after Bumblebee, Optimus, and an advance unit of Autobots have arrived on Earth, and we don’t really get to see much of the war before they fled Cybertron. Instead, it culminates with the Autobots returning to their homeworld and retaking it from the Decepticon’s clutches. It gets infinitely weirder—there are multiple realities at play that eventually lead to a temporary truce between the Autobots and Decepticons to defeat an infinitely worse version of Megatron—but it’s a bit of a twist on Transformers lore to see the war for their home be ahead of them, rather than behind them.
The iconic animated series gives us a slightly different depiction of the Autobots’ arrival on Earth—though it still culminates pretty similarly in Optimus and pals being buried in a volcano for millions of years, only to have the unfortunate wake-up call of emerging in the mid-1980s. Here, the climax of the War for Cybertron is driven by an energy crisis as well as the political machinations of the power-hungry Decepticons.
Dreamwave’s own reboot of the G1 continuity brought with it another chance to revisit just how Cybertron tore itself apart with civil war, kicking off with the War Within miniseries from Simon Furman and Don Figueroa. The war we get to see is relatively confined, considering War Within sees Optimus ascend to the position of Prime and then promptly decide the best point of order is for the Autobots to abandon their homeworld. This is one of the first bits of Transformers media that actually took the G1 designs and attempted to give them unique “Cybertronian” twists to depict them as they were meant to have appeared on their homeworld before they ever saw Earth.
This is what you actually wanted when you heard Transformers 3 would feature a Cybertron flashback, and god dang did it deliver. Short, but sweet, those modernized takes on the G1 aesthetic got a moment to shine. There were even transforming tapedecks involved!
Is it unfair to rank it higher than the beloved original cartoon, given it relies so heavily on nostalgia for it and its designs? Maybe. But that’s also what makes it so cool in the first place: it’s our best realization yet of this climactic moment on the big screen, the way it should have been after a decade of attempting to capture that cinematic Allspark.
When IDW took over the Transformers comics in 2005, it started off in media res, with the Autobot/Decepticon war raging all over the galaxy on an unprecedented scale compared to past imaginings. It wouldn’t be until around a year later when Simon Furman and Don Figueroa (once again!) told the tale of what was really going on back at their home that fans would get to learn about the state of the war. Turns out, not great; in this continuity, Cybertron is rendered uninhabitable not directly by Optimus and Megatron’s factions tearing it apart, but the cataclysmic experiments of Decepticon scientist Thunderwing. He grafted biological components on himself in a process that drove him insane, forcing the Autobots and Decepticons to actually put aside their differences temporarily to try and stop him.
IDW’s actually getting to tell the War for Cybertron all over again—last year, the publisher rebooted its vast comics continuity for the very first time, and the series is currently depicting the earliest grievances between Megatron’s faction of ‘bots as they become branded as the treacherous Decepticons in the earliest days of Cybertronian discontent.
Back when Hasbro attempted to make an alternate transmedia Transformers continuity to run alongside the movies, we got to see Cybertron fall for ourselves—and participate in it!—in High Moon and Activision’s third-person shooter duology, which stood out for being surprisingly solid in a sea of past humdrum attempts at Transformers video games. War and Fall gave you the chance to play out both sides of the Cybertronian conflict in a brand new retelling, forming the basis for everything from spinoff books to the backstory of the excellent Prime animated series.
Also, there’s something to be said for a continuity that could turn a cover of a Siouxsie and the Banshees classic into a wailing Transformers battle anthem: Fall of Cybertron’s E3 2012 trailer is pretty great.
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