Tuesday, April 25, 2017
A to Z Challenge: Ultra Magnus vs Unicron
Ultra Magnus came along in the third series of toys, though as I previously noted, the cab of his car carrier mode was actually a repainted Optimus Prime toy. The trailer then became armor that you’d put around the robot mode of the Optimus Prime cab. Magnus was actually larger than the Rodimus Prime figure, which looked kinda puny by comparison.
So I guess it makes sense that in the 1986 movie when Optimus Prime dies, he chooses Ultra Magnus as his successor. Magnus, Arcee, Springer, and Perceptor are chased by Galvatron to the planet of Junkion. Magnus foolishly tries to open the Autobot Matrix, which (correctly) assumed that was not exactly the “darkest hour” for the Autobots. The late Robert Stack provided Magnus’s voice in the movie. Trying to open the Matrix he shouted, “Open, damnit, open!” which is the same thing I shout when I’m trying to open a jar that’s stuck. Then he’s gunned down by Galatron before the Junkions revive him.
In the third season of the cartoon show, Magnus is Rodimus Prime’s wise veteran counsel, even if his advice is not always heeded. He’s a brave, loyal soldier who is beloved by all, to the point Daniel Witwicky and Wheelie go to great lengths to try to find out his birthday.
He didn’t appear much in the Marvel comic because most of the third series characters didn’t show up much. In the IDW Transformers vs. GI JOE series, Magnus is portrayed as the boatman across the river Styx, taking Autobots to their final reward. At the end a white Optimus Prime jumps out of Magnus, a nod to the old toy design.
In the More Than Meets the Eye series Ultra Magnus goes with Rodimus and the others mostly to keep order. He’s used as a foil to the impulsive Rodimus and the various other Autobots who are pretty loose when it comes to rule. In one issue the Autobots go on shore leave and some of the others get Magnus drunk and then struggle to find a way to get him back to the ship. In another Magnus is infested by tiny robots and the only way to kill them is to use long-unused pistons to smile. Magnus has an official title of “Duly Appointed Enforcer of the Tyrest Decree” which was an Autobot treaty from long ago. In one story arc Magnus finds the actual Tyrest on a lost Cybertronian moon. Tyrest has pretty much lost his mind, so Magnus has to oppose his old mentor. It’s during this that it’s revealed Ultra Magnus isn’t really Ultra Magnus. Magnus’s body is really a suit of armor that has been passed through generations, so when one version is killed, another Autobot takes up the mantle. The current one is actually a tiny robot called Minimus Ambus. In a nod to this story the reissued Ultra Magnus toy comes with a Minimus Ambus figure that can fit into his chest.
There have been other versions of the toy probably. He's appeared in some of the other animated series. In Transformers Prime he shows up in the third season as a no-nonsense second-in-command who's voiced by the great Michael Ironside. In one episode he loses his right hand in a fight with the Predacon and has it replaced with a rudimentary claw. He hasn’t appeared in the live action movies, which is maybe for the best.
A fun fact is that “Magnus” is Latin for “great” so if you think about it his name would be Ultra Great! There’s a good name for a kid.
Though he’s not really a Decepticon, Unicron is evil enough to be on this list. He of course debuted in the 1986 movie and was the last role for the great Orson Welles. Welles was already in pretty bad shape, but with some digital work, his voice came out booming and menacing as you’d expect from a planet that goes around eating other planets. This concept isn’t really new as Marvel villain Galactus had been doing pretty much the same thing since the 60s, though Galactus wasn’t actually a planet himself; Unicron kind of took the concept to another level.
In the movie Unicron has eaten a bunch of planets and finally nears the Transformers homeworld of Cybertron. He recycles Megatron as Galvatron to try to destroy the Autobot Matrix, the only thing that could destroy him. But eventually the Autobot Hot Rod takes the Matrix from Galvatron and opens it, destroying Unicron.
Unicron’s severed head remained floating in Cybertron’s orbit as a new moon. The ghost of Starscream revived Unicron in the third season of the cartoon, but Unicron was stopped before he could unite his head with Cybertron to form a new body.
There wasn’t a toy of Unicron put to production but at the 1996 Botcon convention in Chicago we got to see the prototype toy that would have been about as large as the Fortress Maximus toy. Later there was a Unicron toy finally made, though it’s only half of a planet rather than a full sphere like in the movie.
Pretty much in every series Unicron is the ultimate bad guy. In the Marvel comics series he showed up around issue #61 and was finally defeated by Optimus Prime and the Matrix in issue #75. I’m not sure if he’s shown up in the IDW series yet but I think he’s going to be in the fifth movie, though I’m sure it’ll be incredibly lame. He’s also appeared in some of the other cartoon series, which is why there was finally a toy of him.
At the end of the first season of Transformers Prime it's revealed that Earth was formed around the spark of Unicron. When a planetary alignment wakes him, he nearly destroys the planet until Optimus Prime stops him with (what else?) the Matrix. In the follow-up movie Unicron seizes control of Megatron before he's defeated again.
No matter what, though, it’s just weird to think that was the last thing Orson Welles did. I mean from Citizen Kane to Transformers the Movie? Life is weird.