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Unboxing War for Cybertron: Earthrise’s deeper cut Transformers references

Yes, that one bot really has a lighter for a hand

Transformers stands in front of a tentacled robot thing in War for Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

Welcome to the cheat sheet for the second chapter in Netflix’s Transformers: War For Cybertron “anime” series, Earthrise! Across six new episodes, Megatron and his Decepticons are following Optimus Prime and his Autobots across the galaxy, and they brush against all sorts of Transformers nerd trivia along the way.

So as we did for War for Cybertron: Siege, let’s learn all the answers to our questions: Who’s that guy? Who’s that other guy? Are you seriously going to try to tell me who Galvatron is? What’d that guy mean when he said that weird thing? Will Earth rise?

[Ed. note: Spoilers for all six episodes of Transformers: War for Cybertron: Earthrise]

Scrap’s gonna hit the fan

Scrapface in Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

A noticed omission from War for Cybertron: Siege was Scrapface, a character from the first wave of Walmart-exclusive toys based on this series. He was the only new, never-before-seen character in a wave of known characters like Sideswipe and Hound, so many fans were anticipating him showing up in Siege! But he did not, even though he’s a Refraktor recolor and Siege was lousy with Refraktor recolors. These Netflix Transformers cartoons are about 80% Refraktor recolors by volume, honestly.

But at long last, Scrapface appears. In Earthrise’s first episode, he’s one of several captured Decepticons that Elita One’s band of Autobots frees from imprisonment. You see him quite a bit later on, as well!

The best thing about Scrapface remains, however, the knowledge that in Transformers slang, “Scrap” is their family-friendly substitute term for the naughty word we humans use for “poop.” So think about that a second. Or ask your parents.

Third faction’s the charm

Doubledealer and his mercenaries Thrust, Dirge, and Ramjet Image: Netflix

Siege introduced us to Soundblaster, a black-hued clone of Soundwave who belonged to the enigmatic Mercenaries faction. In Earthrise, we get to see the rest of these Mercenary dudes!

In episode 2, the Autobots are captured by Doubledealer and his crew. In the original Generation 1 toyline, Doubledealer was a double agent who played both sides, presenting himself to the Decepticons as a missile truck who transformed into a vulture, while presenting himself to the Autobots as that same missile truck who transformed into a robot. Earthrise doesn’t really get into all that. Instead, he’s just the leader of the Mercenaries, a group that plays both sides for maximum profit.

Joining Doubledealer and his Dwight K. Schrute face are the Coneheads — Thrust, Dirge, and Ramjet — who are just Decepticon jets like Starscream but with hats. They don’t really need further explanation, but Exhaust might!

Exhaust, the Marlboro cigarettes lighter Transformer in War for Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

Exhaust is a character based on an early, pre-Transformers version of Wheeljack’s toy that had the rally deco of Marlboro. Yes, the cigarettes. Thus the name. The actual Exhaust action figures — the original, the Masterpiece, and the current Exhaust toy that this cartoon’s design is based on — have its own special head, with a visored face and horns. But in this cartoon, he’s just got Wheeljack’s head with glowy red lights instead of the usual glowy blue lights. Guess that new head wasn’t in the animation budget.

Bug Bite the secret GoBot from Transfromers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

And you see that white Bumblebee there? That’s Bug Bite.

He’s a GoBot.

No, really. I’m not saying that pejoratively. He’s literally a GoBot.

The original Tonka GoBots Bug Bite transformed into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, just like our familiar friend Bumblebee (but if Bumblebee transformed into a robot that has a windshield for a face), so in 2004, when Transformers released a set of recolored Mini-Vehicles including a white Bumblebee, the idea of naming them all after GoBots was flirted with, which… Hasbro now sort of half-owns. It’s complicated. It was ultimately decided to leave the individual toys unnamed on the box, out of concerns that Bandai (partial owner of GoBots intellectual property) would throw a fit.

But in 2007, the Transformers convention BotCon said “LOL” to that, and released an exclusive toy of the then-current Bumblebee toy recolored in white as Bug Bite, then also released a series of stories about the GoBots dimension going kaplooey, forcing GoBots to travel to the Transformers dimension and disguise themselves amongst them.

The Earthrise cartoon doesn’t get into any of that. Bug Bite is just one of the Mercenaries. But let’s be clear: he’s a GoBot.

Trading faces

Deseeus the Renegade from Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

Doubledealer and his Mercenaries bring the Autobots before a familiar face or five. Why, yes, that is a Quintesson Judge, one of those multi-faced, tentacled alien folks who we saw sentence Hot Rod and Kup to death in The Transformers: The Movie! There was just one in the Animated Film, but we learned in The Transformers’ third season and the Marvel UK comics that there were multiple Quintesson Judges and they all had names. This one is no different, and goes by Deseeus. Good points to Rooster Teeth for giving them a very Quintesson-sounding name. Deseeus sounds at home with other judge names such as Deliberata, Klementia, and Pentius. The Quintessons are all very Latin.

What is different about this Quintesson Judge is that two of the faces are voiced by women! This isn’t the first time this has been the case, as a Quintesson with a female voice applied to one of its many faces was featured in the recent Transformers Cyberverse cartoon, but it is the first time we’ve seen this happen with the classic Quintesson Judge design.

I wonder if when Deseeus called themselves “the Renegade,” Bug Bite did a little doubletake and hoped nobody noticed.

Claws for alarm

Optimus Prime looking at Nebulon Station Image: Netflix

Optimus Prime’s second stop in Earthrise is Nebulon Station, a space station halfway submerged through a SpaceBridge portal. Older fans of Transformers who stuck around after the first three years will undoubtedly remember Nebulos as the name of the planet where the Autobots and Decepticons became Headmasters and Targetmasters. It’s either populated by green humanoids who sound like Fred Jones from Scooby Doo or by pantsless folks who look like they’re refugees from Prince Valiant, depending on if you go by cartoon or Marvel comics.

If you’re familiar with the Earthrise toyline, you might suspect who shows up on Nebulon Station, and you’d be right if you singled out Scorponok, the Headmaster Commander. He’s the most expensive toy in the line, so of course he’s going to be here.

Scorponok, the Headmaster Commander in Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

In the comic, Scorponok was part scientist, part politician, and had no problem speaking in full sentences. In the cartoon, Scorponok had maybe two lines and one of them was “AUTOBOTS!!!! DIIIIIEEEEE!” The Netflix version of Scorponok adheres a little closer to the latter take. He isn’t very verbose, but makes scattered mentions of being the “last” Scorponok and having previously been ruled over by Quintessons. Are we going to learn more about this particular Scorponok’s history? Probably not. If only he talked more! Or used verbs!

Scorponok’s appearance does result in one of my favorite sequences of this series so far, in which the Autobots try to escape Scorponok on foot through a slowly closing door, with Optimus reaching out his hand to Bumblebee, who’s straggling behind. It’s a tense moment! It’d be a little less tense if Bumblebee could transform into a car and drive instead of run, but Optimus seems to understand the poor little guy wasn’t modeled an alternate mode for this series. Transformers!

If life ain’t just a joke

The Dead Universe where Solus Prime and The Fallen are floating around in Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

In the fifth episode, Optimus Prime finds himself in the Dead Universe, where he converses with the exiled Sky Lynx. (Sky Lynx is the second most expensive toy in the Earthrise toyline.) In the original run of IDW’s Transformers comic books, the Dead Universe was a strange entropic dimension where Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge, Nemesis Prime (we’ll get to him), and others were lost for millions of years before returning and being mostly jerks to everyone. We’d learn later that the Dead Universe was inadvertently created by Shockwave when he siphoned life out of a random pocket dimension to fuel one of his neat-o evil schemes. (Not the neat-o evil scheme where he went back in time and disguised himself as a centaur until the modern day.)

Here, the Dead Universe is treated more like the Transformers’ Phantom Zone, as we see Alpha Trion banish Sky Lynx there through a portal using the Staff of Solus. Solus Prime herself (and her Staff) is seen floating around inside the Dead Universe, as is her stalker boyfriend Megatronus aka The Fallen. Both appear in the designs used for them in Machinima’s Combiner Wars web series. Solus and Megatronus (and Alpha Trion) belong to the Thirteen, a group of godlike folks who were the first thirteen Transformers.

An Alchemist Prime cameo in Transformers: War for Cybertron: Earthrise Image: Netflix

One more being floats near Optimus and Sky Lynx’s Dead Universe conversation. At this point, the pattern of Floating Inanimate Bodies seems to be “members of the Thirteen,” and this one holds a trident. The only member of the Thirteen to ever be associated with a Trident is Alchemist Prime, who once got a toy via a tiny transforming figurine of the Pretender Submarauder in 2018’s Power of the Primes. And Submarauder is ... well, he’s a fish man. Yet, I think that’s who we’re seeing! The details match up with the toy, as well as the shape of the trident itself.

Pretender Submarauder from Power of Primes action figure line Photo: David Willis

Some may know of Alchemist Prime by the name Macaddam, who we saw lots of during the Cartoon Network cartoon Transformers Cyberverse. That version took inspiration from a different design for the character, however.

Another member of the Thirteen, Prima, is mentioned by Ironhide in episode 3.

Starscream saying “What is the Celestial Spires is that?” in Transformers Earthrise Image: Netflix

When Starscream sees the fiery portal to the Dead Universe, he invokes the Celestial Spires. The Celestial Spires are apparently remarkable towers in the capital city of Iacon that Transformers like to swear by. Until now, this was a comic book thing, but invoking the Celestial Spires finally gets its animation debut.

Fear of a Black Redeco

Nemesis Prime in a vision in Transformers: War for Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

Within the Dead Universe, Sky Lynx shows Optimus Prime a vision of what he might come should he continue on his path of self doubt and insecurity. Through the mist, we see a black, red, and teal recolor of Optimus Prime. It’s Nemesis Prime!

Nemesis Prime is typically an evil clone of Optimus Prime, or at least another guy who’s not Optimus himself. He’s not typically a harbinger of a dark path taken, so this is a new role for the concept. There’ve been many toys of him because folks love their black Optimus Primes, but currently there’s a Nemesis Prime toy on shelves from Walmart’s exclusive War for Cybertron toyline, hidden inside the second wave’s “Spoiler Pack” box, which references this brief scene.

War for Cybertron toyline spoiler pack message deciphered Photo: David Willis

If you transcribe the Cybertronian characters on the inside of the box, you get these words which Sky Lynx says in this episode:

“You must stay true to whom the Matrix has chosen. For if you don’t… a much darker future awaits.”

Did you know that Transformers use quotation marks and ellipses in their language just like we humans do? Weird coincidence!

dead optimus prime in transformers: earthrise Image: Netflix

Sky Lynx also shows Optimus Prime a glimpse of another possible future, in which his body turns gray at death like in The Transformers: The Movie. A toy of Dead Prime was also sold in 2020 — an Amazon exclusive, titled “Alternate Universe Optimus Prime”! Guess this vision from Sky Lynx is the alternate universe that was inferred.

Somehow, Galvatron has returned

Galvatron time travels from the future in Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

Look, I’m not here to explain who Galvatron is to you. He’s Megatron from the future after he’s given a new body by Unicron, right? The Transformers: The Movie is the only Transformers media that was available in stores for, like, a decade. Folks know their Galvatron. But let’s poke at the corners of what he brings us in Earthrise, OK?

We learn through some not-so-subtle hints that Galvatron has time-traveled from the future to whenever these War for Cybertron cartoons take place to change the timeline and thus free him from Unicron’s servitude. Outside of the animated film which everyone has memorized, that’s one of the things Galvatron is pretty famous for! He did it twice across the various ’80s Marvel Comics, first in Marvel UK’s Target: 2006, and a second time near the end of Marvel US’s run after he was abducted by current-day Unicron in “Rhythms of Darkness.” That second Galvatron (dubbed Galvatron II) also made the jump to Japanese fiction and made some waves over there for a while.

Megatron’s hand covered in red electricity in Transformers: Earthrise Image: Netflix

Galvatron shows up here telling Megatron he needs to kill Optimus Prime and claim the Matrix for himself. Presumably to kill Unicron with? We aren’t told for certain. But he tells Megatron some news about certain powers he apparently has. It’s news to us, too, since it’s not something we’ve seen him do before.

But Galvatron tells Megatron to “use your hate, your rage” (yes, he’s Emperor Sheev Palpatining himself) until he glows red and can “unleash a plague of hatred.” Show of hands, who remembers the Hate Plague from the Eighties cartoon episode “The Return of Optimus Prime”? Galvatron’s clearly referencing that here, and I guess it’s something Megatron can just do! Maybe he’s full of Hate Plague spores. Should get that checked out.

Yes, it’s Unicron

Unicron in Transformers: War for Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

Again, I don’t expect to have to explain who Unicron is to you. He’s a cosmic deity, the brother of Primus, the Creator God of the Transformers, and they battled each other at the dawn of time until Unicron’s essence was trapped in his current, tangible form, which he uses to hop from dimension to dimension and eat them one by one until the entire multiverse is devoured and he can at last achieve peace. Or he’s just the big Orson Welles Galactus Planet Guy — we don’t have to go full nerd on this.

The Unicron we see briefly is based on the Haslab crowdfunded War for Cybertron Unicron, suitably enough, which is estimated to be shipped early in 2021. If you just saw this now and want one, uh, sorry, it was crowdfunded back in 2019. Just paw at your screen a little, I dunno.

Galvatron getting sucked back through time in an 80s laser grid Image: Netflix

Unicron pulls Galvatron back to the future using an approximation of the same visual effects that were used in The Transformers: The Movie when Unicron rebuilt Megatron into Galvatron, with the teal space grid and the see-through purple schematic stuffs. Thirty-five years later and we’re still finding new and exciting “[CITATION NEEDED]” ways to reference that movie in new media somehow.

My Kingdom for some Beast Wars representation!

Megatron discovers the Voyager 1 golden disk in Transformers: War for Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

As Galvatron departs like Mufasa in the clouds, he shows Megatron a vision of what he’ll need to obtain in the future, and oh hey, it’s the golden record we placed on the Voyager I spacecraft to tell aliens about Earth! This is not only a real life object but also a significant MacGuffin that’s central to Beast Wars (the ’90s CGI Transformers show with the animals). In Beast Wars we learn Decepticon Megatron captured the disk, encoded a secret message on it, and the manmade object somehow became a Maximal relic in the future, where it was stolen by Predacon Megatron (the separate, purple T. rex guy), taken into Earth’s past, and used by the Predacons to try to alter prehistoric Earth to ensure a Decepticon victory in the future.

How much of that’s going to survive into this particular cartoon series’ handling of this artifact nobody knows. War for Cybertron is pretty wishy-washy on what it’s decided matters from previous cartoons! Galvatron can show up from the future in an effects shot right out of The Transformers: The Movie, Megatron can be shown the Golden Disk because it’s important to his future in Beast Wars, but also folks like Skywarp, Alpha Trion, and Ultra Magnus can die earlier than they’re supposed to.

Dinobot the velociraptor Transformer from War on Cybertron - Earthrise Image: Netflix

The final shot in Earthrise pans down to Earth, where an extremely familiar face pops out of the jungle! Why, it’s a Jurassic Park velocirap — I mean, it’s Dinobot! No, not a Dinobot, like Grimlock or Snarl or Swoop or Paddles, it’s the Dinobot. 1995’s Predacon-turned-Maximal named Dinobot, who’s known in the fandom as “Raptor Jesus” because he (SPOILER FOR THE ’90S!) gives his life to save humanity. He spouts Shakespeare! He talks about honor! He has a spinny Rotate Blade cyber slash weapon! He (SPOILER FOR THE ’90S) dies! He is, frankly, rad, and I emitted a tiny squeal when he popped his head up out of the foliage. In the dark of night, I immediately ran across the house to my bedroom, and woke my wife up out her deep slumber, told her I just saw Dinobot in a new cartoon, and then she divorced me and went back to sleep.

I am now 100% sold on the upcoming third and final War for Cybertron chapter, titled “Kingdom” (because animals, get it???), though I may be a little biased. Which non-union voice actor will they get to replace Canadian Legend Scott McNeil? I gotta know!

Judging by Siege’s July release and Earthrise’s December release, I’m guessing we’ll all find out in about six months.