We’re back, and we’ve made it to Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom, the third and final chapter of the Netflix-exclusive Transformers cartoon! The first two chapters, Siege and Earthrise, allowed us to dig up and examine the frequently exhumed corpse of ’80s pop culture. But for this chapter we’re out for fresh blood: the ’90s!
As we traversed Kingdom’s six episodes, we asked the tough questions: “Who’s that?” “Where are we?” “Why are we floating in space like this?” “At what point did this clearly stop pretending to be in any previous continuity whatsoever?” “So, like, Blackarachnia’s like super gay, right?”
So let’s talk about the Beast Wars-inspired Transformers: War for Cybertron: Kingdom.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Transformers: War for Cybertron - Kingdom follow.]
One more ’80s hit for the road
In a major departure from most Generation One Transformers retellings, Optimus Prime, Megatron, and their double crew of warring robots actually survive their double crash on prehistoric Earth! They just get up off the floor easy as they please, rather than taking a four million year nap. Nobody even wore a seatbelt.
This is wrong! It’s so wrong that even Optimus Prime’s Matrix-less chassis starts throwing a fit and showing him images of the way things were supposed to be.
Of course I’m going to catalog them. That’s what I’m here for.
First we see Bumblebee talking with Spike Witwicky, the Autobots’ human friend from the original cartoon. I’d say it could also be Buster Witwicky from the comic (the shirt does look kinda pink), but let’s not kid ourselves. This is all cartoon stuff.
We see Optimus Prime kneeling down to talk to Spike Witwicky and Spike’s father, Sparkplug.
We see Megatron with a flail and Optimus Prime with an axe fighting on top of Sherman Dam, because that’s an original cartoon scene so important that they even did that scene in the original comics. Even the first Michael Bay movie put Transformers on a dam. Why is it important?
Well, why is anything important? Because it happened before, OK? When we were five years old.
We see Menasor! (He’s the combined form of the Stunticons, who do not appear in this trilogy.)
We see Optimus Prime on his deathbed, plucked almost directly from The Transformers: The Movie. See, this is where stuff starts our brains spinning. Isn’t this pleasantly just like the original scene? There’s Perceptor, there’s Arcee, there’s … wait, is that Ultra Magnus? Ultra Magnus is dead in this Netflix cartoon! He died in Siege! What’s he doing there?
As we all know, there were only six Autobots (plus Daniel Witwicky) present at Optimus Prime’s The Transformers: The Movie death, with Springer off having better things to do than watch Prime die.
It is at this exact point that your brain becomes that Wee-Bey Reaction GIF from The Wire. None of these characters (other than Arcee) are the ones present in The Transformers: The Movie, are they? Is this not drawn art? Are these existing character models? The one that looks like Perceptor isn’t; he’s got a pointy missile launcher on his shoulder, not a microscope. That’s probably Mirage. The guy in the upper left that sort of looks like he has Hot Rod’s spoiler wings on his back? That’s probably Wheeljack.
In fact, as this clip flickers around, we get a clearer shot at the robot on the left, and … are those horns on that head? Is it Bumblebee? He isn’t supposed to be there! Nobody except Arcee is supposed to be there! The guy next to him may be Prowl?
This Netflix cartoon saw me coming and put a bunch of hard-to-discern folks who definitely shouldn’t be here behind layers of static, and I am definitely jumping through its hoops.
I guess this is what happens when Ultra Magnus dies. Just chaos. Chaos everywhere.
And, finally, of course, 1984.
Take a shot.
Phew. Are we all done with the ’80s now? Can we march on to the acoustic guitar covers and plaid?
The Golden Disk’s B-side hits
The last chapter of War for Cybertron left viewers wondering how Galvatron obtained the Voyager Golden Record that he was trying to pass off to Megatron. Would you believe … from one of the two Voyager probes? It’s crazy, we know!
But here when we see Galvatron being yanked back to his own time period from his point of view, there’s a Voyager probe floating in space right there.
Note: the Voyager “Sounds of Earth” Golden Record (known in Transformers circles as the Golden Disk) as seen in Kingdom has some pretty low-res English on it. It should say, y’know, “Sounds of Earth” there, but instead there’s what looks like pixelated Cybertronian letters.
We also see (Generation One) Megatron’s face reflected in the disk, which is a sly callback to a flashback scene from the original Beast Wars cartoon!
In Beast Wars, G1 Megatron’s face is reflected in the disk as he’s encoding a message in it while in deep space.
When the Autobots and Decepticons meet up with the Maximals and Predacons on Earth in Kingdom, Beast Megatron has the Golden Disk already. So how does Beast Megatron get the disk? Why, the same way he got it in the original Beast Wars — he stole it. B
ut unlike in the original Beast Wars series, we actually see scenes from the theft in Kingdom. Megatron, Dinobot, and Blackarachnia are all shown in silhouette, minus their beast mode parts, in mid-caper.
Beast Megatron steals the disk for the same reason he did in the original series: because long ago G1 Megatron encoded information on the disk that gave information on how to change history and alter the course of the war in the Decepticons’ favor! And so Beast Megatron and his Predacons stole the disk and also a ship that could travel in time (they just leave those out and about in Cybertron’s future), they were followed by Optimus Primal and his Maximals, and both factions crash landed on prehistoric Earth.
They’re from the future and know a lot about history
Kingdom doesn’t have as many deep cuts as War for Cybertron’s last two chapters. It seems pretty satisfied, cut-wise, to serve us up the first season cast of the 1990s Transformers cartoon, Beast Wars!
But who are these guys? It’s important that we know exactly who and what their deals are so that when they invariably show up in next year’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts feature film, we know for what reasons we’re angry that they’re different!
This ape’s for you, he’s comin’ atcha
He’s not Optimus Prime, he’s a gorilla! He’s Optimus Primal, leader of the Maximals! In the original cartoon, Primal was an untested young captain who was more down-to-earth than your typical Optimus.
In Transformers: Kingdom, Optimus Primal may have been like that once, but this Primal’s been at war with the Predacons for a while, and is down to the last 5 members of his 200-person crew. (That’s right, if there’s a Maximal you wish were in this series, they’re probably not here ‘cuz they’re dead. Whoops!) Kingdom’s Optimus Primal has a bone to pick with Kingdom’s Optimus Prime, who launched the Allspark into space in Primal’s past, dooming Cybertron to death, leaving Primal’s generation to pick up the pieces. Basically, Kingdom Optimus Primal is a pissed off Zoomer who’s mad that ol’ Boomer Optimus left him a wrecked planet.
Airazor, professional victim
The original Airazor was the Maximal’s wry kid sister who had a crush on big ol’ sexy Tigatron, not realizing that speaking up about her crush on big ol’ sexy Tigatron is what triggers them both to get suddenly ejected from the series. It’s like slasher film rules, where “sex” = “holding hands” and “getting stabbed by the Scream guy” = “getting abducted offworld by a tentacled alien plant trap.”
Kingdom Airazor plays a more central role. She’s the Maximal’s heart and conscience, and she gets herself purposefully captured so that she can try to infect Dinobot with a little of that heart and conscience. She also still seems to have a huggy thing with Tigatron, but no tentacled alien plant traps this time. Plus Blackarachnia would like Airazor to step on her.
The ’90s Rhinox was many things — big, strong, an incredibly smart tech wizard, clever, compassionate — he’d seem like he had too many stats maxed out if he had any ambition at all. He’s just quietly good at stuff! And loudly good at stuff, if the situation required.
Kingdom Rhinox is … exactly that, really. The Autobots’ own resident tech wizard, Wheeljack, even calls him a genius. Wheeljack knows what’s up.
There’s more than one way to skin a CGI cat model — there’s stripes and also spots
Beast Wars’ Cheetor was the Maximal’s awkward over-eager teenager. Beast Wars’ Tigatron was an aloof tree-hugging samurai loner.
In Kingdom, Cheetor and Tigatron are ... there.
Once and always a vermin
In Beast Wars, Rattrap was a wise-talking, ill-mannered saboteur with a Brooklyn accent. In Kingdom, Rattrap is played pretty much the same way, probably owing to Rattrap’s voice actor, Frank Todaro, who’s also been voicing a pretty good Starscream in War for Cybertron’s trilogy. Todaro’s been in Transformers fandom forever, so it makes sense!
Dinobot even gets to call him “vermin” once, even though the two never speak otherwise. Sometimes Beast Wars fans get fan service, too.
Beast Megatron, no
If you’ve been thinking, man, they’ve been hitting the Beast Wars characters pretty closely or right-on-the-mark so far, then I’m sorry to introduce you to Kingdom Megatron. Classic Beast Wars Megatron was an incredibly powerful narcissist who believed fully in theatrics and often gave David Xanatos a run for his interlocking-plot-scheming money. Beast Wars Megatron shared the original Megatron’s name not because he thought G1 Megatron was really cool, but because Beast Megatron read some apocalyptic scripture prophecy that mentioned a Megatron and decided actually that scripture was probably talking about himself and not the famous Megatron everyone knows. That’s a flex. And Beast Megatron had such a rich, sexy voice sometimes you’d just spontaneously give birth.
Kingdom Beast Megatron is a simpering G1 Megatron fanboy. He stole the Golden Disk not to reorder history itself under his rule, but because really he just wanted the original Megatron to like him. His voice sounds uncannily like Beast Wars Scorponok (a dork) and he still says “yes” and “no” a lot but it kind of feels like those affects are just there in the script and the character doesn’t know what to do with them. He’s kind of a doofus.
Beast Megatron is this Netflix cartoon’s dump stat.
Be still her spinnerets
On the other side of this coin is Kingdom Blackarachnia.
The original Blackarachnia was one of Beast Wars’ breakout characters, spinning off doppelgangers into later Transformers series with ease. If you needed a lady bad guy Transformer, Blackarachnia was your bot! Back in 1996, she had the honor of being the first female Transformer toy sold in North America.
Though early on in the Beast Wars cartoon she was a cookie cutter femme fatale, Blackarachnia quickly found lots of storyline focus and became three-dimensional and memorable. Fiercely independent, technologically savvy, studiously on top of her Cybertronian history, and always just barely one step ahead of Xanatos Gambit Megatron himself, she had just one mantra: survive without sacrificing who she was.
Kingdom Blackarachnia hits the nail on that head, with even the voice acting feeling spot-on without being uncanny valley-y. It’s Blackarachnia, folks. She may be this War for Cybertron chapter’s Best of Show.
And also now she’s very gay! There is not a woman Kingdom Blackarachnia meets who she doesn’t either tell others she finds attractive, flirt with, or outright kiss. Airazor warns she’ll rip off Blackarachnia’s legs if she betrays her, and Blackarachnia tells Airazor not to threaten her with a good time. It’s honestly delightful. This is my new favorite Blackarachnia.
The Last of the Scorponoks. Probably.
Back in Earthrise, we met Generation 1 Decepticon Scorponok, the giant city-sized (well, apartment building-sized) purple and green metal scorpion. He claimed to be the “last of the Scorponoks,” but Kingdom Predacon Scorponok is here to call that dude a liar, ‘cause he’s brought himself and his dozen identical friends.
Beast Wars Scorponok was a pretty forgettable also-ran henchman, so it’s honestly no real loss that in Kingdom he’s a generic. The real tragedy is that we never see Scorponok’s little claw pal, Cyberbee! There’s so many Scorponoks and yet zero Cyberbees. It’s a crime.
We have “Code of Hero” at home
Remember when I gushed over Dinobot at the end of my writeup for Earthrise? Well, my gushing was well-founded! I think the folks behind Kingdom also gush a little over Dinobot, and it shows, and so a lot of episode 3 felt very me-targeted. I am the intended audience.
(Also: Kingdom’s Dinobot is voiced by Krizz Kaliko, the rap artist. I am only bringing this up because this means Dinobot is… A VELOCIRAPPER! Eh? Ehh?)
Dinobot is known in Beast Wars for two things: (1) having a best frenemies relationship with Rattrap, as Dinobot is the Maximals’ Worf and Rattrap is a suspicious butthole, and (2) having an incredibly glorious death in the Beast Wars season 2 episode “Code of Hero.” Dinobot never joins the Maximal team in Kingdom, so Kingdom puts all its weight on remembering that second bit.
In “Code of Hero,” Dinobot has to save the timeline itself by trying to steal the Golden Disk from Beast Megatron and destroying it. To do so, he opts to fight solo through every single dang Predacon alive on the show at that time, one by one, and he ends up … not looking so great at the end of it. But he destroys the disk, Megatron is thwarted, and the Maximals arrive to give their last respects as he dies. In Beast Wars, this is the culmination of about 35 episodes of Dinobot characterization, so when Kingdom attempts to do a very similar thing, they’ve got an uphill battle to reach those same notes in just three episodes.
And by “a very similar thing,” I mean Dinobot single-handedly fights through Soundwave, Ravage, Laserbeak, G1 Megatron and ultimately Beast Megatron in order to rip either the Golden Disk or the Matrix from Megatron #1. And along the way he paraphrases some important quotes from both “Code of Hero” (“The future is not fixed, and my choices are my own. And yet, how ironic… for I now find I have no choice at all!” I am a warrior…”) and from his clone (long story) in the Beast Wars series finale episode “Nemesis, Part 2” (“And I have… my honor!”). Beast Wars fans, these are our interminably repeated The Transformers: The Movie quotes now.
True to form, the good guys arrive too late around Dinobot’s dying body, the Predacon turncoat having wrestled the Matrix of Leadership away from Megatron, and the Autobots and Decepticons give him their last respects as he shuffles off towards the Transformers Afterlife. It’s just like Dinobot’s death in “Code of Hero” except Prowl and Sideswipe are also there!
(Optimus Primal’s friendliness is a little suspect here in context, considering Dinobot is very likely responsible for no small portion of the 200 Maximals Primal lost in battle with the Predacons. Primal must have gotten the memo that Dinobot is Awesome and this is a Very Important Death.)
It’s absolutely shameless, but you can tell it was written under the throes of Dinobot Fever, which is a malady I also suffer from. So I give it all four of Dinobot’s thumbs up. A+ Dinobot pandering, would binge again.
Oh wait, there’s still more ’80s stuff!
In episode 3, as the Autobots and Decepticons wander the forest around where the Allspark is located, it starts to give them each personalized hallucinations. Megatron sees Galvatron. Optimus Prime sees his perished mentor Alpha Trion. Arcee sees Cog (who died in Earthrise). Sideswipe calls out for Sunstreaker, his twin brother who doesn’t appear in this trilogy. Starscream’s hallucination is, of course, his crown and cape from his coronation scene in The Transformers: The Movie.
Blackarachnia’s hallucination is a little more obtuse. The ghostly visage of a wolf’s face briefly appears behind her. Is the wolf just a wolf, or is this a reference to Silverbolt, her half-wolf boyfriend from the original Beast Wars?
Everyone else’s is a direct reference, so I’m choosing yes!
The Last Arkobot
In episode 5, as the battle for the Allspark reaches its climax, the Autobots’ spacecraft itself, the Ark, rises from its resting place in the Volcano, having transformed into a mighty robot. As it holds off the Decepticons’ spaceship, the Nemesis, it informs Wheeljack that it was made of possible futures while traveling through the Dead Universe (as seen in Earthrise), saw that in one timeline it could transform into a robot, and devoted a portion of its resources to making this possibility a reality.
The transforming Ark robot is the largest toy in the Kingdom toyline, and so yes obviously it was going to show up in Kingdom, just as Omega Supreme and Scorponok showed up respectively in Siege and Earthrise. But a deeper reference is who Hasbro designed the Ark robot to resemble: the Last Autobot, the Autobot symbol-faced demigod who appeared in the last two issues of the original Marvel comic book series.
Unicron had attacked Cybertron and was defeated, but despite the Transformers’ victory, their planet had suffered so much damage that it began to pull apart. As both Autobots and Decepticons evacuated their planet, a team of, uh, mutant superheroes from Earth who were stranded on Cybertron during Unicron’s assault decided to stay behind and find the legendary Last Autobot to restore Cybertron … on the word of a little fleshy guy who claimed to be the recently-deceased Optimus Prime. Comics are nuts, yo.
Anyway, yeah, they find The Last Autobot and restore Cybertron. And that’s who the Ark’s robot mode is designed to look like. That dude!
Just like the Last Autobot, the Ark robot in Kingdom helps to quickly and decisively end the millions-of-years-old war. Though this time it’s through punching things, not by standing around and administering extra lives to all the Autobots as they die in battle.
Cogs for all seasons
As the cast fills up with more and more new characters, the need for filler dude generics has shrunk. But sometimes we still see one or two! Cog, the partner to an unseen Fortress Maximus, died heroically in Earthrise, but his palette-swapped clones still hang out with the Autobots. The blue Cog was originally paired with the blue Fortress Maximus, the red Grand Cog was paired with the red Grand Maximus, but there’s also a third, green Cog who shows up frequently in crowd scenes! His presence implies the existence of a green Fortress Maximus.
Did you know there IS a green Fortress Maximus? In a flashback scene in the 2002 Transformers anime, Transformers: Armada, a festive green-and-red recolor of Fortress Maximus’s character model was nicknamed “Christmas Maximus” by the fandom for obvious reasons.
What I’m saying is that green Cog’s name is obviously Christmas Cog.
Spoiler Toys III
The last two chapters of the War for Cybertron trilogy had corresponding waves of Walmart-exclusive toys which included a large windowless package full of SPOILER TOYS. Kingdom is no different!
Siege’s “Spoiler Pack” contained a dying Ultra Magnus, Earthrise’s Spoiler Pack contained Nemesis Prime, and Kingdom’s Spoiler Pack contains G1 Megatron with a Matrix of Leadership you can strap to his chest, just like in the cartoon! There’s also a purple translucent Fossilizer named Skelevore (yeah) included, but he doesn’t show up in animation.
Also like the previous two Spoiler Packs, there are Cybertronian words to translate into English on the inside of the package. It’s a simple alphabet substitution language, and what you get out are some Kingdom quotes from Megatron and Optimus Prime, respectively.
And that’s it, folks! The War for Cybertron trilogy is over, and I’m pretty sure I’ve squeezed out all the inside baseball I could. We’ve been through a lot together over these three chapters — the brown Cog named Comms Officer, the member of the Original Thirteen Primes disguising himself as a 2018 Submarauder toy, and, uh, the extremely mainstream first-season cast of Beast Wars, because I guess this cartoon couldn’t give us a Dinobot recolor as Grimlock or something like that.
I was honestly hoping they’d recycle Dinobot’s character model in different colors like 16 times like they did for Cog or the Reflectors or the Seekers, just to give me an excuse to (1) tell you about them at length, and (2) buy up a bunch of Dinobots and customize them into those recolors. But alas, it was not meant to be.
Thanks for reading! Maybe you’ll see me again if there’s another batch of weirdos that need explaining in a Transformers cartoon.