Transformers are fictional alien robots and the title characters of a popular Hasbro toy line and its spin-offs. Coming from the planet Cybertron, the Transformers are divided into two factions, the heroic Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron. They are able to "transform", rearranging their bodies into common or innocuous forms, including vehicles (the most commonly known form), devices or animals. Beyond that, they can displace mass (i.e. shrink and expand), combine with one another, and apply synthetic flesh (see: Transformers technology). This ability to transform is reflected in the programs' taglines "More Than Meets the Eye" and "Robots in Disguise". All Transformers stories and characters, in a range of media, have been based around this core concept since their debut in 1984.
The largest Transformers story-arc, retroactively known as Transformers: Generation 1, includes both the TV series and Marvel comic, which further divided into Japanese and UK spin-offs respectively. Sequels followed, such as the Generation 2 comic book and Beast Wars TV series which became its own mini-universe. Generation 1 characters underwent two reboots with Dreamwave in 2002 and IDW Publishing in 2006. There have been other incarnations of the story based on different toy lines during the 2000s. The first was the Robots in Disguise series, followed by three shows that consist of the "Unicron Trilogy" (consisting of Armada, Energon, and Cybertron). A live-action film was also released in 2007, again distinct from previous incarnations, while the Transformers Animated series merged concepts from the G1 story-arc and the 2007 live-action film.
Generation One (G1) is a retroactive term for the Transformers characters that appeared between 1984 and 1992. The Transformers began with the 1970s Japanese toy lines Microman and Diaclone. The former utilized varying humanoid-type figures while the middle presented robots able to transform into vehicular modes, with the latter robots mimicking everyday electronic items or replica weapons. Hasbro, fresh from the success of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toyline, which utilised the Microman technology to great success, bought the Diaclone toys, and partnered with Takara. Jim Shooter and Dennis O'Neil were hired by Hasbro to create the backstory, the latter of whom christened Optimus Prime. Afterwards, Bob Budiansky created most of the Transformers characters, giving names and personalities to many unnamed Diaclone figures. The primary concept of G1 is that the heroic Optimus Prime, the villainous Megatron, and their finest soldiers crash land on pre-historic Earth in the Ark and the Nemesis before awakening in 1984. The Marvel comic was originally part of the main Marvel Universe, with an appearance from Spider-Man and Nick Fury as well as a visit to the Savage Land.
The Transformers TV series began around the same time. Produced by Sunbow Productions, from the start it contradicted Budiansky's backstories. The TV series shows the Autobots looking for new energy sources, and crash landing as the Decepticons attack. Marvel interpreted the Autobots as destroying a rogue asteroid approaching Cybertron. Shockwave is loyal to Megatron in the TV series, keeping Cybertron in a stalemate during his absence, but in the comic book he attempts to take command of the Decepticons. The TV series would also differentiate wildly from the origins Budiansky had created for the Dinobots, the Decepticon turned Autobot Jetfire, known as Skyfire on TV, the Constructicons (who combine to form Devastator), and Omega Supreme. The Marvel comic establishes early on that Prime wields the Creation Matrix, which gives life to machines. In the second season, the two-part episode The Key to Vector Sigma introduced the ancient Vector Sigma computer, which served the same original purpose as the Creation Matrix (giving life to Transformers), and its guardian Alpha Trion.
In 1986, the cartoon became a film titled The Transformers: The Movie, which is set in the year 2005. It introduced the Matrix as the "Autobot Matrix of Leadership", as a fatally wounded Prime gives it to Ultra Magnus. Unicron, a transformer who devours planets, fears its power and recreates a dying Megatron as Galvatron. Eventually, Rodimus Prime takes up the Matrix and destroys Unicron. In the United Kingdom, the weekly comic book interspliced original material to keep up with US reprints, and The Movie provided much new material. Writer Simon Furman proceeded to expand the continuity with movie spin-offs involving the time travelling Galvatron.
The third season followed up The Movie, with the revelation of the Quintessons having used Cybertron as a factory. Their robots rebel, and in time the workers become the Autobots and the soldiers become the Decepticons. It is the Autobots who develop transformation. Due to popular demand, Optimus Prime is resurrected at the conclusion of the third season, and the series ended with a three-episode story arc. However, the Japanese broadcast of the series was supplemented with a newly-produced OVA, Scramble City, before creating entirely new series to continue the storyline, ignoring the 1987 end of the American series. The extended Japanese run consisted of The Headmasters, Super-God Masterforce, Victory and Zone, then in illustrated magazine form as Battlestars: Return of Convoy and Operation: Combination. Just as the TV series was wrapping up, Marvel continued to expand its continuity. It followed The Movie's example by killing Prime and Megatron, albeit in the present day. Dinobot leader Grimlock takes over as Autobot leader. There was a G.I. Joe crossover and the limited series The Transformers: Headmasters which further expanded the scope to the planet Nebulon. It led on to the main title resurrecting Prime as a Powermaster.
Over in the UK, the mythology continued to grow. Primus was introduced as the creator of the Transformers, to serve his material body that is planet Cybertron and fight his nemesis Unicron. Female Autobot Arcee also appeared, despite the comic book stating the Transformers had no concept of gender, with her backstory of being built by the Autobots to quell human accusations of sexism. Soundwave, Megatron's second-in-command, also broke the fourth wall in the letters page, criticising the cartoon continuity as an inaccurate representation of history. The UK also had a crossover in Action Force, the UK counterpart to G.I. Joe. The comic book featured a resurrected Megatron, whom Furman retconned to be a clone when he took over the US comic book which depicted Megatron as still dead. The US comic would last for 80 issues until 1991, and the UK comic lasted 332 issues and several annuals.
It was five issues of the G.I. Joe comic in 1993 that would springboard a return for Marvel's Transformers, with a new twelve-issue series entitled Transformers: Generation 2, to market a new toy line. The UK comic came back for five issues and an annual. This story revealed that the Transformers originally breed asexually, though it is stopped by Primus as it produced the evil Swarm. A new empire, neither Autobot or Decepticon, is bringing it back though. Though the year-long arc wrapped itself up with an alliance between Optimus Prime and Megatron, the final panel introduced the Liege Maximo, ancestor of the Decepticons. This minor cliffhanger was not resolved until 2001 and 2002's Transforce convention when writer Simon Furman concluded his story in the exclusive novella Alignment.
Unlike the various contradictory and separate G1 universes, the 1996 TV series Beast Wars and its spin-offs form an extended and cohesive story. The story focused on a small group of Maximals (led by Optimus Primal) and Predacons (led by Megatron), 300 years after the "Great War". They crash land on a planet similar to Earth, but with two moons and a dangerous level of energon, which forces them to take organic beast forms. After writing this first episode, Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio learned of the G1 Transformers, and began to use elements of it as a historical backstory to their scripts, establishing Beast Wars as a part of the Generation 1 universe through numerous callbacks to both the cartoon and Marvel comic. By the end of the first season, the second moon and the energon are revealed to have been constructed by the Vok.
The destruction of the second moon releases mysterious energies that make some of the characters "transmetal" and the planet is revealed to be prehistoric Earth, leading to the discovery of the Ark. Megatron attempts to kill the original Optimus Prime, but at the beginning of the third season, Primal manages to preserve his spark. In the two-season follow-up, Beast Machines, Cybertron is revealed to have organic origins, which Megatron attempts to stamp out. Although the organic origin of Cybertron, the presence of female characters and Starscream's appearance hinting at his demise in The Transformers: The Movie brought the series closer to the G1 TV series, the appearance of Ravage's intelligent Marvel incarnation and the comics only terms the Ark left the show in a gray area of "a" Generation 1.
Since then, the saga has been increased. After the first season of Beast Wars (comprising 26 episodes) aired in Japan, the Japanese were faced with a problem — the second Canadian season was only 13 episodes long, not enough to warrant airing on Japanese TV. So, while they waited for the third Canadian season to be completed (thereby making 26 episodes in total when added to season 2), they produced two exclusive cel-animated series of their own, Beast Wars II (also called Beast Wars Second) and Beast Wars Neo, to fill in the gap. Dreamwave retroactively revealed Beast Wars to be the future of their G1 universe, and the 2006 IDW comic book Beast Wars: The Gathering eventually confirmed the canonicity of the Japanese series with appearances of the Japanese characters within a story set during Season 3.
Three Transformers: The War Within limited series were also published. These are set at the beginning of the Great War, and identify Prime as once being a clerk named Optronix. Beast Wars was also retroactively stated as the future of this continuity, with the profile series More than Meets the Eye showing the Predacon Megatron looking at historical files detailing Dreamwave's characters and taking his name from the original Megatron. In 2004, this fictional universe also inspired three novels and a Dorling Kindersley guide, which focused on Dreamwave as the "true" continuity when discussing in-universe elements of the characters. In a new twist, Primus and Unicron are siblings, formerly a being known as The One. Transformers: Micromasters, set after the Ark's disappearance, was also published. The fictional universe was disrupted when Dreamwave went bankrupt in 2005. This left the Generation One story hanging and the third volume of The War Within half finished. Plans for a comic book set between Beast Wars and Beast Machines were also left unrealized.
IDW Publishing have expressed interest in their own crossover.
IDW Publishing introduced The Transformers: Evolutions in 2006, a collection of mini-series that re-imagine and reinterpret the G1 characters in various ways. To date, only one miniseries has been published, Hearts of Steel, placing the characters in an Industrial Revolution-era setting. The series was delayed as Hasbro did not want to confuse newcomers with too many fictional universes before the release of the live-action film.
However, IDW and the original publisher Marvel Comics announced a crossover storyline with the Avengers to coincide with the film, entitled New Avengers/Transformers. The story is set on the borders of Symkaria and Latveria, and its fictional universe is set between the first two New Avengers storylines, as well in between the Infiltration and Escalation phase of IDW's The Transformers. IDW editor-in-chief, Chris Ryall hinted at elements of it being carried over into the main continuities, and that a sequel is possible.
Broadcast in 2001, Robots in Disguise was a single animated series, imported from Japan (where it was broadcast the previous year), consisting of thirty-nine episodes. In this continuity, Megatron creates the Decepticons as a subfaction of the Predacons on Earth, a potential reference to the return to the vehicle-based characters following the previous dominance of the animal-based characters of the Beast eras. It is a stand-alone universe with no ties to any other Transformers fiction, though some of the characters from Robots in Disguise did eventually make appearances in Transformers: Universe, including Optimus Prime, Side Burn and Prowl.
In Japan, the series Transformers: Cybertron showed no ties to the previous two series, telling its own story. This caused continuity problems when Hasbro sold Cybertron as a follow-up to Armada/Energon. Plot elements have been changed from the Japanese story into references to the previous shows to enhance continuity, but they largely only add up to mentioning Unicron once or twice.
Just as Marvel produced a companion comic to Generation One, Dreamwave Productions published a comic entitled Transformers Armada set in a different continuity to the cartoon. At #19, it became Transformers Energon. Dreamwave went bankrupt and ceased all publications before the storyline could be completed at #30. However, the Transformers Fan Club published a few stories set in the Cybertron era.
The storyline of Transformers: Universe, mainly set following Beast Machines, sees characters from many assorted alternate continuities, including existing and new ones, encountering each other. The story was told in an unfinished comic book exclusive to the Official Transformers Collectors' Convention.
To market the film, IDW Publishing published Transformers: Movie Prequel. The comic expanded upon Optimus Prime's referral to Megatron as "brother", revealing they co-ruled Cybertron before Megatron's corruption. Furthermore, Optimus sent the Allspark into space in a last-ditch attempt to defeat Megatron. Megatron is responsible for Bumblebee's muteness in the film, as a direct result of distracting him from the Allspark's launch. Alan Dean Foster also wrote a prequel novel entitled Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday. The novel shows that Starscream hated Megatron and wanted him to never be found, so he could remain as leader, explaining Megatron's line in the film: "You failed me, yet again, Starscream." Blackout is also depicted as deeply loyal to Megatron, explaining his line "All hail Megatron!" However, the novel contradicts the film with Megatron's body moved into the Hoover Dam in 1969, instead of the 1930s. IDW plans to continue the film's fictional universe with additional prequels and sequels.