Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blue Thunder

You never forget your first. And when it comes to my first “Transformer” toy, it was a blue F-15 jet that my dad brought home for me. While the concept of a robot transforming into vehicle wasn’t new to me at the time (I’d had a few machine robos already), my new blue jet was just cooler than all the other transforming robots I had at the time. He wasn’t exactly an official Transformer, my robot belonged to a Japanese line called Diaclone that would eventually be repackaged into the Transformer line that we all know and love.

A few months later, I learned more about my blue jet robot and who he was in this new Transformers universe. His name was Thundercracker and he was a member of the evil robot faction called the Decepticons. More specifically, he was part of an elite trio of air warriors composed of himself, a black jet named Skywarp and their leader, the traitorous Starscream.

From the start, a main differentiator that set Transformers apart from other toylines was that Hasbro put extra effort into creating a universe inhabited with robots with rich and unique personalities. Sure you had your classic good and evil factions, but taking a closer look at each character’s profiles (or tech specs) that came with every toy, you would find interesting personality traits belonging to each robot. Thundercracker was no exception.

Aside from identifying his special unique power, which was the ability to produce controlled, deafening sonic booms that could be heard for 200 miles, his profile specifies 2 main personality traits. First is that he is contemptuous of anything that cannot fly and second, that he’s not quite totally convinced of the Decepticon cause, and only fights against the Autobots out of fear. As kids, these personality snippets are mostly ignored, but were later appreciated by older collectors like myself.

Unfortunately, for the most part, Thundercracker’s depiction in the 80’s cartoon and comic isn’t a particularly flattering one. While his squadron leader Starscream has evolved into one of the most iconic Transformers of all time, Thundercracker and fellow jet Skywarp have been lost in his shadow, mostly relegated to thug like underlings.

Despite this, I have always identified Thundercracker as my favorite Decepticon of all time. Aside from nostalgic reasons, I loved the idea that he wasn’t quite sold on the Decepticon cause and the possibility of his defection was always there. And in 2008, comic publisher IDW decided to give Thundercracker his due and give him the recognition he deserved.

In the story arc called “All Hail Megatron”, the Decepticons successfully defeat the Autobots, forcing them to retreat to Cybertron and leaving the Earth defenseless and at their mercy. The Decepticons proceed to impose their will on the Earthlings which more often than not involved killing a whole lot of them, which does not sit well with Thundercracker. In the end, when the Decepticon leader Megatron orders the destruction of New York via nuclear bomb which Thundercracker manages to redirect, foiling Megatron’s plan. When questioned about his actions, he merely states that “the Decepticons had lost their way, and the mass slaughter of unworthy foes was dishonorable”. Of course this does not sit well with the Decepticons, particularly his fellow jet warrior, Skywarp who then proceeds to blast Thundercracker in the face and leaving him for dead.

Fortunately, he survives. Abandoned by the Decepticons, Thundercracker ends up living on Earth for the next one and a half years. In that time, he spends studying more closely the Earth and it’s inhabitants and he reflects on how life on Earth is always changing and always finding a way to survive. Long story short he starts gaining a newfound respect for humans…even if they cannot fly. Oh and he also gets addicted to television. Which leads to his desire to become a scriptwriter (I kid you not).

From that point on, Thundercracker is basically portrayed as a hermit who wants to be left alone and not be involved in any Transformer war. Despite that, he ends up coming to the aid of the Autobots on an occasion or two. Mostly when he felt it was necessary to avoid bigger conflicts and maintain the peace.

Eventually he comes into contact with the Earth Defense Council (EDC) who recognize his desire to stay neutral and provide him with a new hideout, a steady energon supply and a dog named Buster for company (yes, I am NOT making this stuff up) in exchange for his participation as bait to lure some Autobots into an ambush.

My memory of the exact details of that story line are sketchy at best, but from what I remember, in the end he manages to foil an even bigger plan by the humans (with the help of fellow Decepticon Soundwave) to start yet another war with an army composed of clones of fallen Decepticons.

After all that, he is happily reunited with his dog Buster and continuous his existence away from the war.

Now I know the idea of a warrior robot getting addicted to television, and who aspires to be a scriptwriter and who ends up owning and caring for a dog may sound comical…and well, stupid. But I like it. I like the idea that in a world of battling robots, of good versus evil, there is room for change and more importantly growth for the characters involved. I like the idea that a simple character trait that was established in the beginning but mostly ignored through the years was finally explored and utilized. Making my favorite Decepticon ultimately one of the more interesting characters in the Transformers mythos.