the Transformers The franchise has no shortage of beloved characters, from the heroic Optimus Prime to the brave Bumblebee to the intriguing Starscream. And of course, there’s the most iconic villain in the entire series – the Decepticon despotic leader, Megatron.
However, even though Megatron appeared in all Transformers film to date (except 2018 Bumblebee), all of his big-screen appearances have portrayed him as little more than a two-dimensional conqueror. And while this portrayal is certainly faithful to the original Megatron cartoon, the character has received much more compelling portrayals in recent media. In order to understand what kind of character Megatron could be in the movies, it’s time to take a look at the kind of character he became in the comics.
There have been a lot of Transformers comics over the decades, but the ones that have become most popular with fans come from IDW Publishing’s original continuity, which ran from 2005 to 2018. IDW Comics features a new take on classic characters from the series – heavily based on the original cartoon, but reimagined for modern sensibilities. IDW’s Megatron backstory was originally featured in the aptly named Origin of the Megatron miniseries written by Eric Holmes, but would be further fleshed out in later stories by James Roberts.
In this continuity, Megatron started out not as a villain, but as a victim – he was once an ordinary Cybertronian who wanted to be a doctor. But thanks to the strict caste system imposed by the power-hungry Senate, Megatron was forced to live as an underage. He decided to vent his frustrations with the status quo by becoming a writer, earning infamy with his political treatise “Towards Peace”, which promoted nonviolent protest as a means of bringing about change. But when the Senate learned of Megatron’s growing popularity, they decided to have him assassinated in order to silence the voice of a dissenting public. Megatron was nearly killed by corrupt cop Whirl, only to be saved by Orion Pax – the robot that would later become Optimus Prime. But although Megatron survived, his brush with death caused him to become disillusioned with his pacifist ideals.
Megatron became convinced that violence was the only way to achieve lasting change, and this new worldview was only encouraged by his fellow miner Terminus. Terminus believed that even after the revolution, Cybertron would need a single leader to guide the people from above, and he saw this leader in Megatron. After being fired from his mining job by order of the Senate, Megatron became a gladiator in the fighting pits of Kaon, where he took out his rage towards the establishment on his opponents. Over time, Megatron gained a loyal following of criminals, dissidents, and other outcasts, who saw him as a savior. Eventually Megatron’s followers became the revolutionary movement known as the Decepticons – named after their motto, “You are deceived”.
At first, the Decepticons only sought to overthrow the Senate, bringing freedom and equality to the oppressed people of Cybertron. But thanks to his insatiable thirst for revenge and cynical worldview, Megatron slowly became just as obsessed with authority as the regime he despised. After all, he still believed that Cybertron needed a leader to rally around, and he refused to let anyone but himself be that leader. Before long, Megatron’s goal was no longer equality, but control – in his words, “peace through tyranny”. Megatron’s newfound thirst for power caused his former friend Optimus to rise up against him and the Autobot-Decepticon War began.
For thousands of years, Megatron’s authoritarian ambitions have only intensified. No longer content to rule Cybertron, he set out to bring his twisted vision of order to the entire universe, ushering in an undying empire of “Pax Cybertronia”. However, after the war ended, Megatron would find his ideology challenged by a former ally.
Mad scientist Decepticon Shockwave, one of Megatron’s closest lieutenants during the war, enacted his own takeover during the “Dark Cybertron” storyline, written by James Roberts and John Barber. Fulfilling a millennial master plan in the making, Shockwave attempted to harness the energy of the entire universe by destroying it with a black hole, leaving behind only an eternal Cybertron with infinite power to power it. . Megatron saw his own beliefs reflected in Shockwave’s horrific actions, taking his ideology of saving Cybertron at all costs to its brutally logical extreme.
Thanks to Shockwave’s machinations – and some unexpected compassion from Bumblebee – Megatron finally realized he had come to embody the very tyranny he had fought against. In his words: “I lost the war the moment I gave the order to fight.” And so, Megatron renounces the Decepticon cause and takes the Autobot insignia, teaming up with his friend-turned-nemesis Optimus Prime to defeat Shockwave and save the universe. However, a despot who has claimed countless lives in his war for universal dominance isn’t about to be forgiven so easily just because he switched sides.
After a long and harrowing trial, Megatron manages to escape execution by invoking an ancient and forgotten law: in the absence of an impartial jury, a defendant may instead choose to be tried by the Knights of Cybertron, an ancient order of heroes who disappeared millions of years ago. It just so happens that the quest for the Knights of Cybertron is at the center of More than the eye can discern, the series directed by James Roberts. Thus, from issue 28 of MTMTEMegatron becomes the unlikely co-captain of the ship Lost Light.
Despite being openly despised by nearly the entire Lost Light crew, Megatron quickly proves to be sincere in his desire for redemption. In a heartbreaking conversation with his loyal servant Ravage, he confesses the immense guilt he feels for the countless atrocities he has committed. Later, in one of the most iconic scenes in the comics, Megatron stands before a seemingly endless sea of flowers, each flower signifying a Cybertronian slain by his hand.
All along MTMTE, Megatron faces countless enemies who refuse to believe he has changed. Not only is he targeted by vengeful Decepticon loyalists, but he also earns the ire of bitter Autobots who refuse to forgive him for his crimes and would rather see him dead than remorseful. Even so, Megatron stays the course. He’s sometimes tempted to revert to his old ways, but his heightened sense of compassion – and his newfound friends on Lost Light – keep him on the straight and narrow. He even renounces violence, swapping his old motto of “peace through tyranny” for a new credo: “peace through empathy”.
The IDW comics took Megatron from a generic cartoon villain to a truly complex and compelling character. His story shows that if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, no one who seeks redemption is unable to find it. Unfortunately, none of Transformers the movies have yet to portray Megatron with this level of humanity. It’s unlikely fans will ever see a Megatron redemption arc on the big screen, but hopefully the next time this metallic despot hits the big screen, he’ll be portrayed with a bit more nuance.
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