Monday, June 27, 2016

Villain Retrospect - Megatron

There are a lot of different versions of Megatron out there now.  After the original, you have the Beast Wars versions, a Robots in Disguise 6-changer version, the Unicron Trilogy versions, Animated, the movie versions and most recently, the Aligned versions, including Prime and the War for/Fall of Cybertron games.  That's a ton of different Megatrons and it still doesn't include all of them.  And I'm not even counting the continuities that have him become Galvatron.  There are too many to count!  But, as Old School Evil is focusing on the 80s cartoons, we're only looking at the original fusion cannon-wearing, Walther P-38-transforming, black hole-connecting madman.



Who came first?  And who are two the extra guys?
Created by the Constructicons (who he later created in a huge continuity error, which most series of the time were rife with), Megatron lead the Decepticons in taking over Cybertron.  In various episodes and the movies, the Decepticons had control of the Transformers' home planet, running patrols, locking up Autobot labs, and even leaving behind one of their most-trusted lieutenants to watch over it.  When the Autobots left the planet looking for more energon, Megatron and his lackeys followed, attacking their ship and causing them to crash land on Earth, where they were stuck in stasis for 4 million years.


Megatron had high ambitions.  As I said last week, he wanted more than world domination.  He wanted galactic domination, at the cost of blowing up the Earth.  Megatron's best plans included taking over the human race with controlling microchips, pulling Cybertron into Earth orbit to syphon the energy out of the ensuing natural disasters (both from The Ultimate Doom), dressing up as the Autobots to trick the humans into forcing them off the planet, and then sabotaging their rocket to fly into the sun (Megatron's Master Plan), and creating a clone of Optimus Prime to lead the Autobots into a chasm of explosive crystals (A Prime Problem).



Someone flushed a Kre-on down the toilet.
As the series went on, Megatron started slipping.  His genius plans went from world-shattering to just plain incompetent.  Dance halls with hypnotic music, a remote controlled fleet of taxis, the afore-mentioned giant purple griffin.  What happened, Megatron?  His lowest point had to come in City of Steel where he captured and dismantled Optimus, rebuilt his body into an alligator and let it loose in the sewers, and used his photon rifle (held by Prime's arm mounted on a tower!) as his base's defense.  Of course, Optimus still had control over every piece of him and was able to not only defeat Megatron, but Devastator as well.  Though this was probably his most embarrassing defeat, he was no stranger to humiliation.  After seeing him fly away after screaming "Retreat!" for the hundredth time, I started to feel bad for him.


For two seasons, Megatron lead the Decepticons in a fruitless war, with only a few instances of revolt.  Almost half the episodes had his second-in-command, Starscream openly plotting his hostile takeover of the Decepticons, something Megatron foolishly allowed to continue with no more repercussions than knocking Starscream on his ass.  Starscream and the triple changers, Blitzwing and Astrotrain, on separate occasions were able to wrest control of their faction away from Megatron, though their reigns were extremely short lived. 
As Megatron is my favorite villain, I admit it's difficult to rate Megatron fairly against the bad guys from other shows, but I'll do my best.  I'm scoring all villains based on effectiveness (how many episodes he bested the good guys or how close he got to it) and coolness (overall look, abilities, voice, and behavior), each on a scale of 1-10 with ten as the best.  For Megatron, it breaks down like this:
Effectiveness - 6.  I'm giving Megatron a high score as his earlier schemes came pretty close to fruition.  Yeah in the second season, they faltered, but originally, his plans were world-threatening.  In the end, though, a lot of his plans were miserable failures and he ran away at the first sign of defeat.
Coolness - 9.  From Frank Welker's incredible voice work and the gunmetal gray color scheme to the giant cannon strapped to his arm, Megatron bled coolness.   He looked and sounded awesome and the placement and prominence of his weapon has become a hallmark for the character for almost every iteration of the character.





The source of many boyhood tears.
Unlike most of the villains that will appear here and are limited by what can and cannot happen on television, Megatron's ruthlessness blew up (get it?) due to his appearance in Transformers: The MovieOver the course of the film, Megatron personally ended a score of Autobots, including almost the entire 1st and 2nd season cast.  On screen, we saw Megatron execute Ironhide, an act that forced 9-year-old me to pound my fist into a dresser asking "Why?!"  Megatron far surpassed his Saturday morning peers.  Of course, he also pretty much died in the movie too, being upgraded into Galvatron and turning into a complete nutcase, so that evens out the ruthlessness a bit.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Production Bibles

I mentioned in an earlier post (Where did Old School Evil come from) that one of the steps to creating the cartoons that inhabit the book's world was creating Production Bibles.  The production bible is one of the earliest and most important sources of information for almost any show, but cartoons depend on them most of all. 


A production bible contains all of the vital information to a show and like the name implies, must be strictly adhered to.  Listed inside are all of the relevant character descriptions, settings, episode summaries, and in a few cases all of the model sheets for the main characters.  The bibles were mainly used by series writers as a rulebook for what can and can't happen in any episode.  Generally, they're only used internally by the writing staff, but sometimes they are released or leaked to the public.  For examples, here are bibles for The Transformers and Batman: The Animated Series.  As a fan of the shows, a bible can be a wealth of interesting trivia.


In some cases, it can show the evolution of a cartoon, as the information in the bible can change by the time the show goes into production.  For instance, The Transformers bible lists Jetfire's change to Skyfire due to legal reasons and should only be used in small scenes.  Of course, we see Jetfire show up more and more as the series progresses, ignoring whatever legal reasons he was restricted for in the first place.


Unfortunately, as production bibles were internal documents, only the two above from the 80s and 90s are available online.  Other examples from more recent shows can be found online, as their creators are more in touch with their fans, but classic shows are much harder to find.  Every so often, they might show up on eBay, but those can go for massive sums.  More likely, once a show has finished its run, all documents may have been tossed or misplaced and are lost to us forever.  Hopefully as time goes on, more will become available, as fans are always ravenous for whatever nostalgic memorabilia pops up.


I'll talk later about how production bibles have helped me while creating the world of Old School Evil.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Favorite Megatron


It should be no surprise from my Megatrons Anonymous comic that the Decepticon leader in Transformers is my favorite villain from Saturday mornings.  A giant evil robot that carries a massive cannon on his arm and turns into a tiny pistol.  What's not to love about that goofy bastard?  Besides his imposing appearance, Megatron set himself apart from his fellow bad guys by using schemes that are much more devastating.  Instead of taking over some tiny castle like Skeletor or the world like Cobra Commander, Megatron wanted nothing more than to destroy the Earth and steal all the energy released by its destruction.  Megatron wasn't playing.

In truth, Megatron didn't stand apart from his contemporaries. Until Transformers: The Movie, his plans were larger ridiculous affairs, the generic "trick everyone into thinking the good guys are the bad guys" (Megatron's Master Plan), the "turn the good guys into bad guys" (Attack of the Autobots) and every so often creating lame super-weapons, including most famously, a giant purple griffin robot from Aerial Assault. Who else besides a cartoon villain would think that was a good idea. 

Yessssss!
There's a reason, however, that Megatron has stuck with me this whole time and it's not because of the helmeted guy up there.  In 1996, after the Transformers had been off the air for a while, a new series came to kids programming: Beast Wars!  Though this series set itself apart from Generation One, the leader of the bad guys also went by Megatron.  Taking the form of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (later a dragon), this Megatron proved to be a much better strategist than his namesake.  Over the course of two seasons, the Predacon leader managed to kill both his nemesis Optimus Primal, and almost took out the comatose Optimus Prime, who he originally went back in time to exterminate.  Not only did this series take a more complex route to telling its story, Megatron's plans became much more sadistic.  The Megatron, not the original, cemented himself in my mind as the pinnacle of cartoon villainy.  Though attempts to reboot other series had led to more scheming, complex villains, Megatron is still the best among them. 

If Beast Wars hadn't come along at the end of the original Transformers cartoon, I don't think Megatron would have the place in my heart he does now.  Other villains in the 80s had more entertaining traits or more interesting looks.  He schemed the same as the rest of them did, he argued and threatened with his troops the same way.  He may have been more intimidating because of his size or raw power, but that didn't mean much when the good guys he fought were the same size.  Without Beast Wars Megatron to reinvent Transformers and its main villain, Megatron might have been forgotten in the 90's and beyond, like so many others. 

Over the next eight Mondays, I'll be discussing the various leaders that commanded the bad guys in their attempts to take over whatever.  I'll rank them on effectiveness, coolness, and overall ridiculousness, the three traits shared by all the villains.  First up will be the big bad 'Con himself, Megatron.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Crossovers

It should be no surprise with Old School Evil's various cast taken from a number of different cartoons that I am a fan of crossovers.  In comics they were fairly common, with a number of GI Joe and Transformers comics, but cartoons got just a few.  Sure there was He-Man and She-Ra's The Secret of the Sword, but that was more of a spin-off than a crossover, though their Christmas special could technically count.  So besides that, all we got was the Transformers episode Only Human where Cobra Commander makes an appearance as Old Snake. 


Why were there no other cartoon crossovers?  I understand that you had different toy companies and productions studios that kept toys like M.A.S.K., a Kenner product, from showing up in  Thundercats, an LJN toyline.  But there were several toylines produced by the same animators and toy manufacturers: GI Joe and Transformers were animated by Sunbow and owned by Hasbro.  He-Man and She-ra were both produced by Mattel and Filmation, just like Bravestarr.  You'd think characters from one showing up in another would equal more visibility, get kids interested in more and more toys.  Instead, everything competed with everything else, no matter if they were all owned by the same people.


But it looks like we finally might be getting a real crossover, even if it's not in a cartoon.  Hasbro and IDW are bringing together their properties into a shared universe.  Transformers, GI Joe, Micronauts, Rom the Space Knight, and M.A.S.K. (since Hasbro bought out Kenner) come together in IDW's Revolution!  While Transformers and GI Joe already had their own comics, the rest are joining them in a five-issue crossover event, which hopefully opens the doors for more crossing over between the titles.  I mean look at that picture!  How awesome is this going to be?  Okay, so I don't know Micronauts or Rom, but I'm just stoked to see the culmination of what was once hinted at with Matt Trakker, the GI Joe figure. 


Hasbro's plans don't stop with comics either, as they're creating a cinematic universe like Marvel's Avengers.  Though it doesn't seem to include Transformers in it (which is a real shame), the other Hasbro brands will get movies that will conclude with a massive crossover, if all things go right.  And since Hasbro usually has an animated tie-in to their on-screen properties, not including that abysmal Battleship movie, thankfully, there's a chance for new cartoons for most of these properties and a ton of potential for crossovers between them all. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Where did Old School Evil come from?

I began writing Old School Evil in 2014 as part of NaNoWriMo.  Prior to this book, I had tried my hand at a number of writing projects: a series of fantasy novels that I got a book and a half into (the half was my first NaNo challenge and I lost pretty bad), a few screenplays that never made it past the outlining phase, and a story idea that continually morphed between a novel, a comic, and a cartoon, but never came to fruition in any medium.  Although I loved all of the projects I worked on, I never felt a very strong desire to finish them. 




It wasn't until Megatrons Anonymous that I finally had a project that caught traction.  Transformers had always been my favorite cartoon growing up and since it had survived from its inception to the present day, it offered plenty of collecting potential.  I had dwindled down my collection to Megatrons and after amassing a few dozen of the figures, I decided I wanted to do something with them instead of letting them just sit on a shelf.  I had followed a few fan-made comics on a Transformers forum and after a while throwing around ideas, I came up with a support group, inspired from a Robot Chicken sketch of cartoon villains attending a self-help seminar (here it is).  It gathered a bit of fans and even won a few awards in the community. 

While I enjoyed making the comic and in turn mocking the show I loved, I knew there was only so far I could take it.  There was no way to make Megatrons Anonymous my own thing as long as I depended on another company's creations.  So in 2014, after shelving the comic, I started planning out a story based on a number of original cartoon ideas.  Taking villains from the cartoons I used to watch, I combined them in ways to create new villains and built new cartoons around them.  Eventually, I had a whole line-up of original ideas, stuff that I felt would easily fit in with all the stuff I used to watch. 


For instance, I took two Filmation cartoon villains - Skeletor from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Tex Hex from Bravestarr and merged the two, turning him into the ethereal bank robber Sidewinder.  From there I built a number of other criminals and combined them with a Bravestarr/COPS pair of heroes to create the Ultra City Ultra Twins.  Rolls off the tongue.

After creating production bibles for each of the different cartoons, and without a storyline in mind to weave them together, I entered NaNoWriMo in November... and kicked it's ASS.  The 50k required words to win the contest came easily enough in a story that took all the elements of the cartoons and built them into something I'd never read before.  Old School Evil is my love letter to my childhood, simultaneously riffing on the shows I love while living up to the spirit they possessed.