The basic premise of every story is that of some difficulty for the protagonist to overcome, whether that is some emotional battle, or personified as a villain. The greater the challenge, the more the protagonist has to do, to endure, the greater the story. I want to have a think about villains, how they can drive a story, and what makes them effective. And in this case, I am going to use the IDW Transformers Event ‘All Hail Megatron’ to over villain ideology.
Transformers have been a favourite of mine since I was a kid as, like many young lads, I liked playing with toy trucks and cars, planes and soldiers. Transformers was something of a fusion between my ideal toys as a child. Unsurprisingly I read loads of comics about them, watched lots of videos and even read a few books. The appeal back then was the close association with boy’s toys, as the cartoons certainly didn’t have a particularly strong villain presence (other than Megatron, who was evil because he was), though the comics were perhaps a bit more successful in this area. Fast forward 30 years and IDW have taken over as publishers of Transformers comics, and I would say they have the villains bang on the nose, particularly in ‘All Hail Megatron’. There will probably be spoilers as I examine certain things. Sorry.
All you need to know, is that the Autobots are already defeated and Earth is vulnerable to attack by Decepticons. The opening of the story takes place in New York with Constructicons forming their Gestalt form, Devastator, and trashing New York, Air Force Jets are shot down by Starscream and his minions (F16s I think), and a ground assault by the army is driven crazy and utterly destroyed by Frenzy. Add to this scenes of citizens running and hiding, pursued by Ravage (A Jaguar), or trapped in a subway by Astrotrain (A train). The villains of the piece are scary, like they should be. This is something that I always felt was lacking from the original Transformers, but I suppose that was due to the fact it was marketed at children. This book definitely is not, as the artwork quite eloquently displays why people should fear the Decepticons.
Of course, the villainy of the Decepticons is nothing without the individual characters that make up their ranks. The dominant characters in this particular story being Bombshell, Starscream and, of course, Megatron. I wont’t talk too much about Bombshell as that would be spoiling too much. Suffice it to say he is a psycopathic genius. Starscream is of interest to me, having never made sense as a character. He was always portrayed as a cowardly conniving sneak, always plotting the demise of Megatron, always bested by his commander. What possible reason could Megatron have in keeping him alive, much less his second in command? Starscream is still conniving, still seeking the leadership of the Decepticons, still plotting the demise of Megatron. However, he is no coward. He is an able commander, idolised by his troops as shown by their willingness to emulate his form, he does believe in the Decepticon way. Of course, Megatron knows all of this, the ambition and the competence; they are the two reasons he is kept around. I will explain that in a moment. Megatron is portrayed well in the IDW series of Transformers. Much of which takes place outside ‘All hail Megatron’, but I will recount here briefly. Megatron was a worker bot, a miner, in the ancient days of Cybertron, a second class citizen oppressed by a corrupt government. He is also a writer, and has a political manifesto that becomes the foundation principles that would evolve into Decepticon ethos. In a nutshell, it is about getting rid of the corrupt Primes and having the power to choose your destiny, to not settle for what live gives you. All of which is fairly noble. Succinctly put, Megatron has a believable backstory, and one that you empathise with. The Decepticon Doctrine evolves around strength, peace through strength, order through strength. And as a result, they became a military force. And not everyone downtrodden by society has the noblest of goals. Some people just want to burn down the city around them, and the Decepticons naturally attracted those, too which causes conflict. Megatron admits to Starscream that he realised long ago that he didn’t just need an ideal to follow. He needed an army designed to win whatever the cost, and it is this ethos that allowed the ranks of the Decepticons to be swelled not just by soldiers, such as Starscream or Thundercracker, but vile creatures with no morale compass whatsoever, such as Bombshell or Scorponok. This doctrine also explains why Starscream is not only an acceptable second in command, he is the necessary second in command. When a Doctrine is driven by strength, of arms, only the fittest to lead shall lead. An ambitious second drives the commander to remain fittest, and removes the commander when he is no longer fittest. That is Starscream’s purpose, to lead when Megatron is too weak, to take power. Which is basically the doctrine of the Sith in Star Wars, as I recall.
So, how does this all drive the plot? Well, the terror tactics employed on New York scare the population and tell the reader that the villain is scary, willing to do what it takes. They also show you what ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ should have looked like. Megatron is a powerful character, always on the attack, psychologically or actually, making the protagonists respond to him, literally driving the plot. The good guys never catch a break, much like the Empire pressing the Rebels in ‘Empire Strikes Back’. I don’t think it is an accident that Empire is seen as the finest of the Star Wars films. Carrying on, you have the tension between the old school Decepticon soldiers who believe that ‘Decepticons are forged through war, not slaughter’ and the ones you might call terrorists or war criminals who will do whatever it takes to win(and it is pretty Gruesome). This serves to remind that there is a doctrine behind their war, rather than simple annihilation, but that there is also a willingness, by some, to do the unthinkable. And finally, there is Starscream’s relationship with Megatron. Known for his treachery, Starscream’s character is well developed and exactly where he needs to be, poised to take over should his leader falter. Even once.
So, one of the things that makes a good villain is a believable Ideology.
All the best