To this very day I consider Cheetor from Beast Wars the best-developed character in the history of the entire franchise. Across three seasons of Beast Wars and two seasons of Beast Machines we saw him go from wide-eyed youngster to seasoned veteran and leader in a natural and believable process. Let’s take a look at his various developmental stages:
When we first meet Cheetor, he’s the wide-eyed kid caught up in a big adventure. He loves exploring the new planet, he revels in the speed of his new beast mode, and the danger of facing the Predacons isn’t quite real to him yet. It’s all still fun and games. Even when he gets captured and almost eaten by Tarantulas, he is only scared very briefly before being rescued by Rattrap, whom he considers a great friend despite the fact that Rattrap is pretty much annoyed with him 24-7. Cheetor is clearly the kid-relatable character here, maybe not quite as obnoxious as your average human-friend-of-the-Autobots, but still clearly a kid.
After spending the first few episodes of Beast Wars basically having to be rescued every other week, mostly from trouble spots he got himself into, Cheetor’s first opportunity to shine came with the great episode “The Spark”. Deep in enemy territory, Cheetor and Rhinox must save the protoform inside a damaged stasis pod even as the enemy is quickly closing in. Cheetor not just donates parts – including the vitally important locking chip that allows Transformers to go into a life-preserving stasis – but then heads off to buy Rhinox the time he needs to repair the stasis pod. Cheetor takes on Waspinator, Blackarachnia, and Terrorsaur by himself and manages to take out two of them before being taken down himself by Terrorsaur (from behind). And more importantly, he bought his friend enough time so he could finish the job and bring Airazor online.
Not only does this episode portray Cheetor as a capable warrior, it also shows him use tactical thinking (he leads the Predacons on a merry chase) and displays his willingness to give everything for his team (donating parts to a dying comrade despite the danger it puts himself in). This is where the little cat really started to grow up.
With his new Transmetal body (as in: new toy) and the ability to fly, Cheetor literally begins to spread his wings. He becomes a better warrior, he takes on more responsibility, and he begins to display signs of maturity, such as knowing when he’s outmatched and calling for help rather than just wading in. Toy-wise this was my favorite version of Cheetor
In the double episode “Feral Scream” that was mostly an overly long toy advertisement disguised as a puberty tale disguised as a horror story, Cheetor starts getting pimples. Said pimples being the result of being exposed to Megatron’s experimental Transmetal II driver and slowly becoming a Transmetal II robot (aka a new toy) himself. While the double episode itself is rather boring and predictable, it starts another phase in Cheetor’s development. He has become bigger and more powerful, while at the same time becoming somewhat moody and aggressive. He also starts looking at girls. Well, one girl, seeing as there is just one girl in the cast at this time, Blackarachnia. This also gets him into stand-offs with Blackarachnia’s boy toy Silverbolt, to the point where you really just want to shout at the two to just whip it out and measure whose is bigger. Yep, the little cat is a teenager now.
Over the length of the Beast Wars Cheetor changed a lot, but one thing remained the same: his utter confidence and faith in his team leader Optimus Primal. It was only after returning to Cybertron and finding it overrun by Megatron’s Vehicons that Cheetor’s faith began to waver. Optimus, it seemed to him, was too caught up with the spiritual and philosophical ramifications of their techno-organic nature instead of dealing with the important things, namely taking out Megatron. It’s part of the growing-up process to realize that one’s parents are not perfect and all-knowing and Cheetor has reached this important point in Beast Machines.
Near the end of Beast Machines, Cheetor has finished growing up. This shows both in his willingness to take over command of the team when he feels Optimus is in the wrong, as well as admitting his own faults and deferring to Optimus when he realizes that the other is right. While Cheetor was not directly involved in the final battle for the fate of Cybertron, he did play an instrumental part in taking out Megatron’s last remaining Vehicon generals and he did so by using guile and experience instead of just rushing in as he would have done at the beginning of Beast Wars. Yes, the little cat is all grown up now. And it was great watching him do it.
Sadly we are still waiting for another character to grow through a similar journey.
When it comes to Star Trek movies there is no beating Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan, but the one movie that came very, very close for me was Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country. As the Cold War ended in the real world, this movie asked the interesting question: does the end of a war automatically mean peace? And it provided the answer, too: no, just because the fighting is officially over does not mean all is well. Ending a war is oftentimes far, far easier than winning the peace.
IDW comics, who ended their version of the Great War with the Chaos Event, has explored the aftermath of the war ever since. You have disgruntled soldiers on both sides who refuse to lay down their arms or don’t know what to do with their lives now. You have a vast population of neutrals who are not happy with either side and just want to rebuild their civilization. Then there is Starscream, who has managed to manipulate said population and got himself elected king of Cybertron, his ambitions only barely held in check by newcomer Windblade. And there is Optimus Prime, of course, who struggles to find a new place in this world, where half the Transformers regard him as a war criminal while the other half regards him as a deity.
Most interesting, to me, is Megatron, however. When he was first made into an Autobot at the end of the Dark Cybertron arc I did not expect much of it. It came too quickly after his latest bid to conquer the planet and there seemed little reason for him to change. Him joining the crew of the Lost Light in order to find and be judged by the legendary Knights of Cybertron seemed little more than a plot contrievance to get him onto the ship. Ever since then, though, Megatron has surprised me, which is mostly due to how writer James Roberts has handled him in the More than Meets the Eye series. In a beautiful character scene with Ravage, for example, he ponders when exactly he became a monster and, more importantly, when stopped caring about being a monster.
And more recently there was a tremendous scene when the Lost Light crew stopped on the planet of the Necrobot. The Necrobot has taken it upon himself to record every last death of the Cybertronian race. Every living Cybertronian has a holographic statue upon this world and when they die, the Necrobot switches the hologram off. Megatron learns that the Necrobot also plants a techno-organic flower for every Cybertronian killed and he plants them at the foot of the statue of the killer. Megatron visits his own statue then… and is stunned at seeing it standing in the middle of a vast field, surrounded by millions of flowers. Not a single word is spoken, but the image of a despondent Megatron, standing alone in a sea of flowers (aka corpses) clearly conveys that, maybe for the first time ever, he actually realizes how many lives he has destroyed.
The hardest thing for any story writer is to make the readers care about the characters, especially the bad guy characters. For most of his 30+ year career as main bad guy in the Transformers franchise, Megatron has been little more than the stereotypical would-be conquerer. Powerful, evil, occasionally brilliant, oftentimes cool, sometimes ludicrous. James Roberts has managed, though, to give Megatron a believable back story as the disgruntled miner who saw his attempts at peaceful revolution crushed and finally concluded that violence was the only answer, only to be utterly corrupted in the process. And he has also managed to get Megatron started on the first shaky steps towards redemption. Will it work? Will this great character arc reach a satisfying conclusion? I don’t know yet, but I do know I’ll keep reading. Which, I guess, is the biggest compliment a reader can give to a writer.