Transformers: War for Cybertron – Siege, out now, is the first part of a Netflix-exclusive trilogy of Transformers cartoons. The show goes belly-deep into Transformers lore.
Sure, everybody knows Optimus Prime and Megatron and Bumblebee and the tape player guy with the cool voice, but Siege transports us to a planet full of robo randos and references, and someone who is in deep on Transformers toys and mythology, I realize it might take some elbow grease to sort through it all. Who’s that green Starscream? What’s Primus? Who the heck is Megatron impaling in that mural in Decepticon headquarters?
All these questions (except the last one) are answered in this spoiler-riffic blast through all six episodes of War for Cybertron’s first chapter.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Transformers: War for Cybertron – Siege.]
Dunking an Autobot or Decepticon in a different set of paint and calling it a different robot is a practice as old as the Transformers franchise itself. There were 28 characters in the original 1984 Transformers lineup, and 11 of them were differently-hued twins of another toy.
The most infamous practitioners of this were Starscream and his two Seeker buddies, Skywarp and Thundercracker. The original 1984 cartoon pilot gave us a murderous rainbow of even more Seekers. In its opening scene, Wheeljack and Bumblebee are chased across the surface of their home planet Cybertron by, yes, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp, but they also confront four other guys, a “Welcoming Committee” that includes an orange Seeker, a purple Seeker, a light blue Seeker, and a dark blue Seeker. Years later, they’d be given names: Sunstorm, Hotlink, Bitstream, and Nacelle, respectively.
In homage to this opening scene, War For Cybertron – Siege opens in a similar way, with Wheeljack and Bumblebee on the run from a multicolored gaggle of Seekers (and Jetfire). In addition to the named guys, our heroes are followed by a yellow Seeker, a green Seeker, and a blue Seeker.
Tempted as I am to match these unnamed guys up with the original cartoon pilot’s Welcoming Committee to satisfy George Lucas’ maxim, “it’s like poetry, it rhymes,” the pattern of colors better correlates with another trio of Seekers: The ones from a Target exclusive three-pack of War for Cybertron – Siege toys, which include the yellow Nova Storm, the blue Ion Storm, and the green Acid Storm.
These toys’ colors were … a lot more saturated than the fellows in Siege, so you might think some creative liberties were taken. However, after they get popped off by the Autobots one-by-one over the course of these six episodes, the Real MVPs, in all their saturated glory, show up in episode six for the assault on the Ark (more on that later).
Hotlink, the purple one, definitely shows up consistently later in Siege. He also has a toy in Walmart’s exclusive toyline based on the Netflix series, and we see his distinctive purple-and-more-purple coloration in episode 2 and beyond.
War for Cybertron – Siege is littered (sometimes literally) with character models in different colors. Most of them aren’t anybody. This cartoon had to make Cybertron feel populated while having limited character models, and so we see dozens of Sideswipes and Hounds and Ironhides in other hues as either crowd filler or corpses. Some might remind us of existing characters in Transformers, but considering the context, that dark blue Sideswipe probably isn’t the black Sideswipe redeco Deep Cover. I mean, if he is, then there are, like, six Deep Covers in Cybertron.
A purple Barricade also shows up a lot. Two at once in a prominent crowd scene, even! Since Barricade is a police officer and the rando Barricade is purple, I’ve unofficially dubbed him/them Perpwalk. Feel free to steal that.
Not all of War for Cybertron – Siege’s randos are unnamed, however! There’s a tan Cog that’s in the credits as “Comms Officer.”
When Comms Officer was forged and given his name of Comms Officer, he knew exactly what he was put on his planet for. Not everyone gets that kind of security! Some of us spend decades figuring ourselves out.
There’s also a red Cog that’s a dead ringer for, well, Cog.
In 1987, Cog was the little blue robot buddy who came with the absolutely huge two-foot Transformer Fortress Maximus. A year later, Japan released Fortress Maximus again in different colors as Grand Maximus. Cog, now red instead of blue, was still called Cog. We could call him “Grand Cog” to match Grand Maximus, if we like.
Cliffjumper shows up briefly in War for Cybertron on a screen, and he’s just Bumblebee in red!
Though Bumblebee and Cliffjumper are often mistaken as having been the same toy in different colors, their original toys were actually different toolings, even beyond one being a Beetle and the other a Porsche. Lots of similar details, but they merely shared similar engineering.
Another named re-color is Moonracer, who’s a teal Chromia. Chromia’s a light blue, so Moonracer is … kind of hard to pick apart from Chromia at a glance, but it gets much easier once Moonracer is devoured by zombies.
Both Moonracer and Chromia hail from the 1985 cartoon episode “The Search for Alpha Trion,” which introduced the concept of non-male robots into Transformers. Chromia and Moonracer weren’t recolors of each other then (and Moonracer has her own toy distinct from Chromia’s in 2018’s Power of the Primes toyline, with its own head and everything) but I guess if you’re destined to be zombie chow, you don’t get a lot of hours spent building you in CGI.
The leader of the Female Autobots (yes, that was their group’s actual name in 1985, I’m not being a Ferengi) was Elita One, and she shows up in War for Cybertron – Siege, too!
And just as it was detailed in her original series debut, she stays behind to keep fighting on Cybertron at the end of Siege. She’s one of the few characters to receive a brand new design built specifically for the cartoon and not directly imported from the CAD files of the current toyline. But don’t worry, Hasbro went back and made a toy of Elita One loosely based on this design (it’s Arcee with new parts), and it’ll be available from Walmart this fall.
In 1987, the Japanese Headmasters anime killed Soundwave. Blaster and Soundwave jumped up into the air and simultaneously punched each other in each other’s chests, and then they exploded, which is not exactly the most dignified way to go, but it happened.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: it was so Soundwave could be rebuilt into a new Soundwave, now called Soundblaster! Now in black instead of blue, Soundblaster has been a popular redeco of Soundwave since.
Sometimes Soundblaster is depicted as a different guy, a clone of Soundwave, and that’s the path War for Cybertron – Siege has taken. The show’s Soundblaster lives alone with an army of darkly-colored Impactors, and also Buzzsaw. Buzzsaw is, as always, a gold condor to Laserbeak’s red. Buzzsaw is also the only 1984 Decepticon to not get a toy in tandem with the release of Siege! What are you waiting for, Hasbro? Get to it! Buzzsaw’s clearly the superior condor. He single-handedly took down Omega Supreme once. Meanwhile Laserbeak is, canonically, a coward.
You may notice the different faction sigil on Soundblaster’s chest. That logo means Soundblaster belongs to a third faction known as the Mercenaries!
The Mercenaries are a new group of unaffiliated folks that we’ll see more of in Siege’s sequel, EarthRise, and to which membership has been retroactively applied to Soundblaster here.
Elita One isn’t the only character who showed up toyless in older media but was toy-ified later. Impactor, the leader of the Autobot commando team the Wreckers, from Marvel UK’s 1980s Transformers run, also plays a prominent part in War for Cybertron – Siege!
The Wreckers were a group of Autobots who, to put it cynically, were the leftover toys that weren’t being written about elsewhere. You know, your Jumpstarters, your Deluxe Autobots, your made-up guys who are two guys fused together at the torso. Impactor was in command of these bloodthirsty folks, but really he was keeping the leadership position warm with his harpoon arm until he died and Springer could take over.
But War for Cybertron – Siege’s Impactor has less to do with the first Impactor and more to do with the Impactor seen in IDW’s comics from last decade. That Impactor, before he was a Wrecker, was a friend of Megatron before the war. They both had low class jobs as energon miners. And when war broke out, he initially took the proletariat Decepticons’ side against the bourgeoisie ruling class.
Siege’s Impactor plays that role. Instead of being the leader of the ruthless Wreckers, he’s still fighting for the working class as a Decepticon. He shacks up with the Autobots only after the Decepticons’ elite tracker Ravage fails to locate Impactor [checks notes] lodged halfway under a rock.
Impactor is in this cartoon solely because he was voted for! Two years ago, Hasbro ran a fan poll to decide which pair of Transformers would be included in the Siege toyline. Impactor was paired with Mirage against two other pairs, and they won the poll. Autobots don’t get any more upper class than Mirage, who’s an old money Turbofox hunter, and Siege is quick to emphasize their class-based differences.
Joining the Decepticon ranks is Barricade, who’s a character import from the very first live-action Transformers film back in 2007! You’d think Barricade would have shown up in more stuff since then, as promotional imagery for that movie was essentially 50% Bumblebee, 40% Barricade, and 10% everyone else. There were cardboard Barricades hanging from every Target, Walmart, and Toys”R”Us for a year. Yet Barricade never showed up in any Transformers media — until now.
Barricade’s look here is inspired by a piece of art by Transformers artist Guido Guidi, who years ago drew a “G1-ized” Barricade using G1 Smokescreen’s look. (Smokescreen himself being an altered Prowl, who’s a police car like Barricade.)
Palling around with Barricade is Spinister, who was a “double” Targetmaster from 1988. Spinister’s two Targetmaster partners aren’t featured in this, but his pink, purple, and blue glory is! Indeed, Spinister is a bisexual icon.
Spinister is most notable for fans misremembering his name as “Spinster.” No, he’s not an older, unmarried woman. It’s “Sinister,” with a “p”!
Skytread is better known as Flywheels, but “Flywheels” isn’t a name Hasbro could secure the trademark for.
Flywheels was a 1987 Duocon, meaning he’s two vehicles who combine into a larger robot. This was news at the time to Cyclonus, who was very concerned that a jet was about to crash into a tank. Nope! They’re just going to combine into a robot named Flywheels! Get it together, Cyclonus.
Elita One and the Female Autobots weren’t the only new characters introduced in the 1980s episode “The Search for Alpha Trion.” Surprise: another was Alpha Trion.
Eventually revealed to be Optimus Prime’s sort-of dad, Alpha Trion was the patriarch of the Autobots. In War for Cybertron – Siege, he comes pre-murdered by Megatron, and only appears via a vision given to Bumblebee after the little yellow guy inherits the Alpha Trion Protocols.
Alpha Trion also greets Bumblebee with “Hello there” and honestly my biggest critique of this series is that Bumblebee doesn’t respond with “GENERAL KENOBI!” while his arms split in half and pull out lightsabers.
In the 1985 cartoon episode “The Secret of Omega Supreme,” we learn that Omega Supreme was a member of the legendary Guardian Robots long before the war. We see these Guardians in Siege, but only through a misty haze, so we don’t get to see if the other non-Omega Supreme members are their usual blue coloring. Omega Supreme shows up later by himself, bursting up through the ground like a confused Kool-Aid Man.
Blink and you’ll miss it, but Cog namedrops Primus, the creator god of the Transformers! (That is, unless you ask the Transformer atheists.)
On the evil side of the map, the Decepticon headquarters is located inside what appears to be a former Colosseum-style arena.
This calls back to Megatron’s pre-Decepticon origins as a miner-turned gladiator. The dome-shaped structure in the middle also brings to mind the precisely-named Decepticon Headquarters staffed by Shockwave featured throughout the original cartoon.
The Autobots are hanging out, meanwhile, in the Ark, their newly-constructed spaceship in which they eventually hope to escape Cybertron and its stupid endless war.
Did you know: the Ark was never called the Ark in the original cartoon? That name comes from the Marvel comics, while the cartoon merely called their spaceship-crashed-inti-a-volcano home “Autobot headquarters.” It wouldn’t be until Beast Wars that the name “Ark” would be uttered audibly in a cartoon. Also, in the Marvel comics, the Ark’s computers were called “Aunty,” not Teletraan I. Sometimes the Ark is a girl instead of Casey Kasem.
Peppered throughout the series is Cybertronian language. The specific alphabet seen is Ancient Autobot, which is based on a typeface that fan-turned-pro Jim Sorenson fashioned together in the ‘90s from the Ancient Autobot letters seen in the original cartoon episode “Cosmic Rust.”
This alphabet has been seen on countless bits of merchandise since, including Siege toy packaging. Each Cybertronian letter is a one-for-one substitute for a letter in English, so it’s possible to translate these bits of language when they pop up on the screen.
Don’t expect to find out many tasty secrets, though! The above screen capture, from the opening, merely says “Surveillance,” while the rest tends to be stuff like “Autobots” or “Decepticons” or “WARNING.” And sometimes it’s just gibberish to fill space!
Now here’s a real mystery: Walmart released an exclusive line of toys based specifically on this Netflix series, and the big granddaddy of them all was a $50 “Spoiler Pack,” which was boxed up opaquely with no window showing the contents. The product copy begged fans to refrain from opening up this package until after they’d seen the Siege cartoon, so as to not spoil themselves on its events.
(Fans, of course, mostly ignored this and tore their Spoiler Packs open upon receipt.)
And, hey, I gotta tell ya…
I have no idea what much of the Spoiler Pack’s contents have to do with the Siege cartoon, or how they would have spoiled me on its content! OK, there’s a gray gradient Ultra Magnus inside the opaque packaging. There was a regularly-colored Ultra Magnus in the regular, mass-retail toyline, but this “spoiler” version is mostly cast in gray plastic with Ultra Magnus colors sprayed across him half-way in paint. Ultra Magnus is indeed in the Netflix cartoon, but he doesn’t ever feature as a half-gray version of himself. Maybe this represents him … being half dead? Transformers lose their color when they die, and Ultra Magnus dies. That’s my best guess.
But the small translucent red Battlemaster Rung? Rung doesn’t appear in the Netflix series at all. Perhaps he sort of represents the vision of Alpha Trion that Bumblebee sees in his vision? That version of Alpha Trion was dead and kind of translucent and kind of red in places, and Rung is, like, secretly Primus, so there’s maybe an afterlife connection there. I’m reaching here.
And lastly, bizarrely, the Spoiler Pack comes with a plastic tray full of black Play-Doh that sandwiches a tiny baggie full of three Energon cubes. Sure, Siege involves some Energon in the plot, but rarely in cube form, and certainly not buried somewhere. I honestly have no idea what that’s about. I suppose the good news is, it turns out nobody was spoiled on the cartoon, because what?
(Get ready for Spoiler Pack 2 in a few months, which also includes the same Play-Doh and Energon, according to its contents listing. Maybe the next chapter, EarthRise, features a nonzero amount of Energon cubes in mud?)
Hanging conspicuously behind scenes with Megatron within Decepticon headquarters is a mural depicting a caped Megatron running his sword through somebody.
Don’t ask me who that is. I have no idea.
Maybe Megatron is just really proud of that one time he vanquished a [squints] hornless Bumblebee? Megatron wore his Vanquishing A Hornless Bumblebee cape and everything.