Sometimes the cream rises to the top. That’s why Batman is a multi-billion dollar franchise and the Hypno-Hustler isn’t. Other times, like in The Transformers, with characters spread across a multiverse consisting of dozens of shows and thousands of comics, many great (or potentially great) ones get lost in the shuffle. They are written poorly, underutilized, or just plain overlooked. Not everyone gets to be as ubiquitous as Optimus Prime and Megatron.
While IDW’s Transformers series has had its ups and downs, one thing they did correctly was the Spotlight series. It was a series of one-shots usually focused on lesser known and overlooked characters in stories that took place outside of the main arc or teases for larger plots and subplots later on. Naturally, while IDW has expanded their Transformers titles over the years, they’ve mostly abandoned this series.
For this list, we focused primarily on G1—continuity from which the largest amount of characters derive—which is also where too many characters have been lost to the memory banks of Vector Sigma. But we haven’t forgotten. No. We have not. These characters deserve better, or someone to remember their names at the very least. These are the 15 Most Underrated Transformers of all Time. (Confession: we almost put Octopunch on this list as a troll.)
15 Ultra Magnus
Ultra Magnus is almost always heavily involved in Transformers comics, but he's still underrated because he’s never lived up to his potential. He was born to be runner-up, unfortunately. Is it because Ultra Magnus sounds like a condom brand? Who could say? He’s often written to be bland and uncertain to offset being one of the most powerful Transformers of all time.
He’s been pigeon-holed as “just a soldier” (his own words), yet one of his best moments came when he led a group of Wreckers against Menasor and actually won. Magnus has the potential to become a hero of the same caliber of Optimus Prime. He would go from the uncertain leader to the capable leader—which was the character arc he seemed poised for in the 86’ movie had Hot Rod not usurped the spot.
Oh, and can we all agree that the Minimus Ambus isn’t nearly as interesting as being Prime’s brother?
The first robot in history to have a Napoleon complex, Cliffjumper is more than just a repaint of Bumblebee. Temperamental and always looking for a fight, this Autobot is consistantly out to prove something, even if he has to beat that pacifist Mirage for the tenth time. What was he trying to prove, again? Something about spying? Whatever, that’s not the point.
In the first episode of the old G1 cartoon, Cliffjumper was spying on the Decepticons and produced a gigantic sniper rifle/bazooka that was taller than him so he could take out Megatron. No attempt at arrest. No trial. He was just going to assassinate him on the spot. If you overlook the horrible question of where Cliffjumper was hiding the rifle, you’d see a character that’s darker than most Autobots while still being a natural underdog.
Okay, hear us out. Yes, Thunderwing sucks. No, wait, really, we’re going somewhere with this. Yes, he sucks and he looks like Bludgeon slept with a reptile. But there’s potential there.
Simon Furman’s Stormbringer miniseries was a step in the right direction. He was given a cool redesign, and the obsessive traits that comprise his character were all amplified so that he’s this unstoppable reminder of the losses the Autobots and Decepticons have taken, as well as a reminder of what it was that nearly destroyed Cybertron. If the character had been unspooled from there—focusing on the tragic elements of his hubris and downfall—rather than going the usual route of unfeeling monster/commentary on religious extremism—then perhaps Thunderwing would be more fondly remembered. Or remembered at all, really.
Cyclonus is the Stannis Baratheon of The Transformers. He lacks any kind of charisma or personality, but he has a rapid cult fanbase that worships him. While most Decepticons at some point live up to their name by betraying someone, Cyclonus is one of the few truly loyal soldiers in Galvatron’s army. So great is his Smithers-like devotion to Galvatron that he refuses to overthrow his clearly insane leader. Rather, he helps him get treatment, which fails utterly. Compare that to Starscream, who betrays Megatron on an hourly basis, and you can see why Cyclonus has lasted so long.
In recent years, Cyclonus has seen more development as a member of the Lost Light, though at the cost of much of his loner mystique. He's become more of a deadpan comedy act than a stalwart soldier with knowledge of Cybertron’s lost history and a merciless violent streak a mile wide.
11 Darkwing & Dreadwind
Want to feel depressed? Ask these brothers (or partners, it’s not clear) their opinion on anything. They make Dead End and Dirge sound like Bumblebee. They’re both incredibly effective on the battlefield and possibly even more deadly off of it thanks to their negative, Debbie Downer personalities. It certainly doesn’t help their loneliness that they kill or depress everyone around them, but, hey, that’s the situation they’re in.
Often portrayed as background cannon fodder, these two are ripe for a more prominent role. We’re not saying they should get their own spinoff, but when you have characters like this—who actively make their own lives worse—there’s a unique opportunity to explore those characters and the effect they have on their surroundings. They’re absolute killing machines who dislike existence yet yearn for a purpose in it. There’s so much meaty material there! You could even use them as dark comedians to underline the inherent nihilism of war and existence in no-win scenarios where the casualties are high and where a victory is pointless. See? Laugh riot.
10 Megatron (Beast Wars)
Sure, he was a main character in a Transformers show, but this Megatron is often overlooked. From his seamless ability to jump from hammy to terrifying to his operatic agendas and Shakespearean monologues, there has never been a Megatron before or since that can ever hold a candle to this one.
The Beast Wars Megs was able to hold the original Megatron’s spark in his body without succumbing to its influence. He nearly remade time in his own image. He killed Optimus Primal and outsmarted the Vok all while sitting in his chair miles away from the action. He’s accomplished more than any of his equivalents. He’s simply too badass, and it’s a wonder why ol’ grape face has been ignored for so long.
IDW has folded a number of Beast Wars characters into their modern G1 comics. Rattrap, Cheetor (ugh), Dinobot, Terrorsaur, Tarantulas, Waspinator, Airazor, and Tigatron have all appeared, but not Megs. Now, this does make sense—having two Megatrons running around would be confusing—but the fact that there hasn’t been some kind of Beast Wars continuity solo comic is damn strange, especially considering the rumors of a Netflix revival/reboot.
9 Dreadwing (Prime)
There’s nothing stranger or scarier than a Decepticon with loyalty and integrity. Dreadwing is one of those bots. To make matters worse, he’s also a celebrated strategist who doesn’t make impulsive decisions. On his way to avenge his brother’s death, Dreadwing killed Seaspray (which admittedly isn’t much of an accomplishment). Three kids and a dog can do that, but it is worth mentioning because it’s just damn funny. Though considered faithful, Dreadwing became disillusioned with the Decepticon cause, as they didn’t have the same amount of loyalty, integrity, or honor he did.
Unfortunately, Dreadwing only made a handful of appearances in the Prime series. His arc was cut short from being killed off, but his type of Decepticon would work in the current IDW books, which has successfully made the Autobots less noble and the Decepticons somewhat more, allowing both sides to feel more realistic.
In the early '80s, comic writer Bob Budiansky came up with Thundercracker’s personality. The Decepticon Seeker was uncertain of his loyalty to the cause. Although it was meant to be brought up in the comics and used in the cartoon, it wasn’t until the waning issues of All Hail Megatron in 2009 that this thread was actually pulled. While Thundercracker has enjoyed more of a spotlight in recent years, it hasn’t been used well. His turn came about too quickly to have much suspense, and it lacked adequate repercussions. Since then, he has found himself stuck on Earth with a pet dog and a burgeoning career as a screenwriter. It’s painful reading, especially for the potential stories you can explore with Thundercracker being on the run from the Decepticon Justice Divison or the target of a vendetta from Megatron, Starscream, and Skywarp. He’s a jet! He needs better direction!
Fun fact: Thundercracker was going to be called Starscream before Budiansky insisted Starscream be called Starscream, as it made more sense for the character’s shrill instability.
7 Rotorbolt (Universe)
A lot of Decepticons/Predacons have an inborn hate for the Autobots/Maximals and a sincere love for violence. Rotorbolt doesn’t seem to care much about the war (he was even a Wrecker for a while) and doesn’t have a real love of battle. He’s actually a bit of an overeducated snob, but with a strange kind of nobility, similar to Dinobot. He’s loyal to his allies so long as they are loyal to him. He took it rather personally when Cyclonus, his boss, betrayed him, ripped his rotor blades off, and nailed him to the wall with them.
Rotorbolt would make an excellent addition to either side in a more active role. His character is distinctive and strange enough to make him stand out, and if kept on the Decepticon/Predacon side, he can add more layers to that team rather than the Autobots = noble, Decepticons = savage binary that many Transformers stories fall into.
Devcon is a disillusioned Autobot who left the cause to become a bounty hunter but often finds himself down on his luck. He’s like Han Solo with a drinking problem. How he hasn’t had more of an impact in the lore is as mysterious as the reasoning behind keeping human characters around in Transformers stories. We didn’t come here for the meat suits, we’re here for the giant murderous robots from outer space.
Anyway, yeah. Devcon.
He could be used to fill in more of the universe outside of the Great War and be used to show how other species view the Transformers, who have literally been warring for ten million years. There’s also plenty of backstory we could explore. Why did he leave the Autobots? Was there some kind of malfeasance? He’s a cynical character who still seems to believe in some kind of justice system, since he works as a bounty hunter. Devcon’s almost like a noir private detective in that way. It makes him and his section of the universe very unique. Do something with it!
You know what’s fun? Spy stories. You know who would be perfect for some spy stories? Doubledealer. If you don’t know him, here’s the schtick: living up to his name, Doubledealer doesn’t really work for either side. Just whichever one pays him or whichever alliance better suits him for that moment. Rather than just tell the usual story—he’s working for the Decepticons to betray the Autobots—why not do something less obvious? Tell a story about this character infiltrating one of the sides and becoming somewhat loyal to them. Have Doubledealer identify with both sides and be put into situations that challenge those loyalties.
Muddy up the waters further; what if we never figure out who he was working for originally? What if he isn’t sure which side he was really hired by? Transformers hasn’t told a major spy story in a long time, and it sure hasn’t used Doubledealer to his potential. Oh, and they should get rid of that missile he keeps on his shoulder. That just seems like a hazard.
4 Rampage (Beast Wars)
Rampage is another reason to dread getting crabs, but there is so much to him that went underdeveloped. He was created as an experiment to replicate Starscream’s immortal spark. The experiment went wrong, and what they got was the universe’s first Cybertronian serial killer/cannibal. When they couldn’t kill it, they tried to hide him. Not only does this portray the Autobots/Maximals in a less than stellar light, but there are also so many story opportunities to explore from those early days before Rampage was captured by Primal and Depth Charge.
Even beyond the novelty serial killer depravity shtick, there were actual dimensions to the character. In “Transmutate,” we saw him feel empathy and create a genuine concern for the eponymous creature, whom he saw as a kindred spirit. They were both accidents of science that never asked to be born and capable of great violence. His desire to protect Transmutate spoke to his own shame at being a monster and the desire to be something more, but we never got to see more of this unique character’s development.
Don't worry, we're not talking about the super overrated Marvel villain. Onslaught is a shrewd, tactically minded Decepticon who prefers to let others do the fighting. His strategies are clever, complicated, and brutally efficient. And yet, we’ve rarely ever seen him do any of this. Nobody pays attention to him because they associate him with Bruticus—the combiner he and the Combaticons form to create. Unfortunately, Bruticus is dumber than a bag of Dinobots. Or maybe that faceplate makes people think he has something to hide. Could be either one, to be honest. Although Onslaught prefers others to implement his plans, he has no problem going into battle himself. He wears cannons on his back. That states his intentions clearly.
Given that mainstay Decepticon strategists like Soundwave and Shockwave are usually too busy operating their own agendas, there have been plenty of opportunities over the years to give Onslaught the opportunity to establish himself as a character in his own right, outside of being a Combaticon.
2 Sky-Byte (RID)
Sky-Byte is a flying robot shark. If you don’t see the inherent awesomeness of this, you probably don’t understand the face melting insanity that makes Transformers so appealing. Sky-Byte was a bright spot in the otherwise disappointing Robots in Disguise series. He’s like a well-written Klingon in Star Trek: part poet, part warrior. And Sky-Byte literally is both a poet and a warrior, so it fits. He’s a brilliant and calm Decepticon tactician that isn’t driven by ideology but by right and wrong.
While he has been folded into the modern comic continuity, Sky-Byte has remained on the outer edges of the main story. He’s a disillusioned former Decepticon (a dime a dozen these days, sadly) who is also a veteran respected by both sides. Unfortunately, while seeing him do a kind of William Shatner “Rocket Man” poetry slam thing detracts from his badass factor, Sky-Byte is still a great, weird, and underused villain who deserves a more prominent role in Transformers lore.
Okay, it's not the best Transformers name out there, but hear us out. Like Thundercracker, his character bio sounds extremely cool, but he’s rarely portrayed this way in his appearances, which only ever cast him as a bit player anyway. Carnivac, apparently, was a courtly, honorable warrior who slavishly obeyed the rules of war. Despite being a Decepticon, he had a strict code of ethics.
Somewhere along the way, that changed. Now he kills for the sake of it; brutally and with a smile on his face. Well, if that isn’t a story waiting to be told, we don’t know what is. The horrors of war are as underused in Transformers as Carnivac himself. A story about his decline into brutality (and the potential for recovery and redemption) would be an audacious, interesting, and possibly provocative story that would be easier to tell with a lesser known character like Carnivac than with a more well-known character…like Wheelie.
Of course, with all the Transformers characters out there, we had to have missed a few of the underrated ones. Which are your favorites? Let us know in the comments.