The Transformers are a species of sentient, living robotic beings (mostly) originating from the distant machine world of Cybertron. The stories of their lives, their histories, and most especially their wars have been chronicled across much different Continuities in the vast Multiverse.
The designation "Transformer" stems from the species' generally-shared ability to "transform", to change their bodies at will, rearranging their component parts from a robotic primary mode (usually, but not always, humanoid) into an alternate form; generally vehicles, weapons, machinery, or animals. In some continuities, this ability to transform is innate to all members of the species, in others it was a wartime innovation that was adopted by most, but not all, of the populace.
Although "Transformer" is the most common term for these beings there are others, mainly "Cybertron" as a reference to any being whose origin traces back to the planet in question (the adjective form being the more frequently used "Cybertronian").
The origin of the Transformers species differs according to continuity, and not all continuities have given the race a specific stated origin at all, but, of those that exist, the most prominent are:
- Atechnogenesis — Spontaneous evolution from "naturally occurring gears and pulleys" on Cybertron's surface. This origin was introduced in the first Marvel Comic issue and then was rather unfortunately ignored, considering that it is one of the most logical and scientifically viable origins offered as of yet.
- Quintesson made — Created as consumer goods and military hardware by the alien Quintessons. This was the origin given for the Transformers in the original Generation One cartoon. Although well known because of the cartoon's prominence, it has been given relatively little attention in subsequent media. According to some sources, it may be just another Quintesson trick.
- Primus created — Created by the god-like "Lord of the Light" Primus to carry on his age old battle with the "dark god" Unicron. This origin sprang from Simon Furman's United Kingdom comics and then carried back to the later American Marvel books. It is also the origin that has been embraced and adopted by pretty much every Transformers work/continuity since then. A retcon created by the Transformers Universe and Fun Publications Cybertron comics and related fiction has unilaterally applied the Primus and Unicron backstory to all Transformers continuities in the Multiverse, past and future. How this works in light of the original cartoon's Quintesson backstory has not been explained (3H attempted to do so, however).
- Biomechanical evolution — In no continuity is this a proven back history for the Transformer race. It is mentioned as idle speculation by Nightbeat, who wonders if perhaps Transformers perhaps evolved/upgraded (with or without external help) from biological beings to mechanical ones, in a similar manner to the transition he witnesses underway on Gorlam Prime. In at least one alternate universe, a certain other race of robotic lifeforms did indeed arise in such a fashion. In some continuity, Cybertron is known to have once been inhabited by organic life; in Beast Machines, for example, Nightscream finds the fossilized remains of organic animals, which incidentally were startlingly similar to known Earthly life forms. However, there is little or no implication that the Transformers evolved from these organics; there is more implication that whatever previous life was on Cybertron was instead swept aside by the Transformers or their forebears. The Kiss Players timeline states that, 12,000,000,000 years ago, Cybertron was a verdant planet in Japanese continuity.
- Cube Creationism — This origin, the newest, is seen in the Transformers 2007 movie and Transformers Animated. According to it, a cube-like object (much larger—though shrinkable—in the movie) mystically gave birth to the Transformers. It is not known by any of the Transformers who created it.
Traditionally, Transformers are living, sentient, emotional, and fully-mechanical beings. Much continuity portrays Transformer "life" as being granted by a soul-like spark residing within their mechanical frames.
By the Beast Era of the Generation One continuity family synthetic flesh had become increasingly incorporated into their construction, often to aid in disguise or survival on worlds inhabited by organic lifeforms. (A version of this technology had been introduced earlier with Pretender Transformers; though in that instance the synthetic flesh was a removable outer "shell").
In the era of Beast Machines, events led to true organics being infused into Transformers biology down to the cellular level, making them "technorganic" with an increased range of powers resulting. (The "ParasiTech" technology introduced in the Generation-1-based Kiss-Player series seems to have an organic component to it as well.)
Being mechanical creatures, Transformers possess a number of distinct mechanical parts that make up their anatomy. For a list see Transformers Anatomy.
Transformers are also known to suffer from the following diseases: Transformers Diseases.
First generation Transformers shared the same computational matrix as Vector Sigma, making their power source compatible with the mega computer. Such Transformers are thus capable of reactivating the sleeping computer intelligence.
SizeTransformers are generally large in comparison to Earth life forms, (two to five times the height of a human seems to be about average, though depictions vary wildly even for the same character), but a Transformer can be much, much smaller or much, much larger. There are some small enough to fit in a human's palm (see Browning and the Real Gear Robots). While the Micromasters and Mini-Cons are two groups whose size range is within normal human standards at a time when most Transformers are larger, human-sized appears to be the norm for Transformers altogether in the Beast Era.
The upper range of size can be a good deal larger, if you include planet-formers like Unicron and Primus or even the colossal city-bots Metroplex, Trypticon, Scorponok and Fortress Maximus (the latter's gigantism depending on the continuity). In the Cybertron series, the planet Gigantion is populated by both extremes: robots who tower over "normal"-sized Transformers, aided by their tiny Mini-Con partners. However, the average size for an average Transformer is usually around twenty feet.
Variance in form
While many Transformers possess a "humanoid" form with two arms, two legs and a head atop their torso, it is not uncommon at all for there to be extensive variations. Some Transformers do not have a "humanoid" mode at all; rather their "primary" form is that of an animal or vehicle. Generation One's Ravage, Grand Slam and Raindance, for example, or the Beast Wars Mutants.
Some have unconventional limbs, their hands (or whole arm) replaced with tools, claws, weapons, or some other form of manipulator (like a beast-mode's head!). Some Transformers' lower bodies feature digitigrade legs, or wheels/treads instead of feet, or no discernible separate legs at all. Some even have more (or less!) than the normal number of limbs altogether. This design style became much more common in the Beast Era (Beast Wars Quickstrike and Beast Machines Thrust, for example), and is also common among the Mini-Cons, but Generation One is not without its examples (like Shockwave, Scorponok, and Octus).
Transformers' faces also run the gamut of design, from looking like a metal human in a helmet, to faces that can only be described as robotic (again, like Generation One Shockwave, whose face consists of little more than a single glowing eye) or animalistic (again, the Beast Era). The Mini-Cons are also notable for more commonly having non-humanoid faces.
The existence and appearance of Female Transformers in most continuities seem to suggest a level of "sexual" dimorphism to the species as well (the term sexual is used in a gender-based, rather than physical sense; see Reproduction for that whole kettle of robo-fish). In almost all cases female Transformers are portrayed as more graceful of form and more rounded and curved in general, often with a more than passing resemblance to an attractive metal human female wearing armor and kibble. There are rare exceptions to this rule (notably Strika and Discharge, though the latter is said to be wearing armor that obscures her true appearance.)
Unlike humans who need air and water as well as food, generally the Transformer's only major need to assure their continued functioning is fuel (though again, even this can vary depending on the fiction).
Energon is the most common and preferred form of Transformer fuel, but other alternatives may be substituted if it is unavailable.
In the Marvel Comics Earth fuel needed to be treated with a special additive (invented by Sparkplug Witwicky) to be made usable by Transformer life. In the Cartoon, on the other hand, human energy sources were converted into energon simply by being condensed inside Energon Cubes.
In the original cartoon the Insecticons alone among Transformers seemed to be able to fuel themselves by ingesting organic matter, but by the Beast Era, the ability to ingest organic substances to supplement their fuel needs seems more commonplace.
It is not uncommon at all for a single Transformer to change body form many times across their life-span. The ease with which they can do so depends on the continuity's technology level. In some, changing bodies requires an extensive full-body rebuild and tends to be resource draining and even dangerous. Sometimes, however, all it takes is to transplant their brain or personality program into a compatible new body. Other times, the existing body itself will be "reformatted" on the spot using a scan of a local compatible alt-mode (this is most prevalent during the Unicron Trilogy AND Movie material).
While not entirely 'new bodies' themselves, the Transmetal bodies - caused by exposure to a Transwarp quantum surge - somehow 'mutated' the bodies of Transformers in the Beast Era. How this was done on-the-fly with no harm to the Transformer is unknown.
For more information on Transformer biology see:
Regardless of continuity, the most distinctive facet of Transformers society has been its near-continuous state of planetary Civil War. The two major factions in these wars are the Autobots and the Decepticons. The conflict is mostly defined by what each faction believes is the "destiny" of the Transformers: the Autobots believe in a peaceful society where Cybertron is a place of culture and justice, while the Decepticons believe in a "might make right" philosophy where Cybertron would be the center of a mighty empire. The fact that the vast majority of what we know about Transformers has been shaped by this constant, corrosive warfare should not be overlooked. What a theoretical Transformer society would be like in peacetime is mostly unknown, glimpsed mainly during its disintegration into war or via brief flashbacks and asides. That said, there are some things we do know.
The Cybertronian society of wartime is portrayed as heavily polarized between Autobot and Decepticon. When there are neutrals they generally fare poorly, becoming victims of Decepticon abuse and destruction.
What little we know of the society before the war suggests it was stratified economically between "haves" (like the aristocratic Mirage) and have-nots. Other facets of society were similarly Earth-like with fads and fashions, schools and lousy jobs, news media and so on.
In many continuities Transformers seem to prefer a non-democratic autocratic government centered on a single powerful hero-leader called a Prime, who serves as both Head of State and Commander-in-Chief (sometimes referred to as Supreme Commander). In the Generation One cartoon continuity the Autobots determine this leadership by possession of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership which is passed from each leader to his chosen successor. The Decepticons, however, bow only to the supremacy of the most powerful.
In contrast, it should be noted that in the Marvel comic continuity possession of the Matrix does not denote political leadership as it was more of a religious icon. Here instead, Cybertron appears to have traditionally been governed by a group of elders, Emirates and a Senate (how Senators and Emirates are chosen is unrevealed), all overseen by a Caesar-like Overlord. The last of the Overlords passed away as the Great War was just beginning and the remaining government powers foundered for years before finally turning political authority and military leadership over to Optimus Prime.
Interaction with other races
The Civil Wars have resulted in the factions adopting radically different views of how to interact with other races. The Autobots, in the words of Optimus Prime, believe that "freedom is the right of all sentient beings", whereas the Decepticons view other races, particularly organic life forms, as little more than slave labor or target practice. When arriving on a planet, the Autobots will usually attempt to contact the native species and warn them of the Decepticon threat, but sometimes they will remain hidden or outright discourage other lifeforms from participating, usually in an effort to better protect them. The Decepticons often make overt attacks on native species, but there are occasions when stealth has been a priority.
However, one unique method of interacting with other races is binary bonding, a process where an organic lifeform will enter into a symbiotic relationship with a Transformer. Such lifeforms will serve as their heads, weapons, and, in rare cases, their powercores. This process has met with mixed results, as it places the Transformer at a dependent situation in the relationship.
The Transformers have been shown to have a very active musical tradition. The Matrix itself has an archive of 11 million traditional Cybertronian songs. Many Transformers such as Jazz and Blaster have shown great interest in music and Squawkbox is one prominent example of a Cybertronian musician.
Furthermore, sculpture seems to be one of the primary art forms of Cybertron, with many Transformers dedicated to it. One notable (and gruesome) school of sculpture, practiced by a startling number of Transformers involves making art out of the bodies of other Transformers. The Slogism movement is a part of this school.
Before the war, Cybertron also featured many marvels of architecture. See: Crystal City
For more information on Transformer culture see:
- Cybertron Civil Wars
- Transformer funerary practices
- Transformer economics
- Transformer furniture
The Transformers were introduced by Hasbro in 1984 with the franchise now known as Generation One. The line has gone through numerous incarnations since, with the latest being the new animated series on Cartoon Network. Nearly all the product sold in the line consists of actual Transformer figures; non-Transformer items such as bases, vehicles and accessories, while common in most boy-centric toy lines, have been fairly uncommon in the history of the Transformers brand.