Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Origin Story

Many millions of years ago on the planet Cybertron, life existed.  But not life as we know it.  Intelligent machines who could think and feel...

These words can be recited by Transformers fans the world over, for they belong to the opening scene of one of the greatest origin stories in science fiction. 

Okay, I'm overstating that a little. 

But come on! It didn't get much better than the original "More Than Meets the Eye, Part I."  First off, was the whole, 7-year-old boy brain melter that was robots changing into cars and jets. But beyond that was this millions-of-years-long conflict, that zoomed through an asteroid belt and smashed into Jurassic era Earth, only to start again in 1980's America. We met heroic Autobots, and evil Decepticons.  And this brilliant twist of toy and storyline would resound over the mountaintops with the ringing of a million cash registers, and likely the greatest holiday party the Hasbro corporate offices have ever known.

The scene was set on a metal world with giant pieces blown out of it. The first episode showed us alien cars native to the planet Cybertron, flying tetra jets with suspiciously terrestrial robot forms (hey, you have to pay for those character models).  We met human characters, in fact the only fan-acceptable human characters to date (Transformers fans have a problem with too much of the human element). On earth, these amazing new characters showed off new and marvelous powers and abilities, that would inspire real life playtimes all over the world.

Okay, who tried to activate the planetary propulsion thrusters?
I'm looking at you, Megatron.

This story would be tweaked, revisited, and retconned multiple times. In Season 2, we saw a telling of the Optimus Prime/Megatron origin.  Season 3 would bring us the revelation that it was the Quintessons who built Cybertron. Beast Wars/Beast Machines would turn everything on its head and reveal that Cybertron had once been an organic planet.  Factor in the rich history of the comic books, and you have a lot of love that has been put into fleshing out this half-hour commercial for action figures.

Trees on cybertron? Cue fan-boy head explosion.

Origin stories are great.  They usually feature the best a show's animators can come up with, along with all of the freshness that comes with a new property. There is new music, new or sometimes better yet, familiar voice actors. It's a memory that sticks with even the most casual fan.  Most children of the 80s can certainly remember with fondness their first looks at Thundercats, Silverhawks, M.A.S.K., Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Centurions, or Tigersharks to name a few.

I've said it before, I will take any opportunity to show
a screencap from Silverhawks.
It got me thinking about what an origin story is...what it means. Specifically, can you ever recapture the magic that was there at the beginning? Should you? Or is what comes after more important. Sure, you can go back and flick on an old episode, and there is always a nice wave of familiarity that comes over you.  But, I think it's made sweeter by thinking of everything that came after; all of the cues that artists and writers would spin off from, all of the memorable quotes; That's when you know you're looking at something special.  

There is the origin story of this blog for instance.  It came out of a box from my parents' basement, that became a fun (and yes, obsessive) hobby, and ended up overtaking the basement, then the attic.  Several times I thought about giving it all up and cashing in on eBay (that remains an option). But every few years, some new take on my favorite story would spring up, and the Rubbermaid tub was that much harder to close. I was almost ready to give it up, when my 5-year-old's fervor for Transformers reached its peak.  I could have made them disappear overnight, but I had this feeling that maybe there was an opportunity there.  Something to be said, words to be written about how a childhood pleasure carries on into adulthood, or fatherhood. My once pristine shelves are now typically in a state of disaster because, well, he is messy.  But do you pack all of that away?  Or do you leave it out, and see what becomes of the mess?

You can look at any origin story, a personal one, even, and love it for it's nostalgia, but maybe what's more important is everything that came after. I look back on meeting my eventual wife in middle school (yes, I have touched a woman), and I remember with nostalgia watching her jump off of a boat into a lake. I remember the sun twinkling off the water in the way it does best when you close your eyes to remember. It will always be a special place I go to. But even more special, is thinking about every wonderful, hard, beautiful, challenging thing that came after that. A move across the country, three babies, and career changes.

How about your life, dear reader? How does your origin story reflect what came after? Furthermore, do you know it? Are you still writing it? Living it? Trying to forget it?

So that got too heavy for a robot blog.  But, I'd like to think I am mining a new genre here. Robot Blog, with Heart

*I found all but the last two pictures on the internet, and claim no rights to them.